They called Claude Chabrol “the French Hitchcock,” but this was always more a marketing hook than a meaningful comparison. Alfred Hitchcock made crowd-pleasing suspense thrillers; Chabrol made vicious satires disguised as suspense thrillers. For decades, Chabrol had been crafting spiky, embittered dramas simmering with disgust for humanity in general and the French bourgeoisie in specific.
And in 1988, he took aim at Nazi-occupied France. That was impressive enough, but the bullet he fired was a tangled, M.C. Escher-like self-referential puzzle surfing waves he’d set in motion two decades earlier.
I was recently traveling in Oregon, and marveling at what Lewis and Clark must have thought as their years of travel across unknown terrain led them, at last, to such a wonderful and unexpected prize. It is hard in this modern day to find a similar thrill of discovery. The world is too well mapped, too known. It seems very very unlikely that we will ever again experience, on this world at least, the opportunity to find an uncharted island, to discover a new element, to describe a new species. You might as well hope to see a new color.
But, there are such thrills in other avenues of exploration. That is one of the attractions of watching obscure movies—to uncover lost treasures, so see something magical the rest of the world overlooked.
Consider what cult movie audiences in the 1970s and 80s must have thought as they stumbled unawares across the VHS release of Russ Meyer’s 1965 Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! Here was a thing that was not so old, yet almost throughly forgotten—a low-budget indie film that was at best destined for niche market appeal but which had sunk into oblivion on its initial run. It was so thoroughly drenched in 1960s style (That music! Those fashions!) but also so ahead of its time that we’re still playing catch-up with it. It was somehow sexist and feminist at once, a leering piece of cinematic oogling that also pushed men wholeheartedly away. What happens to a work of male gaze if men aren’t invited to do the gazing? What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 20, 2015
When Helen Hayes was cast in the 1926 Broadway production of What Every Woman Knows, she was not yet “The First Lady of the American Theater”. According to the show’s producer William A. Brady, she had previously been “deep in the high heels and lipstick business – flapper roles”. It was with the part of the pragmatic “Maggie” in J.A. Barrie’s 1908 play, a Scottish battle of the sexes, that she established the Hayes persona, her civilized veneer holding back a mischievous spirit. The show ran for 268 performances and rave reviews. After further Broadway successes in Coquette (’27) and The Good Fairy (’31), she signed with MGM in 1931 to extend her career into the movies. It seemed natural to have her return to her breakthrough role, and What Every Woman Knows was directed by Gregory La Cava in 1934 – available now on DVD from the Warner Archive. But it was a frustrating experience for all involved, hampered by poor test screenings and re-shoots. Hayes was so disappointed in the process she stopped acting in films for nearly two decades. Regardless of the off-screen dramas, the film itself is a charming comedy about a smart young spinster who manipulates the men in her life into prominence, becoming a behind-the-scenes power broker. It is a rare treat to see Hayes reprise her star-making role, and it is a layered performance built on hundreds of stage repetitions, in which every glance is like a conductor’s wand, controlling the men around her.
It is one of Hollywood’s most revered myths—the talented yet undiscovered starlet from some flyover backwater, desperate to make it big in the city. Forget The Voice, this stuff goes all the way back to the dawn of mass media. You could be forgiven for wondering which was more numerous: the wanna-be stars or the movies made about them.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 24, 2015
TCM’s Star of the Month, Susan Hayward, in a publicity still for VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) airing tonight on TCM at 11:45 EST/8:45 PST
As the quotes above illustrate, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) tends to generate strong reactions. Critics generally hated this soapy melodrama when it was originally released and seemed to relish finding new ways to insult the movie as well its audience. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling gossip-fueled book, the film claimed to illuminate the sleazy side of showbiz with lurid stories about the sexual appetites and drug-habits of its female protagonists who are looking for love, fame and fortune in all the wrong places. Today the uproar over the film and its source material seems rather quaint but contrary to popular belief, the sixties weren’t completely swinging in 1967. There were still plenty of conservative pockets in the country as well as bourgeois intellectuals who balked at the popularity of Susann’s book and were appalled that a Hollywood studio had decided to turn the trashy tell-all into a big budget movie. VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is now considered a cult classic. Its fans relish the over-the-top performances and ridiculous dialogue but I think it contains some genuinely great moments and one of the movie’s best scenes features Susan Hayward in a jewel-encrusted paisley pantsuit.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 11, 2015
Vargas in his Hollywood studio. The photo was taken sometime during the 1930s.
If you love vintage pin-up art as much as I do you’ll probably recognize Alberto Vargas’s name. Between 1920 and 1975 the Peruvian artist created some of the most celebrated and recognizable pin-up art in America while working for the Ziegfeld Follies as well as Esquire magazine and Playboy. His paintings of ridiculously long-legged, thin-waisted and big-busted beauties known as “Vargas Girls” (or “Varga Girls”) also graced calendars and were favorites among enlisted men during WW2. GIs hung “Vargas Girls” on their lockers and in their barracks, copied them onto the sides of bomber planes and had them tattooed on their bodies.
What classic movie fans might not know is that Alberto Vargas also had a brief but lucrative career in Hollywood painting celebrity portraits, working for film industry magazines and creating movie posters. I enjoy playing detective so I decided to dig through various archives and books in search of Vargas’s film related work and what I found surprised me. The Latin artist made a much bigger impact on Hollywood than I’d previously been led to believe.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 3, 2015
Susan Hayward is TCM’s Star of the Month. Films she appeared in will be airing every Thursday evening throughout the month of September.
I didn’t know much about TCM’s current Star of the Month so I decided to delve into her past recently and was somewhat surprised by the way Susan Hayward had been portrayed (and ignored) by the media since her death in 1975. Nicknamed the “Divine Bitch” following the release of a similarly titled biography, the four-time Academy Award nominated actress didn’t make a lot of friends in Hollywood and is rarely described in flattering terms by studio executives and costars so the general picture we have of her seems somewhat skewed. I’m a firm believer that there are usually two-sides to every story so I decided to explore newspaper and movie magazine archives in an effort to learn more about the redheaded screen siren in her own words without the opinions of her biographers and colleagues getting in the way. In the process I discovered a complex woman whose turbulent real life was often more sensational than the fictional lives of the characters she portrayed.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 27, 2015
TCM’s Summer Under the Stars programming ends on August 31st with a bang featuring a batch of movies starring Shelley Winters. The blond, boozy, ballsy and brash starlet is one of my favorite actresses and on Monday you can watch her ignite the small screen in a number of notable roles, including her Oscar winning turn as a bigoted and abusive mother in A PATCH OF BLUE (1965).
To celebrate Winters’s reign as Summer Under Stars closing act I thought I’d share some of the glamorous vintage advertisements she modeled for early in her career featuring the powerhouse performer selling everything from lipstick to beer. Shelley Winters may have been one of the greatest actors of her generation but much like her costar Barbara Stanwyck in EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954)—also airing on TCM this coming Sunday!—the streetwise dame wasn’t ashamed to pitch products to her adoring public if it put money in the bank.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 20, 2015
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) airs tonight on TCM at 9:30PM EST/6:30PM PST
The name Mae Clarke might not immediately ring any bells but the fair-haired, spirited and sad-eyed beauty was a promising leading lady in pre-code Hollywood before personal disappointments, mental health issues and a disfiguring car accident took their toll. When Clarke died in 1992 at age 81 most classic film fans remembered her as the woman who gets a grapefruit smashed in her face by James Cagney during THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or they might have recalled her daring leap from a window to protect the man she loves in THE FRONT PAGE (1931). Thankfully, many of Clarke’s earlier films have been restored and made available since then. We’re now able to get a much broader understanding of why a 1932 issue of Picture Play magazine prophesied a “brilliant career for her” and Modern Screen claimed, “Mae Clark deserves a place among the big names of filmdom and will get there before long–watch her!”
Today TCM is featuring Mae Clarke in their Summer Under the Stars programming and you can catch her in a number of films including James Whale’s WATERLOO BRIDGE (1930), where she plays the doomed Myra. Many consider it her best film and Clarke often referred to it as her favorite role but today I’d like to focus on her often-overlooked performance in Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), where she plays the sympathetic fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 13, 2015
THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973) airs on TCM August 12 at 4PM EST/1PM PST
When I spotted Ann-Margret on the August cover of TCM’s Now Playing guide I jumped for joy and then I pulled out my treasured autographed copy of her 1994 autobiography, My Life, and did some rereading. I hadn’t looked at the book in years and thought it might inspire me to write something about the actress for the Movie Morlocks and sure enough, it did. What caught my eye was a photo of Ann-Margret with John Wayne (pictured above) accompanied by the line “Duke always had me laughing on the set of THE TRAIN ROBBERS. He was an extraordinary man.”
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