The Birth of an Actress: Marilyn Monroe in Don't Bother to Knock

Theatrical Poster, 1952

This post is in conjunction with Sittin’ On A Backyard Fence’sSummer Under the Stars Blogathon”—a month-long celebration of the film icons being spotlighted each day, all day, on Turner Classic Movies. Today, the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the tragic passing of Marilyn Monroe, I am dedicating this post to the Blogathon and, more importantly, to Monroe. A tormented woman of strength and talent that, five decades on, still shines… and inspires.

Perhaps one of the many reasons I have such a deep admiration and respect for Marilyn is due to the fact that the first film I saw of hers, or rather, the first film I remember watching start to finish ( Marilyn’s films are so rooted in our cultural subconscious that someone can feel as though they’ve seen her films even if they haven’t) was not her  fluffy, fun, frivolous light comedies that immortalized her. The white pleated blowing skirt in The Seven Year Itch and the pink-gowned diamond-digger in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. (In which, of course, she is dynamite.) Rather, it was a strange little noir called Don’t Bother to Knock. And it was scarcely a typical first encounter. It was in fact atypical. Don’t Bother to Knock is a curious, offbeat noir. The fact it originally was slated to be helmed by noir master Jules Dassin shows how seriously 20th Century Fox was taking the film: Zanuck granted a modest budget, assigned talented scribe Daniel Taradash to the script (soon to adapt From Here to Eternity) and wanted high production value… perhaps because he was still not sold on Marilyn’s (as-of-yet) unproven ability to take on a dramatic role. Fox assigned studio director Roy Ward Baker and his direction lacks the stylized tension that so permeates the noir film in general (take for example Marilyn’s previous film, Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night’s starring Barbara Stanwyck, or her next film, Henry Hathaway’s Niagara), but it in spite of the static direction, the film possesses an undeniable electric  current  with Marilyn as its conductor. In Don’t Bother to Knock, Marilyn was no “dumb blonde”. She was an actress.   A damn good one. Her performance as Nell Forbes managed to both scare the shit out of me, and leave me in tears.  It is a heartbreaking, soul-bearing performance that was the first truly great dramatic performance of her career.

Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark

And, in typical Hollywood fashion, her bottom-line money-mongering studio zookeepers would not allow it again. Monroe would have to take her career into her own hands, forming her own production company 4 years later with Bus Stop (my personal favorite of her films), before she would again have the chance to prove herself a serious talent to be reckoned with.

The premise of Don’t Bother to Knock is simple. A family hires a babysitter to look after their young daughter for the evening while they attend a dinner party. They are staying in a hotel, and the porter (Elisha Cook Jr.) recommends his niece Nell (Monroe) to babysit the kid. The problem is that Monroe is suicidal. She has only recently been released from a mental institution having gone off the deep end when her fiancé was killed in a plane crash during the war. With the Jones’ downstairs at the party, Monroe tucks the little girl, “Bunny”,  into bed and her intensely lonely, quiet life becomes painfully apparent to the viewer as she tries on the fine jewelry and expensive negligee of her well-to-do employers. Her appliqué of lip rouge reveals two scars on her wrists.  In a quietly moving scene, Monroe looks at her face in the vanity mirror, admiring the fine diamond earrings, and as she does a plane is heard to pass over the hotel. She crosses to the window and peeks out between the blinds, up into that black sky—the same black sky that had taken away her fiancé. She closes her eyes and the camera, only faintly, registers that she is crying. It’s the moment that I sat straight up in my seat, suddenly glued to this unexpectedly haunted, emotionally naked performance on the screen.  I must have been about 15. And I was riveted.

An airline pilot (Richard Widmark) occupying a room across the courtyard from Monroe has checked in to win back his girlfriend, a singer in the hotel lounge who has given him his walking papers (Anne Bancroft in her screen debut). When he sees Monroe’s bombshell figure in the room across the way, he rings the room and invites himself over.

What he thinks is going to be a casual night of hanky panky out to be anything but. Monroe slowly unravels during the course of the evening as he is the first man she’s been alone with since her fiance’s death and she begins to believe that he is her fiancé. Things take a fork knife turn when little Bunny blows Monroe’s cover, crying for her to ‘take off her Mommy’s things’ and Widmark understands that Monroe has been feeding him a line about her being a woman of the world. She’s nothing more than the babysitter, new to New York and lonely.

Against his better judgment, Widmark stays for a bit, visibly moved at Monroe’s confession , but all the while desperate to leave the crazy situation he’s got himself into and get downstairs to see  Bancroft again to try one last time to win her back. Monroe begins to believe that her uncle, who keeps trying to check in on her during the night, and the little girl, who is understandably concerned at finding a strange man in the hotel room, are intruders trying to keep her away from her fiancé . And when Monroe sits next to Bunny on the windowpane, looking out at their neighbors’ windows, there is a terrifying moment when it seems as though Monroe actually will push the girl to her death. Widmark steps in and, when his eyes meet Monroe’s, he is suddenly aware that, perhaps, he got more than he bargained for. Behind Widmark’s back, Monroe threatens Bunny into keeping her trap shut and going to bed… or else. And the psychotic glint in Monroe’s eyes leaves no doubt whatsoever that she is perfectly capable of carrying out her threat.

The night quickly caves in on itself when Monroe’s Uncle shows up again, unexpectedly, to check up on her.  Monroe shoves Widmark into the bathroom to hide, and takes some very tough love from her Uncle who, upon wiping off the lipstick off Monroe’s face, sends her into a fit and she strikes her Uncle on the back of his head, rendering him unconscious on the bathroom floor.  Widmark now knows that this girl is more than just trouble, she is very possibly dangerous, and he flees the scene to meet up with Bancroft downstairs before he loses her forever.

Widmark spills his guts to her about Monroe and the little girl, and Bancroft is hit by his uncharacteristically sincere interest in the situation. Widmark, however, is suddenly overcome with the realization that Monroe might actually do serious harm to the little girl. His intuition has served him well, as Monroe has locked her unconscious uncle in the broom cupboard and has bound and gagged little Bunny whom she blames for the night’s disastrous turn of events. The parents, sick with worry over their phone calls not having got through, show up just in time. Widmark is not far behind, as is the House Detective.

Monroe comes unglued on Elisha Cook Jr.

