The Women (1939) starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, & Rosalind Russell

There are over 130 roles in this movie, all played by women. Several actresses, incl. Marjorie Main (the Reno housekeeper- Lucy), originated their roles in the play (written by Claire Boothe Luce), which opened in the Fall of 1937 and had over 600 performances on Broadway. This fun, witty, and fast-paced movie follows a group of NYC society women (20s-50s), most whom are married (and some have kids, too). The center of this story, Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), has her perfect marriage shattered by her husband’s infidelity w/ a beautiful/manipulative shop girl, Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). She has to break the news (as gently as she can) to her bright, sensitive daughter (Virginia Weidler- she appeared in The Philadelphia Story the following year). Mary makes the journey from marriage to divorce and back with dignity and intelligence.

You know, the first man that can think up a good explanation how he can be in love with his wife and another woman is gonna win that prize they’re always giving out in Sweden. -Maggie (the Haines’ family cook) explains to the maid

Mary’s cousin/frenemy, Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) steals the show and gets many of the best lines (as well as some of the wildest costumes). Director George Cukor told Russell to play Sylvia very broadly: “Sylvia’s breaking up a family, and there’s a child involved, and if you’re a heavy, audiences will hate you. Don’t play it like a heavy, just be ridiculous.” Russell is very fun to watch; she’s snobby, gossipy, gawky, yet very confident of her own marriage. There is also some physical comedy- Russell was noted for that in her early carer.

On the train to Reno, Mary meets Flora AKA The Countess De Lave (Mary Boland), a jovial divorcee in her ’50s who still believes in love (amour, as she says) after four marriages. Flora’s outfits and accessories are large and eccentric- much like herself. Miriam (Paulette Goddard, a gorgeous actress once married to Charlie Chaplin) plays a jaded/street-smart Brooklyn chorus girl who married (then divorced) for money. No doubles were used in the fight where Russell bites Goddard (after Sylvia learns that her husband has fallen in love w/ Miriam)- that bite was real! Peggy (a young Joan Fontaine- sister of Olivia de Havilland) is a naive new wife; she and her husband separated hastily. Her character is annoying to many viewers; she cries and complains a lot (b/c she doesn’t want a divorce).

All the characters are not wealthy; Crystal (as well as her fellow shopgirls and manicurists) must work for a living (esp. the ones who are single). A few of her peers sound jealous of Crystal and her supposed way w/ men; others looks down on her for acting flirtatious. Mary has a cook and a maid in her household; they are concerned re: their jobs, but still kind to their employer. We even see a young black maid (played by Butterfly McQueen from Gone With the Wind); sadly, she is the butt of a tasteless joke.

There’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society . . . outside a kennel. -Crystal declares to Mary and her friends (at the end of the movie)

As from the dialogue, the hats, hairdos, and costumes reveal much about each character. The costume designer (Adrian) dressed the leads and also created high-fashion gowns and outfits for the (Technicolor) fashion show. The scene which was inserted into the B&W film as a surprise for the audience of that day. A classic film fan on Twitter notes that the $225 nightgown Mary admires after that fashion show would cost $4000 in 2019. The enormous square-cut ring Mary wears is the most expensive piece of jewelry in the film ($175,000).

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Fourth Estate Film Series (AFI): All the President’s Men, Broadcast News, Network, The Front Page, & His Girl Friday

AFI Silver and Washington Monthly magazine presented a series of films that investigated the world of journalism recently (May-June 2019). Below are my thoughts.

All the President’s Men (1976)

“Follow the money.” Deep Throat’s (Hal Holbrook) words have guided reporters in the 40+ yrs since Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman starred as “hungry” young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, uncovering the Watergate scandal. The all-star cast also includes Jack Warden, Martin Balsam (12 Angry Men), Jason Robards (then in his waning yrs battling alcoholism), Jane Alexander, and Ned Beatty.

There was a post-screening Q&A with Bob Woodward (it was a full house, of course) moderated by Washington Monthly Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris. There are a lot of phone calls, knocking on doors, as well as research depicted in this film. Though journalism has changed over the years (along w/ technology), Woodward pointed out that nothing beats in-person interviews where reporters can build trust w/ their subjects. Woodward is still going strong; in fact, he recently interviewed individuals who haven’t even spoken to Robert Mueller- WOW!

Broadcast News (1987)

This is one of my favorite films, as I’ve written before. It’s set in a DC TV network news bureau where the lives of three individuals are intertwined: ambitious producer Jane (Holly Hunter), telegenic anchorman Tom (William Hurt), and brainy field reporter Aaron (Albert Brooks). All three are fully fledged out characters, no one is a typical bad guy, and there is sparkling chemistry between both pairs- Jane/Aaron and Jane/Tom. Jack Nicholson (not billed) has a cameo as a powerful anchorman based in NYC. It launched the career of Hunter and was nominated for seven Oscars, incl. Best Picture.

There was a panel discussion with Academy Award-winning filmmaker James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets, The Simpsons, etc.) and New Yorker Staff Writer Jane Mayer, moderated by Washington Monthly Digital Editor Eric Cortellessa. Though the work life/personality of Jane was based more on Susan Zirinski (who now heads CBS News), the love triangle was inspired by incidents in Mayer’s personal life; she had trouble choosing between a man who was “like a schlubby best friend type” (like Aaron) and another guy. Neither one was right, she admitted (LOL)! This film is more of a workplace comedy, not a rom com, as it puts career over romance. Albert Brooks (who plays Aaron and also worked on the screenplay) was the first one cast; they waited 6 mos to get Hurt; Hunter was cast a few days before filming started.

James L. Brooks considers this one of the best-written scenes:

There is also an alternate (happy) ending to the Jane/Tom romance:

Here is my earlier review: https://knightleyemma.com/2010/11/14/two-movies-ive-seen-recently/

Network (1976)

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” When Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a veteran news anchor w/ slipping ratings, is informed that he is being let go, he launches into a rant (on live TV) proclaiming his intention to commit suicide on his next broadcast. The network’s execs (incl. Robert Duvall) decide to keep Beale on and exploit the ratings boost. Beale’s closest/oldest friend, Max Schumacher (William Holden), thinks that he may truly be ill (going mad); he tries to care for Beale. Director Sidney Lumet’s examination of the news media depicts a cruel, ratings-obsessed world, in which populist sentiment is exploited for profit. One of the must-see films of the ’70s, Network earned 10 Oscar noms, incl. acting wins for Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, and the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.

There was a panel discussion with Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Beth Reinhard, a local veteran film critic, and moderated by Glastris. I used to see Page on the PBS commentary show- The MacLaughlin Group– along w/ other TV journos; he appears on MSNBC these days. The rise of Trump (UGH) was compared to what happened w/ Beale. Dunaway’s character would also fit in w/ the people making policy around Trump. Page also recommended another film, A Face in the Crowd, for those who enjoyed this one.

Here are my reviews:

https://knightleyemma.com/2018/07/31/network/

https://knightleyemma.com/2016/10/09/a-face-in-the-crowd/

Mr. Jensen (the scene-stealing Ned Beatty) explains to Beale how money makes the world go around in one of the iconic scenes from this movie:

The Front Page (1931)

Newspapermen-turned-playwrights Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur made their names with the 1928 Broadway play The Front Page. Adapted for the screen in 1931, this is the story of star crime reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien), fed up with his manipulative editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou), and about to quit his job to marry his sweetheart Peggy (Mary Brian). But when a big story breaks, Hildy can’t resist covering it, even if it means putting his honeymoon on hold. The play was expertly re-arranged by director Howard Hawks and screenwriter Charles Lederer in 1940 with their adaptation- His Girl Friday (see below). I watched it last year, but will check it out again (see the link to YouTube below).

His Girl Friday (1940)

This Howard Hawks’ remake of The Front Page (see above) with reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) recast as a woman, her love-hate relationship with hard-driving editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) now complicated by the fact that they were formerly married. These were career-defining roles for the actors in one of Hollywood’s greatest screwball comedies. There was a panel discussion with The Atlantic’s Film Critic Christopher Orr, New Yorker Staff Writer Margaret Talbot, and Washington Post Media Reporter Paul Farhi, moderated by Cortellessa. They touched on topics ranging from the rom com genre, portrayal of journos, Chicago history/politics, feminism (as it pertains to smart/clever/career woman Hildy), casual racism (at least in two scenes), and the enduring popularity on this film (the theater was nearly full, yet again).

Here is my earlier review: https://knightleyemma.com/2019/01/11/awfultruth-girlfriday/

Alice Adams (1935) starring Katharine Hepburn

[1] …it’s a low-key, genteel film about the problems of small-town people who are moving up in the social world and the one family that gets left behind.

[2] If you’ve ever felt (at a job, a party, a family gathering) that there was nothing you could do – no matter how hard you tried – to fit in – yet it was important that you did, you’ll feel so much for this charming girl.

I love how the movie does not show a saintly Alice… Yet her warmth toward her family – her essential sweetness, her strong frustrated yearning – are completely captivating.

[3] The awkwardness of the social situations are exploited–and the high point has to be the warm dinner served on a hot evening, complete with maid service (by Hattie McDaniel) in one of the movie’s most amusing, if uncomfortable, scenes.

