Monday, August 31, 2009
Jackson must have felt in the midst of a bit of a Tudor overdose in '71, having done both this and a TV series in full Elizabeth drag. The picture takes a fair amount of liberties with history, not least in bringing the two queens together for a fraught meeting that never, in fact, took place. Still, I think I prefer my memory of this to what I've seen of more recent versions of the Tudor/Stuart drama - Cate Blanchett is very effective in her Good Queen Bess outings, but the pictures are dreck, and of the current TV go at the era, the less said the better.
The problem with stories like this, of course, is that you know the end, and it's not happy. The pretty, foolish loser dies, and the calculating, cold-hearted winner gets old and bitter, even though she does end up with better dresses than almost anybody else in history. And really, that has to count for something, don't you think? Maybe someone should go ask Diana Ross...
Good news from London - at all of 92, Dame Vera Lynn - "the Forces Sweetheart" of World War II - has become the oldest living person ever to have a top-20 album in the UK, displacing entries by the likes of U2 and Eminem.
Like many stars who first made it in radio (her coeval thrushes stateside, Kate Smith and the Andrews Sisters, come to mind), Vera had a limited run in films. Engaging if only moderately photogenic, she still comes off rather well, as in this clip from 1943's Rhythm Serenade, in which she smoothly handles the film's Obligatory Getting Dressed scene while singing a fairly routine uptempo number, "It Doesn't Cost a Dime."
She's best known, of course, for her wartime morale-boosters, songs like "We'll Meet Again," "White Cliffs of Dover," and "When the Lights Come on Again," all of which have been known at one time or another to leave me completely undone. This is certainly a lighter moment, but not at all without a dose of charm very much of its time and place. Which isn't something you can say for most work by, say, Eminem...
Saturday, August 29, 2009
For a long time, but never more than during the sublimely trashy era between the nudie-cuties and the rise of videotape, "female" was movie-shorthand for, in many and varied ways, "slut."
You'd think that the male leads in a picture with this title would be more or less irrelevant; still, John Holmes, whatever else one might think about him, was certainly not easy to ignore...
One wonders what competing film was guilty of shyly exploring the bizarre, twilight world of abnormal sexual behavior.
A West Side Story star, the son of a silent-film legend, and what clearly look like the production values of Russ Meyers come together for...well, from the look of it, not all that much. Frankly, it gives every sign of being a yawner that might as well be titled Faster, Cowgirl! Kill! Kill!
I'm not going to make any jokes drawn from the headlines, I'm not going to make any jokes drawn from the headlines...
But I will say this: beware of any film that says it's in color - when its one-sheet poster isn't.
Who knew that Gun Crazy had an alternate title? For that matter, who knew that Gun Crazy originally came from a Saturday Evening Post story? I'd love to see the Norman Rockwell illustration for that one.
Remember that warning about color movies up above? It goes double for Brigitte Bardot movies that use "Spoken in English" as a tagline.
I don't know about Kathleen Crowley, but I'd cross the street to avoid anything that made Jayne Mansfield scream like a siren in the night. On the other hand, if Lawrence Tierney were doing the screaming...
Here we have the ne plus ultra of sleazy fifties "Female" pictures, albeit one that tried, hard, to play it classy.
This is the one where Our Joan strides around snarling out lines like "I have a nasty imagination, and I'd like to be left alone with it." She makes certain you believe it. On the other hand, it also has a character called Queenie played by Natalie Schafer and Jeff Chandler in (men's) swimwear, so it's not a total waste.
This one is trying to be the ne plus ultra of contemporary "Female" pictures, but all I think it really does is provide a subject for future surprise: Tilda Swinton and Paulina Porizkova once made a movie together?
There may be seven basic female responses; only six, however, get an illustration. All, apparently, involve, in varying degrees, bad hair, but only one requires being a Kaye Ballard impersonator.
