A Royal Wedding Connection in Nothing Sacred

Last night I found myself at my old stomping ground – the public library.  Back in the day, I introduced films at the library’s weekly classic film night. (I still do it sometimes but that’s a different story.) When I saw that Nothing Sacred, a 1937 screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard was the classic film night’s selection, I had to check it out. I had never seen this movie before and curiosity got the best of me. Nothing Sacred is not only the first screwball comedy filmed in color, but also Lombard’s only Technicolor film.

Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a woman who is misdiagnosed with radium poisoning and has never left her small hometown. Fredric March is Wally Cook, a New York City journalist for the Morning Star. When his credibility is jeopardized (you should always “fact check that shit” people), Wally is demoted to the obituary editor. Wally comes across a story about Hazel’s illness and convinces her to come spend her last weeks in New York on the newspaper’s dime. Little does he know that Hazel doesn’t have radium poisoning at all and she fakes her illness for the free trip to NYC. Hazel quickly becomes the subject of endless media coverage. Hilarity and romance ensues. (Hey, it’s a 30s screwball comedy after all!)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThXLqeUW3YM]

Continue reading “A Royal Wedding Connection in Nothing Sacred

Make Way For Tomorrow: The Perfect Movie Marriage

Since seeing Blue Valentine, I have been unable to shake its harrowing depiction of marriage. Few films stay with me this long after I have see them. But the relationship between Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) is so beautifully damaged, it is impossible to forget their marriage.

This relationship also got me thinking. How often do we see couples in the movies who have been together for the long haul? The most romantic comedies bring together your Harrrys and your Sallys. But these movies establish false expectations for courtship and never show what happens after the credits roll.

Even the greatest movie couples – Sam and Ilsa, Jack and Rose, Westley and Buttercup – don’t say much about marriage. I’ve written about Hollywood’s supercouples before but none of the couples that I profiled made it down the aisle, let alone showed what real commitment looks like.

Few movie romances compare to Make Way for Tomorrow

Then there is Barkley and Lucy in Make Way for Tomorrow. For every movie that gives us an iconic pairing, this one trumps them all. This Leo McCarey film about an elderly couple forced to separate when none of their five children will take both parents in will tug at your heartstrings with its simple and heartbreaking depiction of love, marriage, and commitment.

It is decided that Barkley and Lucy will stay with their children for just “a few weeks” but their sudden presence in their adult children’s lives becomes burdensome. As Roger Ebert writes in his wonderful assessment of the film: “Make Way for Tomorrow is quietly observant about the social awkwardness of the situation.” Lucy interferes with her daughter-in-laws bridge classes; Barkley is relegated to sleeping on the couch. We hope for Barkley and Lucy’s sake that the couple is reunited soon so they can present a stronger united front to their children, who have unintentionally cast their parents aside.

In the film’s final 30 minutes, when Barkley and Lucy are finally reunited before they are to separate again, Make Way for Tomorrow captures something most films do not. Real emotions without any exaggerations. The strangers who observe the couple as they revisit their honeymoon see something Barkley and Lucy’s children could not: unrelenting love and respect for one’s partner. No sequence will make you cry more than these final minutes of Make Way for Tomorrow.

Female Solidarity in Stage Door (1937)

Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers face off in Stage Door

Something remarkable happens within the first minutes of Stage Door (1937)Ginger Rogers rips the stockings off of Gail Patrick’s legs as a group of women gather and watch the spectacle unfold before them. The other women heckle as Rogers and Patrick exchange insult after insult. Who are these women and what has gotten into them?

They are, as we soon learn, aspiring Broadway actresses living in the Footlights Club, a New York City boarding house. These women are all fighting for their one shot at stardom. Most of them have been out of work for over year; it is the Depression after all and work is hard to come by. There is Kay (Andrea Leeds) who is clinging to the hope that her past success will land her the next big role. Linda (Patrick) believes her cushy relationship with a producer will get her somewhere fast. Then there is newcomer Terry Randall, played magnificently by Katharine Hepburn, whose pompous attitude quickly gets under the snarky Jean’s (Rogers) skin.

With Stage Door, Hepburn shows her tremendous range. In one scene her performance is absolutely horrendous and she is nearly unbearable to watch as she argues with a frustrated producer, playwright and director. Minutes later, Hepburn performs the same scene (“The calla lilies are in full bloom.”) and she morphs into something else. Her performance is profound and iconic. Ginger Rogers, whose screen persona is so heavily intertwined with Fred Astaire, even the most astute lover of classic cinema can forget her enormous talent. The sharp dialogue rolls off her tongue faster than she can tap dance. And Kay’s depression, thanks to some heightened lighting and camera angles, borders on extreme melodrama but it is given tremendous depth and poignancy in Andrea Leeds’ hands.

It is how Stage Door presents and embraces female solidarity on the screen that bolsters its lasting impression. From the outset, it is clear that Stage Door is just a women’s film. It is almost 20 minutes before a male is given a speaking role in the film and after that, only Adolphe Menjou exchanges heated words with a fiery Hepburn.

Female relationships in this film are not belittled to petty bickering (stockings aside) or melodramatic antics. The dialogue is smart and blisteringly funny. The insults tossed around by Rogers, Hepburn and company feels like banter among friends. It is through that feeling of connectivity that the women in Stage Door are given a leg up on any male in this fill. Their endlessly witty and intelligent conversations tower above anything Menjou gets to say.

The female relationships in Stage Door most often revolve around the women’s common passion for the theater and their desire for a career. Their lives are not solely centered on settling into marriage. Yes, Lucille Ball’s Judy winds up married and Menjou’s powerful producer Andrew Powell is very much a puppeteer. But at the film’s conclusion, it is not Judy’s marriage or Powell’s authoritative hand that matters. It is the relationship between these women that towers above. The Footlights Club is a family. That point is made time and time again.

The closing sequence, set approximately six months after Terry Randall first enters the Footlights Club, is a near-mirror image of the opening. Hattie is seen sweeping the floor before the camera pans up to reveal the other women sitting in the living room. They laugh, they celebrate one girl finally getting a bit part, and they move wildly about the room with the same rapid dialogue we have grown accustomed to. Judy struggles to leave the living room and to the taxi where her bridegroom waits. Symbolically Terry and Jean sing “Here Comes the Bride” as they carry her over the threshold and out the door. They are moving her from the safety and comfort of the boarding house, where there is boundless female solidarity, to the reality of marriage, family, and a male-dominated, patriarchal world.

In Stage Door, female solidarity reigns

Judith is leaving for that world yet there is comfort taken in when the next fresh-faced, starry-eyed aspiring actress arrives at the Footlights Club. She is ushered and welcomed in just as Terry was at the film’s start. The world of the boarding house will continue even if the women who live there cannot always escape what society demands for them.

The Roaring Twenties (1939)

The Roaring Twenties, directed by Raoul Walsh, is widely considered one of the greatest gangster films and is an homage to early gangster films of the 1930s. It stars James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in their third and final film together. This is also Cagney’s last gangster film until he appeared in White Heat in 1949.

The film begins at the end of World War One, when three friends Lloyd (Jeffrey Lynn), George (Bogart) and Eddie (Cagney) attempt to return to normal life. Lloyd becomes a lawyer, George becomes a bootlegger and Eddie becomes a cab driver. Since it is the era of prohibition, Eddie builds a business that delivers bootleg alcohol. When George becomes his second in command, tensions build and a power struggle results. over power and romance.

The Roaring Twenties is part-gangster film, part-documentary. It utilizes newsreels, which provide historical context and pleasantly recreate the Jazz Age. Like other classic gangster films, The Roaring Twenties shows the fatalistic rise and fall of a manwho is bound to die in a final act of heroism.

Review: Bringing Up Baby (1939)

Leaping Leopards! That Wonderfully Absurd Comedy Known As Bringing Up Baby

“The point is I have a leopard. The question is, “What am I going to do with it?”

I’m not sure if it is before or after Katharine Hepburn asks this question that Bringing Up Baby reaches a point of complete absurdity. If anything, this line is an indication that Bringing Up Baby is unlike most classic Hollywood films.

Released in 1938, Bringing Up Baby stars Hepburn (in her only screwball comedy) as Susan Vance, a free-spirited, accident-prone socialite, and Cary Grant, as David Huxley, an absent-minded, clumsy paleontologist.

One day the mismatched pair meets on a golf course after she takes his golf ball and “borrows” his car. Later, they reunite at a dinner party in a scene filled with pratfalls and missing articles of clothing. Susan, having fallen in love with David, believes that he is a zoologist and uses her new pet leopard, Baby (a gift from Brazil) to lure him to her aunt’s estate in Connecticut. But David wants nothing to do with her.

Trouble occurs when George, the family dog, buries the intercostal clavicle needed to complete David’s brontosaurus skeleton, Baby escapes his cage and is roaming around Connecticut, and everyone else, including Susan’s aunt, a drunken Irish gardener, and a big-game hunter end up in jail.

Bringing Up Baby is a fantastic, wildly entertaining, fast-paced, and an absolutely ridiculous roller coaster ride. Each scene is more manic and crazed than the one before.

Culturally and historically Bringing Up Baby couldn’t be more intriguing or relevant.

When it was released in 1938, Baby was a box-office failure. It was so poorly received that director Howard Hawks was fired from his next picture. Katharine Hepburn, having spent most of the 30s labeled as “box-office poison”, was forced to buy out her RKO contract and return to Broadway.

Today Bringing Up Baby is recognized as the definitive screwball comedy; Hawks is considered by many to be one of Hollywood’s greatest directors; and Hepburn holds the most Oscar wins for Best Actress in history.

Baby is a highly sophisticated comedy, years ahead of its time. The script is filled with hilarious ad-libs and sexual innuendos that somehow slipped past the censors. It is also credited with being the first film to reference homosexuality during a funny and intellectual exchange. Cary Grant, while wearing a woman’s bathrobe, tells another character that he is wearing these clothes, “Because I just went gay all of the sudden.”

Bringing Up Baby’s intelligent humor still registers with audiences today. I have sat through countless recent comedies, particularly of the gross-out variety, but none of those films have received greater laughs than a screening of Bringing Up Baby.

I have personally witnessed its magical affect on numbers of people, ranging from five years old to over eighty. That is something only a truly special and worthwhile film can achieve.

Published: September 27, 2007
The Mount Holyoke News