“… this is probably the granddaddy of all product placement movies, far more egregious than even Joan Crawford’s conspicuous scattering of Pepsi bottles in Strait Jacket …”
From 1964: A somewhat strange concoction, The Yellow Rolls Royce is a star-studded anthology, a look at the life of, well, a yellow Rolls Royce Phantom during the 1930s and 40s.
“One Rolls-Royce belongs to three vastly different owners, starting with Lord Charles, who buys the car for his wife as an anniversary present. Another owner is Paolo Maltese, a mafioso who purchases the car during a trip to Italy and leaves it with his girlfriend while he returns to Chicago. Later, the car is owned by American widow Gerda, who joins the Yugoslavian resistance against the invading Nazis.”
The New York Times reviewer A.H. Weiler wasn’t terribly kind to this “assembly line job.” He wrote on 14-May-65:
“… ‘The Yellow Rolls-Royce,’ which arrived yesterday at the Music Hall fresh from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s European works, performs, despite its color, opulence and surface polish, largely like an assembly-line job. It is, it should be stressed, a pretty slick vehicle, that is pleasing to the eye and occasionally amusing, but it hardly seems worthy of all the effort and the noted personalities involved in the three glossy but superficial stories that make up this shiny package. One is reminded of the now classic Rolls-Royce advertising slogan, “The loudest noise comes from the clock.”
“‘The Yellow Rolls Royce’ may be a rich, handsome, colorful vehicle. But, aside from its varied passengers, it simply indicates that the Rolls can be pretty rough on romance.”
The New York Times
The most enjoyable part of this vehicle (see what I did there?) is probably the Shirley MacLaine/Alain Delon/George C. Scott/Art Carney story. Scott is a Capone-style 20s gangster, MacLaine is his gun moll, and Delon is her seducer, while Carney gets to drive his boss and the moll around and keep tabs on what Delon is up to while sightseeing in the Rolls. I said enjoyable, but probably meant amused.
TCM accompanied this showing with a short shown in theaters at the time extolling the virtues of the Rolls Royce and its appearance in the forthcoming film. This makes it seem that Rolls Royce had paid millions for a movie-length advertisement, and that’s not far off the mark. There is an attempt to focus on the stories in the anthology, but that yellow car is always in at least the background, ubiquitous.
In other words, this is probably the granddaddy of all product placement movies, far more egregious than even Joan Crawford’s conspicuous scattering of Pepsi bottles in Strait Jacket (see below). The Yellow Rolls Royce is worth watching for the performances of the greats of the Golden Age’s transition into … whatever we call what came once the Golden Age was dead … but the value probably ends there. I gave it four stars simply for those performances by those greats; there’s not much more to it than those, sadly.
Mae Jenkins: [Looking indifferently at the leaning tower of Pisa] “So it leans. So a lot of things lean.” Paolo Maltese: [Turning to Mae] “You ever heard of Galileo, maybe?” Mae Jenkins: “Sure I have heard of Galileo.” Paolo Maltese: [Turning to Joey] “She ever heard of Galileo?” Joey Friedlander: “Nah …” Paolo Maltese: “Five-six hundred years ago, this Galileo dropped two stones off that tower, one big one, and one little one.” Mae Jenkins: “So?” Paolo Maltese: “So he proved the law of gravity or somethin’. I don’t know.” Mae Jenkins: “And brained a couple of citizens, maybe. Big deal.”
The Yellow Rolls Royce
Paolo Maltese: “And this is the girl, my fidanzata, that I am bringing home to meet my folks. Of all the women in the whole world that I can choose from to be my wife, who do I choose? An ignorant slob of a hatcheck girl who thinks Pisa – Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, Joey – is a stopping-off place between hamburger joints.”
The Yellow Rolls Royce. 1964. TCM. English. Anthony Asquith (d). Terence Rattigan (w). Ingrid Bergman, Rex Harrison, Shirley MacLaine, Jeanne Moreau, George C. Scott, Omar Sharif, Alain Delon, Art Carney, Joyce Grenfell, Edmund Purdom, Wally Cox. (p). Riz Ortolani (m). Jack Hildyard (c).
“The songs and dances, Shirley MacLaine and Cita Rivera, et al, were great; it’s just the stuff in between that is less than satisfying.”
From 1968: It’s quite possibly the most depressing musical ever made, Sweet Charity. I’m not sure what this was supposed to be, but it also seems to be the most depressing play Neil Simon ever wrote. And it’s all a piece with the extremely depressing year in which it was made.
“Taxi dancer Charity continues to have Faith in the human race despite apparently endless disappointments at its hands, and Hope that she will finally meet the nice young man to romance her away from her sleazy life. Maybe, just maybe, handsome Oscar will be the one to do it.”
“It seems a little hard to criticise a musical because of the financial circumstances of its heroine. Sweet Charity, though, is the sort of film which sways in its second half, like Funny Girl, towards the unrequited, grin-and-bear-it ending. What Charity Hope Valentine is grinning and bearing is life as a dance-hall hostess (in the Fellini original, on which the stage musical was based, life as a not very successful prostitute); and since the film is set fairly, squarely and lovingly in New York of the rich ‘sixties, there seems no particular reason why its heroine can’t find a line of work that appeals to her more. This is partly a hazard of the sort of musical which takes over the almost serious subject, and in the end tries to come to terms with it in the almost serious way. Plotlines which did for Italy in the 1950s fray badly when dropped down in the middle of all this expensive decoration, so set on making too much of too little.
“And, of course, the dancehall, that useful old Hollywood haunt for mistily reprehensible goings-on, actually comes across as a rather well-conducted establishment, with heroine’s friends Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly (both excellent) bounding about like a couple of genially astringent school prefects. But if Charity, played by Shirley MacLaine in her sharpest innocent-at-large style, really wants to escape, it’s hard to see what is holding her back. …
“One is supposed to find Charity’s plight rather true and touching; and on the whole doesn’t. And it is perhaps tough on Shirley MacLaine that her particular line in rueful, shrewd, precariously hopeful fatalism, though executed as winningly as ever, already suggests a speculation which the film doesn’t care to take up: the heroine of The Apartment almost ten years on, the valiant last of the kooky girls. All the same, the performance bounces, as does the film when it’s looking down the line of morose dance-hall girls (‘Hey, Big Spender’), ambling into Fellini parody in an absurd mock-Roman nightclub, or flinging its dancing girls about a grubby rooftop in a number so nostalgic for older musicals that one is only surprised they don’t burst into ‘New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.'”
Penelope Houston, The Spectator
“Precariously hopeful fatalism.” That’s a pretty fair, if paradoxical, take on Charity’s life outlook.
