Party Girls to the Rescue!

The year is 1933, and times are tough all over.  What of the poor little rich boy, Henry Gibson (Ben Lyon), who can’t even inherit his millions unless he gets married by his 27th birthday?  And yes, Keaton fans, that’s the same idea as SEVEN CHANCES—but where Buster turned that premise into a feature-length chase scene, the movie we have in front of us here has different plans in store.  Luckily, Gibson’s got himself a wife—a beautiful young debutante whose icy good looks and haughty demeanor prove her high social standing.  On their honeymoon, the girl goes missing (hence the title of this flick, GIRL MISSING), and our distraught hero offers up a reward for his wife’s safe return.  This is all sensible enough, and fairly familiar thriller territory.  But Gibson’s life is about to be turned upside down by the arrival of a pair of gold-digging “chorus girls,” whose complete lack of restraint or decorum may very well save the day.  This is a movie that wouldn’t have been made even just a few years later, and pretty much doesn’t exist anymore even today.  This is Pre-Code, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s a riot.

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Actress Jessica Harper — And She Can Cook, Too!

I don’t know how many of you fell in love with the winsome and talented Jessica Harper back — well, back nearly 40 years ago, longer than many of you have probably been alive — but if you were among the legions of fans she garnered when she starred in 1974′s Phantom of the Paradise, you may not realize that she has metamorphized into something quite remarkable and wonderful.  More wonderful than she was in Phantom of the Paradise?  Probably not possible, but something maybe unexpected and totally delightful.  [...MORE]

Hollywood’s First Woman of Photography: Ruth Harriet Louise


Photographer Ruth Harriet Louise in her studio with actress Joan Crawford

You might not be familiar with her name but you’re probably familiar with her work. Ruth Harriet Louise’s glamorous photos of classic movie stars have graced countless magazines and book covers. Her photos helped launch the careers of many beloved actors and they offered fans an intimate look at some of Hollywood’s most celebrated icons. Her impressive portfolio is still in circulation today and if you take a quick look around the TCM website you’re bound to come across one or two of Louise’s famous portraits starring back at you.

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CRIB NOTES, PART 2 OF 2

In my last post I explained the reasoning behind my programming choices for the first half of my Spring arthouse film calendar, today I finish the job. I accept the fact that anyone looking at my program will inevitably point to one (or more, perhaps even many) titles here and, in essence, ask the following question: “What the heck is THAT doing there?!” What follows below will hopefully dispel all head-scratching.

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Knit Flicks


Happy New Year!

You may wish to begin the year by vowing to lose weight, (how original!…and welcome to the club), mastering the arcane intricacies of Farmville, (is it a game or a cult?), spending more quality time with your pet iguana, or finishing War and Peace–or at least cracking open the first, mischievous volume of The Autobiography of Mark Twain that Santa left behind for you. My personal mountain to climb in 2011 will be the nagging desire to finally conquer my mental block when it comes to knitting. Yes, “knit one, purl two” is a phrase that conjures up feelings of frustration, self-contempt and the urge to fling the needles and gnarled yarn across the room. Persistence, of course usually pays off. Unfortunately, for this chronically challenged crafter, the glamorous world of interweaving lamb’s wool into something useful and colorful has been a bust…so far.

My decision to follow the stony, humbling path of learning to knit began again at a recent trip to the movies when I spied a fellow theater goer knitting merrily away–in the dark! Impressive, especially since the movie was the rather loud (at times) and visually amusing Gulliver’s Travels (2010), though the intricate work of this knitting fiend in the next row never seemed to falter. After this, I decided to make a greater effort to psyche myself up, gird my loins and bite the bullet while admitting my many shortcomings face-to-face with the accomplished instructors at a local yarn shop. I’ve also begun to notice that some of the glamourpusses of the silver screen were demon knitters, and they don’t get more dazzling than Cary Grant in Mr. Lucky , do they?
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Barnstorming History with Herstory

Amelia Earhart is making headlines again. Scientists recently discovered some bone fragments on Nikumaroro, a deserted South Pacific island, along with additional artifacts (aircraft bearings, a potential flight-suit zipper pull, improvised tools, and more). DNA tests are pending. Earhart’s disappearance on July 2, 1937, while she was trying to become the first woman to fly around the world, remains one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th century. Earhart was the 16th woman to be issued a pilot’s license, and I’m tempted to look back at the many ways her life has been portrayed in movies. Earhart, however, is already a household name and her life has received exhaustive coverage. What about the woman who beat Earhart’s woman’s air speed record of 184.6 mph in August of 1930 with a 196.19 mph average? Before that she was Earhart’s compatriot in the all-female cross-country air race known as the Powder Puff Derby (you can blame Will Rogers for that unfortunate name), and after that she made her mark in Hollywood and far beyond. What about Pancho Barnes?   [...MORE]

