The Best of M-G-M: The Women (1939)

The Women 1939

source: MGM

In 2018, there has been a lot of hubbub surrounding the role of women in the world, especially the entertainment industry.

Films like Ocean’s 8, Girl’s Trip and many other female-centric movies have flooded the market over the past two years or so, but, the concept of women-focused movies isn’t new, however.

Back in 1939, the brilliant cinematic mind of George Cukor coupled with the manpower of Metro Goldwyn Mayer produced one of the greatest female-centered films of all time.


The Women, starring an all-star cast that included Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Norma Shearer is perhaps the most wildly entertaining film of 1939, and it still holds up 79 years later. It may have not passed the Bechdel Test, but the film is unique in that there isn’t a single man in sight.

The-Women-1939 2

source: MGM

Norma Shearer plays Mary Haines, a rather homely woman with a heart of gold. She and her daughter “Little Mary,” live a nice life riding horses, loving life, and just general happiness shared between the two.

In comes Mary’s husband, Mr. Haines.

The cool thing about this film is, there isn’t a single man that’s present during the duration of the movie. This means that the object of Mary’s affections, and the main subject of the picture, does not show up at all throughout the film’s runtime. Due to this, we get 133 minutes of pure ‘unfiltered’ womanhood.

On to the movie’s (unseen) subject, Mr. Haines.


In typical classic Hollywood fashion, Mr. Haines appears to be cheating on Mary, much to the surprise of no one considering the fact that all of her friends and “close acquaintances” including Sylvia Fowler (played by Rosalind Russell,) knew about it before she did.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The woman in Mr. Haines’ life isn’t his wife at all, it’s actually a 5’5 brunette by the name of Crystal Allen (played by Joan Crawford,) and when, eventually, Mary and Crystal meet, let’s say that….it doesn’t go over too well.

the women 2

source: MGM

The scene in question is quite a doozy.

Crystal and Mary finally meet at Crystal’s job in the dressing rooms, surrounded by their closest friends, and foes.

Mary ends up confronting Crystal at Sylvia’s insistence and what we have is possibly the wittiest scene in classic movie history.

The two tussle back and forth, spewing all the things that they’ve always wanted to say to each other: Crystal tells Mary to get a divorce and Mary tells Crystal that she’s a hussy (in 1939 terms.)

It really is quite an intense scene. When I initially viewed this I was shocked at the pettiness that stemmed from the two ladies. To be quite frank, I’m not sure why it surprised me, I was just startled at how well the scene was acted.

I suppose that’s why this film is so great. Not only is it unique for its time period, but it also gave the chance for women to flourish on the silver screen during a time where opportunities were few and far between. Knowing that it makes my enjoyment of the film 10 times greater.

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Fall CMBA Blogathon – Outlaws…

the petrified forrest

source: Warner Bros.

When discussing notorious gangsters, one name usually comes to mind.

From his buzzcuts to his scars on face, Humphrey Bogart, the man with the famous lisp, was, for a time, the world’s most threatening man.

Before marrying Bacall, and flirting with Audrey Hepburn on camera, Bogart was Hollywood’s resident tough guys; cracking wise, smooching dames, the guy did it all.

The film that best portrays Bogart in this “tough guy” light is 1936’s The Petrified Forest.


Directed by Archie Mayo and co-starring a talented cast of Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Dick Foran, The Petrified Forest tells the story of a man, a wanderer, to say the least, the goes by the name of Alan Squier.

He’s a failed writer, a poet – a broken man. Couple that with his Great Depression woes, and that makes a perfect recipe for someone, specifically Alan, to go and bother a homely barkeep and his daughter.

petrified-forest 2

source: Warner Bros.

After getting fed and clothed, Gabrielle (Bette Davis) and Alan start to get on swimmingly.

It’s quite cute, actually. This homely, rather socially awkward (this hits too close to home,) young lady being absolutely enthralled with this mystery man’s presence is, frankly, one of the more underrated parts of this film.

So, the two of them get along very well, and everything appears to be going splendidly for them.

In walks Bogart and company.


Duke Mantee, a gangster, a cheat, an all-around bad guy walks into their bar with a gun in one hand and a point to prove.

After holding hostage a wealthy couple in order to evade police, Duke strolls into this bar looking his girlfriend that he was supposed to rendezvous with.

