Four dialogue-free scenes in classic movies

In the words of Norma Desmond, ‘We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces’. Sometimes that’s all you need. Sometimes you don’t need dialogue to get the point across and these four dialogue-free classic movie scenes prove that:

Vertigo-007Scottie following Madeleine in Vertigo (1958, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – The timeless beauty of Vertigo comes from the fact that it’s so many things at once. There are so many ways to look at it, so many possible interpretations, that The Garden has dispensed with that for now. But however you look at it, one could argue that the movie is well and truly set in motion when Scottie (James Stewart) follows Madeleine (Kim Novak) in search of answers. This dialogue-free sequence is both eerie and intriguing, and it carefully places the movie’s MacGuffin right where it should be. Not to mention that we get to enjoy Bernard Herrmann’s stunning score throughout – probably my favorite movie score of all time.

separating-eggs-woman-of-the-yearMaking breakfast in Woman of the Year (1942, dir. George Stevens) – The movie’s progressive message falls through in the last moments, but luckily we get to watch Tess (Katharine Hepburn in an Oscar-nominated performance) hilariously try (and fail) to make breakfast for her estranged husband Sam (Spencer Tracy). A testament to Hepburn’s often overlooked ability for physical comedy, it’s a funny little sequence and a sweet ending to the first movie collaboration of one of the screen’s – and real life’s – greatest couples.

DuckSoup13.pngThree hats from Duck Soup (1933. dir. Leo MacCarey) – This is unquestionably one of the funniest things I have ever seen. In fact, I almost didn’t watch it again just now as I wrote this, because I knew I’d get stuck in a Marx Brothers loop and would never finish this article. Bottom line is, this is one of the brothers’ funniest moments, particularly the Chico/Harpo duo, which is always a joy to watch. I could have chosen the mirror scene, but that one’s been talked about ad nauseam, and this is my favorite.

Rififi-1The heist from Rififi (1955, dir. Jules Dassin) – Quite possibly the single greatest dialogue-free scene in the history of cinema. As the gang, led by Tony ‘Le Stephanois’ (Jean Servais) break into Mappin and Webb, their excrutiatingly meticulous plan is laid out before our eyes from start to finish and thirty-two (THIRTY-TWO!) minutes go by just like that. It’s heart-pounding, nerve-wracking and breath-taking.

There are so many scenes to choose from, but these four will have to do for now. Maybe a Part 2 is in order?

 

 

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SCREENPLAY BY: Sidney Howard

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Sidney Howard’s horrific death at the age of 48 in 1939 made him the first person to win a posthumous Oscar, when he won for the adapted screenplay of Gone with the Wind (1939, dir. Victor Fleming). Before that, he’d been one of the most prolific American playwrights of the 1920s and 30s.

Born in Oakland, California in 1891, Sidney Howard studied playwriting at Harvard under George Pierce Baker, with the likes of Eugene O’Neill, Phillip Barry and S. N. Berhman. After his first play, Swords, flopped on Broadway, They Knew What They Wanted was a critical success and won him the 1925 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. For the next few years, he had a string of both successes and failures, with such plays as Lucky Sam McCarver and The Silver Cord. In 1938, he co-founded the Playwrights’ Company, which aimed at producing plays, after its founding members became dissatisfied with the Theater Guild and critics alike. Once in Hollywood, he started working at MGM and he received his first Oscar nomination for the adapted screenplay of Arrowsmith (1931, dir. John Ford), and again in 1937 for his adaptation – of his own stage adaptation – of Dodsworth (1936, dir. William Wyler), both based on Sinclair Lewis novels.

In between his Oscar nods, he also served at the president of the Dramatics Guild of America in 1935, having been a fierce advocate for writers’ rights. In 1940, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gone with the Wind, six months after his tragic death – crushed by his tractor in his garage. After this, the Playwrights’ Company created the Sidney Howard Memorial Award, with the goal of finding and encouraging emerging playwrights. A prominent figure on Broadway and in Hollywood throughout the early 20th century, Sidney Howard was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1981.

