The Awful Truth (1937) starring Cary Grant & Irene Dunne/His Girl Friday (1940) starring Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell

The Awful Truth

Before their divorce becomes final, Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) BOTH do their best to ruin each other’s plans for remarriage. They divorced (hastily) b/c they suspected that cheating was going on; Lucy learns that he lied re: going away to Florida and Jerry is VERY disturbed upon learning that she was stuck (overnight) w/ her (suave/French) music teacher. It’s up to the audience to decide IF they actually cheated! Lucy meets an earnest Okie oilman- Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy)- while living w/ her outgoing auntie at a fancy hotel. Jerry visits their pet dog (a fox terrier), Mr. Smith, as was decreed by the judge; the dog (obviously) doesn’t like the couple being apart. One night, while Lucy and Daniel are out at a fancy club, they run into Jerry and his date- a wanna-be actress named “Dixie Belle Lee.” She is young, blonde, and Southern; she reveals that she changed her name (b/c her family disapproves of show business). They all watch (w/ bemusement) as Dixie Belle happily screeches out a song; at certain points, her skirt blows up (a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch). One day, BOTH the music teacher and Jerry show up at Lucy’s hotel and confusion ensues! Jerry seriously begins seeing a socialite- Barbara Vance- who is covered in the society pages. Jerry tells Lucy that he’s going to meet the parents; she barges in on them, calling herself Jerry’s “sister.” The Vances, a humorless bunch, look on w/ horror as Lucy does her own impression of Dixie Belle, complete w/ a burlesque-style dance.

Much of the film (adapted from a Broadway play) was improvised by its director, Leo McCarey, and the cast each day. This caused Grant much anxiety, BUT it became a big hit. After a time, Grant realized that McCarey was deliberately creating nervous tension in him to enhance the performance. By keeping the cast slightly off balance, the director was building scenes from spontaneous moments between the actors. There is clever/fast dialogue, physical humor (incl. w/ the energetic dog), and great chemistry between the leads. The supporting actors do a good job, too; they add to this screwball comedy.

His Girl Friday

It all happened in the “Dark Ages” of the Newspaper game- When to a reporter “Getting That Story” justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of Today. Ready? Well, once upon a time… –Opening title card for the film

Having been away 4 mos, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), walks into the offices of The Morning Post, where she is a star reporter; her purpose is to tell her boss/editor, Walter Burns (Grant), that she is quitting. She got a divorce in Reno (from Walter- who admits he “wasn’t much of a husband”) and had a vacation in Bermuda. Hildy wants to “have a home” and “live like a real human being,” instead of chasing after stories. She plans to take the 4PM train to Albany, where she will be getting married the next day to an earnest/doting insurance agent, Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy- yet again the guy who doesn’t get the girl). Walter doesn’t want to lose Hildy, as a reporter or a wife, so he does whatever he can to delay her trip and convince her that she belongs w/ the paper- and him!

You’ve got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, ’til death do us part.’ Why divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. -Walter explains to Hildy

What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick... -Walter says

Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced. -Hildy retorts

Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering. -Walter replies

He forgets the office when he’s with me. He doesn’t treat me like an errand boy, either, Walter. He treats me like a woman. -Hildy comments re: her fiance, Bruce

This (fast-talking) screwball comedy influenced MANY films that came after it, from rom coms to workplace comedies. There are jokes aimed at the behavior, looks, and speech of journos (who were almost ALL men that time). I’ve seen this film several times over the years; I recently learned that Hildy was first written as a man (in the play- The Front Page). For the film, the studio (producers) decided to change it to a woman, so there could be a romance (instead of bromance) element. In the middle section of the film, Hildy is at the helm of the story, and we see things from her POV. The other reporters covering the case admire Hildy for her talent (writing); they even bet on how long she’ll last as a housewife! The female Hildy was a rarity for Hollywood; she had a career, was confident, smart, and independent-minded. She wears cool hats, coats, and (menswear-inspired) skirt suits. Grant (then in his 30s) looks great (as usual); he projects charm, humor, and mischievousness in his scenes. Walter (who rarely shows vulnerability, BUT is still easy to relate to) is one of Grant’s MOST known/loved characters.

