Watching With Warner: ANGEL FACE (1952)

And now for something completely different…

One of the things I like the most about films from the Warner Archive is that there is such a variety of films available, from pre-codes (which we will be getting into next month for sure), to comedies, to melodramas, and historical dramas. The first two films of my watch-a-thon were definitely comedies but for my third film we are going to the complete other side of the spectrum for a film noir from Otto Preminger.

One night in Beverly Hills a call goes out to the local ambulance company.  Two drivers are dispatched to the estate of Catherine and Charles Tremayne, but by the time that they arrive the patient is already being treated by the doctor.  Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil) has suffered the effects of gas inhalation from the fireplace in her room.  She insists that someone has tried to murder her, but her husband Charles (Herbert Marshall) and the doctor dismiss the idea.  When the key to the gas shut off is found in the back of the fireplace by driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) the suggestion that Catherine might have tried to commit suicide is brought up.  Charles dismisses that as well and Frank is told that he is no longer needed.  On his way out of the house Frank comes across the beautiful Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons), daughter to Charles and stepdaughter to Catherine.  Frank tells Diane that her stepmother is going to be fine and Diane becomes hysterical.  Frank slaps her to stop her hysterics, and Diane slaps him in return.  When Frank explains it wasn’t anything personal, Diane apologizes but later follows Frank after he gets off of work.  Frank goes to a local diner to call his girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman), but gets no answer.  His disappointment is soon forgotten, however, when Diane appears and offers to go to dinner with him and later dancing.

Over dinner and drinks, Diane tells Frank about how her father used to be a famous novelist but he has not written a thing since marrying Catherine.  She then asks Frank about himself and Mary, and soon learns that Frank is a former race car driver who has aspirations of owning his own garage in the future.  As for Mary, Frank relates that she is a hospital receptionist with blonde hair and blue eyes, and has been saving money to help Frank open his garage.  The next day Diane invites the unsuspecting Mary to lunch.  Under the guise of offering to help lend Frank money for his garage, Diane lets Mary know that she and Frank spent the previous evening together.  Mary quickly catches on to Diane’s true intentions and rejects her offer, but does admit that her faith in Frank has been shaken.  She has more reason to doubt Frank when, later that day, he lies again about his activities the night before.  Mary reveals that she had lunch with Diane and knows everything about their date, and then agrees to go out with Frank’s partner Bill instead of him.  Diane meanwhile has convinced her family that they need a chauffeur and, during a moonlit drive and some kissing, convinces Frank that he should take the job to help fund his garage.

Working at the Tremayne household is going well for Frank, especially when Diane tells him that Catherine has agreed to consider funding his garage.  Frank goes to present his business plan to Catherine who, while suspicious of Diane’s motives, agrees to talk to her lawyer about the garage.  However, when she calls his office she finds that her attorney is out-of-town and won’t be back for at least a week.  Later that day, during a secret meeting, Diane shows Frank the crumpled papers of his business proposal that she claims to have found in Catherine’s wastebasket.  Diane complains to Frank that Catherine is doing everything she can just to hurt her.  She claims that Catherine uses Diane’s love for her father, who is weak-willed and bad with money, as a way to control her.  Frank tells Diane not to worry too much about the garage plans but Diane won’t hear of it.  Later that night Diane comes into Frank’s apartment over the garage and claims to have just survived an attempt on her life.  She tells Frank that Catherine snuck into her room and opened the gas, just like what had happened before.  But if she thinks that Frank is going to be a push over, Diane is in for a surprise.  Frank refuses to believe her story and orders her back to her room to consider what she is really trying to do.  He says he knows that Diane hates her stepmother but she needs to stop and reconsider her actions before she does anything rash.  Stunned, Diane agrees and leaves the apartment.  The next day Frank visits Mary and tells her that he is quitting the job with the Tremaynes.  Upon his return to the estate he begins to pack his suitcase when Diane finds him.  She shows him her own packed suitcase and begs him not to leave her, to take her with him.  Frank finally relents, after admitting that he is in love with Diane, and agrees to wait a few more days before leaving but only if Diane takes the time to seriously think over their situation.

