Saturday 30 June 2012

I Wish Upon A Star...

Here is my top 5 'Precode Dreamings', ie. films, actors, events that have been changed because of the Hays Code and that I wish didn't happen.

1) Intensionally Lost: Convention City (1933)

'Convention City' (according to the small amount of information avaliable on it) was a racy 1933 film in a similar vain as 'Footlight Parade' and 'Golddiggers of 1933' with Precode favourites, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell and, the adorable, Guy Kibbee. It is supposed that on the enforcement of the Code, Joe Breen and his employees demanded major changes to the film before its post-1934 re-release.  Apparently, Warner Brothers refused to make the alterations and, in retaliation, destroyed all copies of the movie; thus, making it a notorious lost film.

2) Cuts and Retakes: Forsaking All Others (1934)

'Forsaking All Others' (1934) is one of my favourite early screwball comedies; starring Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Robert Montegomery.  The production was plagued with bad timing as the filming coincided with the implementation of the new Code. The censor board, in order to stick with the new found regulation, demanded not only several cuts but many retakes changing the film from an adult comedy to a weak screwball comedy. I always wondered how some of the scenes would have progressed had the director been allowed to extend 'the romance' between the two couples.

3) A Lost Gem: Cleopatra (1917)

A film that is lost out of accident or simply poor storage, 'Cleopatra' (1917) was the triumph of the great silent vamp Theda Bara. Although, this isn't traditionally considered 'Precode' the few stills and 20 seconds of footage avaliable are definitely modern and racy. I've seen Theda in one of her only surviving films 'A Fool There Was' and I always wondered how she would have looked in a similar 'mantrapping' role but with stunning costumes. Also, it's good to see a curvy girl the toast of Hollywood.

4) More Cuts: Mata Hari (1931)

Admitably, I dont have much knowledge of the cuts made to Greta Garbo's exotic spy-drama 'Mata Hari' (1931) but I have seen a number of racy shots of Greta in sheer gowns that are not included in the commecially released film. The GarboForever claims, "The uncensored version is rumoured to appear in a DVD Box in 2008/2009. It could appear in a special "Irving Thalberg" Box set or in "Forbidden Hollywood Vol 4"." But I'm not sure. The censored shots include a dance scene by Greta, a revealing shot of Greta in a nightgown and another where Ramon Novarro carries Greta provactively to their bedroom.

5) Another Garbo Cut: Two Faced Woman

Although not Precode, Garbo's last film appearance 'Two Faced Woman' (1941) is one of my favourite screwball films and was somewhat ruined by heavy censorship. Some parts, such as, Greta's racy clothes, comments and behavour as her characters fictional twin sister were condemned by the Legion of Decency (and banned in some states) but were allowed to remain in the film. Several reshoots had to be made; namely, to show that the Douglas character had knowledge of what the Garbo character was doing and not simply cheating on his wife and some scenes with Douglas' other mistress. Without these cuts the film would have flowed better and, probably, been more entertaining.

Blink and you will miss it...

Film Review: The Naughty Flirt

Looking at Precode images and magazines they are swamped by stories and pictures of Alice White. I loved her in the small role as Warren William’s secretary in Employees Entrance but because most of her starring films are obscure I haven’t been able to locate any. A couple of days ago I stumbled upon “The Naughty Flirt” (1931) one of Alice’s few top billing features. With a name like that the movie looked promising and I decided to do a little film review in honour of my find.
After a wild party, Kay Elliott (Alice White) and her friends are picked up by the police and taken to the courthouse. They are soon released, but as a way to defy her father through his straight-laced, but handsome employee, Alan Ward (Paul Page), she agrees to marry her friend of three days, Jack Gregory (Robert Agnew), on the spot. To prevent her, Alan rings her father and, on orders from Mr Elliott, drags her from the building and throws her into a cab.
And that’s just the first ten minutes.
After Kay and Alan leave, her other friend and sister to Jack, Linda Gregory (a raven-haired Myrna Loy), discusses the marriage with her brother; spilling the beans on their scheme to tie Kay to Jack securing the family part of Kay’s $5 million dollar wealth. Back in the cab, Kay attempts to use all her feminie attributes to soften Alan’s hard edge. Girls take note at Alice’s fluttering eyelashes, sultry glances and wrinkling nose techniques. Alan finds her cute but doesn’t crumble to her charms and leaves her to her father’s angry reprimands.