Monroe is a shattered, broken mess, crouching in the corner of the hotel room. A fragile shell of a woman that might, at any moment, be carried away with the wind, like dust, never to be seen again. And, as far as she is aware, her disappearance would matter just as much as dust particles in the wind. And so she sneaks away, unnoticed by Widmark, her uncle and the detective.

Her walk down the corridor is a death march. She leans against the wall for support. Her beautiful eyes wide and full of numbed confusion. Her perfect face cracked with the deep stain of lost, desperate tears. This is not Nell Forbes. This is not Marilyn Monroe. This is Norma Jeane Mortenson. For the final 10 minutes of the film, she is exposed: for all her cosmetic perfection, she is raw and imperfect, alone and afraid, desperate to feel the warmth of love and kindness and respect but all-too aware that she never will. What was Marilyn thinking and feeling during that long, languorous dolly shot? Was she thinking of her own childhood with a mother gone mad? Was she painfully aware of how much she actually had in common with the emotionally spent state of Nell? Whatever the case, there is an infinite depth in those glazed wide eyes, and to a modern audience it is acutely obvious that this emotion is coming from some place very, very deep within.

And when Widmark finds her, in a daze, with a razor in hand, Bancroft is at Widmark’s side. She is moved by his deep concern. It is the only asexual relationship Monroe will ever have onscreen. She is a child in a woman’s body that Widmark wants to protect.

It would be the story of Monroe’s life.

Monroe and Nell as they become one person on screen. It’s hard to watch when you know what painful emotions lay behind Monroe’s beautiful facade.

The film was released in 1952 while Marilyn was under contract with Fox, just prior to her watershed success in Henry Hathaway’s sexy, Technicolor noir Niagara which would catapult her into super-stardom.   Don’t Bother To Knock was far from sexy. It was not the sort of film, perhaps, audiences wanted to see this white-hot new screen personality in and the film flopped both financially and critically. (Daily Variety, however, was a fan and applauded her performance as “excellent”, and LIFE Magazine keyed in most astutely by calling Monroe’s  performance “the genuine article.” ) It’s a shame this particular role is so seldom discussed. A very real 180 from the soon-to-be sex kitten that Fox would brand her as, Monroe is a revelation here.  Untrained in dramatics, Monroe’s acting coach, Natascha Lyness, confessed “I have to say that I didn’t think she was ready to take on a role of that magnitude. I underestimated her talent… or at the very least, her resolve. The time we spent on the script—two days, no sleep—was very dramatic and passionate and filled with angst, like Marilyn herself. In the end, she did such a great job that Zanuck saw fit to writer her a note to congratulate her, which surprised thrilled her to no end. She was so insecure and unsure of her ability that any validation at all was considered high praise.” Zanuck may have flattered Monroe, but he had no intention of making a habit of such unglamorous, dramatic parts. “She’s a dumb tomato and half-crazy to boot,” he is reported to have said about Monroe in the film. “In each picture she’ll earn her keep, but no more dramatic roles.” Monroe would stretch her range in Niagara as an emotionally manipulative femme fatale but the role capitalized completely on Monroe’s sex appeal. It was branded as sex. And that’s all anyone saw: explosive, on-your-knees-slave sex. A presence so overpowering, that no one could (or wanted to) see the actress, so strongly competent right in front of them.

As Rose in Niagara.

As Cherie in Bus Stop.

As Joslyn in her final film, The Misfits

Marilyn’s close friend Montgomery Clift, himself an outspoken foe of the Hollywood studio system, later made this comment on Marilyn’s stunted growth as an actress following Don’t Bother to Knock: “Fox wanted to keep a tight grip and drain her dry. Marilyn had a right to make the choice not to demean herself. But the boss wouldn’t let her. They didn’t want an actress. That’s what they’d agreed upon. They sat at their round table and decide that Marilyn wasn’t capable of making a relevant decision.”

Clift would work with Marilyn 8 years later on her final film (and his third to final), John Huston’s The Misfits. Brilliant but doomed like Marilyn, a friend noted “Monty and Marilyn were psychic twins. They were on the same wavelength. They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.” Clift, considered to be one of the most gifted actors of his generation, would call Marilyn the finest actress he ever worked with.

The Misfits, to many, is Marilyn’s finest strongest performance. Written for her by then-husband Arthur Miller, the role could probably be played by any actress… but none as broken and Marilyn’s. Her Method training had allowed her to transcend written lines and bare herself completely. It is a testament to the fragile-yet-formidable talent first unveiled in Don’t Bother to Knock, made undeniable in Bus Stop, and forever cemented in The Misfits.

Of her relationship with her Method acting coach, the legendary Paula Strasberg, Monroe said simply “Whatever road leads to growth, you take.” And if Don’t Bother to Knock, Bus Stop, and The Misfits prove anything, it’s that Marilyn took those risks and traveled those roads that no one believed she should, or could, travel.  Thankfully, even though we lost her so many decades ago, these rarely appreciated artistic triumphs live,  forever, on film. Who knows. Maybe one day we’ll finally recognize her as the deeply human actress she truly was. Instead of the icon Hollywood created.

The Birth of an Actress: Marilyn Monroe in Don’t Bother to Knock

Theatrical Poster, 1952

This post is in conjunction with Sittin’ On A Backyard Fence’sSummer Under the Stars Blogathon”—a month-long celebration of the film icons being spotlighted each day, all day, on Turner Classic Movies. Today, the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the tragic passing of Marilyn Monroe, I am dedicating this post to the Blogathon and, more importantly, to Monroe. A tormented woman of strength and talent that, five decades on, still shines… and inspires.

