Who’s Ready for Holiday Treacle?

C. Aubrey Smith ksdjf kasdjf  Image: Let the Show Begin

Richard Carlson (right) doesn’t stand a chance in the big city. Image: Let the Show Begin

How do you prefer your holiday schmaltz? Do you like it straight up, or do you mix it with a little soda water?

We’ve been mulling this over since we saw the 1940 holiday drama Beyond Tomorrow, a movie about finding fame and losing your soul, the rewards of self-sacrifice, and friendships that survive anything, including death.

If this sounds like every contrived theme in the movie playbook, wait – there’s more!

Let’s add an aw-shucks singing cowboy who’s naive to big-city ways; a young woman who teaches sick children; and three lonely, older men who desperately need friends.

This is sentimentalism as subtle as a line drive.

Charles Winninger, C. Aubrey Smith and Harry Carey are three older men who suddenly find themselves without guests to celebrate Christmas Eve. They decide to toss three wallets, each containing $10, into the snowy street to see who might return them. Those who do will be invited to dinner. “Win or lose,” says Winninger, “we dine at seven.”

Happily, the aforementioned singing cowboy (Richard Carlson) and the selfless carer-of-children (Jean Parker) arrive independently to return the wallets, money intact. As you might expect, it’s Love At First Sight for these two young people, and soon everyone becomes best of pals. They all live happily ever after.

Uh uh. Not so fast, dear Reader.

Sadly, the three older men are killed in a plane crash, and become ghosts sent to guide Carlson and Parker. But, lo! What’s this? While the men are delayed in cosmic ether, Carlson becomes a famous singer and falls into the clutches of a scheming Broadway celebrity (the fab Helen Vinson).

We can tell you’re rolling your eyes, and we don’t blame you. This sounds like the worst kind of treacle. Listen to some of these lines:

  • “There are some mistakes that can never be remedied.”
  • “You were too young and thoughtless, and success came too suddenly.”
  • “Now go to him. And when he sees you, his heart will remember.”

See what we mean? Even the New York Times sniffed, “[The] mystical peregrinations are more preposterous than moving.”

The three ghosts kdfj aieuf sdkj Image: lskdjf kej

C. Aubrey Smith (right, standing) seems to be having too much fun in the Afterlife.  Image: The Movie Scene

However.

There is something about this film that sucks you in, despite all logic and sound reasoning. It’s not the best holiday movie ever made, but it still leaves you feeling warm and cozy, like a pair of hand-knit socks.

For example, Winninger’s character is unfailingly sunny and hopeful, and he never gives up on Carey’s acerbity. Parker’s noble, self-sacrificing caregiver is a champion next to Vinson’s shallow, spoiled Broadway star.

This movie is nothing but sentimental balderdash, yet it does, in its flawed way, inspire its audience. In 1940, the year this film was released, North America was clawing its way out of the Great Depression, and WWII was underway in Europe.

We don’t recommend you drop everything to watch Beyond Tomorrow (re-released in colour in 2004), but if you’re spending a snowy evening sipping a Tom and Jerry*, we think you’ll enjoy it.

*This movie features a once-popular holiday drink called a Tom and Jerry. It’s a rather fussy, high-calorie cocktail, but it sounds dee-lish.

Beyond Tomorrow: Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Written by Adele Comandini. RKO Radio Pictures, 1940, B&W, 84 mins.

Edna May Oliver vs. The Glass Ceiling

Edna May Oliver (left) tries to explain the obvious to James Gleason. Image: kdsjf eifj sdk

Edna May Oliver (left) explains the obvious to James Gleason. Image: Past Offences

Question: When was the last time you saw a movie in which…

  1. A female amateur sleuth did a better job of solving a mystery than a male detective?
  2. A middle-aged woman who LOOKS middle aged is the main character?
  3. A man becomes romantically interested in a middle-aged woman who is smarter than he?

Happily, the last time we saw a movie like this was the other night. Sadly, the movie was made in 1932.

The Penguin Pool Murder is a gem of a film that ought to be more well known. It has a witty script, clever camera angles, and a mystery that will keep you guessing until the last scene.