COMEDY GOLD #16: Animal and Shapiro from Stalag 17 (1953)

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Birthday boy Billy Wilder’s flair for balancing comedy and drama in the same movie is legendary and revered. And, barring The Apartment (1960), one could argue that this has never been more beautifully demonstrated than in Stalag 17 (1953), the comedy-drama war movie about a group of Americans held in a POW camp, who slowly come to realize that one of them is in an informant. A tense whodunnit based on the play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, the comic relief in Stalag 17 comes from Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and Animal (Robert Strauss in an Oscar-nominated role), two prisoners whose genuine, heart-warming friendship, silly antics and ongoing gags about Betty Grable are the antidote to the otherwise unbearable conditions in which they find themselves. Their moments together are like a breath of fresh air (I couldn’t even pick just one!), especially when you consider that they’re among a group of prisoners that include the cynical Sefton (William Holden in an Oscar-winning performance) and Duke (Neville Brand), the angriest of them all, among others. Speaking of Neville Brand, the latest issue of NOIR CITY E-Mag is out and features a REMEMBER ME article about Brand written by myself. If you want to buy the magazine or donate to the Film Noir Foundation (founded by TCM regular Eddie Muller), click on this link.

Why you should be talking about Lauren Bacall in Young Man With a Horn (1950)

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At first, Young Man With a Horn (1950, dir. Michael Curtiz) may seem like a less melodramatic Humoresque (1947, dir. Jean Negulesco), and, in many ways, it is. But despite the similar plot and overall message, Young Man With a Horn benefits from one element that is missing in Humoresque: the character of Amy North, our focus for this year’s Pride Month celebrations here at The Old Hollywood Garden.

Based on the novel by Dorothy Baker and inspired by real-life musician Bix Biederbecke, Young Man With a Horn follows the life, career and downfall of trumpeter Rick Martin, played by Kirk Douglas. Hoagy Carmichael, as the piano-playing sidekick Smoke, breaks the fourth wall by telling us about Rick’s childhood and early success. A rags-to-riches story, Rick’s love for music is at the core of the picture and proves to be the ultimate reason for his downfall. But before that, we have all the usual suspects: a mentor and friend in Art Hazzard, played by the trail-blazing actor Juano Hernandez; a singing sensation who’s also in love with Rick, Jo Jordan (Doris Day in an early dramatic role) and, of course, the femme fatale figure in Amy North, played by Lauren Bacall. The movie enjoys a crisp and precise direction by Michael Curtiz, including some shots that seem to indicate he probably hadn’t gotten over having directed perhaps the most beloved movie of all time just eight years prior and was still trying to re-create it – the ‘train leaving the station’ scene, in particular, is a nice chuckle-inducing inside joke. And while the movie is certainly enjoyable and well-made, one aspect stands out: Amy North. Looking back at it in 2019, we can see that Amy is meant to be either a lesbian or bisexual, and while 1950s Hollywood didn’t allow that to be explicit, there are definitely quite a few moments that leave us with little doubt. Making her entrance as Jo’s friend 47 minutes into the movie, her confidence, intelligence and well-spoken manner have an immediate effect on Rick, who says right away that he loves the sound of her voice – don’t we all! They talk, flirt, exchange opinions about Jo and, soon afterwards, they’re back at her place. We learn that she wanted to be a writer, then an interior decorator, then a pilot and finally a singer. When he brings up the fact that she has decided to become a psychiatrist so she can analyze people, she changes the subject and tells him she has to go to bed and that he should turn out the lights when he leaves. This proves to be a pattern with her. Throughout their initial interactions, she’s the rational one, whereas he’s the emotional one. She’s distant and reluctant to share things about her life, and through subtext, we realize what this means. In their first encounter in the bar, for instance, while talking about Jo, she says that it ‘must be wonderful to wake up in the morning and know which door you’re going to walk through’, and later on, she expresses interest in going to Paris with a female friend who’s a painter. When we see said friend, Miss Carson (Katharine Kurasch), at her party later, they seem to be quite intimate with each other and Miss Carson even suggests having dinner and going ‘back to her place’ so Amy can see her sketches. At this point, Rick and Amy are married and he has begun his descent into hell following his friend Art’s death and the realization that his marriage is not what he hoped it would be. They argue, and he calls her ‘sick’ and ‘confused’, perhaps an early example of the misconceptions about LGBTQ+. What’s interesting about this character is that the ambiguity with which she’s portrayed, due to the Hays Code, doesn’t have to mean that she’s necessarily a closeted lesbian who’s trying to fool herself and others. The novel portrays her as having ‘lesbian tendencies’, but perhaps that means she’s bisexual. And looking back at it, this is important considering the continuous under-representation of bisexuality, as well as other identities on the spectrum. I’d like to think this is, at least, a possibility and, if so, how wonderful it is to see it in a film from 1950. As we know, Classic Hollywood was subtle about its portrayals of LGBTQ+, and, yes, downright offensive at times, and while Young Man With a Horn may be guilty of this, Amy North manages to be one of the most refreshing, progressive and well-rounded characters, and a main one at that!

