Sunday 28 October 2012

Precode Recipe 1# Janet Gaynor

It turns out Precode and silent cutie Janet Gaynor couldn't just act, paint and entertain but she was also a keen baker. Below is a recipe from the Academy Award winning actress for her 'Ice Box Cookies'.

This recipe is taken from the wonderful blog, 'Silver Screen Suppers' which has several other recipes from the stars, pictures and information.

Janet's Ice Box Cookies


450g / 1 1b butter
300g / 1 and ½ cups sugar
3 eggs
650g / 5 cups plain flour, sifted
100g / 1 cup dates, finely chopped
100g / 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 tsp vanilla essence


Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly. Add flour gradually while beating the mixture. Add dates and nuts. Add vanilla essence. Shape dough into rolls and put in refrigerator or freezer overnight wrapped in foil. You may need to let the dough soften a bit if you’ve had it in the freezer.

In the morning, preheat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F. Remove cookie mixture from foil and slice into thin layers. Lightly grease baking tray with butter and bake cookies for 8-10 minutes or until slightly golden. Leave for a few minutes on tray then transfer to cooling rack.


Sunday 21 October 2012

Precode Sunday Beauty Tip 2#: Lux Toilet Soap

Over the years of looking through 1930's magazines and researching in general, one product seemed to stand out more than others: Lux Toilet Soap. It seemed to be everywhere, on every second page in Photoplay and Motion Picture magazines, featured on the Lux Radio Show and on billboards. Lux appeared to be the first product to be solely celebrity endorsed with the quote, '9 out of 10 screen stars use Lux'. In 1929, Lux employed 26 of the most popular Hollywood stars to promote the brand, including such actresses as Barbara Stanwyck, Kay Francis and Janet Gaynor. Below are some of the famous advertisements that I found in a number of Precode Photoplay magazines:

Barbara Stanwyck

Kay Francis

Miriam Hopkins

Young Bette Davis

Claudette Colbert

Ann Sothern

Billie Burke
All the stars

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Barbara's First Talky: 'The Locked Door' (1929)

While I was going through my Precode collection, I realised I have watched all (well probably most) of the more famous Precode films by the top actresses; for example, Kay Francis, Ruth Chatterton, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer ect. But there are many, because of their obscurity and sometimes relative unavailability, that I have not seen. So – even though it is the beginning of exam block – I have decided to aim to watch every film in a particular actress’s Precode career. To start off, an actress who was iconic and prolific both during and after the early 1930’s: Barbara Stanwyck. So far I have located all but two of her Precode gems – ‘The Secret Wife’ (1934) and ‘Mexicali Rose’ (1929), but in the meantime I will endeavour to write reviews of all her early films over the coming weeks and months. Barbara, unlike most actresses, started her career at the top - with her second film being her first starring role - and stayed at the pinnacle until her retirement from films in the mid to late 1980’s. My first review is her first talky ‘The Locked Door’ which at the time was critically and financially unsuccessful but was an important milestone in the career of one of the most enduring stars in Hollywood’s history.     


‘The Locked Door’(1929), strangely enough, like most Precode films begins at a party. Frank Devereaux  (Rod La Rocque) is escorting his father’s secretary Ann Carter (Barbara Stanwyck) to a wild party on a ‘drinking boat’ which is anchored outside the 12-mile limit to allow party-goers to drink alcohol legally. The other guests are loud and drunken, fighting over drinks and room at the long bar. Frank a rich and notorious ladies man takes the naïve Ann to a secluded and romantic room for dinner. After offering her copious amounts of alcohol he begins making advances towards her which she initially laughs off.

Ann finally tells him to stop, but he laughs and comically locks the door, preventing her exit, and pockets the key. He struggles with her but she is saved by police sirens. The police have tracked down the illegal vessel and begin raiding it. They round up the guests and take them back to shore. Ann is humiliated but unharmed and luckily escapes arrest.