Duke is a pretty intimidating guy and is precisely the reason why he was picked for this blogathon.

When you initially view this film, especially when you’re used to the “cleaned up” Bogart, his appearance comes as a shock.

Dirtied, 5 O’Clock shadow, and stained clothes galore, this is Duke Mantee in his entire glory.

petrified forest 3

source: Warner Bros. 

What makes him so scary is his lack of control.

Duke has a very quick temper and any little thing (or person) that he perceives to mess up his plans will more or less be caught in his line of fire.

This kept me on edge throughout the entire film.

When he’s holding everyone captive inside that bar, you could feel the tension. One false move and, potentially, your life could be over. Just thinking about it again makes my skin crawl. What a wonderful performance that Bogart put on, absolutely outstanding.

Classic movie buffs could argue that this is the film that put Bogart on the map, and they’d be right.

This was Bogart‘s first major screen role, it essentially put Humphrey‘s acting abilities on the map, not only for the public eye but also in the offices of every major movie studio during that era.

If you haven’t had the chance to see this film, I strongly suggest you do so. You’ll not only enjoy performances from Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, but you will also be able to see Bogart at his career inception and, arguably,  in his very best role.

 

If you’d like to read more entries in this blogathon, click: here

 

 

Thank You for 100 Followers, from AGAM!

tumblr_p2r46qhcdg1qk2y5po6_500

gif source: Doses of Grace Tumblr

Well, well, well….how time flies.

About a year ago, I started this blog. I wasn’t really expecting much to be honest with you. AGAM was more of a place to vent some inner thoughts I had about most of the classic films I’ve seen. Never have I imagined that it would grow to be this big. Even though 100 followers doesn’t seem like much, I very much appreciate the time all of you take to read through my writing.

So, I’m thanking you for all of this. The ups and the downs, and everything in between.

Here’s to 100 more!

TCM’s ’50 States in 50 Movies’ Spotlight

MAP

……this is such a brilliant idea

The U.S is a great country, I don’t care what anyone says.

No country is a large and diverse as these 50 different states in the union.

From the golden coasts of California to the Rocky Mountains of the Appalachians, the United States is truly a sight to behold – especially when you have time to burn during the summer.

It’s only fitting that movies and traveling fit together. Turner Classic Movies, better known as ‘TCM’ has begun this fantastic new film spotlight that focuses on ’50 Movies from 50 different states.

Starting in New England, then making its way down to New York City, then with a quick stop down South, then onward toward Florida, going back up to the midwest, then down the Missippi River, all the way out to the Wild West, then eventually ending on the sun-kissed coasts of California.

Every Monday and Tuesday this July, you will be able to enjoy your favorite classic movies while exploring the great open roads of the United States.

monument-valley TCM

source: Lonely Planet

With films like Key Largo, The Philadelphia Story, and High Society to thrillers and dramas like Anatomy of a Murder and A Summer Place to westerns like the iconic Giant, this TCM spotlight has something for everyone.

If you’d like to clear the cobwebs when it comes to catching up on your favorite movies, there’s literally no better time to do this.

So, sit back grab a drink, pop some popcorn, put on your fuzzy slippers and take a tour around the United States – TCM style.

If you’d like to read more about the lineup, click: here

 

Classic Movies Are Food For the Soul

mgm_1943

source: MGM’s 20th Anniversary Celebration

When I first got into classic films 5 years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long) I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Naturally, like any bratty, snotty-nosed teenager, I turned my nose up at those “black and white snoozefests.” It wasn’t until I took a mandatory ‘Cinema Appreciation’ class that I started to *ahem* ‘appreciate’ classic films.

A couple weeks, I began to watch to The Asphalt Jungle. About halfway through, I got unbearably tired and I just had to go to bed.

The next morning I check the TCM on demand (the app is truly God-sent, I highly recommend you download it) to see if the film was still there, lo and behold, it had an expiration date.

Crushed.

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed, but then I realized the movie served its purpose.

The Asphalt Jungle 2

source: MGM

At the time, circumstances in my life were pretty overwhelming. My college courses weren’t going to plan, the weather down here was dire, and I was struggling with life in general.

That hour of The Asphalt Jungle immediately put me in a better mood. I may not have finished it, but the film took my mind off of my current problems.

This show the power of classic films, I may not have finished it, but it gave me pleasure in another way – emotionally.

