Monday, December 27, 2010

Joan Meets Greer

The east coast ice storms delayed our meeting for a week. We resumed with a rather unusual film, if only for the cast: 1941's When Ladies Meet. Ms. Crawford plays Mary Howard, an author who has recently changed publishers, primarily due to the fact that she has fallen in love with Rogers Woodruff (Herbert Marshall), a philanderer who has enticed Mary to come under his wings, in more ways than one.  Mary's best friend is Jimmy Lee (Robert Taylor); finally able to afford a wife, he proposes to Mary, only to discover SHE has moved on to Rogers.  Her new book reveals her plan - confront the wife of her lover, and reveal her love for him. Certainly, she assumes, no woman would willingly hold on to a man who so truly loves another.

This is by no means a comedy. Though Jimmy's plan to break up Mary and Rogers - introduce Mary to Rogers wife Clare (Greer Garson), in the belief that once Mary KNOWS Clare, she won't want to break up the marriage - sounds like it SHOULD be the plot of a comedy, it is wholely in earnest.  Unfortunately, the plot line turns out to be cruel, hurting the two women, and really having very little impact on the two men who should have been penalized for their actions.

We did NOT like either off the men.  Taylor's Jimmy is a silly, vain, unthinking moron, who cares about what he wants, and uses poor Clare as his scapegoat to get his way.  And then there is Marshall's Rogers - WHAT a cad!  Our hope was that Clare would dump his clothes out the window and change the locks on him! We also thought that Mary would be better off remaining single (she certainly is capable of taking care of herself) than tying herself to either of these idiots.

The bright point in this movie is Spring Byington as Bridget Drake.  Bridget is a delight, a kind, caring woman who is sweet and gentle. She claims to not be particularly bright, but give me her innate kindness and regard for other people over the pseudo-intellectual snobbery of Rogers and Mary!

Here's a trailer for your enjoyment:

Next week, we venture into WWII territory with our Ms. Crawford.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Joan has Plastic Surgery

When we decided to view Joan Crawford's movies, A Woman's Face (1941) was one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing with my friends. A totally underrated movie, with a beautiful, understated performance by Ms. Crawford, I was sure everyone would love it. And they did.  

Joan plays Anna Holm, a young woman who works as a blackmailer, and who was horribly scarred as a child.  During one of her blackmail missions, she encounters Dr. Gustav Segert (Melvyn Douglas), a plastic surgeon with a remarkable record of successes.  Fascinated by Anna's scars, he offers to attempt a series of surgeries that will possibly correct the damage.  Anna consents; she had recently met Torsten Barring (Conrad Veidt), and hopes to be part of his life, scar-free.  Unbeknownst to her, Barring is far more interested in luring her into a murder plot, a murder that would leave him the heir to millions.

Crawford is just perfect in this role.  Her acting is subtle; watch her reactions to fire (Anna is terrified of fire), her mannerisms before and after her surgery, and the restrained but definite reactions that we see in her eyes as she reacts to a variety of frightening and horrifying issues.  
Also magnificent is the always wonderful Conrad Veidt.  Veidt began his career in the silent cinema of his native Germany, and generally played the hero.  In the 1930s, he managed to alienate the Nazis (he loathed Hitler and everything Hitler stood for), and escape to England (where he became a citizen).  Of course, his career in American movies generally cast him as either a villain (as here) or a Nazi (as in his most famous performance - Major Strasser in Casablanca).  While we know at the start that there is something a tad slimy about Barring, we are able to watch Veidt construct a maniac before our eyes.  We watch as his insanity is more clearly and definitely revealed with each passing scene.

Finally, we wanted to say a word about Richard Nichols as Lars-Erik.  Nichols did not have a long career, but we've seen him in several films (most notably Kitty Foyle and All This and Heaven, Too).  Nichols has a rather childlike speech pattern that is hard to miss, but he is SO much the little boy in this movie (and in everything he does), that it is hard to remember he IS an actor.  Witness Lars-Erik bouncing around on a cable car, and then looking back to see if  he will be scolded for doing something so dangerous.  So totally 5 year old boy!! And with a sense of tension ably supplied by the astute direction of George Cukor!

We hope you will give this one a try. We think it is worth a viewing, especially if you've not seen it before.  Here's a trailer to give you a glimpse of the film:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Joan Takes a Strange Trip

Clark Gable and Joan Crawford ended their on-screen partnership with the 1940 film Strange Cargo.  And a very strange movie it is. Gable plays a convict in penal colony in French Guiana.  Though he only has a few years left on his long sentence, Verne spends his days finding ways to escape.  Verne meets Julie (Crawford), a young woman working at a local dive; however his advances only success in getting her ejected from the colony.  Verne becomes immeshed in a plot to escape; however he is beaten by Moll (Albert Dekker).  However, Verne is able to follow, thanks to instructions left by Cambreau (Ian Hunter); he meets up with his fellow prisoners - Julie in tow (having rescued her from a local nasty, Marfeu, enroute).  As the journey continues, and the prisoners begin to die, each finds himself seeking comfort from the mysterious Chambreau. 

The Christian motifs are laid on with a trowel in this movie. Witness, especially, the near drowing of Chambreau towards the end of the picture!  That being said, Ian Hunter plays the part with remarkable restraint.  We all felt that, with a less subtle performance and direction (by Frank Borzage), this movie would have been impossible to watch. Hunter takes a part that is rife for caricature and makes a breathing human being out of it.
It's worth noting that Crawford spends most of the movie without any makeup, and dressed in rags, yet her beauty is still palpable.  One wishes she had more opportunities to play this kind of bare, unglamorous role.  Gable is rough and tough, of course, but he too gets some good moments, especially towards the end.  Having just release Gone with the Wind the previous year, he was certainly at the top of his game.  For Crawford, who had already been labeled "box-office poison", her years at MGM were numbered. However, her greatest movie role was still to come.  Regardless of their status in Hollywood, the chemistry between Crawford and Gable is still quite evident. 

Here's a scene from the movie featuring the two of them:

Next time, join us for another Crawford film from the early 1940s.