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.

You Can’t Take it with You (1938) starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, & Lionel Barrymore

This Frank Capra feel-good film (a screwball comedy) won the Best Picture Oscar; it was adapted from a V popular Pulitzer Prize-winning play. A stenographer at a bank- Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur- looking V youthful at age 38) and her VP boss- Tony Kirby (Jimmy Stewart, just 31 and NOT yet a star)- are deeply in love after 5 mos. of seeing each other. His cranky/ millionaire father, Kirby Sr. (Edward Arnold) needs to buy one last house in a 12 block area for a big weapons manufacturing deal. This house is owned by Alice’s kind/free-spirited grandfather- Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore). Barrymore as Grandpa (as everyone calls him) had arthritis and a hip injury; the script was altered, so that his character had a sprained ankle, and he could walk w/ crutches. The Vanderhof family is considered eccentric; they don’t care for money, status, so work at ONLY what they enjoy. When Tony proposes to Alice, she says he should come meet her (unconventional) family w/ his (snobbish) parents. Tony decides to visit the night before the planned event… and craziness ensues!

I watched this film for the 3rd time last week; I esp. liked the scenes of Stewart wooing (or courting) Arthur; they were V cute as a couple and had great charisma. They later starred in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. At this time in Hollywood, she was more famous that him! The scene in night court foreshadows a scene in the later (more famous film)- It’s a Wonderful Life-  all of the Vanderhof family’s friends chip in to pay off his fine. Even Grandpa’s dinnertime prayers remind the viewer of a simpler and kinder type of world.

[1] Vanderhof’s life is full because of his family and the friends he welcomes to share whatever he has, asking nothing in return. He is a rich man, indeed. 

[2] Capra emphasises his favourite theme of the little guy up against the world and succeeds…

[3] You have to be in a mood to watch this, willing to suspend all belief in reality and succumb to the notion that doing nothing for a living is better than having an honest job or worrying about the rent.

[4] This movie leaves a huge smile on my face and I think, unless you’re an extreme cynical type, it will do the same for you. It’s a warm, uplifting comedy with romance, drama, and lots of little bits for people who like “windows into the past.” Just a real treat for anyone who loves getting lost in classic films.

=Excerpts from IMDB reviews

If Beale Street Could Talk (NOW PLAYING)

NOTE: This review contains MINOR spoilers for the film.

Every poet is an optimist. But on the way to that optimism you have to reach a certain level of despair to deal with your life at all. -James Baldwin on his novel- If Beale Street Could Talk

This is really happening: Families really are being torn apart by this. Love is really under attack by these injustices and these issues. –KiKi Layne, actor

I think the biggest message is love and hope. You never know the power of that, and how that can get you through the most tumultuous times.  -Stephan James, actor

[1] It’s a story of love and family and the impact of racism without any of the preachiness we often get. 

[2] The acting was great, especially Regina King. She deserves every award she is nominated for in this pic. 

[3] I did want more of the film, but that’s not to say it felt unfinished. I just wanted more of every character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I went to see this film last FRI w/ 2 of my gal pals at one of our local indie theaters- Landmark Bethesda. Our screening was packed mainly w/ middle-aged and elderly couples (black and white). It was adapted (from a novel by James Baldwin) and directed by Barry Jenkins (NOT yet 40 y.o.) In 2016, Jenkins’ film Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar; I saw that film on Netflix (late to the game). I thought that film was pretty good; it had an unique style and BOTH Mahershala Ali and Andre Holland are actors I admire. I think Beale Street could be more relateable; it’s partly a love story and also a look at justice system in the U.S.

Tish (KiKi Layne- in her first film role), a 19 y.o. dept. store clerk, and Fonnie (Stephan James), a 22 y.o. artist are deeply in love. They grew up together (in very different families) and being a romantic pair just came naturally. Fonnie gets arrested for a (serious) crime that he didn’t commit; Tish learns that she is pregnant w/ his child. Tish’s older sister, Ernestine (Teyonah Parris from Chi-Raq) find a (young/white) lawyer for Fonnie, Hayward (Finn Whitrock). Both families hustle to raise funds for the defense, incl. conducting investigations outside the country. Tish’s mother, Sharon (Regina King), is VERY supportive and goes to great lengths for the love of her child. I think King could be in the running for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar!

This film is NOT about action, it’s more about character development; we see life through black people living in Harlem in the ’70s. There are some tender moments, BUT also difficult ones (which feel timeless, sad to say). Fonnie and Tish have a VERY tough time finding a place of their own to live. His best friend, Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry from Atlanta), runs into Fonnie on the street; he was gone for several yrs from the area (we discover why). Some critics commented how rare it is to just see two young black men talking about their lives and feelings.

There is a LOT of chemistry between the leads; they can convey vulnerability and strength (as situations arise). The supporting actors are quite good; the cast includes Aunjanue Ellis, Michael Beach, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, and Ed Skrein. There are MANY close-ups, long takes (reminiscent of classic films), and the music is used quite effectively. These kind of films are VERY important- they put us in the shoes of people who are rarely depicted onscreen, or NOT depicted in a realistic manner. I recommend to indie film fans (of all ages and backgrounds); perhaps some of you will take a friend/family member who prefers more mainstream fare.

A trailer for the film- “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Bringing Up Baby (1938) starring Katharine Hepburn & Cary Grant

Whenever this movie comes on TCM, I recall what my dad said- “it’s too crazy.” Well, this isn’t inaccurate, BUT it’s crazy in a fast-paced/fun way. There is SO much (OK, maybe TOO much) going on in this screwball comedy; you need to pay attention. I saw it for maybe the 3rd time last week; I found myself laughing at several scenes. FYI: Katharine Hepburn had never done comedy before, and was coached by director Howard Hawks (and several veteran actors) he employed. Cary Grant was already well versed in comedy; he also used his acrobatic skills in this film. The two leads have great chemistry; they became friends and even double-dated w/ their significant others (during filming).

She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control. -Hawks on Hepburn

A young/nervous zoologist, Dr. David Huxley (Grant- wearing thick glases), is VERY excited by the news that an intercostal clavicle bone has been found to complete his brontosaurus skeleton, a project 4 yrs in the construction. He is anxious re: securing $1M for the museum where he works from a wealthy/widowed donor- Mrs. Random. David is engaged to be married to his uptight assistant, Alice. He still refers to her as Miss Swallow; he is disappointed when she says their marriage will be ALL business b/c his work comes first. Who says that classic films don’t have dirty jokes/meanings!?

A lawyer, Mr. Peabody, will make the decision on behalf of the donor, so David needs to make a good impression. Troubles arise when the straight-laced David meets a flighty young heiress, Susan Vance (Hepburn), who keeps doing things which make him look bad in Peabody’s eyes. (BTW, Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in Superman and its 3 sequels on the character of David.) The more David wants her to go away, the more Susan keeps showing up, then purposefully drawing him in (b/c she finds him attractive). Susan has a “wardrobe malfunction” at a fancy gathering; such a state of undress was rarely seen in films approved by the Hays Code. David eventually learns that Mr. Peabody is Susan’s good friend (who she calls “Boopy”), and her “Aunt Elizabeth” is Mrs. Random!

The “baby” of this title is a young leopard that was sent from Brazil by Susan’s brother. She thinks that she can keep him in her NYC apt (LOL… and also scary)! Hepburn had a very close call with the leopard. She was wearing a skirt lined with little metal pieces to make it swing in a pretty way. When Hepburn turned around quickly, the leopard made a lunge for her back; the trainer had to intervene w/ his whip to save the actress. This film employed a great number of split screen and optical tricks, such as rear screen projection, so that having the leopard in close proximity to the actors could be kept to a minimum.

[1] One scene after another at breakneck pace, but never a dull moment. As soon as one laugh stops, another one begins. In case you haven’t gotten the point, I highly suggest you see this movie. 

[2] In “Bringing Up Baby” her Susan Vance is a very interesting diversion from her more usual type of character… beguiling in a completely different fashion, playing a slightly scatterbrained, sprightly, charmingly delinquent woman, who seems to have no control over anything; least of all her feelings for Grant.

It’s remarkable to see this absurd little man, bespectacled, unworldly and cutting an orthodox figure played so perfectly by the suave Grant. This is gleefully played on with the sublime scene where Hepburn and Grant are trying to catch the leopard – Kate butterfly net in hand! She accidentally happens to break his glasses and is even more taken with him without them…

[3] Grant’s clearly the superego character, straitlaced and repressed and anti-life (it’s no accident he works with bones). Hepburn was never lovelier than she was here — she’s the id character, all action and movement. We laugh partly because Grant needs to be loosened up, but partly because some of Hepburn’s actions are shocking. Ideally, we should be in the same position as Grant in the movie: half-attracted, half-afraid.

[4] While many films regarded as classics in the ’30s seem somewhat dated now, Bringing up Baby seems as fresh as it ever did, thanks largely to the energetic central performances. Grant is terrific as the professor who gradually loses his inhibitions, but Hepburn steals the show as a self-absorbed young woman who wins the audience over through her lack of inhibitions.

[5] Notwithstanding the obvious physical humor and improbable situations, it’s almost impossible to miss the obvious anatomical references played to the hilt with every mention of the word “bone.” Not only was Grant’s character misrepresented by the unfortunate name, but he seemed to be having a lot of fun while on the chase for the elusive brontosaurus piece – “My bone. It’s rare. It’s precious. What did you do with it?” How many takes do you think it took to get through those scenes? 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews