DOUBLE BILL #10: Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Baby Face (1933)


Pre-Code. The forbidden era where anything goes. Wonderfully risqué, daring and freeing, Pre-Code is a goldmine of genres, thoughts and attitudes, all rushing to get their point across before the enforcement of the Hays Code in 1934. Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Baby Face (1933) are two of the era’s most iconic films and they are strikingly similar in many ways.

In Red-Headed Woman (dir. Jack Conway), Jean Harlow plays Lil Andrews, a secretary who will do anything to move up the ladder and make a better life for herself. She seduces her boss Bill Legendre (Chester Morris), breaks up his marriage, then marries him, has affairs, becomes a social pariah in the high society she desperately craved, then does it all over again. She uses sex to get what she wants and she doesn’t care what anybody thinks.

In Baby Face (dir. Alfred E. Green), Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) does exactly the same. Brought up in the rough part of town, pimped out by her father (!) to the male customers of his speakeasy, Lily just wants to get away from it all and start a new life. She and her maid and friend Chico (Theresa Harris) – her truest and longest relationship – head for New York City, where Lily begins to use her sex appeal and prowess to get ahead.

What I love about these films – and indeed most films of the Pre-Code era – is how frank and brutal they are. Both Lil and Lily shamelessly use sex to get what they want and what they want is a better life. The life they deserve. The life they were denied. They refuse to spend their ‘whole life on the wrong side of the railroad tracks’, in Lil’s words. So they use men. They use men and they use their own bodies. It’s not commendable and you could argue that it’s morally wrong, but it’s understandable. We are meant to root for them as they go about their journey. We are on their side. Neither of these women ever had a lot, so why shouldn’t they go get it? In Lil’s case, we don’t get to see much of her beginnings like we do with Lily, but we can imagine they couldn’t have been that much different. She made up her mind a ‘long time ago’, she says to her best friend Sally (Una Merkel). Just like Lily. In Baby Face’s opening sequence, we walk into her sleazy, disgusting world: a speakeasy run by her father, where she has been sexually exploited by dirty men since she was 14. She’s angry, she’s bitter, she’s sick of it all and she won’t stand for it anymore. Can you blame her?

In hindsight, both of these characters are a couple of badasses. And they were quite progressive. Sure, it’s not an overwhemingly positive portrayal, but that’s the thing with Pre-Code. It is simultaneously progressive and old-fashioned. Well, it had to be, it was the early 1930s. It is glorious, though. It’s raw, it’s honest, it’s challenging and it’s out in the open. Tastefully, of course.


COMEDY GOLD #1 : The car ride from Easy Living (1937)


What better way to start off 2018 than with the darling and ludicrously lavish Easy Living (1937)? The screwball comedy that should be a lot bigger than it is. Like, My Man Godfrey (1936) big. The Mitchell Leisen-directed, Preston ‘Mighty’ Sturges-penned Easy Living is an easy-going, well-balanced sophisticated piece of comedy gold with everything going for it.

Last year, I talked about how much I love it and how my favorite thing about it is the wonderful Mr Louis (Luis Alberni), who might actually be one of my top 5 favorite screwball comedy characters ever. I mean, every single thing that comes out of his mouth is absolutely priceless! However, despite it being an fantastic screwball altogether, the car ride in the beginning is a standout. Not THE standout, but a standout nonetheless.

In it, J. B. Ball, played by the grumpy cat of screwball comedies Edward Arnold and Mary Smith, played by the always exceptional Jean Arthur, are on their way to Mary’s workplace, the offices of the Boys Constant Companion magazine. On their way there, Mary mentions that she was going to buy a fur coat, like the one she now has, thanks to Mr Ball. This leads to a hilarious and nauseatingly confusing discussion about installment payments and percentages, that keeps going around in circles, with neither of them backing down, culminating in the most elegantly delivered insult. It is such a screwball comedy moment, so effortlessly funny and perfectly well-timed. Not to mention that Edward Arnold with his facial expressions, and Jean Arthur and her impeccable timing and delivery are probably the only two people who could make such a conversation funny.

This scene should be a must-watch for actors everywhere. Although to be fair, every scene in Easy Living is fantastic. The hotel suit scene? Outrageously good. ‘Golly!’, Mary cries. Golly is right.

What a Character! Blogathon – Edward Everett Horton


Edward Everett Horton. So immensely popular amongst Classic Hollywood buffs, I had to write his name in the sign-up for the blogathon as quickly as I could before someone else took it. He’s all mine, muahaha!

Like Thelma Ritter, Charles McGraw or Beulah Bondi, Edward Everett Horton is one of those character actors that can make you squeal with excitment just from seeing his name in the credits. But the thing is, it’s kind of hard to categorize what type of character actor he was. He’s not necessarily a sidekick in the traditional sense, and he’s not a scene-stealer either. He’s what I often call a ‘cherry on top’ character actor. With his piercing, expressive eyes, his iconic voice and his enviable comic timing, he makes any film better just by being in it and he always brings an extra slice of delight, humour and familiarity that you didn’t know you needed.

I was watching Trouble in Paradise (1932) the other day (shout out to the genius that was Ernst ‘so good, they named a technique after him’ Lubitsch) and I was once again amazed at how effortless he makes it look. I mean, he just had a gift for comedy, didn’t he? The double (or triple) take that he perfected is just wonderful and it’s probably taken for granted nowadays, because everybody does it, but Edward Everett Horton did it before anybody else. Personally, I think his scenes with Charlie Ruggles (another ‘cherry on top’ wonder, that undoubtedly is going to be featured on this blogathon, so check it out) are comedy perfection. Their timing is on point, and they feed off each other beautifully. A great unofficial comedy duo, for just that one film – oh, what could have been!

Of course, one of his most famous performances was in Holiday (1938), in which he reprised the role of Nick Potter that he’d previously played in the original Holiday (1930). Holiday is one of the loveliest movies ever and I usually watch it around this time of year (as I did last night), and while I love Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant (I don’t believe I ever mentioned that…), I’m always extremely happy to see Edward Everett Horton whenever he comes on. He just had that wonderful quality about him. He’s comforting, he’s warm and he’s reliable – in the best possible sense of the word.

For me personally, Edward Everett Horton is one of the all-time great character actors. In fact, I think he’s the definition of a character actor. There wasn’t a whole lot he couldn’t do and 1930s/40s comedies wouldn’t be the same without him.

Click here to read the other entries on the What a Character! Blogathon.

DOUBLE BILL #9: Morning Glory (1933) and Stage Door (1937)


Ah, the theater. That wonderful thing out there, drenched in magic and lights, that only a handful of people will break into and conquer. It’s an everlasting institution that will never go out of style. And rightly so. And in my opinion, capturing the essence of the theatre and everything about it in film isn’t easy and Morning Glory (1933) and Stage Door (1937) have managed to do just that in their own way.

In Morning Glory (dir. Lowell Sherman), Katharine Hepburn plays Eva Lovelace, an aspiring actress with a dream in her heart and a goal in her mind. She arrives at the offices of the Easton Theater, hoping to speak to Louis Easton (Adolph Menjou) in order to get a role in an upcoming play. While there, she meets all sorts of theatre folks: Rita Vernon (Mary Duncan), the ‘diva’, Robert Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith), a veteran character actor, Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr), the young playwright, and, of course, Louis Easton, the powerful theatre producer that everyone wants to impress. As the events unfold, this little world is presented to us in unashamed fashion and Eva Lovelace is the perfect representation of the wannabe-actress at the center of it all: a wide-eyed, eccentric, ambitious woman, with a childlike innocence that is yet to be spoiled and the belief that she can and will make it. Katharine Hepburn won her first of four Oscars for this performance and you can see why. That wonderful Katharine Hepburn quality was there all along and Eva Lovelace was the perfect character for her to shine with.