In the end, though, despite the best efforts of Joan, Natalie, Tilda, and Paulina - this is the ne plus ultra "Female" picture, now and forever. And remember: just 'cause we pretty, everybody's jealous.
This odd, moving little vignette uses Nancy Wilson's sublimely affectless version of "Guess Who I Saw Today" (from New Faces of 1952) as the basis for a mime-dance-drama that tries - and comes close, given its modest resources - to packing all the punch of Far From Heaven into a mere four minutes.
If nothing else, give it up for the Mrs., who truly has great extension...
Friday, August 28, 2009
During the war years, he was Private Secretary to the King, and from that vantage point he gives a thoughtful and acute insider's view of the waging and winning of the war, in both of which George VI played a substantial role. Unlike Lerman, however, who tells all most amusingly and occasionally with a sharp little twist, Lascelles is the perfect courtier, and frankly unless you have a genuine appetite for the minutiae of court life and an almost total lack of personal detail, you may find his unfailing discretion rather dull (given my own leanings, I of course was riveted from start to finish).
Despite (because of?) the lack of gossip, the author's own admirable character shines through. He was a highly intelligent man if not an intellectual, a music lover and voracious reader, and very much a gentleman of his class and time, one whose life seems to have been divided among court, clubs, and family, in something like that order.
There's only one moment when his mask slips ever so slightly, when you get the sense of how wearing at times it must have been to be advisor, confidante, factotum, and endless encourager of a King who, while he grew admirably into his role after his unexpected elevation in 1936, would never be described by an outside observer as the subtlest or most sophisticated of sovereigns.
It it is Boxing Day 1943 at Windsor Castle, and Lascelles has had an exhausting time of it facilitating communication between the King and his Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, at a time when it seems all too possible that Germany will launch a desperate final large-scale attack on Britain. A festive dinner, which included much in the way of royal jokes, charades, and capering, ran very late. In what is absolutely the only direct observation regarding his employer in some 300 pages, Lascelles ends his account of the day with:
"The King was wearing his tuxedo made of Inverness tartan, which is a source of much pleasure to him."
And in that one clipped sentence, I think, there is a lifetime of "Oh, my God, what is he going to do next," that I find funny and touching.
All of it is, in a way, a well-deserved tribute to The Mother of Us All, Thombeau, and the home from home that is Fabulon. As I've observed to TJB, together we form a kind of digital Algonquin round table for the 21st century, albeit one perhaps a tad more focused on glamour, nostalgia, and pecs even than Alexander Woollcott. And that's saying something.
A well-bred Pennsylvania girl, Kulp made a career out of exagerrating, sometimes only slightly, her real-life persona as a cultured, brainy, rather gawky lady of the type frequently if paradoxically assumed to be simultaneously a daughter of Bilitis and a man-hungry spinster.
In real life she may well have been neither. Her only tie to Lesbos, it seems, arises from a supposed late in life interview with one Boze Hadleigh, a writer who claims to have carried out such conversations with a jaw-dropping array of notables, all - if he is to be believed - without ever making tapes or even taking much in the way of notes.
Whatever the case in her private life, Kulp achieved her little slice of immortality by acting as the perfect straight woman (in the comic-performance sense, of course) to the lunacy that unfolded around her, a visual joke next to the voluptuous appeal of Donna Douglas, the dogmatically logical victim of the Appalachian world view of Irene Ryan, and the stand-in for languishing youngsters of all sexes across the country in her helpless attraction to the carnal charms of Mr. Max Baer.
I adore, by the bye, stills like this one of character ladies. We are generally so conditioned to think of them as only the incarnations of the roles they play that it can be pleasantly jolting to see them, as it were, in their civvies, looking perfectly normal and indeed rather attractive. I am sure that whomever she took on as special friend would have been very happy to wake up next to her.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The idea of Miss Mae West sitting down with the formidable Queen Marie of Rumania to discuss life, love, and diamonds is both delicious and, in its own demented way, quite sensible. They actually had a lot in common, those girls, not least a gift for self-transformation.
West started out a scrappy and deeply unsuccessful small-time vaudevillian from the wrong side of Brooklyn and ended up - even now, almost thirty years after she left us - an international synonym for sex taken not-too-seriously. Marie, from her precariously Ruritanian position in the 1930s as Queen Mother of the Balkans, must have looked back at her sheltered girlhood as a proper Victorian English princess with something like disbelief.
Together, I think they would have had a ball.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
This really does seem to be just about the dyingest summer I can recall. Now we have to say goodbye to yet another link to great things past, singer/songwriter Ellie Greenwich. She was an artist whose work ran the gamut from the ridiculous ("Do Wah Diddy" comes to mind) to the sublime: "Chapel of Love," "Leader of the Pack," and the song heard here, "River Deep, Mountain High."
For reasons unknown, this 1966 video looks like nothing so much as the musical number dropped from Night of the Living Dead, and, as always, the Ikettes frighten me deeply. Still, even lip-synching (sometimes) to the Invisible Orchestra of Ike, Tina sings the hell of out it (also as always), and its one of those songs that just always makes you feel better - it's that rare thing, an enthusiastic take on romantic obsession, on love as a force of nature, unstoppable. As, I think, the best work of Ellie Greenwich will prove to be.
Senator Edward Moore Kennedy was a paragon of no virtues but the civic ones, and I've always been essentially immune to the fabled Kennedy charm. Nonetheless, he and his extended family helped shape the last half-century or more of our American life, and for a while they did so with a lot of panache.
Here's an example, albeit a latish one: The first Mrs. Senator Kennedy, Joan, for whom I've always had a sneaking fondness, sandwiched between another sometime political matron, Mrs. Senator Warner, and her sister-in-law, Princess Lee.
The Kennedy ladies all trailed in the wake of Rose and Jackie O, and Joan had the disadvantage of being neither a born-Kennedy, nor a Bouvier, nor, like Ethel, a Martyr's Widow. She was, therefore always, comparatively, B-list. Still, she did the best with what she had, and when she'd had enough, threw it all in for life outside the charmed circle. She's had a hard row to hoe since, but here she is in memory's eye, poised, like her family, between Hollywood and royalty (well, semi-, at least), and seemingly carefree.
Today, nothing seems quite so simple, really; wasn't ever, I suppose, however much we liked to think so. I've quoted it before, but Shakespeare always says it best - "Golden lads and girls all must /As chimney sweepers come to dust." And just so we cover all the cliché-bases: good night, sweet prince...
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Oh, yes, the best hotels keep open a bolthole for infidels, but it feels rather sordid. Those of us who work in mixed-faith workplaces and have the advantage of an office-with-door spend considerably more time than usual in "private meetings" or "just getting some writing done," all the time trying silently to guzzle coffee or wolf down provisions brought in in discreetly bagged packages.
We'll soldier through, I know - and at least we're spared having to totally invert all our eating habits, as our Muslim colleagues do. Local bloggers have come up with several diverting accounts of what havoc this can wreak, although I do warn that neither of these two are especially recommended for weak stomachs.
And then there's the whole more-or-less teetotalling thing, but that will doubtless be the subject for a future moan...
Sharing the day are both King Ludwigs of Bavaria (the second of whom is the mad and fabulous one), tap empress Ruby Keeler, actor Michael Rennie (who was ill, you might recall, the day the earth stood still), let's-make-a-dealer Monty Hall, appalling television creation Rachael Ray, appealing Scotsman Sean Connery, and, last but in absolutely no way least, the irreplaceable force of nature that was Leonard Bernstein.
The Maestro, I have a feeling, likely knew and was amused at the thought that he and Ludwig II had so much in common; ditto Ruby Keeler. Frankly, I'm relieved, in a way, that he was spared knowing anything at all about Rachael Ray.
Roberta is just about my favorite of their pictures - not the best, necessarily, or the most lavish, but just the one that somehow gets its right. It's startling to be reminded by the title card that they didn't even lead the bill, that honor going to Miss Irene Dunne as a White Russian princess who gets to wear one of the all-time great tiaras and sing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
This trailer, sadly, is saved from total fabulosity by the sad absence of the title character, the marvelous Helen Westley as Roberta herself, not to mention the toothsome Randolph Scott. Still, there is that tiara, and Fred, and Ginger. Enjoy.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Actually, I can think of several pleasanter ways, and I bet you can, too, but this is a family blog, more or less, so mind your manners. What's left of them.
The photos that form the triptych above were taken at one of Crawford's later public appearances, in April of 1973, when she took to the stage of New York's Town Hall as part of series of tributes to great ladies of film organized by publicist extraordinaire John Springer (you can read the whole interview here).
And guess what? Leo Lerman was, in fact, in the audience. I'll spare you his description, but it's characteristically fabulous.
I can never decide if my favorite thing about this is the fashions (is it possible they stumbled on the first girl on the set of The Stepford Wives?) or the vaguely sub-KanderandEbb song. Taken together, they create an almost Proustian sense-memory for their era, no?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Believe it or not, the idea to post this came to me in a dream last night. Whom am I to defy the mystical forces of the subconscious?
Given that I don't generally even particularly like puzzles, it seems all the odder. If I were (even more) hypochondriacal, I'd be worried that a sudden, dubious mental flurry of this sort means some kind of underlying neurological issue, but instead I think I'll attribute it to too much Ramadan eating too close to bedtime.
Feel free to solve this, I fear, deeply obvious little riddle.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Monarchs have long provided the Big Hollywood Ladies with some of their plummiest roles - it's a tradition that dates back at least as far as 1912 and Bernhardt's Elizabeth I, and one that still intrigues - just ask Helen Mirren or Kirsten Dunst, both of whom have assayed (with wildly varying results) crowned heads in recent years.
Kate more or less played herself as Eleanor in The Lion in Winter - imperious, vulnerable, catty, and supremely wry. There are those who argue that was always the case with Hepburn's acting, just as those who would make the case - and a fairly plausible one, I think - that there's no reason not to think that Eleanor of Aquitaine was, in fact, fairly Hepburnische.
So I think we shall occasionally be looking in at these cases when celluloid royalty meets, in various ways, the real thing. This is one of my favorites; what are yours?
As you will gather from the introduction, this clip is from the extraordinary 1955 CBS special Together with Music, which brought together Coward and Mary Martin for a ninety-minute lovefest the survival of which makes me terribly happy. There are lots more bits on the Youtube, and you really ought to go see them, pronto.
And Uncle Harry? Well, he certainly reminds me of some of my relatives, I do know that.
Partial ComfortI hope Helen (the former Miss Troy, you know, as Dorothy was born Miss Rothschild) and she are raising a glass to each other even as we speak, secure in the knowledge that they're having more fun than the stiff saints up above...
Whose love is given over-well
Will look on Helen's face in Hell;
While they whose love is thin and wise
May view John Knox in Paradise.
Friday, August 21, 2009
A little digging has revealed that it was probably even more euphonious than I thought, as the lady in question, seen above, was French, and therefore likely pronounced her surname something like "Cadeeyaq." The work in question was a 1961 film called, in English, The Unsatisfied, an epic which announced its ambitions to its stateside audience with the tagline "Violence - Liquor - Sex", which really ought to be enough to satisfy most filmgoers.
In Spain, where it was made, it turns out, the picture was known as Juventud a la Intemperie, which is more or less Flaming Youth. Some sense of its mise-en-scène can be gathered from the title of the Italian release, La regina dello strep tease.
In addition to dancing, as we can see from the album above, Rita was also a vocalist; I don't know about you, but I would love to hear her croon the title tune, which translates into English as "Don't Count on Me (to Get Naked)." Somehow, I think, that's a wager, despite the warning, I'd be willing to make.
