Update: Flicker Alley is Sponsoring the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon!

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BIG NEWS! Thanks to Fritzi at Movies, Silently and the folks at Flicker Alley, we have an exciting update for the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon!

We are very pleased to announce that Flicker Alley is going to be sponsoring the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon. Flicker Alley has always been about releasing rare and important films in the highest quality possible and we are honored to be working with them.

Flicker Alley’s sponsorship is in honor of two exciting (and historical) releases:

Dziga Vertov: The Man with the Movie Camera and Other Newly-Restored Works: Vertov’s masterpiece gets the Blu-ray treatment. The set also includes Kino-EyeEnthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass, and Three Songs About Lenin.

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3-D Rarities: This collection will be released to commemorate the centenary of the world’s very first 3D exhibition in June 1915. It includes rare material from the 1920s all the way to the 1950s. The collection is compatible with 3D TVs and players but it will also play on normal home video equipment.

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The best part? You might just win a copy of that groovy 3D set.

This could be you! (image via Flicker Alley)

Giveaway

Flicker Alley is going to be giving away a copy of their 3-D Rarities collection for the event. The prize will ship after its release date (June 2015 at the earliest but possibly later). And since we know many of you online and some of you in real life, Flicker Alley will be handling all aspects of the contest and winner selection.

This drawing will be open to readers and participants alike but entry will be limited to residents of the United States and Canada only. Entering is easy. Just follow this link, sign on to the newsletter and you’re in like Flynn! The contest closes on the last day of the blogathon, June 28. If you are the winner, Flicker Alley will contact you via email within 30 days.

Here are the complete rules:

Open to residents of the United States and Canada only. Void where prohibited. Contest ends June 28, 2015. Winner will be chosen at random by Flicker Alley, LLC. The winners will be notified by email within 30 days of the closing date. If the winners cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition. The prize has a retail value of $39.95 USD. By submitting this form, you are granting: Flicker Alley, LLC, http://www.flickeralley.com, permission to email you. You can revoke permission to mail to your email address at any time using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email.

This is a great opportunity to get your blog noticed as Flicker Alley is going to be promoting the event. What do participants have to do? Not much. Just update your banners and bask in the extra publicity and prestige. Get ready for a grand time.

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Anouncing the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon

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It’s ba-a-ack! The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon is coming at the end of June! Hooray!

Fritzi at Movies, Silently is the mastermind behind this event, and is co-hosted by yours truly and the fab Aurora at Once Upon a Screen.

Here’s the announcement (and banners) designed by Fritzi (insert drum roll):

Announcement: The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon (2015)

We believe that there is a little bit of the historian in every classic movie fan. After all, we love films that were made before we were born and, in some cases, before our parents or grandparents were born. Here is our chance to combine our love of classic film with our passion for history.

Last time, we divided the history of film into individual years with each blogger claiming one year to cover. While this method was thorough, it left some talented writers out in the cold. You see, every single slot was snapped up in just 36 hours. This time, we are taking a looser approach, one that will allow more participants to help make this event memorable, educational and fun.

We have divided the history of film from 1880 to 1975 between us. Fritzi is your Silent Era host and will be covering 1880-1929. Aurora is our Golden Age host and will be covering 1930-1952. Ruth is our Swingin’ host and will be covering 1953-1975. We have divided our year ranges into bite-size sections. Pick your bite, tell us your angle and you’re in like Flynn!

What about duplicates?

While no exact duplicates are allowed, the topic is so broad that we are sure you will find an angle that works for you. For example, if someone is covering Rebel Without a Cause, you might cover the overall career of James Dean. That being said, if there is a section that looks a little empty, we would greatly appreciate you stepping up and making sure there are no gaps in the event.

Do I have to stay in Hollywood?

No! International cinema is welcome and encouraged. While our date ranges are based on Hollywood history, please feel free to cover cinema from any nation 1880-1975.

Can I still cover a particular year?

Yes, you can. Just make sure that your angle is different from everyone else’s. For example, if someone is already writing about why 1939 is such a great year, you might write about the Academy Award winners of ’39 or choose to focus on individual films.

Wow! I’m so excited that I can’t choose just one topic! Can I write in more than one category?

Yes! If you would like to take on extra categories and date ranges, please feel free to do so.

Do you only accept blog posts or can I get imaginative?