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Possessed (1931) starring Joan Crawford & Clark Gable

The script is sharp and believable, the direction good and there are some incredibly lavish settings. Also Crawford and Gable are just great in their roles and both of them look incredibly beautiful.

It’s in these early Crawford films that you really see what the shouting was all about. She is beautiful, vulnerable, strong, sweet and, most importantly, a powerful screen presence. And she can show you all those sides of herself in the same scene.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

If I were a man it wouldn’t frighten you! You’d think it was right for me to go out and get anything I could out of life, and use anything I had to get it. Why should men be so different? All they’ve got are their brains and they’re not afraid to use them. Well neither am I! -Marion declares to her mother (before leaving home)

This is a short (76 mins) and simple story re: Marion Martin (Joan Crawford), a young woman working at a small factory town. She dreams of the good life, so rejects the cement worker who wants to marry her, Al Manning (Wallace Ford), and leaves home for NYC. Marion meets wealthy lawyer- Mark Whitney (Clark Gable)- and becomes his mistress. Three yrs. go by and we see Marion in her spacious apt, wearing fancy clothes and jewels. Though she yearns for the status/respectability of marriage, Mark doesn’t want to marry again. He was scandalized when his ex-wife cheated on him w/ their driver. One day, Marion (who goes by “Mrs. Moreland” and is assumed to be a widow) learns that Al is coming to the city on business. Al admits that Marion leaving him was the best thing that happened in his life; he worked hard and became a contractor. Al wants to take Marion out. Marion is deeply in love w/ Mark, BUT also worried about her future. Does Mark love Marion and will he change his mind? Or will Marion settle for Al this time around?

Marion is the hero of her own story; the audience wants her to get a happy ending. Notice how kindly Marion speaks to the unsophisticated mistress of one of Mark’s party guests; she realizes that they are in the same boat. Gable (w/o his trademark mustache) is only 30 y.o. here. He does a good job, though (as MANY critics have said), he doesn’t have much range. Crawford was just 25 y.o. in this movie, yet she commands the screen w/ her confidence, physical grace, expressive eyes and- of course- voice! I was surprised b/c I’d ONLY seen her in ’40s & ’50s films. This film was made before the Hays Code came into effect; it deals w/ mature subject matters in subtle ways.

RBG (2018)

People ask me “Don’t you feel uncomfortable being compared to a rapper?” Why would I? We have a lot in common like being born and raised in Brooklyn. -Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If you’re not watching #RBGMovie you are missing one of the great multi layered love stories. Love of the law, love of knowledge, love of equality and above all, love of marriage as a true partnership, bursting with mutual respect. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American original. -Tom Harrington (CBC Radio)

The love story between Ruth and Martin Ginsburg is nothing less than awe-inspiring. I love how she tells about her undergraduate years at Cornell where there was a four to one ratio of boys to girls. “Every mother wanted to send their daughter there because, if you couldn’t find a husband there, you were hopeless.” She reveals that during her freshman year, she never dated the same boy twice. That is, until she met Marty, who was the first guy that recognized she had a brain. -Excerpt from IMDB review

He was okay playing second fiddle. In fact, he joked about it… -Nina Totenberg (NPR legal correspondent) on Marty, a very successful tax attorney in NYC, who moved to DC when his wife’s career took off. 

The film traces RBG’s life from her childhood in Brooklyn through her years struggling to be taken seriously as a young female law student  and practicing attorney, and through her tenure on the SCOTUS and emergence as a pop culture icon. The storyline is mostly linear, but includes frequent jumps backward, forward, and even sideways as it examines different aspects of her life, personality, and public image. There’s a mix of historical photos, videos, but the main draw are the interviews. We hear from Ginsburg’s children, childhood friends, colleagues, admirers and a few detractors, as well as fellow feminist icon Gloria Steinem, former Pres. Bill Clinton, and Ginsburg herself.

Some of the cases RBG argued before the SCOTUS:

  • Frontiero vs. Richardson (1973): A young newly-married woman from Alabama, Sharron Frontiero, working in the U.S. Air Force, sues for gender discrimination when the housing stipend is denied her (unlike male co-workers).
  • Weinberger vs. Wiesenfeld (1975): A widower and father to baby boy, Simon Wiesenfeld, sues the Social Security Administration for sole-survivor benefits (then called “a mother’s benefit” and only avaiable to women). When the case reached SCOTUS, RBG had Simon come sit w/ the lawyers (putting a masculine face in front of the all-male justices).
  • Califano vs. Goldfarb: Leon Goldfarb, a widower, who applied for survivor’s benefits under the Social Security Act had his application denied (even though his wife Hannah had paid Social Security taxes for 25 years).
  • Edwards vs. Healy: Challenging the Louisiana law that allowed women to opt-out of jury service.

