Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012

Doug and Mary celebrate
    Today is New Year's Eve, a time of celebration for a new year, but also a celebration of what happened in the past year, so in honor of 2012 I made a list of movies I watched and books I read for the first time that I got the most enjoyment out of.  This year I watched a lot of silent movies and really started loving them.  Last year I watched a few, but this year I realized how awesome they are.


Clara Bow and Antonio Moreno
It (1927):  Clara Bow is awesome.  I first saw this movie back around February or so and have probably seen it five times.  I even wrote a paper on the movie for my film class (I got an A-).  I love Clara Bow's expressions.  For example how mad she gets when her friend tells her about the social workers.  I also love her expressions as she gets ready for the night at the Ritz but doesn't have a thing to wear.  Bonus: the immortal line, "Just you wait, I'll take the snap out of your garters yet" is in this film.

Trouble in Paradise (1932):  This movie is hilarious. I wrote about this film in my Lubitsch and it is still awesome.  Bonus: Miriam Hopkins wears glasses when she pretends to be a secretary which I believe is one of the few times someone looks good wearing glasses in a movie.

Mantrap (1926):  Clara Bow in another awesome movie.  I love the scene where she just takes off in the boat and leaves her husband and potential new husband on the shore.  I love when she say that she "flirts only when its absolutely necessary."

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920):  This movie is just so weird.  I think that's why I loved it so much the first time I watched it.  It just kind of fascinated me with those crazy sets and of course, Cesare.

Mary Pickford
Sparrows (1926):  My favorite Mary Pickford movie that I've seen. She is fantastic as she protects the children from the horrible old man.  The scene where the baby dies is great.  Mary Pickford provides proof that silent movie acting is often very underplayed and then all the more powerful.

The Mark of Zorro (1920):  Douglas Fairbanks is hilarious in this movie.  I love when he pretends to be the boring Don that does tricks with a handkerchief. "Have you seen this one?"  Of course the action is pretty exciting as well.

Our Modern Maidens (1929): If there is one random obscure super specific genre I love it's flapper movies, doesn't matter if it is a melodrama or a comedy. I will love it if it was made in the 1920s and stars Joan Crawford, Clara Bow, or Colleen Moore, so I love this movie.  Joan Crawford is exceptional in this film and beautifully underacts a scene at the end where she gives up her happiness (at least temporarily).  As a bonus, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. does imitations of John Barrymore, John Gilbert, and his dad as Robin Hood.

Bebe Daniels and Gloria Swanson
Why Change Your Wife? (1920): If you have only seen Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, you should definitely see this movie.  It is hilarious.  She is great when she is the dowdy housewife.  I also love Thomas Meighan as her husband.  Bonus: there is a great cat fight between Bebe Daniels and Gloria Swanson.

The Oyster Princess (1919):  I already wrote about this in my Lubitsch post, but it is seriously hilarious.

Davies as Lillian Gish
The Patsy (1928):  Marion Davies is great in this movie.  She wants to date her sister's boyfriend so she asks him for advice for the dating world and he tells her to get a personality.  Eventually she does imitations of Mae Murray, Pola Negri, and Lillian Gish, which are hilarious.  Marie Dressler also stars as her mean, but hilarious, mother.


"Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood" by Eileen Whitefield:  This is a very solid biography of the great Mary Pickford.  It provides a fascinating look at her family, working in movies in the early days in New York and of course the start of Hollywood and her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks.  The end is very sad because of her alcoholism and reclusiveness, but the book provides a interesting look at one of the most popular actresses of all time and the first and only female movie mogul.

"Runnin' Wild" by David Stenn:  This is probably the best biography I've ever read. It is extremely well researched and you also get to know Clara Bow as a person, who was often funny, but had the worst personal life ever.

"Swanson on Swanson":  A great biography.  It was extremely interesting and had a lot of fascinating stories about Hollywood in the 1920s.

"Flapper" by Joshua Zeitz:  I love the 1920s, so I really loved this book.  It has detailed sections on the Fitzgeralds, Coco Chanel, and the flappers of the movies -Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, and Clara Bow.  The book is very well researched and well written.

"Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy?":  Another great autobiography.  She writes about her Hollywood years, but the reader also gains insights into vaudeville and aspects of being a child star such as the pressure of being your family's sole support.

All five of these books helped me understand early Hollywood and the 1920s more and they were also all darn good reads.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Silent Stars Go By

   I realized last year what a weirdo I was when I was singing the line of  "O Little Town of Bethlehem" that goes 'the silent stars go by' and this is what I thought of:

Billie Dove hogged  almost all the toys, but luckily...
Baby Peggy and...

Clara Bow each got a doll.

Colleen Moore sang carols and

Gloria Swanson decorated while

Mary Pickford directed traffic.

Joan wanted to go to Pickfair, but Mary
didn't think her outfit was appropriate.
Joan did manage a quiet dinner with Doug Jr. though.
   While looking for publicity pictures, I didn't really find any with male stars.  I guess they didn't have to put up with as much ridiculous posing, so instead here's a picture of Valentino who I wish was cooking spaghetti for me this Christmas:

   Here are a few more fun pictures I found:

Mary Pickford

Gloria Swanson looking sad

Swanson, again
   Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy 114th Miss Dunne!

   Irene Dunne is one of my favorite actresses and so I thought I would write something on what would have been her 114th birthday, which means she was born in 1898 and would be really old, if she was alive.   One thing I love about Dunne is that she doesn't look old, but she looks so young and natural.  She wasn't really a movie star (although she had worked on the stage) until about forty, which is very unusual.  I think this adds some maturity to her roles.  I like that in Love Affair the leads are both in their mid-forties, but can still find love.
   Another reason I love Irene Dunne is that she seems to have been a genuinely nice person in real life.  She was happily married to a doctor for over thirty-five.  She worked for the United Nations.  She was a devout Catholic, who did a great deal of charity work, but no prude or hypocrite unlike at least one of her Hollywood pals.  She had a great sense of humor* and luckily this translates into her movies.
   I love her performances in Theodora Goes Wild and The Awful Truth.  I like that she goes crazy just half way through, instead of being crazy all the time, like in some screwball comedies.  I love her face while Cary Grant's date sings "Gone With the Wind".  In Theodora I love when she gets back to Lynnfield and all the ladies are scandalized.  "Michael, you idiot."  And of course I love the scene in The Awful Truth at Cary Grant's fiance's house where she pretends to be his sister:

   But of course Dunne was also great at drama.  Penny Serenade, in my opinion, is one of the greatest tear jerkers ever, a fact which is helped by Irene Dunne.  You love her and Grant's characters so much that you desperately want things to work out for them.  I love Dunne's eagerness to please the adoption lady, especially after she is caught dancing the Charleston.  Irene is both heartbreaking and adorable in her desperation to be a good mother, such as when she tries to give the baby a bath with everyone watching.
   Sadly I have only seen a few Irene Dunne movies (Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, Penny Serenade, I Remember Mama, Life With Father, and Love Affair) because of the scarcity of her movies in libraries (even my university library) by me.  However I became a fan after I watched her in the first movie I saw her in and saw her delightful combination of wit, class, and humanity.  Obviously I still am a big fan.
   Oh by the way if you haven't seen this episode of her on What's My Line? you should.  It is hilarious and it is one of the best guest appearances I've ever seen on that show:

*One of my favorite of her stories goes like this: “Years ago the public used to hound me but now I can go shopping in peace.  The picture postcard people printed a card of our house and address years ago for the tourists but they made a mistake and took the next house.  I’d peek out my bathroom window at all the people trampling the lawns next door and feel sorry for the neighbors.” 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Name Checking

    One of my pet peeves is when a reviewer will automatically compare either two books, movies, actors, etc just to get name recognition.  Several years ago when I was a pre-teen and still reading fantasy, all of the books would say something like "for fans of Harry Potter".  More recently it has been with "for fans of Twilight" or "fans of Hunger Games looking for something to read need search no further."  Even when I was 12 I thought this was odd because generally the books had nothing to do with each other except perhaps the genre.
     More recently this has bugged me with actors.  For example comparing Shirley Temple to Mary Pickford when in reality they were completely different.  But the one that really gets me is all the attempts to compare whoever to Marilyn Monroe.  For example a review of David Stenn's wonderful biography of Clara Bow contains the phrase that she "was the Marilyn Monroe of her day."
    Wait, what?  Now if you have seen a smidgen of either's work you would know they have a completely different style, partly because talkies and silents require a vastly different acting technique.  Also their images are different.  Monroe is the stereotypical, generally passive, dumb blonde sex symbol (at least in her movies).  Bow is nothing of the sort.  She is vivacious and generally is very active in getting her man.   Clara plays working girls, but not simpletons.  Part of this is that they come from completely different decades.  Clara Bow is the perfect liberated female of the 1920s, while Monroe is really a naive sex symbol well suited to the far more conservative 1950s.  (Note I do like Monroe, but personally I like Clara a whole lot more and think she is more talented.)
    But you say, perhaps they are referring to their similarly tragic personal lives?  Well, "Runnin' Wild" points out that Marilyn often exaggerated her childhood woes to get sympathy.  Bow may have talked about her life, but it was not to get sympathy.  She was just honest about where she had come from and didn't care what others thought.  Now Monroe didn't have a great personal life, with foster homes, etc; but frankly I can't think of a life much worse than Bow's.  While Marilyn was in decent foster homes, Clara was nearly killed by her schizophrenic mother and raped by her alcoholic father.  One of the real tragedies of Bow's life, I think, is that she married a nice guy and had two sons, but was unable to care for them, even though she desperately wanted to, because of her terrible mental health caused by her awful childhood and a family history of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
    Lastly although Clara Bow had a terrible insomnia, she was rightly known as "the hardest working girl in Hollywood" because of her work days that often lasted eighteen hours (six days a week).  As we all know, Monroe was rarely punctual, driving her coworkers crazy.  Clara would never have done this.
   Really the only similarity that I can think of is that they were both sex symbols, so not surprisingly the name check is pointless.  Also I can't imagine it would sell more books.  Like there was anyone in a bookstore thinking, "Uh a book about an actress I never heard of", flips over book, "WHAT? she was like Marilyn Monroe?  I am now buying ten books for each family member and his dog."  Honestly name checking could work with fantasy directed at pre-teens, but why do it in this case?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Veronica Lake

This picture sort of represents how I have been feeling for the past few weeks.  (Also I thought this would be a good opportunity to share this awesome photograph).  However finals are done and I am home for Christmas, so I will most likely write something more substantial soon.