You can get imaginative. Pictorials, videos, podcasts and other multimedia items are allowed.

How do I join?

Contact any of your friendly hosts and we will add you to the roster. Please be sure to include the address of your blog, the section you have chosen and the title or general nature of your topic.

Example:

Hello! I would like to join in the 1880-1895 category. I want to cover Fred Ott’s Sneeze. My blog address is happypeppypeople.blogatron.com.

When do I post?

We will each be hosting one day of the event in chronological order. Fritzi will be first, Aurora second and Ruth will wrap things up.

So grab yourself a banner and get ready for a historically good time!

Note: The roster below will be updated daily. 

ROSTER

THE SILENT ERA (1880-1929)

1880-1895: Eadweard Muybridge and the Black Maria: The birth of the movies

Silent-ology Early History of Film

1896-1900: From novelty to art: The movies increase in popularity

Silent Volume The Best Pre-Feature Movies
Christy’s Inkwells How I Learned to Love Silent Movies

1901-1907: The first hits: Melies, Edison and the blockbuster

Big V Riot Squad Life of an American Director: Edwin S Porter in 1903

1908-1913: Nickelodeon! The movies in the mainstream

365 Days 365 Classics India’s Silent Era Movies

1914-1918: The War and the feature film: The move away from shorts

Now Voyaging Movie audience perceptions of the war
Century Film Project Regeneration (1915)
Once Upon a Screen Birth of Fox Studio – a centennial tribute

1919-1923: Hollywood triumphs: Post-war dominance

A Small Press Life Anita Loos: Females in Early Hollywood
Movies, Silently Home Theatres of the Silent Era

1924-1927: The high art of pantomime: The silent film reaches artistic heights

Sepia Stories Jeanne Eagels was Robbed. Why the stage’s most recognized Sadie Thompson didn’t appear in the film.
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood John Barrymore in Don Juan & the introduction to Vitaphone

1928-1929: The last of the silents: The talkie revolution

film, fashion & frivolity Garbo’s Last Silents
Critica Retro 1928 Around the World
CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch The Crowd (1928)

THE GOLDEN AGE (1930-1952)

1930-1931: All Singing! All Dancing! All Talking! The end of the sound transition.

A Person in the Dark Early Musicals
Classic Reel Girl Early portrayal of taxi dancers: Ten Cents a Dance (1931) and Two Seconds (1932)

1932-1934: Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? The wild world of pre-Code.

Carole & Co. Of Carole and Pre-Code
Girls Do Film Barbara Stanwyck’s Pre-Code Bad Girls
The Stop Button Son of Kong
Wolffian Classic Movies Digest Bette Davis, dame of the screen
stevielounicks Dinner at Eight
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood Ethel Barrymore’s tranisiton from stage to screen

1935-1938: Let’s misbeha— I mean, lovely day, isn’t it? The Code enforced and the rise of Technicolor.

Nitrate Glow Disney’s Early Features
CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch The Flame Within

1939: The Big Year. Selections from the biggest year in classic cinema.

Movie Movie Blog Blog The Flying Deuces (Laurel and Hardy)
Smitten Kitten Vintage 1939: The Big Year (Selections from the biggest year in classic cinema)

1940-1945: We’ll murdelize that paper hanger! Wartime Cinema.

Once Upon a Screen The de Havilland Decision
Second Sight Cinema 2 Anti-Nazi comedies of 1942: The Great Dictator & To Be or Not to Be
The Vintage Cameo Wartime Musicals
Speakeasy 1943 at RKO
The Motion Pictures For Me and My Gal
Way too damn lazy to write a blog Christmas in Connecticut
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies What the Stars Did to Help Win the War

1946-1949: Homecoming

B Noir Detour Wartime Cinema: Gentleman’s Agree’t, CrossfireA Double Life
Now Voyaging Soldiers return from the war: The Best Years of Our Lives and Till the End of Time
My Thoughts on Politics, Culture and Everything Else The Rise and Fall of the Biblical Epic Part 1

1950-1952: Realism and the Method: New directions

Sister Celluloid Stage Fright: Hitchcock Goes Home
Old Hollywood Films Hollywood Expose Pictures (Sunset Blvd, Bad the Beautiful)
Hitchcock’s World Destination Moon (1950)
Caftan Woman Adult Westerns
Criterion Blues The Collapse of the Studio System

SWINGING INTO MODERN TIMES (1953-1975)

1953-1957: Rebels with and without causes: The birth of cool

Back to Golden Days Juvenile Deliquency: The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause
Movies Silently After the Silents: A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Movie Mania Madness It’s Always Fair Weather – The Musical Gets Cynical

1958-1962: A little song, a little dance, a lot of people with no pants: Musicals, biblical epics and the shimmy-shimmy shakes.