I do need to warn anyone who wants to find out more: in recent years, the lady's alluring moniker has been picked up by a Brazilian performer who has taken the overall tone of her namesake's career a long way further, which makes Googling Miss Cadillac a distinctly NSFW experience.
"...there, in a shadowy room, I found a strange, smallish-creature - a sort of changeling, I thought, like the one Titania and Oberon fought over - fragile, but tough. He regaled us with gossip, jokes, little dances. Later, when I went away, down a dim stair, someone suddenly landed on my back and with a high, treble cry demanded: 'Give me a piggyback ride!' I did."
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Yeah, well, this is definitely not one of those. What it is is "(You Bring Out) The Lover in Me," the big Ladies' Room Raveup number from truly one of the least fondly remembered films of the '80s, Voyage of the Rock Aliens. It stars, of course, Pia Zadora, a singer I find fascinating because her voice sounds off-pitch even when, technically, its not. Remarkable. And she's just as talented a dancer, so she's got that going for her, too.
Joining her is someone I think is rather underrated, Alison La Placa (who may here actually have the worst hairdo of the decade, beating out even Stevie Nicks). She later found a kind of fame as Rachel's nympho boss on Friends, but never seems to really have landed in any substantial way. Pity. She's easily the best thing in this number, but that's mostly because she's in so little of it.
Those who were there will remember that VotRA was one of those pictures that was going to be coming out any day now for something like six years; when it finally did, in 1987, it looked even then practically Mesozoic, which didn't help its chances of resurrecting la Zadora's career even as it managed to diminish Ruth Gordon's, despite the fact that she'd been dead for two years.
The telling thing about this song? It's quality is such that apparently it wasn't included in the film's soundtrack album. Imagine how it must feel to have written a song that isn't good enough for the Voyage of the Rock Aliens album - and immediately feel infinitely better about any creative activity you've undertaken lately!
Buying groceries, you see, in the days leading up to the Big Month, resembles nothing so much as braving a continuous six o'clock on Christmas Eve at Macy's, with the heaps of pre-wrapped gloves and desk sets replaced by mountains of oversized bags of rice, dessert mixes, and - everywhere - Everests of Tang, mostly mango-flavored. As Angry has pointed out in her evocative Ramadan-shopping roundup, it's not exactly a health-foods time of year.
The whole shebang gets under way in a day or two, and people are, as always, stocking up. Whole families shop together, and since the usual local approach to child-control is to send them as far away as possible until Mom and Dad have finished at the checkout, the chaos level is high. Expat shoppers steer their comparatively empty carts around ones piled so high they seem in danger of toppling over right there in the freezer section, and trying to reach some items, nearly entirely obliterated by twelve-foot high pyramids of special-offer gallons of cooking oil, becomes an art.
At least we have a festive evening lined up, a last little flurry at one of the hotel buffets and then maybe a pub or two before it all shuts down. Yes, children, our part of the world is about to go dry and me (more or less - I cheat a little) with it. It has not historically had a salutory effect on my mood, although - unlike any of my fully fasting friends - at least I usually drop a pound or two before month's end.
Wish us luck.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Where will the delectable Mr. Egypt, Tarek Naguib, be able to strut his stuff? When will Mr. Costa Rica, one Mauricio Mayorga (seen above, left, with some friends), take his place on the world handsomeness stage? How can we continue to hope for the rise of a second John Abraham?
These, darlings, are the things that keep me up nights. In more ways than one.
But then she remembered the Splafford emeralds, the house at Deauville, and her new account at Worth's, and immediately she felt much better.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Paradoxically, it was during the steep decent that by 1935 had taken her out of movies (and, on the sunny side, to a solid transatlantic stage presence) that she made the picture she's best remembered for, Tod Browning's magnificently twisted epic of circus life, Freaks. Everything that made her not work in most talkies - the accent, of course, but also her larger-than-life presence, her flashing eyes and heavy, exotic beauty - made her the perfect evil, grasping circus acrobat, and so she carved out her little slice of celluloid immortality as Browning's Cleopatra.