Edna May Oliver stars as Miss Hildegard Withers (emphasis on the Miss), a spinsterly schoolteacher who wears a sensible suit and comfortable shoes. She is prim, smart and ambitious, and her vocabulary includes such delightful phrases as “insofar as”.

Oliver happens to be at the city’s aquarium with her class on the day a murder is committed. While she is shepherding her students around the (gorgeous art deco) building, a body falls into the penguin pool. Enter James Gleason as the crusty detective who talks more like a gangster than a law enforcement officer.

As a potential suspect, Oliver is taken into the manager’s office for questioning by Gleason. Something stirs in her and she quickly gloms onto the opportunity of her scholastic lifetime: catching a murderer.

Gleason is impressed by Oliver’s ability to judge character. (“I’ve been teaching school long enough, Inspector, to know whether someone is telling the truth or not.”) He appreciates her help – indeed he relies on it – but his chauvinism sometimes interferes with his professionalism.

In one scene, Oliver shows him notes she’s compiled based on evidence they’ve gathered. Gleason is astounded at what she’s written.

Gleason: You oughtn’t to be a school teacher, Miss Withers. You ought to be a –

Oliver: Detective?

Gleason: (laughs) No, it takes a certain type to be a detective.

Oliver: (dryly) I’ve noticed that.

The chemistry between Oliver and Gleason is a lot of fun – and very appealing. Their banter has been described as that of “an old married couple” but, in our opinion, the dialogue is saucier, mostly because Gleason’s detective loves a woman with backbone.

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Edna May Oliver can get anyone to talk. Image: moviefanfare.com

Although Oliver’s character looks like an old-fashioned defender of The Establishment, she is not. For example, in one scene, Gleason tells Oliver he’s leaving to interview someone and that she should stay put. Oliver sits down for a moment, then forcefully stands up, wraps her fur stole around her neck – twice – and marches out the door.

The one scene that is most illustrative of Oliver’s character is when she barges into a men’s public restroom. She is following Gleason, who goes into the washroom and closes the door ahead of her. Oliver pauses slightly, as though she’s steeling herself, then storms through the door. Gleason, kneeling beside an unconscious man, doesn’t even blink when he sees Oliver enter.

This movie was based on the first of 18 Hildegard Withers novels, seven of which were published in the 1930s. Six movies were made from these novels; Oliver starred in the first three.

The Penguin Pool Murder has become one of our favourite films, and we think it could become one of yours. Set aside an hour to watch this film; you’ll be glad you did.

The Penguin Pool Murder: Edna May Oliver, James Gleason, Robert Armstrong. Directed by George Archainbaud. Written by Willis Goldbeck. RKO Radio Pictures, 1932, B&W, 75 mins.

The Madeleine Carroll Blogathon

We have such thrilling news!

Madeleine Carroll (1906-1987) Image: lskdfj aksldjf

Madeleine Carroll (1906-1987) Image: meredy.com

We’ll be co-hosting The Madeleine Carroll Blogathon with our friend, Dorian, of Tales of the Easily Distracted. Hooray!

The beautiful and talented Madeleine, as you know, was once the highest-paid actress in the world. She starred in such films as The Thirty-Nine Steps, Lloyds of London and My Favorite Blonde.

The blogathon will run February 26-27, 2015, and we’d love for you help us celebrate her career – and her birthday (Feb. 26) – in style!

You can read all the details on Dorian’s site HERE.

Blog Movie URL
Tales of the Easily Distracted My Favorite Blonde (1942) http://doriantb.blogspot.ca/
Silver Screenings The 39 Steps (1935) http://silverscreenings.org/
Font & Frock Honeymoon in Bali (1939)
Speakeasy The General Died at Dawn (1936) http://hqofk.wordpress.com/
Movies, Silently The First Born (1928) http://moviessilently.com/
Caftan Woman On the Avenue (1937) http://www.caftanwoman.com/
Flick Chick A Fan’s Love Letter to Madeleine http://flickchick1953.blogspot.ca/
Crítica Retrô Crítica Retrô http://criticaretro.blogspot.com/
Wide Screen World The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) http://widescreenworld.blogspot.com
Girls Do Film The 39 Steps (1935) https://girlsdofilm.wordpress.com/
Citizen Screen Secret Agent (1936) http://aurorasginjoint.com/

 

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The Gold Digger’s Fashion Guide

Moon Over Miami Betty Grable

Betty Grable (centre) calls the front desk and orders a Millionaire. Image: Vintage Clothing Love

We are of the opinion that a person should marry for love. But, for those who insist on finding a millionaire and marrying for money, may we recommend some valuable fashion advice?