A Shroud of Thoughts British New Wave
Cary Grant Won’t Eat You Single Roommates in the City: The Best of Everything (1959)

1963-1967: Mod’s the word: And then things started to swing

The Last Drive In The Bold & The Beautiful Strong Women of 1960s Film
The Wonderful World of Cinema 1967: An Important Turning Point in Films
Reel and Rock The Girl-Getters aka The System (1964)
That Other Critic Batman (1966)
My Thoughts on Politics, Culture and Everything Else The Rise and Fall of the Biblical Epic Part 2
Classic Becky’s Brain Food 3 Big Films 1969: Midnight Cowboy, Sterile Cuckoo, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?
No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen 1966: The Year dubbed as Nineteen Sexty Sex
The Joy & Agony of Movies Movies: 1963-67 (Topic TBA)

1968-1972: Hays is dead: The end of the Code

Portraits by Jenni Airport (1970)
The Joy and Agony of Movies Films about politics and civil unrest
Girls Do Film The American Road Movie (Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, Badlands)
Moon in Gemini Paranaoia in Movies

1972-1975: The Godfather and Jaws: Auteur films and the modern blockbuster

Silver Screenings Sounder (1972), anti-Blaxplotation film
Once Upon a Screen Mel Brooks’ Take on Classic Movie Genres
Crimson Kimono The Surveillance Sleuth of “The Conversation”
The Joy & Agony of Movies Movies: 1972-75 (Topic TBA)

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Kirk Douglas: Disaster Tourism for Fun & Profit

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Kirk Douglas discovers the Story Of A Lifetime. Image: Criterion

We humans are fascinated by disaster and tragedy.

Many tourist attractions (politely named “Interpretive Centres”) have been built on the sites of man-made and natural disasters. You want to tour the Chernobyl nuclear power station? Click HERE!

The gritty 1951 drama, Ace in the Hole, is one of the best films to explore disaster tourism, profitable side businesses and media coverage. “Bad news sells best,” is the film’s message. “Good news is no news.”

In this film, Kirk Douglas stars as a talented journalist who can’t keep a job. He brags about being fired from 11 newspapers with a combined circulation of seven million. When he finds himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he talks the publisher of the local newspaper into hiring him.

On the day he is sent out of town to cover an annual Rattlesnake Hunt, Douglas stops at a small gas station/hamburger stand and learns of a man (Richard Benedict) trapped by a cave-in inside a nearby mountain.

Now, Douglas wasn’t fired from the best newspapers for nothing, and he smells a story – a real story that could reboot his career, and maybe earn him a Pulitzer. Quickly he galvanizes the local sheriff (Ray Teal), the contractor heading up the rescue operation (Frank Jaquet), and Benedict’s unhappy wife (Jan Sterling). Douglas poses this question: If rescue workers were to take a few days to rescue the man, instead of a few hours, how much more profitable would that be for you?

Not one of the main characters in this film is untainted. Sterling’s character, for instance, wants out of her hamburger-slinging life; Teal, as Sheriff, wants to be re-elected; and the contractor Jaquet wants to keep his cozy government contracts.

See? With a cave-in, there’s something for everyone!

Douglas is pure magic in the role of the amoral journalist. He’s smooth-talking when he has to be, and doesn’t think twice about muscling others. He is ambitious and mean, and cannot wait to announce to the journalism world, “I’m back, Baby!”

Douglas’ ability to manipulate the rescue – and the story – is breathtaking. You hate him for his ruthlessness, but you almost admire his strategy.

Ultimately, it’s not how he manipulates the situation that causes us the greatest discomfort. It’s how easily he does so.

Douglas adresses the festival goers – er, the supporters of the traped man. Image: lskdjf dsj

Douglas addresses the festival goers – er, the supporters of a trapped man. Image: Sound on Sight

As word of the trapped man spreads, and with an elaborate rescue operation underway, the flats at the base of the mountain start to fill with tourists. Suddenly, Sterling is making more money than she can spend. People start arriving at the mountain, on vacation, with Airtream trailers and barbeques in tow. An amusement company erects carnival rides for the kids.

Douglas is now treated like a celebrity he’s always wanted to be, and Steling can’t count her cash fast enough. “Honey,” she says to Douglas, “you like those rocks just as much as I do.”

Life has never been better!

Except it’s not. Except there is a real man whose legs have been crushed beneath rock, and the sound of the rescue drill, endlessly pounding through the mountain, tears away his nerves. “It feels like someone is driving crooked nails in my head!” he cries.

This man is important only as long as he remains the ace in the hole. He’s trapped between the mountain and Kirk Douglas and, in this film, only one of them can win.

Ace in the Hole is one of our favourite movies. If you haven’t yet seen this film, promise us you’ll do so ASAP.

Ace in the Hole: starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur. Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels & Walter Newman. Paramount Pictures Corp., 1951, B&W, 112 mins.

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon.

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Katharine Hepburn as Woman of the Year

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Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn: Fireworks at first sight. Image: Doctor Macro

We’re torn when it comes to the 1942 romantic comedy Woman of the Year.

This is an early WWII comedy about a slightly rumpled sportswriter (Spencer Tracy) who meets and marries a gonna-liberate-all-women-and-save-the-world journalist (Katharine Hepburn).

After a fast and intense courtship, the two marry, then learn to adjust to each other.

Or not.

Tracy’s character loves an opinionated, high-spirited woman, but he’s woefully unprepared to live with Hepburn’s doggedness. If she’s not rescuing Greek orphans, she’s giving asylum to political refugees or interviewing world leaders. As Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock might say, Hepburn runs “madly off in all directions”.

In this film, director George Stevens uses dialogue as a frame for the more important job of defining the characters. For example, when Tracy first meets Hepburn in person, it is in the newspaper publisher’s office. The publisher, standing in the background, is droning on about Who Knows What: all we see is Tracy’s attraction to Hepburn and the chemistry that’s going to propel the plot.

But not all dialogue acts as wallpaper. When Tracy meets his new father-in-law (Minor Watson) on the day of the wedding, he has a small confession:

Tracy (to Watson): “I’ve been worried about you since yesterday.”
Watson: “I’ve been worried about you for years.”

Tracy’s character is no dummy; neither is Hepburn’s, which makes the script rather frustrating.

Hepburn meets her adoring public when named Woman of the Year. Image: lksdjf lkasfj

Hepburn shows reporters what a hard worker she is. Image: Hot Saas’s Pop Culture Safari

Hepburn’s character is not perfect. She sometimes makes dumb decisions and jumps into situations before thinking them through. (If she weren’t impetuous, though, she might not have married Tracy in the first place.)

She’s persistent in making the world A Better Place, but this isn’t a hobby to pass the time until marriage. This is who she is.

Therefore, it is unfair to ask Hepburn to Stop It. Many influential women who trade domesticity for the greater good feel the push-pull of domestic life. (Read the memoirs of any past or present female world leader – they’ll tell you how it is.)

However, it’s not Tracy who’s asking Hepburn to Stop It. Nay, he admires her energy and determination. We realize this early in the film:

Tracy: “I love you.” …
Hepburn: “Even when I’m sober?”
Tracy: “Even when you’re brilliant.”

It’s the script that’s pressuring Hepburn to Stop It. Other scripts from this period would praise men for doing the very things Hepburn does. But Hepburn is a woman; therefore, the script requires her character to suffer because she’s not feminine enough.

Even if Tracy were the one telling Hepburn to Stop It, he would likely have our sympathy. He is completely in love with Hepburn (both on screen and off), and is not satisfied with scheduling brief meetings between trains and speeches and ball games. Because he’s Spencer Tracy – and therefore gruffly charming and endearing – we want him to be happy.

This is why we’re torn about Woman of the Year. There is no good guy or bad guy; there are two people trying to find their way in a relationship, just like people do in real life.

Still, Woman of the Year is an entertaining Battle of the Sexes, and a Must See for fans of Tracy and Hepburn.

