Friday, 30 August 2013

Precode/ Film Resource 1# The Media History Project

Just a quick note for film and Precode lovers. The Media History Project is a wonderful source for an abundance of fan magazines from 1911 to 1963. They can be downloaded or viewed online for free depending on your internet capabilities. The element I love the best is that the website includes an extensive collection of Photoplay magazines which I think is one of the best overall fan magazines of the Precode era. Photoplay features a wide variety of film reviews, gossip, articles, posters and vintage advertisements. But there’s more, with many copies of Hollywood, Motion Picture, Picture-Play and New Movie magazines also available. I recommend everyone check it out!
Precode Spreads
From 1934 Film Fun Magazines taken from blogspot: Allure
Precode Advertisements
Precode Covers

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Fantastic Francis: 'Mandalay' (1934)

Filled with illicit relationships, alcohol, prostitution, murder without consequence and tons of sexual innuendo, ‘Mandalay’ (1934) is a perfect example of a Precode film at its best. The Warners/ First National production packs a punch at around 65 minutes, a perfect vehicle for the then reigning queen, Kay Francis, alongside habitual irresistible ‘bad-boy’ Ricardo Cortez.

Francis plays Tania Borisoff, a Russian refugee living with her lover, gunrunner, Tony Evans (Cortez) on a yacht in Rangoon, Burma. One night, Tony is offered a lucrative contract trafficking weapons for nightclub owner Nick (Warner Oland). Nick knows of Tony’s relationship with Tania and is using the deal as a front to lure her to work as one of his principle “hostesses” (a euphemism for prostitute). The plan works and Tony abandons destitute Tania at the nightclub and alone, depressed and hopeless, Tania agrees to work as a “hostess” for Nick.

Renaming herself, “Spot White”, Tania creates a new persona for herself; tempting and flirting with men while remaining cool and aloof all with the aim of receiving expensive gifts and money. It is a game that she succeeds at but one that draws the attention of law enforcement. The Police Commissioner (Reginald Owen) eventually breaks and threatens to deport her because of her negative influence on the army officers stationed in the area. Calmly, Spot White blackmails the commissioner using his behaviour towards her one night at a masked party and showing him gifts as evidence. He caves to her pressures, removes the deportation order and even gives her 10,000 rupees for her silence.  With her money, Tania is now free and leaves the nightclub boarding a steamer destined for Mandalay, Burma. She takes on a new identity as Marjorie Lang and aims to put her past behind her. On the boat, Tania meets an endearing but broken doctor, Dr Gregory Burton (Lyle Talbot) who – because of his equally troubled past – has become an alcoholic. They create a repour with Tania persuading Gregory to become sober and slowly fall in love. The couple know the relationship will be short-lived as the doctor is travelling to a camp in the hills plagued with a contagious fever and is unlikely to survive long. 

But Tania’s past couldn’t be forgotten for long as Tony, back from his trip, has entered the boat intending to win Tania back. He books a cabin in a room adjourning hers and begins harassing her to continue their affair. Tania, not forgetting his treatment of her, refuses him. That night Tony receives a letter warning him that the police are after him and to escape. Instead of running, Tony decides to fake his own death. He lures Tania to his apartment for a drink, spikes his drink with poison and ensuring that her glass is clearly marked with her lipstick, opens a window making police believe the drugged man has fallen overboard.  Tony waits, patiently, hiding on a lower deck while Tania is instantly implicated and charged with the death. Thankfully with the assistance of Dr. Gregory, Tania is cleared and the death is ruled a suicide. Later that night, seeing the police have abandoned their case, Tony enters Tania’s cabin still eager for a reconciliation. In a truly Precode moment, Tania poisons Tony and he falls overboard to his death. Finally rid of her past, Tania and Dr Gregory disembark intent on starting a new life in the diseases ridden camps of Mandalay.

For Precode and Miss Francis lovers admittedly this is a very formulaic movie. Francis is spectacular in a strong dramatic role playing between a sultry vamp and a damaged women heavily influenced by her circumstances. Ricardo Cortez and Lyle Talbot are great male counterparts neither portrayed as heroes or villains but realistic depression-era characters. Director Michael Curtiz manages to pack a wide array of interesting shot types, wipes and opticals in the relatively short film. The movie’s most thought provoking element is its ending. It is a pure double-edged conclusion – Tania is finally liberated from her past and has found love with another man; however, she has agreed to follow him to a life that will probably bring both their deaths. This ending is an integral part of many realistic, Precode dramas and makes the film a believable and engrossing tale.                         