We ourselves had no idea what to wear when chasing millionaires until we saw the perfect Millionaire* Chasing Attire in the 1941 musical comedy Moon Over Miami.

(*A million dollars in 1941 is worth $16,528,297.87 today. In case you were wondering.)

About the plot: Betty Grable, her sister (Carole Landis), and their aunt (the scene-stealing Charlotte Greenwood) move to Miami, where “rich men are as plentiful as grapefruit and millionaires hang from every palm tree.” (Take note.)

Grable poses as a rich young socialite on vacation, while Landis poses as her personal assistant and Greenwood as the maid. Turns out Grable meets not one, but two! handsome millionaires (Don Ameche and Robert Cummings), and is faced with the awkward dilemma of which millionaire to marry.

About the wardrobe: Everything in this film is designed to accessorize the clothes, from the sets to the co-stars – Cummings and Ameche being the most prominent accessories in this film. The scrumptious wardrobe was designed by famed Hollywood costume designer, Travis Banton. (For samples of his work, click here.)

Before we begin our Wardrobe Analysis, we must remember one important principle: The millionaire must think he (or she) is catching you, not the other way around. (And let’s face it, Dear Reader, you are a catch.)

Now, let us examine Grable’s wardrobe savour-faire, which we can classify in three main categories.

1. Evening Wear

Grable (left) is Millionaire Hunting. Because Landis (seated) is wearing sleeves, she's obviously not. Image: dkjf jeu

Notice Landis (seated) is wearing sleeves, so she’s obviously not Millionaire Hunting. Image: Beauty Bombshells

As you might have guessed, millionaires attend only the best parties where everyone dresses in Very Expensive clothes. This means your party attire must be made by this season’s most sought-after designer. It cannot be last season’s frock purchased at a designer outlet or – heaven forbid – at any place bearing the word “depot”.

2. Everyday Wear

Notice Grable's green suit. It screams, "I'll look good in your money." Image: tumblr

Notice Grable’s emerald-green suit. It screams, “I look good in your money.” Image: tumblr

Despite all appearances, Millionaire Chasing is not a casual, happy-go-lucky activity, so just forget about polyester-blend attire. No stretchy jeans and no – [shudder] – yoga pants. You must be strict with yourself: this is Serious Business.

3. Cultural Wear

Grable alksdjf djs fImage: alskdjf sd

Notice Grable is ready to perform an impromptu number at a moment’s notice. Image: dvdbeaver.com

If you’re moving to another city/country to pursue your millionaire, you must accept the fact that, at some point, you will star in a floor show at a local nightclub. Here’s your chance to show your spouse-to-be that you elevate the local culture. Make sure your outfit pays homage to the locals, but is obviously something they could never afford.

Now you’re ready. Dress in your best outfit and go find that lucky Millionaire. Be sure to send us an invite to the wedding!

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

Appendix: Wardrobe Checklist

1 Cowboy Waitress Outfit (a reminder of your humble roots)

1 Fur-Trimmed Coat-and-Dress Set

1 Gate-Crashing Party Dress

1 Driving-in-the-Country Suit

1 Sight-Seeing Outfit (suitable for submarine travel)

1 Swishy Gown (with sequinned appliqué)

1 Impromptu Cultural Dance Outfit

1 Trench Coat (for hasty getaways)

1 Breakfast Pantsuit

1 Butterfly-Themed LOOK-AT-ME Dress

1 Swimsuit (not for swimming)

Moon Over Miami: Don Ameche, Betty Grable, Robert Cummings. Directed by Walter Lang. Written by Vincent Lawrence & Brown Holmes. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1941, Technicolor, 91 mins.