The next day Catherine is searching the house for Frank when she instead finds Diane.  Frank has gone into town and won’t be back for several hours, and Catherine needs to go to a bridge tournament.  Resolving to drive herself, Catherine borrows Diane’s car (at her insistence) and prepares to leave when she is approached by Charles.  Charles asks his wife to drop him off in town on her way out and she agrees.  She puts the car into drive and presses down on the gas, but the car lurches backwards and speeds off a cliff and down into a ravine.  Her father and step-mother lying dead below, Diane calmly plays the piano inside.  Following some investigation Diane is arrested under suspicion of murder, but she isn’t the only one.  Frank is also arrested and is to be tried along with Diane in the murder of the Tremaynes.

This is a movie that I had caught several times but always halfway through.  Finally seeing the whole story made me realize what an underrated noir this is.  While it isn’t on the same level as a film like OUT OF THE PAST, this is still an intriguing and well told story.  There are definite tones of LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN here, the woman who wants to have love all to herself, which was made about seven years prior.  There are differences of course, including Diane’s remorse about involving Frank in her crimes and her devastation at the death of her father and Catherine.  The real fun of this movie is to watch it while asking the question, is Diane just crazy the whole time or is there something more?  If you go into it with this question in mind then the whole film takes on a much more complex tone.

Otto Preminger made one of my other favorite noirs, the terrific LAURA, and you can the similarities between the films.  The way he uses conversation to move the plot along, the way that the small moments have just as much impact as the large, really make this a unique film.  The production was not without problems however.  This was Jean Simmon’s last picture while under contract with Howard Hughes.  In an attempt to dissuade Hughes from using her in the film, thereby running out her contract, Simmons cut her hair as she knew Hughes preferred long hair.  Hughes responded by casting her in this film and forcing her to wear a wig throughout production, he also promised Preminger a bonus if he completed filming before Simmons’ contract was up.  Preminger did just that and collected his bonus.  Another story tells of how Mitchum grew frustrated by Preminger’s repeated re-takes which required him to slap Simmons repeatedly.  Finally, Mitchum slapped Preminger and asked if that was how he wanted it.  Preminger was furious and demanded that Hughes replace Mitchum, which Hughes obviously refused to do.

While this is not one of the best noirs, I think it is much more underrated than it deserves to be.  The story isn’t new but the character of Diane is much more complicated than I think she first appears.  Frank Jessup is a terrific character as well, because he is not a willing patsy to Diane’s scheming.  In fact, contrary to the men in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, Frank is well aware of Diane’s games and schemes.  He knows her true intentions and has no desire to put up with them, something he tells her to her face.  It is the fact that he knows what she is and what she is capable of but still loves her that makes this noir so tragic.

Even now I find myself thinking about parts of this film and coming to new realizations about the characters and their motivations.  Any film that can provoke that sort of thought is definitely worthwhile.

Watching With Warner: THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944)

Another fantastic offering from the Warner Archive, and another installment in my month-long Warner watch-a-thon!  This time it is THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, a truly wonderful film from the brilliant mind of Preston Sturges.  The miracle of this film just might be that he managed to get it past the censors because this is one of the most pre-code post-code movies I have seen!

Governor McGinty, played by Brian Donlevy, (an inside joke for you Preston Sturges fans) is in his office just before Christmas when he receives a frantic call from the editor of a newspaper in a little town called Morgan’s Creek.  He has a fantastical tale to relate to the governor, and when the governor finds out what the story is about he calls all his advisors and aides to his office immediately to hear the story.  The editor begins his tale…

The Morgan’s Creek newspapers are full of warnings about the dangers of young women and soldiers having a good time.  Beware the horror of the wartime marriage!  After reading this the town policeman, Officer Kockenlocker (William Demarest), decides that there is no way that his daughter is going out to the farewell dance for the soldiers that night!  His eldest daughter, Trudy (Betty Hutton), is devastated by his refusal but soon comes up with a plan.  She believes that it is her patriotic duty to go out and support the boys, so she enlists the help of her childhood friend Norville (Eddie Bracken).  Poor homely, stuttering, Norville is in love with Trudy but is unable to impress her by enlisting because of his blood pressure.  Trudy had already turned Norville down for a date earlier that morning, so he is beyond thrilled when she calls up and tells him that she changed her mind.  He is still thrilled when he picks her up and says good-bye to her father and younger sister, Emmy (Diana Lynn), and drives to the local movie theater.  He becomes decidedly less thrilled when Trudy reveals her true intentions and asks Norville to wait for her in the theater while she goes to the dance alone.  He finally agrees and even lets Trudy take his car, intending to stay at the theater until 1AM when the last picture is finished.  Trudy happily drives off and is soon having the time of her life at the dance.  However, just one farewell dance is not enough and Trudy goes to not one, not two, but three parties with the soldiers.  Dancing and drinking lemonade everything is going wonderfully until Trudy accidentally jitterbugs into a chandelier.  The next thing she knows it is 8AM and she has just arrived at the theater to get Norville, who keeps implying that she is drunk even though she never had a drink before in her life!  She cannot remember anything about the night before or where she has been, and poor Norville is forced to take the brunt of her father’s anger upon their late return.