It is eighteen months later and Ann is celebrating her first wedding anniversary to kind-hearted and conventional Lawrence Reagan (William ‘Stage’ Boyd).
During the celebration, Larry’s sister, Helen Reagan (WAMPAS star Betty Bronson) confines that she is in love with an older man. But before she can reveal who, Frank walks in unaware that Ann and Helen are now sisters-in-law. A few awkward moments pass and when both brother and sister are out of the room, Ann tells Franks to keep away from Helen. But Frank doesn’t listen, and he persuades Helen into eloping with him to Honolulu. However, luckily – like all early Precode coincidences – Ann overhears the couple making plans and vows to break up the relationship at any cost.      
At the night of the planned marriage, Ann goes to Frank’s apartment to try and stop the engagement. She wants to call her husband for help, but Frank blackmails her with the knowledge of their illegal ‘adventure’ and that he has picture taken of Ann, dishevelled, on the boat.
The Photographic Evidence
Unfortunately, when Ann is about to leave, Larry arrives. He confronts Frank about his illicit affair with the wife of his good friend, Colonel Dixon. But unknown to him, Ann is listening, hidden, in the other room. They begin arguing and Frank, annoyed, draws a gun and attempts to force Larry out of the house. Frank mockingly hints that he and Ann have a sordid past together and Larry grabs the gun and they struggle. The gun goes off. Frank has been shot and Ann is the only witness to Larry’s crime of passion.


This film is usual of many early Precodes: it has wild parties, lots of alcohol, characters with questionable ethics and a minimal plot. Although, this one also has some witty dialogue and innuendo, this film is different for one reason, the Stanwyck factor. She is not the glamed-up actress of her later films ‘Baby Face’ (1933) or ‘The Bitter Tea of General Yen’ (1932), but it is evident to see the potential and energy of the young star. Barbara has the fully formed personality and quit-wittedness that she was known for in her later movies and acts quite well considering it was her first talky and was obviously hampered by the need to accommodate the sound recording equipment.

This is a very “Precode” film, Frank’s character is clearly labelled as a ‘playboy’ having affairs with many women whether they are married or not. However, (SPOILER ALERT) like most villains redeems himself in the end with an act of great selflessness.
I loved the cute, but not overly blatant, sexual innuendo running through the script and the reference to great screen/ real life lovers Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, when Helen says to Ann and Larry,
“Hey brother when you get through with that Gilbert and Garbo act, there’s a telegram I forgot to give you.”
Also, watch out for a strange and relatively brief performance by Precode veteran Zasu Pitts as the telephone operator in Frank’s building and according to IMBD Paulette Goddard had an extra role in the wild party scene but I wasn’t able to recognise her. ‘The Locked Door’ (1929) is a usual early Precode film with great dialogue, wild parties and limited plot twists. The current prints circulating aren’t of the best quality, but I recommend this little film to any fan of Barbara as it is important in her transformation from starlet to star.   

Monday 8 October 2012

Happy IMBD!!!!

Today is INTERNATIONAL MARJORIE BEEBE DAY (IMBD), the day when we can all take a break from our labours and remember the gal of whom Mack Sennett no less, The King Of Comedy, said had the talent to become the greatest screen comedienne of them all.

Born 9th October 1908- Died 9th May 1983

 Today LET’S MISBEHAVE with Marjorie Beebe...

Sunday 7 October 2012

The Mind Behind Precode: My Celebration of Noel Coward

Although Noel was responsible for only five Precode films, his racy and outspoken look at relationships, sex and morality shaped the mood for the era. His plays remain firm favourites of mine because they are as relevant now as they were when they were first written. Here’s my small celebration of the legend Noel Coward.

