irene dunne

Irene Dunne – ‘She longed to be called baby’ – Episode 19

Irene Dunne was the queen of melodrama, comedy and musicals, a leading lady adored by all and seen by female audiences as an ‘every woman’. Many critics over the years have labelled Irene as either the ‘female Cary Grant’ or the refined lady who excelled in maternal roles. We at Any Ladle’s Sweet beg to differ and offer a more nuanced view of this deeply funny lady who always longed to be called ‘baby’. We discuss 3 of her finest roles: Ann Vickers (1933, Theodora Goes Wild (1936), and Unfinished Business (1941).

Sources:
Ann Vickers (1933). Dir. John Cromwell [DVD] RKO Pictures.

Basinger, J. (2007) The Star Machine. New York: Vintage.

Bawden, J. and Miller, R. (2016) Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Bogdonovich, P. (1997) Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors. New York: Ballantine.

Carman, E. (2016) Independent Stardom: Freelance Women in the Hollywood Studio System. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Douglas, M. (1986) See You at the Movies: The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas. (with Tom Arthur) Lanham: University Press of America.

Gehring, W.D. (2006) Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

McCourt: J. (1980) ‘Irene Dunne: The Awful Truth’ Film Comment 16.1 pp. 26-32.

Theodora Goes Wild (1936) Dir. Richard Boleslawski [YouTube] Columbia Pictures.

Unfinished Business (1941) Dir. Gregory La Cava [YouTube] Universal Studios.

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mary astor

Mary Astor: Bitch’s Cauldron – Episode 18

Mary Astor was in the words of David Niven a woman who “looked like a beautiful and highly shockable nun with the vocabulary of a long shoreman.” Dominated by a brutish money grabbing father, hated by her mother, pushed into film acting and some disasterous marriages and affairs, it was a long time before the real Mary Astor came into her own. A woman consumed by her many passions and demons, she brought a vitality, intelligence and wit to her roles that was ahead of its time. Join us as explore her best work in three films: The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Great Lie (1941) and The Palm Beach Story (1942).

Sources:

Astor, M. (1959) My Story: An Autobiography New York: Doubleday.

Astor, M. (1967) Mary Astor: A Life on Film 1 st British edition 1973. London: W.H. Allen.

Huston, J. (1980) An Open Book New York: Knopf.

Sorel, E. (2016) Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936 New York: Liveright Publishing Company.

Sturges, P. (1990) Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges Adapted and edited by Sandy Sturges. New York: Simon and Schuster.

The Great Lie (1941) Dir. Edmund Goulding (DVD) Warner Brothers.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) Dir. John Huston (DVR) Warner Brothers.

The Palm Beach Story (1942) Dir. Preston Sturges (DVD) Paramount Pictures.

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carole lombard

Carole Lombard: Hoyden, Screwball, Mogul in the Making – Episode 17

Ice-blonde with blue piercing eyes and great gams, Carole surprised many with her salty tongue, endless pranks and keen head for business and publicity. A screwball comedy queen, she also had a big heart when it came to looking after everyone she came into contact with, on and off the set. A proto feminist, she strived for better contracts and demanded her way when it came to choosing writers, directors and cinematographers for her projects. Her life was tragically brief so we want to pay homage to this great lady who was really just getting started. In episode 17 we discuss Virtue (1932), No Man of Her Own (1932) and My Man, Godfrey (1936).

Sources:
Bogdanovich, P. (1997) Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors New York: Ballantine Books.

Carman, E. (2016) Independent Stardom: Freelance Women in the Hollywood Studio System. Austin: University of Texas Press.

My Man Godfrey (1936) Dir. Gregory La Cava [YouTube] Universal Pictures.

No Man of Her Own (1932) Dir. Wesley Ruggles [DVD] Paramount Pictures.

Swindell, L. (1975) Screwball: The Life of Carole Lombard Brattleboro: Echo Point Books and Media.

Virtue (1932) Dir. Edward Buzzell [DVD] Columbia Pictures.

Ott W. Frederick. (1972) The Films of Carole Lombard: The Citadel Press

sensesofcinema.com/2011/cteq/my-man-godfrey/

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Scene Dwellers – #7 Patsy Kelly, Queen of Slapstick

#7 PATSY KELLY, QUEEN OF SLAPSTICK

‘I was a domestic, an uppity, loud, butch maid … I was there to liven up the proceedings and give ‘em a little low humor. That’s why my roles were pocket-sized; a lot of me would have been like a tidal wave; the males wouldn’t have known what hit ‘em’—Patsy Kelly in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, from Hollywood Lesbians.

