Basil Rathbone, Fortune Hunter

Basil Rathbone alksjdf ksadjf skadlfj Image: Doctor Macro

Basil Rathbone arches an eyebrow before chewing the scenery. Image: Dr. Macro

There’s nothing more chilling than a villain with a large vocabulary.

In the 1937 British thriller, Love from a Stranger, Basil Rathbone plays the kind of villain nobody wants to meet in real life. Rathbone’s villain is handsome, suave and articulate. But he would do anything to get your money – including marring you.

We first meet Rathbone’s gold-digging character when he arrives to view an apartment for rent. The current tenant (Ann Harding) is moving out because she’s just won the lottery – approximately 10 million in today’s dollars.

As he’s snooping around the apartment, Rathbone comments on the view. It reminds him of a more innocent time, he says wistfully, before he became intimate with war and travel and – ahem – wealth.

Harding, freshly broken up with her fiancé, must sail to France the next day to collect her lottery winnings – and look over there! Rathbone just happens to be sailing on the same ship, and surprises her with French pastries while she lounges on the deck.

Let’s analyze this for a minute. A handsome man brings you French pastries, and insists he show you the glam side of Paris. Really, you can’t fault Harding for falling in love with him.

However, we the audience know that Rathbone is up to no good. Even Harding’s ex-fiancé (Bruce Seaton) warns her, astutely pointing out she knows nothing about Rathbone.

But our man Rathbone is able to dismiss all this negativity. He not only has the vocabulary to manipulate, he has the acting chops too.

In one scene, Harding discovers Rathbone slumped at his desk, head resting on his hands in utter despair. His claims a bank draft has been held up, and now he can’t pay for their new house. Harding insists she pay for the house, and suddenly Rathbone produces all sorts of papers for her to sign. His voice is smooth and reassuring: No need to read this, darling, just sign here.

But Rathbone’s villain is more dangerous than that. We soon become aware of his mental state, and it is not reassuring.

Rathbone laksdjf klsdfj Image: Tout le Cine

Ann Harding realizes the honeymoon is over. Image: Tout le Cine

Rathbone says he’s an amateur photographer and has claimed the cellar in the new house for his workroom. Specifically, he calls it a “dark room”, which is not unusual, but the way he says it, a slight chill goes down your spine.

He tells Harding he plays music when he’s working in the cellar, because his mind spins with noise and memories of the war. “Suddenly the noise changes into the music, turning my first terror into ecstasy,” he cries, beads of perspiration on his face.

It’s as though Rathbone springs a leak after this unexpected confession, and he’s suddenly spouting all kinds of ego-centric philosophies. For example:

  • “A woman’s weakness is a man’s opportunity. Did someone write that? Or did I think of it myself? If I did, it’s good. It’s very good.”
  • “I have great insight. I’m different from other people. For instance, I have a lot of power over women. I’ve always had it.”

From this point on, Harding frequently gives Rathbone the side-eye – and rightly so. Harding’s character is smart and capable, but we’re not certain if she’s any match for Rathbone’s madness.

Love from a Stranger was also released as A Night of Terror. It was adapted from a stage play by Frank Vosper, and is based on a short story by Agatha Christie. It has a rather ridiculous and convenient ending, but Rathbone’s performance is pure entertainment. If you enjoy Rathbone in a sinister role, you’ll want to see this film.

Love From a Stranger: starring Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale. Directed by Rowland V. Lee. Written by Frances Marion. Trafalgar Film Productions, 1937, B&W, 86 mins.

The Disorderly Universe of Laurel and Hardy

Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy are in another fine mess. Image: Wikipedia

Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy have gotten into another fine mess. Image: Wikipedia

1939 saw the release of some of the greatest films in Hollywood history.

The Flying Deuces ain’t one of ’em.

Now, that’s not to say it’s a bad film, because it has amusing scenes and great aerial photography.

