Saturday, January 4, 2014

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Folly of the Blonde

One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. It's rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

Marion Davies turned 116 earlier this week, so I thought it would be nice to showcase one of her later efforts today...

Cain and Mabel was Davies's penultimate picture, and by 1936 even the most lavish production Warners could put on, Clark Gable on loan from MGM, and the most hagiographic lighting and makeup this side of late-period Loretta Young couldn't do much for poor Marion at the box office.

Of course, the tragedy of Marion Davies's film career is that looming over her at every turn was William Randolph Hearst, and he just couldn't leave well enough alone.  He had great taste, it turned out, in mistresses, but truly lousy judgement when it came to popular entertainment, or at least how best to showcase his darling in same.  This gives even the best Davies film a schizophrenic air, for just when she really takes off - and she was a good dancer, an excellent physical comedian (at least in silents), and in her way a real charmer - suddenly she's thrust into moments and sequences that are queasily almost fetishy in the way that they seem to have appealed to Hearst - and no one else, ever.  She's forced to cavort in boy's clothes, or simper through a saccharine haze, or suffer through closeups so long it makes one regret that Lillian Gish ever invented the damn things.

Still, while I've not yet had the chance to catch this one, the trailer (with its carefully orchestrated "inside" glimpse of production) leads me to think it must have its charms.  How many movies, after all, can offer both plenty of Gable stripped to the waist as a boxer and "The Organ of Living Beauty" (sadly, not in the same scene), not to mention a Coney Island number and what seems to be an almost Crawfordian level of slapping?


  1. They had me at "Dance of the Feathers...."

  2. Well, I figured it wasn't the 500 beautiful girls...