SCREENPLAY BY: I. A. L. Diamond

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Billy Wilder may be everyone’s favorite screenwriter, but one could argue that some of his best screenplays are the ones he wrote with the often overlooked I. A. L. Diamond. And since June is Diamond’s birth month, as well as Wilder’s, today’s SCREENPLAY BY is dedicated to him.

Born Itek Domnici in 1920 in Ungheni, Romania (now Moldova), he moved to Brooklyn with his family at the age of nine. He enrolled in the Boy’s High School, where he competed in Mathematics Olympiads, winning several of them, before going on to study journalism at Columbia, publishing in the Columbia Spectator under the name I. A. L. Diamond. He was also the editor of the humor magazine Jester of Columbia and, perhaps more notably, wrote four consecutive shows for The Varsity Show, Columbia’s oldest performing arts presentation – since 2004, the University has awarded several writers and artists the I. A. L. Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts in his honor.

In the early 1940s, Diamond moved to Hollywood, and in 1944 started working on his first screenplay, Murder in the Blue Room (1944, dir. Leslie Goodwins). The following year, he wrote Never Say Goodbye (1945, dir. James V. Kern), for which he received considerable recognition. He went on to write a string of comedies, including Monkey Business (1952, dir. Howard Hawks) and That Certain Feeling (1956, dir. Norman Panama and Melvin Frank), and in 1957, he began his long-term writing collaboration with Billy Wilder, with Love in the Afternoon (1957), which Wilder also directed. Together they wrote such classics as Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), for which they both won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Irma La Douce (1963) and The Fortune Cookie (1966) and in 1969, he wrote the screenplay for Cactus Flower (1969, dir. Gene Saks), adapted from the Abe Burrows play of the same name. In 1980, Diamond and Wilder won the Writer’s Guild of America’s Laurel Award for screenwriting, and eight years later I. A. L. Diamond died in California at the age of 67.

Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage (1934) – a star is born

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe there was a time when Bette Davis was not a star. Yet, between 1930 and 1933 she was mostly a supporting player with little screen time, in Pre-Codes such as Three on a Match (1932, ir. Mervyn LeRoy), which we covered here. It wasn’t until 1934 that the Bette Davis we know and love came to be. John Cromwell’s adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (1934) is a rather simple story, with a few noticeable flaws, that is made great only by Bette’s fantastic performance as the vicious Mildred Rogers, my choice for this year’s Great Villain Blogathon.

In Of Human Bondage, Leslie Howard’s Philip Carey, a down-on-his-luck artist turned medical student, falls head over heels in love with Mildred, a waitress who really couldn’t care any less about him, and that, of course, is no good, to say the least. What starts off as a typical love-hate thing quickly turns into something else, something a lot more sour and unpleasant. The contrast between these two characters is of course the main factor: he’s nice, she’s mean; he’s emotional, she’s cold-hearted; he’s a pushover, she’s a taker. Eventually, Philip’s love for Mildred is ultimately his greatest weakness, in what is now a common relationship arc in storytelling. In fact, Of Human Bondage tackles a lot of the themes that we’ve come to know, namely Philip’s obsession with turning Mildred into the caring, loving woman he thinks she is at heart – she isn’t –, the whole thing about ‘saving her’ and his subsequent downfall. As for Mildred… she’s one of Pre-Code’s greatest creations, not least because they, and Bette in particular, weren’t afraid to go all out with her. Mildred is an ugly character. A cold, careless, greedy character that very nearly borders on being a sociopath. She uses Philip for her personal gain and even goes as far as to mock him for his feelings, and while Pre-Code is filled with characters like that, Mildred is particularly cruel. At a certain point, you have to wonder whether she enjoys tormenting him, to which the answer is most definitely yes – her memorable rage-filled speech aimed at him in the movie’s final act confirms this. A character that’s so virtually unredeemable was almost unheard of. What’s more, she’s not even glamourous, like you’d expect. Towards the end, especially, her clothes are raggedy, her hair scruffy and her make-up runny and uneven. Her final moments are not only still visually and emotionally impactful, but the preciseness and dedication with which they’re performed also reveal what we’ve always known: Bette Davis had guts.

