Memoirs of a Professional Cad

George Sanders: The Well-Dressed Cad Image: Tumblr

George Sanders: The Well-Dressed Cad. Image: Tumblr

We have a soft spot for urbane, smooth-talking movie characters. A character like that is as much of a treat as a second helping of dessert.

The person who tops our list in that department is British actor George Sanders. Tall, witty, and with a voice like a chocolate fountain, he is the person we always cheer for on screen, even if he’s not the good guy.

Especially if he’s not the good guy.

We’ve gained a new appreciation for Mr Sanders after reading his un-put-down-able autobiography, Memoirs of a Professional Cad (1960). This book has been recently re-released by Dean Street Press after being out of print for many years.

Now, this is not an autobiography that is entirely trustworthy. That is to say, we suspect Mr Sanders may not have been as careful with his life’s details as a scholarly biographer might have been. But have you ever read a memoir that was completely truthful? Exactly.

Sanders’ memoirs are breezy, well-written, and very, very funny. True story: We read part of this book while waiting in a public area and actually guffawed – yes, out loud – several times. The people around us, staring at boring Facebook updates, were envious of our lively reading material.

Sanders’ memoirs touch on his early childhood in Russia, his schooling in England, and his years working for tobacco companies in South America. He also talks about his marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor in an amusing and generous way. He’s not entirely a cad, that Sanders.

But he’s not without his faults, either, which he merrily exploits. “Perhaps,” he writes, “my curious indifference to success will be more understandable if I explain that the driving force of my life has always been laziness; to practice this, in reasonable comfort, I have been been prepared, from time to time, to work” (pg. 47).

As you can see, even as a writer, Sanders plays to his audience by delivering his wry observations with perfect timing and giving us the occasional wink.

George Sanders' words to live by. Image: tumblr

George Sanders’ words to live by. Image: tumblr

However, he does give us some valuable insights into the ways of Hollywood. “The truth of the matter,” he says, “is that while Hollywood admires people who win Oscars, it employs people who make money…” (pg. 60).

Sanders, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the 1950 drama, All About Eve, had no illusions about the roles for which he was sought. “[M]y features had become irrevocably and irreparably molded into the expression of elegant villainy which I am assured I possess today…” (pg. 46).

If you’re a George Sanders fan, and even if you’re not, we recommend this delightful book. It’s like a scintillating dinner party with a host who insists on second helpings of dessert.

Memoirs of a Professional Cad is available from Dean Street Press.

Note: The publishers sent us a copy of this book for reviewing.

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Announcing the Beach Party Blogathon!

Silver Screenings:

Look! We and Speakeasy are getting into the summer grove with the Beach Party Blogathon. You can see all the details on the Speakeasy blog – and come along for the ride!

Originally posted on Speakeasy:

Beach Party Frankie Annette

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, along comes the Beach Party Blogathon.

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1950s Suburbia in CinemaScope

Gregory Peck wonders if he should take a new job. Image: lsakdjf ksdfj

Gregory Peck wonders if he should take a new job with higher pay. Hmm. Image: dvdbeaver.com

*Spoiler Alert*

This is our opinion: Some of the finest acting we’ve seen from Gregory Peck is not as a crusty sea captain or an egotistical WWII General.

Some of his finest work is as a married father of three kids, a man who commutes to work daily and agonizes over The Right Thing To Do.

Peck is an actor who can handle Hollywood’s big-screen challenges (e.g. giant whales with a vendetta), but it’s the portrayal of life’s everyday struggles – and the associated price tags – that test his resolve.

However, Peck’s character has an added layer: He grapples with inner demons who won’t stay put and are clouding his marriage, his career, and his relationship with his children.

The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit is a 1956 drama based on the bestselling Sloan Wilson novel that examines middle-class America and its preoccupation with money. In the movie, Peck is persuaded (against his better judgement) to take a job at a television company as a PR consultant.

A telling scene occurs early in the film. When Peck is interviewed for the PR position, he must answer the question: The most significant thing about me is… Peck lights a cigarette as he slowly realizes he can’t provide an answer.

There are numerous themes in this film, not all of them successfully handled, but who could resist when using the larger-than-life CinemaScope format? Each storyline could be a movie of its own:

  1. Peck’s memories of World War II.
  2. Peck’s job and the politics therein.
  3. The family’s move to a different house.
  4. A media magnate who forfeited his marriage and his daughter for his career.
  5. The speech that Peck is assigned to write for his boss, which appears to be his entire job description.

