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Archive for the ‘Joan Blondell’ Category

Miss Pinkerton

21 Jun

Miss Pinkerton – directed by Lloyd Bacon. Murder Mystery. 66 minutes Black And White 1932.
★★★★
The Story: A hospital nurse takes on a police case in a creepy mansion.
~
Joan Blondell is the face of the ‘30s. Big-eyes open to life, quick of tongue, game, pretty, and strong as an ox. Not Crawford or Shearer or Hepburn or Lombard or Arthur, but this lower-class tootsie, Joan Blondell, a little too susceptible to love, but up for any role, any case, any dance. She was the world’s greatest tonic for The Great depression. As lovable as she was skilled.

She played leading roles sometimes, such as Miss Pinkerton, but she was not a leading lady but a jolly soubrette.

Here she plays a bored-to-death hospital nurse who is assigned the care of an old woman in whose grisly mansion a shooting has occurred.

So many plot twists and angles and changes and characters interlope on her attention that you wonder how the makers of the picture are ever to solve the murder. I’m not sure they ever did.

The film is beautifully shot, and imaginatively directed by Lloyd Bacon. He keeps us guessing and off balance, yet leaning forward still into what is going on.

The picture is 1932, a year in which Blondell made nine films, and is advertised as pre-code. While it has nothing risqué in it that I could tell, it sure has a lot of love twisters. And more meaningful looks than a bathhouse. And it has the suavely smirking George Brent as the likeable detective assigned to crack the case. He has a voice like a cast iron radiator. Smooth-talker that he is, he soft-soaps her into his arms consistently and, of course, at last. She is eager.

This is Warner Brothers cheap entertainment, which does not mean it is bad entertainment. Not at all. Coney Island is good entertainment, because it is well done. So is this.

We passed the time with Blondell in many a movie in those days, and she went on acting (in over 100 pictures) right until the end.

She was sexy, funny, ripe, and vulnerable. A fast-talking dame, she could dish out the snappy dialogue with the best of them. To Cagney she delivered the renowned put-down: “You’re the biggest chiseler since Michelangelo!” He never recovered – in that movie anyhow.

We watch her in this one with complete sympathy, interest, approval, and concern. But she saves herself from doom every time. No one could scream on camera like Joan Blondell. No one was ever so simply likeable.

 

Three On A Match

18 Mar

Three On A Match – directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Drama. 63 minutes Black And White 1932.

★★★★

The Story: Three grammar school girls stick together as grown women, even more so as one of them goes to the dogs.

~

What is important about this film is not Bette Davis’s cute figure in a bathing suit, nor her part, which is as peripheral to the story as is Humphrey Bogart’s and Glenda Farrell’s and Edward Arnold’s. All three of these make the same impression they were always to make: Bogart as a man to take into account, Farrell as a woman knowledgeable in her own sensuality, Arnold as Humpty-Dumpty pushing everyone off the wall.

Davis plays the least colorful of the three women and the one least connected to moving the plot forward. Joan Blondell plays the light-fingered jailbird who goes straight and marries the boss. We see Davis in the secretary pool at an Underwood, and she really looks like she knows how to type well, for she really did know. One can believe she is a secretary. Later she becomes an au- pair with Blondell in scenes at the beach with a tiresome tyke one wishes they would drown.

Ann Dvojak has the leading role, and Davis, aged 23, could probably have played it beautifully. The point is that Dvojak is excellent and that this is the sort of part that women were getting before 1934, not just wild-assed women who grab men into their beds impenitently and salt their lives with pleasure, but women’s issue parts. These were the pre-Code days of great parts for women which Mick LaSalle writes of in Complicated Women, his celebration of the actresses of this era, their talents, their roles, their films, before the Code put all such roles out into the woodshed for a whipping.

While they lasted, Davis never participated as a leading actress in these sorts of films, although she was of an age to. This is her twelfth film. She is not exactly starting out. Warners still did not know what to do with her. They threw her around like chicken feed. And she knew it.

The sort of parts she fought to play depicted just this sort of woman, women living their lives to the full. They didn’t have to be prostitutes to do it. They could be society women of the sort Norma Shearer played at MGM and Ann Dvojak plays here.

Davis fought for such roles, but Davis fought for what did not exist. Such parts were not mounted after 1934. After 1934, women must suffer for their pleasures or die. The closest Davis could come to such a part was the sexually predacious wife in Bordertown and Mildred Rodgers in Of Human Bondage, who is a tart. She had made 21 films by then, none of them giving her the meaty roles Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Mae West, Mae Clarke, Marlene Dietrich, Loretta Young, Ann Harding, Miriam Hopkins, and Barbara Stanwyck played. Davis was good friends with Jean Harlow, but she never got parts like Harlow got. The Code flattened them.

In Three On A Match, Davis is still a Harlow peroxide blonde. Her old chum, Joan Blondell, from New York acting school, has the second lead. Davis is on the sidelines where she doesn’t even look convincing smoking a cigarette.

 

Gold Diggers Of 1933

19 Apr

Gold Diggers Of 1933 – directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Musical. Will three chorus girls land rich husbands? 97 minutes, Black and White 1933.

★★★★★

In writing a review of a movie I saw two days ago, I have to look up on Google to remind myself what the the heck the story was. Oh, yes, I remember now. It is, let us say, pleasingly forgettable.