In Stage Door (dir. Gregory La Cava), she plays Terry Randall, a well-spoken amateur actress who arrives at the Footlights Club, a theatrical boarding house in New York, hoping to get a room. The other aspiring actresses take a disliking to her straight away, because of her upbringing and superior attitude, which doesn’t go down too well in a house full of young, wannabe starlets. As is pointed out many times throughout the film, there’s never a dull moment at the Footlights Club. Amongst its many eccentric and dynamic characters, there’s Jean (Ginger Rogers), Terry’s cynical roommate, Linda (Gail Patrick), the ‘Queen Bee’, Eve (Eve Arden), the wise-cracking amateur, Judy (Lucille Ball), the loveably sarcastic one, Anne (Constance Collier), the aging actress and Terry’s supporter and, of course, Kay (Andrea Leeds), the tragic actress who wants a break-through more than anything in the world. Stage Door, to me, is the best depiction of not only the theater community and its never-ending struggles, but also of female friendships and their many nuances. It’s so true-to-life, relatable and poignant – particularly with regards to the sleazy producer Anthony Powell (Adolph Menjou), a character who is evidently still relevant – that it amazes me how it’s not more widely ackowledged for its efforts to depict both of these worlds so accurately.

Both of these films do a terrific job with their subject. Morning Glory relies on a few stereotypes to get the point across, even if for comedic effect, while Stage Door deals with these stereotypes in a more human way. However, both of them are unafraid in their quest to showcase showbusiness and nearly all of its elements, including the abhorrent exploitation and abuse of power. And this was in the 1930s!

Although Stage Door is the better movie of the two and certainly one of the greatest movies of the decade, you can’t go wrong with either of them. They hold a mirror up to showbiz and it ain’t going to be pretty. But damn, it’s going to be good.

5 things I love about The Lady Eve (1941)


I mean, what’s not to love, really? It’s just a delight of a movie. And like any screwball comedy, this is one of those movies that you can watch over and over. So I thought I’d share with you some of the things I love about it:

– Preston Sturges. Preston Sturges. Preston Sturges. He was a genius. He’s the screenwriter screenwriters don’t know they want to be like. He started out quite late – so there’s hope for all of us – and then later on in life, he famously said one of my favorite quotes of all time: ‘When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten-cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.’ Bliss.

– The chemistry between Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. They were perfectly cast in this, and they play off each other brilliantly. Barbara Stanwyck could do anything you threw her way, so her comic ability comes as no surprise, and Henry Fonda is just wonderful in everything and this rare comic role (oh, there should have been more!) is a delight.

– The characters. Screwballs are nothing without their supporting cast and The Lady Eve is a goldmine of colorful characters. From the ‘Colonel’ (Charles Coburn), to Muggsy (William Demarest), to Horace (Eugene Palette), everyone is on point in this.

– The scene with the horse ALWAYS makes me laugh. ‘Stop that! Oh sorry, I thought it was the horse.’ It’s so silly, but just the way she says that, without even trying to be funny, is pure gold.

– The ‘You don’t know what you’ve done to me’ scene. This, to me, is one of the archetypal scenes in screwball comedy. It’s so perfect. The sexual innuendo, the playful seduction, the witty dialogue… This is screwball at its best.

There are loads more, of course. The Lady Eve is one of my favorite screwballs ever and did I ever mention how much I love Barbara Stanwyck?

Noirvember Wrap-up

And here we are. Noirvember ends today *starts sobbing*. But there’s more next year! So, to wrap this up, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on it with you. Firstly, I am never again doing a Top 30 list. I regretted it the day after it was posted, simply because it is so darn-tootin’ly hard. I swear, I almost had a panic attack. And then I read the list again, and I started thinking that maybe some of them should have been higher or lower, not to mention the debate between Raw Deal and Crossfire, which took me 20 minutes. And then, The Killers and The Big Combo, which I MAY have already changed my mind about (meaning The Big Combo might be higher). Not to mention, that I haven’t seen every single film noir ever, which always leaves this kind of stuff up for an update. But no, I’m done with this. It’s too hard. Secondly, in order to do this list, I watched a lot of films last month, to have the list ready for the 1st November, which means October was actually my personal Noirvember. And it was glorious. It’s such a great feeling watching and re-watching the films you love, and discovering a new-found love for a film that maybe you didn’t think much of to begin with (like Detour). And thirdly, I enjoyed every single one of your posts, both on your blogs and on Facebook since I’m friends with many of you. You guys are awesome. Keep it up and Noirvember on!

Likeable characters in film noir


I know, I know. Everyone in noir is such a hot-headed bastard or a devious femme fatale or a crooked cop. Well, not everyone. There are those characters in noir that are just good people, or at the very least, characters that make you sympathize with them, whether it’s because they’re trying to get their life back together, or they help out other characters, or whatever it is. Certain characters in noir are just nice and likeable. Here are some of them:

Susan (Jean Wallace) from The Big Combo (1955) – Oh, poor little angel. She wants to get away from Mr Brown (Richard Conte) so bad that she will deliberately harm herself in the process. You just want to hug her and take her away from everything and you cheer her on when she finally breaks free.

Moe (Thelma Ritter) from Pickup on South Street (1953) – As street-smart, wise-talking and instantly likable as you’d expect from a Thelma Ritter character. And her exit might be one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve ever seen in a film.

Dennis (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony (Alfred Ryder) from T-Men (1947) – Their friendship is beautiful albeit brief and their journey throughout the film is nerve-wrecking and extremely tense, which makes you root for them even more.

Captain Finlay (Robert Young) from Crossfire (1947) – The detective with a conscience. His monologue at the end makes you understand why the solution to this crime is so important to him.

Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) from The Big Heat (1953) – He just wants to do his job, bring the bad guys to justice and go home to his family at the end of the day. He’s got a good heart and good values, which are hard to find in film noir.

Debbie Marsh (Gloria Grahame) from The Big Heat (1953) – She’s probably the most likeable femme fatale ever. In fact, I’m not too sure about her being a femme fatale at all. She’s caring, understanding and kind-hearted and her scene with Bannion in the film’s resolution is just so tender and bittersweet.

Laura (Gene Tierney) from Laura (1944) – She was surrounded by people who loved her, who used her, who were obsessed with her, who thought of her as the greatest thing in New York City. And she never lost her sense of self, strength, unassuming confidence and determination.

Laurel (Gloria Grahame) from In a Lonely Place (1950) – Because we don’t know what actually happened until the last scene, we’re left with the same doubts and fears as Laurel throughout the film and it’s like we’re watching the whole thing through her eyes.

Pat (Claire Trevor) from Raw Deal (1948) – With her narration, she guides her though the film while giving us an insight into her personal and emotional turmoil and we connect with her. Raw Deal is Pat’s film.

Ann (Marsha Hunt) from Raw Deal (1948) – She’s the moral compass of the film. And even though Pat and Ann are love rivals fighting over Joe (Dennis O’Keefe)’s affections, you kind of wish they would go off together, leaving that cad behind, Thelma and Louise-style.

Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson) from Scarlet Street (1945) – He just hurts my soul. He didn’t deserve any of it and his last moments are probaby the darkest moments ever in film noir. It’s just painful to watch.

There are many others, of course. Maybe I’ll do a part 2 one of these days.


6 film noir opening scenes/sequences I love


The Killers (1946) – two shadows on the ground announce the arrival of the titular killers, stepping out from behind the diner they will enter in just a few seconds. It is one of the most excitingly scary scenes in all of film noir.

T-Men (1947) – Like a tiger lurking in the shadows, T-Men’s opening scene (after the introduction) is as cold and intimidating as it gets and it sets the mood perfectly for the most nerve-wrecking noir ever.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) – cars everywhere – the Homicide Squad – and a voice-over monologue by Joe Gillis (William Holden) make this one of the most exciting opening scenes ever.

The Big Combo (1955) – a boxing match, followed by a woman running away from two men, who finally capture her and tell her that Mr Brown wants her to see the match. Everything you need to know about The Big Combo is in those first 2 or 3 minutes.

Double Indemnity (1944) – A car speeds through Los Angeles, ignoring the STOP sign, in a foreshadowing way. Then Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) walks into his office to tell his story. And we’re off… The narration is fantastic and every detail is on point.

Laura (1944) – That insanely awesome opening line is made even more awesome by the fact that it is spoken by noir’s most eccentric character of all time. He is then introduced to us sitting in the bathtub writing his newspaper column. Genius.

Of course, there are many, many more to choose from, but these are the ones that come to mind right now.