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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Nocturnal Animals (2016) starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, & Michael Shannon

A (revenge) story inside a story follows LA-based 40-something art curator, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who receives a (soon to be published) book manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she left 20 years earlier. The second element follows the book itself (titled Nocturnal Animals) which revolves around a family man, Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), whose vacation turns violent after his car is run off a rural Texas road. Tony, his wife (Isla Fisher), and their teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber) come face to face w/ a trio of dangerous young men. As Susan reads Edward’s engrossing book, she finds herself recalling their marriage, her loss of idealism, and confronting some hard truths about herself.

The first thing you notice re: this stylish (yet not shallow) thriller (directed by famed American fashion designer Tom Ford) is its look- it’s beautiful! The cinematographer is Irishman Seamus McGarvey; he also worked on Atonement. The costumes, hair, makeup, set decoration, etc, add to the richness of the story; however, sometimes the symbolism is too obvious. The score was inspired in Philip Glass and Bernard Herrmann; there is something familiar, yet also mysterious about the music. This tale also has something to say re: the art world (which Ford is familiar w/ being among the wealthy).

The acting is also quite good, starting w/ (Oscar nominee) Michael Shannon, who portrays a gruff Texas deputy- Bobby Andes- who’s not afraid to bend the rules to catch the bad guys. He’s a magnetic screen presence (bringing to my mind Gene Hackman). Gyllenhaal does a great job (as usual) in both his roles, esp. as Tony- the more interesting character. Laura Linney is only in once scene- she’s fabulous! Armie Hammer plays Susan’s second husband- Hutton- who is cold, distant, and worried re: the failing art gallery. Critics also loved to hate the villain- Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, husband of director Sam Taylor-Johnson); I hadn’t seen him before. As for Adams, pay attention to the quiet moments (she spends a lot of time reading).

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/

Always Be My Maybe (2019) starring Ali Wong, Randall Park, Keanu Reeves, & Daniel Dae Kim

Real-life pals, Ali Wong (check out her Netflix comedy specials: Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife) and Randall Park (Fresh off the Boat) wanted to make a modern-day, Asian-American version of When Harry Met Sally, the iconic 1989 rom com that paired a sweet funnyman (Billy Crystal) w/ a beautiful, yet also eccentric, girl-next-door (Meg Ryan). Wong (who is a 37 y.o. actress/writer of Chinese and Vietnamese heritage) plays ambitious celeb chef, Sasha Tran, who is on the verge of opening more restaurants, incl. in NYC, LA, and her hometown (San Francisco). She is engaged to Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim from Lost), a very handsome, successful, and somewhat older real estate developer. Before they settle down, Brandon wants to travel the world for a year and live like a single man (much to Sasha’s dismay). Her assistant/best friend, Veronica (comedian Michelle Buteau), says this is crazy, but Sasha agrees to Brandon’s terms.

A few months before the San Fran restaurant is set to open, Sasha and Veronica fly to the city and set up shop (and a very nice house for Sasha). Without telling Sasha, Veronica hires Kim & Son to set up the A/C system; when they arrive, Sasha is shocked and Marcus Kim (Park) acts very awkward. Mr. Kim (veteran character actor Jamies Saito) is happy to see Veronica and Sasha; they haven’t been around since high school. It turns out that Sasha’s immigrant family lived next door to the Kims (who are second gen Korean-American) and she and Marcus were best friends all through their childhood! Mr. Kim always thought they would end up together.

There is no one way to be Asian, but you would’t know that from consuming mainstream TV shows, movies, or most media. Here we have two individuals coming from unique families: the Wongs (who speak w/ accents) worked long hours at their store to save for their future and Sasha (though she resented it); meanwhile, the Kims (who have no accents) welcomed Sasha into their home after-school and she developed her interest in cooking from Marcus’ mom, Judy (Susan Park). There are certain touches that add texture to what could’ve been a typical rom com story: kids removing their shoes when entering a home; cooking traditional dishes at home; Asians of various backgrounds as neighbors, friends and romantic partners; a New Age type of Asian woman who works w/ at-risk youth; Asians rapping about their unique experiences, and (perhaps most striking) an Asian male as a romantic lead. Oh, and fans of Keanu Reeves are in for a treat, as are his haters. This is must-see, b/c I feel that different viewers will relate to it on different levels! I recommend it to foodies, immigrants (or those who are second gen in US), rom com fans, and even those who avoid the rom com genre. My favorite thing about Always Be My Maybe was the fact that this was a love rooted in friendship (which is one of the reasons that When Harry Met Sally was so popular).

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!