Pre-Code Adventures in Hollywood

 

Warren William was one of the pre-code icons you loved to hate. Image: alksdjf dsjkf

Warren William (left) is one of the pre-code icons you love to hate. Image: Film Racket

Dear Reader, we have a confession: we are very old-fashioned. You know, the type who believes dessert is incomplete without whipped cream – and the more the better.

We’re also old-fashioned because we don’t entirely object to the Motion Picture Production Code. This was a form of censorship imposed on Hollywood in 1930, but not strictly enforced until 1934. With this code, Hollywood was told to tone things down because Morally Outraged Citizens objected to too much violence and other naughtiness on the big screen.

One of the reasons we (as in, yours truly) don’t fully object to the code is because, unlike real life, bad guys always get What’s Coming To Them at the end of the movie.

Filmmakers: Behave Yourselves!

Filmmakers: Mind your Ps and Qs.

However, that’s not to say that we dislike pre-code films. On the contrary, pre-code Hollywood films are fascinating: they show a creative industry in an almost-manic growth period. Sound was new, and film technology was becoming increasingly sophisticated. There is a marked difference, for instance, between movies made in 1930 and those made in 1933.

Pre-code films are smart and funny, and are sometimes unflinching in their look at societal customs.

Author Cliff Aliperti examines these films in his new book, 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories: Early Depression-Era Melodramas, Adaptations and Headline Stories. With the 11 films he’s chosen, Aliperti explores an eclectic collection, including, among others: Employees’ Entrance (1933), which is a criticism of big business; Show Girl in Hollywood (1930), an early Hollywood musical; and Call Her Savage (1932) a drama starring silent movie superstar Clara Bow.

In his introduction, Aliperti gives us a background to pre-code films, which places them in context for us. “Pre-code is not a genre in film, but a period of film history,” he writes (p. 6). “Movies of [this] era often managed to approach reality in a way many later films, made under Code enforcement, could not achieve” (p. 7).

Aliperti assumes we do not have an extensive background in film history, but he never talks to us like we’re stupid. Rather, his style is casual and infectious. You almost feel like you’re discussing films with a friend over a beer; you want to wave to others in the pub, “Hey, come listen to this.”

Here’s an example of Aliperti’s conversational style. In describing actor Lee Tracy as “an acquired taste”, the author goes on to say “no other actor could rattle off some of these lengthy bits of bluster better than Tracy…” (p. 116-117). This is as a fair an assessment as one can give when it comes to Tracy, and a good example of the author’s appreciation of those in the film industry.

Everybody! Listen to me! Image: The Man on the Flying Trapeze

Lee Tracy: “Everybody! Listen to me!” Image: The Man on the Flying Trapeze

Aliperti has an engaging way of describing scenes in these 11 pre-code films. His descriptions make you feel as though you’ve experienced a particular scene even if you haven’t seen the film. Clearly, he has a passion for movies and a way of “selling” them. He is careful, however, to not give away too many endings or other spoilers. He offers just enough to whet your appetite.

The downside to 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories is that some of these movies sound so good, you want to see them immediately. Sadly, a few of them are not available. (Aliperti checked.) However, he does tell us where we can see the films that are available.

If you’re interested in learning more about Hollywood Pre-Code filmmaking, we highly recommend 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories. It is available for purchase on amazon.com.

Note: The author sent us a copy of this book for reviewing. Check out his blog at immortalephemera.com.
11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Hisories

Announcing the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon

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We are so excited, we can hardly contain ourselves – and for Two Big Reasons!

Firstly, you’re invited to help us celebrate one of the most remarkable actresses in Classic Hollywood: the fabulous Miriam Hopkins. The blogathon will run January 22-25, 2015, and we’d love to have you join us.

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Secondly, we’re excited to be co-hosting this event with our über-chic friend Maedez of A Small Press Life. But that ain’t the half of it! This blogathon with correspond with the launch of her new movie blog, Font and Frock, in January, 2015.

Who says January is a dreary month?

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Ms Hopkins’ Requests:

  1. You can write on any movie or subject associated with our Miriam, including her life, on/off-screen rivalries, or movies.
  2. Duplicate topics are A-OK.
  3. You can sign up in the comments below, or email yours truly at 925screenings [at] gmail [dot] com or Maedez at onetrackmuse [at] gmail [dot] com.
  4. Please help yourself one the banners below to help us promote the event.