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In the late 1930s, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were still working for producer Hal Roach. During a break between films, they made a movie with a lesser-known producer, Borris Morros. (Get this: Rumour has it Morros was an alleged Soviet spy and FBI double agent! Click here for the story.)

The resulting comedy is The Flying Deuces, a film almost as wild as a double agent’s life. In this film, Laurel and Hardy are vacationing in Paris when Hardy meets and falls in love with a beautiful French woman (Jean Parker). When she rejects Hardy’s proposal of marriage, the pair join the ultimate lonely hearts club: the French Foreign Legion.

Laurel and Hardy are their usual charming selves in this film. Laurel is dim-witted but single-minded; Hardy is smart but cursed with bad luck. This is an unfortunate combination for a friendship, as evidenced by their many films. It’s a wonder they manage to stay friends.

It’s also a wonder they manage to stay alive. Because in the Laurel and Hardy universe, systems continually transition from a state of Order to Disorder.

Laurel and Hardy alskdj flkasdjf dskf Image: laksdjf

Laurel and Hardy on the lam. Image: The Telegraph

In The Flying Deuces, our first glimpse of the Order Disorder Paradigm occurs when Hardy is understandably upset that his marriage proposal has been refused. He decides to jump into the Seine with a cement block. Unbeknownst to him, a man-eating shark has escaped from the zoo.

(Note: Since Hardy is planning to End It All anyway, a man-eating shark shouldn’t be of consequence. But we viewers can’t stand the thought of a shark interfering with Hardy’s mournful plans.)

Happily, an officer from the Foreign Legion, played by the fab Reginald Gardiner, arrives on the bank of the Seine just in time, and suggests the pair enlist in the Legion. Order is thus temporarily restored to the L&H Universe.

However, Order quickly collapses into Disorder when the pair, newly arrived at their post in North Africa, are assigned to laundry duty. The laundry is piled as high as a two-storey house, and the clotheslines stretch for miles. The two are unhappy with this volume of work – and the pitifully small compensation – and they decide to quit.

Disorder quickly accelerates. Laurel and Hardy accidentally set the laundry on fire, then, without meaning to, ransack the commandant’s office. They are imprisoned, they escape; they are recaptured, they re-escape.

It’s when they hide in a plane and inadvertently start its engines that we see Disorder run amok, in all its devil-may-care glory. There’s no way Order can be restored now; we just have to hope for the best.

Despite the ever-present Order  Disorder paradigm, Laurel and Hardy are rarely vindictive. As Disorder infects them, they innocently infect others. It’s not deliberate; it’s merely the Way Of All Things in the L&H Universe.

The Flying Deuces may not be Laurel and Hardy’s best film, but it shows us how a seasoned comedy team can elevate the material they’re given. It also reminds us that we can never take an orderly universe for granted.

The Flying Deuces: starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jean Parker. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Written by Ralph Spence, Charles Rogers, Alfred Schiller & Harry Langdon. Boris Morros Productions, 1939, B&W, 68 mins.

This post is part of the See You In The Fall Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog. Click HERE to see the schedule.


Lauren Bacall’s Millionaire-Marrying Racket

lksdjf sdf Image: laksdjf

Lauren Bacall gives William Powell the marriage Sales Pitch. Image: Living in Cinema

How to Marry a Millionaire is our go-to comedy. This 1953 technicolor confection stars Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall as three models who pool their resources to rent a way-too-expensive Manhattan penthouse.

The women have moved into this upscale residence because they’re hunting millionaires.

We’re aware this film has been accused of being a shallow, spare-no-expense fashion show. So what? It was one of the first feature films made in CinemaScope, which was crucial in showcasing William Travilla‘s stunning wardrobe design.

How to Marry a Millionaire has a witty script, charming characters and first-rate comedic performances by Grable and Monroe. But our favourite character is the tough-talking Bacall.

Bacall’s character is recently returned from Reno where she obtained a divorce from “a gas-pump jockey”. She’s back with a new plan for marriage, one where neither her bank account nor her heart are at risk.

