5/17/13: Nothing Sacred (1937)

Nothing Sacred

William A. Wellman’s risqué 1937 romantic comedy Nothing Sacred stars Fredric March as Wally Cook, a newspaper reporter for a New York City tabloid. “I’ll tell you briefly what I think of that kind of newspaper man. The hand of God, reaching down into the mire, couldn’t elevate one of them to the depths of degradation!” As the movie begins, Wally needs an exclusive on a top-notch human interest story to restore his reputation as a journalist. He was recently duped and reported on a story that turned out to be a hoax. When he learns that Hazel Flagg of Warsaw VT, played by Carole Lombard, is dying of radium poisoning from a workplace accident, he believes he found the cure to his ailing career. Walter Connolly is great as Wally’s boss, Oliver Stone – No, not that Oliver Stone! Noted character actor, Charles WInninger is excellent as Hazel’s Dr. Downer also. And Margaret Hamilton, The Wicked Witch of the West, makes a cameo as the Drugstore Lady. Katinka – The Girl Who Saved Holland (Jinx Falkenburg), flips the 4th wall the bird; very racy for 1937. There are several surprisingly bawdy scenes in the movie. They’re very good. I should know: [slowly & deeply for effect] I watched every one of them 10 times!

 Nothing Sacred - Connelly      Nothing Sacred - Connolly

Nothing Sacred - WWW      Nothing Sacred - Katinka

Although Nothing Sacred wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards, Wellman won an Oscar, March won 2, Lombard was nominated for one, and adapted screenplay writer Ben Hecht won 2; plus, Magnificent Max Steiner and his 3 Oscars & 21 additional nominations contributes some uncredited music to the picture.

Nothing Sacred - Hecht Nothing Sacred - Max 

Nothing Sacred was filmed in Technicolor. Although Carole Lombard made 8 more movies before she died tragically in an airplane crash 5 years later at just 33 years of age, this was her only color motion picture. It pre-dates 1939’sThe Wizard of Oz (often mistaken as the first color live action feature) and Gone With the Wind, released later that year, by 2 years. Color was actually introduced to moving pictures much earlier. In 1894, some guy named Thomas Edison hand-tinted his short Annabelle’s Butterfly Dance. And in 1922, the very first two-color (red & green) feature film, The Toll of the Sea, was released. With the invention of the three-color camera in 1932 came true color by Technicolor & the onset of a new era in movie making. The company is still very involved in both processing & distribution end of movies & DVD’s. Walt Disney’s animated Silly Symphony, Flowers and Trees, was the first. And then 2 years later, [sing] La Cucaracha became the first full color live-action short. The following year, 1935, Rouben Mamoulian’s Becky Sharp became the first Technicolor live-action feature. Technicolor expanded to musicals & the outdoor filming in 1936 with Dancing Pirate and Henry Hathaway’s The Trail of the Lonesome Pine respectively. By 1937, big stars & directors like Fredric March, Carole Lombard & William A. Wellman (pictured alongside Winninger, March & Lombard) had made the transition to Technicolor. 

Nothing Sacred - Edison   Nothing Sacred - Toll   Nothing Sacred - Technicolor

Nothing Sacred - Silly   Nothing Sacred - Cockroach   Nothing Sacred - Sharp

Nothing Sacred - Pirate   Nothing Sacred - Pine   Nothing Sacred - WAW

I’ve linked William A. Wellman’s pioneering comedy, Nothing Sacred, below for your three-color pleasure. Please pardon the ad in the beginning but YouTubes embed nicely into WordPress & this was the best YouTube version I could find. 3 Stars.

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5/9/13: Penny Serenade

“When a couple doesn’t need one other anymore…when that happens to two people, there’s nothing left.”

Penny

 

George Stevens’ romantic tragedy Penny Serenade takes us from the early ‘20’s into The Depression. It stars Cary Grant & Irene Dunne as Roger & Julie Adams in their third & final film together. This is a different sort of a role for Cary, who was usually either a debonair spy type when working for Hitchcock or a romantic comedy heartthrob. This stunning performance earned him one of his two Academy Award nominations, both for Best Actor. Although he didn’t win on either occasion, he was granted an Honorary Academy Award in 1970 at 42nd Oscars. Ms. Dunne never won an Academy Award either, despite her 5 Best Actress nominations.  

Penny - StarsPenny - Notorious

As Penny Serenade opens, Roger is taken watching Julie through the music store front window in which she works. Although he doesn’t own a Victrola, he buys a stack of records in order to meet her. The story is told as chapters through Julie’s recollection of events as she replays records from their extensive collection. Beulah Bondi is extraordinary as the adoption agent, Miss Oliver. And Edgar Buchanan, who 22 years later would play “Uncle Joe, he’s a-movin’ kinda slow at the Junction: Petticoat Junction”, is great as Roger & Julie’s best friend Applejack. The cast is masterfully handled by 3 time Academy Award Winner George Stevens.  