[4] Although Hepburn and Fred MacMurray are the stars of this romance-comedy, Fred Stone almost steals the show. Playing Hepburn’s dad in the film, he was both hilarious at times and very sad….and always interesting.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Katharine Hepburn (28 y.o. in this film) who plays the title character, Alice Adams, credited director George Stevens for changing her public image. He helped her portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously onscreen. Alice comes from a working class background (her father is a clerk at a factory), yet she desperately wants to fit in w/ the upper class. Alice’s mother blames her husband (who has fallen ill) for their low social standing, despite his working hard for nearly 30 yrs. However, Alice doesn’t blaming him for anything; she’s a “Daddy’s Girl.”

Alice tries to put on the appearances of wealth and social standing, despite everyone in town knowing who she is, and so mostly ignoring her. At a party at the Palmer house, Alice surprisingly catches the eye of young businessman Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray). He is rumored to be engaged to Mildred Palmer; even Alice’s unconcerned brother (Walter) says so. After some disappointing moments, Arthur asks Alice to dance, and she is (suddenly) quiet. He is tall, confident, and good dancer- she can’t believe that he could be interested in her!

There was a disagreement among Hepburn and Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Alice to fall onto the bed and break into sobs after coming back from the Palmer’s party, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, w/ rain falling outside. Hepburn couldn’t cry, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. The director yelled at her and the scene was filmed his way (and Alice’s tears were real).

It turns out that Arthur is interested in courting Alice. He wants to come to her house and meet the family after a few dates. This causes Alice great anxiety- she doesn’t think her home or family will measure up. Also, she wonders if Arthur really likes her for herself (unlike the other men she went out with before). It’s rare to see Hepburn as an insecure woman; many viewers on #TCMParty commented on this (while we were live-tweeting the movie). Check out this movie if you can- it’s quite a treat!

Magic Town (1947) starring James Stewart & Jane Wyman

Very Frank Capra-like (not surprisingly since screenwriter Robert Riskin collaborated with Capra numerous times)…

If you liked James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Philadelphia Story,” this one’s for you.

This is one of those “just sit back and enjoy” pictures that isn’t particularly deep, but that is charming and great fun to watch.

…this film has lots of treasures in the performances, dialogue, physical comedy and rich diversity home spun Americana characters. I recommend this to all fans of the Capra-Riskin genre.

This movie is classic Jimmy Stewart. He is terrific, showing his ability to seamlessly mix comedy with drama.

Interestingly, the town people… were asked whether they thought a woman could function satisfactorily as president. 79% responded “yes.” This was considered an outrageous result.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

In this William Wyler directed film, Jimmy Stewart plays Lawrence “Rip” Smith, an NYC opinion pollster in search of a small town whose opinions reflect those of the U.S. as a whole. When he finds out that Grandview is such a place, he seizes his opportunity to make money (since his office is failing), and heads off to this town. Rip interrupts a conference held by the mayor and convinces him and his committee not to change the town. He’s smooth-talker putting on a facade; he appears boyish, drawling, folksy, and idealistic- the usual Stewart character.

Rip (along w/ Donald Meek and Ned Sparks- veteran character actors) poses as an insurance agent. He even starts coaching the basketball team at the H.S. where his old war buddy teaches. Rip also takes an interest in the newspaper editor, Mary Peterman (Jane Wyman), who is standoffish at first. After her father died, she wanted to keep his legacy going by building a new high school and civic center (yet was rebuffed by the town council).

In one funny scene in a classroom, Rip loudly recites Charge of the Light Brigade while Mary (more subdued) recites Hiawatha. An elderly janitor sees them and begins quoting Romeo’s balcony scene from Shakespeare. Gary Fishgall, who wrote a biography of Stewart, pointed out that the actor decided to use exaggerated facial expressions and pieces of slapstick (I liked when he tripped going up some stairs while saying “I can be tough.”) One viewer commented that Stewart might’ve been influenced by the Three Stooges; he says “Wise guy, huh?” and “What kind of a lamebrain do you think I am?”

Some of Riskin’s films were playing at AFI in April, but I discovered this film on YouTube. I thought Stewart and Wyman had very sweet and playful chemistry; they made a cute couple. Though Stewart’s character isn’t always 100% honest, you can’t help but like him (b/c he’s a decent man at heart).