It’s just lemonade! Isn’t it?

Later, while taking off her party clothes, Trudy is chatting with Emmy when all of a sudden she has a flash and remembers someone mentioning something about getting married.  The two sisters laugh off the thought until they look down at Trudy’s ring finger.  Desperate to remember who it was she married, Trudy tries to come up with a name but all she can get was that it had a Z in it…sort of like “Ratzkiwatzki”.  When Emmy suggests that they simply go and look up the license Trudy remembers that everyone used a fake name, making it impossible to find out the truth!  Things go from bad to worse when, sometime later, Trudy comes out of the doctor’s office with the news that she is pregnant.  Emmy and Trudy try to come up with a plan of what to do, even going to the local attorney to try to get the marriage deemed illegal.  Unfortunately, even though neither party used their real names and Trudy has no idea who her husband is the marriage is indeed legal.  Emmy now comes up with a new plan and it again involves Norville.  Even though up until now Trudy has resisted Norville’s advances, Emmy now tells her to encourage them as Norville is the perfect candidate to marry Trudy.  Initially resistant to the idea, after all it is bigamy isn’t it, Trudy finally agrees and invites Norville over for dinner.

After a lovely meal with the family, Emmy and her father go off to clear the dishes while Trudy and Norville go out on the front porch to talk.  Trudy hints to Norville that she is open to the idea of marrying him at last and Norville, devoted to Trudy since childhood, is stunned.  He eventually takes the hint and proposes, and then promptly falls off the front porch.  Touched by Norville’s kindness and goodness of heart, Trudy refuses to deceive him any further and tells him everything.  Shocked at first, Norville reiterates his desire to marry Trudy but she refuses.  Now Trudy has begun to see the real Norville and has fallen in love with him for real.  Because of her love, she will not marry him and make him a party to bigamy.  By this time, however, rumors have begun to swirl throughout the small town and these rumors soon make their way back to Trudy’s father.  Unaware of Trudy’s true situation, Officer Kockenlocker uses all of his fatherly talents (and his service revolver) to help convince Norville to propose.

Having recovered from his “talk” with his future father-in-law, Norville now has a flash of brilliance!  Marriage by proxy!  Or at least something like that.  In order for Trudy to get a divorce from Ratzkiwatzki she needs a marriage license with the right names on it.  Norville goes about gathering the needed supplies, ring, money, and military uniform (which appears to be from the time of the rough riders), and returns that evening to retrieve Trudy.  Under the guise of a normal date, the two make their way to the Honeymoon Hotel just about twenty-five miles outside of Morgan’s Creek.  Once there the two begin the ceremony of getting married but when the time comes to sign the license there is a problem.  Trudy has signed her rightful name and Norville has signed his, but has told the proprietor that his name is Ratzkiwatzki.  The man now believes that Norville has kidnapped Trudy and is marrying her against her will, and promptly draws a gun.  Calling to his wife to phone the police, Trudy and Norville are warned not to move.  Imagine the surprise of Emmy and her father when Norville and Trudy return from their date in the back of a squad car, escorted by a bevy of police.

Daughters!