Bacall is smart, skeptical and has learned how to sniff out a rat. For example, when Monroe announces her boyfriend is taking her Atlantic City on a Saturday to meet his mother, Bacall is immediately suspicious.

Bacall: “I think we oughta put a check on that one.”
Monroe: “Why? I don’t know what you mean.”
Bacall: “Nobody’s mother lives in Atlantic City on Saturday.”

Bacall coaches Marilyn Monroe. Image: Fan Pop

Bacall coaches Marilyn Monroe. Image: Fan Pop

The best part about Bacall’s character is that she talks like a gangster. She refers to the penthouse as “a joint like this” and calls their scheme a “racket”. She’s essentially Edward G. Robinson in a designer gown and beaded clutch.

But she can be as smooth as cashmere. When she meets a rich widower from Texas (William Powell), she’s demure and flirtatious. Over a drink at a cozy table, she leans into his conversation, chin in hand, sporting an encouraging smile. Her voice has polished charm, but soon she derails herself, telling Powell she always gets taken in by gas-pump jockeys, most notably her ex-husband.

Bacall: (contemptuously) “This one handled a pump for Standard Oil.” (brightly) “You don’t own that, do you?”
Powell: “No, Standard Oil is one of the interests of a man, I believe, named Rockefeller.”
Bacall: “Is he a friend of yours?”
Powell: (deadpan) “No, I’m afraid not.”

Bacall sees more than a fat wallet in Powell; she also sees a kind-hearted man whom she genuinely admires. Even so, she has a rough time convincing Powell she’s wild about older men and hates the younger set.

She’s lying, of course. Bacall meets a handsome and savvy young man (Cameron Mitchell) who, unlike Powell, talks like he’s never read a book in his life. She’s immediately attracted to him, but because she believes he’s part of the dreaded gas pump crowd, she refuses to associate with him.

Cameron Mitchell romances Bacall with hamburgers.

Cameron Mitchell romances Bacall with hamburgers.

Mitchell relentlessly pursues her anyway. “The trouble with you,” he tells her bluntly, “is you’re a strictly a hamburger-with-onions dame but you won’t admit it.”

How to Marry a Millionaire is a delightful film that shows Lauren Bacall’s comedic talents. If you haven’t seen this film, beware: You’ll likely find yourself purchasing it to add to your personal library.

How to Marry a Millionaire: starring Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Written by Nunnally Johnson. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1953, glorious Technicolor, 95 mins.

This post is part of The Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click HERE to see the schedule.


William Wellman and the Accusatory Close-Up

Dana Andrews alsdkjf skdfj Image: Dr. Macro

Dana Andrews (centre) realizes he’s being railroaded. Image: Dr. Macro

*Spoiler Alert

The trouble with creating a masterpiece is sometimes people don’t automatically see it as such.

One example is The Ox-Bow Incident, a 1943 western directed by William Wellman. This film was released during some of the darkest days of WWII and, as a result, it was a box office disappointment. Audiences were in no mood to be reminded of the failings of human nature, and you can’t really blame them.

Fortunately, the film was recognized with an Oscar nomination for Outstanding Motion Picture, and is now considered one of Wellman’s masterpieces.

The Ox-Bow Incident is based on a novel by the philosophical American writer, Walter Van Tilburg Clark. The story takes place in Nevada, in 1885, and tells us What Happens Next when a popular rancher is shot on his own land.

At first, we sympathize with the town’s decision to form a posse. How dare someone shoot our neighbour! Let’s get ’em, boys!

But we soon discover the town’s leaders may not be as keen on justice as they are on other pursuits. A posse provides an opportunity to teach a harsh lesson to a young man, for instance, or provide an outlet to satisfy one’s bloodlust.

It’s not a comfortable film to watch; ten minutes in, you know things are going to end badly. This is Wellman’s doing. He feeds us the narrative in a controlled way, even while events unravel quickly.

Wellman also has a way of torquing scenes with the use of close-ups. His camera forces us to scrutinize characters as they scrutinize each other. Close-ups in this film signify a challenge to, or defiance of, prevailing conditions.

In one scene, we focus on a man (Dana Andrews) who has been arrested by the posse. While the posse waits for the sheriff to arrive in the cold mountain night, the camera isolates Andrews. He watches a woman and a man sitting close together; the man whispers in the woman’s ear and she laughs loudly. This could be a midnight picnic, except it’s not. It’s a prelude to an execution.

The most significant close-up of this film is one of Henry Fonda, and Wellman intentionally hides his eyes from our view.

lskdjf asklfj Image: alskdfj d

Henry Fonda (left) reads a letter that becomes an indictment. Image:

In this scene, near the end of the film, the men from the posse gather at the saloon. They are silent, glum, drunk.

Fonda opens a letter written by Andrews and, as he begins to read aloud, he leans against the bar, his back towards the others. Fonda’s eyes are hidden by the hat brim of his friend (Harry Morgan). We analyze Morgan’s expression instead, as he stares straight ahead while Fonda reads. Fonda’s voice is gravelly, betraying emotions he is trying to suppress.

Wellman has staged this close-up to force us to concentrate on the letter’s message. There’s nothing else to look at – no decor in the background, no supporting actor fidgeting with a whiskey glass. It’s Fonda and Morgan, and us.

We squirm a little as Fonda reads, because Wellman has brought us uncomfortably close to this letter.

The Ox-Bow Incident is a powerful, haunting film, and we can’t recommend it enough. Once you see it, you’ll agree that it deserves the reputation of a William Wellman masterpiece.

The Ox-Bow Incident: starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes. Directed by William A. Wellman. Written by Lamar Trotti. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1943, B&W, 75 mins.

This post is part of the William Wellman Blogathon hosted by Now Voyaging. Click HERE to see the schedule.


Ida Lupino’s Murderous Sucker Punch

Ida Lupino ... Image: aklsdjf

Ida Lupino: What to do with all that lovely insurance money? Image: View and Review

In 1940, Warner Bros. released They Drive By Night, a commentary on the American trucking industry. It starred George Raft, who was one of the studio’s biggest stars, and a young British actress who would steal the entire film. Her name was Ida Lupino.

Lupino plays the perfectly-coiffed but disaffected wife of a trucking company entrepreneur (Alan Hale, Sr). Not only is Lupino’s character dissatisfied with Hale – and his money – she is obsessed with Raft.

Now, George Raft has an acting style that doesn’t appeal to everyone, so it may be difficult, at first, to see why Lupino’s character is attracted to him. However, she does provide a clue in an early scene.

“What do I see in you, anyway?” she purrs, as she stands too close to Raft. “You’re crude, you’re uneducated, you’ve never had a pair of pants with a crease in them. And yet I can never say ‘No’ to you.”

With this simple bit of dialogue, Lupino explains everything without really explaining anything at all.

As for Raft, he rebuffs Lupino at every opportunity. Above all, Raft’s character is a loyal fellow, and because Hale the Boss has always treated him fairly, he’s going to do the same in return.

They Drive By Night has a terrific cast, including Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan, but no one brings the intense energy to the screen the way Lupino does.

Her scenes with Hale are some of the best in the film. Hale’s character is someone who wasn’t born the Executive Type: he chums around with his employees; he makes corny jokes; he drinks too much at a party; his laugh is a loud guffaw. But there’s no malice in Hale; he’s generous to a fault.

Lupino has nothing but disdain for her husband. She’s always at him to not drink so much, to stop with the jokes, to put on his jacket. “When we got married, you promised to act like a gentleman,” she says, tipping her hand. She didn’t marry Hale for love, she married him for revenue.

Hale, of course, doesn’t see this. He adores Lupino and, tragically, his admiration for her prevents him from seeing who she really is.

