Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Prosperity" Is Just Around The Corner

Tonight as part of its ongoing series about "Life During The Depression," Turner Classic Movies is showing a comedy starring two of my favorite actresses of the Early Sound Era, Marie Dressler and Anita Page.

I've never seen it and from what I've read, Prosperity doesn't sound like the movie you'd necessarily hang your hat on if you wanted to show off either of these two great stars, but the subject matter—bank failures—is near and dear to my heart and what could be better than a movie starring Marie Dressler and Anita Page that makes you appreciate the role the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation plays in guaranteeing your bank deposits?

From TCM's website:

11:00pm [Comedy] Prosperity (1932)
Feuding mothers almost wreck their children's marriage.
Cast: Marie Dressler, Polly Moran, Anita Page, Norman Foster Dir: Sam Wood BW-87 mins

As always, that's 11 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time here in the United States. I apologize to my readers in Great Britain for the Americentric nature of posts like these, but that's where my television is, can't do nothing about it. (By the way, I used to live in Britain—it really is great. Some day I'll regale you with tales of the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield when I met that year's champion Mark Williams. Some day, but not today.)

Addendum (10/30/09): Prosperity is a pleasant enough comedy to watch, but apparently was not a pleasant one
for its participants to make.

After screening the finished product, MGM fired its first director, Leo McCarey, and ordered the entire movie to be re-shot from scratch by Sam Wood. McCarey got the last laugh though, winning three Oscars during his career and being nominated eight times.

● The movie was the last of nine pairings between Marie Dressler and Polly Moran, who had become a successful on-screen duo during the Early Sound Era. The studio decided to mine a new vein, which didn't hurt Dressler any, who went on to make Tugboat Annie and Dinner at Eight, but it was the beginning of a steep decline for Moran who finished her career performing in bit parts.

Prosperity also led to anything but for Anita Page, marking the last time she made a movie at MGM. On the outs with studio head Louis B. Mayer after twice refusing to sleep with him (the second proposition made in the presence of Page's mother), Page served out the remaining years of her MGM contract on loan to poverty row studios, making such low-budget bombs as Jungle Bride and Hitch Hike To Heaven. It was an ignominious end for an actress who had just a couple of years before received ten thousand fan letters a week.

● And worst of all, Dressler who was ill throughout shooting was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the film was completed. She died two years later.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not All Vampires Suck Your Blood

I have a drop-dead lawyer-business deadline tomorrow so of course I've been watching movies. I've got two unrelated projects going at the moment: the essay for best supporting actor of 1930-31 (which you know about) and an ongoing project to flesh out my knowledge of Silent Era movies, some of the results of which I hope to share with you around the time I finish writing about the best movies of 1933—which at my current pace might be around the time my six year old niece graduates from college.

In the meantime, in honor of Halloween this weekend, I thought I'd mention an unusual vampire movie I saw yesterday, A Fool There Was, directed by Frank Powell in 1915.

It stars Theda Bara as "The Vampire." You remember Theda Bara, don't you? She was Hollywood's hottest sex symbol for a brief time in the late 1910's, most famously appearing in 1917's Cleopatra wearing, well, not much.

A Fool There Was, based on a Rudyard Kipling poem of all things, begins well enough. Bara, decked out in 1915's version of the nine's, sets her eyes on a wealthy American diplomat, played by Edward José (no, I'd never heard of him either. Primarily a director, he did occasionally step out from behind the camera, starring in, for example, The Perils Of Pauline), rearranging her schedule to travel on the same trans-Atlantic steam ship with him, seducing him in route.

And then the movie turned into the poor man's Pandora's Box, with the young and wild Theda Bara taking full advantage of the diplomat, spending his money, ruining his career, separating him from his family and his self-respect. And it slowly dawned on me that Bara wasn't so much a "vampire" as a "vamp," in Merriam-Webster's description, "a woman who uses her charm or wiles to seduce and exploit men."