Penny - Records Penny - Chapters

Penny - Uncle Joe Penny - OliverPenny - Stevens

As I said, Cary Grant is best remembered as a secret agent type. In fact, Ian Fleming modeled James Bond after him. Although Cary is considered one of the most handsome actors ever (and I should know since I look just like him), he had only 1 front tooth. He was one of the more vocal detractors of Method Acting: A highly acknowledged & widely used process created by Russian stage actor & director Constantin Stanislavski, then refined & propagated by acting instructor Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part II). With The Method, the actor becomes the character in all aspects of his life, not just while rehearsing & filming. Famous proponents of The Method include Marlon Brando, Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel Day-Lewis & Dustin Hoffman. Day-Lewis made everyone including his family call him Mr. President or Mr. Lincoln during Lincoln. And Hoffman deprived himself of sleep for 3 days to experience the psychological trauma of his character, Babe, in Marathon Man. His co-star, Sir Laurence Olivier, who hated The Method, on seeing Hoffman’s resultant physical condition purportedly told him, “Try acting, dear boy!”.  

Penny - ToothPenny - StanislavskiPenny - RothPenny - LincolnPenny - Marathon

So, click the link below,wait 5 seconds & bypass the ad, then watch a tremendous performance by anti-Method actor Cary Grant as Roger Adams, and Irene Dunne as his loving wife [impersonating Cary Grant] “Julie, Julie, Julie” in George Stevens’ Penny Serenade. 4 Stars!!

5/1/13: Of Human Bondage (1934)

[In Cockney accent] “When me wife, Cindy, asked me to Blog John Cromwell’s Of Human Bondage, I said the same thing I always says, ‘I don’t mind.’”

Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage is widely regarded as one of the best films of the decade. Its importance cannot be overstated. We’ll get to some of that shortly. It takes place in London during the Depression and stars Leslie Howard as Philip, a fledgling artist & medical student with a clubbed right foot. Although Howard is best known for his role as Ashley in Gone With the Wind, his two Oscar nominations were not for Gone With the Wind or Of Human Bondage, but rather for his leading roles in Berkeley Square in 1934 at the 6th Academy Awards and then 5 years later for Pygmalion. Philip falls hard for Mildred (played magnificently by two-time Oscar Winner Bette Davis), a manipulative, cocky Cockney waitress. She could never love Philip, but she does like him well enough to take advantage of him at every opportunity. As with all great motion pictures, the lead characters in Of Human Bondage change dramatically throughout the film.

 Of Human Bondage - Howard   Of Human Bondage - Ashley   Of Human Bondage - Bette

It’s based on the 1915 novel by W. Somerset Maugham who also wrote Ashenden, on which Hitchcock’s Secret Agent was based. It was remade twice, but neither film garnered much critical attention. This version made Leslie Howard a star and started the meteoric success that became Bette Davis, the legend. The fantastic music in Of Human Bondage was composed by the brilliant Max Steiner in the 2nd of 21 collaborations with Davis. Steiner won 3 Oscars & was nominated an incredible 21 more times, all for some version of Best Score. One of Steiner’s nominations was for the incredible original score for Gone With the Wind, but the Oscar went to Herbert Stothart for The Wizard of Oz. Bette Davis once said of Steiner, “Max understood more about drama than any of us.”. 

 Of Human Bondage - WSM   Of Human Bondage - Max   Of Human Bondage - Stothart

Bette Davis performance is so great as Mildred in Of Human Bondage that she was nominated as a write-in for Best Actress in the first of two consecutive years that write-ins were allowed. The Academy sanctioned them because so many of its members were outraged that she wasn’t on the ballot. The Oscar went to Claudette Colbert as Ellie in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night. Colbert & the other 2 official nominees were so certain of Davis’ victory that they didn’t even attend the ceremony. When the Best Actress Award was announced, she was at the train station about to leave for a vacation in New York CityShe had to be retrieved & escorted in a police motorcycle sidecar to the Biltmore Hotel in L.A. to accept the prize from Shirley Temple.

 Of Human Bondage - IHON      Of Human Bondage - Claudette

Directors often use props & other items as symbols of unspoken themes, or subtexts, of their movies. Two important symbols in Of Human Bondage are Philip’s club foot and his nude portraits. His human bondage, his psychological servitude to Mildred is symbolized by the clubbed right foot that she finds so repulsive. And the subtext of rejection of what was, at the time, the social acceptability of discrimination towards the physically disabled is glaring. The nudes, on the other hand, represent Philip’s idealized perception of Mildred. When art teacher Monsieur Flourney (Adrian Rosley in an uncredited role) tells Philip that his work “will never be anything but mediocre”, he’s foreshadowing how unattainable Philip’s vision of her truly is.

Now, are you ready for one of the great performances in the early days of cinema? Then click the link below to watch Bette Davis as Mildred in John Cromwell’s Of Human Bondage, [as Davis portraying Margo Channing in All About Eve] “and fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”! 4 Stars!!