Alan Hale lkdjf Image: YouTube

Alan Hale can’t get enough of Lupino’s scorn. Image: YouTube

In one scene, Lupino walks Raft to his car during a party she and Hale are hosting. Raft is pleasant but distant; he carefully addresses her as Mrs Carlsen.

As Raft drives away, the camera is close on Lupino’s face; she stands alone in her driveway while Hale’s drunken laughter crashes through the night from inside the house.

“Mrs,” she hisses aloud. “MRS.”

Then, as she turns slightly towards the house, we realize what she’s thinking.

When she decides to put an end to Hale, it’s because the opportunity has suddenly presented itself. In this scene, she drives passed-out Hale to their home and pulls into the garage. She sits for a moment before deciding not to turn off the car. She looks at Hale almost curiously, before sliding out from under his heavy, drunk head. She softly closes the car door and hurries out of the garage. Her expression says she can’t quite believe what she’s about to do – but she’s not turning back. No way.

This scene is one of several that features Lupino’s mesmerizing performance. (We’re not divulging any more for fear of giving away the ending.)

They Drive By Night is an intriguing look at the trucking industry during the Depression. This itself is an interesting subject, but it’s Lupino’s superb performance that makes the film memorable.

For more information on Ida Lupino’s career, read this biography by Lindsey at The Motion Pictures.

They Drive by Night: starring George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino. Directed by Raoul Walsh. Written by Jerry Wald and Richard Macaulay. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., 1940, B&W, 93 mins.

Ingrid Bergman: Questioning Your Way to Better Mental Health

Ingrid Bergman discovers Gregory Peck (asleep) is not who he claims to be. Image: AllPosters

Ingrid Bergman discovers Gregory Peck is not who he says he is. Image: AllPosters

In the 1945 thriller Spellbound, Ingrid Bergman asks a lot of questions.

She asks so many questions, in fact, we’re willing to bet she holds some kind of cinematic record.

Bergman plays a psychoanalyst who helps amnesia victim Gregory Peck uncover details of a murder he may or may not have committed. She is convinced Peck has knowledge of an event so horrible he’s buried it in his subconscious. This is coupled with a Guilt Complex that is clouding his mind.

We (as in, yours truly) are not trained in psychiatry, so here’s the simple Wikipedia definition of a Guilt Complex:

Guilt Com·plex (noun) : an obsession with the idea of having done wrong

You need to keep this definition handy because the term “Guilt Complex” really gets around in this film. Between Guilt Complex discussions and Bergman’s questions, it’s a wonder anything gets done.

But in spite of all of this heavy-handed psychiatry, Spellbound zips along. When Peck is discovered to be impersonating a man who has disappeared – and later found dead – Bergman takes it upon herself to Sort Things Out.

Of course, she and Peck and fallen in love, and she’s convinced of his innocence. It’s hard to know what this conviction is based on, because here’s what keeps happening:

  1. Peck sees a pattern of straight lines and goes into kind of a trance.
  2. Bergman starts grilling him with questions. What does he see? What is he thinking? What does he remember?
  3. Peck snaps at Bergman and tells her to stop.
  4. Bergman asks even more questions.
  5. Peck blacks out.

Bergman is certain this means progress – and she may be right, because each time Peck is able to shake a few more memories out of the box.

So you can see why Bergman asks so many questions. It appears you have to, if you’re going to reboot someone’s memory.

Now, all of this questioning takes place in between dodging the police and mental health authorities, and hoping Peck doesn’t get any funny ideas when he sees a pattern of lines while he’s holding a straight-edge razor.

Silly Ingrid trusts Peck enough to go skiing with him near perilous cliffs. Image: lsdkjf

Silly Ingrid goes skiing with Peck near perilous cliffs. Image: Adam Mohrbacher

Spellbound is not one of our favourite Hitchcock films; however, Hitch is such a clever director and the cast is so good, it ends up a much better film than it looks on paper.

Bergman’s performance is crucial – it’s up to her to carry the film. She convinces us the answers to the mystery are so close, we can almost reach out and touch them.

Her character is unafraid to collide head on with what comes next, even if it means Peck might kill her. (Well, if she insists on asking all those blasted questions…) However, her desire to cure him is far greater than her fear of him.

Bergman also has a way of slipping into Kind Doctor Mode, the way some doctors do when they’re delivering bad news in an upbeat way. When she questions Peck, she speaks in a soft, cheerful voice and assures Peck they’ll Get To The Bottom Of This.

How can you not salute a woman like that?

Spellbound has its flaws, in our opinion, but it is a must-see for Ingrid Bergman fans – or for those who like a big helping of psychoanalysis with their thrillers.

Spellbound: starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Checkov. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Ben Hecht and Angus MacPhail (adaptation). United Artists Corp., 1945, B&W, 115 mins.

This post is part of The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Click HERE to see the schedule.

Ingrid Bergman Blog

And the Award Goes To…

Dear Reader, over the past few months we have been nominated for a few blogging awards, each of which has been heartily celebrated with cake.

We have been saving up these awards so we could present them all in one post. BUT! We are accepting these honours with a bit of a twist.

Normally, with awards, you answer questions and then nominate other bloggers for the award.

Well, today we are re-gifting these awards to the bloggers who nominated us by telling you why we admire their blogs.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.10.48 PM

Fifty Shades of Reality is unafraid to dive into controversial topics and examine them thoughtfully. One example is this post on Human Trafficking.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.16.00 PM

No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen always hosts interesting discussions on art, films and life. One of our recent faves is this post describing things to love about France.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.26.19 PM

Wonderful World of Cinema has infectious enthusiasm for classic film – which is A-OK by us! For example, check out this wonderful birthday tribute to actress Olivia de Havilland.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.33.57 PM

That Other Critic never fails to make us laugh – and think, which is an excellent combination. One of our fave posts is this analysis of Adam West as the Perfect Batman.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.37.51 PM

Serendipitous Anachronisms is an amusing and clever blog that makes you want to see featured movies RIGHT NOW! One movie you’ll want to rush out and see is The Bat.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.42.35 PM

Girls Do Film is a smart, take-no-intellectual-prisoners kind of movie blog that makes you see movies a little differently. One example is this analysis of All About Eve.

But wait! There’s more!

We’ve also been asked to participate in a Three Quotes in Three Days Challenge by No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen and the fab Sarah at First Night Design.

We’re rewriting the rules on this one. Here are the three movie quotes that we use all the time in real life:





Announcing the Criterion Blogathon

Silver Screenings:

UPDATE: Click HERE for a list of topics that have been “taken”.

SO excited to be co-hosting this with Criterion Blues and Speakeasy. Hope you’ll join us!

Originally posted on Criterion Blues .....:

Criterion Collection animated gif

We are pleased to announce the first annual Criterion Blogathon!

The blogathon will take place November November 16th to 21st, and I have the pleasure of co-hosting with two of my favorite bloggers and favorite people: Kristina from Speakeasy and Ruth from Silver Screenings. This is not their first rodeo, as they’ve hosted numerous fantastic Blogathons. Earlier this year they hosted the Great Villain Blogathon and the Beach Party Bash Blogathon. What’s great about these two is that they turn these Blogathons into events, which is what we are planning for November.

Just last year, The Criterion Collection celebrated their 30th anniversary. That’s an amazing accomplishment for a physical media label. They began with laserdiscs, transitioned to DVDs, and now are the top boutique label for Blu-Ray/DVD. They have established credibility with their film choices, ranging from mainstream classics to some of the best art films the world…

View original 504 more words

Alice Guy: Entertaining Since 1896

Alice Guy-Blaché lksdjf ksdjf Image: Open Culture

Alice Guy: Writer, Director, Film Pioneer. Image: Open Culture

They say Alice Guy (Alice Guy-Blaché) made over 600 movies between 1896-1920.

Sure, a lot of these films were under 15 minutes, and she did have her own studio.

Even so. Over six hundred movies.

Although Guy’s work is slowly gaining more recognition through recent publications and a biopic Kickstarter campaign, she remains largely unknown.

Now, we’re not saying Guy should be popular just because she first became a director at the age of 23, or that she was head of production at France’s Gaumont Company for 11 years, or that she emigrated to America with her husband to establish their own studio (The Solax Company) in 1910 at Fort Lee, New Jersey’s fledgling film colony.

We’re also not saying she should be popular because she’s regarded as the first female director, or made movies where women had as much screen time as (if not more than) men, or that she was a filmmaking pioneer who explored the use of colour, special effects and sound.

We think she should be popular because her movies are wonderful.

Happily, Flicker Alley thinks so, too, because they’ve introduced Alice Guy: A Female Pioneer. This newly-mastered collection, streaming on Vimeo, beautifully showcases Guy’s techniques with three touching and amusing films.

Falling Leaves (1912)

lksj flkasjf klsdfj k Image: YouTube

The scientific way to prevent winter. Image: YouTube

We’ve reviewed Falling Leaves before, but we want to discuss it again because the newly-mastered version, in our opinion, makes the film fresher. This charming film is about a girl who discovers her older sister is not expected to live through autumn (“When the last leaf falls…”). The girl reasons she can prolong her sister’s life by re-attaching fallen leaves onto trees.

First of all, the mastering on this film is lovely. We can more clearly see the detailed sets, including a window that reveals rapidly falling leaves as the family receives the bad news about their eldest daughter.

This new version also emphasizes the complexity of Guy’s scenes: Characters in the background are frequently involved in a different activity than those in the foreground. This was a pioneering technique for the period, one that is common in Guy’s films.

Canned Harmony (1911)

ksdfj aslkdfj Image: laksjd f

Who, me? I’m not doing anything. Image: Harpodeon

Canned Harmony is an unrestrained comedy about a young couple who want to get married – BUT! – the girl’s father opposes the engagement. Not only does the musical father disapprove of the boyfriend’s musical ineptness, he deplores the young man’s lack of facial hair and curly locks. (Trademarks of a “real” musician, we assume.)

However, the boyfriend is resourceful. He dons a wig and sticky facial hair, and triumphantly returns to his girlfriend’s house posing as “Signor Tremelo, the great violinist”. He then gives a faux performance on a violin while his girlfriend plays a phonograph hidden under the table.

Tellingly, the disguise changes the young man’s demeanour; he is more flamboyant and confident in the presence of the girl’s beaming father.

Guy proves she’s every bit a comedic master, not unlike a Buster Keaton. She was merrily unafraid to construct an outrageous scenario, then run amok with it.

A House Divided (1913)

kasdfn jasdhf Image: alkdsj f

Drawing the battle lines. Image: Women Film Pioneers Project

Misunderstandings nearly lead to divorce in the comedy A House Divided. When a husband and wife each suspects the other of having an affair, they hire a lawyer and sign an agreement whereby they “live separately together”. This means they must not communicate with each other, except through notes and letters.

As these notes increase in frequency, they become more ridiculous. For example, the distraught wife, in outlining her unhappy marital state to her mother, pulls out all the notes the pair have written to each other. One of them says, “Please pass the butter.”

During a dinner party, the wife hears someone breaking into the basement. She calmly hands a note to her husband: “There is a burglar in the cellar. You must catch him without disturbing the company.”

A House Divided proves Guy to be a clever and empathetic filmmaker. She doesn’t take sides with these characters; she leaves them to be who they are.

Sadly, Alice Guy’s filmmaking career was short-lived. By the early 1920s, many film studios had moved from New Jersey to California, and Guy returned to France. In 1953, she was awarded the Legion of Honor.

If you would like to see more of Alice Guy’s work in a newly-mastered format, you must see Alice Guy: A Female Pioneer.


Alice Guy: Female Pioneer Presented by Flicker Alley and the Blackhawk Films® Collection (and Ms. Guy herself)B&W, 46 mins.

This post is part of The Anti-Damsel Blogathon co-hosted by The Last Drive-In (Saturday) and Movies, Silently (Sunday).


John Barrymore: How to Suffer Nobly for Art

John Barrymore suffers for his Art. Image: YouTube

See how John Barrymore labours for The Theatre. Image: YouTube

We (as in, yours truly) have an affinity for outlandish characters – whether in real life on on the screen. One of favourite oversized movie characters is the fictional Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, as played by the legendary actor John Barrymore.

You’ll find Jaffe in the comedy Twentieth Century (1934), a film adaptation of the play by the same name that was reworked from the unproduced Napoleon of Broadway, a play based on a certain Broadway producer.

Twentieth Century is about a successful, egocentric impresario who discovers a lingerie model (Carole Lombard), and casts her as the lead in his new play. However, after a profitable but tumultuous three-year business/romantic relationship, Lombard suddenly flees to Hollywood to become a movie star.

Without his talented and lucrative leading lady, Barrymore’s productions start to deteriorate, and he realizes he must woo Lombard back to New York if he’s going to become commercially profitable again.

Much of the movie takes place on board the spiffy Twentieth Century, the glam New York-Chicago train service that operated for 65 years, starting in 1902. (Get this: passengers actually walked on freshly-laid red carpet when boarding the train.)

As amusing as the train scenes are, our favourite parts of the movie take place in Barrymore’s theatre, as he prepares his actors for his newest production.

Our introduction to Barrymore’s character is a display board outside the theatre:

Mr. Oscar Jaffe announces a new play
Personally Supervised by Mr. Jaffe
with a typical Jaffe Cast
to be presented at the Jaffe Theatre
The Play: “The Heart of Kentucky”
An Oscar Jaffe Production is a guarantee of wit and genius in the theatre.

With such a build-up, we can’t wait to meet this guy. And when we do, we’re not disappointed.

Barrymore’s Jaffe has affected mannerisms, such as his use of a quill pen and placing a plaid scarf around his neck just so. He walks with a cane even though he doesn’t limp.

It’s worth noting that Barrymore’s hair is almost never under control in this film, which may be symbolic of his unruly nature. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Barrymore is not impressed with Lombard's new boyfriend. Image:alkdj f

Barrymore (right) is unimpressed with Carole Lombard’s new boyfriend. Image: Acidemic

When Barrymore arrives at the stage where his actors are assembled, he delivers a Motivational Speech. In this speech, he tells us everything we need to know about his character.

“Before we begin,” he says solemnly, “I want you all to remember one thing. No matter what I may say, no matter what I may do on this stage, during our work, I love you all. And the people who have been through my battles with me will bear me out in testifying that above everything in the world, I love the theatre and the charming people in it.”

Oh boy. You know you’re dealing with a real piece of work with a speech like that.

His magnanimous stance is short-lived, however. When someone disagrees with him, he pronounces Judgment: “From now on, I close the iron door on you.”

Barrymore plays Jaffe with a straight face, but there’s something about his performance that almost winks at us. You think I’m kidding about this character? he seems to say. I’ve known dozens like him.

Barrymore’s Jaffe is smart and quotable, and makes a monumental display of his Suffering. For instance, when he’s told blackboard chalk is impossible to buy at midnight (!), he grimly closes his eyes as if summoning Inner Strength. “No cooperation from anyone,” he sighs miserably. “Never mind. I’ll carry through alone.”

There is much to admire about Twentieth Century – script, casting, sets – but we guarantee you’ll adore Barrymore’s performance as a self-absorbed egotist. If you’ve never seen a John Barrymore film, you must make time for this one.

Twentieth Century: starring John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly. Directed by Howard Hawks. Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Columbia Pictures Corp., 1934, B&W, 91 mins.

This post is part of The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Hollywood. Click HERE to see the schedule.