For more posts on the Great Villain Blogathon, click here.

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COMEDY GOLD #15: Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)

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We sadly lost the great Doris Day on Monday, so I’ve decided to talk about one of my favourite performances of hers, and the only Oscar nomination she received, in the magnificent Pillow Talk (1959, dir. Michael Gordon), the first of three movies she made with her best friend Rock Hudson – the other two being Lover Come Back (1961, dir. Delbert Mann) and Send Me No Flowers (1964, dir. Norman Jewison).

Pillow Talk stars Doris Day as interior decorator Jan Morrow, who has the misfortune of having to share a telephone line with songwriter and massive manhoe Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), much to the annoyance of both of them. It’s not hard to imagine where this is going, but the beauty of Pillow Talk is that it doesn’t feel like just another predictable romantic comedy. The Oscar-winning screenplay is tight and full of easy-going charm, and the performances, both Day’s and Hudson’s, as well as the supporting cast – Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter (in an Oscar-nominated performance) in particular – are nothing short of wonderful. Doris Day is especially great. I couldn’t decide which scene to pick for this month’s COMEDY GOLD, because it is such a solid, consistent and confident performance in a film that enjoys all of those qualities throughout. It’s perhaps no surprise that she got an Oscar nod for it, considering that it pretty much showcases her many talents in a little less than two hours. Right from the off, we get to listen to her beautiful voice singing the title track, and throughout the film we’re treated to her perfect – PERFECT – comic timing, her ability to convey all of her thoughts and feelings with just an expression, not to mention the ease with which she balances it all out. Also, shout-out to the wonderful Rock Hudson, who, in my opinion, never got the praise he deserved. Their combined talents and chemistry with each other make them one of the greatest partnerships in the romantic comedy canon as well as one of my personal favorite showbiz friendships. I’d like to think they gave each other a big hug upon her arrival in Hollywood Heaven.

Farewell, Doris Day ❤

SCREENPLAY BY: Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon

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Today is Katharine Hepburn’s birthday, and because I’ve talked about her ad nauseam here on The Garden, I thought I’d focus on something else this year: Hollywood power couple and lifelong friends of Spencer Tracy and birthday girl, screenwriters and all-round talents Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon.

Born in 1912, Garson Kanin started out his career as a musician and comedian, and after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he began appearing in plays on Broadway and in 1936, he directed his first play, Hitch Your Wagon. By this time, Ruth Gordon (b. 1897) was in Hollywood, playing mostly supporting characters, having acted in silent movies and on Broadway for over twenty years, starting in 1915, after also having graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. They married in 1942 and in 1947, they wrote the screenplay for A Double Life (1947, dir. George Cukor), for which they received an Academy Award nomination. By this point, Gordon was also writing her own plays, including the autobiographical Years Ago, later turned into the movie The Actress (1953, dir. George Cukor), for which she also wrote the screenplay, while Kanin had just directed Spencer Tracy in the play The Rugged Path, Tracy’s first play in fifteen years. Kanin and Gordon were very close friends of Tracy and Hepburn’s – as detailed in Kanin’s book Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir – and even incorporated some of their personality traits in their respective characters when they wrote the screenplay for Adam’s Rib (1949, dir. George Cukor), for which they got yet another Oscar nod. In 1950, Cukor directed the movie adaptation of Kanin’s 1946 play Born Yesterday, the most successful of his career and in 1952, he directed Pat and Mike (1952), another Tracy and Hepburn movie, for which Kanin and Gordon received their last Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. That same year, they also wrote the script for The Marrying Kind (1952, dir. George Cukor), their last official collaboration. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Kanin and Gordon continued to work in Hollywood and on Broadway, with Gordon winning an Oscar for Supporting Actress for Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir. Roman Polanski). Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon remained married until her death in 1985, fourteen years before his death in 1999.