Good thing the acting is top-notch. Some of the best actors of the day appear in this film, such as Lee J. Cobb and Keenan Wynn.

Plus Fredric March. He plays Peck’s boss and the owner of a television company, and is compelling as a work junkie. He knows his obsession with his career is ruining his life and his family, but he can’t stop.

The most interesting character, we feel, is Peck’s wife, played by Jennifer Jones.

JEnnifer Jones lsdkjf alksdfj . Image: laksdjf ksdjf

Jennifer Jones is ready to strangle Gregory Peck. Image: ApkXda.com

Jones has the thankless job of being Peck’s wife, a woman who must deal with the endless demands of children and broken appliances. She’s frustrated with their house and with Peck and his cautiousness. But we soon realize the real reason she’s frustrated is because Peck continues to be haunted by his experiences in WWII.

Jones: “Ever since the war –”
Peck: “Why are you still harping about the war? … It’s gone and forgotten.”
Jones: “I don’t believe it. Not for you, anyway.”

Her best scene is when Peck finally tells her that he had an affair while he was fighting in Italy. As he is speaking, Jones abruptly cuts him off and tells him about the difficult summer she was experiencing while he was having his little fling. Jones is calm, even a little wistful as she speaks, but her tone says Don’t Mess With Me. In not so many words, she’s telling Peck the war wasn’t just about him.

It’s a slap in the face, just as Jones intended.

Because it’s filmed in CinemaScope, the film appears large, but the themes are claustrophobic. An audience needs all that wide-screen space to absorb the melodramatic turmoil and believe a happy ending is possible.

The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit is a rambling movie, but it does have a timeless message about the conflicts between a family and a career, which makes its grand cinematography feel strangely intimate.

The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit: starring Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March. Written & directed by Nunnally Johnson. 20th Century-Fox, 1956, Colour, 153 mins.

This post is part of the Cinemascope Blogathon, hosted by Classic Becky’s Brain Food and Wide Screen World. Click HERE for a list of all the entries.

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The Man with the Movie Camera

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Trying to get the perfect shot. Image: First Order Historians

There is a surprisingly moving sequence in the vintage Soviet documentary, The Man with the Movie Camera (1929).

The film, about life in a Soviet city, features a scene where a bride climbs out of a carriage; she dressed in modest white and clutches a bouquet of flowers. Then we are shown a funeral procession; a man’s corpse lies on a stretcher that is practically buried in blossoms.

Here are two of the most significant occasions of a person’s life, each adorned with flowers.

The Man with the Movie Camera is a documentary that specializes in the duality in life. The premise of the film is simple: a man with a movie camera goes about the city and films stuff. Yet, he can’t help but poke a bit of fun at life’s binary qualities. For example, as one woman thrusts her hands into a basin of water to wash her face, another woman thrusts her hand into a pail of water to wash a window.

Throughout the film, images are either contrasted or compared. We are watching the construction of visual poetry.

But we’re also watching the deconstruction of filmmaking. This trippy film shows us how this very movie is being made while we’re watching it: We see the shooting, the editing, and the premiere at a movie theatre. We’re inside, and outside, of the movie-making process at the same time.

We’re warned about this going in. Before the craziness starts, we are given an explanation:

FOR VIEWERS’ ATTENTION: This movie presents an experiment in the cinematic communication… This experimental work aims at creating…a language of cinema based on its total separation from the language of theater and literature.

Now, we hope we haven’t given you the impression that this film is difficult to follow, because it isn’t. It’s smart, funny, touching, and feels much shorter than the 67-minute run time.

For example, a magician on the street entertains children who are enthralled by his tricks. You can tell this guy is the best thing they’ve ever seen. In another scene, young women are similarly enthralled with male athletes at a track and field competition.

It feels familiar – this magician, this sporting event, this busy city. We are told it’s Odessa, although film historians say some scenes were filmed in other Soviet cities. Regardless, it is a day in a city that is both old and new, where horse-drawn carriages share cobblestone streets with crowded trams.

But this isn’t just the story of a city.

It is the story of us.

A woman weeps at a grave site. Image: lsdkjf alksdfj sdjkf

A woman weeps at a grave site. Image: youtube.com

It’s the story of being human, and of the things that delight us and make us miserable. For example, one sequence takes place in a licensing office. Here, a nervous man and woman fill out a marriage license. The next customers are a surly couple applying for divorce.

Throughout all of this business, we see the cameraman, in his rolled-up shirtsleeves, angling his camera on a roof or filming from the back of a moving vehicle. The fact that this cameraman appears to be everywhere, all at once – much like the Soviet government – is not lost on us.

The Man with the Movie Camera is probably the most unusual film we’ve ever seen. (Like the street magician, the cameraman uses tricks in his act, such as superimposed imagery and split-screen photography.) It must have been a thrill to see it on the big screen when it was released in 1929.

If you’re in the mood for a completely different approach to filmmaking, we urge you to see The Man with the Movie Camera.

Note: Flicker Alley provided us with a screening copy of The Man with the Movie Camera. You can visit their shop by clicking HERE.

The Man with the Movie Camera (An Excerpt from the Diary of a Cameraman): starring Mikhail Kaufman. Written and directed by Dziga Vertov. VUFKU (The Ukrainian Photo and Cinema Administration), 1929, B&W, 67 mins.

This post is part of the RUSSIA IN CLASSIC FILM Blogathon, hosted by citizen-of-the-world Movies, Silently.

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Madeleine Carroll’s Birthday Bash – Day 2

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It’s been a blast celebrating Madeleine Carroll’s birthday with all of you. Today we have the final tributes to this beautiful and talented British actress.

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Old Movies Nostalgia looks at the on-screen partnerships formed through Madeleine’s Frequent Movie Collaborations.

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Silver Screenings presents a Madeleine who gives villains a reason to worry in The 39 Steps.

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Movie Classics / British Film Classics presents a new-to-us Madeleine Carroll film from 1931: Fascination.

Madeleine Carroll I was a Spy 1933

Ramdon Pictures discovers Madeleine was a Belgian nurse who spied for the British in 1933’s I Was a Spy.

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Girls Do Film examines the ways Madeleine Carroll is an atypical heroine in The 39 Steps.

Thanks for joining us hosts (Dorian of Tales of the Easily Distracted and yours truly) for Madeleine’s Birthday Tribute.

How to Tell if Your Prisoner is Too Smart for You

Madeleine Carroll sees her chance to escape. Image: kdsjf eoifu asdkljf

Tip: Never allow a woman access to her handbag. Image: Explore BFI

Dear Movie Villains:

Becoming an Evil Villain is largely a matter of trial and error. As far we know, there is no correspondence course to guide you in becoming a dastardly mastermind.

With that in mind, we hope you’ll take some well-meaning advice from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The 39 Steps (1935)If there’s one take-away from this movie, it’s this: Know thy intellectual limitations.

In The 39 Steps, there are two people you need to defeat: The first one is Robert Donat, a bungler who believes he can outwit seasoned, professional villains.

The second one is more tricky. She is Madeleine Carroll, a smart and decisive woman who trusts no one except the blasted police.

The film, briefly, is about spies smuggling Government Secrets to a foreign power. Donat stumbles into the middle of this situation because (a) he believes what everyone tells him and (b) he thinks he can just pop into the spy business on a lark.

He ends up dragging no-nonsense Carroll into this mess, which is nearly his undoing – and is definitely the undoing of the poor, defenceless bad guys.

Dear Villain, we can tell you’re a bit anxious, and well you should be. How do you know if you have a Madeleine Carroll Smarty Pants Prisoner (SPP) on your hands? We’re glad you asked.

Who are you? Where are we going? Why do I have to go? Image: lkdsjf aoieuf sdjkf

Tip: A quizzical woman is already on her way to outsmarting you. Image: thefancarpet.com

Clue #1: An SPP will ask lots of questions, but don’t think this is the sign of a hysterical female. If you know what’s good for you, you’d better answer her with some believable baloney.

Example: In the film, villains tell Carroll and Donat they will be driven to a police station, but it quickly becomes apparent they are driving elsewhere. Carroll starts blasting the men with questions: How come they’re not going to the police station? Where are they going? Why are they going this way, not that way? You see, she’s already figuring out a way to escape and Do You In.

Robert Donat hides from the millions of coppers Carroll has alerted. Image: aksdj flkasdjf ksdjf

Tip: A woman who alerts 5 coppers will just as easily alert 5,000. Image: galleryhip.com

Clue #2: An SPP never misses an opportunity to tell the police anything. And not just one police officer, but as many as she can find.

Example: On the train to Scotland, when she first meets Donat and recognizes him as a fugitive, Carroll alerts every copper on the train – and there happen to be several to alert. Not only that, she’s gotten them so worked up they’ve phoned ahead to every train station in the U.K.

You think this person isn’t going to marshall an entire government against you, if so inclined?

In response to this threat, Carroll calls Donat a "big bully". Image: lskdjf aiefj

Tip: If a woman is calling you names, she’s not afraid of you – even if she’s in a chokehold. Image: movpins.com

Clue #3: An SPP may employ tough talk, but instead of masking an inner fear, it’s actually making her braver.

Example: While on the run, Carroll makes it clear to Donat that she doesn’t believe his so-called “spy story”:

Donat:    “Do you want them to hang me for a murder I never committed?”
Carroll:  “As long as they hang you, I don’t care whether you’ve committed it or not.”

Dear Villain, please take our advice and don’t let your ego sully your intellectual capacity. If you’ve gotten yourself entangled with a Madeleine-Carroll-type character, you need to admit defeat and back away slowly.

The 39 Steps: starring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Charles Bennett and Ian Hay. Gaumont-British Picture Corporation Ltd, 1935, B&W, 83 mins.

This post is part of the MADELEINE CARROLL Blogathon, hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and yours truly. Click HERE for a list of all participants. Madeleine-Carroll-Blog-4_fix

Madeleine Carroll Birthday Bash – Day 1

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What a terrific start to the Madeleine Carroll blogathon! We have a wonderful selection of tributes for the birthday girl today.

Madeleine Carroll Bob Hope

Co-host Dorian, of Tales of the Easily Distracted, looks the Madeleine Carroll – Bob Hope partnership in My Favorite Blonde.

Madeleine Carroll Secret Agent

Once Upon a Screen pays tribute to Madeleine as the original Hitchcock blonde, in Secret Agent.

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A Person in the Dark shares memories of one of Madeleine’s biggest fans, a man named John: You Stepped Out of a Dream.

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Wide Screen World looks at Madeleine’s regal and dreamy-eyed performance in The Prisoner of Zenda.

Madeleine Carroll The General Died at Dawn

Speakeasy looks at the “beautiful music” Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll could have made together in The General Died at Dawn.

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Caftan Woman joins Madeleine Carroll and Dick Powell in the little-known musical gem On the Avenue.

Madeleine Carroll Franchot Tone

Critica Retro provides some fascinating backstory to the John Ford – Madeleine Carroll film, The World Moves On.

Madeleine Carroll

Wolffian Classics Movies Digests praises Madeleine, who was once the highest-paid actress in the world, as The Queen of the British Cinema.

Madeleine Carroll

Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog shares memories of a childhood hero, who happens to be My Favorite Blonde.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the Grand Birthday Finale!

The Madeleine Carroll Birthday Bash!

jds flkasdjf aklsdfj aslkdjf Image: allposters.com

“Ronald, quit photobombing my portraits.” Image: allposters.com

Yay! We’re so excited for the two-day Madeleine Carroll Birthday Bash that starts tomorrow. Madeleine is an actress we’ve long admired, and we feel it’s time to honour her life and achievements.

All the details of this blogathon are posted at Tales of the Easily Distracted HERE.

Yours truly will be posting a recap of the day’s posts on the evenings of February 26 & 27. Be sure to check out all the entries – they promise to be FA-BU-LOUS!

If you’d like to join the fun, it’s not too late! Just let us know in the comments below.

The participants:

Blog Movie
Tales of the Easily Distracted My Favorite Blonde (1942)
Silver Screenings The 39 Steps (1935)
Font & Frock Honeymoon in Bali (1939)
Speakeasy The General Died at Dawn (1936)
Movies, Silently The First Born (1928)
Caftan Woman On the Avenue (1937)
Flick Chick A Fan’s Love Letter to Madeleine
Crítica Retrô Crítica Retrô
Wide Screen World The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
Girls Do Film The 39 Steps (1935)
Citizen Screen Secret Agent (1936)
Old Movies Nostalgia Madeleine’s Movie Collaborations
Movie Classics Fascination (1931)
Mildred’s Fatburgers The Fan
Margaret Perry I Was A Spy
wolffianclassicmoviesdigest Favorite Blonde, 39 Steps, Honeymoon Bali
Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog MC, as Bunnybun’s Fave Movie Blonde

 

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Directing Giants, and Tragedy, in Boys Town

Mickey Rooney (right) tells Spencer Tracy how Things Are Going To Be Around here. Image: britannica.com

Mickey Rooney (right) tells Spencer Tracy how Things Are Gonna Be Around Here. Image: britannica.com

*Spoiler Alert*

There’s a sneaky trick director Norman Taurog uses in the MGM drama Boys Town (1938).

Two of MGM’s biggest names, Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, star in this film about a socially conscious priest (Tracy) who creates a refuge for troubled and homeless boys. The film, based on a true story, examines the efforts of one Father Flanagan, founder of the Boys Town community that is still around today.

As Boys Town grows in size and reputation, a convicted criminal asks that his delinquent kid brother (Rooney) be taken to Boys Town in the hopes of reforming him. Tracy hunts the kid down and finds him in the middle of a poker game. The players stand when Tracy enters the room, and politely address him as “Father”. Rooney, on the other hand, puts his feet on the table and blows cigarette smoke at the priest.

Here is the start of an on-screen power struggle between these two MGM giants, and we can hardly wait for the big showdown: The calm, determined Tracy vs. the feisty, determined Rooney.

But director Taurog, the sneak, has other plans.

In the middle of all this, we are introduced to an adorable little boy named Pee Wee (Bobs Watson), a short, roundish kid with an infectious smile. He is one of the few children at Boys Town who actually like Rooney; for some reason, he sees something noble in him. That’s the kind of kid Pee Wee is.

So. While we’re distracted by the Tracy-Rooney rumble, the cutest kid in the film gets hit by a car.

It happens after Rooney’s character decides to run away from Boys Town. Pee Wee sees Rooney, suitcase in hand, and chases after him. The child catches up with him and pulls on his sleeve, pleading, “We’re going to be pals, ain’t we?” Rooney, nearly in tears, pushes the child to the ground and tells him to go back. He then storms across the highway, and Pee Wee, caught in the tail wind, is too upset about his hero to think about oncoming traffic.

In an instant, two of MGM’s über celebrities are virtually reduced to supporting players in one of the most shocking scenes in the film.

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Norman Taurog (right) on the set with Rooney. Image: A Certain Cinema

The accident scene is, frankly, a sucker punch, but it doesn’t feel contrived because Taurog lets the story of Boys Town unfold organically. He doesn’t tell us what the characters are like, he shows us what the characters are like. In doing so, he quietly pulls us into their world.

He’s sly when pricking our conscience about street kids. For example, in the opening scene, a prisoner on death row delivers a lengthy but riveting monologue about his desperate childhood. In another scene, a distraught child accuses Tracy, “I thought you said if we were good, everyone would want to help us.”

Whoa. This stuff ain’t sugar coated.

The director also plays with the different personalities in Boys Town, and we start to feel like we personally know these kids. Taurog isn’t turning the movie into a vehicle for Tracy or Rooney. He’s presenting a community, much like Boys Town itself.

Taurog, nominated for best director, did not win the Academy Award that year; he lost to Frank Capra for You Can’t Take it With You. However, Boys Town did win two Oscars (Best Actor and Best Original Story). It’s a movie we hope you’ll add to your Must-Watch List.

Boys Town: starring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull. Directed by Norman Taurog. Written by John Meehan and Dore Schary. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., 1938, B&W, 93 mins.

This post is part of the 31 DAYS OF OSCAR Blogathon: Pictures & Directors, hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken & Freckled and Once Upon a Screen. Click HERE for a list of all participants.

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Announcing the Great Villain Blogathon 2015!

Silver Screenings:

They’re ba-a-ack!

Originally posted on Speakeasy:

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The first Great Villain Blogathon in 2014 was such a fun and huge event that, in the tradition of the greatest movie villains, we threatened promised to return and wreak havoc again with another event celebrating cinema’s biggest cretins.

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We cordially invite you to participate in the Great Villain Blogathon 2015. Pick a movie villain to write about and join us in this dissection of the dastardly and depraved, this survey of the stinking and spiteful, this audit of hateful and heinous characters.

Your hosts are Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy, and The Great Villain Blogathon happens APRIL 13 – 17, 2015.

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You may write on any Big Bad from any era, country and genre, whether they were dictators, outlaws, criminals, politicians, mistresses, monsters, slashers, gangsters, mama’s boys, hammy and backstabbing actresses, artificial intelligence, aliens, wicked stepmothers, or any…

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