A list of Miriam’s movies can be found HERE.

We hope to see you at the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon (Jan 22-25, 2015)!

Miriam Hopkins.. Image: skdjf djk

Miriam Hopkins: 1902-1972. Image: The Rebel Reader

Participants to date:

Blog Topic/Movie Website URL
A Small Press Life Design for Living (1933) http://onetrackmuse.com/
Silver Screenings Old Acquaintance (1943) http://silverscreenings.org/
Speakeasy Trouble in Paradise (1932) http://hqofk.wordpress.com/
The Last Drive-in Don’t Open Til Doomsday, from The Outer Limits (1964) http://thelastdrivein.com/
The Last Drive-in The Children’s Hour (1961) http://thelastdrivein.com/
A Person in the Dark Carrie (1952) http://flickchick1953.blogspot.ca/
Wide Screen World The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) http://widescreenworld.blogspot.com/
Shadows & Satin 24 Hours (1931) http://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com/
Carole & Co. Fast and Loose (1930) http://caroleandco.wordpress.com
Caftan Woman The Stranger’s Return (1933) http://www.caftanwoman.com
Nitrate Diva The Story of Temple Drake (1933) http://nitratediva.wordpress.com/
Moon in Gemini Virginia City (1940) http://debravega.wordpress.com/
Outspoken & Freckled Fast and Loose (1930) http://kelleepratt.com
Girls Do Film Design for Living (1933) http://girlsdofilm.wordpress.com/
miriam24seven Men are not Gods TBA
Now Voyaging Trouble in Paradise (1932) http://nowvoyaging.wordpress.com/
Movie Classics Becky Sharp (1935) http://movieclassics.wordpress.com/
Fond of Fiction & Film The Old Maid (1939) http://she-is-too-fond-of-books.blogspot.ca/
Critica Retrô The Woman I Love (1937) http://criticaretro.blogspot.ca/
Journeys in Classic Film Lady with Red Hair (1940) http://journeysinclassicfilm.com/
Twenty Four Frames The Story of Temple Drake (1933) http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com
The Movie Rat The Children’s Hour (movie vs. stage versions) http://themovierat.com
Once upon a Screen The Mating Season http://aurorasginjoint.com/
Public Transportation Snob Design for Living (1933) http://www.ptsnob.com/

 

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Winston Churchill vs. Colonel Blimp

LIfe-long pals Image: kdjf eif

Roger Livesey (left) plays a bombastic yet lovable Colonel. Image: moviemail.com

When we (as in, yours truly) were young, we felt we were smarter than older generations because we could identify the celebrities du jour. We thought this somehow made us smarter, which is rather embarrassing to admit.

Now that we’re a bit older, we realize we don’t know as much as the generation before or after us, which is also rather embarrassing.

There’s a lot to be said about the experience and wisdom of older generations, but oftentimes the fresh perspective of younger generations is necessary.

This is one of the themes of the British WWII war dramedy The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a film about a young British army soldier who duels with, then befriends, a German soldier. He remains the German’s lifelong friend despite the miles between them, a mutual love for the same woman, and a mild skirmish known as WWI.

The main character is a clever young man who serves his country his entire life with the ideals he was raised, but as he grows older he becomes increasingly out of step with the perplexing twentieth century.

So, who on earth was Colonel Blimp?

Blimp was a popular British cartoon that lampooned stuffy, démodé leaders in government and the military. Blimp often makes circular arguments and/or arrives at ridiculous conclusions, most of which are based on the assumption that the British Empire Is Never Wrong. Here is an example:

Colonel Blimp in his element. Image: akdsjf

Colonel Blimp waxing eloquent in his Turkish bath. Image: Air Force Amazons

The movie Colonel Blimp is named Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), and when we first meet him, he is just like the cartoon figure pictured above. He is an awkward, blustery old man, complete with giant walrus moustache.

We also discover, however, that Wynne-Candy is also a man who loves deeply and, when he was a young man, he fell in love with a woman he didn’t marry – and never got over it. (This woman is Deborah Kerr, who plays three women in the film.) Not only that, his fondness and admiration for his German friend (Anton Walbrook), is a remarkable show of loyalty. Despite our initial impressions, we find ourselves becoming enamoured with Wynne-Candy.

Colonel Blimp is considered one of the greatest British films ever made; it was written and directed by the brilliant filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. One of the most remarkable scenes features a monologue by Anton Walbrook when his character applies for refugee status in England. The monologue starts at the 1:16 mark below. When Walbrook begins his speech, notice the camera never looks away, never blinks.

But when Colonel Blimp was released in 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried to have it banned, even though it was a commercial success – and even though it contained Walbrook’s inspirational monologue. When the ban attempt failed, he managed to delay its international release until 1945.

Colonel Blimp, we presume? Image: lskdfj

Colonel Blimp’s personality bears no resemblance to Winston Churchill. None what-so-ever. Image: Cinemas Online

One can’t be too hard on Churchill for this position. It was WWII, after all, and British civilians were asked to make great sacrifices for the war. He certainly wanted to keep civilian morale high, and having a pompous, slightly ridiculous character lampooning the military was, in his mind, likely defeating the purpose.

(The British media, like any other media, loves a whiff of scandal, and they discussed Churchill’s displeasure with this film at length in 2012, when Colonel Blimp was re-released. You can see an example here.)

If you’ve not seen The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, please set aside an evening for it. It’s a gorgeous film, and is ranked 45 out of the top 100 British films of all time. More importantly, however, you’ll be glad to make Colonel Blimp’s acquaintance.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook. Written & directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The Rank Organisation, 1943, Technicolor, 163 mins.

This post is part of the BRITISH EMPIRE Blogathon hosted by Phantom Empires and The Stalking Moon. Be sure to read all the other contributions!

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The Enchanting Soviet Cinderella

Zolushka (Cinderella) alskdjf asdjkf Image: media.4local.ru

Zolushka (Cinderella) dreams of dancing and eating ice cream. Image: media.4local.ru

Get this.

Did you know that Soviet filmmakers released a film in 1947 that rivals MGM’s The Wizard of Oz? Yup, when you compare music, sets and costumes, the Soviet film measures up to the MGM extravaganza in nearly every way.

Zolushka is a retelling of the classic Cinderella tale. A loving and sweet-tempered girl lives with her unkind stepmother and two stepsisters, who use guilt and intimidation to keep Zolushka in her place as a servant.

Zolushka truly is a marvel. She cleans the house, gathers heavy firewood and sews her sisters’ ball gowns – all in one evening.

On the night of the ball, Zolushka asks permission to go to the park to gaze at the party from a distance. (Is that not the saddest request you’ve ever heard?) The stepmother agrees but says a few chores must be completed first, such as pulling weeds, sorting beans and painting the house.

This film has a witty script, with some unexpected lines. For instance, a woodchopper says Zolushka’s Step-Aunt was eaten by an ogre, who subsequently died of poisoning. In another scene, the king talks up his princely son by exclaiming, “He can do speeches! And poems! And compliments!”

The script also contains hues of Marxism. For example, the king is friends with commoners, which suggests Soviet society does not contain societal classes. “Because our kingdom is a Fairytale Kingdom for a reason,” he says. (Cough – baloney! – cough.)

The Fairy Godmother, too, is a Soviet Propaganda Tutor. After she transforms Zolushka from girl-in-rags to girl-in-shiny-gown, she offers a little speech: “I can see clearly that, although dressed in a lavish ball gown, you’ll remain the sweet and hardworking girl you’ve always been. And please stay that way. It will bring you happiness.”

This film borrows heavily from folklore. As a result, it has lots of magic. Magic is crucial, but perhaps not so much to the film nor to the girl Zolushka.

The magic is essential for the audience.

The Soviet fairy godmother instructs Zolushka to work hard. Image: sldkfj asdj

Mother Russia – er, the Fairy Godmother showers magic on Zolushka. Image: Zolushka Online

Zolushka was released two years after World War II, and the horrors of that war would still be fresh in the minds of Soviet audiences. While WWII was grisly on all fronts, it could be argued that some of the most gruesome events took place on Soviet soil.