The Joan Crawford Blogathon – Humoresque (1946)

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John Garfield’s untimely death at age 39 in 1952 may have robbed him and us of a long and prolific career, but the performances and movies he left behind more than make up for it. Not least his performance in Humoresque (1946, dir. Jean Negulesco), one of the most tragic of all 1940s melodramas.

Written by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold based on the short story by Fannie Hurst, Humoresque tells the story of Paul Boray (Garfield), a violin virtuoso consumed by his love for party-girl socialite Helen Wright (Joan Crawford). Told in flashback, the film documents Paul’s life, from childhood to adulthood, in one of the most surprisingly accurate, if underused, depictions of what the life of an artist can be. As we see in the flashback, Paul has always wanted to be a musician. He navigates through his childhood years feeling like a misfit and an outsider, until he comes face to face with his destiny when he stumbles across a violin in a shop. His father (J. Carroll Naish) strongly advises him against it while his mother (Ruth Nelson) encourages him. Sure enough, he proves to be quite the talent and through the years, his career takes off, alongside his wise-cracking, piano-playing friend Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant). Then one day, he meets Helen at one of her high-society parties and everything changes. Their relationship starts off as a love-hate thing but it quickly becomes serious. More serious than either of them expected…

John Garfield and Joan Crawford have the type of chemistry that melodramas are made of and while Garfield’s fantastic performance is the best thing about the movie, Crawford’s gloriousness takes it to a whole new level. Helen’s non-committal ways and resistance in accepting her feelings for Paul, along with the frustration that comes from the those feelings, result in a simultaneously restrained and over-the-top performance, that can only be described as a masterclass on how to make love to the camera, even when John Garfield is in the room. She knew just how much the camera loved her and if there has ever been any doubt about that, look no further than the famous beach scene, which, for lack of a better word, is… sensational. Garfield, on the other hand, turns in a performance that keeps Humoresque from the type of film that gives melodramas a bad name. One of the original Method actors, he seems to have understood the emotional turmoil that artists often experience and he puts that into action beautifully, in a carefully understated and nuanced performance. He is the yin to Crawford’s yang and the two of them wander through Humoresque challenging its melodrama status and elevating it to full-blown tragedy. Humoresque‘s lessons on life, love and showbiz may go unnoticed amongst the music, the shadows and Joan Crawford’s fabulousness, but they’re there. For all they’re worth.

Humoresque has always struck me as one of the quintessential Joan Crawford movies, so when Pale Writer and Poppity Talks Classic Film announced their blogathon, I knew I wanted to talk about it. Mostly because Helen Wright is probably the most Joan Crawford-y Joan Crawford has ever been – and that includes her entrance in Rain (1932), which is nothing short of unbelievable.

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COMEDY GOLD #14: Make ‘Em Laugh from Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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One of the world’s most beloved movies, Singin’ in The Rain (1952, dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen) ticks all the boxes: a musical-comedy satire of 1920s Hollywood, full of great musical numbers, colorful sets and wonderful performances by Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen (in an Oscar-nominated role), Debbie Reynolds and the focus of this month’s COMEDY GOLD, Donald O’Connor.

In the Make ‘Em Laugh number, Cosmo (O’Connor) tries to cheer up his best friend, Hollywood star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), by, well, making him laugh. After telling him that the first thing an actor learns is that ‘the show must go on’, he delivers what is possibly one of the greatest musical performances of all time. Everything from playing the piano then effortlessly jumping on it, to pratfalls, wall-climbing and playing out an entire relationship with a dummy, all while singing perhaps one of the catchiest tunes in the movie. The scene is vaudeville-worthy and it’s physical comedy at its absolute best. So demanding was the routine that O’Connor was apparently in bed for three days after the shooting. The show must indeed go on!