Woman of the Year: starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Fay Bainter. Directed by George Stevens. Written by Ring Lardner, Jr. and Michael Kanin. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1942, B&W, 112 mins.

This post is part of THE GREAT KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON, hosted by MargaretPerry.org. Click HERE for a list of all fab entries.

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Girl, in Garden, with String

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Magda Foy (in white) practices alternative medicine.

There is a film that makes us a little weepy every time we watch it.

Every. single. time.

Get this: The film is not even 12 minutes long – and it’s over 100 years old!

If you’ve seen the 1912 film Falling Leaves, you know what we mean. If you haven’t seen it, then please scroll right to the bottom of this post where you can watch it.

Falling Leaves is a beautifully-crafted film about a young woman (Marian Swayne) who is dying of consumption. Swayne’s character is caring, sweet-tempered and adored by her little sister (Magda Foy). Swayne dotes on Foy; she reads to her and accompanies her singing via piano.

But she is dying and, after a particularly severe attack, the doctor has bad news for the family. “When the last leaf falls,” says the doc, “she will have passed away.”

The family is naturally distressed, but Foy isn’t convinced. She reasons that if there are still leaves on trees, her sister will not die.

Foy finds a ball of string and runs to the garden. She picks up fallen leaves from the ground and, using the string, she gently but firmly hangs these leaves on the bare branches. However, the leaves continue to drop at a pretty fast clip, much faster than Foy can pick them up.

In this scene, the director keeps Foy at the bottom of the frame, as if to emphasize how little she is, in comparison with the trees, which are quite tall. Every time Foy bends down to retrieve a leaf, she disappears from view and we are left, briefly, with a sense of panic. Hurry! Leaves are falling!

We admire this little girl, alone in the garden in her night-dress, yet our heart breaks for her. If only such single-mindedness could actually cure her sister!

Director Alice Guy-Blaché was a French filmmaker who made her first film, The Cabbage Fairy, in 1896, while she worked at Pathé Studios in France. When she and her husband emigrated to the U.S. in 1906, she founded her own studio, Solax, where she cranked out a film every week, including Falling Leaves.

Guy-Blaché made a brilliant choice in casting Foy as the little girl. Foy is innocent, charming and tenacious. She convinces us she would hang every fallen leaf in the garden if it would cure her sister, and she would do so gladly.

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“No trouble at all. I always carry my patented medicine with me.”

Happily for everyone, a renowned Bacteriologist (Mace Greenleaf) happens to be walking by the garden and sees Foy absorbed in her unusual task. When Foy realizes this stranger could help her sister, she drags him into the house and into her sister’s bedroom where – lo, what’s this? – he pulls a vial of anti-consumption serum from his pocket. Ta dah!

(Three months later, the famous Bateriologist is still making house calls. And bringing flowers. And telling Swayne funny stories while feeding her snacks.)

Yes, we know you’re thinking it was the Bacteriologist, with his modern medical knowledge, who heals Swayne. But our heart tells us differently. Our heart tells us it was a little girl, alone in the garden in her night-dress, with a ball of string and a Mission.

Falling Leaves: starring Mace Greenleaf, Blanche Cornwall, Marian Swayne. Directed by Alice-Guy Blaché. Solax Studios, 1912, B&W, 12 mins.

This post is part of the SHORTS BLOGATHON, hosted by Movies, Silently. Click HERE for a list of all fab entries.

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Saying Goodbye to the 1930s Gangster

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James Cagney in his pre Big Shot days. Image: Doctor Macro

*Spoiler Alert*

Who doesn’t love that great dialogue from 1930s gangster flicks? These films treated us to such gems as:

“Listen, you crummy, flat-footed copper. I’ll show you whether I’ve lost my nerve…!”
– and –
“Why, that dirty, no-good, yellow-bellied stool.”

From these movies we learn what a “mug” is, how to “take a powder”, and when a person should “cheese it”. We also observe the desperate life and high living of the Depression-era gangster.

These were gritty films, made on tight deadlines and small budgets, and they were glorious. In our opinion, nobody consistently made a better gangster picture than Warner Brothers.

These kinds of gangster films, centering on the Prohibition Era, did not end with the 1930s but, by 1939, they were on the way out.

It only seems right, then, that the last great gangster flick of the 1930s (in our opinion) was made by Warner Bros., starring two of the best actors in the genre, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. The film, The Roaring Twenties (1939), is its own swan song.