Zolushka’s stepmother, for instance, muses about her future once one of her daughters has married the prince: “It’s a shame this kingdom is too small for me,” she says. “I’ll have no room for my antics. But that’s fixable – I’ll fight my neighbours.” This thinly-veiled reference to Adolph Hitler and his imperialistic tendencies would certainly strike a chord with audiences. (Never mind that the Soviet government had these same tendencies; that’s a discussion for another day.)

Before the war, Soviet citizens would have already suffered from pogroms, forced collectivization of farms, mass starvation, political and military purges, the prison system (a.k.a. the Gulag), and constant surveillance by the NSA, oops, the KGB.

Soviet audiences needed beauty and magic because they were Zolushka – downtrodden souls kept in servitude, living in a dreary, thankless regime. The girl on the screen with the crystal shoes is the embodiment of the Soviet populace. “Happiness has vanished as a mirage,” sings the girl, “and sorrow is in front of me.”

Zolushka is probably one of the most haunting and beautifully-filmed versions of the Cinderella story, if not the most meaningful. Whether or not you have an interest in Soviet-era cinema, we highly recommend it.

Zolushka: Yanina Zhejmo, Aleksei Konsovsky, Erast Garin. Directed by Nadezhda Kosheverova and Mikhail Shapiro. Written by Yevgeni Shvarts. Lenfilm Studio, 1947, Colour, 79 mins.

This post is part of the Fairy Tale Blogathon hosted by Movies, Silently. Be sure to read all the other contributions!

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When Warner Bros. Went to the Dog(s)

Rin-Tin-Tin

Rin Tin Tin, the original – and largely forgotten – canine superstar.

Have you ever jokingly asked your pet to get a job?

“Go and make us rich,” you might tease. “And don’t come back until you do.”

Very few of us have pets who can stock our bank accounts. It’s not like we own a major Hollywood studio and can release Beloved Animal Movies whenever cash flow becomes a trickle. We’re not the Warner Brothers, for pete sake.

Now, those Warner Brothers could turn animals into cold, hard cash. It started in earnest in 1923 when the studio bought a script entitled Where the North Begins, which featured a heroic German Shepherd. The script was sold by World War I vet, Lee Duncan, and starred his remarkable dog, Rin Tin Tin.

The story of Duncan and Rin Tin Tin began in France, during the Great War. Duncan, an air corporal, found a litter of German Shepherd puppies in a half-destroyed kennel. Duncan rescued the pups, and managed to bring his favourite back to the United States.

Duncan had an usual way with dogs and was a gifted trainer, a skill he developed during his unhappy childhood. He knew Rin Tin Tin could be a real movie star.

According to Susan Orleans, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, German Shepherds were virtually unheard of in the United States before WWI. She says that, at the time, the idea of a dog as a household pet was rather novel.

Imagine, then, how unusual it would be in the mid-1920s to see a movie starring a dog rather than a human. Here is a clip from one of Rin Tin Tin’s earliest (and best) movies, Clash of the Wolves (1925):

When you watch Rin Tin Tin in action, you realize he’s very smart. In fact, he’s probably smarter than all of us put together.

Here is another look at Clash of the Wolves, in which Rinty does a fine bit of acting. (Yes, acting. He wasn’t called “the Barrymore of Dogdom” for nothing.)

Rin Tin Tin was under contract to Warner Bros. for eight years, and whenever the studio ran short of funds, it would release a new Rin Tin Tin movie. In the mid-1920s, there was almost no bigger box-office draw than Rin Tin Tin; Jack Warner dubbed him “the mortgage lifter.”

Rinty died suddenly in the summer of 1932. Legend has it he died in Jean Harlow’s arms, but Orleans says his death was not so glamorous. Duncan heard Rinty cough strangely and, when he ran to the dog, he found him lying on the ground. He died minutes later.

By now Rin Tin Tin more than a dog; he was an American Institution. To protect this institution, Warner Bros. had 18 other dogs as stand-ins for the original Rinty, and Duncan himself was training a successor. The practice of having multiple dogs on tap continued throughout the 1930s and 40s – even into the 1950s, when Rin Tin Tin became a television show.

The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954-59) was a hugely successful series that spawned a wildly profitable merchandising industry. It was shot in colour even though most Americans had black and white television sets.