The word "vamp" in this sense (it's also part of a shoe) is a shortened form of the word "vampire," and as a metaphor for a woman who sucks a man dry, it largely comes from this movie and Theda Bara.

You probably would have figured that out long before I did. But there you have it.

Theda Bara, by the way, was thirty when she hit it big in Hollywood, and she lived a long time, but her career didn't. The public ate up Bara and then by 1919, spit her back out again, hungry for the next big thing, tired of Bara's broadly-played "vamp" roles.

It didn't help that the public routinely confused the parts Bara played with Bara herself and women in particular took such an intense dislike to her that they were known to call the police if she spoke to their children. In fact, she wasn't much of a vamp in real life if her marriage to Charles Brabin is any indication. They were married in 1921 and stayed married until Bara's death in 1955 did them part.

"I have the face of a vampire," she later said, "but the heart of a feminist."

As for her professional abilities, it's a hard question to assess now. Nearly all of her films were destroyed in a studio fire in 1937, including her greatest triumph, Cleopatra, of which only a forty second fragment remains. I tracked down A Fool There Was simply to see something of Bara's legend for myself, but made as it was before D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking The Birth Of A Nation, which practically invented what we think of as a motion picture, A Fool There Was plays like a well-meaning amateur's home movie and with its static direction and simplistic characterizations, there really was no acting on Bara's part to be done.

You may want to check it out as I did, to satisfy your curiosity.

A Fool There Was is available on DVD.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wait A Minute, Wait A Minute—You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet!

I promised you that if I found Al Jolson performing "Toot Toot Tootsie" from The Jazz Singer with the "Wait a minute, wait a minute—you ain't heard nothing yet" introduction intact, I'd upload it for you.

Well, here it is, arguably the most pivotal moment in movie history:

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Mysterious Fifth Marx Brother

More elusive than the famed "fifth Beatle," Milton "Gummo" Marx somehow managed to avoid the spotlight that shone so brightly on his four brothers yet was perfectly content that it was so, an attitude so decidedly un-American it's a wonder Joe McCarthy didn't go after him instead of the Communists. Always uncomfortable on stage, Gummo left the act when he was drafted shortly before the Armistice in 1918. After the war, he worked as a theatrical agent, representing among others his brother Groucho.

That's Gummo on the bottom of the pile there.

He earned his nickname either because he frequently wore rubber overshoes (a.k.a. galoshes or gumshoes) or because he crept up on people as quietly as a "gumshoe" (detective). I've read both theories.

In honor of his birthday today (he was born in 1892), here's the famous "elephant in my pajamas" scene from 1930's Animal Crackers. Admittedly, this has nothing to do with Gummo, but any excuse in a storm, right?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Eyes Have It

She had big blue eyes that rivaled those of Bette Davis, but unlike Bette's eyes, which always promised a knee to the groin if you got too close, Blondell's eyes promised a good time—if you measured up.

Joan Blondell and Bette Davis

Other than a promotional short (i.e., info-merical) the two made for General Electric in 1933, Blondell and Davis made only one movie together, 1932's Three On A Match, a gangster melodrama about three former schoolmates (Blondell, Davis and Scarface's Ann Dvorak) who reunite with disastrous results—if you consider drug addiction, alcoholism, adultery, divorce and kidnapping to be a problem.

Definitely a pre-Code production.

Because of my high regard for you, I watched it this afternoon on YouTube, a great sacrifice, I know. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy (Little Caesar, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang), it moves like lightning, clocking in at a mere 63 minutes, and at that pace, you have no time to get bogged down in the soapy absurdity of the story line.

A young Humphrey Bogart also makes an appearance, his tenth movie actually, but he would return to the New York stage soon after and with one exception wouldn't be seen again on screen until 1936's Petrified Forest (also with Bette Davis). Edward Arnold and Warren William provide solid support.