The film starts with Charity being dumped (quite literally) by her would-be fiancee and nearly drowning. It proceeds through an obviously doomed night with a celebrity film director, then follows an ultimately, but not so obviously doomed, engagement and ends with a “Keep on the Sunny Side” denouement … “keep your chin up even if it’s been ground into the dirt,” is I guess how I would describe it.
As I said, it’s all surprisingly depressing for a musical, but the late 60s was a depressing decade. The same year as Sweet Charity was released saw the assassinations of MLK and RFK and the end to any dream of a Camelot restoration, plus mass riots and worsening casualties in the pointless failure of the war in Vietnam. That would seem to indicate that a big movie musical would need to provide a necessary uplift to viewers: toe-tapping, heartening, he-gets-the-girl-they-live-happily-ever-after type of stuff. Instead, audiences were treated to a sweet girl being dumped brutally three straight times and musical numbers that seemed to celebrate girls begging for money (“Hey Big Spender …”), jealousy (“If my friends could see me now …”), girls trapped in bad situations (“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This …”) and a sense of hopeless wandering (“Where Am I Going? …”). An American in Paris it ain’t (“Our Love is Here to Stay,” “Tra-la-la (This Time It’s Really Love),”I Got Rhythm,” “‘S Wonderful,” etc., etc.), but I suppose that was the difference between 1951 and 1968.
Audiences seemed to agree with the “depressing” assessment; while it cost $20 million to make, it only brought in $8 million at the box office and just about destroyed Universal, which then, so the story goes, forced it to make the successful Airport (1970), a film whose star Burt Lancaster described as “a piece of junk,” but which, according to «Box Office Mojo», made $100,489,151. That one had a happy ending, with the bad guy dead and everyone/everything else saved (Helen Hayes and a Boeing 707), with the notable exception of Dean Martin/Barbara Hale’s marriage.
Shirley MacLaine is wonderful in Sweet Charity, as she has been in pretty much everything she’s ever done. It’s worth noting that a “corny” happy ending was filmed because Bob Fosse feared the studio would want it, but the studio surprised him and decided to keep the original stage musical ending. I think it was the right decision, but regardless of which ending you use, this thing was probably not rescue-able. The songs and dances, Shirley MacLaine and Cita Rivera, et al, were great; it’s just the stuff in between that is less than satisfying.
Charity Hope Valentine: “Wow, this place is sure full of celebrities. I’m the only one in here I’ve never heard of.”
Charity Hope Valentine: “Fickle Finger of Fate!”
Helene: “There ain’t no use flappin’ your wings, ’cause we are stuck in the flypaper of life!”
Vittorio: “Without love, life would have no purpose.”
Oscar Lindquist: “The odds against us are at least a hundred to one.” Charity Hope Valentine: “Those are the best odds I ever had.”
Sweet Charity. 1969. TCM. English. Bob Fosse (d). Neil Simon, Peter Stone, Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano (w). Shirley MacLaine, John McMartin, Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr., Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Stubby Kaye, Barbara Bouchet, Alan Hewitt, Ben Cy Coleman (m). Robert Surtees (c).
“Whatever the novelty of seeing goodie two-shoes Perry Mason as a Peeping Tom/Kidnapper, it’s Carol Veazie who is the standout.”
[The movie poster for A Cry in the Night. What did "Cert X" mean? Was Perry Mason in an X-rated film?!]
From 1956: A weird flip-flop which is like a Perry Mason episode … because it stars Perry Mason‘s Raymond Burr as a violent voyeur/kidnapper and Perry Mason‘s Richard Anderson (more famous for the Bionic Man/Woman stuff) as one of Burr’s victims. The bonus here is the kidnappee is Natalie Wood.
“When Raymond Burr’s face (grotesquely lighted by John F. Seitz) looms out of the shrubbery at Lovers’ Loop [sic], he adds A Cry in the Night to his long string of films in which he cemented his reputation as the noir cycle’s most indispensable and unforgettable creep. He’s prowling the petting grounds looking for a girl, and doesn’t care how he gets her. Assaulting the male half (Richard Anderson) of a necking couple, he kidnaps the other (Natalie Wood), spiriting her off to a den he’s fixed up in an abandoned brickyard. This time, though, there’s a catch to Burr’s villainy: He’s a dim-witted hulk, a childish monster akin to Lennie in Of Mice And Men. …
“Even less wholesome is Carol Veazie as Burr’s doting, sweet-toothed mother. Managing simultaneously to suggest Dame Judith Anderson, Jean Stapleton and Doris Roberts, she shuffles around drinking coffee in her horse-blanket bathrobe, whining about that missing slice of apricot pie. Nineteen-fifty-six, some may recall, was the high-water mark of a national panic about ‘Momism,’ a threat deemed scarcely less perilous to the republic than the international Communist conspiracy; Veazie endures as one of its most formidable operatives (her successors would include the unseen Mrs. Bates in Psycho, Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, and Marjorie Bennet’s Dehlia Flagg in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?).”
The reviewer is right: Whatever the novelty of seeing goodie two-shoes Perry Mason as a Peeping Tom/Kidnapper, it’s Carol Veazie who is the standout. She is indeed freaky-deaky, rattling on about her “something sweet before bed from Baby,” that brought to my mind “It puts the lotion in the basket” dude from Silence of the Lambs. After watching so much Perry Mason over the last year or so, thanks to MeTV (I had never seen an episode of it before), seeing his freaky turn was a bit laughable. But Veazie: Now THAT was truly creepy.
Edmond O’Brien and Brian Donlevy were good as always as the cops, and Irene Hervey was so very 1950s mother that at first I thought she was Jane Wyatt of Father Knows Best, the quintessential 1950s mom. Natalie Wood gave the screaming her best and pre-Perry Mason‘s Richard Anderson competently walked around in a daze.
The weirdest thing in this weird concoction though was the very short subplot of Madge (Mary Lawrence), who is, we can only guess, O’Brien’s sister? Wood’s sister? Who knows? She’s there for a couple of scenes, Hervey says Madge is unhappy because she’s unmarried and then <boom> nothing further happens with her. Weird, weird, weird.
Still, it’s all good clean, dirty fun, that says much about the decade it was made in, as well as being a good example of its genre. Worth a look if you get the chance.
Terence McNally knows how to write ’em:
Capt. Dan Taggart: “I just wanna know what’s bothering Madge.” Helen Taggart: “She isn’t married, that’s what’s bothering her. She’s 37 years old and she isn’t married.”
A Cry in the Night
Boy on Motorcycle: “Sock her again! They love it!”
Capt. Ed Bates: “How do ya tell a guy that his kid has been grabbed?”
Capt. Dan Taggart: “I don’t care about your coffee! Your son has kidnapped my child!”
A Cry in the Night. 1956. TCM. English. Frank Tuttle (d). David Dortort, Whit Masterson (w). Edmond O'Brien, Brian Donlevy, Natalie Wood, Raymond Burr, Richard Anderson, Irene Hervey, Carol Veazie, Mary Lawrence, Herb Vigran. (p). David Buttolph (m). John F. Seitz (c).