If you’re thinking Television Rinty looks nothing like Movie Rinty, you’d be correct. But it doesn’t matter; as we discovered, Rin Tin Tin is a character with interchangeable actors, like Batman.

A film based on Rin Tin Tin’s life, Finding Rin Tin Tin, was released in 2007. This beautifully-filmed movie explores Lee Duncan’s rescue of Rinty as a puppy in France – a story, ironically, that Duncan was unable to make during his lifetime.

Rin Tin Tin showed other canine stars (Lassie and Benji) how it could be done. But these later canine stars don’t have quite the same caché as our original 1920s hero – a dog who saved puppies, humans, and a major Hollywood studio.

This post is part of the FORGOTTEN STARS blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click HERE to see all the other contributions!

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The Amazing Edward G. Robinson: Is He or Isn’t He?

Edward G. Robinson (centre) leads a dangerous double life. Image lksdjf klsadfj

Edward G. Robinson (centre) leads a dangerous double life. Image: fdp.pl

Sometimes movies pose tantalizing questions, such as: Is the main character off his rocker?

Hamlet is a famous example of a character with ambiguous mental health; so is another lesser-known figure, Dr.  Clitterhouse.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) is a black comedy about a successful medical doctor (Edward G. Robinson) who becomes fascinated by what he calls “the Criminal Mind”. He desires to write a book examining the physiological characteristics of criminal brains, and he’s convinced this research will help law enforcement agents battle crime.

The only way he can do this, he reasons, is to become a criminal himself so he can measure his physiological responses (e.g. blood pressure, pupil dilation, etc.) after committing a crime.

Fortunately for Robinson, he falls in with a gang headed by criminal power couple Humphrey Bogart and Claire Trevor. Their gang specializes in stealing and liquidating stolen goods.

Robinson couldn’t be happier in this new secret life as a gangster – er, we mean his new life as a “scientific researcher”. He continually monitors gang members’ vital signs before and after they stage robberies, and carefully records this data in a thick book for future analysis.

Unfortunately for Robinson, a disgruntled Bogart distrusts his motives, and refuses to participate in the testing. He also doesn’t like Trevor’s growing attraction to Robinson. (What? You didn’t think Edward G. Robinson was a ladies’ man? Get outta here! Dames fall for him all the time.)

A showdown between Bogart and Robinson is inevitable – and it coincides with Robinson’s realization that, in order to have perfect insight into the Criminal Mind, he needs to commit the ultimate crime: Murder.

Humprey Bogart (centre) suddenly feels ill after trying to Blackmail Edward G. Robinson (left). Image: aldfkj

Humphrey Bogart (centre) suddenly feels ill after a foiled blackmail attempt. Image & review: Pretty Clever Films

Robinson’s mental state is the central question in this film. Is he misguided in his pursuit of science? Is he fulfilling secret criminal fantasies? Or is he plain wacko?

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was originally a short story by British playwright Barré Lyndon before it was adapted as a stage play that ran in both London and New York.

We (as in, yours truly) are very fussy when it comes to transferring plays to the screen. We find there is a tendency for scenes to drag and the dialogue to become onerous. But this is not the case with Dr. Clitterhouse.

Director Anatole Litvak and screenwriters John Wexley and John Huston have created a near-perfect screen adaptation. For instance, in one scene, there is a robbery at a fur coat manufacturer which is as tense as anything you’ve seen in a film noir. As this scene unfolds, you’ll find yourself holding your breath. Guaranteed.

The movie is also perfectly cast, with Bogart as the sneering, sarcastic hoodlum, and Trevor as the ambitious criminal businesswoman. And there is Robinson, a mercurial character who purposely allows us to read into his motives whatever we choose.

This is one of those rare films that lends itself to intense philosophical discussion. What is the role of science in our society? How far should scientists go verify controversial hypotheses?

If you’re keen to see Edward G. Robinson as a lunatic-but-maybe-not-a-lunatic, we recommend The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse. This movie will keep you guessing until the end – and even then you may not be sure.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse: Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, Hymphrey Bogart. Directed by Anatole Litvak. Written by John Wexley and John Huston. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., 1938, B&W, 87 mins.