Sharing the day? Among them are another silents survivor, ur-flapper Colleen Moore; Mademoiselle herself, la Chanel; half-a-duo Alfred Lunt; and That Somewhat Different tennis pro, Dr. Renée Richards. I hope, in one way or another, here or in the hereafter, they're having fun.
Almodóvar really hit his international stride with this one, and like a first love, it has a special place not eclipsed by his later triumphs. And it just looks so damn great. In memory, everywhere in 1988 was those colors, and while I never hijacked a biker or got to dub Joan Crawford, it all feels very nostalgic. Sigh...
I can't prove it, but I have a feeling it was Lloyd who convinced her she could get away without a bra in her strapless gown, too. And you can see how that turned out...
Monday, August 17, 2009
Into a predatory insect, for example.
I had a boss once who'd been Susan Cabot's roommate once when they both trying to Make It There - now there's a Terrible Hollywood Story. Susan's, that is, not my boss's (she ended up in Mexican movies and married a Philadelphia socialite, so some things do work out for the best).
I've never heard of a blonde voodoo priestess in a strapless cocktail gown, but maybe it's just that that makes her Weird. Go ask Lon Chaney - if anyone would know, it's he...
Never having had the nerve to see this one, I had no idea that the twin-concept imposed on Miss Garbo involved playing a lady baseball player and a truck driver in drag. No wonder Melvyn Douglass looks so surprised.
That Kind of Woman is apparently the kind who ditches her picture hat, pearls, and gloves at the first opportunity to kiss a GI.
Given that the kissee is Tab Hunter, he probably went home with the accessories, not the Woman. Although if you're ever going to make an exception for anyone, Sophia Loren is pretty much the choice to go with.
The terrifying story of a woman whose Guilty Secret appears to have consisted of wanting to imitate Margaret Hamilton's makeup. Actually, if all you had to choose between was George Sanders and Louis Hayward, you'd probably be Strange, too. But not, I hope, green - even on La Lamarr, it's not terribly flattering.
As opposed to being a Cobra, which proved enormously successful for Miss Montez. Everyone knows this particular Woman picture...
But even I hadn't known it had a sequel, of sorts...
...not to mention a blatant stealing of the concept (if not, if this poster's any evidence, the fabulousness). I don't really want to imagine what kind of horror Snake Woman can spread with her forked tongue.
I suspect that, for poor Jean Harlow, having to go red was almost as bad as having to go Wasp or Cobra. Ginger just doesn't go with white satin bias-cut gowns the way platinum does, after all. Especially when the most you hope to impress is Chester Morris, who isn't exactly Clark Gable, if you know what I mean. But then again, if you listen to Carole Lombard, even Clark Gable wasn't exactly Clark Gable.
They certainly don't seem to make many pictures about Women turned into cute, fluffy creatures, do they? No Bunny Woman, Panda Woman, or West Highland Terrier Woman; oh, no - it's all snakes and cobras, wasps and - possibly least inviting of all - leeches. Bleech. No wonder Coleen Gray retired. And how did an ex-Mr. Joan Crawford turn up in this?
Acquanetta! The greatest star ever named after an off-prime grooming-product brand. It's nice to know that she rated special billing, although I don't think there was much question in that cast who would be appearing "as The Jungle Woman," really, is there?
From the Jungle to the Front Page; it certainly can't be argued that Hollywood's Woman didn't get around.
Never in a million years did Davis have gams like that. Maybe she borrowed them from Susan Cabot.
Another stint in the urban jungle, this time with not one but two formidable Women, even if only one made it up above the title. And no, children, this was not the inspiration for the Dixie Carter-Delta Burke (et al) television series.
After all these turbid goings-on, invisibility seems like a relief, a sentiment likely not shared by Virginia Bruce. It was never a terribly interesting film career, and it's all downhill from there. Although even she never had to play a Leech.