Perhaps one of the many reasons I have such a deep admiration and respect for Marilyn is due to the fact that the first film I saw of hers, or rather, the first film I remember watching start to finish ( Marilyn’s films are so rooted in our cultural subconscious that someone can feel as though they’ve seen her films even if they haven’t) was not her  fluffy, fun, frivolous light comedies that immortalized her. The white pleated blowing skirt in The Seven Year Itch and the pink-gowned diamond-digger in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. (In which, of course, she is dynamite.) Rather, it was a strange little noir called Don’t Bother to Knock. And it was scarcely a typical first encounter. It was in fact atypical. Don’t Bother to Knock is a curious, offbeat noir. The fact it originally was slated to be helmed by noir master Jules Dassin shows how seriously 20th Century Fox was taking the film: Zanuck granted a modest budget, assigned talented scribe Daniel Taradash to the script (soon to adapt From Here to Eternity) and wanted high production value… perhaps because he was still not sold on Marilyn’s (as-of-yet) unproven ability to take on a dramatic role. Fox assigned studio director Roy Ward Baker and his direction lacks the stylized tension that so permeates the noir film in general (take for example Marilyn’s previous film, Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night’s starring Barbara Stanwyck, or her next film, Henry Hathaway’s Niagara), but it in spite of the static direction, the film possesses an undeniable electric  current  with Marilyn as its conductor. In Don’t Bother to Knock, Marilyn was no “dumb blonde”. She was an actress.   A damn good one. Her performance as Nell Forbes managed to both scare the shit out of me, and leave me in tears.  It is a heartbreaking, soul-bearing performance that was the first truly great dramatic performance of her career.

Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark

And, in typical Hollywood fashion, her bottom-line money-mongering studio zookeepers would not allow it again. Monroe would have to take her career into her own hands, forming her own production company 4 years later with Bus Stop (my personal favorite of her films), before she would again have the chance to prove herself a serious talent to be reckoned with.

The premise of Don’t Bother to Knock is simple. A family hires a babysitter to look after their young daughter for the evening while they attend a dinner party. They are staying in a hotel, and the porter (Elisha Cook Jr.) recommends his niece Nell (Monroe) to babysit the kid. The problem is that Monroe is suicidal. She has only recently been released from a mental institution having gone off the deep end when her fiancé was killed in a plane crash during the war. With the Jones’ downstairs at the party, Monroe tucks the little girl, “Bunny”,  into bed and her intensely lonely, quiet life becomes painfully apparent to the viewer as she tries on the fine jewelry and expensive negligee of her well-to-do employers. Her appliqué of lip rouge reveals two scars on her wrists.  In a quietly moving scene, Monroe looks at her face in the vanity mirror, admiring the fine diamond earrings, and as she does a plane is heard to pass over the hotel. She crosses to the window and peeks out between the blinds, up into that black sky—the same black sky that had taken away her fiancé. She closes her eyes and the camera, only faintly, registers that she is crying. It’s the moment that I sat straight up in my seat, suddenly glued to this unexpectedly haunted, emotionally naked performance on the screen.  I must have been about 15. And I was riveted.

An airline pilot (Richard Widmark) occupying a room across the courtyard from Monroe has checked in to win back his girlfriend, a singer in the hotel lounge who has given him his walking papers (Anne Bancroft in her screen debut). When he sees Monroe’s bombshell figure in the room across the way, he rings the room and invites himself over.

What he thinks is going to be a casual night of hanky panky out to be anything but. Monroe slowly unravels during the course of the evening as he is the first man she’s been alone with since her fiance’s death and she begins to believe that he is her fiancé. Things take a fork knife turn when little Bunny blows Monroe’s cover, crying for her to ‘take off her Mommy’s things’ and Widmark understands that Monroe has been feeding him a line about her being a woman of the world. She’s nothing more than the babysitter, new to New York and lonely.

Against his better judgment, Widmark stays for a bit, visibly moved at Monroe’s confession , but all the while desperate to leave the crazy situation he’s got himself into and get downstairs to see  Bancroft again to try one last time to win her back. Monroe begins to believe that her uncle, who keeps trying to check in on her during the night, and the little girl, who is understandably concerned at finding a strange man in the hotel room, are intruders trying to keep her away from her fiancé . And when Monroe sits next to Bunny on the windowpane, looking out at their neighbors’ windows, there is a terrifying moment when it seems as though Monroe actually will push the girl to her death. Widmark steps in and, when his eyes meet Monroe’s, he is suddenly aware that, perhaps, he got more than he bargained for. Behind Widmark’s back, Monroe threatens Bunny into keeping her trap shut and going to bed… or else. And the psychotic glint in Monroe’s eyes leaves no doubt whatsoever that she is perfectly capable of carrying out her threat.

The night quickly caves in on itself when Monroe’s Uncle shows up again, unexpectedly, to check up on her.  Monroe shoves Widmark into the bathroom to hide, and takes some very tough love from her Uncle who, upon wiping off the lipstick off Monroe’s face, sends her into a fit and she strikes her Uncle on the back of his head, rendering him unconscious on the bathroom floor.  Widmark now knows that this girl is more than just trouble, she is very possibly dangerous, and he flees the scene to meet up with Bancroft downstairs before he loses her forever.

Widmark spills his guts to her about Monroe and the little girl, and Bancroft is hit by his uncharacteristically sincere interest in the situation. Widmark, however, is suddenly overcome with the realization that Monroe might actually do serious harm to the little girl. His intuition has served him well, as Monroe has locked her unconscious uncle in the broom cupboard and has bound and gagged little Bunny whom she blames for the night’s disastrous turn of events. The parents, sick with worry over their phone calls not having got through, show up just in time. Widmark is not far behind, as is the House Detective.

Monroe comes unglued on Elisha Cook Jr.

Monroe is a shattered, broken mess, crouching in the corner of the hotel room. A fragile shell of a woman that might, at any moment, be carried away with the wind, like dust, never to be seen again. And, as far as she is aware, her disappearance would matter just as much as dust particles in the wind. And so she sneaks away, unnoticed by Widmark, her uncle and the detective.

Her walk down the corridor is a death march. She leans against the wall for support. Her beautiful eyes wide and full of numbed confusion. Her perfect face cracked with the deep stain of lost, desperate tears. This is not Nell Forbes. This is not Marilyn Monroe. This is Norma Jeane Mortenson. For the final 10 minutes of the film, she is exposed: for all her cosmetic perfection, she is raw and imperfect, alone and afraid, desperate to feel the warmth of love and kindness and respect but all-too aware that she never will. What was Marilyn thinking and feeling during that long, languorous dolly shot? Was she thinking of her own childhood with a mother gone mad? Was she painfully aware of how much she actually had in common with the emotionally spent state of Nell? Whatever the case, there is an infinite depth in those glazed wide eyes, and to a modern audience it is acutely obvious that this emotion is coming from some place very, very deep within.

And when Widmark finds her, in a daze, with a razor in hand, Bancroft is at Widmark’s side. She is moved by his deep concern. It is the only asexual relationship Monroe will ever have onscreen. She is a child in a woman’s body that Widmark wants to protect.