This was a movie that I had heard mentioned several times but had never seen.  And yes, I will admit, I am late to the party but this is a fantastic film!  Watching this I was constantly amazed at the cleverness of the script and the acting in its ability to slip things by the censors.  No one ever mentions drinking alcohol, they talk about drinking lemonade.  The first time that Trudy actually says that she is going to have a baby isn’t until about three-quarters of the way into the film, prior to take it is all done with implications and knowing glances.  One of the extra features on the disc from Warner Archive is a short film about Preston Sturges and his circumventing of the Hayes Office when making this film.  Sturges never provided the censors with a completed script, giving them only a few pages at a time which prevented them from seeing some of the racier content in context.  He also played a good game of following the rules to the exact letter and no more.  For example when the censors suggested that a line be changed from “…people aren’t as dirty-minded as when you were a soldier…”, Sturges changed the line to “people aren’t as evil-minded as when you were a solider”.  See?  All fixed!  I think that is part of what makes this film so much fun, because it is an exercise by Sturges in thumbing his nose at the censors and having them thank him in return.  The fact that a film that talks about bigamy, drunken marriage, one night stands, pregnancy, divorce, abortion, and suicide can not only get by the Hayes office but be fun and funny as well speaks to the genius of its creator.  The genius of Preston Sturges is also the subject of a short film which is another bonus feature on the disc.  Speaking of the disc, the film itself looks gorgeous and is just as crisp and clean as you could hope for.  The Warner Archive has done a great job in remastering this film and putting out the disc!

Betty Hutton is hysterical and remarkably self-assured for being only twenty-two at the time this movie was made.  Rumor has it that she and Eddie Bracken were constantly trying to outdo one another when it came to the physical comedy in the film, which lead to some great moments.  In fact, Norville walking through the screen door was a complete ad-lib by Eddie Bracken.  Eddie Bracken was not an actor I was overly familiar with, but his portrayal of Norville certainly won me over.  He is really funny as the stuttering “boy-next-door” but he is more than just a fall guy.  I think that this film works so well because of the terrific cast.  Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, and Diana Lynn (who really steals the show as Emmy) are so great together that you can’t help but loving them and rooting for them.

This was also a film that poked fun at things that you weren’t allowed to make fun of in the movies like the army, the police force, and family life, I think it allowed audiences to see themselves in the story and even laugh at some parts of their own lives.  When this film first came out it was so popular that it was literally standing room only in theaters and no wonder.  They don’t make movies like this any more, but I really wish they did.

Watching with Warner: IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER (1937)

Digges!  Pack the bags!

We are starting my month-long Warner Archive watch-a-thon (OK, I made that word up) with a film that I had never heard of before, but one that once I knew the cast I had to see!  What could be bad about a screwball comedy starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Olivia de Havilland?  Answer; not a thing.

Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) is a famed stage actor who is currently starring in ROMEO AND JUILET with his love, Joyce Arden (Bette Davis).  Unfortunately, this Romeo and Juliet would rather whisper insults and threats to each other rather than sweet nothings.  Up in the balcony, unaware of the sniping below, Marcia West(Olivia de Havilland) is swooning over Basil much to the dismay of her fiancé, Henry Grant (Patric Knowles).  Once Romeo dies the show is over for Marcia, who quickly leaves the private box to wait outside.  Joyce and Basil continue to spit fire at each other until the very end, and continue to argue during the curtain calls.  Back in their respective dressing rooms, each complains to their assistants about the others.  Basil’s long-suffering valet, Digges (Eric Blore), has heard it all before and is not surprised when the talk of hate soon turns again to love.  In spite of everything, Joyce and Basil truly do love each other.  Basil is interrupted by the arrival of a guest to his dressing room.  Marcia has snuck back in order to tell him how ardently she admires him and that he is her ideal man.  Having delivered her message, she promptly leaves again.  Basil is flattered and is now in a better mood and he begins to consider himself as a person.  What has he done of note, what has he given back?  Digges reminds him that most of his so-called charitable works were more self-serving than he would care to admit.  Basil dismisses this line of thought and returns to Joyce.  Joyce, for her part, has decided that she is through with Basil but after he climbs through her window to ultimately wish her a Happy New Year the two reconcile.  In fact they decide, for about the twelfth time, to be married that very evening.  Their happy plans are again interrupted by the arrival of a visitor to Basil’s dressing room.  This time it is Marcia’s fiance Henry, who has come to inform Basil that Marcia is in love with him and he should leave her be.  Basil recalls a play that he once did in which he acted a cad to make a woman fall out of love with him and Henry strikes upon an idea.  Perhaps Basil could re-enact that play with Marcia and cause her to fall in love with Henry again!  Though reluctant at first, Basil sees a chance to do a selfless act and soon agrees.  The only problem is that they would have to leave for Marcia’s house at once, and that will mean postponing the wedding to Joyce yet again.

Joyce is less than pleased with Basil’s sudden change of plans, and since he won’t reveal his true reasons for doing so, believes that he no longer wants to marry her.  Well, two can play that game!  She declares that she would never marry Basil now and storms off, leaving Basil and Digges to drive to Marcia’s estate for a house party.  Upon their arrival, Digges and Basil set about making themselves at home as the two most disagreeable and annoying house guests ever.  The other party members roused from their beds are bleary eyed and confused, but Marcia’s father is seeing red.  He angrily orders that the two leave the house and demands to know who invited them there!  Basil claims that Marcia did, assuming that she will deny the inference and send them on their way, but Marcia is only too happy to oblige in keeping up the ruse.  She is beyond thrilled to have Basil in her home and Digges is instructed to unpack the bags, as this plan is going to take longer than anticipated.  The next morning over breakfast, Basil is introduced to the other guests and sets about making a bore of himself.  He demands kippers when there are none, insults the guests, recites Shakespeare, and finally storms out of the dining room.  Marcia’s family are shocked and demand that this rude man is sent away, but Marcia steps up and reprimands them.  What are manners, she asks, but little rules for little people!  Of course Basil is rude, he is a great star and is too big for such constraints as manners!

Basil continues his reign of terror over the household, even going so far as to insult Marcia’s beauty marks or “moles” which he suggests she removes.  There are two problems with Basil’s plan to make Marcia hate him however.  First, Marcia does not hate him and seems to fall more and more in love with him the more awful he is to her.  And second, Basil is starting to enjoy her attentions much to the concern of Digges who by this time has packed and unpacked the bags so many times he knows the contents by heart.  He takes it upon himself to call the only person who can help Basil at a time like this, his true love Joyce.  That afternoon Basil and Marcia are taking a stroll in the garden when things become much more cozy.  Basil resists for a time but then finally gives in to his desires, and it is at this moment that Joyce appears.  Both Basil and Marcia are shocked, though Basil is secretly thrilled that Joyce has come to help him, but they are further surprised when Joyce introduces herself as Basil’s wife!

This is such a fun screwball comedy, I am surprised it is not more well-known!  Leslie Howard is terrific and it is fun seeing him play a more caddish role, I am so used to seeing him as a quiet gentleman.  He and Bette Davis, reunited from THE PETRIFIED FOREST, are terrific together and their scenes as Romeo and Juliet are a highlight!  Olivia de Havilland is still a year away from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD but you can already see what a terrific actress she is.  She is also great at the comedy, playing the eager fangirl with a gleeful attitude.  Two years in the future she and Leslie Howard would be reunited in GONE WITH THE WIND, and this would be the first of four films that she and Bette Davis would star in together.  In watching this you can see the chemistry of all three leads working together to make this a really standout film.  But for me, the one who really steals the show is Eric Blore.  His character of Digges is the comedic glue holding the whole thing together.  The scenes between him and Basil are some of the best in the entire film.  In fact, I almost wish that there was an entire series of movies about the mis-adventures of Basil and Digges.  There is something of Jeeves and Wooster in them and I loved every moment they were onscreen.

This is a great film from the Warner Archive and I highly recommend it!  It has moments that are reminiscent of TWENTIETH CENTURY, and others that seem to have influenced TO BE OR NOT TO BE.  While this is not a new story, especially for a screwball comedy, it is done with such wit and skill that it never feels stale or overdone.  If you get a chance to see this film don’t miss it!  Just remember to get Digges to unpack the bags first!

Update for March Blogathon!