“Regardless of whether you saw it then as scandalous that such perversions were being exhibited in public theaters or whether you see it now as being stereotypical, offensive and overly focused on white, male, straight actors and queer panics and Italian stereotypes, to wit … offensive!! … there is much to actually be loved here.”
[Like Jack Weston in The Ritz, we sat with our mouths open the entire movie.]
From 1976: What’s the hell is this thing?! Antonio Salieri as a gay, towel-clad habitué of … a gay bath house? The Four Season‘s Jack Weston as a mob family son-in-law on the run who hides in … a gay bath house? Treat Williams doing a high-pitched voice “thing” running around in a towel in … a gay bath house? Rita Moreno as the drag-queen-esque singer in … a gay bath house? Ben Stiller’s Jewish daddy playing a pissed-off Italian mobster running around in aa towel and garters trying to find Jack Weston for “offing” purposes … in a gay bathhouse? Kaye Ballard screaming and fainting … in a gay bathhouse? Paul Price as a chubby chaser … in a gay bathhouse?
Yes, it’s all those things and more in «The Ritz» … a gay bathhouse … with the aforementioned Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Treat Williams, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, Paul Price and in what was for me, a performance better deserving of an Oscar than that Amadeus thing: F. Murray Abraham. For 1976, this thing was pretty advanced. Major stars or soon-to-be stars (Abraham’s Oscar came a mere eight years later.)
But so much to write about here. Regardless of whether you saw it then as scandalous that such perversions were being exhibited in public theaters or whether you see it now as being stereotypical, offensive and overly focused on white, male, straight actors and queer panics and Italian stereotypes, to wit … offensive!! … there is much to actually be loved here. Ahead of its time, groundbreaking, unheard-of and un-mentionable, we laughed out loud a lot, even at the corny bits. But I guess that could be that we are, after all, two fags of a certain age (I was 12 1/2 when this thing came out, but seem to have no memory of it, largely because the churches of Duncan, Oklahoma, would have collectively LOST. THEIR. SHIT. and burned down the theater which dared to satanically show this reeking pile of offensive (there’s that word again) spitting in the face of the Christ child … ergo, I didn’t see it, it was only moderately successful and many of its reviewers were clueless about what it all meant.
So yes, there are problems.
“On his deathbed Carmine Vespucci’s father tells him to ‘get Proclo.’ With ‘the hit’ on, Gaetano tells a cab driver to take him where Carmine can’t find him. He arrives at the Ritz, a gay bathhouse.”
IMDb, one of the many tentacles of the suffocating Amazonia totalitarian state in which we live, has «a slightly longer way of putting it»:
“On his deathbed, Carmine Vespucci’s mobster father tells him to ‘get Proclo’ – Carmine’s brother-in-law Gaetano. With ‘the hit’ on, Gaetano tells a cab driver to take him where Carmine can’t find him. He arrives at The Ritz, a gay bathhouse where he is pursued amorously by ‘chubby chaser’ Claude and by entertainer Googie Gomez, who believes him to be a Broadway producer. His guides and protectors through The Ritz are gatekeeper Abe, habitué Chris, and bellhop/go-go boys Tiger and Duff. Squeaky-voiced detective Michael Brick and his employer Carmine do locate Gaetano at the Ritz, as does his wife Vivian, but family secrets come out.”
“One of the character’s problems, though — and it becomes the movie’s problem as well — is that he’s so unbelievably dumb, so slow to catch on. Forty-five minutes into the movie, he’s still doing incredulous double-takes and mouthing forbidden words as he discovers what his fellow patrons are doing in their cubicles. I don’t know if we’re supposed to identify with his endless state of shock — or laugh at it — but after a while we wish the movie would be funny about something else. And, just in the nick of time, it does. Weston runs into two of the denizens of the Ritz: The unflaggingly ambitious would-be singer Googie Gomez, and the indefatigable Claude. Each has a personal reason for pursuing Weston: Claude has a fetish for fat guys, and Googie thinks Weston is a big-time Broadway producer who will discover her and hire her for — who knows? — maybe a bus-and-truck tour of “Oklahoma!” Googie, played by Rita Moreno, has some of the funniest moments in the movie. To the incongruous accompaniment of a poolside orchestra in black tie, she butchers several song-and-dance numbers, loses a shoe and a wig and winds up in the pool. She is also ferocious in her ambition, tossing rivals down the laundry chute and promising Weston the hanky-panky will start after her second show. …
“And yet ‘The Ritz’ never quite succeeds. Its ambition is clearly to be a screwball comedy in the tradition of the 1930s classics and such recent attempts as ‘What’s Up, Doc?‘ and ‘Silent Movie.’ But it lacks the manic pacing, and the material grows thin; Terrence McNally’s screenplay (based on his own play) depends so completely on comic material dealing with homosexuality that other opportunities are lost. And Richard Lester’s direction is a little erratic; the movie lunges forward and then hits dead spots, and the final 10 minutes seem to take forever to dispose of various plot points. Still, ‘The Ritz’ has, its moments. When again will we see Jack Weston as an Andrews sister?”
When again indeed? Well, uh, never! Which is the conceit, although by the time he appears as an Andrews Sister, he looks a lot like George Wendt of Cheers fame. But that’s an aside.
This one could open up cans upon cans of works about the way we see old cultural pieces through the lens of today’s culture wars. The intersectionaled, cisgendered lesbian womyn of today probably wouldn’t appreciate this one. There’s some disgusting stereotypes with Googie as Rita Moreno playing up her New York Puerto Rican accents (example: “One of dees days ju is going to see de name of Googie Gomez up in lights and you gonna ask to juself, ‘Gwas dat her?’ An den ju gonna answer to juself, ‘Jes, dat gwas her!’ Well, let me tell you something, Mister: I gwas ALWAYS her, jus dat nobody knows it!'” That’s sure to make the next generation’s SJWs all go into a tizzy.
Except they won’t because ultimately, this thing is being shown on Retro or TCM or something and
Terence McNally knows how to write ’em:
Gaetano Proclo: “Listen, there’s something I have to tell you.” Chris: “You’re not gay?” Gaetano Proclo: [relieved] “No!” Chris: “What, are you a social worker or something?” Gaetano Proclo: “No, but I didn’t know that everyone in here was …” Chris: “GAY! See? It’s not a bad word. You might try using it sometime.” Gaetano Proclo: “You mean to tell me that everyone in here is gay?” Chris: “God, I hope so. Otherwise I just paid ten dollars to walk around in a towel in front of a bunch of Shriners.”
The Ritz (1976)
Gaetano Proclo: “We used to have a guy like that back in the army. We called him ‘Get away from me Claude.'”
Patron With Cigar: “Crisco.” Gaetano Proclo: “What?” Patron With Cigar: “Crisco Oil Party. Room 419. Pass it on.” Gaetano Proclo: “Pass what on?” Patron With Cigar: “Bring Joey.” Gaetano Proclo: “Who’s Joey?” Patron With Cigar: “You know Joey. Don’t bring Chuck. You’ve got that?” Gaetano Proclo: “Crisco Oil Party. Room 419. I can bring Joey but not Chuck.” Patron With Cigar: “Check.” Gaetano Proclo: “What’s the matter with Chuck?”
Gaetano Proclo: [absolutely horrified] “Chuck is definitely out!” Patron With Cigar: [walking away] “Hey, you won’t be disappointed.”
Googie Gomez: “Think of a tropical night. Think of a beetch.” Gaetano Proclo: “What bitch?”
The Ritz. 1976. TCM. English. Richard Lester (d). Terrence McNally (w). Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, F. Murray Abraham, Paul B. Price, Treat Williams, Dave King, Peter Butterworth. (p). Denis O'Dell (m). Paul Wilson (c).
“Basically, amoral social climber from poor background seduces poor factory girl, gets her pregnant, wants to marry a rich socialite and so kills poor factory girl by smashing her in the head with his tennis racket and dumping her body in a lake, fakes a canoe accident, trips self up by being basically an idiot, dies in electric chair after mercy is refused by Governor Charles Evans Hughes.”
[Phillips Holmes in An American Tragedy, realizing he really does hate that grasping little factory girl and would be much happier drowning her.]
From 1931: «An American Tragedy» with Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney and Frances Dee. The first cinematic adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s novel of the same name, it was eventually remade as a more famous film in 1951 starring Montgomery Clift, Shirley Winters and Elizabeth Taylor: A Place in the Sun.
But this version has much to recommend it. Except the sound. The sound is like what Singin’ in the Rain was parodying. Sound in motion pictures wasn’t yet refined, so everything in the pic, especially background noise, is loud and excruciating. In the courtroom scene when the D.A. pounds his fist on the bannister in front of the accused, the resounding thuds shook the walls. Meanwhile, whole sections of dialogue were hard to pick up. Just a quibble.
“A social climber charms a debutante, seduces a factory worker and commits murder.”
“An American Tragedy was remade in 1951 with Montgomery Clift in the role played here by Holmes but, while this version isn’t without its faults (which are due more to its age rather than any inherent flaws). it’s far superior to the Clift version, even though Griffith (or Eastman, as he was called in the later version), is a much more sympathetic character in the second movie. Holmes’s version is selfish and manipulative, and yet we never entirely lose some level of sympathy for him. Deep down he’s not a bad person, but he falls victim—like Roberta—to his own cowardice and weakness of character. These character flaws are gradually and painfully exposed during the trial, a lengthy sequence which was once one of the film’s strengths but which appears a little far-fetched and overacted today. The grandstanding acting style of Charles Middleton (Flash Gordon’s nemesis, Ming the Merciless) and Irving Pichel is a real drawback which isn’t helped by the way Samuel Hoffenstein’s screenplay call upon them to almost engage in fisticuffs. Overall though, An American Tragedy stands up well for its age.”
Dreiser’s work, and therefore the two films, was based on the real life murder of «Grace Brown by Chester Gillette» in an upper New York lake on 11-Jul-1906. Basically, amoral social climber from poor background seduces poor factory girl, gets her pregnant, wants to marry a rich socialite and so kills poor factory girl by smashing her in the head with his tennis racket and dumping her body in a lake, fakes a canoe accident, trips self up by being basically an idiot, dies in electric chair after mercy is refused by Governor Charles Evans Hughes.
Both movie versions were faithful to the book and real life, as far as these things go. The real life event could stand the Erik Larson deep dive nonfiction treatment, to see how and where Dreiser departed from events. For the 1931 film, Holmes manages to make you want to both hug him and strangle him. Sadly, Holmes’ extensive career, including an appearance in the Our Gange feature General Spanky, came to an end thanks to World War II. He had just completed flight training in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was being transferred from Winnipeg to Ottawa, when the transport he was riding in collided in mid air with another aircraft over Ontario. He was only 35.
Well, there’s not any from the movie, really. These are from the book:
“Clyde had a soul that was not destined to grow up. He lacked decidedly that mental clarity and inner directing application that in so many permits them to sort out from the facts and avenues of life the particular thing or things that make for their direct advancement.” “
An American Tragedy (book)
“And they were always testifying as to how God or Christ or Divine Grace had rescued them from this or that predicament—never how they had rescued any one else.”
“For in some blind, dualistic way both she and Asa insisted, as do all religionists, in disassociating God from harm and error and misery, while granting Him nevertheless supreme control. They would seek for something else—some malign, treacherous, deceiving power which, in the face of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, still beguiles and betrays—and find it eventually in the error and perverseness of the human heart, which God has made, yet which He does not control, because He does not want to control it.”
An American Tragedy. 1931. TCM. English. Josef von Sternberg, Hans Dreier (d). Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney, Frances Dee, Irving Pichel, Frederick Burton, Clair McDowell, Charles Middleton, Arnold Korff. (p). John Leipold, Ralph Rainger (m). Lee Garmes (c).
“Thieves’ Highway is a classic Noir tale of truckers and apples and greed and sex and San Francisco and California and highways and death.”
["Let me smoke your butt, Nick!" Valentina Cortese and Richard Conte in Thieves' Highway. Take that Bogie and Bacall!]
From 1949: «Thieves’ Highway». We weren’t really planning to watch, but were drawn in immediately. I think we had seen it before, but it’s been a long while. Glad we watched. Ironically, Valentina Cortese just passed away on 10-Jul of this year. Watching her performance here was fitting, and showed just how big of a loss was her passing.
Thieves’ Highway is a classic Noir tale of truckers and apples and greed and sex and San Francisco and California and highways and death. Besides the fabulous Valentina Cortese and Richard Conte, it features Lee J. Cobb in a dress rehearsal for his role in On the Waterfront, Jack Oakie and Millard Mitchell, who would be seen six years later in the classic Singin’ in the Rain, as the movie producer R.F. Simpson.
“Nick Garcos comes back from his tour of duty in World War II planning to settle down with his girlfriend, Polly Faber. He learns, however, that his father was recently beaten and burglarized by mob-connected trucker Mike Figlia, and Nick resolves to get even. He partners with prostitute Rica, and together they go after Mike, all the while getting pulled further into the local crime underworld.”
“Like the movie’s rattletrap trucks lurching down the highway as they carry way-too-heavy loads, the characters in Jules Dassin’s brilliantly volatile Thieves’ Highway struggle under psychological and moral baggage until they can lay their burdens down. Working from a novel and script by A.I. Bezzerides, Dassin made this swift, fluid melodrama in 1949, after Brute Force and The Naked City. … it has a rich sensuality all its own.
… “All the symbols in this movie are rock-hard and understated. The white military star on Nick’s truck makes a mute, omnipresent comment on postwar disillusion. And each time you hear “Golden Delicious,” the image it conjures of Olympian delight contrasts sardonically with the perils of the road and the savage competition of the San Francisco marketplace.”
Michael Sragow, The Criterion Collection
(I love how Sragow introduces Nico: “Garcos … has sailed around the world without ever getting worldly.” HA!)
He then notes the inner workings of the film and places it in context:
“Dassin … is just as deft as Kazan in Boomerang! (1947) or Panic in the Streets (1950) at using real locations for knifelike verisimilitude, then catching their most far-out and surprising emotional repercussions.” … “Dassin begins scenes with compositions that border on cliché–whether of a cheerful Fresno suburb or the bustling streets and crowded pier-side haunts of San Francisco’s marketplace. But each time, he punctures the cliché with cascades of complex details emerging spontaneously from the conflicted drives of the characters and the life-or-death stakes of their situations.”
Sragow, writing 1-Feb-05, then notes something that is culturally a hot button right now: toxic masculinity:
“Under Dassin’s direction, Conte here minted a fresh leading-man archetype-a rough-edged, virile naïf, containing equal amounts of violent distrust and gallantry. And Mitchell brings deep-grained orneriness to Ed, a summa cum laude from the school of hard knocks, willing to rook others to satisfy his sense of justice. What gives this movie its charge isn’t just the physical danger of the road and the injustice perpetrated when fixers like Figlia use dirty tricks on truckers and buyers—it’s the psychological drama of men tossed off balance by want and need as they strive to achieve equilibrium.” … “Ed pulls Nick out from under his truck after Nick botches a tire change and gets his face buried in sand. When the older man bandages his neck, and these two finally forge a bond, Nick mutters that passersby might get the wrong idea.”
Pretty advanced for 1949, but like the ending, it gets set right: Nothin’ but manly man hetero stuff … 1949’s equivalent of “No Homo.”
And just so we’re clear that Conte/Mitchell and Oakie/Pevney are just no homo bros, in comes Rico to keep the men manly. Curiously, she’s rather butch, both in her toughness and her physical, trenchcoat-wearing appearance. In fact she’s sporting a short Italian haircut (which would be the focus of an I Love Lucy episode in a few years), which accentuates her Italian “earthiness,” (also the focus of an I Love Lucy episode in a few years). AND her character was originally named “Tex.” (See the paragraph about Hope Emerson below for more on this stuff.) Sragow sums it up:
“Played by Valentina Cortese with dazzling emotional clarity and erotic warmth, she’s at once this film’s beating heart and the center of its existential concerns–she dares Nick to trust his instincts and trust her, despite her shady deal-making and background.”
The review is also interesting because it delves into the writing:
“Bezzerides’ writing at its peak boasts a dynamic blend of iconoclasm and bitterness–an ideal combination for the intersection of kinetics and moodiness that is film noir. … “Bezzerides objected to several alterations to his book and deplored the casting of Dassin’s then-girlfriend Cortese in a role originally called “Tex.” But in movie terms, he was incorrect on every count–to use his phrase, the only truly “chickenshit change” was a studio-inserted scene in which cops berate Nick for taking the law into his own hands. Cortese’s sometimes comical, sometimes poignant, always live-wire oomph makes this proletariat adventure unique and gives it the ravaged soul and earthy glamour of a demimonde romance. No gal in movies has ever looked sexier or more good-humored drying her hair after a shower. When Nick says Rica has “soft hands,” she says she has “sharp claws.” She uses them only to play tic-tac-toe on his chest–a fitting game for a film in which one false move can turn ethical and commercial triumph into disaster.”
In a shorter review, «John Chard» agrees with Sragow, and adds that the chicken shit ending, tacked on to appease the Production Code’s moralists, is ridiculous:
“Revenge, hope and desperation drives Dassin’s intelligently constructed noir forward. It’s a film very much interested in its characterisations as it doles out a deconstruction of the American dream. … Dassin and Bezzerides push a revenge theme to the forefront whilst deftly inserting from the sides the devils of greed and corruption of the California produce business. “The trucks’ journey is brilliantly captured by the makers, both exciting and exuding the menace of the hard slog for truckers. … [once in San Francisco] underhand tactics come seeping out and the appearance of prostitute Rica (Cortese) into Nico’s life adds a morally grey area that pings with sharp dialogue exchanges. Real location photography adds to the authentic feel of the story, and cast performances are quite simply excellent across the board. “The code appeasing ending hurts the film a touch, inserted against Dassin’s wishes, and there’s a feeling that it should have been more damning with the economic tropes; while the fact that Nico’s father is more concerned about being robbed of money than losing the use of his legs – is a bit strange to say the least. However, from a graveyard of tumbling apples to the fact that more than money is stolen here, Thieves’ Highway is sharp, smart and engrossing stuff.”
John Chard, TMDb
Sharp, smart, engrossing … and for us LGBTQ+ viewers, chock full of forbidden fruit.
We loved this one. Having spent many years in the Bay Area, we could relate to much of the scenery and sensibilities and subtext.
And speaking of subtext again, worth noting is the appearance of the wonderful Hope Emerson, a career character actor with a long list of credits, including Adam’s Rib in the same year as Thieves’ Highway. In Adam’s Rib, she played a very talented gymnast in a courtroom, in a role that noted both how big and butch she was, in an era when that kind of thing was invisible. She is somewhat the same in Thieves’ Highway, minus the gymnastics, as a very tough female fruit buyer. Dassin pretty much broke the Code in multiple ways throughout the movie; although the Code had the last say with its smarmy cop platitudinal lecturing about not taking the law in your own hands, the weight of his film said, “Nuts to you!” to the Code.
A good pairing for this would be The Grapes of Wrath, which starts with starving Okies hitting Route 66 in search of fruit picking work. Follow that with Thieves’ Highway and you get a clear picture of what it takes to get an apple off a tree into the teeth of someone wanting to cheat a doctor a day.
Sadly, much is unchanged in this process, except the grower, the picker, the trucker and the distributor-to-grocery-stores are all corporate behemoths and conditions may, if anything, be worse than 1940’s Grapes of Wrath and 1949’s Thieves’ Highway. We’ve let much slide since Reagan, who married anti-New Deal propaganda with our generation’s laziness and produced massive rollbacks of workers’ rights (and the current occupant of the White House), and our grandchildren will have to fight three times as hard as their ancestors between 1870 and 1950 did for decency, living wages, respect, clean air, clean water, and safe working conditions. Whether they will do it remains to be seen.
Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos: [to Rica] “You look like chipped glass.”
Nick: “Hey, do you like apples?” Rica: “Everybody likes apples, except doctors.” Nick: “Do you know what it takes to get an apple so you can sink your beautiful teeth in it? You gotta stuff rags up tailpipes, farmers gotta get gypped, you jack up trucks with the back of your neck, universals conk out.” Rica: “I don’t know what are you talking about, but I have a new respect for apples.”
Thieves Highway. 1949. TCM. English. Jules Dassin (d); A.I. Bezzerides (w); Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Lawrence, Jack Oakie, Millard Mitchell, Joseph Pevney, Morris Carnovsky, Tamara Shayne, Kasia Orzazewski, Norbert Schiller, Hope Emerson (p). Alfred Newman (m). Norbert Brodine (c).
“Not only is it hilarious, it has fabulous midcentury (ugh, that word) interiors, jokes only librarian/book/research nerds understand, an awesome supporting cast including EMERAC and Kate gets to get blotto and talk about the “Mexican Avenue Bus” (the Lexington Avenue Bus, that is).”
["Curfew shall not ring tonight!" Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Desk Set. A RomCom about 30somethings played by 50somethings falling in love under the benevolent gaze of EMERAC.]
From 1957: «Desk Set», my personal favorite among the nine Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy films. Not only is it hilarious, it has fabulous midcentury (ugh, that word) interiors, jokes only librarian/book/research nerds understand, an awesome supporting cast including EMERAC and Kate gets to get blotto and talk about the “Mexican Avenue Bus” (the Lexington Avenue Bus, that is).
“A computer expert tries to prove his electronic brain can replace a television network’s research staff.”
I’m beginning to think The MovieDb folks need better synopsis writers.
“Desk Set catches them 15 years into their affair and 10 years before Tracy’s death. You can sense their level of comfort with each other—something that actually works against them in a romantic comedy in which opposites and antagonists are supposed to eventually attract. Tracy plays Mr. Sumner, an efficiency expert hired by the Federal Broadcasting Company to find departments in which his new-fangled computers (the size of a room, by the way) might save work-hours. Hepburn is Bunny Watson, who runs the research department rather than the always-absent boss (Gig Young) with whom she’s been having a seven-year relationship … waiting for a ring and running out of patience.
“The formula is pretty basic, but it’s the characters (and the actors) that make “Desk Set” fun to watch. It might also be one of the best films to document those legendary wild office parties from the ‘50s and ‘60s, with everyone imbibing so much Christmas cheer that they all start to get a bit of a Rudolph nose.
“Desk Set” weaves machines vs. humans and gender-role themes into a pleasant battle-of-the-sexes film that feels more leisurely than most gender bender scripts that come out of Hollywood. This adapted screenplay, interestingly enough, comes from the pens of Henry and Phoebe Ephron, whose daughter, Nora, would receive Oscar nominations for her own work (“Silkwood,” When Harry Met Sally…,” “Sleepless in Seattle”). The script gives Tracy and Hepburn just enough to work with, and whatever charm that “Desk Set” has comes from the two stars and their interaction with each other and a decent supporting cast. Joan Blondell is particularly funny as Bunny’s sometimes abrasive co-worker, with Dina Merrill and Sue Randall also cutting up in the research department.”
James Plath, Movie Metropolis
Joan Blondell is fabulous as always and the film marks an appearance by Sue Randall, who would later play Beaver’s teacher on Leave It to Beaver. Neva Patterson is awesomely uptight and Dina Merrill is far too glamorous to be a research assistant, but it works. The would-be pairing of Gig Young and Katharine Hepburn is a bit far-fetched, and both Kate and Spencer seemed just a little long in the tooth for a RomCom, but those are quibbles. It works and works raucously well.
A short bit about a rainstorm and a guy from legal and his wife, kids and mother-in-law is hilarious and reminds you of I Love Lucy. But the best bit is a silent one by Ida Moore, an unnamed “Old Lady” who wanders in from time-to-time, checking out a book or enjoying the spiked punch at the office Christmas party. Supposedly, she was, way back in the day, the original model for the giant sculpture which is Federal’s logo, and she has had the run of the place ever since. Ida Moore does this with such aplomb and excellence that even Kate seems to be in her shade.
Besides the “Mexican Avenue Bus,” there are many great lines/bits:
Bunny Watson: “Have some tequila, Peg.”
Peg Costello: “I don’t think I should. There are 85 calories in a glass of champagne.”
Bunny Watson: “I have a little place in my neighborhood where I can get it for 65.”
Richard Sumner: “Hello? Santa Claus’s reindeer? Uh, why yes I can… let’s see, there’s Dopey, Sneezy, Grouchy, Happy, Sleepy, uh Rudolph, and Blitzen! You’re welcome!”
Bunny Watson: “Just for kicks. You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. I mean, don’t dwell on the question, but I warn you there’s a trick in it: If six Chinamen get off a train at Las Vegas, and two of them are found floating face down in a goldfish bowl, and the only thing they can find to identify them are two telephone numbers – one, Plaza Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh, and the other, Columbus Oh-1492 – what time did the train get to Palm Springs?”
Richard Sumner: “Nine o’clock.”
Bunny Watson: “Now, would you mind telling me how you happened to get that?”
Richard Sumner: “Well, there are eleven letters in Palm Springs. You take away two Chinamen, that leaves nine.”
Bunny Watson: “You’re a sketch, Mr. Sumner.”
Richard Sumner: “You’re not so bad yourself.”
Bunny Watson: “I don’t smoke, I only drink champagne when I’m lucky enough to get it, my hair is naturally natural, I live alone… and so do you.”
Richard Sumner: “How do you know that?”
Bunny Watson: “Because you’re wearing one brown sock and one black sock.”
And of course my personal favorite, Curfew Shall Not a-Ring Tonight!:
Richard Sumner: [Watching the computer result on “Corfu”, which is mistaken as “curfew”] What the devil is this?
Bunny Watson: [Also having a look] It’s the poem, “Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight.” Isn’t that nice? [reciting] “Cromwell will not come till sunset, and her lips grew strangely white… as she breathed the husky whisper, curfew must not a-ring tonight.”
Miss Warriner: [while Bunny goes on] Mr. Sumner, what can I do?
Richard Sumner: Nothing. You know you can’t interrupt her [the computer] in the middle of a sequence.
Miss Warriner: Yes, but, Mr. Sumner…
Richard Sumner: Quiet! Just listen.
Bunny Watson: “She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh, at the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must die.”
Richard Sumner: Uh, how long does this go on?
Bunny Watson: That old poem has about 80 stanzas to it.
Richard Sumner: Where are we now?
Bunny Watson: “She has reached the topmost ladder. O’er her hangs the great dark bell, awful is the gloom beneath her like the pathway down to hell. Lo, the ponderous tongue is swinging. ‘Tis the hour of curfew now, and the sight has chilled her bosom, stopped her breath and paled her brow.”
Bunny Watson: “Shall she let it ring? No, never! Flash her eyes with sudden light, as she springs and grasps it firmly…
[answers the phone]
Bunny Watson: …curfew shall not ring tonight!”
Bunny Watson: They hung up. And I know another one! “Out she swung, far out, the city seemed a speck of light…”
Desk Set. 1957. TCM. English. Walter Lang (d); Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron, William Marchant (w) Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall, Neva Patterson, Henry Ellerbe, Nicholas Joy, Diane Jergens, Merry Anders, Ida Moore, Rachel Stephens, Don Porter, Sammy Ogg (p). Cyril J. Mockridge (m). Leon Shamroy (c).
“There’s a lot more than just smiles to recommend this one–ts droll English humor, its glimpse at fashions and designs and trends of 1968, the fantastic acting of everyone, including the performance of Bob Newhart, whose movie outings are often forgotten, the sarcastic wit and the satire–it’s a long list and will need a second viewing to get it all.”
[How veddy British! Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith in Hot Millions. Also, how veddy Sixties!]
From 1968: «Hot Millions». Some fun British fun from Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith.
True story. The very first time I ever went to a theater and saw a movie was in February 1968 at the Plains Theater in Roswell, NM. Which is sadly now the “International UFO Museum and Research Center” 1947 alien landing tourist trap and that’s upsetting and rather terrifying. But upsetting and terrifying is what my first movie experience was; my four-year-old self bawled all the way through it and I think my sister had to take me to the lobby.
The list of things that scared me was long in those days; well into my teens, I was pretty much scared of everything. No reason; I had a good childhood, wasn’t abused or anything. But movie theaters, especially high ceilings and balconies, terrified me. So did fire engines, police cars, motorcycles, Walt Disney, sirens, fireworks, Carlsbad Caverns, roller coasters, teachers and teenagers.
But what was the most terrifying of all was the first movie in a theater: Blackbeard’s Ghost, starring Peter Ustinov. It was a funny kid’s Disney movie, typical of the time, with Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, Elsa Lanchester, Elliot Reid, Richard Deacon and Michael Conrad, in his pre-Hill Street Blues days.
And the worst scene was Ustinov as Blackbeard, riding a police motorcycle with siren blaring, invisible to everyone except Dean Jones. I really bawled at that. Even if it was about the funniest one in the movie. Sirens, invisible pirates, a huge theater, yeesh.
At any rate, Hot Millions is what we’re actually talking about here.
“A con-artist (Peter Ustinov) gains employment at an insurance company in order to embezzle money by re-programming their “new” wonder computer.”
“Today I would like to bow to another critic for my opening thought. Writing about Hot Millions in the New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann observed that it didn’t make him laugh out loud, but at the end of the film he realized he’d been smiling for nearly two hours. That says it very well: Hot Millions, which is not a hilarious comedy, is a pleasant, warm one.
“The warmth comes because the characters are developed rather more than is usually the case in movies about (a) embezzlers or (b) eccentrics. The British comedy tradition accounts for these two genres quite completely; eccentrics are usually Terry-Thomas whistling through the gap in his teeth, and embezzlers usually try for a sort of efficient anonymity.
“This is not, I suppose, a great comedy. But Ustinov and Miss Smith act with a sort of natural appeal, and there are moments you will enjoy very much. Especially recommended for computer programmers, their accomplices and their molls.”
I personally don’t need my sides to split when I watch a “comedy,” but that’s just me. There’s a lot more than just smiles to recommend this one–ts droll English humor, its glimpse at fashions and designs and trends of 1968, the fantastic acting of everyone, including the performance of Bob Newhart, whose movie outings are often forgotten, the sarcastic wit and the satire–it’s a long list and will need a second viewing to get it all.
Carlton J. Klemper [talking about his corporation taking over the whole world]: “Yes sir! When the time comes, I may even put in a bid for all of England.”
Marcus Pendleton: }Hadn’t you better wait till it’s solvent?”
Prison Governor: “You should be in politics, not in prison.”
Marcus Pendleton: “Well, in a way, I was, wasn’t I? When they caught me embezzling at the Conservative Central Office.”
Prison Governor: “Yes, I could never understand why you chose that of all places.”
Marcus Pendleton: [after a pause, says sternly] “I’m a Liberal.”
Prison Governor: “Oh.”
Elderly Gentleman card player: [Irritated by all the talk] “If this keeps up, I shall violate a lifetime principle and play bridge with women.”
Patty: “What does he want?”
Patty: “What are they?”
Marcus: “Young female donkeys.”
Hot Millions. 1968. TCM. English. Eric Till (d). Peter Ustinov, Ira Wallach (w). Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, Karl Malden, Bob Newhart, Robert Morley, Cesar Romero, Peter Jones, Ann Lancaster, Patsy Crowther. (p). Laurie Johnson (m). Kenneth Higgins (c).
“The film itself is fairly representative of the period and shows how far ahead of her time Garbo was … that she could shine in spite of rather stilted dialogue, in a non-native language shows just how great an actor she was at the height of her career. It wasn’t bad, and I might have another look under certain conditions, but I probably wouldn’t buy it for the DVD collection, unless Criterion gets hold of it.”
From 1937: «Conquest», which pairs Greta Garbo with Charles Boyer and achieves something sublime (Garbo) and ridiculous (the script). Boyer is convincing at least as Napoleon. It’s based on the true story of Napoleon’s advances, on the field and off, and his retreats, on the field and off, and the Polish countess who he conquers, as well as his illegitimate son.
“A [P]olish countess becomes Napoleon Bonaparte’s mistress at the urging of Polish leaders, who feel she might influence him to make Poland independent.”
In the context of what would happen to Poland just two years after this was filmed, it was timely stuff. And anything about Napoleon is pretty much guaranteed to be pass-the-popcorn high entertainment.
“The project had been in development for years, based on MGM’s dream casting on Garbo, as the Polish countess Marie Walewska, Napoleon’s mistress.
But they could not find the right leading man, within and without MGM. That changed after the Gallic actor Charles Boyer became an international star, thus deemed proper to play Napoleon.
“Tale, co-penned by Samuel Hoffenstein, Salka Viertel, and S.N. Behrman is too melodramatic to qualify as a genuine tragic romance and too fake to allow Garbo render a fully realized performance.
But it did not matter, as Garbo was then at the peak of her career, and MGM didn’t spare any money in making a lavish production, casting the film with numerous extras.
The scenes between Napoleon and his son (cute child) are fake and sentimental, and last farewell, when Maria fails to convince the emperor to escape with her, is ridiculous.”
Emanuel Levy, Cinema 24/7
He’s right, that ending is completely ridiculous, although «the boy, Alexandre Colonna Walewski, actually did exist», living until 58 years old and having an illustrious career in Polish and French politics, escaping Daddy’s continental conquest ambitions and confining himself to French legislative affairs.
The film itself is fairly representative of the period and shows how far ahead of her time Garbo was … that she could shine in spite of rather stilted dialogue, in a non-native language shows just how great an actor she was at the height of her career. It wasn’t bad, and I might have another look under certain conditions, but I probably wouldn’t buy it for the DVD collection, unless Criterion gets hold of it.
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “I shall send it up to you, invite you to my quarters.”
Countess Marie Walewska: “I have a husband, sire.”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “He’s four times your age!”
Countess Marie Walewska: “He has his dignity. He has his honored name. He has his pride. And so have I, sire.”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Now I understand. So, it is pride you have in common!”
Countess Marie Walewska: “That does not become a conqueror, sire.”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “When you have conquered, Madame, you may instruct me.
“When you have conquered, Madame …” is mee-rowr fabulous! (I said above some dialogue is stilted, and so it is, but these quotes are pretty damn good, especially the following exchange with the Countess’ dotty, skeptical old mother
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Who are you?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “I am Napoleon!”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Napoleon? Napoleon who?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Hmm? Bonaparte!”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: ‘Napoleon Bonaparte? What kind of name is that? What nationality are you?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Corsican by birth. French by adoption. Emperor by achievement.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “So, you are an Emperor, are you? What are you Emperor of?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Emperor of France, madame.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Hee, hee, hee. So you are Emperor of France. And my very good friend, His Majesty, King Louis Sixteenth abdicated in your honor, I suppose?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Well, he didn’t know it at the time but in a sense he did, madame.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “This house is getting to be a lunatic asylum.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “What were you before you became an Emperor?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “A corporal.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “That’s what I thought. A soldier. Why do you say you were an Emperor?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “One can be both, Madame. Alexander was.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Everybody who goes crazy thinks he is Alexander. Now, if Alexander went crazy, who would he think he was?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Napoleon.”
Conquest. 1937. TCM. English. Clarence Brown, Gustav Machaty (d); Waclaw Gasiorowski, S.N. Behrman, Samuel Hoffenstein, Talbot Jennings, Helen Jerome, Salka Viertel, Carey Wilson (w) Greta Garbo, Charles Boyer, Reginald Owen, Alan Marshal, Hentry Stephenson, Leif Erickson, May Whitty, Maria Ouspenskaya, C. Henry Gordon, Claude Gillingwater, Vladimir Sokoloff, George Houston, Scotty Beckett, Dennis O'Keefe, (p). Herbert Stothart (m). Karl Freund (c).
Of COURSE we had to watch some Joan tonight. Not taking time to behold the wonder that is our patron saint, Lucille LeSueur, would be anathema, blasphemy, time wasted!
First up was 1952’s Sudden Fear — Joan with Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Hudson and Mike “Touch” / “Mannix” Connors. David Miller directed. Playwright takes up with menacing actor Palance, who is really plotting with Gloria Grahame (who else?) to knock off Joan and take all her fabulous wealth. Mike Connors is there to be supposedly pretty and try to romance Gloria Grahame, who brushes him off because, of course, she likes being smacked around by her dreamboat Palance. Also, she has a closet with handy poison and a gun all ready to go.
Summary: “After an ambitious actor insinuates himself into the life of a wealthy middle-aged playwright and marries her, he plots with his mistress to murder her.”
Myra Hudson: “Remember what Nietzsche says ‘Live dangerously!'” Lester Blaine: “You know what happened to Nietzsche?” Myra Hudson: “No, what?” Lester Blaine: “He’s dead.”
Lester Baine and Myra Hudson, Sudden Fear
“I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.”
Myra Hudson, Sudden Fear
Next up was 1950s Harriet Craig — Joan with Wendell Corey, Lucile Watson, Allyn Joslyn, William Bishop, K.T. Stevens and Ellen Corby. Directed by Vincent Sherman. She plays, what else, a Mommie Dearest without the kids, who actually hates kids, disorder, had to work to survive in a laundry and other foul places, but who now worships a perfectly clean, massive house and a Ming vahse and browbeats the servants and the little boy next door. Only thing missing is cans of Dutch Cleanser. Harriet is my paternal grandmother with money, youth, and better tailoring. Now THAT woman knew how to clean! The Ming vahse fails to survive the picture, as does her marriage.
Summary: “Domineering Harriet Craig holds more regard for her home and its possessions than she does for any person in her life. Among those she treats like household objects are her kind husband Walter, whom she has lied to about her inability to have children; her cousin Claire, whom she treats like a secretary; and her servants whom she treats like slaves.”
“No man’s born ready for marriage; he has to be trained.”
“I’m going next door. Where the scheming widow lives.”
We also caught the tail end of Torch Song from 1953, with its infamous scene of Joan doing some serious legwork and vamping in full black face lip synching as India Adams sings Two Faced Woman and one of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands, Michael Wilding, playing blind, complete with drunken old biddy mother, seeing eye dog and costumes and more lip synching and other acts of violent culture appropriation.
Summary: “Jenny Stewart is a tough Broadway musical star who doesn’t take criticism from anyone. Yet there is one individual, Tye Graham, a blind pianist who may be able to break through her tough exterior.”
“Your idea of art’s the fruit in the slot machine.”
Jenny: “Carl, after you drop me will you take Mr. Norton home?” Carl: “Yes ma’am. What’s your address Mr. Norton?” Jenny: “Any dark bar.”
Jenny Stewart and her chauffeur
Joan emotes with aforementioned Michael Wilding, as well as Gig Young, the always fabulous Marjorie Rambeau, Harry Morgan, and Maidie Norman, who plays the usual part reserved for women of color: the maid, who remains completely silent when the white folk smudge their faces with charcoal, paint on big lips and start singin’ field hand songs. (Maidie was five hundred times the actor Joan was, but made-up black face gets Oscars and real black face gets two lines talking about how dinner or the fancy white woman dress is ready. Ms. Norman and Ms. Rambeau are pretty much the only redeeming features of this one, as well as a little bit of Mr. Wilding’s handsome mug. Should’ve been titled Black Face Lip Synching Song, but theaters in the south would have been all in a snit and shit. If you’re not into being entertained by many appalling elements in a 90-minute period, skip Torch Song. Sudden Fear and Harriet Craig I can personally recommend.
Tonight is the end of this year’s Summer Under the Stars. How appropriate to end it with Dearest Joan. And that fabulous production, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so that Bette Davis can yet again trample on Joan’s special Summer Under the Stars day.
It’s now September. Thank god. This summer weather-wise and otherwise was brutal. Fall can’t get here fast enough.