And for that, I thank them.

The Clark Gable Blogathon…

MMELODRAMA

source: MGM

A story of principle.

There have been many movies over the years that exemplify this precious sentiment. What there hasn’t been, however, is a film that makes sticking to what you believe in a matter of life or death.

Manhattan Melodrama is a film about convictions, love, and how far one is willing to go to keep them together.

Director W.S Van Dyke tells the story of two boys who grow up together, and how time and different circumstances lead them to live different lives.

Clark Gable and William Powell star as ‘Blackie’ Gallagher and Jim Wade, the two boys whose friendship is thicker than blood. Their friendship goes through countless ups and downs, through several trials and tribulations, but despite those hardships, Wade and ‘Blackie’ were inseparable.


Their misfortunes begin at the beginning of the film when the cruise liner they were traveling on catches fire, leaving everyone to fend for themselves.

This unlucky accident has both of their parents die in the frenzied blaze, leaving both of the boys parentless. As the boys and other survivors swim to safety, they run into a homely man named Poppa Rosen (played by George Sidney.) It’s shown that he also lost a family member, a son, the same age as ‘Blackie’ and Wade.

MMELODRAMA2

source: MGM

As the trio grieve together, Rosen offers to become their guardian. With nowhere else to go, the boys jump at the opportunity.

A couple of years pass by and everything seems to be going well for the boys (well, at least for one of them.) Wade is studying to become a district attorney and ‘Blackie’ is dipping his toes into the grimy world of petty crime.

After living comfortably with Rosen for a few years, he’s accidentally trampled to death by a policeman’s horse at a pro-Communism rally.


The movie skips ahead to the year 1920, where Wade has triumphantly become District Attorney and ‘Blackie’ runs an illegal gambling ‘joint’.

Both boys have found success in very, very different lines of work.

The law is the only thing that keeps them separated.

The two boys – now men – run into each other one night at a boxing match. They laugh, and joke around like old pals, prompting ‘Blackie’ to invite Jim out for drinks. Jim declines citing work as his excuse. That doesn’t deter ‘Blackie’ though. If he couldn’t be there he’ll send the next best thing, Eleanor – his mistress girlfriend (played by Myrna Loy.)

When Eleanor and Jim meet, she’s immediately impressed by the class and charms that oozes out of Wade, the polar opposite of ‘Blackie’s’ brash and coarse demeanor.

Eleanor returns from her impromptu ‘date’ and she realizes that she doesn’t want to live the “gangster” lifestyle anymore and ends her romance with ‘Blackie,’ eventually marrying Jim.

MMELODRAMA3

source: MGM

Her decision proves to be the correct one when a couple of days later a man who owed ‘Blackie’ money is mysteriously shot in his hotel room.

The man behind the crime?

Edward J. ‘Blackie’ Gallagher.

But, Wade doesn’t know that.

Run he starts his campaign for governor later that year, his assistant Richard Snow essentially harasses him into looking deeper into the murder case. If Jim doesn’t comply with his wishes, Snow would expose his close friendship to ‘Blackie’ thus ruining his chances of winning the race.

Coincidentally, Eleanor and ‘Blackie’ reunite at a horse track, where Eleanor explains the predicament that Wade has got himself into.

‘Blackie’ being an all-around “bad guy” tells her that she shouldn’t worry and that he’ll “take care of this, himself.”

We all know what this means.

Lo and behold, ‘Blackie’ shoots Wade’s assistant point blank in a restroom during a hockey game in Madison Square Garden. Because, why not?

MMELODRAMA4

source: MGM

What ‘Blackie’ thought to be a blind man sitting outside the restroom when he committed the crime turned out to be a concerned citizen who quickly reports the crime to the police.

Jim is now forced to choose between two of the things that he loves the most: his career or persecuting ‘Blackie.’ He wins his gubernatorial race, but his mind can’t shake the obvious conflict of interests.

Ultimately, his conscience takes over, as much as it pains him to do so and against the objections of his wife, he prosecutes ‘Blackie’ for both murders sentencing him to death by electric chair.

He almost retracts his sentencing, however, when Jim visits ‘Blackie’ in prison, he reiterates to him that he’s proud that he stuck to his conscience and didn’t relent in his charges. Agreeing, Wade gives up and lets ‘Blackie’ have a peaceful death.

The movie ends with Jim tendering his resignation from his governor seat, stating that a murder influenced the result of his election, therefore, making it invalid.

Conclusion

MMELODRAMA5

source: MGM

When you combine the genius of Joseph L. Mankiewicz and the directorial magic of W.S Van Dyke, you’re bound to get magic on the silver screen.

That’s exactly what makes Manhattan Melodrama a film that deserves more recognition. This movie has it all: excellent writing (absolutely incredible, I can’t stress that enough), outstanding acting, and exceptional directing – the trifecta.

W.S Van Dyke has quickly become one of my favorite directors because of pictures like this. He has the magic touch when it comes to movies where you need to have that delicate balance of drama and comedy (e.g The Thin Man.) Though ‘MMD’ isn’t necessarily a comedy, there were several moments in the film where the witty banter between Powell and Gable flowed organically, like they’ve known each other all their life.

For that, we have Mr. Mankiewicz to thank.


Manhattan Melodrama is a film that will make you reflect on what you truly believe and whether or not you can stand for it when the going gets tough. Not only is the film visually stunning and terrifically written, it also has an underlying message of morality and virtue.

There are not many movies that could do this, but ‘Melodrama’ is one of the few that does it so well.


If you wish to read the rest of the entries in the blogathon, click here.

 

 

The Influence of Paris On Classic Hollywood Cinema

Hollywood in Paris

source: Paramount Pictures

Lise: Paris has ways of making people forget.

Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It’s too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way.

-Leslie Caron as Lise and Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan in An American In Paris (1951)

Paris.

Since it’s industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, the self-proclaimed,”City of Lights” has grown to represent a number of different things in the human psyche.

Whether it be the sound of the cobblestone streets beneath your feet as you walk beside the Seine River, the monotone “bonjour” as you stride into your favorite Boulangerie or the thousands of tourists who are jostling with each other in a race to see who can snap the most cliché selfie, Paris has been tourism hot-spot for decades.

In the eyes of the classic film fan, however, Paris holds a special connotation in our hearts.


Arguably starting with Humphrey Bogart‘s legendary quote during the climax of Casablanca, the City of Paris has been a staple in pop culture since the advent of the movie camera. It’s no wonder that many classic film directors have chosen “The City of Love” as the backdrop to several of their movies.

Paris in movies

“……French New Wave at it’s finest.”

So, what makes Paris so special?

In the classic film sense, it encapsulates everything that’s so extraordinary about that specific era in movie history.

Paris is the place where a lonely writer can turn into an international marvel, where an ex-GI can chase his dreams of being a painter, and where a homely librarian can turn into a top model; Paris is the place where dreams become reality.


There are several movies that embody this feeling.

An American in Paris, Funny Face, and Moulin Rouge! are some of the better examples of this phenomenon. Other films in this category include The Last Time I Saw Paris, Les Girls, and 1958’s Academy Award Winning film GigiEven the plot of light-hearted romantic comedies like Stanley Donen‘s Charade has a feeling of improbability and absurdity that could only to recreated in a city like Paris.

 

Paris in Hollywood 2

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” 
― Oscar Wilde

In summation, Paris’ importance to classic Hollywood has been immense. Filmmakers, actors, actresses, producers, and screenwriters have all come together to help create a lore to this city that’s been so prevalent in our movie history.

The next time you happen to view a film that takes place in the ‘City of Love’, be sure to take a good look at its surroundings, you never know what magic Paris will conjure up this time.

Classic Film Reviews: Vivacious Lady (1938)

Vivacious Lady

source: RKO

Every now and then, one stumbles across a movie that completely subverts your expectations.

Whether it be a comedy that makes you cry or a drama that makes you laugh, it’s always good every once and a while to have your assumptions thrown into a tizzy; that’s one of the many reasons why the romantic comedy Vivacious Lady works so well.

Released in 1938 and directed by George Stevens, the movie stars Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, and Charles Cogburn, plus a talented supporting cast including James Ellison, Beulah Bondi, and Frances Mercer.

The movie tells the story of Peter, a homely botany professor who falls in love with a nightclub singer (played by Ginger Rogers) while on a trip to the city to retrieve his playboy cousin Keith (played by James Ellison) who’s been “painting the town red.”

The catch? Peter’s parents (specifically his overbearing father) would no doubt disapprove of his new relationship.

Sounds amusing? Well, it is.