Cagney plays a WWI veteran who is unable to get a job when he returns to the Prohibition-era U.S. When he is arrested for unwittingly committing a crime, he decides the only way he can pay the rent is to become a rum runner.

Here’s where we see the bootlegger as the free-market entrepreneur. Cagney buys a taxi to transport illegal liquor, then he decides he can make his own booze. (“I’ve got a bathtub too.”) Soon he has a large supply and distribution network, and is making so much dough he can hardly spend it all.

This movie, like the bootlegging biz, is built on ambition and revenge. Cagney’s character is calculating and decisive, and we cheer for him every minute he’s on the screen. You show ’em, Jimmy! Take that, you coppers!

We want to believe Cagney can’t lose, that he’s untouchable.

Alas, the film has other plans. It has set up Cagney to fail, and it starts in the opening scene.

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Jeffrey Lynn (left) shares his feelings with Cagney and Bogart. Image: Trophy Unlocked

The first scene in the film centres on three foot soldiers in France: Cagney, Bogart and Jeffrey Lynn. In these opening minutes, the pattern of these three men’s relationship is established for the entire movie. Bogart is a psychopath whose actions are brutal, even in war. Lynn is a meek intellectual who will eventually advise Cagney on business matters. And then we have Cagney, a decent fellow who doesn’t have the killer instinct to survive (à la Bogart), nor the humility to know when to quit (à la Lynn).

Cagney can make money – and a stiff drink – but he’s unsuccessful in almost everything else. As a returning veteran, he’s subtly told it’s not society’s fault that he wasn’t killed overseas. Then he falls desperately in love with singer Priscilla Lane, a woman who respects his wallet but not enough to tell him the truth.

There is a woman who loves Cagney, savvy club owner Panama Smith (the fab Gladys George), who has soft heart and a feather-trimmed wardrobe. She is one of the few people who doesn’t use Cagney, or use him up.

In a film of loss and desperate characters, Cagney is the central tragic figure. He runs the bootlegging world, but never really fits into it. And when Prohibition is repealed, there is no room for him anywhere, anymore. He is now a Big Shot Without Portfolio.

 The Roaring Twenties can sink into melodrama at times, but the performances are mesmerizing. Which is only fitting for the last of the 1930s gangster flicks.

The Roaring Twenties: starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart. Directed by Raoul Walsh. Written by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, Robert Rossen. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., 1939, B&W, 106 mins.

This post is part of the FABULOUS FILMS OF THE 30s BLOGATHON, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click HERE for a list of all fab entries.

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How to Make a 1930s Screwball Comedy

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Billie Burke (left) asks Constance Bennett not to be so sensible. Image: Constance Bennett

Dear Reader, we’ve made our peace with the fact we’ll never be nominated for a screenwriting Oscar. We’re not too broken up about this, just like we’re OK with not being selected for the NASA Aeronautics Academy. We’ll get by.

But if we were to write a screenplay, we would model it after the 1938 screwball comedy Merrily We Live. This is one of those films about a wacky but endearing rich family who employ ex-cons and drifters as their servants. (Note: One has to pretend this scenario hasn’t been done before, à la My Man Godfrey.)

In our opinion, there are three major elements to this lesser-known film that make it a stellar example in screwball-icity. We had thought of plotting these elements on a graph, but were too lazy – a characteristic, incidentally, frowned upon at the Aeronautics Academy.

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Brian Aherne embraces his new job. Image: Matinee Moustache

#1 Script
At a glance, the plot seems to be standard 1930’s material: A rich family unknowingly hires a famous writer (Brian Aherne) as a chauffeur, because they believe him to be homeless person. Aherne’s character is having so much fun, he doesn’t wish to disabuse the family of this notion.

However, this film’s script is superior to many other comedies due to the sheer volume of jokes. The jokes are so numerous and delivered so quickly, they practically trip over each other.

For instance, the delightfully spinny family matriarch (Billie Burke) is trying to counsel her Very Smart Daughter (Constance Bennett):

Burke (to Bennett): “My mother always told me children are seen and not heard.”
Bennett: “But your mother was smarter than my mother.”
Burke: “Yes, I know she was, darling.”