It's worth tracking down.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Best Supporting Actress of 1930-31: Joan Blondell (Sinners' Holiday, Other Men's Women and Night Nurse)

If any one person has come to personify in my mind the glorious excesses of Hollywood's pre-Code era, it's Joan Blondell. She was sexy, she was sassy, and stripped down to her skivvies as she invariably was, she was always on the make. She had big blue eyes that rivaled those of Bette Davis, but unlike Bette's eyes, which always promised a knee to the groin if you got too close, Blondell's eyes promised a good time—if you measured up. And with very few predecessors to point the way, she had a gift for projecting moral ambiguity on the screen that set her work apart from the black-and-white caricatures her peers presented. Her very real talent was too often taken for granted but it really shone during the Early Sound Era when the brakes of censorship were off and if you want to know what film historians mean when they talk about "pre-Code" movies, you need look no further than Joan Blondell.

You know about the Code, don't you?

After a series of scandals in the 1920s, particularly the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle trial, had inspired charges that Hollywood was a den of iniquity corrupting the morals of American youth, studios put Will Hays, formerly the Postmaster General of the United States, in charge of heading off a call for federal regulation of the movie industry. In 1927, Hays drafted an informal list of topics that typically inspired state censorship of movies (the Supreme Court had ruled in 1915 that the First Amendment didn't cover motion pictures which it held was business rather artistic speech, a position long ago reversed) and then in 1930 wrote a more formal list of prohibited topics called "A Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures," popularly known as the Hays Code.

It was quite a lengthy document actually and I won't reprint it here (if you're interested, you can read the 1930 version of the Production Code here) but it enumerated three guiding principles which should give you an idea of what the Code was all about:

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Without any formal authority to enforce the Code, however, filmmakers ignored it and sometimes purposely flouted it for commercial, and even occasionally artistic, purposes, and would continue to do so until June 1934 when the studios bowed to public pressure and began requiring films to earn a certificate of approval before their release. (Imogen Sara Smith has written a fine article about the pre-Code era called "Sinners' Holiday: An Ode To The Pre-Code" at Bright Lights Film Journal.)

In the meantime, though, movie audiences wouldn't see this much explicit behavior on screen again until Hollywood abandoned the Code altogether in 1968 and suffice it to say the Joan Blondell movies I've cited here—Sinners' Holiday, Other Men's Women and Night Nurse—violated just about every aspect of its prohibitions, showing murder, revenge, the use of liquor, undressing scenes, scenes in bedrooms, adultery, impure love, semi-nudity, transparent clothing and God knows what else in ways that made all of those things seem like pretty good ideas. Throw in the cruelty to children and surgical operations that were central to the plot of Night Nurse and you've pretty much covered every aspect of the Code except venereal disease and the ridicule of religion.

No wonder these movies were so much fun to watch.

The first movie on my list, Sinners' Holiday, is typical of Blondell's pre-Code work, showing off both her no-nonsense sex appeal and talent for playing working class women. Set on the Coney Island boardwalk, Blondell here plays a photographer's model who gets mixed up with James Cagney and his penny ante bootleg liquor operation with tragic results. Although playing what are clearly supporting roles, Blondell and Cagney provided the movie's energy, blowing their higher-billed, better-paid co-stars off the screen, and drawing the attention of critics and moviegoers alike. Maybe it was their talent for making stock characters seem like real people—the eye is drawn to that on the screen that reminds you of something real, and both Blondell and Cagney imbue their characters with a reality otherwise sorely lacking in this pedestrian tale.

Sinners' Holiday was based on a stage play, Penny Arcade, that featured both Blondell and Cagney. The play only ran three weeks, but in the audience was Al Jolson (of The Jazz Singer) who was so impressed with the supporting work Blondell and Cagney turned in, he bought the film rights to the play for $20,000 and sold them to Jack Warner on the condition that he cast Blondell and Cagney in their original roles. Jolson had never met either performer, but he had an eye for talent. Sinners' Holiday was Blondell's fifth movie, co-star James Cagney's film debut, and for both performers it proved to be a promise of great things to come.

Blondell and Cagney teamed up again just three months later for Other Men's Women, the story of a love triangle involving a married couple and the husband's best friend. That neither Blondell nor Cagney, again relegated to supporting roles, figure into the affair should tell you all you need to know about the production's chief weakness. But the movie still works as a showcase of both stars' talents and is a prime example of the sort of things a pre-Code movie could get away with that movie audiences wouldn't see again for thirty years.

Blondell is slinging hash behind the counter at a railroad diner in this one, and with her eyes and with her voice, she draws a convincing portrait of a tired, jaded working woman, a real tough cookie. When she asks the customers "Anything else you guys want?" you can feel the slap in her voice and when one of them eyes her as she bends over and answers "Yeah, gimme a big slice of you on toast" she tells him with a look that let's him know she's heard it all before and is immune to his nonsense, "Listen, baby, I'm A.P.O.—Ain't Puttin' Out!"

Blondell's pining for the railroad engineer who's forgotten he's promised to marry her when he gets back into town—pining, that is, without love and without feeling any need to be particularly chaste while she's waiting. She blows him the raspberry and when he later rips her her dress, she gives him a slap he no doubt felt down to his heels; if Blondell pulled her punch, it was the most convincing pulled punch in movie history.

The star of Other Men's Women is a young and beautiful Mary Astor, who just as in Red Dust, can make you believe a guy would throw over a Joan Blondell or a Jean Harlow for her. But Blondell is the most convincing performer in the movie, and that includes Cagney in his last role before he became a star (by the way, what a swell movie this might have been if director Wellman had thought to cast Cagney as the lead). Blondell could play saucy in her sleep and hers is the performance you'll remember from this one.

After the January premiere of Other Men's Women, Blondell made nine more movies in 1931 (she made ten in 1932 and eight the year after that), her best roles coming in Night Nurse and Blonde Crazy, two of the best Code-busting movies ever made. The latter, with Blondell's famous bathtub scene, came out too late in 1931 to be eligible for a Katie here, but Night Nurse and its parade of lingerie just squeezed in with a July premiere in New York.

In Night Nurse, Blondell again has a supporting role, this time to Barbara Stanwyck who plays a nurse trainee paired with a more experienced nurse (Blondell) who specializes primarily in ways to skirt the strict rules against men, booze and late nights boozing with men.

"I'm sure in your heart you love it," says the eager Stanwyck.

"Sez you," sneers Blondell.

The movie is not eight minutes old before the actresses are out of their clothes. Blondell picks out a uniform for Stanwyck then watches as she undresses, sizing up the competition. William A. Wellman—this is the same guy who gave us a quick glimpse of Clara Bow's bare breasts in Wings—directs the scene in his typically leering style. "Oh, don't be embarrassed," says Dr. Smooth-Weasel when he saunters in. "You can't show me a thing. I just came from the delivery room."

Then Stanwyck plants her foot in Blondell's lap so Blondell can help Stanwyck off with her stockings. To their credit, the two actresses handle the scene so casually it almost doesn't occur to you to wonder what director Wellman thought he was up to. Almost. Stanwyck and Blondell spend an awful lot of the movie dressing and undressing, and in the case of Stanwyck, who at this point in her acting career was as green as wet wood, it helps disguise the fact that she didn't quite know what she was doing. In Blondell's case, it just seems a natural aspect of her gum-chewing, hip-swiveling character.

The plot is pure gangster melo- drama. In a part originally written for James Cagney (who, with the unexpected success of The Public Enemy, was now too big for supporting roles) (and yes, Blondell was in that Cagney effort, too; in the first five years of their careers, they made seven movies together), Clark Gable starves the children of his rich society lover so he can get his hands on their trust fund. Stanwyck and Blondell stumble across the scheme when they sign on as night nurses at the rich woman's estate and the rest of the plot concerns the plucky Stanwyck's attempts to thwart Gable, a charismatic brute who doesn't mind knocking a woman cold with a right cross.