Here is the full movie:

Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) starring Jose Ferrer

I think MANY people already know the story: In 1640s France, Cyrano (Jose Ferrer), a swordsman/poet (who has a way w/ words and a VERY large nose) hopelessly loves his beautiful cousin Roxane (Mala Powers). His friend, Le Bret, urges him to tell her his feelings, BUT Cyrano thinks he’s TOO ugly and will be rejected. Cyrano is some years older than Roxane; they played together as kids and she trusts him totally. One day, at the bakery (owned by aspiring poet Rageneau), she confesses to Cyrano her love for the handsome/tongue-tied Christian de Neuvilette (William Prince), a new soldier in the Corps de Guards. Christian feels inadequate b/c he can NEVER find the right words to express his love. Cyrano sets out to help Christian woo Roxane w/ words (via letters/speeches). A scheming/older nobleman, De Guiche, is plotting to marry Roxane. Cyrano distracts the man while a priest secretly marries Roxane and Christian, right before the Guard are sent to fight (in war w/ Spain).

Each night, Cyrano (who is romantic and reckless) runs across enemy lines to deliver letters to Roxane. In time, Christian realizes that Cyrano loves Roxane, too. Of course, Cyrano denies it, saying that he has become emotional ONLY b/c he loves his own words. Rageneau brings food to the hungry soldiers; Roxane is w/ him (as she was desperate to see Christian). The couple is reunited before Christian is fatally wounded. As he lies dying, Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane ONLY loved him. Roxane finds a final letter peeking out off Christian’s pocket.

For the next 20 years, Cyrano continues w/ his poetry (and upsetting his enemies, incl. Cardinal Richelieu and De Guiche) and training of soldiers. One night, De Guiche’s men plan an attack (which looks like an accident); Cyrano is thrown to the ground and injures his head. The doctor tells him to stay in bed and rest, or he will surely die. Cyrano doesn’t listen and walks to the convent (Roxane’s home) to tell her the week’s gossip. She takes out a piece of paper from her locket and asks Cyrano to read it- Christian’s last letter. The words have faded toward the end. The daylight is also fading in the garden (where they sit), the nuns are gathering for evening prayers, while Cyrano recites the letter. Roxane finally realizes that he was the man who won her heart, NOT Christian! She rushes to his side, crying, and asking why he never revealed his feelings. Cyrano replies: “The words were mine, but the blood was his.” He gets up (sensing the end is near), pulls out his sword, and does “battle” w/ enemies (ideas) he hates before dying.

I’m a big fan of the 1990 French film starring Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano), Anne Brochet (Roxane), and Vincent Perez (Christian). The cinematography was amazing, as was the music. This film was made w/ a small budget; some of the action scenes are TOO dark. Though Ferrer (who was married for many years to actress/singer Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt) is VERY engaging in the title role, his co-stars (Powers and Prince) are NOT that interesting. It’s easy to buy Brochet as a sensitive/literary-minded woman; Perez is NOT only gorgeous, he brought depth to Christian. As for the swordsman-ship, Ferrer carries it off well (as do the supporting actors). Also, Ferrer has the trim figure of a soldier (unlike Depardieu). Ferrer’s voice is very confident and memorable; he really inhabits the role. In the final scene, you can’t help BUT become emotional!

Producer Stanley Kramer was VERY worried about the box-office prospects, complaining that no one would be able to pronounce the name of the hero/title or that of the lead actor (who came from the theater world). There are no huge sets or spectacular camera shots; it’s the play, performed (w/ added scenes in prose rather than blank verse translated from French). The film was a modest success, partly due to the low budget ($400,000) and to Ferrer’s (Best Actor) Oscar win. He was the first Hispanic actor (born in Puerto Rico) that won an Academy Award. Some of you may have seen his son, Miguel Ferrer, who was a highly respected character actor (and the spitting image of his father).

[1] …this film boasts what is certainly one of the greatest performances in the history of film–and especially American film. José Ferrer… gives the performance of his life as Cyrano. His portrayal is in every way the equal of Depardieu’s, and as far as I am concerned, even better. Depardieu relies on sincerity and subtle facial expressions. Ferrer also has these, but he has in addition one of the most beautiful, rich voices ever to come out of the theatre, and magnificent enunciation as well. His portrayal is more flamboyant than Depardieu, and he shows a heartbreaking sense of tragedy as he realizes that the beautiful Roxane will probably never be his. The “big moment” in the final scene is shattering in Ferrer’s hands.

[2] Jose Ferrer covers all the possible emotions an actor can in his role. He is comedic, brave, adventurous, romantic, self-sacrificing, elegant, pitiful, nimble-witted, gallant, prideful, humble, he fully recognizes his short-comings, and, most of all, he is true to his code of honor.

[3] Jose Ferrer delivers the performance of a lifetime that strikes deep into the heart. Anyone who has even been mocked, scored, or ridiculed, or simply felt unworthy of the affections of another will sympathize with Cyrano…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews