Tuesday, May 31, 2011

That's Typing Tuesday #5: Bull Durham

"That's Typing" Tuesday, in which I share unpolished, unpublished writings from my vast store of unpolished, unpublished writings. On Tuesdays.

From my notes on Bull Durham, the 1988 comedy written and directed by Ron Shelton about a romantic triangle set in baseball's Carolina League.

... what makes it art is not the romance or the baseball but its pitch-perfect insights into the existence of a marginally-talented man. On the margins is where most of us live—if we're lucky (it's a hard world)—and aspirations of greatness almost always wind up being delusional.

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen," Thomas Grey wrote, "and waste its sweetness on the desert air."

Well said. Unfortunately.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sold For Marriage (1916)

While preparing for my essay on the well-known and not-so-well-known movies of 1916, I stumbled across a rather obscure Lillian Gish feature, Sold For Marriage, which I'd recommend both to fans of the legendary actress and to those interested in how Hollywood treated what was then, as now, a hot-button issue in American politics, immigration.

By 1916, approx- imately one of every eight persons living in the United States was a first- gener- ation immigrant, with a million more arriving every year, and given that most studio owners were themselves immigrants, it should come as no surprise that the daily lives of immigrants was a frequent topic of movies throughout the decade. Sold For Marriage is specifically about Russian immigrants, a substantial community of over 3 million mostly Jewish, Ukranian and Belarusan peasants and laborers who between 1881 and 1914 had arrived in the U.S. seeking political and religious freedom and economic opportunity.

The story opens in Russia with Gish playing Marfa, a young woman on the verge of being sold into an arranged marriage to the town's most eligible bachelor, a short, fat "beast" who nevertheless promises wealth and social standing. Predictably, Marfa prefers Jan (Frank Bennett), a young, handsome—and poor—laborer. Following a narrow escape from a lusty army officer who won't take no for an answer, Marfa and her family immigrate to the U.S., where once again a struggle ensues between Marfa's desire for Jan and her family's desire to arrange a profitable marriage.

Even though Sold For Marriage was directed by Christy Cabanne, the ending is straight out of the D.W. Griffith playbook, with classic three-part intercutting between Gish and her tormentors as her would-be savior rushes to the rescue, the sort of sequence Griffith more or less invented in 1909 and repeated many times, including in Gish's very first film, 1912's An Unseen Enemy.

I'd like to tell you that Sold For Marriage is a nuanced look at life in the Russian community on par with near- documentary quality films such as Traffic in Souls or The Italian. It isn't. Instead, the story of a girl forced into marriage has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it, exploiting a hot topic for quick box-office bucks rather than offering any meaningful insight into what life might have been like for these newly-minted Americans.

And you thought Law & Order invented cheap exploitation.

What makes Sold For Marriage worth tracking down is Gish's performance. Not only is it good—as you would expect—but it reveals a side of her I can't say I've seen before. She's sullen, she's petulant, at times she funny, and more to the point, she's flirtatious and sexual, for example, clinging to Frank Bennett with a hunger that is as refreshing as it surprising. Even her performances in The Scarlet Letter and La Boheme, a pair of romances from 1926, didn't prepare me for the notion that Gish as an actress could ever be particularly comfortable as a romantic lead.

While we think of Gish from this era as D.W. Griffith's go-to girl—e.g., The Birth of a Nation, Broken Blossoms and Way Down East—her chief collaborator in 1916 was a Griffith protege, director Christy Cabanne, and maybe this accounts for the uncharacteristic nature of Gish's performance. While Cabanne isn't nearly as imaginative a director as Griffith, perhaps he didn't so narrowly conceive of Gish as the embodiment of a virginal Victorian fantasy, allowing him to see in Gish possibilities Griffith never did.

In any event, Sold For Marriage is an unusual entry in the Lillian Gish filmography and will require me to broaden my sense of her range.

Finally, a word about the DVD. If you're not familiar with the outfit, Classic Video Streams sells copies of rare silent-era films through Amazon.com. Generally, the videos are transferred from 16mm reduction prints and vary in quality from not-too-bad to beat-to-hell; the discs also include music scores cobbled together from pre-existing recordings. There are no "extras" so don't look for any.

In researching the films of 1916, I bought DVDs from Classic Video Streams starring Norma Talmadge, Douglas Fairbanks and Lillian Gish, and while I'd say every one of the films presented cries out for a proper restoration, for a film history buff such as myself, they are very much better than nothing.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Introducing: Buster Keaton

I'm not quite ready to put 1916 behind me—I'm still working on short reviews of films starring Lillian Gish and Douglas Fairbanks—but perhaps you'll forgive me for looking ahead to 1917 when arguably the greatest silent comedian of them all, Buster Keaton, made his film debut.

Here's how Keaton described the circumstances:

"In the spring of 1917," he said in an interview with George Pratt, "vaudeville wasn't quite as good as it used to be, and I went to our agent and told him I wanted to get out and [he] said, 'All right. Send your folks to your summer home in Muskegon, Michigan, and I'll put you at the Shuberts.' So they signed me at the Winter Garden for The Passing Show of 1917. I had about ten days to wait for rehearsal to start when I met Roscoe ['Fatty'] Arbuckle on the street on Broadway and he says, 'Have you ever been in a motion picture?' And I said, 'I've never been in a studio.' He says, 'Well, I'm just startin' here for Joe Schenck. I've left [Mack] Sennett ... and ... [Schenck's] puttin' me up here to make pictures in the Norma Talmadge studio.' He says, 'Come on down and play a scene with me and see how you like it. I'm startin' tomorrow morning.'

"I went down and did a scene in the picture [The Butcher Boy (1917)] and as long as I had a few days to spare, he carried me all the way through the picture. Then he talked to me like a Dutch uncle. He says, 'See if you can get out of the Winter Garden. Stick with me.' ... So that was that."

So here it is, Buster Keaton's film debut, The Butcher Boy, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle and co-starring Al St. John, Josephine Stevens and Luke the Dog.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Monkey And Katie At The Beach

Katie-Bar-The-Door and I are back from the beach—that's Katie on the right.

Except for a couple of moments on a borrowed computer to answer a couple of comments, I didn't do any blogging at all—the last four entries were prepared in advance—and I'm way behind on both my movie watching and blog reading. I'll try to catch up over the weekend.

I did see that we picked up some new followers here at the Monkey—welcome!. I've added them to the blogroll, so you'll see a couple new sites when you scroll down the page. And I see that Movie Nut 14, our favorite trivia answering machine, tagged me with fifteen questions on her blog, Defiant Success.

1. Movie you love with a passion.
2. Movie you vow to never watch.
3. Movie that literally left you speechless.
4. Movie you always recommend.
5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie.
6. Actor/actress you don't get the appeal for.
7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you'd love to meet.
8. Sexiest actor/actress you've seen. (Picture required!)
9. Dream cast.
10. Favorite actor pairing.
11. Favorite movie setting.
12. Favorite decade for movies.
13. Chick flick or action movie?
14. Hero, villain or anti-hero?
15. Black and white or color?

I encourage fellow bloggers such as Who Am Us, Thingy, Zoe and Mister Muleboy—and anyone else so inclined—to cut and past the questions into their blog, or into the comments section below, and answer them. No penalties if you don't though. We pitch a guilt-free tent here at the Monkey.

My answers, by the way:

1. Passion about? Whichever movie I'm currently researching, in this case the comedies Chaplin made for Mutual in 1916 and 1917.
2. Vow not to see? None, as long as it's reasonably affordable.
3. Left me literally speechless? Schindler's List.
4. Recommended movie? On the right side of the page, click on the Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards and The Silent Oscars.
5. Watch them in anything? Many, such as Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne, and just lately, Charlie Chaplin.
6. Don't get? Angelina Jolie.
7. Want to meet? Buster Keaton.
8. Sexiest? For Katie, it's Cary Grant. For me, Diana Rigg.
9. Dream cast? That would be Casablanca. Flawless cast.
10. Actor pairing? William Powell and Myrna Loy.
11. Movie setting? Around whichever musical instrument is appearing in whichever Howard Hawks movie I'm watching—for example, the piano in Only Angels Have Wings or To Have and Have Not, the guitar in Rio Bravo.
12. Favorite movie decade? 1940s. I think.
13. Chick flick or action movie? Put on Charade, which is both.
14. Hero, villain or anti-hero? Whatever Bogart is. Reluctant hero, I guess.
15. Black and white, or color? Yes, definitely.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Rink (1916)

One of the Chaplin Mutuals, in this case The Rink from 1916. Because you asked for it.

Or because you would have asked for it if you'd thought about it.

Co-starring Eric Campell and Edna Purviance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

That's Typing Tuesday #4: Doggie In The Yard (a poem)

"That's Typing" Tuesday, in which I share unpolished, unpublished writings from my vast store of unpolished, unpublished writings. On Tuesdays.

"Doggie in the yard"

see the little doggie
doggie in the yard
happy face
he runs pell-mell
bury bone
and waggy tail
and though I don't know
his name
and we haven't been
I can't help notice
he's cavalier
about the brown stuff
he's produced
produced upon my
fresh-mown lawn
produced and left
and now he's gone.

Next Tuesday: Bull Durham

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Silent Oscars: 1916

First, the year's nominees and winners:

winner: Intolerance (prod. D.W Griffith)
nominees: The Chaplin Mutuals (prod. Charles Chaplin); Hell's Hinges (prod. Thomas H. Ince); Judex (prod. Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont)
Must-See Movies: Intolerance
Recommended Films: Behind The Screen; The Count; The Fireman; The Floorwalker; The Habit of Happiness; Hell's Hinges; Judex; The Matrimaniac; One A.M.; The Pawnshop; Police; The Rink; The Waiter's Ball
Of Interest: Civilization; Flirting With Fate; Hævnens nat a.k.a. Blind Justice; His Picture in the Papers; Hoodoo Ann; Joan the Woman; The Mystery of the Leaping Fish;
Reggie Mixes In; Snow White; The Social Secretary; Sold For Marriage; 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea; Where Are My Children?

winner: William S. Hart (Hell's Hinges)
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals); Douglas Fairbanks (The Fine Arts Film Company Comedies); Tyrone Power, Sr. (Where Are My Children?)

winner: Mae Marsh (Hoodoo Ann and Intolerance)
nominees: Marguerite Clark (Snow White); Lillian Gish (Sold For Marriage); Norma Talmadge (Going Straight and The Social Secretary)

winner: D.W. Griffith (Intolerance)
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals); Louis Feuillade (Judex)

winner: Eugene Pallette (The Children In The House and Going Straight)
nominees: George Fawcett (The Habit Of Happiness); Theodore Roberts (Joan The Woman); Fred Warren (The Matrimaniac)

winner: Constance Talmadge (Intolerance)
nominees: Dorothy G. Cumming (Snow White); Bessie Love (Reggie Mixes In); Musidora (Judex)

winner: Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, from a story by L. Payton and F. Hall (Where Are My Children?)
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Chaplin Mutuals); D.W. Griffith (scenario); Anita Loos (titles) (Intolerance)

SPECIAL AWARDS Eugene Gaudio, George M. Williamson and J. Ernest Williamson (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) (Cinematography); D.W. Griffith , James Smith and Rose Smith (Intolerance) (Film Editing); Walter L. Hall (Intolerance) (Art Direction-Set Design)

Coming to terms with D.W. Griffith is like coming to terms with life itself—you either demand perfection of everyone you meet and wind up alone, or you accept that everyone (including yourself) is deeply flawed and you enjoy what you can.

As I wrote in my essay about the films of 1915, Griffith's The Birth of a Nation is so profoundly offensive to a modern audience (and to an audience of 1915, for that matter) that it overshadows everything else the director accomplished, and some of my readers have admitted that they've given the entirety of Griffith's output a miss as a result. And while that's an understandable reaction—life is short and we'll never have time to do all we'd like, much less what we don't like—Griffith made at least two films, Broken Blossoms and my choice for the best picture of 1916, Intolerance, that are not only indispensable for a student of film history, but also are among the best, most entertaining movies of the silent era.

In case you know nothing about it, Intolerance weaves four separate story lines—the life of Christ, the fall of Babylon, the massacre of the Huguenots, and a modern-day story about the victims of a overreaching reform movement—into a three-plus hour spectacle that might be the most ambitious movie ever made. Accounts vary as to how much of his personal fortune Griffith poured into the production—some say as much as $2 million, the most for any film before Gone With The Wind—but there's no question that this was the most lavish production of the silent era.

Or to put it another way, to show the sack of Babylon, Griffith basically built a full-scale replica of the ancient city on a Hollywood backlot and then laid siege to it.

"Imagine," wrote Daniel Eagan in America's Film Legacy, "how audiences in [1916] must have reacted to the sight of walls and battlements four and five stories high, to courtyards set on three different levels and filled with hundreds of costumed extras, to visuals so expensive it's like they were filmed on and made out of gold."

The film opens with the story of a modern-day reform movement determined to improve the spiritual life of the working class if it kills them. Fueled by jealousy and financed by an autocratic mill owner, the reformers crush the life out of their would-be beneficiaries, particularly "the Dear One" (played so memorably by Mae Marsh), the embodiment of youthful joy and innocence. Only a crabbed, self-righteous hypocrite could find fault with someone so pure; that the reform movement's machinations lead to Dear One's fall is a testament to its destructive purposes.

To underscore the point, Griffith cuts to a scene from the life of Christ, that of a Pharisee praying in public so that others might better observe his piety. "Oh Lord, I thank thee that I am better than other men."

The film's third storyline focuses on the political intrigue in the court of King Charles IX that led to the massacre of Protestants in Paris in the late sixteenth century, while the fourth and final story, about the jealousy between rival religious factions that led to the sack of Babylon, rounds out Griffith's theme, a rousing condemnation of the humorless, meddling, Puritanical impulses that characterize so much of America's reformist zeal on both ends of the political spectrum. Watching it, I thought it was a pity that Griffith never directed a screen version of Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry.

Structurally, Intolerance is as audacious as anything ever attempted on film—four simultaneous stories linked only by a common theme and the generally rising action—with the editing style growing more complex as the action in each story reaches its climax. The film's last half hour, with quick cross-cut shots between a marauding army, a racing car, a speeding train, the slaughter of the Huguenots and the crucifixion of Christ, has been described as a fugue, a concept borrowed from music where two or more voices entering successively and sung in either imitation or counterpoint to build on a common theme.

Griffith's visual fugue later inspired Sergei Eisenstein and other Russian directors to develop the montage—quick shots cut rapidly together to condense several events or a lengthy period of time into a single short sequence.

Questions have persisted almost from the beginning as to Griffith's motives in making Intolerance. For years, historians assumed Intolerance was his apology for the racism of The Birth of a Nation, but more recently, biographers have suggested Griffith was lashing out at those who were looking for an apology. Personally, after watching it in the context of the times, Intolerance looks like the act of a supremely self-confident artist determined to top both himself and his chief competition, Cecil B. DeMille and Thomas H. Ince, who that year directed ambitious historical epics of their own, Joan the Woman and Civilization, respectively.

Whatever his motivations, Griffith succeeded brilliantly.

Which is not to say that all four of Griffith's stories are created equal. Christ's life, for example, gets the least amount of screen time, presumably because Griffith assumed his audience knew the story so well, he needed only reference a particular well-know incident to underscore a point he wanted to make in one of the other story lines.

Too, the story of Protestant-Catholic infighting in sixteenth century France isn't all that interesting even if it does result in a satisfyingly bloody slaughter by the film's end. Without a central figure as compelling as the Dear One or Babylon's Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge), the court intrigue becomes a bit opaque, delving too deeply into the minutiae of history without giving us someone lovable to root for.

But when it focuses on the modern and Babylo- nian stories, the film soars. It's telling that in the role of the Dear One, Griffith cast Mae Marsh from his stable of performers instead of his usual go-to girl, Lillian Gish. For truly tragic suffering—and for an ideal of Victorian womanhood that existed only in Griffith's head—no one was better than Gish. But Marsh, with her kewpie doll face, bow-tie mouth and round, startled eyes, was better suited for a role that required joy, passion and an almost childlike innocence. Along with her work in Judith of Bethulia, The Birth of a Nation and Hoodoo Ann, this represents Marsh at the peak of her career.

After Intolerance, Marsh left Griffith's studio for Samuel Goldwyn's where the pay was better—$2500 a week instead of $35—but to Marsh's chagrin, the roles weren't nearly as good. Her career went into a gradual decline and she wound up playing bit parts in sound pictures, mostly in John Ford films such as My Darling Clementine and The Quiet Man. Marsh made 198 films during her career, the last in 1964.

She was married to the same man for fifty years, had three children and passed away at the age of seventy-three.

The film's most unforgettable performance—and for me, the best in any film in 1916—came from Marsh's co-star, Constance Talmadge. In the Babylonian sequence of Intolerance, she plays "the Mountain Girl," a pretty, perky, petulant teenage beauty who finds herself fighting against a palace conspiracy that threatens to topple the kingdom. Wide-eyed and gangly-limbed, Talmadge is as hyperactive as a puppy amped up on kibble and amphetamines, windmilling her way across the screen, and you can't take your eyes off her. Neither could audiences in 1916 and she quickly became a star.

"[I]t's a mark of her skill," Eagan wrote, "that she stands out in a segment filled with orgies, sacrifices, semi-nudity, wild animals, and wholesale destruction."

Working primarily in comedies, Talmadge would excel throughout the silent era
—look for her in The Matrimaniac, the best of the dozen films Douglas Fairbanks made in 1916, a wild, stunt-filled romantic comedy that no doubt later served as a blueprint for the get-me-to-the-wedding-on-time story lines of Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy and For Heaven's Sake—then retired with the advent of sound, famously telling her sister Norma, "Quit pressing your luck, baby. The critics can't knock those trust funds Mama set up for us."

Among actors, William S. Hart gave the best performance of his career in the National Film Registry western, Hell's Hinges. The father of the taciturn Western hero—or more accurately, antihero—Hart came to movies late, at the age of forty-nine, but he quickly established himself as the first movie cowboy superstar. As different from his contemporary Tom Mix as John Wayne was from Roy Rogers, Hart preferred playing morally-ambiguous characters—violent men who find a measure of redemption—to the white-hatted good guys who came to dominate the genre.

Hart's close-set eyes glowered from a hollow, weather-beaten face that looked like it had been chiseled out of granite, a face "as rugged as the plains," wrote Jen at Silent Stanzas. Because he had been a real cowboy before he became an actor, there's an authenticity in the way he carried himself, with a rolling gait, simultaneously loose-limbed and stiff-legged, and you can see shades of Hart in the later work of John Wayne and Gary Cooper, who no doubt saw his films.

Hell's Hinges tells the story of Blaze Tracy, a roughneck gunslinger in a roughneck western hamlet, who falls for a preacher's sister and winds up turning on his gang. It sounds like the makings of the hokiest sort of B-western, but thanks to Hart's quiet, intense performance, the drama plays out on an intimate scale, and even when he settles down, it's not without the sense that he knows his best days are behind him.

Audiences gradually tired of Hart, who retired in 1925 at the age of sixty, but mark Hell's Hinges down as the forerunner of such "serious" westerns as The Searchers, Bend of the River and the Man With No Name trilogy, and Hart himself as the first in a line of classic western heroes that includes Wayne, Cooper and Clint Eastwood.

In preparation for this essay, I tracked down and watched more than forty films, and saw a number of great movies and performances, but the most startling revelation of the year came in form of Eugene Pallette.