Despite the role's size, the best performance in the movie once again belongs to Blondell. What I like most about her, in this movie and elsewhere, is you can't easily read her character. Does she have a heart of gold or a heart of brass? Usually, it's both, with the mix, depending on the role, sliding along the continuum toward one end or the other but never fully arriving—as with most people. This is her strength as a character actress, I think, and maybe her weakness as a lead: Hollywood typically likes its stars to be all one thing, a hero or a villain you can root for or against. With Blondell, well, you're never quite sure.

Take Night Nurse, for example. For Stanwyck, nursing is a calling and she's ready to risk her career to stop Gable. For Blondell—"I don't know a thing, I just work here"—nursing is a job and sticking her neck out is no way to keep the paychecks coming. In other words, Blondell is us the way we really are, Stanwyck as we like to pretend we are, and we go to the movies to pretend.

Joan Blondell worked very hard for a very long time but with a few exceptions—most notably in 1945's A Tree Grows In Brooklyn—she flew under the radar. Like Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Arthur, she excelled at playing working class women. Like Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich, she was genuinely sexy. But after a couple of successful starring roles, she was largely relegated to supporting status.

Between film, stage and television, Blondell worked steadily from 1930 to her death in 1979, receiving a Tony nomination in 1958 for The Rope Dancers and two Emmy nominations for the television series Here Come The Brides. She received her only Oscar nomination, a supporting actress nod, for the 1951 movie The Blue Veil, and won the National Board of Review's award for the best supporting actress of 1965 for her performance as Lady Fingers in The Cincinnati Kid.

"I don't know what the secret to longevity as an actress is," she once said. "It's more than talent and beauty. Maybe it's the audience seeing itself in you."

Trivia: Clark Gable made Night Nurse (which along with A Free Soul turned him from a bit player into a star) while on loan from MGM to Warner Brothers
and it's interesting to think about how different Gable's career might have been if he had been under contract to Warner Brothers rather than MGM. Judging from roles like this one, he likely would have been the fourth gangster superstar along with James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart instead of the romantic rogue/superstar he became.

But then who would have played Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind? Mickey Rooney, I guess—and Lewis Stone could have played Scarlett O'Hara! Chew on that for a while.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Best Fun-Stupid Movie of 1930-31: Dracula

In honor of Bela Lugosi's birthday today, I am moving my choice for the best fun-stupid movie of 1930-31 ahead by a few days.

The brain child of Oscar-winning producer Carl Laemmle, Jr., Dracula was the first of Universal Studios' classic "monster" movies, a series that included Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Black Cat and Bride of Frankenstein and continued well into the 1950s (see, e.g., Creature From the Black Lagoon). The title character was played by Bela Lugosi, a Hungarian film actor who had had a huge success on Broadway with a stage adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. Although Lugosi was not Universal's first choice to play the title character (Lon Chaney was reportedly set to play the role until his untimely death; also considered were Conrad Veidt and Paul Muni), he became so closely associated with the role, he rarely appeared in any other kind of movie.

The story, based more on the stage play than the novel, is by now a familiar one. A young British lawyer (Dwight Frye in the movie's other great performance) journeys to Transylvania to arrange Count Dracula's sea journey to London. Once there, Dracula begins to prey on beautiful young women, first Lucy Weston then Mina Harker—famously conflating sex, seduction, virginity and horror, soon to become staples of the genre—until that old vampire hunter Professor von Helsing arrives and divines Dracula's true nature.

The movie was a big box office hit upon its release in February 1931 and continues to enjoy acclaim today. Just last month, the London Telegraph included Dracula on its list of the twenty-five best book to film adaptations in movie history. The American Film Institute chose Lugosi's Dracula #33 on its list of the fifty greatest villains, ranked the movie #85 on its list of the 100 top thrillers and voted the line "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make." one of the top 100 movie quotes of all time. In 2000, the Library of Congress selected Dracula for the National Film Registry.

Lugosi himself didn't fare as well. Although he continued to work right up until his death, even appearing posthumously in Ed Wood's camp classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, most of his roles after the early 1930s were in campy, low-budget horror films for poverty row studios. He did have a supporting role as a Russian commissar in the 1939 comedy Ninotchka and in the 1945 Val Lewton adaptation of Robert Lewis Stevenson's short story The Body Snatcher with Boris Karloff. Lugosi died of a heart attack in 1956.

Martin Landau won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lugosi in Tim Burton's comedy Ed Wood.

Will you find Dracula scary? Not unless you under the age of four. I mean, the guy's wearing a tuxedo for crying out loud—how scary can he be? I'm not even sure audiences in 1931 found this movie scary and certainly by the time Bela Lugosi reprised the role for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein he was playing the part strictly for laughs. But while it's true that one generation's horror becomes the next generation's camp, the appeal of Dracula has always rested not on its shock value but on its ideas and it's there you will find the lasting power of its horror.

You have to know what kind of a movie fan you are. If you're a sit back, arm's crossed "show me something" kind of viewer, you may find Dracula slow and campy. But if you're willing to give yourself up to it, particularly with Halloween just around the corner, I think you will find it fun. At least I did.

The Short, Sweet Life Of Olive Thomas

Here's another name I didn't know until I started writing this blog (okay, who am I kidding. I'd never heard of her until this morning—thanks, KC).

Olive Thomas, born on this day in 1894, died at the height of her fame in 1920 while on vacation in France. Born Olive Duffy in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Thomas fled an abusive marriage to a local millworker for New York City. There, she won Howard Chandler Christy's contest for "The Most Beautiful Girl In New York" and soon after posed for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

She went to work for Florenz Ziegfeld's risque Midnight Frolic, where the dancers, clad only in balloons, would slowly disrobe by allowing wealthy customers to pop their costumes with lit cigars. Thomas also posed nude for Alberto Vargas—that painting is easy enough to track down on the internet if you are so inclined.

In 1916 Thomas signed a contract with the International Film Company and made twenty-four movies over a four year period. Her best known work is The Flapper, a 1920 movie by legendary screenwriter Frances Marion about a senator's daughter who longs to leave her sheltered existence and live the life of a flapper. It was a formula often repeated but Hollywood had to start ripping itself off somewhere. I watched it this morning on YouTube. Eh, it's okay.

While in Hollywood, Thomas became involved with Jack Pickford, film star Mary's brother. Said Frances Marion, "They were the wildest brats ... who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway. Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers."

The end came suddenly for Olive Thomas. While vacationing with Jack Pickford in France, Thomas drank a bottle of mercury bichloride that had been prescribed for Pickford's syphilis. French authorities ruled the death an accident. Thomas was a month shy of her twenty-sixth birthday.

The Baltimore Examiner, a local paper if you happen to live where I do, claims that to this day, Olive Thomas's ghost haunts the New Amsterdam Theater in New York where she danced for Ziegfeld. Maybe she misses that business with the balloons.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Musical Interlude #2

I've been neglecting the musically inclined part of my audience—brother Uncle Tom, Mister Muleboy, Who Am Us Anyway, among others—and to make it up to them, I present here what I consider to be the top musical number to appear in a movie in each of the first four Oscar seasons since Hollywood first introduced sound in 1927.

By the way, I'm not choosing songs based on what would have been eligible for an Oscar, which limit the award to songs written specifically for the movie, but am instead choosing the song I think had the biggest impact both culturally and artistically regardless of when it first debuted. Thus, even though "Toot Toot Tootsie" had been a hit for Al Jolson a couple of years before, its appearance in The Jazz Singer was a pivotal moment in the history of motion pictures. As co-star May McAvoy put it "In that moment just before 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie,' a miracle occurred. Moving pictures really came alive. To see the expressions on their faces, when Joley spoke to them ... you'd have thought they were listening to the voice of God."

1927-28: Al Jolson singing "Toot Toot Tootsie" from The Jazz Singer. Unfortunately, there are no clips on YouTube that include the "Wait a minute! You ain't seen nothing yet!" introduction. Well, actually that's not true. There are a couple that include it but the Warner Music Group has made a copyright claim and the sound has been eliminated from those clips. No doubt the sound will be eliminated from this one, too, in a few days. I have The Jazz Singer on videotape down in the basement if anybody wants to come over and watch it. Or you could track it down on DVD. That's what a responsible person would do.

"The Broadway Melody" from the Oscar-winning best picture of the same name. The Broadway Melody was the top box office movie of 1929 and also featured "You Were Meant For Me" and "Give My Regards To Broadway."

The song and dance man in top hat and tails is Charles King. Bessie Love is the one arguing with Eddie Kane (whose Francis Zanfield is an obvious nod to Florenz Ziegfeld) while personal favorite Anita Page looks on in horror. Never mind that everybody in this movie seems miscast as veteran stage performers—it's the songs I'm talking about.

1929-30: This one you've seen: Marlene Dietrich singing "Falling In Love Again" in The Blue Angel but here it is again, an encore presentation.

And finally, Eddie Cantor performing "Makin' Whoopee" in the 1930 hit musical Whoopee!

By the way, this clip isn't colorized—the movie was actually filmed in an early two-strip color process that had been showing up occasionally in theaters since 1922's The Toll Of The Sea. Movies had been hand tinted even before that. Sounds like another essay, doesn't it. Well, some day, maybe, if you're good.

And here's a bonus: Curtis Mosby's Blue Blowers and Nina Mae McKinney performing "Swanee Shuffle" from King Vidor's 1929 musical Hallelujah!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Promised Pictures Of Supporting Actor Nominees

I promised lupner beefcake photos of the nominees for best supporting actor of 1930-31. Alas, only one of them qualifies as actual beefcake (your guess is as good as mine). Meanwhile, I'm working on the essay about the best supporting actress—should have it up in a day or two (Joan Blondell, Margaret Dumont or Sylvia Sidney in case you've forgotten).

Clark Gable (A Free Soul)

Peter Lorre (M)

Adolphe Menjou (The Front Page)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flappers And Flickers

Jen of both Silent Stanzas and Flappers and Flickers (I can barely write one blog, she writes two, both about the silent movie era) stopped by earlier today to say, "There can never be enough Brooksie!" Yer durn tootin', Jen!

In her honor, I am adapting a variant of a meme floating around the movie blogosphere ("meme"—I'm not even sure what that is unless it's plural and has the word "screaming" in front of it): Twenty Favorite Movie Subjects I Have Previously Mentioned In My Blog So Far.

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford

Frances Marion (the Silent Era's best screenwriter)

German Expressionism (here, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

Charles Chaplin

Lillian Gish

Buster Keaton

Greta Garbo

Harold Lloyd

Lon Chaney

Clara Bow

The Joan Crawford/Anita Page Flapper Trilogy (throw in Dorothy Sebastian on the left and you've got the cast of Our Dancing Daughters)

Louise Brooks (wallpaper courtesy of Sylvie at Doctor Macro's High Quality Movie Scans)

Ronald Colman (with Lili Damita)

The Marx Brothers

Marie Dressler

James Cagney

pre-Code permissiveness (here, in the person of Joan Blondell)

The movies of René Clair (that's the opera scene from Le Million)

Sex Symbols (in this case, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow)

and most importantly, Katie-Bar-The-Door

Have I forgotten anyone?