Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trailer Trash: We Were Yawning

Norma Shearer ended her onscreen days with a trio of pictures that proved, more or less definitively, that what had seemed like a new direction in The Women (Norma playing a spirited, contemporary woman with a sense of humor) was actually a dead end, for they took her back to the aristo settings and Great Lady moments that had made up too much of her work in the '30s.

This isn't, as some have suggested, a case of a studio easing out a falling star (as Warner's did Kay Francis) by throwing her into quickies or stinting on production values. No; it's simply that suddenly it's the 40s, and what Norma does just doesn't play any more. Escape, Her Cardboard Lover, and this one, We Were Dancing, all had respectable sources (a popular novel, a stage favorite, and a pair of Coward one-acts) and were given the full glossy MGM finish - sets, costumes, lingering flattering close-ups, and hordes of extras when necessary. Escape had a Special Prestige Guest Star in Alla Nazimova, and both it and Cardboard Lover paired Norma with rising favorite Robert Taylor.

We Were Dancing is the Shearer picture that time forgot, and this trailer goes a long way in showing why. It's perfectly fine to fill out out a movie with people like Lee Bowman and veteran character player Alan Mowbray; it's quite another to claim that they constitute part of a "7 Star" cast. It doesn't help that Norma's been burdened with a coiffure that appears to be equal parts meringue and Sue Ann Nivens, or that even when being slapped, Melvyn Douglas looks to be waiting for his next date with Ninotchka. This is the Norma Shearer parodied by Charles Busch - lavish, exquisite in her self-regard, and totally pointless.

All of which is to say I can't wait to see it in its entirely when next the opportunity arises - on top of Norma, Norma, Norma, it has a bit by a very young Ava Gardner, a turn by Marjorie Main as a lady judge, and a moment or two for professional dowager Norma Varden. With all that and Norma's dresses, what more could one ask?


  1. A wonderful post. But one must also remember that the Widow Thalberg no longer was amused with the business after the death of husband. The campaign no longer tickled her nose, so to speak.

    I tend to believe that her style of acting was growing passe, and Norma was smart enough to know this, so she opted to go out on top. Just my thoughts. Your mileage may differ, of course...

  2. Oh, no, I quite agree - while Norma was not, really a sensible person (she turned down Mrs. Miniver, after all) she was a savvy lady. I think she didn't find it all nearly as much fun when she wasn't Queen of the Lot, and if she couldn't make her kind of picture work (and her last three really do show that they don't, anymore), well, it wasn't like she had to work (which if nothing else put her one up on Crawford).

    And she spent the rest of her life burnishing the reputation she had worked so hard to achieve by, professionally, disappearing, and by never giving one single sign that she missed any of it.

    I actually admire Norma; she doesn't get credit for much, but she was a top star for a decade, cashed in her chips, and moved on - something that people like Irene Dunne and Deanna Durbin are revered for. It's easy to make fun of her, I know, but who ended up with a better deal?

  3. I make no fun of her, she's one of my faves, but this blonde(ish) look (it is rather Sue Ann, isn't it?) just is not working.

  4. And if you think about it, if you had all the money in the world wisely invested, found a good man that you could laugh with, who wouldn't mind spending the rest of their days having lunch with the ladies, bridge, volunteer work, etc.

    Sounds like a dream to me...

  5. Sounds like a heavenly movie.... so what options do you have for viewing old movies in Muscat? Does NetFlix mail to your home?