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And That’s Why Career Girls Shouldn’t Get Married

22 Sep

Posted as part of the Breaking News:  Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon, hosted by Comet Over Hollywood.

As everyone knows, career women (especially in classic films) are a rare breed of diseased characters who need to be cured through domestication.  Once married to a good man, a (former) career woman presumably lives a normal life, inoculated against her unnatural occupational fixations with the wholesome combination of kids and dogs and bacon and eggs and draperies.

However, not many films explore how this domestication might actually play out.  Crime of Passion (1957) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, and Perry Mason (Raymond Burr, that is) takes the career woman character to her logical–and tragic–end.

First a Synopsis

Our story begins with a newspaper truck barreling through San Francisco.  On the side we see this advertisement.

Read Kathy Ferguson

So we see this picture of our protagonist, Kathy Ferguson, and we see she’s one of those “Dear Abby” type columnists, and we’re probably supposed to think she’s all soft and feminine and sympathetic and all that.

And then we cut to the newsroom, where Barbara Stanwyck is Barbara Stanwyck-ing around, wearing practical clothes, trading wry witticisms with coworkers, and generally showing she’s not as prissy as we might imagine a ladies’ columnist to be.

Her editor sends her out to get a scoop on “the Dana woman”–a woman accused of killing her husband in Los Angeles and holing up someplace in San Francisco–and write a piece from some lady angle.  She at first does not want to go because she’s got other stuff to do, but he says they can just run some of her trash from last month and nobody will notice.  She reluctantly goes to the pressroom at the police station or wherever, and everybody’s on a personhunt for “the Dana woman,” including two detectives from Los Angeles–Captian Alidos and Lieutenant Doyle (Sterling Hayden).  Alidos tells her point blank, “Your job should be raising a family and having dinner ready for your husband.”  This is her response:

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Sassing, Sobbing, and Strumming a Few Chords on a Ukulele: Ginger Rogers as Tragi-Comic Heroine

29 Jun

Posted as part of the Funny Lady Blogathon put on by that talented and prolific purveyor of silent-movie gifs and other intriguing gems, Fritzi, of Movies, Silently.

I have a Top Hat poster in my room.

It’s this one.  It was given to me for maybe my 13th or 14th birthday by someone who knew I loved classic films in general, musicals specifically, and Ginger Rogers especially.

But I have a confession:

I don’t like Top Hat.  In fact, I don’t like any of the Rogers-Astaire musicals from the ’30s, and I just can’t put my finger on why.

Let me retrace my affection for Ginger Rogers.

The first classic movie I watched on my own (I mean, I spent every Christmas Eve watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and I think my mom and I had probably committed four hours to Gone with the Wind at some indistinguishable point in my childhood, but those don’t count because they weren’t my own choices although they both remain in my very-favorite-movie list) was a little number that’s not even that classic or that good.  It’s a weepy-wartime, totally ludicrous affair called I’ll Be Seeing You.

It stars Ginger Rogers as a sexually harassed secretary who accidentally shoves her boss out of a window (killing him, of course) when he tries to molest her.  She goes to prison and then she gets out on some kind of furlough for the holidays and goes to stay with her aunt (Spring Byington [best character actress ever]), uncle, and cousin (Shirley Temple).  Nobody trusts poor Ginger, and there’s a lot of family drama and some cattiness, and a lot of Ginger Rogers looking totally glamorously upset in gorgeous Edith Head gowns.

Meanwhile, Joseph Cotten is a half-crazy-from-shellshock WWII GI who’s on leave.  They fall in love, and neither of them tells the other their entire stories.

More drama ensues, the truths come out, Ginger goes back to prison, but Joseph declares his everlasting love, and all is well.

At the end, Ginger and I were both bawling, and I wanted her hair, her clothes, and her tragic and nonsensical love story.  (I was 12. Sue me.)

And then, as any good fangirl in 1999 would do, I decided I needed to boot up AOL and figure out what Ginger Rogers movies I could watch next.

Perhaps the next was Gold Diggers of 1933.  While I enjoyed Ginger’s turn as the hilariously gold-diggingest gold digger, I was more mesmerized by the Busby Berkeley choreography, Joan Blondell’s outrageous beauty and delightful warble, and the general charm of a fast-paced, tightly scripted pre-code.  And so I took a detour down that sort of road for a while.

And I branched out to other ladies–Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, even a brief thing with Kay Francis, and many, many hours with Ann Sothern as Maisie.  And countless others in varying degrees of fangirlish devotion.  Joan Crawford was a late edition, but at the peak of our affair, it was pretty intense.

But then I was back to Ginger and her great tragedies: Kitty Foyle, The Primrose Path, Tender Comrade.  I tried her Astaire stuff and even sort of liked The Barkleys of Broadway, but, for me, there was nothing like Ginger in tears, losing her man, having children out of wedlock, etc.

And then I watched Stage Door where she’s opposite Katherine Hepburn in an actress boarding house, fighting with her for parts and finally becoming BFFs.  And I partially realized what the deal is with my thing for Ginger.

No better foil exists for Ginger Rogers than Katherine Hepburn.  I don’t dislike Katherine Hepburn, and I don’t want anyone to mistake the following for criticism because Kate is obviously marvelous and can make me laugh and cry just as well as anybody, but she certainly has a persona (which is like half the plot of Stage Door): that New England aristocrat with a recognizable tinny voice and a rigid physique who’s rather dour in her tragic roles and who is always ultra stagy.

And then there’s Ginger–soft and flexible, draped casually over a chair playing a ukulele, with her big clear eyes and her buttery midwestern voice barking out sassy witticisms but then also cooing softly to her friends when they’ve had a bad day.

I realized seeing this juxtaposition that I love watching Ginger Rogers cry because she does it as she does all things: with half a smile on her face.

I like her in tragedies because she’s open and warm-looking and funny like your best friend is funny–not like stand-up comic funny but clever jabs and pratfalls funny.

I like her in tragedies because she seems so honest.

I like her in tragedies because in real life she’s a comedic actress.

And her sensitivity to the comedy of tragedy shows in the way she plays someone so foolish and silly but with so much heart like Kitty Foyle or the gal in I’ll Be Seeing You.

Why Fans of Classic Movies Should Like Star Trek: Voyager

11 May

I’m a firm believer that Star Trek: Voyager has something for everyone; however, everyone is not the same, of course.  For example, if I were trying to  indoctrinate cajole my Grey’s Anatomy-loving coworkers into watching my favorite show, I would entice them with a completely different set of pros.

As it stands, the following list is inspired by my blog friend Ruth, who is a delightful classic-movie blogger.  Several posts ago, I talked about Voyager’s still enjoyable bad episodes, and she commented that she’d never watched the show before.

That’s an Internet gauntlet, folks.

I’ve compiled this list to attract a certain kind of person, and I have faith in my tactics.  And, as Captain Janeway would say, I feel lucky today!

Series Overview

Let’s get a quick rundown of what’s going on in this series before I start the list rolling.  I’ll pretend anyone reading this has never watched Star Trek, so I’ll try not to be too technobabble-y.

The Premise:  It’s the 24th century, and Earth and several other planets have long ago joined together to form The United Federation of Planets.  Starfleet–a space navy, basically–serves and protects this governmental agency.

There’s some disputed regions on the fringes of the Alpha Quadrant (because they’ve divided the galaxy into quadrants and named them with Greek letters, of course), and a rebel group called the Maquis has sprung up to defend what they feel is their own land.  Officially, The Federation sees the Maquis as terrorists, but they’re all wronged idealists, mostly (and the dudes they’re fighting [the Cardassians], who are officially in The Federation, are sneaky jerks, tbh).

Captain Kathryn Janeway and her new starship Voyager have been sent out to the Badlands to go after a particularly trouble-causing Maquis ship, on which one of Janeway’s oldest friends is serving as a spy!  Quelle drama!

Before she goes, she springs a dude from jail who had been in Starfleet and then also in the Maquis to act as her guide! Quelle more drama!

Well, both the Maquis ship and Voyager get gotten by an alien who pulls them 75,000 lightyears away from Earth–all the way to the Delta Quadrant.  This dying alien is trying to figure out if anybody has similar DNA so that he will have an heir to look after this planet he’s looking after.  Spoiler alert:  Nobody does.

Meanwhile, these other aliens are trying to get at the thing that transported everybody from the Alpha Quadrant so they can use it to gain power and take over stuff.

Janeway can’t let them gain power and take over stuff because they’re meanies, so she destroys the thing, stranding her ship and the Maquis ship in the Delta Quadrant.  Quelle drama-est!

This is the first time Janeway meets Chakotay (the Maquis captain). I hope they both brushed their teeth this morning because dang.

Janeway and the Maquis captain decide to join forces to get back home, so they all take up residence on Voyager and are forced to work together.

Meanwhile, they’ve picked up a few people from the Delta Quadrant to be on their crew:  a dude who’s a trader and is supposed to be good at navigating this–to Alpha Quadrant types–uncharted space and a lady (from the planet the alien who whisked them away was guarding) who has a really weird short lifespan.

Also, meanwhile, the ship’s doctor dies in the first twenty minutes or so and is permanently replaced by the Emergency Medical Hologram.  His journey into sentience becomes a plot point in many episodes.

Also along the way they run into the Borg, a species that is not so much a species but an amalgamation of species who act as one unit, like a hive, and they basically steal other species’ bodies to use in their ultimate goal of perfection through putting together the best parts of every species and then enhancing themselves with robotics.  The Borg are weird and scary and robotic and hard to describe, and when you’re part of the Borg, you have no personality of your own and do only the will of the Collective.  Anyway, Janeway rescues a lady from the Borg, and her journey into humanity becomes a plot point in many episodes.

So, if all the sci-fi hasn’t already turned you off, let’s have a go at the list.

Honorable Mention:  Clean (with a Little Innuendo)

One thing I really love about old movies is that they’re not explicit.  If a couple is intimate, they cut to a fireplace.  If somebody’s mad, he gives a glare and bunches his hands into angry fists instead of cursing a blue streak.

And because of the cleanness, they get to have a little more fun (and be a little more creative) when they wanna be a little bit dirty.  So they say things like, “You know how to whistle, don’t ya?” instead of something yuckier.

Because Voyager aired on regular old TV instead of HBO and because we have a lady captain who is so stagy and sassy, we get cleanness, and a little bit of sassy dirtiness once in a while.

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Found Poem: Ladies love brutes

15 Apr

I was researching what I might want to write about for Ruth (at SilverScreenings)’s Mary Astor Blogathon, and I realized anew how delightfully strange old movie titles can be.  So, today we have a found poem straight from Mary Astor’s filmography. 

Ladies love brutes
behind
office doors:
The pace that thrills, the price
of a party.

Men of chance (woman proof)
playing with souls.
No time to marry unguarded women–
other men’s women.

Three-ring marriage, romance
of the underworld–
the woman
(there’s always a woman)
from hell,
the man
(man of iron)
with two faces.
A successful
calamity–
the sin ship.

Lady from nowhere–
white shoulders, red dust,
rose of the Golden West.
No place to go dressed to kill–

Oh, Doctor!
I am a thief heart to heart.

Severe Suits and Bermuda Shorts: Fashion in Witness for the Prosecution

30 Mar

Posted as part of The Hollywood Revue’s Fashion in Film Blogathon running March 29-30.

Witness for the Prosecution is not the most fashionable movie ever made.  It does not make my heart leap and yearn like Humoresque or cringe and guffaw like High School Hellcats.

It simply has costumes that really fit the characters (not to mention the characters the characters are trying to make everyone believe they are).

So let’s take a look-see.

First we’ve got our intrepid hero, Charles Laughton, and his gal Friday (who is really his nurse because he has a heart condition and he does not want anything to do with her for most of the movie), Elsa Lanchester.

Old British Nurse

This little car ride shows us their typical wardrobe (as well as their typical attitude).  I did a little research (the rigorous and academic typing of “1950s British nurses” into Google Images), and even by 1950s standards, Lanchester’s outfit here is bulky and old-fashioned.

And she’s a bulky, old-fashioned nurse who delights in her bulky, old-fashioned ways.

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1955: The ’50s-est Year for Oscar Songs

28 Feb

I’m always picking on 1955, it seems, but I wanted to do an Oscar post, and I wanted it to be about Academy Award-winning songs, so I started looking through the list.  At first, my post was going to be entitled, “Really, 1937?” because I was taken aback that a repetitive and silly faux Hawaiian song won over both “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and “That Old Feeling,” but then I realized that would be the entire content of the post.

So I was looking further and realized that 1955 boasts the absolute ’50s-est collection of nominated songs.

We’ve got our swingin’ ’50s selections:

pre-Rat Pack Sinatra.  ’50s-est.

And some waning Astaire in technicolor. Pretty darn ’50s.

And ’50s Torch Songs:

Doris Day lamenting lost love. ’50s-est.

And an aching ballad from a prison B-movie! ’50s-est!

And, of course, the winner that year–perhaps the ’50s-est ’50s song, which appears in approximately one million beach-make-out scenes in several movies made in the ’50s and set in the ’50s:

In conclusion, the post this ended up being doesn’t actually have that much content, either.  Eh.  You win some, you lose some.

I Guess I’ll Talk About This Thing Everybody’s Probably Talking About

25 Jan

I’m sneering about J.J. Abrams.

I’m sneering because he’s going to direct the next Star Wars, I guess.  I have a lot of issues with this:

Concern A:  What is the next Star Wars even going to be about?  Will new actors play the old characters?  Will the new movies follow a particular set of extended-universe novels?  Will anyone care?

Surely someone smart somewhere has said that a film is only as good as its villain.  Who’s going to be better than Darth Vader?  That is, who’s going to be better than Darth Vader was before the prequels came along and made him a complete lame ass?

I’m sure a lot of stuff could happen in the Star Wars universe, but as much as I loved those movies when I was a kid, I don’t think I care at all anymore.  Every time I think about Luke and Han and everybody, I then think about garish early 2000s CGI and wooden acting and bad dialogue taking the wind out of the sails of intrigue and grit.

Prequels that are different from the other thing don’t have to be all bad.  I’m watching Caprica right now, and while it doesn’t really satisfy me as something belonging to the same universe as Battlestar Galactica, I don’t hate it.  I actually like it as its own show, and I like the characters for who they are in their own show, and I like the idea of it.  I kind of think of it as really good fan fiction, where it’s not exactly canon, but it’s fun to think about anyway.

The Star Wars prequels aren’t that way for me.  I think of them as awful fan fiction that is actually canon, and it makes me want to strangle one of my favorite villains.  Instead of loving to hate him, I find myself hating to hate him and hating to love him, and hating to love him.  Basically all hate.

So here we are at some more sequels.  I’m hearing that it might be a reboot?  Why?  How do you get grittier than A New Hope?  Or flashier than The Phantom Menace?  Those are the two ways reboots occur, and neither of them makes any sense to the franchise.  Maybe it will be something in between gritty and flashy like Alias.  So we’ll have a bunch of fast-talking d-bags with a lot of drama at home?

Concern B:  I’m the kind of nerd who loves both Star Trek and Star Wars.  I love them both for their characters and their stories and their technobabble.  But I also love them both for their respective moods.

Star Wars–the original trilogy, of course–feels like a western, with gamblers and outlaws and wayward boys coming of age and crazy old coots in the desert and crazy old coots in the swamp and tall men in black suits trying to take away people’s land.  There’s something just raw and adventurous about the feeling of the original Star Wars trilogy.  Something familiar, but something exciting.

Star Trek feels like…well, it feels like Star Trek.  It’s got philosophy and utopian societies and fantastic technologies, but it’s also got just downright silliness.  Mirror universes with bearded Spock!  Janeway running around fighting gigantic CGI -viruses!  Data and Wesley! Star Trek is just such good-natured fun a lot of the time–exploring for exploring’s sake and being silly with the crew along the way.

And here’s where we come to my second concern:  I liked Abrams’s first Star Trek movie as a stand-alone piece in the same way that I like Caprica.  I like it as really good fan fiction.  But I don’t consider it canon because it simply does not feel like Star Trek.  It’s so heavy.  It thinks it’s weighty, and it acts weighty.  The Romulans incinerate the planet Vulcan, and Spock cries and makes out with Uhuru for comfort.  Meanwhile, in real Star Trek land, B’elanna Torres is telling someone to get the cheese to sickbay.

So I just don’t know what Abrams is going to bring to the Star Wars table.

But I can tell you what I wish he’d brought to the Star Trek table:  Mirror Universe!  Why couldn’t he have done a whole trilogy set in Star Trek’s established mirror universe?  With evil versions of all our favorite Star Trek characters?  Then he could have messed with the mood all he wanted, and it would’ve made sense!

We Can’t Go on Together with Suspicious Minds, Except We Can and We Will

29 Dec

An Overly Lengthy Review of Suspicion.

Before the Fact

Credits roll:  I can’t help thinking Before the Fact would’ve been a better title.  Both Suspicion and Before the Fact are pretty bland, though.  I suppose Suspicion has more of a punch.

We start the movie in a train car.  Cary Grant barges into Joan Fontaine’s little suite claiming it’s too crowded in coach.  It’s dark because the train’s in a tunnel.  The train’s in a tunnel.  Get it?  Freudian stuff?  Hitchcock?  Get it?  Ay oh!

In other news, I totally recognize this scene from Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid!
We also get an extraneous shot of Joan Fontaine’s legs, which I suppose establishes Cary Grant’s sexual interest in her and expresses that even though she’s wearing glasses–quelle horreur!–she’s some sexy librarian type who’s only prim until you warm her up a little.

A train-ticket-taker dude comes in, checking errbody’s tickets and tries to kick Cary Grant out of this first class car because he only has a coach ticket.  He upgrades his ticket, but he doesn’t have quite enough money, so Cary Grant bums some cash from Joan Fontaine, except she doesn’t carry a lot of cash, so he pays with a stamp.  K.

This little exchange shows us he’s a charmer and that he’s bad with money.

Suspicion Level:  Low.  Society dude low on cash, charming ladies on trains.  Happens all the time.

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If I Were a Vampire, and You Were a Lady, Would You Marry Me Anyway? Would You Have My Baby?

26 Dec

A rather disjointed review of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II.

And why, pray tell, would I be reviewing this movie?

Well, the other night Grace and I had nothin’ better to do, so we decided we would go see a movie.  But we didn’t feel like any Oscar bait, and she’d already seen the new James Bond, so she said to me, “Why don’t we go see that new Twilight movie?”  And I said, “Why on Earth would we do that?”  And she said, “Why not?  Could be fun.  In a bad movie sort of way.”  So I acquiesced.

But here’s the thing:  Neither Grace nor I have read the books, nor have we seen any of the previous movies.  But here’s the other thing:  I’m still in contact with a former student, *who I knew would provide all the relevant details.  The following text exchange occurred between me and my 15-year-old BFF:

Twilight

So with this marvelously funny and insightful synopsis (note that I am being entirely genuine when I say this; I don’t know why this funny, smart girl loves Twilight so), we started the movie.

The movie begins with some artsy Bergman-esque credits that I actually kind of liked/was impressed by.  Then we see Bella recovering from being turned into a vampire.

Then there are a bunch of scenes with her trying out her powers and being morally conflicted about how she wants to straight up murder a mountain climber, but she doesn’t.  Luckily, her vampire super power is outrageous self-control, the likes of which none of the other vampires have ever seen.

We also get a lot of scenes of Edward and Bella making out.  I’ve definitely seen better love scenes, but there was something earnest about them that made a little bit of sense.  This is the fifth movie these two have been in together, after all, and on screen they have an intimacy and chemistry.  But I couldn’t help thinking their intimacy felt more like a brother and sister…

Anyway, the plot–I guess there’s sort of one about Edward and Bella’s half-breed baby being mistaken for an Immortal Child and subsequently pursued by Vampire Congress–moves along, and some gruesome, grotesque, grizzly fight scenes occur that end up being prophetic visions instead of real.

And then there’s a happy ending that is unfathomably cheesy involving Edward and Bella staring into each other’s vampire eyes and recalling a bunch of scenes–presumably–from the previous movies in a love montage and then some superimposed images of the last pages of the last book with words like “forever” highlighted–so that we all may know this love is extraordinarily eternal.

And then the end credits show us a bunch of characters that were–presumably–in Breaking Dawn Part I whom I didn’t recognize.

Final Thoughts:

  • First let’s talk about Kristen Stewart.  I have long taken it upon myself to be her defender.  I don’t know why.  I just like her face.  And I usually think she does a good job moving her face and acting with it.  And by usually, I mean in the other approximately 2 movies I’ve seen her in.  However, liking her face did not get me very far in this movie.  I started worrying that maybe she has a deviated septum.  Why doesn’t this girl ever breathe out of her nose?  Why is her mouth perpetually open in that strange, half-enticing-half-developmentally-delayed pose?  I couldn’t like her in this movie, and I went in trying because I knew nobody liked her in this movie, and I always try to like underdogs.
  • I feel as though a lot of the scenes that are supposed to be super significant have absolutely no effect on me because I don’t know any of these characters.  Perhaps as a sequel it works and has a satisfying pay-off, but as a stand-alone movie, it makes almost no sense at all.
  • And the dialogue is terrible.
  • I couldn’t help thinking about why people like this sort of thing.  I suppose it’s that eternal love thing people (read: teen girls) are drawn to?  Surely there are better love stories that don’t involve (as admitted by a fan) stalking and attempted suicide and unnatural creatures that make very little sense within their own mythos?

*Bonus Grammar:  Knee-jerk reaction here is that “who I knew would provide all the relevant details” should be led in with a whom instead because it’s the direct object of I knew.  Usually this would be true, but while the who does introduce the direct object, the direct object of I knew is actually the entire noun clause “who would provide all the relevant details.”  We must have a who because it’s the subject of that noun clause and not just a pronoun standing in for the person I knew.  Because what I know isn’t just Kristen, it’s that Kristen will give me information.

Dueling Divas: #SpinsterHeiressProbz Edition

23 Dec

Posted as part of Backlots‘s Dueling Divas Blogathon running Dec. 20-23.

For a short while in my youth, I couldn’t tell sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine apart.  To my credit, they do share a family resemblance, and they do often play the same types of roles–the naive and mousy soft ingenue who gets mixed up with an ambiguously bad man who may or may not love her back (see Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Women, In This Our Life, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, even Gone with the Wind to an extent).

What finally distinguished them for me is hard to pin down.  I just one day could tel them apart suddenly and realized I had an irrational attachment to Olivia and an irrational dislike for Joan.

When I heard they despised each other in real life, I somehow felt vindicated in my irrationality and also was firmly on Team de Havilland.  I mean, she’s Melanie–the best movie best friend ever–AND she was best friends with Bette Davis is real life.  That’s pretty damn BA.

But, for the purposes of this blogathon, I was going to try to put my prejudices aside.  I had chosen to compare and contrast thematically similar movies, pitting them against each other in an infographic showdown diva off.

I had chosen Suspicion for Joan Fontaine: the story of a spinster heiress who marries a dashing ne’er do well who may or may not want her for her money.  And The Heiress for Olivia de Havilland: the story of a spinster heiress who almost marries a dashing ne’er do well who may or may not want her for her money.

The problem was I hadn’t seen either of these movies before.  There I had been thinking it would be a pretty even spinster-heiress match up, like my Joan Crawford vs. Bette Davis Dual Duel had been last year.  Ha!  No dice!

Suspicion straight up sucks, and The Heiress straight up rules, Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland aside.

So my original plan of any kind of fair and balanced competition was out the window.  Here’s Plan B:  a flowchart that will help you figure out what kind of #SpinsterHeiressProbz you might have.

Although this flowchart ostensibly covers the two movies this post is supposed to be about, you might notice my favorite spinster-heiress movie pops up a few times as an added bonus.

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