Exciting news!  I will be participating in the RUSSIA IN CLASSIC FILM blogathon this March, hosted by Movies Silently.  We know this.  But now there is exciting new information!  The blogathon will now be co-hosted by Flicker Alley and there are prizes to be won!  Here are the prizes! Grand Prize: The House of Mystery 3-disc DVD Collection (full retail value, $44.95 USD) First Runner-up Prize: A DVD copy of Aelita, the Queen of Mars (full retail value, $19.95 USD) Second Runner-up Prize: A DVD copy of Bed And Sofa with Chess Fever (full retail value, $19.95 USD) This drawing will be open to readers and participants alike but entry will be limited to residents of the United States and Canada only. Entering is easy. Just follow this link, sign on to the newsletter. Here are the complete rules: Open to residents of the United States and Canada only. Void where prohibited. Contest ends March 10, 2015. Winner will be chosen at random by Flicker Alley, LLC. The winners will be notified by email within 30 days of the closing date. If the winners cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition. By submitting this form, you are granting: Flicker Alley, LLC, http://www.flickeralley.com, permission to email you. You can revoke permission to mail to your email address at any time using the SafeUnsubscribe SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. It is doubly exciting for the participants because Flicker Alley will not only be promoting the blogathon on their websites BUT they will also be choosing their favorite entries for reprint on their main website!  I have changed my subject and will be writing about BED AND SOFA. Stay tuned for this great blogathon!

February 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

February is here and with it comes TCM’s 31 DAYS OF OSCAR.  This is a month that divides some TCM fans, some preferring to stick to the classics from before 1970 and others welcoming the more modern “classics” of the recent Oscars.  Regardless of your feelings about 31 DAYS OF OSCAR there are still some great films showing on TCM this month.  Here is a quick round-up of the offerings to be had!


31 Days of Oscar

Every night TCM will highlight a different year of the Oscars starting on February 1st with 1927-1930.  The greatest year of the golden age of Hollywood, i.e. 1939, will be featured on February 6th.  Here are some great movies being shown as part of the 31 Days of Oscar, in my opinion, as well as some I am looking forward to checking out!

February 4th (1936-1937) – SWING TIME 8PM EST, THE AWFUL TRUTH 10PM EST

February 5th (1938) – THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD 8PM EST

February 7th (1940-1942) – THE PHILADELPHIA STORY 8PM EST, HERE COMES MR. JORDAN 10PM EST, MRS. MINIVER 2AM EST

February 8th (1942-1944) – GASLIGHT 12AM EST, WOMAN OF THE YEAR 2AM EST

February 9th (1944-1946) – THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES 8PM EST, LAURA 1AM EST, MILDRED PIERCE 3AM EST

February 10th (1946-1947) – THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER 2:45AM EST

February 12th (1949-1951) – BORN YESTERDAY 1:30AM EST

February 13th (1951-1953) – HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE 8PM EST

February 14th (1954-1956) – MARTY 1AM EST

February 15th (1957-1958) – I WANT TO LIVE! 1AM EST

February 18th (1960-1962) – THE APARTMENT 8PM EST

February 24th (1979) – A LITTLE ROMANCE 8PM EST

February 25th (1980-1985) – OUT OF AFRICA 12AM EST


Here are some other movies being shown in February that I am interested in, or that I think are worthy of a look!

February 5th – MANHATTAN MELODRAMA 6AM EST How I have not seen this film, the one that got John Dillinger killed, I do not know but I intend to see it this month!  Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and William Powell!, LITTLE CAESAR 9:30AM EST Edward G. Robinson’s iconic pre-code gangster film

February 10th – AFTER THE THIN MAN 4PM EST I love all movies in the Thin Man series and this one has Jimmy Stewart in it!

February 11th – CAPTAIN BLOOD 11:45AM EST Nothing beats a good Errol Flynn/Olivia de Havilland swashbuckler…nothing

February 13th – WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? It seems somehow fitting that this movie is being shown on Friday the 13th…Bette David and Joan Crawford at their campy horror best

February 14th – VIVACIOUS LADY 6:30AM EST  I recently got this movie from the Warner Archive and can’t wait to see it, Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart and Beulah Bondi, LIBELED LADY 8:15AM EST Can’t wait to see this one for the first time, Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy are always great but I am interested to see a post-code Jean Harlow, HOLIDAY 10AM EST I think this is one of my favorite Katherine Hepburn movies and Cary Grant makes it magical

February 15th – THE BLUE DAHLIA 2:30PM EST This one intrigues me with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, a man fighting to prove he didn’t kill his wife…I’ll be watching, KEY LARGO 6PM EST Bogie and Bacall with gangsters in the middle of a hurricane…fantastic film

February 19th – WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION 12:30PM EST This is a really interesting and fun film directed by Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich as the wife who might have more to do with the murder her husband is on trial for and Charles Laughton as the lawyer defending him

February 20th – I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAN GANG 10AM EST Paul Muni and Glenda Farrell in a pre-code film about what happens to a WWI veteran sentenced to a chain gang, I have been meaning to see this film for some time and I can’t wait to do that this month, WHITE HEAT 11:30AM EST James Cagney is a twisted gangster with mommy issues, I watched this some years ago and you really can’t take you eyes off him

February 21st – THE PRODUCERS 6:15PM I’m wearing a cardboard belt!

February 24th – BERKLEY SQUARE 5PM A lovely film with Leslie Howard as a young man transported back in time to meet his ancestors during the American Revolution, IT HAPPENED TOMORROW 6:30PM EST The premise of this one got me, a newspaper editor who writes headlines that predict the future is too good to resist

February 25th – MISTER ROBERTS 5:45 PM EST Just a great film that should be seen, Henry Fonda with Jack Lemmon and James Cagney

February 28th – THE NARROW MARGIN 12:45PM I recently posted about this great noir that shows how B movies should be made, make sure to catch this one


If you are looking for more suggestions about what to catch on TCM this month, Kristina at Speakeasy has a great round-up to check out!  And because I love pre-codes…here is Danny at Pre-code.com‘s list of what movies are coming up this month.  Finally, here are some musings from Laura on what to see in February!


Backlot’s Dueling Divas Blogathon: Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine

This post is for Backlot’s Dueling Divas Blogathon!  You can find the other submissions here.

I am late.  Really late.  I was supposed to have this post up yesterday and somewhere between the baby, the five-hour car drive, and technical difficulties I became late.  So, I apologize wholeheartedly and humbly submit my contribution to the blogathon.

After the death of Joan Fontaine in 2013, Olivia de Havilland released this statement:

“I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of my sister, Joan Fontaine, and my niece, Deborah, and I appreciate the many kind expressions of sympathy that we have received.”

Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were sisters, as many people know.  However, their relationship was an estranged one and the reasons are many and varied.  It also depends on who you ask because both sisters had different perspectives on their relationship.  The death of Joan Fontaine in December of 2013 put a far more tragic spin on the estrangement and inspired me to consider the origins of this feud.

Sibling Rivalry

Fifteen months after Olivia was born along came her sister Joan.  According to Joan, Olivia was not pleased to have a baby sister and made her displeasure known.  “Olivia so hated the idea of having a sibling that she wouldn’t go near my crib,” Joan told People magazine in 1978.  She claimed that Olivia so hated the idea of sharing her parent’s attentions that she started beating up on Joan almost immediately.  It ranged from reading loudly from the bible while Joan was trying to nap, tearing clothes, pulling hair, and even a broken collarbone.  In high school Joan relates that Olivia, as editor of their high school newspaper, published a fake obituary that stated, “I bequeath to my sister the ability to win boys’ hearts, which she does not have at present.”  You might notice that all of this comes from Joan’s point of view and there is a good reason for that.  Olivia never would speak to this aspect of their relationship.  However, it is worth noting that the majority of this information came about when Joan Fontaine was promoting her 1978 autobiography.

The Acting Bug and Mother’s Love

Both women expressed an interest in acting early on, perhaps coming from a desire to please their mother who was a former actress.  After divorcing their father, their mother moved the two girls to Los Angeles to provide a better climate for the sickly Joan.  Olivia got a film career first, serving as an understudy for Gloria Stuart in Max Reinhardt’s production of A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAM.  When Ms. Stuart left the production, Olivia was given her moment in the spotlight which landed her a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers.  Shortly thereafter she was cast opposite Errol Flynn and the rest, as they say, is history.  Meanwhile Joan was serving as Olivia’s chauffeur, as her sister did not know how to drive, and one night was approached by a studio worker who offered to help make Joan into a movie star as well.  However, Joan recalled, when she mentioned it to her mother she was told that Warner Brothers was “Olivia’s studio’.  Joan decided that two de Havillands on the silver screen would not work, and so decided to adopt her step father’s last name of Fontaine.  She soon signed a two picture deal with RKO before heading over to MGM to film her role in THE WOMEN.