It would be the story of Monroe’s life.

Monroe and Nell as they become one person on screen. It’s hard to watch when you know what painful emotions lay behind Monroe’s beautiful facade.

The film was released in 1952 while Marilyn was under contract with Fox, just prior to her watershed success in Henry Hathaway’s sexy, Technicolor noir Niagara which would catapult her into super-stardom.   Don’t Bother To Knock was far from sexy. It was not the sort of film, perhaps, audiences wanted to see this white-hot new screen personality in and the film flopped both financially and critically. (Daily Variety, however, was a fan and applauded her performance as “excellent”, and LIFE Magazine keyed in most astutely by calling Monroe’s  performance “the genuine article.” ) It’s a shame this particular role is so seldom discussed. A very real 180 from the soon-to-be sex kitten that Fox would brand her as, Monroe is a revelation here.  Untrained in dramatics, Monroe’s acting coach, Natascha Lyness, confessed “I have to say that I didn’t think she was ready to take on a role of that magnitude. I underestimated her talent… or at the very least, her resolve. The time we spent on the script—two days, no sleep—was very dramatic and passionate and filled with angst, like Marilyn herself. In the end, she did such a great job that Zanuck saw fit to writer her a note to congratulate her, which surprised thrilled her to no end. She was so insecure and unsure of her ability that any validation at all was considered high praise.” Zanuck may have flattered Monroe, but he had no intention of making a habit of such unglamorous, dramatic parts. “She’s a dumb tomato and half-crazy to boot,” he is reported to have said about Monroe in the film. “In each picture she’ll earn her keep, but no more dramatic roles.” Monroe would stretch her range in Niagara as an emotionally manipulative femme fatale but the role capitalized completely on Monroe’s sex appeal. It was branded as sex. And that’s all anyone saw: explosive, on-your-knees-slave sex. A presence so overpowering, that no one could (or wanted to) see the actress, so strongly competent right in front of them.

As Rose in Niagara.

As Cherie in Bus Stop.

As Joslyn in her final film, The Misfits

Marilyn’s close friend Montgomery Clift, himself an outspoken foe of the Hollywood studio system, later made this comment on Marilyn’s stunted growth as an actress following Don’t Bother to Knock: “Fox wanted to keep a tight grip and drain her dry. Marilyn had a right to make the choice not to demean herself. But the boss wouldn’t let her. They didn’t want an actress. That’s what they’d agreed upon. They sat at their round table and decide that Marilyn wasn’t capable of making a relevant decision.”

Clift would work with Marilyn 8 years later on her final film (and his third to final), John Huston’s The Misfits. Brilliant but doomed like Marilyn, a friend noted “Monty and Marilyn were psychic twins. They were on the same wavelength. They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.” Clift, considered to be one of the most gifted actors of his generation, would call Marilyn the finest actress he ever worked with.

The Misfits, to many, is Marilyn’s finest strongest performance. Written for her by then-husband Arthur Miller, the role could probably be played by any actress… but none as broken and Marilyn’s. Her Method training had allowed her to transcend written lines and bare herself completely. It is a testament to the fragile-yet-formidable talent first unveiled in Don’t Bother to Knock, made undeniable in Bus Stop, and forever cemented in The Misfits.

Of her relationship with her Method acting coach, the legendary Paula Strasberg, Monroe said simply “Whatever road leads to growth, you take.” And if Don’t Bother to Knock, Bus Stop, and The Misfits prove anything, it’s that Marilyn took those risks and traveled those roads that no one believed she should, or could, travel.  Thankfully, even though we lost her so many decades ago, these rarely appreciated artistic triumphs live,  forever, on film. Who knows. Maybe one day we’ll finally recognize her as the deeply human actress she truly was. Instead of the icon Hollywood created.

For Your Consideration: The Year Classic Film Made a Comeback

“Awards! All this town does is give awards! Best Fascist Dictator, Adolf Hitler!” – Woody Allen, Annie Hall

If by chance you are unfamiliar with how the Awards season works, here’s a brief outline: Studios tend to release their real Oscar contenders (i.e., films with any sort of non-mainstream artistic merit) until the year’s final Quarter when, badda bing badda boom, theatres find themselves gorged with posters fairly grafittied by four stars and gratuitous praise– all of which prominently feature the words BEST FILM OF THE YEAR in bolded Times New Roman.  Courting the attentions of voting members of the Academy and industry guilds, these films bottleneck around Thanksgiving, just in time for the first in a long slew of awards nominations. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association unofficially kicks off the Oscar race with the Golden Globes, followed in quick succession by the major industry guild awards, The PGA, DGA and SAG, all of which have a heavy influence on the Oscar outcome (the DGA has failed to predict the best director Oscar only 7 times in the past 60 years). The BAFTAs roll around in early February and, by then, the hotly contended Oscar race has been wined and dined until the Academy members’ votes have been more or less… secured.  If this sounds like a well-oiled political machine, that’s because it is. By the time Oscar night rolls around, the odds are so firmly fixed that there are few, if any, surprises.

But.

What does surprise me this year, with Awards season just now kicking into high gear, is that fact that four of the films garnering the most amount of critical accolades are in fact nods to classic film.

I’m talking about, of course, Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist.

From Simon Curtis, in his feature film directorial debut, comes My Week With Marilyn, featuring Michelle Williams taking on (arguably) *the* pop culture icon of the 20th century. The story centers on the filming of Laurence Olivier’s tumultuous production The Prince and the Showgirl where a very young man (Eddie Redemayne) grabs a job on the shoot, meets Marilyn Monroe, and ends up spending a week with her at a guest cottage. And yes, it’s based on a true story. Or at least, a memoir. I’m sure I’m not alone in being rather, shall we say, protective when it comes to portrayals of Marilyn since stereotype and sensationalism so often cheapen the woman behind the image. My Week With Marilyn is a flawed film about a flawed woman, and I suppose that’s what makes it work so well.  Williams may not be Marilyn’s doppleganger, per se, but what Williams absolutely commands is the fragility and loneliness that so consumed Marilyn. The film may lack somewhat in plot, but is entirely forgiven by performance. It is also, let’s be honest, total eye candy for classic film lovers. We get to revel in the early golden years of Pinewood Studios, and are treated to appearances by such classic film luminaries as Laurence Olivier (a solid Kenneth Branagh) Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), and even Jack Cardiff (Karl Moffat)! Although charming and sentimental, My Week With Marilyn relies on neither.

