Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Auteur's Guide to Romance

Happy (belated) Valentine's Day, everyone!

I know it's a bit late for Valentine's posts but the idea came to me and I just couldn't resist it. I've been thinking lately that what we classic film geeks could really use (you know aside from money for film preservation and more big-screen venues for classic film showings and more DVD releases, etc.) is a personality quiz tailored to our needs. I'm a sucker for personality quizzes, but sadly, most of them are along the lines of "What Elemental Dragon Are You" and while that's cute and all, it gets old fast.

So, because it was Valentine's, I had the idea to just write up my own quiz, asking film geeks a series of romantic questions, geared at finding out which classic film director's movies best describe their romantic personality. I would have preferred to just post it up here on the blog but for now, Quizilla is still the most convenient host for personality quizzes. So, if you're interested, here's a link and here's the quiz description:

The Auteur's Guide to Romance

Here's a personality quiz for classic film lovers (and lovers in general). Which classic film director's movies best describe your romantic personality? Are your dark, twisted romances like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock film? (For your sake, we hope not.) Or are you more like a fast-talking, flirty Howard Hawks character? For the relatively few people who have ever pondered this question, this quiz is for you. (Note: This quiz is meant in fun. Any hasty generalizations were made intentionally.)

If you do take the quiz, by all means come by and post your result. And yes, I did take the quiz myself and it turns out I'm a Hawks-Romantic. Huh. Wasn't expecting that one.

Happy Valentine's, you guys! And rest assured that I will be getting back to the land of in-depth reviews and discussions soon. I don't plan on hanging out in meme-land forever, nice and fluffy as it is.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Classic Film Survey (from Frankly, My Dear)

I know I'm incredibly late on this one, but the fantastic Rianna over at Frankly, My Dear has come up with a new fifteen-question movie meme. Rianna's always been a thoughtful and generous commenter for this blog and I love reading about her own cinematic enthusiasms. So, I'm just going to push up my sleeves and answer this one, tardiness be damned. Anyone who's interested, go over to Rianna's blog and give a link to your answers as well.

1. Favorite classic Disney?

Looking back on it, it's a toss-up between Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty. I haven't seen Fantasia in ages but it was the film that really got me started on classic music as a kid and I loved it even then.  It's ambitious and complicated and it lets you see the best animators in the world just feeling their way through some of the greatest scores ever writtenBut Sleeping Beauty just has such an elegant animation style and the use of Tchaikovsky is perfect and the villainess is unforgettable. Granted that our main heroine has no personality (even by classic Disney heroine standards) but she has the beautiful voice of Mary Costa to make up for it.

2. Favorite film from the year 1939?

Surprisingly, this one didn't take me that long to decide. Ninotchka, definitely. How can you resist Garbo laughing? And getting drunk on champagne? And buying hats that look like this? And falling for Melvyn Douglas while he rambles on about snail sex (I'm not kidding about that one)? But aside from Garbo's magnificence, it's witty, it's romantic and it gives me a high every time I watch it.

3. Favorite Carole Lombard screwball role? 

I know I should give the nod to My Man Godfrey or To Be Or Not to Be, as the high water marks of Lombard's comic brilliance. But my heart belongs to Nothing Sacred and Lombard and March circling each other for a knockout punch. And Carole looks heart-stopping in Technicolor.

4. Favorite off-screen couple? (It's ok if it ended in divorce.)

It's the rule of Hollywood romance that the best marriages are the ones you hear least about (with the obvious exception of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward). Being of a house cat temperament myself, I tend to like the stable, long-lived romances like Frances Dee and Joel McCrea or James and Gloria Stewart. But to my own astonishment, after reading Lee Server's excellent Ava Gardner biography, I got really caught up in the romance of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. In real life, I would have been scared to get within a hundred feet of their plate-throwing romance. But on the page, they broke my heart. Those crazy, mixed-up kids, they really loved each other rotten.

5. Favorite pair of best friends (i.e: Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford)

I don't like to poach on Laura's territory, but for me, the friendship between Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee just warms my not-so-frostbitten heart. I'll let Christopher Lee sum it up:
"I don't want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who it is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again."