For why should we not forget it? The point of the Warner Brothers Musicals is the appeal of the stark contrast of a striking presentation with the ordinariness of the story and the actors. At MGM Judy Garland was many things but ordinary was never one of them. Alice Fay and Betty Grable and Shirley Temple at Fox were lavishly unordinary. Rogers and Astaire frolic through the vast white telephone art deco concoctions at RKO, and you can mistake neither of them, together or apart, for anyone else at all.

But here at Warners we have the endearing Joan Blondell, someone leaning over the backyard fence for a good gossip. We have Ruby Keeler whose musical comedy talent verges on the indiscernible. She carefully watches her feet when dancing, and her singing voice makes a rusty bedspring glad it doesn’t sound worse. But she’s sufficiently pretty and has the correct specific weight to play opposite the collegiately cute Dick Powell, who does have talent, and also has the smarts to sing and act with such conviction as to completely elude embarrassing himself.

What we want is these perfectly accessible folks skirting around the sets and gesturing in odd counterpoint to them. For what is also going on is the Busy Berkeley kaleidoscopical monstrosities of choreography to give the lie to ordinariness at every glance. You think Warner Brothers is the out-at-elbows studio of the ‘30s? Nah. Here’s production values up the wazoo.

We return to the Warners musicals for the juxtaposition of the modest talents of the performers counterpoised against the immense immodesty of the regimental use of the females of the chorus numbers for which these musicals remain famous. Escapism knows no more distant exit than these deliriums.

Things start with the witty Ginger Rogers singing the great lampoon song, “We’re In The Money,” which was the Depression era mock-anthem. This in a movie which is to end in another production number, the funeral march of : “The Forgotten Man, ” the dirge of the impecunious.

Ginger is somewhat sidelined by the story of chorus girls eating beans while waiting for a part, for they are Aline MacMahon as the cynical funny one, Ruby Keeler as the star, and the one-in-between, Joan Blondell, who recites rather than sings the words to “The Forgotten Man,” and does so with enormous effect.

Probably the most popular songwriter American ever had was Harry Warren, and so the score also includes ”In The Shadows When I Sing To You.” That lovely actor Warren William injects a dose of realism as the out-of-town interloper, and a strain of actual elegance. But we don’t go to Warner’s movies for elegance. We go for the energy of the vulgar. It’s a great energy. Sometimes it frightens me. Sometimes I like it. Here, I like it.

 

Desk Set

28 Aug

Desk Set – directed by Walter Lang. Romantic Comedy. The research department of a broadcasting company feels threatened by the introduction of a computer and its inventor. 103 minutes. Color 1957.

★★★★★

Katharine Hepburn was not a great actress, but she was such a great high-comedy actress you might think she was. She is usually better in the first half of a film than in the last, and she is usually better with Spencer Tracy in comedy than in drama. They made nine films together, and if you omit the dramas you will find the cream on the top to be whipped. So, see Woman Of The Year, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, and Desk Set. Hepburn is 50 when she does this, so there are no close-ups, and there do not have to be. Her fearless full-body physical confidence in movement has tremendous carrying power, and few actors could handle props with her ease and dispatch. Chewing on a paper cup while asking a leading question, watch her. Watch her open that financial report and start to work; you absolutely believe she understands its contents and knows what to look for. Hepburn was an actress who chose only noble roles, roles which called upon her strengths: fairness, poise, and willingness to level with you. With Tracy, her certainty in all matters is balanced out at the end to make a compatibility. This is not true with Cary Grant; with Grant you are left with the dizzy challenge of their incompatibility. In some things Hepburn is no good. In love she plays the giddy schoolgirl or the lorn one, which is undignified and false (in real life, Hepburn was never alone and not interested in romance). In serious scenes she tends to emotionalize and tear-up, which is cheap and easy. But catch her in the free-wheeling exposition of the opening scenes of a comedy, and there is no one better in the world for beguiling you – with her accuracy of attack, democracy of eye, physical fluidity, and absolute generosity before the camera. We love Hepburn for her spirit, yes, and for her nobleness, for that is what she intended to leave us as a vision, and it’s not a bad one. Her wonderful smile and vulnerability to what is happening in a given scene make us take her at her word. She wanted to be fascinating, and she did it by being fascinating to herself – by enjoying herself in a part, by surprising herself in a part. Desk Set was done on Broadway with Shirley Booth, and the Mexington Avenue scene was the most delicious comedy scene I have ever seen on the stage. The two women find it irresistibly funny and cannot stop laughing and the audience cannot stop laughing with them. Hepburn does not play it this way and is not quite convincing as inebriated. Instead, she snorts and throws her head back; Hepburn was not a laugher; she was a smiler. Never mind: Desk Set is particularly fortunate for her because you see her in her preferred milieu which is among women, so her ease of command and kind smartness and high morale are never shown better. And her early scenes with Tracy are light comedy at its best, particularly the tip-top trio scene with Gig Young as the smarmy exec BF on his way up. Three masters. Watch how Hepburn eats a sandwich and freezes from the winter cold on a roof patio while answering hard questions from Tracy. She’s brilliant at it and she keeps the character modest. Perfectly cast as a know-it-all, as she was in Woman Of The Year, we love her for it. The camera is on her and she rejoices you with her mastery before it. What is special in the spirit in each human individual? With her peculiar vocal timbre, particular pronunciation, automatic-rifle attack, slim, athletic figure, unusual and beautiful mouth and always engaged eyes she is a reminder of what the unique spirit in each of us actually looks like in free play. Being like no one else, she is emblem of all. Yes, she is not a great actress, but she is a Great Actress.

 

 
 
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