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS ; Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO

Woody Allen’s unapologetically sentimental Midnight in Paris was released earlier this year, but has enjoyed a recent For Your Consideration awards campaign that has put it squarely in Oscar contention. The film, in many ways, mirrors Allen’s 1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo: in Cairo an unhappy housewife sought relief at her local theatre, while Paris tells the whimsical tale of an idealistic Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson) who, while on holiday with his very ‘L.A.’ fiancee (Rachel McAdams), finds creative freedom and whirlwind love in 1920s Paris. Literally. A mysterious black taxi cab pulls up  in front of his hotel and whisks him away to a hole in time– make that a watering hole in time. A left bank cafe whose regulars are the none other than the artistic superstars of the ‘20s: Ernest Hemingway, Salvidor Dali, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds– and a beautiful young flapper (Marion Cotillard). While Midnight in Paris is not technically a ‘Hollywood’ movie, and lacks the gut-wrenching stomach punch that makes Cairo such a classic, Paris is still the sort of fanciful grown-up fairy tale that hearkens back to a day when studios were still brave enough (and young enough) to take creative risks– it is a film that could only be made by a  a classic film enthusiast like Allen.

Rather like Allen’s cineaste colleague Marty Scorsese…

Asa Butterfield in HUGO; Harold Lloyd in SAFETY LAST

Like Allen, this proud New Yorker has chosen the City of Lights for his family-friendly offering. Hugo is currently being packaged and marketed as a Holiday family film of feel-good fluff.  Talk about false advertising. Sure, Hugo is family friendly, but it is hardly Holiday fluff. Scorsese, a masterful storyteller, has created a  dazzling film that, at its core, is a lesson in film history, a case for film preservation, and an unabashed love letter to the cinema. (As if one could expect anything less from Marty, cineaste supreme and film preservation champion.) Orphaned when his clockmaker father (Jude Law) is killed in a museum fire, Hugo takes to minding the clocks at a grand Beaux Arts train station, ducking the comically villainous policeman (Sacha Baron Cohen) by weaving in and out of secret nooks and crannies. Just as the clocks never stop ticking, neither does Hugo’s sharp mind– nor his light fingers– which deftly scrape the station for scraps of food and scraps of junk from an old man’s joke shop (a fantastic Ben Kingsley). The boy is desperate to repair a broken automaton, which is his last tangible connection with his father, and is convinced that the automaton is holding a secret message. He’s right… kind of. With the help of spunky, wide-eyed adventuress Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who happens to be the crotchety old joke shop owner’s niece, Hugo unlocks much more than he imaged. It is 1931 and young Hugo is a movie lover– movie going being one of his favorite pastimes with his late father– and he introduces them to Isabelle who has been banned from the movies by her uncle. They gasp and laugh in wonder at Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock in Safety Last (a feat Hugo mimics later in the film) and, it soon becomes clear why Isabelle’s uncle is so opposed to them. The man is none other than Georges Méliès, the first great artist of the cinema, and also the first true casualty of the film business. In a wondrous stretch of visual narrative, Scorsese recreates Méliès’ magical early days of invention and inspiration in dazzling 3D that is a tremendous thrill for film fans. Scorsese’s vivid recreation of A Trip to the Moon (1902) itself is worth the price of admission. Méliès, broken and shadowed by oblivion for so many decades, finds a new beginning through Hugo’s large blue eyes, just as Hugo finds a surrogate father figure in Méliès. They, in effect, fix each other. Too sugary sweet? Maybe, but hardly superficial, and like the classic films that so inspired Scorsese, the result is magic. Will kids bite Scorsese’s clever bate, which is so obviously geared at introducing classic films to a new audience? One can only hope…

Jean Deaujardin in THE ARTIST; Fredric March in A STAR IS BORN

And finally, from French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius comes a film not set in Paris, but rather Hollywood 1927 during the onset of sound.  The Artist is a silent film, shot in black and white in 4:3 aspect ratio and worked from a scenario– not a script. Which means The Artist is The Real McCoy. Whimsical, gorgeous, and at times, just plain magical.

Trust me, no one was more skeptical than I going into The Artist. Just who did this Michel Hazanavicius think he was, anyway? What could he possibly know about silent filmmaking. I am happy to say that my misgivings were ill founded. Hazanavicius is completely in control here.

He is highly fluent with the grammar of silent film narrative. Occasionally, perhaps he understands it a little too well– Hazanivicius’ formulaic setup keeping me from being completely immersed in material. (And total  immersion is what silent film is all about– being completely absorbed in the pure magic of shadow and light). A film critic friend of mine shrugged when I mentioned this, replying that “silent melodramas were all pretty formulaic.” I bit my tongue. In fact, I have decided to bite my tongue about all of my nitpicks with The Artist. (i.e., Kinograph Studios not doing a sound test on its stars until 1929 when sound had in fact already taken over.) because this is NOT a historical film, it is a silent melodrama set in Hollywood.

And who cares that George Valentin (Jean Dujardin)’s tragic story is actually A Star is Born 3.0 (although the performance does, I say, give Fredric March some serious competition.) the fact is he nails it. And when we finally do hear Valentin’s voice, in the final seconds of the film, the fact that he has a French accent is a marvelous kick.

What is also exciting, for silent film enthusiasts, is the reaction of the audience. At a time when the theater going experience is becoming more and more insular, the shared experience of a dark theater becoming less and less of a cultural pasttime, it was so wonderfully (I hate the overuse of this word but no other will do) organic to hear nothing but music and laughter for 90 minutes. (And speaking of music, classic film fans will swoon over the fact that the film’s emotional climax relies entirely on Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score from Vertigo!)

And also, vindicating. An art form over 100 years old still has the power to entertain and charm mainstream audiences… hopefully, the critical success of The Artist means that someone will come along with the balls to prove that silent film also has the power to enlighten!

The Misfits and the End of an Era

"Honey, we all got to go sometime, reason or no reason. Dyin's as natural as livin'. The man who's too afraid to die is too afraid to live." Clark Gable in The Misfits

Another public apology, this time to the marvelous Shadowplay blog– a longtime Pictorial favorite. I agreed to participate in their recent The Late Films Blogathon: a week long look at the final films of directors, actors and writers. A fascinating concept and I was psyched to participate and… absolutely bollocked it up. More than a week overdue, here’s my entry. Major apologies to Shadowplay– one of the best damn blogs on the web.