You remember Eugene Pallette, don't you? During Hollywood's Golden Age, he was one of that army of supporting actors whose name you might not recognize but whose face—in Pallette's case, a fat round face with wobbly jowls—you never forget. Coupled with his squat, round body and bullfrog voice, he's one of the most recognizable supporting actors of his era, and most of us remember him as the long-suffering father in My Man Godfrey, as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood and as the fat-bellied pol who can't get out of a phone booth in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

But it turns out Pallette was young once, and thin, too. With silent films concealing his trademark voice, Pallette wasn't limited to comic relief and starting in 1913, he appeared in over 130 silent films including such classics as Intolerance, The Birth of a Nation, The Three Musketeers and The Ten Commandments.

In 1916, he appeared in seven movies, but in giving him the award for best supporting actor, I chose two of them, Going Straight and The Children in the House, to give you a sense of his range.

In the former, where he plays a career criminal who threatens Norma Talmadge with her secret past, Pallette is the nastiest of thugs, guilty of attempted rape, murder, theft, blackmail, Faganism—you name it. His introduction is startling: a close up as he spits tobacco juice on the sidewalk, and not nice, clean movie spit either, but a flowing stream of foul, brown saliva that he must have been saving up between takes. You get a nice look at his eyes in that same scene, glowering and menacing under a Neanderthal brow.

Contrast that with The Children in the House where you first see him in a tuxedo, not handsome but elegant, a prototypical noir antihero adulterously involved with a beautiful dancer who ropes him into a bank robbery with her rapacious demands. Pallette once again shows a flair for naturalistic gestures—stifling a yawn, for example—but also demonstrates a mastery of the artificial ones that enabled him in film after film to sketch a character quickly. Watching him convey a man's entire life just by the way he enters a room, I was reminded again that while the Method gave us some of the best acting in movie history, we also lost something when actors abandoned studied artifice.

Finally, I want to mention Lois Weber, who wrote and directed one of the year's most controversial films—then and now—Where Are My Children? As you may know, Weber was the first American woman to find real success as a director, and I've briefly written about her before, here, where I also showed you what is probably the best work of her career, the short Suspense.

Perhaps because she began her career as a street-corner evangelist before becoming an actress then writer-director, Weber's feature films tended to tackle the social issues of the day and Where Are My Children? is no exception. This is the story of, as one reviewer put it, a "curiously infertile" woman whose husband is a crusading district attorney bent on prosecuting back alley abortion doctors—maybe you can see where this is going.

Weber's film advocates birth control as a means of avoiding abortion, which she abhors, positions which still manage to offend politically-active film fans of both the right and left. She also seems to support the notion that birth control is an effective means of combating poverty, which to some smacks of eugenics, which pretty much offends everybody.

Still, as Daniel Eagan wrote, "The film is remarkably forthright: it would take many decades before movies would be this open again about abortion. Weber didn't concentrate on salacious details, but on the human costs of betrayed relationships, something that many modern-day filmmakers still find uncomfortable."

Effectively marketing the controversy surrounding the film's subject matter, Where Are My Children? was a big hit for Carl Laemmle's Universal Studios. In 1993, the Library of Congress selected Where Are My Children? for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Weber continued to direct movies into the 1920s, but her style didn't adapt to changing tastes and her film company eventually failed. Following a divorce from her abusive husband, co-writer Phillips Smalley, Weber suffered a nervous breakdown and her career ground to a halt. Working mostly as an uncredited script doctor for Universal, Weber directed only one talkie and died penniless in 1939. She was sixty years old.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tired Of Waiting

I got tired of waiting for Blogger to get their act together, re: restoring lost comments, so I cut-and-pasted together copies of them and posted them in their respective comments sections—the posts about haikus, The Sound of Music and pirates, to be specific.

Oh, and did anyone else notice that 25 votes disappeared overnight from the poll about our favorite movie pirate?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

That's Typing Tuesday #3: Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

"That's Typing" Tuesday, in which I share unpolished, unpublished writings from my vast store of unpolished, unpublished writings. On Tuesdays.

