Monday, March 29, 2010

Screwball Olivia (and Bette and Leslie)

This week, we see Havilland at her screwball best in It's Love I'm After.  She plays Marcia West, a young woman who spends her life falling in love with actors; this time, it is stage actor Basil Underwood (played by Leslie Howard), a vain ham who is engaged (off and on) to the equally vain Joyce Arden (Bette Davis), his frequent stage costar.  When Marcia's fiance Henry Grant (played by Patric Knowles) decides that the best way to get Marcia's infatuation quashed is to invite Basil for the weekend, mayhem ensures. Especially when the irritated Joyce arrives at the house party.

This is a truly funny movie, and Olivia is a riot as the avid - and rabid - pursuer of  Basil's affections.  She has some terrific scenes here.  One, when Basil decides that the best way to cool her ardor is to lock her bedroom door (with him inside) and threaten her with "a fate worse than death".  Her reaction is priceless.  Another, when Marcia decides that Basil is perhaps not all he is cracked up to be, and announced that she should have just continued her adoration of Clark Gable.  "Clark who?" poses the baffled Basil.  (Six years earlier, he and Gable had costarred in A Free Soul). 

This was the third, and final, paring of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis (they had earlier appeared together in The Petrified Forest and Of Human Bondage), and their only comedy together.  Neither really made all that many comedies.  However, there is a scene here, in which Davis, attempting to keep Howard out of her room, piles furniture in front of her door. Meanwhile, Howard climbs in the window.  The scene would be copied years later in another Davis comedy (this time with James Cagney) The Bride Came C.O.D. In either movie, it is still funny.
Our discussion of the movie ended with a rather long discussion of Leslie Howard.  His early death in World War II, his sponsorship of Humphrey Bogart, and his film career in general make him an interesting actor.  We've all seen many of his films.  This was was a real breath of fresh air, giving him the chance to do something he almost never gets to do - be funny.  We thought he sort of had that opportunity in The Scarlet Pimpernel (where the comedy serves as a mask for his real identity.), but other than that, this screwball comedy gave us a new vision of a wonderful actor.  Here's a trailer:
Next week, we'll return with a later de Havilland comedy, The Male Animal.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Welcome to Ms. de Havilland

We begin our latest film festival with The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. It's true, our guest for this film festival has only a small part in it, but it is such a good movie, we decided to start with Ms. de Havilland in a supporting role.  She plays Lady Penelope Gray, lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davis).  Madly in love with the Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn), it is her manipulations that help bring about his downfall.  We did a little reading after the movie. Ms. D. did NOT want to be in this film - after all, it really isn't much of one for her (though she is still wonderful in it).  The movie is all about Bette Davis' Elizabeth and Errol Flynn's Essex. When they are on the screen, you watch them. When they are NOT on the screen, you wait for them to come back. Lady Penelope is just window dressing to propel the action forward. But when you have an actress of the caliber of Olivia de Havilland doing it, the part becomes memorable as well. (And, is this the only movie in which she appeared with Flynn, in which she DIDN'T end up with him in one way or another?)  We were able to find a scene with Davis and de Havilland:

Again, our reading reminded us of the story that I heard on TCM some time ago. That Davis loathed Errol Flynn, feeling he was not an actor worthy of her talent. But that, years later, she re-saw the movie (in fact, with Ms. D. in attendance) and admitted that it was, in fact, a wonderful movie and that Flynn was excellent in it. Just the final scene, as he goes to the block, demonstrates the subtlety of his acting. 

We also enjoyed seeing the very young Nanette Fabray as Mistress Margaret Radcliffe, another lady-in-waiting who is yearning for the return of her lover - a soldier in Ireland.  She is delightful; it is a treat to see her in a very different part from the musicals we were used to.

Next week, more Olivia. Join us for a comedy.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Foreign Language Film Interlude

On a recommendation, we broke up our festivals with a foreign film, Babette's Feast.  The story of two sisters in a remote Danish village, who give up their chances at love to work with their father in his religious ministry.  The sisters, at the request of a soldier who once loved one of them, take in a refugee from France, Babette Hursant (Stephane Audran), who becomes their housekeeper.  The sisters begin by teaching Babette how to cook THEIR way (and it is pretty revolting-looking), but gradually, Babette begins to cook her way, making their simple fare that much better. Years pass, and Babette comes into a sum of money.  The sisters, sure Babette is about to leave, accede to her request to cook them one great meal to celebrate the 100 anniversary of their late father's birth.  The entire ministry is invited, and Babette prepares a meal-to-end-all meals.  

This is a lovely movie; we felt very sorry for the sisters, who seem to almost have no choice than to stay buried in this barren wasteland of a village.  Their food is atrocious - salted fish and bland bread.  Only Babette's presence adds a little spice to their culinary life.  Contrast the scene where Babette makes their first meal, per their instructions, to the feast she later prepares - and the looks on the attendees faces as they sample these delicacies for the first (and possibly last) time in their lives. 

Certainly a movie worth a viewing. We heartily recommend it.  And here's a trailer to introduce you to the film:

Next week, we start a new festival of Hollywood movies.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Screwball Carole

This week, we watched Nothing Sacred, a screwball comedy which stars Carole Lombard as Hazel Flagg, a young woman from Warsaw, a tiny New England town, who is diagnosed with radium poisoning.  When reporter Wally Cook (Frederic March) is looking for a story to get him back on top, he hits on Hazel's misfortune as a means to re-ingratiating himself with his boss.  Only problem is, Hazel has since found out that her doctor (Charles Winninger) was mistaken. She's fine.  Hazel however, wants her free trip to New York City (the gift promised by Wally), and to get out of Warsaw, so she conceals her health, and goes to town as the Martyr Who is About to Die. (My favorite line: "It's kind of startling to be brought to life twice - and each time in Warsaw!")

In some senses, it feels as though the writers wrote themselves into a corner, and couldn't get out.  They need a way to end it, so they do, but whether it exactly works, is a matter of opinion. However, this is screwball comedy, so on some levels it doesn't really matter.  Ms. Lombard is adorable as Hazel; loving the attention she is getting, but horrified because people seem to so genuinely care that she is dying. And, of course, falling in love with Wally who ALSO thinks she is about to die.  Here's a trailer:

There is also a great deal of wonderful character support here.  We were particularly tickled by a brief, uncredited appearance by Hattie McDaniel, as the wife of a man pretending to be a Middle Eastern potentate.  One word from her, and we were laughing. You can't miss that voice.  Even without the closeup that we never got, we knew it was her!  Another delightful surprise was Margaret Hamilton as a local neighbor of Hazel.  She doesn't have a huge part, doesn't even have a lot of dialog, but again, she is hysterically funny. We loved it. Interesting to note is that both actresses were 2 years from their breakthrough 1939 performances in Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

Next week, we'll be moving on.