Ann Harding: A Q & A with Biographer Scott O’Brien

“Looking at [Ann] Harding,” wrote film historian Mick LaSalle in his book, Complicated Women (St. Martin’s, 2001), “is like looking into clear, deep water. Nothing stands in the way. No stylization, no attitude, no posing. In fact, little about her technique could date her as a thirties actress.”

These are some of the words that inspired Scott O’Brien, author of Ann Harding – Cinema’s Gallant Lady (BearManor) in his research into the career and life of actress Ann Harding (1902-1981). For those who met her during the height of her Hollywood career, she left starkly different impressions. Laurence Olivier called her “an angel.” Henry Hathaway said that she “was an absolute bitch.” Myrna Loy found her “a very private person, a wonderful actress completely without star temperament, but withdrawn.” Ann Harding may not be as well-remembered as actresses whose stellar careers extended well beyond the pre-code era, such as Norma Shearer or Barbara Stanwyck. Her natural reserve means that her name does not automatically come up when particularly saucy favorites of the period like Ruth Chatterton, Joan Blondell or Dorothy Mackail are discussed. Powerful icons whose last name conjures something singular, such as Garbo, Dietrich and West, are better remembered. In recent years, in large part because of the rediscovery of her early films on Turner Classic Movies, occasional revivals of her movies and the work done by film historians reassessing the pre-code period, Harding has begun to captivate audiences again. Her lustrous beauty and surprisingly modern style of acting are only part of her appeal.

With the publication earlier this year of Scott O’Brien’s beautifully illustrated and well written biography, a balanced portrait of a skilled actress emerges, as well as some sense of the publicly guarded but privately intense woman behind her fame. Recently, I had a chance to ask the author of this meticulously researched and long overdue biography of Ann Harding about his interest in this unique, transitional figure in American film. Perhaps after reading this post a few more people who have yet to discover her work will pause next time one of her rarely seen films, such as Devotion (1931), The Animal Kingdom (1932), Double Harness (1933), When Ladies Meet (1933), The Flame Within (1935) or Peter Ibbetson (1935) emerges from the movie vault. This often surprisingly modern actress may intrigue and touch you with her presence. You might find yourself unexpectedly enthralled.
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Luck of the Drew

Lillian Travers (Edith Story) makes a surprise visit to her boyfriend Dr. Cassadene (Sidney Drew).  But the surprise is on her when she catches him in what sure seems like a comprising position with a wealthy widow.  He makes the requisite apologies, they make up, and it all goes pear shaped again when he blows their next rendez-vous, once again caught with the same widow.  She gives him a third chance—and as she comes out of her house to meet him, there he is, entangled in the clutches of three fawning women.  If this were any other movie, you’d expect Lillian to blow her top and walk out on him, continuing the cycle of sitcommy complications that you’ve come to expect by this point.  Oh, but A FLORIDA ENCHANTMENT is not any other movie.  And let us uncover its fabulousness in stages:

Smoochy!

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Remembering Jill Clayburgh

The passing a few days ago of actress Jill Clayburgh really strikes a blow into the hearts of women of a certain age, for whom Ms. Clayburgh was almost an avatar, living out different lives that we weren’t, but might have, in different circumstances.  Lovely to look at but not a devastating beauty, with Jill it was instead her intelligence and grace under fire that sealed the deal, making her an audience favorite for a generation.  Losing her too early — at 66 — deprived us of yet another place she could have taken us further…the aging of a classy woman in the 21st century.  Other actresses will have to step in for her now.

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Before They Were Stars


Tippi Hedren modeling a Jacques Fath dress in 1954

I love to waste time flipping through old women’s magazines. There’s something strangely appealing about the vintage advertisements and forgotten articles that told women how they should dress and explained how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s easy to imagine my own grandmother or mother taking fashion notes or cutting out recipes so they could plan their next family gathering while reading these dusty publications. Now that so many magazines seem to be going out of print and readers are more likely to search for recipes and beauty tips online, there’s something vaguely comforting about loosing myself in the past for a few hours while reading an old issue of McCall’s or Better Homes & Gardens.

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