Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Some other choice '50s movies
Before moving on from the ‘50s here are some other recent viewing pleasures, some ramping up the camp factor:
NO SAD SONGS FOR ME – Margaret Sullavan’s last film in 1950 is curiously unregarded now, but is a nice little drama set in a mining town where she is the suburban wife who goes to the doctor and finds she has terminal cancer, which seems untreatable back then. She goes into denial but eventually comes to terms with it and plans her husband's and daughter’s future without her. Husband though is dependable Wendall Corey (dull as ever) as the engineer - enter the young Viveca Lindfors as hubby’s new assistant and Margaret sees they are attracted to each other and she also gets on with the incessantly chattering daughter, young Natalie Wood. It’s a weepie then, but not in your face and the ending is rather nice. In accordance with films of this era she has a large comfy house and a black servant, husband and wife of course have separate beds. A curious choice for action director Rudolph Mate.
THE ACTRESS – another low key film, from 1953, and directed by George Cukor. This should be much better know but seems to have been thrown away by MGM who reduced its running time. Its based on the memoirs of actress Ruth Gordon about when she was young and becoming fascinated by the theatre. It’s a nice picture of small town life with Jean Simmons in one of her key roles. She is perfectly enchanting here. Spencer Tracy for once is quite bearable as the father and Teresa Wright is mother. Anthony Perkins has his first role as a young admirer, and it of course encapsulates Cukor fascination with theatre and role playing.
THE STAR – another low key black and white 1953 item from Warner Bros, with Bette Davis startlingly effective as the star in decline and hitting the bottle: “Come on Oscar, let you and me get drunk”, as she handles the humiliations piled on her with the sale of her effects, looking for work, having to deal with grasping relatives and – the indignity! – having to work in a department store where she is recognised by customers. Bette flounces through it but its rather at the start of her dumpy period. Apparantly the star they had in mind was a kind of Joan Crawford shallow star. Sterling Hayden is the man who could rescue her and young Natalie Wood again plays daughter. A fascinating oddity now.
TORCH SONG – Joan herself stars in this ’53 ”musical” which I never saw until last year, and its certainly up there with the other camp classics. Its deliriously designed in lurid colours (particularly her blackface number “Two Faced Woman” with orange wig) and I like her yellow dressing gown matching her bedroom décor, and that party with only men in attendance. Joan is the Helen Lawson-like dragon Broadway star who drives everyone away, except her new pianist, Michael Wilding, but then he is blind (yes, really). Romance eventually triumphs but not before Joan has a field day chomping the scenery and supporting cast. Gig Young plays her beau but drops out half way through. There is one hilarious scene where as she exits the theatre she is swamped by children demanding her autograph! Charles Walters directs at full tilt and even dances with Joan in her opening number, as the chorus boy who keeps getting it wrong, spoiling Joan’s line.
A Crawford double bill: FEMALE ON THE BEACH / AUTUMN LEAVES. FEMALE in ’55 has Joan as the wealthy but lonely woman moving into a new beachside apartment, where the previous wealthy but lonely female owner [Judith Evelyn] died in mysterious circumstances. Enter Jeff Chandler as the idle beachboy who attemps to move in on Joan. [He: “How do you like your coffee?”, she: “Alone”]. There are also 2 seedy neighbours who it seems are pimping young men to lonely wealthy women, these are deliciously played by Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer. They try to introduce Joan to muscle-guy Ed Fury when she does not rise to Jeff’s bait. Jan Sterling scores as the realtor who keeps hanging around. It all ends in delirious melodrama as helmed by Joseph Pevney, an old hand at this kind of tosh: can Joan trust Jeff or are his motives too dubious?
AUTUMN LEAVES is the Robert Aldrich melodrama from ’56 where Joan is the lonely typist in a modest apartment who becomes entangled with younger Cliff Robertson. They marry but she begins to fear his irrational moods. Enter Vera Miles as his ex-wife and Lorne Greene as his overbearing father. Joan has a great scene as she confronts their deceit, and then Cliff goes loony and throws the typewriter at her. Joan wonders if he still loves her, as she has him committed for mental treatment. Will he still need her when he is cured? Joan as ever emotes while her face resembles an Aztec mask.
THE STORY OF MANKIND – Producer Irwin Allen’s 1957 “all star” telling of a heavenly court [a long way from A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH], presided over by Cedric Hardwicke, deciding the fate of mankind as the human race is on the brink of the atomic age. Does mankind deserve to survive? This long-unseen tosh, with intercut stock footage, was just a vague memory but its enormous fun now, as the highlights of mankind are unspooled: Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra, John Carradine as a Pharoah, Peter Lorre as Nero, Groucho Marx buying Manhattan from the Indians, Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, young Dennis Hopper as Napoleon with Marie Windsor as Josephine, Marie Wilson as Marie Antoinette merrily quipping that the peasants should eat cake, Agnes Moorehead as a splendid Elizabeth I, need I go on? Best of all is Vincent Price as the devil while Ronald Coleman (what possessed him?) is the voice of reason representing mankind. Its trash, its delirious, its delovely.
THE FEMALE ANIMAL – another Hedy Lamarr, in fact her last film in 1957, and a very lost film until a friend acquired a copy recently. It’s a very Albert Zugsmith (schlockmeister supreme) production, and would in fact make a great double feature with FEMALE ON THE BEACH, with which it has certain similiarities. Here Hedy is the ageing movie goddess who picks up with studio bit player George Nader, very wooden, and she installs him in her beach house, but George also meets her daughter Jane Powell – rather old for the part, but everyone’s career is in decline here – who drinks a lot. Add in Jan Sterling again, as a rival actress and has-been cougar in a ratty wig and mink coat, always with a young gigolo in tow, who has some amusing lines and would like to get George for herself. Its mercifully quite short at 80 minutes but each one packs a punch. I am saving a second look at it for a nice rainy day.
THE MONTE CARLO STORY – it was a real treat to find this recently as it was just a dim memory of seeing it when about 12. This Italian Titanus co-production is of note only for the teaming of Marlene Dietrich and Vittorio De Sica in 1957, and yes those Monte Carlo locations. They are both con artists and gamblers and both are looking for a good catch but fall for each other. When they realise they are both poor they set their cap at rich Americans Arthur O’Connell as Homer Hinckley and Natalie Trundy as his daughter (who is though far too young for Vittorio). The backdrops are lovely, the Riviera in the ‘50s, Marlene sings and is dressed by Jean Louis, Vittorio is a joy as ever. Hard to believe that director Dino Risi had a hand in the silly script.
Unseen since I saw it 50 years ago as a child, it was fascinating to see Michael Anderson's SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL (1959) again recently, a muddled IRA story set in Ireland in the 20s it featured James Cagney in one of his last ferocious roles as a misguided IRA supporter, Don Murray as the young lead and Dana Wynter, lovely as usual, as the romantic interest. Glynis Johns has a good role and it features, inevitably, young Richard Harris, with splendid cameos by Dame Sybil Thorndike and Michael Redgrave.
Finally, one we like a lot, and back to Joan Crawford: Jean Negulesco’s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, from the hit Rona Jaffe novel and another of those Fox 3-girls-sharing-an-apartment-looking-for-love movies. The three are Hope Lange, Diane Baker and model Suzy Parker; it should have been 4 as in the book but Martha Hyer’s role was practically snipped out in the editing to reduce it to 3, with of course Joan Crawford billed “as Amanda Farrow” – the terror of the typing pool. It’s a fascinating look now at office life in the 50s and has great views of Manhattan back then, and of course that great theme tune. Stephen Boyd is Lange’s romantic interest and there are some nice moments of them walking along. There is a lovely moment at the start as Lange exits from the subway and the breeze blows up her little jacket showing the nice pattern on the lining. The drama comes from Lange aspiring to Crawford’s role, Baker getting pregnant and Parker falling for a theatre director (Louis Jourdan) and not being able to handle rejection. It all plays out perfectly and is one of the great enduring soaps of the year along with A SUMMER PLACE and IMITATION OF LIFE. And now for the ‘60s.