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Life and Scandal of Joyzelle Joyner

Known for her performance as the exotic and sinful, Ancaria, in ‘Sign of the Cross’ (1932), actress and dancer Joyzelle Joyner was, in reality, more complicated and mysterious then the glamorous, Eastern characters she played.
Joyner was in fact born in the US in Alabama on the 27th of August 1905. She began her film career as an extra, first appearing as a slave girl in the silent epic ‘Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ’ (1925) and following it with small roles in ‘Dance Madness’ (1926) and ‘Out of the Past’ (1927). Her persona and performances were growing as audiences began to notice the striking, exotic actress. In 1927, tragedy struck and was inevitably followed by scandal. Joyner, now aged only 22, was married to Dudley V. Brand who, jealous of his wife’s acting career, wanted desperately for her to behave like a traditional housewife instead of a Hollywood sex symbol.  
More provocative shots rumoured to be of Joyner as Salome
In mid-August 1927 Brand’s temper finally gave way and he shot his young wife twice through a closed bedroom door, injuring but not killing Joyner. The August 11 papers included articles on the scandal. Below is one from The Miami News:

Film Star Shot by Piqued Husband.  
Jealousy of a wife’s desire for a film career was blamed by the police for the shooting here last night of Joyzelle Joyner, 20, dancer and screen actress.

Miss Joyner, wounded in her left arm when her estranged husband, Dudley V. Brand, shot through the closed door of her bedroom, was taken to a hospital where physicians said her injury was not serious. Police were seeking Brand, who fled immediately after the shooting.

After two shots had been sent through the door of Miss Joyner’s room, her 19-year-old brother, Clarence wrested the pistol from Brand’s hand.

Joyner in 'Just Imagine' (1930)
Joyner promptly divorced Brand and subsequently married film director Phil Rosen in 1929 and, without any marital restraints, continued her film career ambitions.

The new decade brought a surge in Joyner’s popularity and a major role in David Butler’s controversial sci-fi film ‘Just Imagine’ (1930). Appearing opposite Maureen O’Sullivan and El Brendel she played futuristically and quite minimally costumed twin queens of Mars – Boo Boo and Loo Loo.  After this role she appeared in several films in her usual type-casted role as the ‘exotic dancer’ and generally uncredited until she landed her standout part two years later.

Another shot of Joyner in 'Just Imagine' (1930)
Directed by the king of the religious epic, Cecil B. deMille, ‘The Sign of the Cross’ (1932) starred Claudette Colbert, Fredric March and Elissa Landi in a story set in Ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. Like many of deMille’s Precode films the original print focused mainly on the struggle between purity and sin and included many sexually charged and provocative scenes. Joyner, portraying immoral dancer Ancaria, is prominent in one of these shots when she is encouraged by Marcus Superbus (March) to dance around Mercia (Landi) and perform the song ‘Dance of the Naked Moon’ in order to “warm her into life”. The deMille was pressured by the Hays Office to remove the sequence but he refused and left it in the final 124 minute cut. The scene – as well as several gladiatorial fighting and nudity parts – were removed from the reissues following the 1934 code changes. However, they were replaced MCA-Universal for the 1993 edition.
Joyner in 'Sign of the Cross' (1932)

In the same year as her triumph in ‘Sign of the Cross’, Joyner performed in two credited roles in westerns ‘Whistlin’ Dan’ and ‘The Vanishing Frontier’ with Johnny Mack Brown. She appeared in a handful of films before retiring from the screen prematurely in 1935. These include featured parts as Vavara in ‘I Believed in You’ (1934) and Chanda in horror film ‘House of Mystery’ (1934), under the name Laya Joy. Her last film was uncredited as a dancer in ‘Dante’s Inferno’ (1935). The conclusion of the Hays Code in 1934 appeared to put a standstill Joyner’s career similar to many other actresses of the period, such as, Mae West and Dorothy Mackaill. She lived a private and quiet life until her death in Orange California on August 27, 1980. Strangely, the Social Security Death Index reported her last name at the time of her death to be ‘Brand’ showing she had legally kept the name of her first husband who had injured her decades before.
Below is a colour clip from ‘Wild People’ (1932) where Joyner performs as The Panther Lady:

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Norma Shearer Shines in 'The Divorcee' (1930)

I submitted this review as part of Movie Waffler’s ‘1001 Overlooked Movies’ project which aims to promote films that were left out of the ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ series. ‘The Divorcee’ (1930) is one of those essential Precode films with a spectacular performance by Miss Norma Shearer. I encourage all bloggers to get involved in The Waffler’s almost impossible task, more information can be found here.

“If the world permits the husband to philander – why not the wife?” The controversial question posed by filmmakers in the landmark film, ‘The Divorcee’ (1930) that ushered in a new generation of woman’s rights, social freedoms, political ideologies and not to mention the new fad of talking pictures. Based on an equally provocative novel, ‘The Ex-Wife’ by Ursula Parrot, it stars a radiant Norma Shearer alongside Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel and Robert Montgomery who play members of New York’s young, wealthy social elite. Jerry (Shearer) is the centre of the group and object of many men’s gazes, including Ted Martin (Morris), Paul (Nagel) and Don (Montgomery). She is hopelessly in love with Ted and they become engaged one night at a party. The news devastates Paul, who after a night of excessive drinking, crashes a car permanently disfiguring Dorothy (Helen Johnson). Racked with guilt and still infatuated with Jerry, he marries Dorothy who had been in love with him. A short time later Jerry and Ted also marry.
The film skips to three years in the future; Ted and Jerry are still happily married while Dorothy and Paul share a distant but still binding relationship. On the night of their wedding anniversary and at another one of the couple’s parties, a young dark-haired beauty, Janice (Mary Doran), arrives claiming to know Ted. Jerry soon discovers that Janice and Ted had had a brief affair, that it was over and “didn’t mean a thing” to Ted who claimed he was still totally in love with his wife. He tells Jerry jovially to “snap out of it” and “have a man’s point of view” about the situation. He leaves that night for a business trip and Jerry lonely and confused responds by having a one night stand with his best friend Don. The mood changes the morning after and Jerry is both guilty and disgusted by her actions and, despite the protestations of Don, tells Ted the truth when he returns. Using the euphemistic phrase that she had “balanced [their] accounts,” she explains that she had behaved the same as he had and to not act conventionally. But he sees her adultery as ruining her and a wife’s pure and chaste identity and reacts angrily. That night when Ted is preparing to leave, Jerry cries, “from now on you’re the only man in the world that my door is closed to.”
The couple are soon divorced and Jerry begins exploring the loose and free lifestyle she had been missing. She falls into a world of partying, alcohol, travelling and men. Changing everything from her personality to her morals and even her clothing to escape from her past. Similarly, Ted falls into a trap of cheap alcohol, parties and country-hoping, equally wanting to forget. Months later exhausted and in the arms of another man, Jerry runs into Paul, who is still married to Dorothy, on a train. They begin reminiscing about the previous years, mistakes and the future. Paul persuades Jerry to join him on his yacht for a relaxing holiday and influenced by his enduring love for her and desire for stability, Jerry consents to marry him. A few weeks before their intended nuptials, Dorothy confronts Jerry and pleads for her to give up Paul. This makes Jerry contemplate her past and her desires for the future, making for a more conservative and conventional ending.     
Norma Shearer triumphs as both the adoring wife and controversial divorcee. She is bubbly and fluid and surprising alluring in her golden, revealing costumes towards the end of the film. Her performance centered the film and was a good choice for the Academy Award for Best Actress. However, she was assisted by the well derived plot and cast who shape the exploration of changing morality in America. It is in its themes that the films significance lies. It probes the existing sexual double standards from the viewpoint of a middle ground between ridged Victorian and the altering Twentieth Century values. The film, despite its age, is surprising modern and relevant to contemporary audiences and well worth a watch.       

Precode Fashion Fix: Loretta Young in 'Midnight Mary' (1933)

There has been a bit of talk about Loretta Young’s wonderful costumes in the crime film, ‘Midnight Mary’ (1933), on Facebook lately and I thought I would delve further into it myself. I don’t think I have seen Miss Young looking so radiant and stunning nor have I seen her behaving so sinful. It seems beauty and immorality go hand-in-hand in the Precode era.
Her clothing was curtsy of famous film costume designer, Adrian. Born, Adrian Adolph Greenberg, he had been MGM’s chief designer for five years when he was enlisted to create pieces for Young’s bad-girl role.

He was known for the creation of provocative and eye-catching evening gowns over the early thirties and beyond. His signature style included simple dresses – often silver or gold – with emphasis on draping and external elements, such as, fringes or ruffles. These can be seen in these fabulous costumes for Loretta Young from ‘Midnight Mary’.


Or look at Una Merkel’s Adrian designs from the same year:

Adrian’s other triumphs include creating iconic gowns for Norma Shearer in her Oscar winning role, ‘The Divorcee’ (1930), Joan Crawford in ‘Letty Lynton’ (1933) and Jean Harlow in ‘Dinner at Eight’ (1933). Notice again the clear similarities between all Adrian’s pieces, he obviously had a signature style.    

‘The Divorcee’ (1930)
‘Letty Lynton’ (1933)

‘Dinner at Eight’ (1933)