6. Favorite actor with a mustache?

Well there's Clark Gable of course and Vincent Price and Don Ameche and others. But since I already mentioned Ninotchka, I can't resist slipping Melvyn Douglas into this slot. Hardly anyone's idea of a cult actor but the man deserves more respect. Dry-humored, intelligent, and quite the gentleman in real life. He also gave us Illeana Douglas, an actress who follows the family tradition of being quietly excellent wherever she is.

7. Favorite blonde actress?

Dammit, all these favorite actor/actress questions are going to have me waking up at 3AM in a cold sweat, muttering to myself. So please bear in mind that my answers are subject to change and whim. Honorable mentions go to Meryl Streep, Simone Signoret, Jean Harlow, Angela Lansbury, and Veronica Lake. And Joan Bennett, even if she technically becomes a favorite once she hits her brunette stage. But today, I'll give the honors to Kathleen Turner. The woman who gave one of my all-time favorite performances in Romancing the Stone. Still sexy, still ballsy, and still completely unlike anyone else.

8. Favorite pre-code?

Actual favorite pre-code is It Happened One Night but I'm going to say The Bitter Tea of General Yen in the hopes that more people will see it. Bizarre, beautiful, and unique film.

9. Which studio would you have liked to join?  

This really depends on era for me. If we're talking early 30s, then it's glitzy, ditzy Paramount all the way. In the 1940s, I think my sentimental fondness is for that ambitious upstart 20th Century Fox. By the 1950s though, I'm hightailing it to United Artists (well before Heaven's Gate appears on the horizon). One thing's for sure, I'm staying far, far away from Columbia and the dreaded Harry Cohn.

10. Favorite common on-screen pairing that SHOULD have gotten married?

I don't know about "should," but I sometimes wonder if Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck might have been better for each other than the people they actually married.

11. Favorite I Love Lucy episode? 

I'm really, really tempted to lie here but I never watched it enough to really bother with favorites. Let me recompense you with a picture of Lucille Ball looking gorgeous.

12. Lucille Ball, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Natalie Wood, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Greer Garson - which one do you like best?

What a line-up! I'm imagining it sort of like the Kentucky Derby now, with the two Hepburns and Bergman battling it out in front of the pack. A tough race to call, but ultimately, I think my loyalty lies with Miss Katharine Hepburn. The most maddening of them all, in every sense of the word.

13. Shadowy film noir from the 1940's or splashy colorful musicals from the 1950's?

There's some musicals I'd hate to give up but for me, film noir is, to co-opt Humphrey Bogart's words, "the stuff that dreams are made of."

14. Actor or actress with the best autograph (photo preferred)

I never pay much attention to classic film star signatures (except to pause and mourn the slow death of beautiful cursive writing), but I have to say, I love Gloria Grahame's looping G's.

15. A baby (or childhood, or teenage) photo of either your favorite actress or actor (or both, if you'd like.)

Here, have a picture of Jimmy Stewart on a tricycle.

Thanks so much for the meme, Rianna! I enjoyed this a lot.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

5 Movie Costumes I Love (Winter '12 Edition)

It's that time again. Time to lace up the corsets, roll up the measuring tapes, and sketch my five movie costume favorites for this winter. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, I have a tradition on this blog. For each season, I pick five random movie costumes to talk about. I started this tradition because I love analyzing costume on film and making it a seasonal event allows me to give time to some less-famous ensembles. Sometimes I succumb to glamor and pick a dress that wows me but other times, I just want to talk about something that suits the character. None of my five picks today are appropriate for winter wear but oh well, it will be spring soon.

One last thing to mention. As before, my three cardinal rules for this list are as follows:
  1. Absolutely no costumes from an Alfred Hitchcock film.
  2. No costumes worn by Grace Kelly.
  3. No costumes worn by Audrey Hepburn.

And now, let us begin.

1. Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful
Costume Design by Helen Rose
("The Pajamas")

(photo credited to Film Noir Photos)

I know that singling out the pajamas in a Helen Rose/Lana Turner collaboration is a little like going to a gourmet restaurant and then raving about the after-dinner mints. But for me, one of the most thrilling moments in The Bad and the Beautiful is when Lana Turner, our Lady of Platinum and Plenty, emerges from a darkened room in these plain, ordinary pajamas. We've already been prepped that Turner's character, the tormented Georgia Lorrison, is a sexy lush and so we'd expect her to sleep in something more like this. Instead, we get the unforgettable image of Turner as an unhappy little girl in loose pajamas, huddled in a shabby room while Kirk Douglas tears her pretensions apart and her father's voice blares out poetry on the gramophone. Normally, I find Lana Turner's acting about as interesting as unsalted butter, but for that scene, I'm hers completely.

2. Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Costume Design by Travilla
("The Blue Suit")

I really should have made a rule against posting Marilyn Monroe costumes too, since she's every bit as iconic as Hepburn or Kelly. But for now, I'm going to take advantage of my own loophole to mention my personal favorite, this bright blue-violet number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It's one of the few costumes of hers that I could actually imagine wearing myself. Sure it's sexy (how many Marilyn costumes can you name that aren't?) but it's got that sharp snap to the collar and sleek skirt and form-fitting jacket. Nothing soft or cuddly about this; Monroe looks positively like a business woman. Watch how she dispatches her fiance's father with one cool, self-possessed speech. "I'm not trying to fool you. But I bet I could, though." Hell yeah, she could.

3. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in The Prisoner of Zenda
Costume Design by Ernest Dryden
("The Uniform")

Nobody does it better than Rupert of Hentzau, probably the best role Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ever had. Rupert is one of the most enjoyable villains of all time. Always laughing, always disloyal, and always teetering on the edge of sanity. Our hero Ronald Colman trades him quip for quip, but he's still no match for Fairbanks' cool. And lucky for Fairbanks, he got to play one of his best roles in this dashing uniform, complete with a black silk shirt and a pair of ever-present gloves. It's easy for a man to look smart in uniform, but Fairbanks just wears the hell out of this thing. Slanting his cap to give his leer that extra special touch. And the way he giggles into his gloves, almost biting his own fingers. And when he strips down to the black shirt, he looks like the most stylish man in the room, easily outpacing Colman. Sorry guys, but evil wins this round.

4. Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place
Costume Design by Jean Louis
("The Buttoned-Up Outfit")

(Screencap credited to xoxoxo e blog)

"She's not coy or cute or corny. She's a good guy, I'm glad she's on my side." So says Humphrey Bogart, as he admires the cool, composed Gloria Grahame. First impressions are everything and watching the way Grahame strides down the walk in that straight-lined skirt and turtleneck, it's hard not to agree with Bogart's assessment. But in spite of the costume's simplicity, it gives us clues to Grahame's whole character. There's the marching line of buttons down the side. Stylish yes, but closed off, controlled. Barely an inch of skin showing. And the way Grahame moves in it; no Violet Bick-style wiggling here. If Bogart had looked a little more closely, he might have realized that here was a woman who's not going to give herself away so easily. Watching the movie again, I was struck by just how many of Grahame's costumes cover her up, right down to the fur-cuffed robe that hides the restless motions of her fingers. The tragedy of In a Lonely Place is that Grahame and Bogart really believe that they have control, that they are covered-up. But in the end, they don't just surrender to their feelings. They're crushed by them.

5. Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man
Costume Design by Adele Palmer
("The Red and Blue")

Call it a triple victory for director John Ford, cinematographer Winton C. Hoch, and costumer Adele Palmer. Nobody ever forgets that moment when John Wayne sees Maureen O'Hara for the first time. Ford gives us only a brief flash of blue and red before he cuts to O'Hara's radiant face, staring back at Wayne with complete wonder. The emotion of the moment belongs to Ford and the actors. But it's Palmer who gives us those graceful lines and that brilliant blaze of primary color. It's more than just showing off O'Hara's beauty; she's become a living symbol of Ireland itself. Blame The Quiet Man for convincing so many generations of Americans that if they went to Ireland, they'd find Maureen O'Hara waiting for them.

The Yvonne de Carlo photo at top is credited to the wonderful Dsata at Pictures Blog. Go visit her, she's one of the best sources for actress photos on the web and she organizes everything by theme, from "women bathing their feet" to "stars eating grapes." You can find everything there.