The Man

The playwright John Osborne said of Coward, “Mr Coward is his own invention and contribution to this century. Anyone who cannot see that should keep well away from the theatre.” Coward was a man of the theatre if not the entertainment industry as a whole. In his career spanning over fifty years he was employed as everything from a playwright, composer, director, actor and singer. Born in 1899, the same year as screen legends Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Alfred Hitchcock, in Teddington London, Noel began performing at a young age by getting small roles in London productions. He used this experience and exposure to ‘high society’ to mold his portrayals of wealthy society dames and sophisticated playboys that were often the centerpiece of his future plays. At age 20, Coward took on a greater role in the theatre both writing and starring in his first piece, ‘I’ll Leave it to You’ (1920) which, although it opened to little acclaim, slowly built his reputation up as the creator of both witty and entertaining plays. He continued at a dizzying pace writing play after play, overseeing the creation of film adaptations all while still acting in the occasion production.

Noel was also an accomplished singer appearing in his first operetta in 1933 ‘Conversation Piece’ which he also wrote and directed. This began a successful music career with Coward writing and releasing over 300 songs during his career including, ‘I’ll See You Again’ and ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’. Below is a live recording of Coward singing 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen', I admit its not for everyone, but I find it adorable!!

From World War II onwards, Coward enjoyed a steady career focused more on first entertaining the troops and promoting the cause and secondly writing pieces mostly for film productions. In 1955, with this impact of his racy ideas and storylines dwindling, he had a stint on cabaret performing in Las Vegas which was quickly turned into a series of 90-minute television specials.  Over his career Coward’s popularity never seemed to waver and he was still at the peak of his fame when he died March 26, 1973 from heart failure aged 74.          

The Movies

Here is my top 5 Noel Coward films and I apologize if my choices are a little Precode-centric; although Noel contributed to several great 1940’s films, his early 1930’s ones are my all-time favorites.

1) Design for Living (1933)


Probably the most controversial movie ever to come out of the Precode era. A risqué tale of a woman in a ménage-a-trios agreement with two men. It is especially interesting because her beaus are played by the handsome Gary Cooper and the dashing Fredric March. Who will Miriam Hopkins choose or does she keep them both? 

2) Private Lives (1931)

This film is another in a line of Norma Shearer racy relationship dramas. It is a hilarious story of divorced couple Amanda Prynne (Norma Shearer) and Elyot Chase (Robert Montgomery) who meet while on their respective honeymoons to their second spouses. Soon they realize that they are still in love with each other and create a scheme to elope together.  Although this film tends to be a lot of Norma and Robert arguing, it’s still extremely entertaining.

3) Easy Virtue (2008)

Yes I know, a non-classic recommendation. It is, however, a remake of a silent production of the same name, directed strangely by Alfred Hitchcock. It stars Jessica Biel as an American widow who impulsively marries handsome Englishman, John Whittaker. But she finds that her behaviours and customs are too risqué for John’s stuffy family who attempt to break the pair up. It’s a funny, lighthearted romantic comedy with wonderful 1930’s touches and music. Also, watch out for the twist ending which may or may not include Colin Firth’s character.

4) Cavalcade (1933)


I have heard some horrible reviews of this film lately and not having watched it in ages; I can only give a half-hearted recommendation of this movie. The film is a historical epic (not usual for a Coward film) showing the period from New Years Eve 1899 to New Years Day 1933. Starring Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook and Una O’Connor, it centers upon the life of a wealthy English family coping with a number of significant historical events, such as, World War 1, the sinking of the Titanic and the death of Queen Victoria. Also, it did win the Best Picture Academy Award for 1933 will is a plus.  

5) Paris When it Sizzles (1964)

I’m sure every classic film fan and, not to mention, Audrey Hepburn lover has seen this one. It is a romantic comedy of an unpredictable screenwriter Richard Benson (William Holden) and his suffering temp secretary Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn). The movie is a series of scenarios or skits that each imagines for Benson’s play ‘The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower’.  I would recommend this simply for the landscapes, the pair go to beautiful French locations and always seem to have breathtaking views in the background; I have to congratulate the cinematographers. However, I did have problems with the acting of both Audrey and William; although, Audrey is simply lovely, at some points it seems she is uncomfortable working alongside the often tired-looking Holden who I have read was suffering bouts of alcoholism during the filming. Also, watch out for a cameo from Noel who plays Benson’s boss, Alexander Myerheim, and appearances from Tony Curtis.