From my notes about Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a 2008 screwball comedy starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.

a rarity now, a romantic comedy for adults about adults—and more to the point—about adults behaving like adults ... the sort of thing that studios cranked out by the basketful in the 1930s to great effect ... Hollywood has largely forgotten how to make movies like this; worse still, audiences have forgotten how to watch them.

Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew ... neither glam'ed up nor glamorously made plain in the fashion of Hollywood ... simply allowed to inhabit that long face and those impossible cheekbones.

... Amy Adams plays Delysia LeFosse like an Egyptian embalmer has sucked her brain out with a straw—I mean that as a compliment—the sort of role Carole Lombard could have played in her sleep. On the face of it, she's a golddigger, sleeping with three different men, sometimes within minutes of each other, mostly for what they can give her; she's has the attention span of a three year old—"There is something so sensual about fur next to the skin, don't you think?"—and she's the sort of housekeeper who disposes of oyster shells in a kitchen drawer. But her scheming is so transparent, there's a sort of honesty in it, and she's so accepting of the odd, gawky Miss Pettigrew, seeing her not as an inferior but as a soul mate, that you can't help but like her.

This is a performance that could have easily gone wrong ...

As the story opens, Delysia and Miss Pettigrew meet on the thin margin between having and having not ... a major theme of the movie, how precarious it is being a woman in what, in 1939, was very much a man's world ... so that even your enemies are kindred spirits when you're jostling for a spot in the same boat ...

... not so much a love story as a story about figuring out what's worth loving ...

Both McDormand and her unexpected, rather low-key love interest, perfectly underplayed by Ciarán Hinds (Persuasion, Munich), were in their early fifties when this was filmed. ... The trivial pursuits of youth are in their rearview mirror, and with World War II coming on, they know that everything from now on is played for keeps ... adds an undercurrent of melancholy to the daffy proceedings. ... reminds me very much of My Man Godfrey in that regard ...

Based on a novel published in 1938, I get the impression the book's author, Winifred Watson, spent a lot of time at the movies—Miss Pettigrew would fit nicely on a bill with Stage Door and Gold Diggers of 1933 or, for that matter, Pygmalion and Lady For A Day.

Question for my readers: If you were casting this movie in the 1930s, who would you cast as the two leads?

Note: I've now finished watching movies for my essay about 1916. I should have that up in the next few days.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Is All Fracked Up, Back Up Soon —Theoretically

Wondering what happened to that Chaplin movie I posted yesterday morning? And all the comments you (and I) have left here since Wednesday night?

Well, according to the Google, while performing routine maintenance on Wednesday evening, Blogger began experiencing some sort of technical problem that required them to—well, something. According to Blogger Buzz:

Here’s what happened: during scheduled maintenance work Wednesday night, we experienced some data corruption that impacted Blogger’s behavior. Since then, bloggers and readers may have experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages. A small subset of Blogger users (we estimate 0.16%) may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts. Yesterday we returned Blogger to a pre-maintenance state and placed the service in read-only mode while we worked on restoring all content: that’s why you haven’t been able to publish. We rolled back to a version of Blogger as of Wednesday May 11th, so your posts since then were temporarily removed. Those are the posts that we’re in the progress of restoring.

I'll take their word for it—it's all jibber-jabber to my untrained ear.

Hopefully everything will be back to normal later today.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Behind The Screen (1916)

While I'm working through the films of 1916 in preparation for my next Silent Oscars essay, here's one of the short comedies Charlie Chaplin made that year while working at Mutual. In Behind The Screen, Chaplin plays a stagehand at a film studio, a story inspired by his experiences working for Mack Sennett.

This particular print is rather beat up, but it's available free through the courtesy of the Internet Movie Database.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A New Poll: Favorite Movie Pirates

I've watched a sackful of Douglas Fairbanks movies in the last two days and with the premiere of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel imminent, a new poll suggested itself: "Who is your favorite swashbuckling movie pirate?" (Vote at right.)

Your choices:

Douglas Fairbanks

Errol Flynn

Tyrone Power

Burt Lancaster

Johnny Depp