I just couldn't stop taking shots of Alices cute expressions.
Mr Elliott goes through Kay’s list of crimes like it was the resume of a career criminal: crashing two automobiles, setting fire to a speed boat, throwing ginger ale bottles through every pane of glass in the hot house and the dubious record of being expelled from every school she attended. And to all this Kay says, “Daddy why didn’t you tell me you had such a nice man working in your office.” She has clearly got her father wrapped around her little finger.
In an endeavour to hook Alan, Kay invites him to a number of her parties, but he just rips up her invitations. A few days later, Alan finally agrees to attend one of Kay’s usual nightly romps under the misapprehension that it is in fact her father and his boss, Mr Elliott’s, birthday party.  He rebuffs her and ignores her invitation to join the dancing. 
Meanwhile, Linda sees Alan’s arrival as a threat to her and her brother’s gold-digging schemes. She sees Kay’s determination as tantamount to a future wedding announcement. 
             “When Kay Elliott starts after a man, she never misses.”
In a twist, Kay asks Jack to arrange a dance with Alan, but it backfires and he is lured into the arms of the cunning Linda (in a saucy low-backed dress). Kay will take any means to get Alan, perhaps the only man who sees her for more than her wealth. Even though, Jack and Linda take just as many risks to prevent her catching him.
All the men after Kay...
Jack wants Kay, men want Kay, her father wants Kay at a quiet boarding school. Kay wants Alan – but will she get him.
“I’ve always played fair and never done a deliberately rotten thing in my life.” Kay
Admittedly, the film lacks an interesting storyline and is generally consistent with other early talkies which attempt to capitalise on the success of the “partying” and “flapper” films of the late silent era (ie Clara Bow, Colleen Moore). However, Alice White and her bright eyes make up for the films other deficiencies by whipping out dozens of snappy comeback and remarks that keep the movie cute and interesting.
There are a lot of brilliant virtually silent scenes, such as, when Kay tries to prevent Alan to turning her in to her father, which makes me think how great the film would have been silent and how Alice’s acting technique is still stuck in that style.
In inclusion of the cute “Cinderella dance” where the girl leaves one of her shoes in the middle of the dance-floor for men to grab for the next couple of dances is a wonder flapper-esque moment with hoards of men racing towards Kay’s shoes.
Myrna Loy plays a small role as the ‘bitch’ character of the film. She continues the characters that became typical for Myrna over the Precode era – “Animal Kingdom” and “Thirteen Women” – with her one goal of binding Kay into marriage with her brother solely for her millions. She doesn’t spare any morality by attempting to trap Kay’s other admirers and pressuring her when she is obviously drunk. 

Other than partying and plenty of heavy drinking there are little ‘Precode’ moments in the movie. Unless, you call the short scene where Alan – frustrated by Kay’s “man crazy” ways – leans her against his knee and spanks her repeatedly, Precode.

The spanky: during and after...
Although, another smaller instance when Linda lures Alan into her room late at night under the pretence of feeling faint. He is found with her wrapped around him by Jack who insinuates the worst. Also, the character of Wilbur who, although he seems to stick by Kay, is obviously gay.
Alice’s flirty glances, pursed lips, squeaky tones and flapper lifestyle are reminiscent of Clara Bow in her talkie debut “Wild Party” (1929) and are, in my opinion, equally as cute. I think this was a very cute, very entertaining film – with a few boring patches – that is worthwhile for any Precode enthusiast but not if you are a fan of heavy emotional dramas, such as, Elia Kazan films.

Kay to Wilbur: “Wait a minute Wilbur I want to see a man about a cat.”
Alan to Kay: “I know your reputation, you’re supposed to be fatal.”
Alan: “And Miss Elliott to how many men are you engaged to at the present moment.”
Kay: “I don’t remember maybe six, maybe seven.”
Alan: “Well that’s enough to make to court rest.”
Kay: “That’s enough to make anyone rest.”
Kay: “You haven’t seen me in a bathing suit have you?”
Alan: “No.”
Kay: “Not bad, not bad at all.”

Blink and you will miss it...

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Precode Liaisons: Greta and John

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were passionate onscreen lovers from the moment the camera was directed at them. His suave, masculine yet vulnerable image perfectly matched Greta's lithe, emotion-filled performances driven by her beautiful sultry eyes. However, their instant onscreen chemistry did not reflect the reality of their first interactions. When they were cast for their first film pairing both were undergoing heavy personal hardships - Greta still mourning the death of her sister and John in the midst of a divorce battle. Also, the reputations of both had preceded them and neither John nor Greta was looking forward to making the film, 'Flesh and the Devil' (1927). But as the picture progressed, the relationship blossomed, as Garbo Forever stated: "There, on the set, in front of everyone, they fell madly in love with each other."

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo


Relationship: around 1926 - around late 1928, early 1929
Films: 'Flesh and the Devil' (1927), 'Love' (1927), 'A Woman of Affairs' (1929), 'Queen Christina' (1933)

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo


Although, it was well known that John proposed marriage several times, it was not reported until decades later that a wedding was officially scheduled. It was reported, that on September 8, 1927, Greta and John had planned to marry. The event was organised and the guests arrived at the famous Hearst Castle, but the bride never appeared. At the last minute, Greta changed her mind leaving John at the alter surrounded by a A-list group of guests. It is stated that at that moment Louis B. Mayer commented, "What do you have to marry her for? Why don't you just screw her and forget about it?" At this, John few into a rage and attacked Mayer who shouted, "You're finished, Gilbert. I'll destroy you if it costs me a million dollars." This is said to be the encounter that began the decline in John's career and added in its premature death. After this, it is supposed that there were several less formal wedding attempts but none eventuated. Greta and John's passionate relationship ended around early 1929 and, to Greta's disdain, John married Ina Claire after a quick courtship in late 1929.

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo

Gilbert on Garbo:
“Garbo is marvelous,” he said, ” the most alluring creature you have ever seen”.

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo

Out on the town

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo

Greta and John, onscreen. Perfect.

Thanks to Garbo Forever and fanpix.

Blink and you will miss it :)

Marlene Dietrich Quote 1#

"In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact."

Monday 18 June 2012

Precode Liaisons: Joan and Dick

Joan Blondell and Dick Powell were common Precode co-stars. Although, they were not often onscreen lovers and they married in 1936 - two years after the era's demise - they have clear chemistry.

Relationship Stats

Married: 19 September 1936 - July 1944
Kids: Ellen Powell and Dick adopted Joan's son from her first marriage, Norman
Film Appearances Together: 'Golddiggers of 1933' (1933), 'Footlight Parade' (1933), 'Convention City' (1933), 'Dames' (1934), Broadway Gondlier (1935), 'Stage Struck' (1936), 'Colleen' (1936), 'Golddiggers of 1937' (1937), 'I Want A Divorse' (1940)

A nice clip of the Movietone News 1936 featuring a small segment of Dick and Joans

Dick Powell and Joan Blondell
A cute domestic scene

Dick Powell and Joan Blondell
On the town.

Heading Out.

Dick Powell and Joan Blondell
Playing around

Dick Powell and Joan Blondell
In love.

These pics came from fanpix.com

Friday 15 June 2012

Forgotten Beauties

Since, I have started watching Precode films I have stumbled upon many actresses that due to the Production Code's enforcement or, simply, the change in audiences tastes have become forgotten to modern viewers. I have listed three whose careers, for different reasons, were mostly over by 1934. If you have any other examples feel free to comment them at the bottom!!

1. Ruth Chatterton

The queen of Precodes. She was sophisticated, capable and strangely sexy. Ruth had roots in the stage which made her a perfect target for a debut into the new medium of talking pictures. She played strong women with either a working girl or hostess slant. As her career began fading in the late 30's she turned to writing and planes for her income becoming a published author and a competent aviator. My top pics for Ruth include: Female (1933), Frisco Jenny (1932) and The Rich Are Always With Us (1932) which includes a very young Bette Davis in a small supporting role.

Ruth as a destitute unwed mother, turned a successful Madam in Frisco Jenny

Ruth as the capable business women, in Female (1933)

A women who can play as well as she works, another clip from Female (1933)

2. Dorothy Mackaill

Another worldly dame, Dorothy Mackaill's racy depictions and modern opinions prevented her career from blossoming as the Precode era ended. Like, Ruth her perfect diction added her entry into talkies as well as her lithe figure and sultry eyes that was perfect for the characters she would later play. Her last film appearance was in 1934 with 'The Cheaters'; however, she did appear in a few television series over the 1960's and 1970's. I have only seen a couple of Dorothy's films but she is a standout as the prostitute in 'Safe in Hell' (1932), the spoilt society girl in 'Kept Husbands' (1931) and the small role in the only Clark Gable and Carole Lombard pairing in 'No Man of Her Own' (1932).

Normally used as a poster for Precode Hollywood, Dorothy in 'Safe in Hell' (1932)

Just lounging around.

In the arms of the most handsome Precode leading man, Clark Gable, who she
is sharing with his future wife, Carole Lombard. Picture from 'No Man of Her Own' (1932)

3. Helen Twelvetrees

A woman with the most beautiful, do eyes whose life seemed to imitate the dramatic, life-worn women she played, Helen Twelvetrees was a top star during the Precode era. Another stage import, Helen's film career began in 1929, with 'The Ghost Talks' (1929) for Fox Studios. Three pictures later she moved RKO Studios (previously Pathe) and continued making mostly mediocre dramas, playing women whose affection for the "bad boy" brought their destruction. Helen was plagued by drug and alcohol for most of her life making her ability to work interrupted and unreliable. Finally, after her long struggles, the women with the sad eyes died from an overdose of prescription medication in 1958. She was only 49. Her top films include, as the naive girl turned murderer in Millie (1931) and with Spencer Tracy in "Now I'll Tell" (1934).

A shot of her wonderful eyes

In Millie (1931)

With two other Precode Favourites, Joan Blondell and Lilyan Tashman.

Just thinking.

Thursday 14 June 2012

The Anatomy of a Golddigger

All the elements that make a successful Gold Digger. Thanks to Gold Diggers of
1933 (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933).

1. Legs


2. Eyes

3. Hair

4. A Good Figure


5. Snappy Outfit

6. Finally, a Brilliant Smile.....