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.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Czarina Tallulah - or Catherine was Great !

Back to the 1940s for a delirious treat: Tallulah Bankhead as Catherine The Great in a 1945 Ernest Lubitsch comedy! - so expect a dash of sly and subversive naughtiness, which is a perfect fit for Bankhead. There’s just something in her personality that’s so suited to the genre, but this might be the only comedic film she ever made. There is the heavy hand of Otto Preminger though as director, though the ill Lubitsch produced it.

A ROYAL SCANDAL is amusing, silly, and fun, with Bankhead at her best. It may though be a tad too talky, we have to wait almost 15 minutes for Tallulah to appear. We know her best now for her dramataics in Hitch's LIFEBOAT in 1944, and that silly 60s shocker: FANATIC or DIE DIE MY DARLING - I have not seen any of her earlier '30s ones like that one with Cooper and Laughton (THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP). She is perfectly marvellous as Catherine The Great - witty, and making the most of those lines and her suggestive looks at that rather dim solider who becomes her latest fancy as she dresses him up in finery to the chagrin of his fiance, Anne Baxter. Anne and the Empress have a deliciously funny scene too, and Charles Coburn is on hand as Catherine's wily fox of a chancellor. Then there is Vincent Price being very camp as the French Ambassador ... I also like those other Lubitch items like Garbo in NINOTCHKA, Lombard in TO BE OR NOT TO BE, her last in 1942, and Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Margaret Sullavan label), classics all.
Tallulah of course was one of the legends of the theatre and one can see why here.  Her television apperances are also amusing and those stories about her are legend. I particularly like the one where a groggy houseguest is woken by the butler proferring a large vodka, Tallulah sweeps by and says "Better drink it dahling, there won't be any more served until after breakfast."
The leading man though is one William Eythe, new to me, and its saddening reading about him. He died aged 38 in 1957 of acute hepatitis.  He was the type of leading man 20th Century Fox liked, good-looking in that Tyrone Power/John Payne way ... he had several leading roles at the time, but as he was known to be gay, his career fizzled out.  He looks good here crammed into those hussar uniforms.

We have of course to compare Tallulah's empress with those other Catherines: most notably Dietrich in Von Sternberg's THE SCARLET EMPRESS, one of my particular top 10 favourites, from 1934. Here she is with John Lodge - love those outfits!
Bette Davis also played Catherine in the last 5 minutes of that rather turgid 1959 costume drama JOHN PAUL JONES, and Viveca Lindfors made a splendid empress in THE TEMPEST in 1958, that Silvana Mangano-Dino De Laurentiis mini-epic I like a lot.  Tallulah though is something else ....(Jeanne Moreau though was dreadful in the dreadfully unfunny comedy GREAT CATHERINE with O'Toole, in '68).
and Viveca ...
Bette as Catherine

Next 40s treat: Negulesco's ROADHOUSE that delicious noir with Ida Lupino.

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