Another delightful element is the running gags threaded throughout the film. One such gag is the family’s butler (the perfectly-cast Alan Mowbray), who is forever threatening to quit if the family doesn’t stop hiring ex-cons who steal family heirlooms. (This leads to another scene where the patriarch of the family dryly asks the newly-hired Aherne if he has stolen anything yet.)

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“Darling, puffy sleeves are an Investment.” Image: gifsoup.com

#2 Wardrobe & Sets
The best thing about rich people in 1930s screwball comedies is their environment. We love it when art deco sets are nearly overwhelming in their size and shininess. Merrily We Live indulges us in the same way as a chocolate fondue party. Set designer W.L. Stevens has provided a scrumptious buffet filled with lush draperies and highly-collectible furniture; no wonder these people are continually stolen from!

A grand set requires a grand wardrobe. Bennett’s wardrobe (designed by the fab Irene) is chic, elegant, stylish. Burke’s wardrobe, on the other hand, almost competes with her décor – while her clothes are grand and expensive, they’re charmingly out of step with the decade.

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Daily affirmations. Image: Matinee Moustache

#3 Engaging Characters
Screwball comedies have outrageous people who outlandishly. In one scene, an annoying, self-absorbed boyfriend (Phillip Reed) drives Bennett home after a date. He leans in to kiss her and she socks him in the jaw.

This film has a wide assortment of charismatic characters, from the no-nonsense Bennett to Mowbray’s disapproving butler to Aherne’s writerly quirkiness.

Oh – and we can’t forget two minor but important players, the family’s two Great Danes named Get Off The Rug, and You Too.

Merrily We Live is an amusing film that is so good, you’ll want to watch it twice in a row. You’ll agree it’s every bit as clever as anything produced by NASA’s Aeronautics Academy.

Merrily We Live: starring Constance Bennett, Brian Aherne, Alan Mowbray. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod. Written by Eddie Moran and Jack Jevene. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938, B&W, 95 mins.

The Great Villain Blogathon: Day 5 Recap

Originally posted on shadowsandsatin:

As they say on Schoolhouse Rock, darn . . . that’s the end. But don’t hate — celebrate! On the last day of the Great Villain Blogathon, 2015 style, click the pics below to read about today’s totally awesome crop of dastardly dames, charming creeps, and scary scalawags!

CJC Leach discusses Trevor Howard’s cad-like behavior in Brief Encounter:

Prowler Takes a Jump tells us about the irresistibly bad Stanley in In This Our Life:

Aurora’s Gin Joint scares us with insights about Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter:

Random Pictures goes to pieces over Victor Frankenstein in Flesh for Frankenstein:

Font and Frock delves into the deeds of Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger in Blanche Fury:

Portraits by Jenni knows that Ma Jarrett isn’t as kindly as she looks in White Heat:

Tales of the Easily Distracted tells us why Nick Ferraro is not a guy to…

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The Great Villain Blogathon: Day 4 Recap

 

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Booyah! Day 4 of the Great Villain Blogathon brings us villains in all shapes and sizes, from teenage girls to royal bad guys to animated scoundrels.

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The Vintage Cameo defends the much-maligned Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain.

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Critica Retro presents a comprehensive ranking of Disney Villains.

Infra-Man_2Cinematic Catharsis introduces us to the 10 million year-old Princess Dragon in Infra-Man.

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Make Mine Criterion probes at real-life murders in the British flick The Flesh and the Fiends.

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Another Old Movie Blog discusses a suave Rumanian villain in Watch on the Rhine.

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Imagine MDD analyzes what makes a good villain with AFI 50 Greatest Film Villains.

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Cary Grant Won’t Eat You reviews the pre-Mean Girls The Heathers of Heathers.

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Nitrate Glow analyzes Lawrence Olivier’s winter of discontent in Richard III.

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Chasing Destino asks, Can villains Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn be BFFs?

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Zen and Pi mourns Kill Bill‘s Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii.

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Back to the Viewer waxes poetic about Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. 

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The Wonderful World of Cinema looks at an early Steven Spielberg made-for-TV movie, Duel.

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Mildred’s Fatburgers explores the art (underlying terror) of The Black Narcissus.

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Barry Bradford cross-examines James Mason in the courtroom drama, The Verdict.

Shadows and Satin will be the evil masterminds host. Watch for her recap tomorrow evening.

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