By 1961, the Hollywood Studio System had begun a slow rot from the inside out which would, by decade’s end, see to its total collapse thus ending the Golden Age of classical Hollywood. The Misfits, directed by John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller, is a fascinating relic from those years in flux that bewildered its audiences just as much as it bewildered the execs.  On paper, the words Clark Gable (the king), Marilyn Monroe (the queen) and Montgomery Clift (the rebel) looked like box office magic. The result is a mixed bag that would be Gable and Monroe’s final film, and one of Clift’s last.

So if you’ve not seen The Misfits, it is a semi-romantic drama revolving around a curious love quadrangle: Aging cowboy (Gable) falls for a beautiful but damaged divorcee (Monroe) and the two set up, uh, housekeeping in a cottage in the Nevada desert belonging to Gable’s friend (Eli Wallach) who also happens to have the hots for Monroe, but she seems to be more emotionally attached to their punch-drunk friend Perce (Clift). It’s an odd structure, perhaps due to the fact that there isn’t any, as Miller masquerades a deeply intimate, and highly modern, character study as a Western romance.

It was no secret that Miller wrote the screenplay for his wife. The role of Roslyn could have been played by anyone, sure, but perhaps no other performance would have been nearly as truthful. In The Misfits, Marilyn is not acting. She is Marilyn– exposed and naked and shivering in the scalding Nevada sun. There is a moment towards the end of the film when Monroe accompanies Gable, Wallach and Clift to go “mustang’n” as they call it (roping up herds of wild mustang), where Marilyn erupts in a way that is, to this day, unsettling. The emotionally fragile Monroe, who has been horrified by the ferocity required in Gable and Wallach’s trade, finally has a meltdown. She is a white dot in the Nevada desert, screaming “MURDERERS” with blood-curdling tremor. Clift, the one emotional connection she has in the film, senses she’s right and, usurping Gable’s leadership, sets them free.

Monroe hated the moment.” He could have written me anything, and he comes up with this. If that’s what he thinks of me, then I’m not for him and he’s not for me.”

The emotional instability and frustrated relationships on the screen absolutely mirror what was going on behind the scenes.

By the time filming began in the High Sierras, the Miller/Monroe marriage was over. The two weren’t on speaking terms, although for sake of keeping up appearances, they shared a suite on location. But the cast and crew on this hellish shoot found themselves inadvertently herded off like the mustangs, into separate camps: Camp Miller and Camp Monroe.

Monroe, never the easiest actress to work with, had by this time become so addicted to pills that it was almost impossible for her to work. She suffered from acute insomnia, taking up to four Nembutals a night, and still could not sleep. As result of her insomnia, and a drug-induced state of paranoia, Monroe caused extreme delays in shooting, shutting down production entirely on three separate occasions.

Marilyn on set (copyright Magnum photos)

Clift too had reached a crisis point in both his professional and personal life and, being an insomniac like Monroe, was similarly dependent on pills. His alcoholism had earned him a high-risk reputation that made the Misfits crew apprehensive. Producer Frank Taylor was kept on 24-hour call should Monroe or Clift have … an emergency.  “Monroe and Clift were psychic twins,” said Taylor. “They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.”

There in the midst of Monroe’s endless delays, Miller’s frantic rewrites, Huston’s laissez-faire directorial approach (he seemed more interested in the gambling casinos than anything else), and Clift’s drug problem, Clark Gable labored to remain a true professional.

In the film, Gable’s character is a Cowboy forced to face the fact that (to steal from Margaret Mitchell) his civilization is one that has gone with the wind. The same was true of Gable himself, on the Misfits set.

Gable was, after all, The King of Hollywood: a veteran of screen who had weathered personal tragedies and career highs and lows with resounding resilience. Gable was a pro from the Studios System era when actors were, beneath all the glamour, 9-5 blue collar workers: they were up at 5am, were expected to show up on time, know their lines, and the directors were to get the job done on time and on budget. And so, the 59 year old, now looking older than his years, found himself on a set more or less rooted in chaos. The troubled shoot’s endless delays plagued Gable, who would retreat in the off hours to work on his new car and race it around the desert. As Gable became increasingly dissatisfied with the project, he began to drank heavily. (To say that Gable held his liquor better than his costars is quite an understatement.)

Gable was also unnerved by the acting approach of his costars: Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach were all Method actors. Monroe’s close friend and acting coach happened to be Paula Strasberg who was a constant presence on the set. Gable came from a more… square shooting school of acting, perhaps best summed up by Jimmy Cagney: know your mark and know your lines. And still Gable tried his best not to complain, and more importantly, remain sympathetic to everyone, especially Monroe and Clift.

From Warren Harris’ Gable biography:  “Monroe finally tottered out in stiletto heels and a low cut white dress, marched straight over to Gable and apologized for the delay. Gable put his arms around her and said, You’re not late honey,” and took her by the hand and led her to a quiet corner for a private chat. Whatever Gable told her made her giggle and then laugh out loud. From then on they had a cordial working relationship.”

The King & Queen of Hollywood

One of the few times Gable did throw something of a fit (and for good reason) occurred only after having been pushed to the limit by Clift, whose scenes often required many retakes. Clift was ad-libbing with Gable in a scene and took to playfully punching Gable in the arm. Gable had arthritis. After repeatedly telling Clift to stop (which only made the at times mischievous Clift do it more) Gable lost it and, in the middle of the take, bellowed “FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, CUT THAT OUT!”

Clift burst into tears.

Shooting stopped.

One can only imagine the look of disbelief on Gable’s face as he turned to the crew and shouted “What in the fuck is the world coming to!”

Only weeks later, on November 6 1960, Gable suffered a massive heart attack and, ten days later, the King of Hollywood was dead.

Gable’s refreshingly honest self effacing personality, manifest from the earliest days of his stardom, proved true even in death with his request of a closed casket. “I don’t want a bunch of strangers staring down at my wrinkles and fat belly when I’m dead.” This straightforward quality mirrors an interview from the glory days of the 1930s: “I don’t believe I’m king of anything. I’m not much of an actor… I’m no Adonis, and I’m as American as the telephone poles I used to climb to make a living. [Men] see me broke, in trouble, scared… they see me making love to Harlow or Colbert and they say if he can do it, I can do it, and figure it’ll be fun to go home and  make love to their wives.”