Vivacious-Lady-1938 1

source: RKO Pictures

Peter spends the bulk of the film trying to convince his dad Peter Morgan Sr. (played by Charles Coburn) that his “floozy” girl he picked is actually his new fiancée. The only dilemma is Peter isn’t the most assertive chap, so, emphatically proclaiming his love for an “uneducated” showgirl won’t sit too well with his father.


As stated earlier, the movie starts in lively fashion when Peter is forcibly removed from his office by his domineering father and forced to search for his rowdy cousin Keith who’s cavalierly traversing through each and every Manhattan nightclub.

After exhausting every resource he had to look for Keith, Peter finds him in a nightclub trying to ‘take home’ (if you catch my drift) a blonde showgirl who wants nothing to do with him.

Francey or “Fran” (played by Rogers) was initially infatuated by Keith’s charms, but, in typical classic Hollywood fashion, her eyes quickly moved towards Peter after realizing his “better-looking family member” is a bit of a lush.

After pulling an all-nighter and walking around the snow-covered streets of Manhattan till their heart’s content, Francey, and Peter decide to elope.

vivacious-lady-1938 3

source: RKO Pictures

The trio return to the Morgan household located in the sleepy town of Old Sharon, New York where Fran finds out how seriously Peter takes his day job.

Seeing as though his father is a very egotistical man, Peter is apprehensive about telling him about his recent marriage. When he does muster up the courage to tell his dad, not only does the elder Morgan brush off his son’s concerns, he mistakenly believes that this “blonde hussy” is just another student at the college Peter teaches at.

Uh, oh.

Being the soft-spoken man that he is, Peter tries to broach the subject again, only to be rejected for the third and final time.

vivacious lady 1938 4

source: RKO Pictures

It isn’t his father who spurns his advances this time, however, but his mother Mrs. Morgan who apparently has a chronic heart issue. Naturally, with her nervous disposition, this makes it fairly difficult to bring up the subject that Peter so desperately wants to get off his chest.

Sick and tired of being walked over, Peter decides it would be a good idea to reveal the true identity of his wife during the College’s semi-annual student-faculty prom (apparently this something that happened back in the day…). With the help of his cousin, Peter coerces Keith (despite having a fiancée) into taking Francey to the dance as his own date.

Increasingly growing frustrated that she has to continue to pose as a student, Fran inadvertently develops a close friendship with Peter’s mother (this will be very important later.) Fran’s cover is almost when Keith’s fiancée Helen (played by Frances Mercer) picks a fight with her in a jealous rage which eventually has Fran accidentally punching Peter’s father in the face.

Sidenote: this scene genuinely had me on the ground howling with laughter, I couldn’t gain my composure for a good 10 minutes. 

vivacious lady 1938 5

source: RKO Pictures

After un-pausing the movie and regaining my senses, the film continues with Peter candidly shouting at his dad (mostly due to frustration) that the blonde-haired student that’s been following him everywhere is actually his wife.

“Finally,” he thought. “I’m no longer burdened with this secret that’s been shredding my heart to smithereens.”

Not so fast.

It turns out that his dad was about to give a “state of the union,” – so to speak – to the higher-ups at the college board. This results in a quarrel between the two which causes Mrs. Morgan, who’s sitting a few steps away, to have another heart “flare up”. Concerned for her well being, Peter orders Fran to take Mrs. Morgan back to her dormitory.

This is where Mrs. Morgan comes clean about everything. She confesses to Fran that she knew who she was the entire time and that she regularly fakes her heart ailments to get out of arguments with her husband (I should try this when I get married.)

Thanks to George Stevens, we get this hilarious scene where Keith, Mrs. Morgan, and Fran essentially celebrate having a couple of minutes away from the insolent spirit of the elder Morgan.

Vivaciouslady8

source: RKO Pictures

After their brief moment of bliss, Mr. Morgan confronts Fran and demands her to separate from Peter. When that doesn’t work, he threatens Peter’s job security. Ultimately, Francey gets the hint and begrudgingly leaves.

Mr. Morgan’s strong statements prompt Mrs. Morgan to drudge up some hidden feelings about the state of their marriage that have been ruminating inside her for years. Taken aback by his words, she hitches her wagon to Francey’s one-way ticket out of Old Sharon.

Free from the clutches of the elder Morgan, both women get on the first train down to Reno.