The Oscars

In 1941 Joan Fontaine was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her role in SUSPICION.  However, she planned not to attend the ceremony as she believed that if she hadn’t won for what she considered a superior performance the year before (for REBECCA), she certainly wouldn’t win this year.  She was only convinced the attend when Olivia showed up on set with a dress in hand.  Olivia was also nominated for the same Oscar for her role in HOLD BACK THE DAWN, but when the envelope was opened it was Joan’s name that was announced and not her sister.  In her autobiography Joan relates, “I stared across the table, where Olivia was sitting directly opposite me. ‘Get up there, get up there,’ Olivia whispered commandingly. Now what had I done? All the animus we’d felt toward each other as children, the hair-pullings, the savage wrestling watches, the time Olivia fractured my collarbone, all came rushing back in kaleidoscopic imagery. My paralysis was total.”  Joan later said that she took very little joy in her Oscar due to many people noting that she should have won it the year prior for REBECCA.  Then came the 1947 Oscars.  That year Olivia was nominated in the best actress category again, this time for TO EACH HIS OWN.  She won the Oscar and it was after she had accepted the award that Joan tried to congratulate her.  She tried to shake hands with her but found herself snubbed.  “I started to shake hands with her, but she seemed very occupied and busy,” Fontaine told the Associated Press days later. “Maybe she didn’t see me.”  Olivia did see her and told the same AP review, “Our relations have been quite strained for some time — I couldn’t change my attitude.”

Men

Olivia would later tell of how Joan had said some unkind things about author Marcus Goodrich, Olivia’s first husband.  Marcus had been married four times which lead Joan to crack, “It’s too bad that Olivia’s husband has had so many wives and only one book.”  This comment eventually made its way back to Olivia and caused a severe fracture to their already tense relations, and Olivia was unwilling to speak to Joan until she apologized.  For her part, Joan seemed in no hurry to do so.  In a 1957 interview, her only interview in which she spoke about her feud with Joan, Olivia said “Joan is very bright and sharp and has a wit that can be cutting. She said some things about Marcus that hurt me deeply.”  The sisters had also been said to fight over boyfriends, including Howard Hughes.

Mother

Whatever started the feud, one thing cemented it.  In 1975 Olivia and Joan’s mother died and was soon cremated.  Joan claimed that Olivia and the executor of her mother’s estate took over and never consulted with her regarding the cremation.  She also said that they did not invite her to memorial ceremony, which attended any way.  Olivia, on the other hand, claimed that Joan said she did not wish to attend.  After this debacle the sisters were not seen together in public for years.

But is it TRUE?

Over the years several interviews have been done with the sisters and there were indications that the feud was thawing, or at least was not as bad as it was made out to be.  Then in 2013, Scott Feinberg of the Hollywood Reporter published an article about his dealings with the sisters.  In it was this passage:

“…At the end of my earlier phone conversation with Joan, who had already made several references to Olivia over the course of a perfectly coherent and interesting conversation, I felt that I had to at least try — and I was shocked by what I was told: “This ‘Olivia feud’ has always irritated me because it has no basis. To this day it has no basis!”
So, I asked Joan, are the two of you friends? “Of course!” Wow — well, I’m glad to know that, I responded. I guess some people like to sensationalize things. “Oh, right — they have to. Two nice girls liking each other isn’t copy.” So today you and Olivia are in communication? You talk to each other? “Absolutely.” Wow. Well, that’s amazing. I’m so happy to hear that. “Oh, sure.” Later in the conversation, I felt that I had to clarify what I had heard earlier. Was there ever a time when you two did not get along to the point where you wouldn’t speak with one another? “Never. Never. There is not a word of truth about that.” Why do you think people believe that? “Oh, I have no idea. It’s just something to say.” Well, that’s not fair to you. “Oh, it’s terrible.” And have you seen Olivia over the years? “I’ve seen her in Paris. And she came to my apartment in New York often.” I have to say that this is such a nice thing to hear because I was sad to think that you two were on poor terms. “Let me just say, Olivia and I have never had a quarrel. We have never had any dissatisfaction. We have never had hard words. And all this is press.”

Is this true?  Being that Olivia has been loathe to talk about her personal life with her sister, we may never know for sure.  I would like to think that it is, that whatever slights or insults had come about during their younger days had been forgotten or at least forgiven.  These two women, these two fabulous actresses, these two sisters…I hope that they did manage to be friends again.