As is often the habit, Hollywood was eager to point blame on a premature death. Monroe’s behavior was such a stress on Gable it gave him a heart attack. Huston not using a double for Gable gave him a heart attack.

Gable and the end of an era...

Kay Gable’s now famous remarks to Louella Parsons are more or less the reason for this.

“It wasn’t the physical exertion that killed him, it was the horrible tension, that eternal waiting, waiting, waiting. He waited around forever, for everybody. He’d get so angry that he’d just go ahead and do anything to keep occupied. That’s why he did those awful horse scenes where they dragged him on his stomach. He had a stand-in and a stuntman, but he did most of it himself. I told him ‘your’e crazy’ but he wouldn’t listen.”

From John Huston’s autobiography: “One of the myths attached to ‘The Misfits’ was that Clark Gable died of a heart attack because of over-exertion on this film. This is utter nonsense. Toward the end of the picture there was a contest between Clark and the stallion the cowboys had captured. It looked like rough work, and it was, but it was the stunt men who were thrown around, not Clark.”

NOT a stunt double.

There is no denying the fact that The Misfits proved enormous strain on Gable, physically and emotionally. But. Be that as it may, the truth is, The Misfits didn’t directly kill Gable anymore than the Kennedy’s killed Marilyn. The strenuous Misfits shoot did not cause Gable’s premature death– but at the same time, cannot be disqualified as one of its many contributing factors.

Monroe did not attend Gable’s funeral (although Miller did), although it is reported she cried for two days straight after hearing the shocking news.

One year and nine months later, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Beverly Hills home.

Upon learning of Monroe’s death, which shook Clift greatly, he was noted as having said ‘Hollywood deaths always come in threes. First Gable, now Marilyn… who’s next.’

Clift would make two more films after The Misfits: Huston’s Freud and Raoul Levy’s The Defector: the first a mistake from start to finish ensuring Clift’s inability to work anywhere in Hollywood and leading to the last film, a European spy flick filmed on the Continent. Like Gable, Clift would die of a heart attack before its release.

The eerie lyrcisism of Miller’s words would prove to be hauntingly prophetic: “Honey, nothing can live unless something dies.”

Pictorial Palette: Gene Tierney

The Beautiful Gene Tierney ... beautiful is not a strong enough word!

When it comes to Technicolor, there are some names that are inextricably linked with that definitive Classic Hollywood process. Marilyn Monroe and her flaming pink Niagara dress? Vivien Leigh and her crimson negligee in Gone With the Wind? Classic. But while most people equate Gene Tierney with the sultry, smoky, definitively film noir shadows of black and white cinema, for me her ethereal beauty was simply made for Technicolor. Tierney’s extraordinary beauty is a matter of record. That stunning Laura portrait of her is matched only by the flesh itself– and bested in her subsequent color films. Leave Her to Heaven, with Leon Shamroy’s decadent cinematography, is her most famous color film. But even in her frivolous forays, like On the Riviera with Danny Kaye, the Technicolor Tierney is impossibly perfect.

This shot, fresh and carefree, is my personal favorite photo of Tierney. Young and energetic, she was still some time yet from those dark demons that would come to possess her.  The tragedy of her daughter’s birth was years off, and her internal personal battle, although prevalent, was not yet consuming.

I love the hope and life and genuine spark of this week’s Pictorial palette– and hope that Gene, a beautiful woman inside and out, enjoyed more of these joyful moments than her legend suggests.

the palette: #4E3CB6; #D92F4C; #F9ECE4; #271F5A

The Jean Harlow Blogathon – Day 5

Day Five of the Jean Harlow Blogathon

Baby Jean (Colorized by CLAROSUREAUX)

Here we are already on Day 5 of the Jean Harlow Blogathon, and judging by today’s entries there’s no sign of slowing down! You guys are on fire!

Lots of goodies to choose from today, from a highly intelligent social essay to a gallery of glamorous stills, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone in today’s roundup.

***

A Shroud of Thoughts

Terry over at A Shroud of Thoughts gives Harlow a lot of love with “Happy 100th Birthday”, zeroing in particularly on her sense of humor:

She proved a formidable comedy talent in the Anita Loos comedy The Gril From Missouri (1934). A few years later in Wife vs. Secretary she proved a match even for Myrna Loy when it came to comedy. That her talent for comedy must have been inborn can be seen in her many, often funny quotes, some of them worthy of even Mae West.

(read more)

***

Platinum Page

Marathon Blogathon Blogger Lisa at The Platinum Page has posted Twinkle, Twinkle, Star of the month, her 5th entry for the Blogathon. It’s a nice rundown of TCM’s March schedule for Jean’s films and I especially like that she highlighted Robert Osborne’s lovely thoughts on Harlow:

Costars and friends such as Myrna Loy and Rosalind Russell certainly thought so. They were among those who, three decades after Harlow’s death, were so insulted by a salacious book about their long gone friend that each went on numerous television talk shows with fire in her eyes to repudiate the author’s words and defend Harlow’s reputation.

It takes an extraordinary person to inspire that kind of devotion.  It’s that lively lady we think you’ll thoroughly enjoy spending time with Tuesdays in March on TCM, beginning March 8.

(read more)

***

Clarosureaux

Kevin  at Clarosureaux has yet another batch of beautifully colorized images of Harlow that really is terrific eye candy—including the gorgeous photo of featured above.

***

Garbo Laughs

And speaking of eye candy, Caroline at Garbo Laughs has dedicated her Friday Glam Span to Harlow with a selection of simply decadent stills.

***

Comets Over Hollywood

Very happy to have Comet Over Hollywood joining us today. “Curtain Call” is a close look at Harlow’s final film, Saratoga:

Frankly, the plot is predictable and typical of a Clark Gable movie.  I personally think it was only saved by Jean Harlow’s comedic wit and beauty.  Jean Arthur would have been terrible in the role and Virginia Bruce would have been just as predictable. The film would have fallen flat.

But at the same time, I almost wish the film had been shelved, much like Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished movie “Something’s Got to Give” (Though the difference is “Saratoga” nearly done and Monroe’s movie just starting).  I’m not saying that I’m not thankful to see one last glimpse of Jean alive and well, but it’s heart breaking to watch.  You see her at the beginning of the movie very beautiful and very much alive.  It’s like watching someone on the street, knowing they are about to die, but they have no clue…

(read more)

***

Via Margutta 51

Clara’ delightful Red Headed Woman on Twitter concludes with Via Margutta’s fun (and funny) finish to the Lil/Bill love affair!

***

Sinamatic Salve-Ation

Ariel at Sinamatic Salve-Ation returns in top form with  “The Rich Dividends of Sin: Women and Hollywood in the ‘30s. Folks, this post is essential reading. An extremely well written essay on sex, censorship and how women like Harlow, Mae West and Ruth Chatterton challenged the system:

Pre-Code films have recently become a popular area of research, over the last few years. There have been several books and even some documentaries made about the existence of, and circumstances surrounding them. This “unearthing” of these documents is integral to our appreciation of the rest of film history, but most importantly the image of women in film history. In regards to his work on the subject, and his book, Mick LaSalle said that he believes that “the real audience for this subject is young women… Young women are amazed by these films because it reassures them that they’re not some kind of a modern-day anomaly.” It’s nice to have that reassurance.

(read more)

***

Shadowplay

Shadowplay is a cineaste playground and it rounds out today’s digest with “Punchy” — a spotlight of a Harlow rarity, Tod Browning’s Iron Man, and a Laurel and Hardy short, Bacon Grabbers. Shadowplay is a Pictorial favorite, with its content seamlessly skirting from austere to eccentric to classic and back again with almost dizzying dexterity. The film didn’t dazzle, but makes for a good read:

Browning did like his talk pretty ssslllooowwww (but his last movie, MIRACLES FOR SALE, is unexpectedly zippy), but here the sheer lack of interest in the situations seems to seep through everything and everyone.

But those furs are pretty impressive.
(read more)

***

The Jean Harlow Blogathon – Day 5

Day Five of the Jean Harlow Blogathon

Baby Jean (Colorized by CLAROSUREAUX)

Here we are already on Day 5 of the Jean Harlow Blogathon, and judging by today’s entries there’s no sign of slowing down! You guys are on fire!

Lots of goodies to choose from today, from a highly intelligent social essay to a gallery of glamorous stills, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone in today’s roundup.

***

A Shroud of Thoughts

Terry over at A Shroud of Thoughts gives Harlow a lot of love with “Happy 100th Birthday”, zeroing in particularly on her sense of humor:

She proved a formidable comedy talent in the Anita Loos comedy The Gril From Missouri (1934). A few years later in Wife vs. Secretary she proved a match even for Myrna Loy when it came to comedy. That her talent for comedy must have been inborn can be seen in her many, often funny quotes, some of them worthy of even Mae West.

(read more)

***

Platinum Page

Marathon Blogathon Blogger Lisa at The Platinum Page has posted Twinkle, Twinkle, Star of the month, her 5th entry for the Blogathon. It’s a nice rundown of TCM’s March schedule for Jean’s films and I especially like that she highlighted Robert Osborne’s lovely thoughts on Harlow:

Costars and friends such as Myrna Loy and Rosalind Russell certainly thought so. They were among those who, three decades after Harlow’s death, were so insulted by a salacious book about their long gone friend that each went on numerous television talk shows with fire in her eyes to repudiate the author’s words and defend Harlow’s reputation.

It takes an extraordinary person to inspire that kind of devotion.  It’s that lively lady we think you’ll thoroughly enjoy spending time with Tuesdays in March on TCM, beginning March 8.

(read more)

***

Clarosureaux

Kevin  at Clarosureaux has yet another batch of beautifully colorized images of Harlow that really is terrific eye candy—including the gorgeous photo of featured above.

***

Garbo Laughs

And speaking of eye candy, Caroline at Garbo Laughs has dedicated her Friday Glam Span to Harlow with a selection of simply decadent stills.

***

Comets Over Hollywood

Very happy to have Comet Over Hollywood joining us today. “Curtain Call” is a close look at Harlow’s final film, Saratoga:

Frankly, the plot is predictable and typical of a Clark Gable movie.  I personally think it was only saved by Jean Harlow’s comedic wit and beauty.  Jean Arthur would have been terrible in the role and Virginia Bruce would have been just as predictable. The film would have fallen flat.

But at the same time, I almost wish the film had been shelved, much like Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished movie “Something’s Got to Give” (Though the difference is “Saratoga” nearly done and Monroe’s movie just starting).  I’m not saying that I’m not thankful to see one last glimpse of Jean alive and well, but it’s heart breaking to watch.  You see her at the beginning of the movie very beautiful and very much alive.  It’s like watching someone on the street, knowing they are about to die, but they have no clue…

(read more)

***

Via Margutta 51

Clara’ delightful Red Headed Woman on Twitter concludes with Via Margutta’s fun (and funny) finish to the Lil/Bill love affair!

***

Sinamatic Salve-Ation

Ariel at Sinamatic Salve-Ation returns in top form with  “The Rich Dividends of Sin: Women and Hollywood in the ‘30s. Folks, this post is essential reading. An extremely well written essay on sex, censorship and how women like Harlow, Mae West and Ruth Chatterton challenged the system:

Pre-Code films have recently become a popular area of research, over the last few years. There have been several books and even some documentaries made about the existence of, and circumstances surrounding them. This “unearthing” of these documents is integral to our appreciation of the rest of film history, but most importantly the image of women in film history. In regards to his work on the subject, and his book, Mick LaSalle said that he believes that “the real audience for this subject is young women… Young women are amazed by these films because it reassures them that they’re not some kind of a modern-day anomaly.” It’s nice to have that reassurance.

(read more)

***

Shadowplay

Shadowplay is a cineaste playground and it rounds out today’s digest with “Punchy” — a spotlight of a Harlow rarity, Tod Browning’s Iron Man, and a Laurel and Hardy short, Bacon Grabbers. Shadowplay is a Pictorial favorite, with its content seamlessly skirting from austere to eccentric to classic and back again with almost dizzying dexterity. The film didn’t dazzle, but makes for a good read:

Browning did like his talk pretty ssslllooowwww (but his last movie, MIRACLES FOR SALE, is unexpectedly zippy), but here the sheer lack of interest in the situations seems to seep through everything and everyone.

But those furs are pretty impressive.
(read more)

***