Patsy Kelly’s apple cheeks, button nose and guileless eyes suggest an embodiment of innocence, at least until she opens her mouth to offer a snappy retort or invite chaos with every choreographed pratfall. Kelly crashed through a series of film shorts produced by Hal Roach, who developed a female comedy team in a tenor similar to the Laurel & Hardy franchise. Kelly was a replacement for Thelma Todd’s first partner, Zasu Pitts. Thelma Todd’s ‘ice cream blonde’ turns to long suffering side kick when partnered with Kelly as comic foil. For every onscreen lark, Patsy Kelly strikes a protest against established forms of authority. To the bully on the street or in the seat behind, a megalomaniacal film director, policemen, and a conceited glamour girl, Kelly was quick to taunt, challenge and dismiss the legitimacy of their power.

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In two shorts with Todd (both available on YouTube), Beauty and the Bus (’33) and Maid in Hollywood (’34), Kelly offers a masterclass in piss-take. Years in vaudeville made Kelly appear downright polished in Beauty and the Bus. The plot involves the ladies entering a cinema ticket raffle for a new car, which they win, but their windfall proves short-lived after a calamitous fender bender. Road rage 1933 style remains the standout scene, a brilliant contest of reprisal, where Kelly faces off between a pinch nose button-down (Don Barclay) and massive hulk (Tiny Sandford), a man who blots the sun when he steps from his vehicle.

Rather than opt for a shouty altercation, Patsy Kelly meets perceived threats with a firm scorched-earth policy, whereby she smashes and tears everything to utter ruination. Old pinch nose demands their contact information so he might seek restitution, and by way of response Kelly kicks the fender from his car and justifies it to Thelma Todd, ‘that’s the trouble with those guys, always trying to make a mountain out of a mothball’. In Kelly’s worldview, they are vexed by ‘those guys’ and should answer in kind. Wearing a beret, bow front blouse, A-line skirt and heels, Kelly presents a surprisingly gritty and formidable opponent. Lady catastrophe then shatters his headlamp and pulls strips from the tarpaulin roof. She’s just warming up.

When the hulk in dungarees wants to beef about a flat tyre from broken glass in the street, Todd blames pinch nose while he’s standing next to their prize-won roadster. Mr dungarees stomps on the car as though it were a vat of grapes and he had a terrible thirst. While Thelma Todd can only manage to plead with the giant, Patsy Kelly climbs atop his open load of furniture and starts tossing the contents into kindling on the road as she yells out ‘how do you like that, King Kong?’ Undeterred by his size, Kelly commits to wreak havoc, which escalates to include a series of car crashes, a poultry incident, property damage and horns blaring in a bumper-to- bumper jam that stretches for blocks. To summarise the extent of Kelly-induced devastation, a policeman predicts ‘whoever caused this is gonna hang’. Anarchy has never been as expertly or delightfully staged. Patsy conducts a symphony in pandemonium. No one’s going to push around a couple of women on her watch.

Maid in Hollywood (’34) localises Kelly’s carnage to a Hollywood set. First, she scores a screen test for wannabe starlet and roommate Todd by roughing up another blonde glamour-puss (Constance Bergen) who had been gloating about her success. Once she has the competition locked in a broom closet, Kelly rings the studio to let them know she has a replacement for ‘the blonde with the blue eyes’ because ‘well, they’re black now’. Kelly’s facility with slapstick pinpoints complication within simple tasks, such as helping Todd out of a dress while it’s partially locked in a suitcase, or slipping on Todd’s coat with the hanger still attached. Quotidian bedlam appears so natural and unforced. She just can’t help it.

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Inside Colossal Studio, Kelly’s spoiling for a fight, with dukes held up to greet the men who hassle her in the reception area. On the sound stage, Kelly tangles with a pile of cables that catch her ankles like a boa constrictor. Each step lands as a stagger, lurch and wobble to produce a version of clumsy that’s so deft it’s almost balletic. The scene on set offers clear evidence of Kelly’s years of dance training that requires an incredible amount of grace and precision to hatch such a divine blundering gag piece.

Self-important German director, Mr Von Sternheim (Alphonse Martell), begs to be taken down a notch with a little Kelly mischief. Under the guise of helping her friend to nail the screen test, Kelly meddles with props, interrupts Todd’s performance (at one point, Todd’s looking for a gun and Kelly calls out ‘hey, toots, it’s in the box on the table’) walks inside the frame and does whatever she can to disrupt the director’s control over the shoot. Then there’s a mishap with a fan and a pile of red pepper. Kelly terrorises the set but stops short of burning the place to rubble.

Somehow, Gus Meins, director of Maid in Hollywood thought it a bright idea to bring in a sandwich peddler (Billy Gilbert) to do various interpretations of a sneeze that sucks all the air from the scene. When the camera’s not on Kelly, it becomes a yawn-fest. Viewers want to see Kelly stick it to the man through slapstick. Meins should have sent the sneeze fella to Laurel Hardy and kept the two reel focus on Kelly. As a master of mayhem, Kelly’s antics amount to a larcenous theft of each reel.

MaidInHollywood1


NEXT >> #8 LIFE FAILS TO IMITATE ART IN BACK STREET (’32)
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Fizz on the Soda: Ginger Rogers and Joan Blondell – Episode 9

Episode 9! This month we’re discussing women in showbusiness, focusing on two stars who started out their film careers pounding the stage circuit hoping to make it big. Ginger Rogers and Joan Blondell. He’s a Keeper this month is the wonderful Peter Lorre.

In the 1930’s, Hollywood became expert at creating fantasies for its audiences. Beautiful girls in skimpy costumes. in Busby Berkley designed spectacles singing ‘We’re in the money, we’re in the money’ gave audiences a momentary escape from the greyness and worry of reality. The Great Depression affected all Americans and led to thousands of movie theaters closing and ticket sales plummeted, in saying that Hollywood was still in the business of entertaining people. In 1933 60 million people still went to the movies. Life on the stage was very tough with thousands of girls audtioning and only a handful making it in the pick. Backstage there would be 25 girls to one dressing room, bad lighting, everyone stealing each others make-up, in-fighting and holding off advances from creepy stage managers. Ginger and Joan came up the hard way and by 1933 were two of biggest stars at the time.

Curtain up!

Fizz on the Soda: Ginger Rogers and Joan Blondell – Episode 9 by Any Ladle’s Sweet

Episode 9! This month we’re discussing women in showbusiness, focusing on two stars who started out their film careers pounding the stage circuit hoping to make it big. Ginger Rogers and Joan Blondell. He’s a Keeper this month is the wonderful Peter Lorre. In the 1930’s, Hollywood became expert at creating fantasies for its audiences.

Sources:
42 nd Street (1933) Dir. Lloyd Bacon. [DVD] Warner Bros.

Bawden, J and Miller, R. (2016) ‘Interview with Joan Blondell’ in Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Blondell, J. (1972) Center Door Fancy. New York: Delacorte Press.

Broadway Bad (1933) Dir. Sidney Lanfield. [YouTube] Warner Bros.

Dames (1934) Dir. Ray Enright & Busby Berkeley. [DVD] Warner Bros.

Der Verlorene ‘The Lost One’ (1951) Dir. Peter Lorre [YouTube] National-Filmverleih.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) Dir. Mervyn LeRoy [DVD] Warner Bros.

Havana Widows (1933) Dir. Ray Enright [DVD] Warner Bros.

Kennedy, M. (2007) Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

M (1931) Dir. Fritz Lang [YouTube] Vereinigte Star-Film.

Mad Love (1935) Dir. Karl Freund. [DVD] Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer Studios.

Maltese Falcon (1941) Dir. John Huston [DVD] Warner Bros.

Nightmare Alley (1947) Dir. Edmund Goulding [DVD] 20 th Century Fox.

Professional Sweetheart (1933) Dir. Wiliam A. Seiter [YouTube] RKO.

Stage Door (1937) Dir. Gregory La Cava. [DVD] RKO

Swing Time (1936) Dir. George Stevens [DVD] RKO.

Rogers, G. Ginger: My Story. New York: It Books.

Youngkin, S.D. (2005) The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Gourley, Catherine. (2008) Rosie and Mrs America: Perceptions of Women in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Twenty First Century Books.

glamourdaze.com/2013/01/inside-a-…ressing-room.html

Music excerpt from 42nd St (1933), music and lyrics by Al Dublin and Harry Warren.

Music excerpt from Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), music and lyrics by Al Dublin and Harry Warren.

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