Peter’s resolution to the problem is to create possibly the most disrespectful situation a child could possibly subject their parents to – public drunkenness. As you can imagine he makes a complete fool of himself.

He loosens his tie, takes off his shoes, and downs about 7 glasses of whiskey in his classroom’s broom closet accompanied by who’s Keith cheering him on a couple paces away. Peter claims he’ll continue on this downward spiral until his father retracts the statements he spewed so flippantly a few hours earlier, even if this stunt costs him his cushy office job.

Vivacious Lady 1938 9

source: RKO Pictures

Several hours and many bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue later, Peter hits the hypothetical brick wall of drunkenness. This sees him miss the train that was carrying his emotionally distraught wife and mother.

When this was happening, Fran (being the typical woman) expects her ‘knight and shining armor’ to come galavanting down the train tracks, enter the convoy, sweep her off her feet then ride off into the sunset hoping to reconcile their failed marriage. When that doesn’t happen, she accepts her fate and proceeds to cry into Mrs. Morgan’s supportive shoulder.

Surprisingly, while Peter is knocked from his all-day ‘bender’, Mr. Morgan swallows his pride, finds the train before it leaves the station and takes it upon himself to apologize to both his wife and daughter- in- law.

You may be wondering, “how does one man stop a 100,000+ pound train dead in its tracks?” “Surely, it must be impossible.”

Well, if your first answer isn’t to park your car it in front of its path, then you may be a heartless jerk (according to what the movie says, anyway.)

Miraculously, Mr. Morgan finds his way onto the train tracks and hobbles his way into the shared cabin of Francey and Mrs. Morgan. With Peter not too far behind, the elder Morgan manages to weasel his way back into the loving clutches of his wife, profusely apologizes to both women. As for Peter and Francey, everything appeared to go smoothly for them.

Fortunately for the duo, they reunited without a hitch and forgave each other fairly quickly. Unfortunately for the audience, that happened to be the last scene of the movie, but based on their reactions, I have it on good authority that something as petty as this  probably won’t happen again to the Morgan clan.

Conclusion

Vivacious Lady 1938 7

source: RKO Pictures

Vivacious Lady is a picture that made my heart soar. Since the plot wasn’t as convoluted as some other romantic comedies from this era, the sole focus revolves around Ginger and James‘ incredible chemistry that permeated every inch of this movie.

Filled with pure amusement and warmth. The phenomenal attraction between Rogers and Stewart is what makes this movie tick. If this film had any other pair of leading actors, It might not have worked as well.

We can thank George Stevens for masterfully crafting a romantic comedy that genuinely feels romantic. Now, that sounds a bit redundant, but, there have been plenty of times where I’ve watched romantic dramas/comedies where I felt no connection to the characters, plot, or outcome. With Vivacious Lady, however, I was very interested in whether or not Fran and Peter (and to a lesser extent Peter’s parents) would be able to fix their issues.

All in all, Vivacious Lady is charming romp about star-crossed lovers and the many forces that threaten to derail their relationship. The movie is funny, touching, and slightly sensual (thanks to the pre-existing real-life relationship between Ginger and Jimmy.)

What more, as a classic film fan, could you possibly want in a movie?

It’s perfect.

 

 

 

The Greta Garbo Blogathon…

As You Desire Me 1932 1

source: MGM

Greta Garbo was my favorite actress in the world.  For three years I’d come out of my dressing room every day, run past hers, and call ‘Good morning!’ I could hear her deep voice talking to her maid but she never did speak to me. I’d see her occasionally on the lot. Never a word! Then one morning there was a rush call.

Someone was ill and couldn’t show up for still art in the gallery. Wouldn’t I come and pose in their place? I went sprinting past Garbo‘s dressing room in such a hurry I forgot to yell ‘Good morning.’

An instant later I heard her door open, then a resonant ‘Allooooo!’” – Joan Crawford speaking about her experiences with Garbo on the set of 1932’s  Grand Hotel.


Greta Garbo was a generational talent.

So many classic Hollywood actresses (and heck, even some actors) have been inspired by her smooth Swedish inflection. It’s no surprise that her 1932 effort As You Desire Me, co-starring Melvyn Douglas, Erich Von Stroheim and Hedda Hopper is dripping with that Garbo charm that we all know too well.

Directed by George Fitzmaurice, this pre-code film tells the story of Zara, a flirty Budapest nightclub singer who’s down on her luck. When she’s not entertaining hundreds of drunken patrons, she lives with acclaimed Hungarian novelist, Karl Salter (played by Von Stronheim.)

As You Desire Me 1932 2

source: MGM

Zara finds her ticket out that lifestyle when a man named ‘Tony’ (played by Owen Moore) approaches her by calling her the name, “Maria” as if he knew her personally. It’s soon learned that Tony is harassing Zara because he believes that she’s his best friend’s long-lost wife.

Zara vehemently denies this, but when faced with the prospect of going back to her smutty job she swiftly joins Tony in his quest to return her where she “rightly belongs.”

At the estate, we’re introduced to Bruno Varelli (played by Melvyn Douglas) – the man who’s patiently waited 10 years to be reunited with his lover. When Zara arrives, however, no one (not even the family dog Rex) recognizes her.

She’s cold, distant, and completely foreign, but she sticks with it.

Overcome with guilt, she confesses to Bruno that she isn’t his beloved Maria. Shocked but not saddened, he presses Zara into staying anyway, conforming to the mold left by his wife a decade ago.

As You Desire Me 1932 3

source: MGM

Back in Budapest, Karl is fuming with rage.

Taking the matter into his own hands, he travels to ‘Maison de Varelli’ and confronts Maria’s sister Ines Montari (played by HEDDA HOPPER, I still can’t believe that) insisting that they have an imposter living with them. As Zara and Bruno get to know each other better, they genuinely start falling in love.

Believing that happiness truly is possible, Zara comfortably starts adjusting to her new lifestyle. It all comes crashing down, however, when she spots Karl from afar addressing Ines.

Karl walks over to her and explains that Bruno’s estate was a week and a day away from being it being reverted back to Maria’s sister Ines. Zara reluctantly believes him and confronts Bruno, who tells her it’s all a lie. Karl retorts, saying that the real Maria has been locked up in a sanatorium since the war. For more proof, he brings in “the real Maria” wrapped in a headscarf and shivering from shock.

As You Desire Me 1932 4

source: MGM

She shuffles in and proceeds to name Ines and their maid Lena (played by Rafaela Ottiano) as familiar faces. The family slowly start to accepts her as Maria until Zara intervenes, causing a stir.

She starts to question,”Maria’s” intentions; so much so that when her memory starts to come back she begins to speak incoherently and it turns out “Maria” wasn’t Maria at all, but a woman who lived on the estate during the war.

With all of that out in open, nobody seems to care – really. The movie ends with Bruno and Zara confessing their love for each other with everyone else going about their regular schedule, including the heartbroken novelist Karl Salter.

Conclusion

 

As You Desire Me ending

source: MGM

I thought this film was quite peculiar.

The first 15 minutes didn’t quite hold my attention like I thought it would. It started off a bit slow, but when Owen Moore‘s character stepped into the frame, the plot started to pick up a bit. The storyline was very interesting. I really enjoyed the “Parent Trap” aspect to it.

Erich Von Stroheim was excellent in his role of the abusive, over controlling novelist, Karl Salter. He really brought another dimension to the lie Zara was caught in.

Speaking of Zara, Greta Garbo was phenomenal – per usual – in this role. She played it with such a breezy realness that I certainly felt bad for when the family started to believe she wasn’t the real Maria.

In summation, As You Desire Me is a fabulous pre-code movie about deceit and is most worthy of being included in this lovely blogathon.

 

 

Click: here to read more entries in this blogathon.

The Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon…

20000 Years in Sing Sing

source: Warner Bros.

Although this may be the “Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn blogathon” I took the liberty of choosing a lesser known movie starring the former.

20,000 Years in Sing Sing is a pre-code (one of my favorite eras) drama set in the real-life Sing Sing penitentiary location in Ossining New York- a few miles outside of the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Tommy Conners is a cocky, brash loud-mouthed gangster who has been sentenced to 5 to 30 years in prison at Sing Sing for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

Despite Sing Sing’s notorious reputation, Tommy is sure that ‘his boys’ on the outside will be able to get him out of this. His lawyer, Joe Finn (played by Louis Calhern) attempts to sweet-talk the warden (played by Arthur Byron) with bribes, to no avail – Tommy Connors is out of luck.

Connors wants to be taken seriously at Sing Sing, so much so that he’s strutting around the prison like he bought it with his own money. This shtick of his gets shut down fairly swiftly (after multiple beatings and seven months in solitary confinement) and Tommy begins rapidly learns his place.

20000 Years in Sing Sing

source: Warner Bros

Beaten but not broken, fellow prison mate Bud Saunders (played by Lyle Talbot) recruits Connors and another prisoner named Hype (played by Warren Hymer) for a highly elaborate escape plan.

All sides of the party agree, but, when the night of the getaway falls on a Saturday, which Tommy regards as a day that’s always unlucky for him, he backs out of it leaving Bud to adjust his idea ‘on the fly’.

Bud’s plan continues without him and fails – spectacularly.

The warden was tipped off to this scheme and preemptively sends guards to spoil it, losing two of them and one prisoner in the process.

When prisoners aren’t trying to flee the steely gray walls of Sing Sing, Tommy’s girlfriend Fay Wilson (played by Bette Davis) visits him regularly every weekend.

In a desperate plea to get him out of jail, Fay admits to Connors that she’s been intimately meeting with Finn with the hope that he could do her a favor and get him released from jail.

Sing Sing

source: Warner Bros.

Enraged by the thought of Fay with another man, Tommy forbids her from seeing him again, even if that means staying in jail for permanently.

A couple of days after their meeting, Connors gets called to the warden’s office where he’s handed a telegram with tragic news:

Fay’s on her deathbed, with life-threatening injuries from a car accident.

Seeing as this has physically and emotionally affected him, the warden, incredibly – gives Tommy 24 hours to see her before she passes away, on the condition that he was to return as soon as possible.

Tommy gives the warden his word and jumps at this opportunity to leave his jail cell. When he gets Fay’s apartment he sees her wounds, he is understandably upset. Wanting to know who did this to his sweetheart, he presses Fay into giving him the answer.

Sing Sing 2

source: Warner Bros.

Fay confesses that it was Finn driving the car she was in.

The first rule of Gangster flicks is to NEVER mess with their girlfriends, or else they go crazy.

Oops.

After learning about this, Tommy grabs the nearest gun and is on a one-man mission to kill Finn. Before he could step out of the door, however, Finn shows up with a letter exonerating Connors for the crimes he committed in exchange for the $5000 dollars Fay was going to use to get him discharged from prison.

Tommy lunges at him, striking Finn in the head with a fallen telephone. Just as it seemed Connors was about to be murdered, Fay in her weakened state picks up the gun Tommy dropped and shoots Finn in the back – killing him instantly.

Tommy bolts from the scene taking the gun and – unknowingly thanks to Fay – the $5000 dollars. The police arrive at Fay’s apartment a few moments after Tommy leaves but with just enough time for Finn to name him as his killer.

His confession leads police on a national manhunt and lands the warden in hot water due to his decision to let Connors walk free.

Just as the warden is about to resign, Tommy returns to Sing Sing fully knowing that he’ll be charged with murder.

He’s sentenced to death by electric chair, accepting complete responsibility. Fay, fully recovered, tries to explain to the warden that she was the one who shot Finn, but her cries land on deaf ears. In the final scene of the movie, Tommy and Fay comfort each other, realizing that this would be the last time that they would be together.

Conclusion

Sing Sing 3

source: Warner Bros.

Though this film has no Katharine Hepburn, I still very much enjoyed it.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing was positively wonderful.

I went in expecting it to be a dross and dreary gangster film that I’ve so often seen in classic films but luckily for me, this wasn’t the case.

The directing was impeccable, the shadows, the black and white contrast, and the quirky camera angle gave this movie an extra kick. The chemistry between Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy was excellent.

The scene where Bette‘s character Fay is at Sing Sing for conjugal visits, whispering sweet nothings to Tracy‘s Connors like it was the last time they’ll meet is heartbreakingly adorable.

As for the supporting cast, they did just as good a job as the two leads and further deepened my sense of immersion during the movie.

All in all, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing is a wonderful pre-code film with great acting, directing and set design. Even though there’s no Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis made a more than capable substitution.

I hope that you’ll have the chance to see this film because I genuinely believed it’s one of the more underrated pictures in both Tracy‘s and Davis‘ filmography.  It deserves to be seen, and I implore you to watch it as soon as possible.