You may remember these (high-profile) cases that RBG presided over:

  • U.S. vs. Virginia Military Institute (1996): VMI boasted a long and proud tradition as Virginia’s only exclusively male public undergraduate higher learning institution. The U.S. brought suit against Virginia and VMI alleging that the school’s male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional insofar as it violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
  • Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007): Over her 19 yr. career at Goodyear, Lilly Ledbetter was consistently given low rankings in annual performance-and-salary reviews and low raises relative to other employees. Ledbetter sued for gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that the company had given her a low salary because of her gender.

A granddaughter, Clara Spera, who recently graduated from Harvard Law School, explains that this was the first year that the graduating class was 50% male and 50% female (WOW). Jane and James (her adult children) recall how their mother rarely laughed, stressed education and personal responsibility, and was a horrible cook (LOL). Her husband, Marty, worked hard by contacting people from the business and legal communities to get RBG (then aged 61) to the top of the list for Supreme Court justice in 1993. Pres. Clinton was very impressed by her interview. RBG, who even won the admiration of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), was confirmed 96-3 in a quite partisan time. This is a MUST-SEE documentary (for people of ALL ages)!

SATC: 20 Years Later

Who hasn’t wondered if they’re a Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha!? The iconic HBO show (which was later shown on TBS- where I saw MOST of it) has MANY fans (incl. Beyonce- listen to lyrics in Me and My Boyfriend) and haters. Though it deals w/ modern-day dating (casual/serious), careers (high-powdered/stressful), and (eventually) LTRs and marriage, it’s anchored in something MORE solid than any of these topics- female friendship. No matter what, these four women had each other’s backs (unlike the younger/less mature ones we later saw on Girls). Michael Patrick King admitted that he intentionally limited the family members, since the four gal pals and how they relate to each other was the main focus.

From a distance, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) had a glam life- working as a freelance writer, living in a (rent-controlled) Manhattan apt, w/ a closet filled w/ designer shoes (as well as quirky clothes). The fictional stand-in for author Candace Bushnell, Carrie (32 y.o. in the first season), was focused on her writing and finding love. She was petite, curly-haired, a bit clumsy, BUT also funny/charming. UES art curator Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) always had the dream of a traditional family. In a revealing character moment (early in S1), she incredulously asks: “How do you forget a guy you’ve slept with!?” Charlotte was V conventionally pretty/WASP and more conservative when it came to clothing, demeanor, and men. Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon- now running for governor of NY) was the litigator looking to make partner at her law firm. She was V independent, funny (in a sarcastic way), and NOT focused much on romance (some viewers call her jaded). In one ep, a senior partner assumed she was gay, so set her up w/ another woman (who turned out to be a pal). Samantha (Kim Cattral) was the publicist who boldly stated that she’d try anything once. Though the oldest of this group, she was (arguably) the MOST beautiful, confident, and adventurous (incl. w/ men). Creator Darren Star solely wanted Cattral (an icon from ’80s B-movies) for this role, though she was V reluctant. Some haters feel that Samantha “acted like a man” (whatever that means) and wasn’t “realistic.” Hmmm… that doesn’t mean real “Samanthas” don’t exist.

Though the men take a back seat on SATC, many fine (and fine looking- just being real) actors (from world of movies, TV, & theater) have been involved w/ the women. Carrie’s Achilles heel was Mr. Big (Law & Order alum Chris Noth), the emotionally distant, successful businessman she couldn’t forget… and finally married (in a movie). Frustration was the most common feeling when Carrie broke up w/ furniture-builder Aiden (John Corbett), who MANY thought was her “perfect guy.” Unlike Big, Aiden was expressive, warm, and V willing to share his life. And who can forget Jack Berger (Ron Livingston from Office Space)!? Berger (as she called him) was Carrie’s intellectual equal- a humor writer she met at their publisher’s office. They share witty banter, common thoughts, and honesty. Berger’s advice to Miranda when she questions the lack of a phone call after a first date, “He’s just not that into you,” became a part of pop culture. Berger’s and Carrie’s relationship is strained by career problems; a book deal of his falls through just as she gets a book deal to publish her columns. He breaks up with her on a Post-It (yikes).

It wasn’t a smooth road for the other gals either. Charlotte’s “knight in shining armor” Dr. Trey MacDougal (Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks fame) turned out to be NOT what she expected. They met when Trey’s cab nearly missed hitting Charlotte on the street. She did what MANY women (raised w/ conservative values) have done- married in short time b/c the man was handsome, of similar heritage, w/ a successful career. After her divorce from (still a “mama’s boy”) Trey, Charlotte (unexpectedly) grew close to her attorney, Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler). Harry was the antithesis of what Charlotte looked for in a man: bald, pudgy, messy, sweaty, w/ blunt manners and TOO much body hair. But Charlotte fell in love w/ him, and decided to convert to Judaism, b/c it meant that she’d get to be the wife of such a good man. Miranda (perhaps an aspirational figure to young women) turned out to have a great life; she became partner, had a baby boy, bought a brownstone in Brooklyn (before it was cool) and (eventually) married Queens-raised bartender- Steve (David Eigenberg). It came as NO shock to viewers when Samantha ended up single, though she did have two LTRs w/ wealthy industrialist, Richard (James Remar), and much younger actor/waiter Smith (Jason Lewis). She also managed Smith’s acting career for a time.

Looking back, fans and critics alike MAY cringe at the lack of diversity (esp. in a show set in NYC and filmed partly at Silvercup Studios in Astoria, Queens). In S1, Samantha had an elegant/older girlfriend, Maria (played by iconic Brazilian actress Sonia Braga). Later, she dated a young hip hop mogul, Marcus, whose older sister strongly disapproved of interracial relationships. Miranda briefly dated her sports doc neighbor (played by Blair Underwood, an alum of L.A. Law). The two (recurring) gay men on the show, Carrie’s literary agent/friend Stanford (Willie Garson) and Charlotte’s event planner/friend Anthony (Mario Cantone) were drawn w/ a broad brush. At one point, the ladies set them up on a date, though they didn’t have much in common (yeah, that happens to other minorities, too).

The Problem with Apu (2017) starring Hari Kondabolu

Last WED night, Hari Kondabolu was in DC (Baird Auditorium at The Smithsonian Natural History Museum) to discuss his first documentary film w/ NPR reporter Elizabeth Blair and a diverse audience (which included MANY South Asian immigrants and 1st gen adults in their 20s-40s). This was a free event; I signed up 2 weeks ahead of time (and got a kick out of seeing /chatting w/ MANY familiar faces attending). This film is NOT only funny, it’s smart and thought-provoking (delving into issue of South Asian representation in the media). You can watch this film on truTV  tonight (SUN, 11/19). 

So, what’s the big deal re: Apu here? Well, he’s a stereotype of an immigrant Indian man who runs a convenience store, and voiced by a white actor (Hank Azaria, who refused to appear in the film). The Simpsons is a nearly 30 y.o show on the FOX network which is watched/loved by millions. As Maryland-raised actor/musician Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect; The Mindy Project) summed it up: “The problem is- we didn’t have any other type of representation.” Hari interviewed MANY people incl: his parents, Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Kal Penn (Designated Survivor), Hasan Minhaj (Homecoming King), Aasif Mandvi (best known from The Daily Show), Maulik Pancholy (Star Trek: Discovery),  Aparna Nancherla (stand-up comic/actor/writer from Virginia), Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards), Noureen DeWulf (Anger Management), Dr. Vivek Murthy (former Surgeon General under Pres. Obama), W. Kamau Bell (Hari’s friend/collaborator on various projects), Dana Gould (a producer of The Simpsons) and Hollywood trail-brazer Whoopi Goldberg (who speaks on America’s minstrel era, featuring “blackface”).

The audience was laughing all through the film. They were pleasantly surprised to see Whoopi and Dr. Murthy (a trailblazer in his own right). I esp. enjoyed the Q&A afterwards; Hari mentioned his idea for a future doc- focusing on Bengali filmmaker Satyjit Ray. 

Watch the trailer for The Problem with Apu below: