Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Orwell's political morality, Capra's American Dream, Eastwood's American Sniper

The 100 best novels: No 70 – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949): “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Even as a child, he had been fascinated by the futuristic imagination of HG Wells (and later, Aldous Huxley). Finally, at the end of his short life, he fulfilled his dream. Nineteen Eighty-Four, arguably the most famous English novel of the 20th century, is a zeitgeist book. Orwell’s dystopian vision was deeply rooted both in its author’s political morality, and in its time, the postwar years of western Europe. After the third world war, Britain is now Airstrip One in the American superstate of Oceania, permanently in conflict with Eurasia and Eastasia. Winston Smith, a former journalist employed by the Ministry of Truth to rewrite old newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports state policy, decides to launch his own hopeless private rebellion against the oppression of “the Party” and its all-seeing, all-powerful dictator, Big Brother. Source:

The rise of Frank Capra from sickly, abused, impoverished Sicilian immigrant to what one of his sons calls “a shaper of how we view America” is the subject of Kenneth Bowser’s Frank Capra’s American Dream. This biography, produced by Tom and Frank Capra, Jr., attempts to replace the simplistic image of Capra as a sort of undiscriminating, sentimental populist with a more complex reality. What emerges from these interviews and film clips is an illuminating portrait of a tragically conflicted personality whose work, more than that of many directors, is barely veiled autobiography. The Capra seen here joins his fictional counterparts — Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith, and John Doe — as an Everyman whose sudden wealth and fame, those driving myths of the “American Dream” that was Capra’s eternal subject, nearly destroy him. Source:

Harry Cohn believed that as an outsider, Frank Capra could not afford to dabble in global politics without having his loyalty questioned. Hollywood was already seen by too much of the rest of America as a nest of perversion and subversion, and the industry’s growing population of foreign-born filmmakers, writers, and actors had to walk an especially careful line. Capra’s infatuation with Mussolini soon subsided, but his sympathies remained maddeningly difficult to track, even for those who knew him. He supported Franco during the Spanish Civil War while most of his Hollywood colleagues were raising funds for the Loyalists.

At any given moment, Capra’s passions could be inflamed by populism or by distrust of the working class, by loathing for Communists or contempt for capitalists, by economic self-protection or New Deal generosity. Throughout the 1930s, his politics had been defined more by his quick temper than by any ideological consistency. His conflicting impulses were manifest in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, a comedy about an eccentric young New England poet who inherits $20 million and learns what it’s like to have the whole world reach into his pockets. Capra’s left-wing screenwriter Robert Riskin brought an unmistakable progressivism to the film, especially in an episode in which a farmer is driven to madness by his inability to feed and clothe his family in the Depression; his plight moves Deeds to a quasi-socialistic resolve to spread the wealth. But the movie’s ideas, and its ideals, are highly mutable.

All of his contradictory perspectives were even more apparent in You Can’t Take It With You, which he started shooting in early 1938. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedy about the eccentricities of a large and chaotic New York family whose elderly patriarch has for years refused to pay any income tax allowed Capra (with Riskin’s considerable help) to combine his various economic and social hobbyhorses into something approaching a unified semiphilosophy. As the opening of his movie approached, Capra was rocked by a personal tragedy. While he was at the first Los Angeles press screening of You Can’t Take It With You, he received an emergency call summoning him to the hospital, where he learned that his severely disabled three-year-old son John had died.

In 1938, Capra attended an Anti-Nazi League rally titled “Quarantine Hitler” at the Philharmonic Auditorium. Before an audience of thirty-five hundred, he stepped to the microphone and spoke in support of a trade boycott, endorsing a statement that “capitulation to Hitler means barbarism and terror.” Capra never looked back. Like Ford, he was about to become one of the movie industry’s strongest advocates for America’s involvement in what he now believed was a rapidly approaching World War.

This is one of 26 Private SNAFU ('Situation Normal, All Fouled Up') cartoons made by the US Army Signal Corps to educate and boost the morale the troops. Originally created by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Phil Eastman, most of the cartoons were produced by Warner Brothers Animation Studios - employing their animators, voice actors (primarily Mel Blanc) and Carl Stalling's music." Private Snafu is the title character of a series of black-and-white American instructional cartoon shorts produced between 1943 and 1945 during World War II. The character was created by director Frank Capra, chairman of the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit, and most were written by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf. Private Snafu cartoons were a military secret—for the armed forces only. Surveys to ascertain the soldiers' film favorites showed that the Snafu cartoons usually rated highest or second highest. The Snafu shorts are notable because they were produced during the Golden Age of Warner Bros. Directors such as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin worked on them, and their characteristic styles are in top form. The Snafu films are also partly responsible for keeping the animation studios open during the war—by producing such training films, the studios were declared an essential industry.

Mark Harris tells how Hollywood changed World War II–and vice versa–through the stories of five legendary American film directors: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Among them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of America’s war and in every branch of service.

With more than half a million American and British soldiers and naval personnel coming from five thousand ships along fifty miles of beach in the ten days following D-Day, creating a filmed overview of those first hours and of the week that followed would have been impossible, and neither John Ford nor George Stevens intended to try. Instead, they told their men not to put themselves in unnecessary danger and to focus on what was within their own field of vision as well as on their own safety. By the end of the first day of fighting, more than four thousand Allied soldiers were dead. Fourteen of the sixteen tanks that had tried to roll onto Omaha Beach that dawn had been destroyed. Some men, laden with equipment that included eighty-pound flamethrowers, sank and drowned when their landing craft foundered in shallow waters. Others were torn apart by machine-gun fire as they walked down the ramps into the water, or died because they became entangled in underwater obstructions placed just off the shore; others were killed by snipers or mortars as they took their first steps out of the surf and onto the beach.

In the days that followed, Ford’s men moved inland with the troops, and miles away, so did Stevens and the British and American forces to which his SPECOU unit was attached. Ford and Stevens were not close friends —they were both introspective and hard to read, and in Hollywood they largely avoided the company of other filmmakers— but they did admire and respect each other. Ford thought Stevens was an “artist” —a word he rarely used about fellow directors— Eventually, the two men seem to have connected, if only briefly. -"Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War" (2014) by Mark Harris

U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper) is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. He is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the spirit of the SEAL creed to “leave no one behind.”

But upon returning to his wife, Taya Renae Kyle (Sienna Miller), and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind. Oscar-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Unforgiven”) is directing “American Sniper” from a screenplay written by Jason Hall, based on the book by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwan and Jim DeFelice.

Clint Eastwood’s new film is political in the highest sense of the word. He dramatizes the use and abuse of state power in the light of great philosophical ideas. “American Sniper” is a movie of violent action —but its action is surrounded by a terrible stillness. Its story of war contains valor and horror— the destructive and self-destructive conflicts that are intrinsic to a person endowed with a warrior’s noble nature. As such, it’s a cinematic tragedy in the deepest and most classical sense of the term... a truncated and telescoped cinematic Bildungsroman, telling the story of Chris’s boyhood as a sort of founding myth: how an American boy grows up to become a singularly effective soldier.

Chris is a sort of Mozart of the rifle, but it takes a particular and peculiar confluence of circumstances for him to marshal his talent for something more than sport. From the earliest age, Chris is cast in the role of protector—he defends his younger brother, Jeff, from a bully in the schoolyard—and Chris’s father sets up the scenario in a dinner-table anecdote that plays out like country Plato, saying that there are three kinds of people, wolves (predators), sheep (victims), and sheepdogs (protecting sheep against wolves).

There’s a moment, early in the film, in which Eastwood cues, in a glance, the impending tragedy: a very brief shot of Chris, seen through a doorway, heading to rodeo grounds, which borrows from the final shot of John Ford’s “The Searchers.” It’s just a touch, but it’s a brilliant one—Eastwood marks Chris, from the start, with his coming isolation. Even in the young man’s easy days of sporting adventure, his character bears the seed of the awesome price that he’ll pay for his distinction, but it’s a distinction that arises from the enduring spirit of the Western, translated into modernity—for better and worse.

For Chris, America isn’t just a homeland and a sense of self; it’s an idea, and Eastwood dramatizes the mounting nightmare of a man of unique talent who is increasingly possessed by that idea. “American Sniper” is the story of a genius in crisis; it’s a movie like Eastwood’s “Bird,” in which Charlie Parker’s singular talent comes with a self-destructive streak. Chris undergoes a singularly demanding training to become a SEAL—he dares to contradict his marksmanship instructor’s order and proves that he sees more, and better, than his instructor does. For Eastwood, the military makes a man—which war then destroys.

Eastwood sets up Chris’s fighting with a mighty, intensely focussed abstraction. The lies behind the rush to war are never explored explicitly, nor is the war in Afghanistan or any debate regarding America’s general strategies against Al Qaeda. There’s no reference to the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, to debates over the Iraq War, or to any explicit policy discussions at all. Yet the movie doesn’t convey a sense of a whitewash. Chris senses that he’s defending the faith by violating its fundamental tenets, and that he’s being celebrated for the worst part of his service—and, even more, that the celebration of warriors reveals the ignorance of the unbearable truth of battle. Even as he becomes one of American society’s heroes, Chris becomes, in his own mind, a pariah, unfit for society. Eastwood includes in the cast of “American Sniper” soldiers who have been grievously wounded in combat, soldiers who have lost limbs, whose surviving limbs have been mutilated.

It’s casting akin to that of Harold Russell, a Second World War veteran who lost his hands in combat and was fitted with prosthetic hands, in William Wyler’s 1946 masterwork “The Best Years of Our Lives.” There, Russell—who had never acted in a movie—is one of the three stars, alongside Dana Andrews and Fredric March. In the course of that drama, it’s not Russell’s character but the former fighter pilot played by Andrews who is most conspicuously suffering from the emotional traumas of combat.

“American Sniper” is an angrily cautionary film, and its anger reflects back to its very title. What’s distinctively American about Eastwood’s sniper? He’s an accidental warrior, the product of experience—of family and intimate principle, not of a military academy or a hereditary warrior class. The film’s one strange omission involves gender; there are no women soldiers featured in it, but Eastwood strongly genders Chris’s idea of the warrior, as in a passing moment when he tells his young son to “look after our women”—Chris’s wife and their infant daughter.

Whatever American distinctiveness the title may suggest, there’s one thing from which Americans aren’t excepted: war is as devastating for them as for anyone, which makes the notion of political and moral exceptionalism all the more potentially self-destructive. “American Sniper” isn’t just a tragedy; it’s an American tragedy, a vision of American destiny as tragic. Far from patriotic pomp, it’s a vision that sees past the still eye of the American self-image to the whirlwind. Source:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Yesterday They Lived: Joan Crawford & Franchot Tone ("Today We Live" by Howard Hawks)

Franchot Tone told Joan Crawford: "You are the only real, the only beautiful thing that ever happened in my life." Joan had never met anyone quite like Franchot. He was a patrician both in appearance and manner, yet he also possessed a deep concern for social reform. He had attended Hill School from which he was dismissed "for being a subtle influence for disorder throughout the fall term." His instinct for rebellion began early. Joan and Franchot were drawn to each other immediately. He claimed later he fell in love with her the moment they met on the set of "Today We Live" (1933).

Franchot was fascinated with the power structure of immigrant strong men who ruled the industry, also with the immense influence that movies could exert on the nation's social attitudes. Franchot interested Joan in the newly formed Screen Actors Guild, and she became one of its early members.

Franchot complained to Katherine Albert: "Every night Joan comes down the stairs all dressed up for dinner, and she expects me to compliment her on how she looks. Every night! My God, if Venus de Milo walked down the stairs every night, I couldn't continue raving about her." -"Joan Crawford: A Biography" (1979) by Bob Thomas

"The first time I met Franchot, he had the lead in a Maxwell Anderson play called 'Night Over Taos', produced by the Group Theater. He was tall and handsome, had an oriental valet, and was very rich. I was what was called a 'walk-on', my first Broadway appearance.

Later, during the run of 'Winterset' (1935), we had our first important meeting. He sent word to me that he and his new bride, Joan Crawford, were coming to see the play. The public interest in their union was phenomenal, and on the night they came to see 'Winterset' the streets outside the theater were jammed with thousands of swerving and milling fans. Backstage, we could hear the buzz of the audience through the curtain as Joan and Franchot took their seats.

I got to know Joan over the years and she made a good life for herself. I would say she accomplished 90 percent of her full capabilities, maybe 95 percent. I think the average person is lucky to do half that well. But the night I met her it intrigued me to find her so vulnerable. Aside from being snubbed (by producer Joe Schwartz at Tony's, on 52nd street) she talked about other difficulties in her life. Her main problem was how close-ups were shot in the movies.

"By the time they get to the close-ups," she said, "the actor and the actress have used up their energy on long shots, which don't show the full emotional capability of the artist." Franchot settled down to tell his impressions of 'Winterset' (he liked it very much) and the rest of the evening went on in blazing spirits. Dozens of people joined the table till the late hours. Everyone toasted the newlyweds. It was Franchot's first marriage later he went on to quite a few more. He liked getting married.

I don't know how good Franchot's influence was on me or mine on him. Aside from The Man on the Eiffel Tower, a movie we made together in Paris, most of our coventures were in pursuit of pleasure. We shared many a bottle and many a girl, both in New York and Hollywood, in our bachelor days. All of us talked about wild times but in all honesty we talked more than we dissipated. Although Franchot was not afraid of heights, he was a bad businessman.

Tone had a secret side to him. It was his love of the Canadian woods. He was a fine woodsman. Most people knew him only as a playboy —elegantly dressed, handsome, towing an array of lovely women. Franchot and I remained close friends from that first meeting with his bride until I spoke at his funeral. -"So Far, So Good: A Memoir" (1994) by Burgess Meredith

Though early in his career, The Stranger's Return (1933) finds Franchot Tone in familiar territory, as the likeable, inoffensive All-American guy, only this time, he's the object of the leading lady's affection instead of losing out to someone like Clark Gable in Dancing Lady. The story begins at the breakfast table of the Storr family farm as Grandpa Storr (Lionel Barrymore) comes down to find corn flakes instead of bacon and eggs. The cornflakes are dumped, bacon and eggs are made, and the old Civil War veteran tells his son-in-law, Allen (Grant Mitchell); his wife Thelma (Aileen Carlyle); and his stepdaughter, Beatrice (Beulah Bondi), that his granddaughter is coming to stay with them. He's referring to Louise (Miriam Hopkins), recently separated from her husband in New York City, and coming back to the country for a time.

Guy and Louise continue to socialize and discover they have much in common. Guy went to college at Cornell (like Tone did in real life) and the two talk about theater in New York while Nettie is left out of the conversation. Guy shows Louise around the massive acreage of his farm and, finally, in a moment of passion, reveals his love for her. The problem is, both Guy and Louise like Nettie and neither wants to hurt her. More importantly for Louise, Guy's reputation will be destroyed. She can leave and go back to the city any time she wants, she explains to him, but he will be stuck there among the ever watchful, ever judging eyes of the small farming community.

Miriam Hopkins, like Tone, was just starting out in the movies, although by this one, she had already become a star. In just her first four movies she had scored major successes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Smiling Lieutenant (both 1931) and she quickly became one of the biggest stars of the thirties. She's excellent here, playing well against both Tone and Barrymore.

Speaking of Barrymore, the old actor of the stage was in his stagecraft element here, wearing a beard and playing a character over thirty years older than his age at the time. He does so splendidly and manages to make a character almost defiantly rude and sarcastic at all times wholly loveable as well.

The Stranger's Return is one of those great films from the early thirties that doesn't get nearly enough recognition. The direction, production, writing, and acting are all supremely well done but for whatever reason, even with the newly minted star power of Miriam Hopkins, it didn't set the box office on fire and hasn't built up a reputation over the years like many others. It's time to change that and let The Stranger's Return return to the spotlight. Source:

13 Tuesday 10:00 AM  LOVE IS A HEADACHE (1938)

A freak accident gives a fading actress a huge publicity push. Director: Richard Thorpe Cast: Gladys George, Franchot Tone, Mickey Rooney, Virginia Wedley, Ted Healy. B&W-73 mins

Gladys George, a theater actress who had been signed by MGM in 1934, had been playing heavy dramatic roles in tearjerkers such as Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936), which earned her a Best Actress Oscar® nomination, and the title role in Madame X (1937). The role of the glamorous Broadway star in Love Is a Headache gave George a rare chance to cut loose with comedy, and she's terrific, her husky voice swooping from the dulcet tones of the grande dame she's turned herself into, to the guttersnipe gravel of the character's origins. Her screwball love-hate banter with Franchot Tone, as comfortable in comedy as he was in drama, is witty and effective. Source:

13 Tuesday 11:30 AM  THREE LOVES HAS NANCY (1938)

Janet Gaynor, Robert Montgomery, Franchot Tone and Grady Sutton play the four sides of a romantic quadrangle in this screwball comedy co-scripted by Bella and Samuel Spewack (Broadway's Kiss Me, Kate). Gaynor portrays small-town girl Nancy Briggs, whose nebbish fiancé George (Sutton) doesn't return from his Manhattan job in time to say, "I do."

So Nancy heads to the big city to hunt for her hubby-to-be and, after a series of dizzy complications, lands in the apartment of a debonair author (Montgomery), in the romantic sights of his equally debonair pal (Tone), and in the middle of a three-man boxing match when George suddenly reappears. Will Nancy ever get to the altar? And if so, with whom? Gaynor was fresh off her triumph in A Star Is Born when she made this fast-paced comedy and met its costume designer, Adrian. She soon became his bride and, at the height of her popularity, bid the movie world goodbye for almost 20 years.

THREE LOVES HAS NANCY (1938): A country girl follows the man who jilted her to the big city, where she finds two new suitors. Director: Richard Thorpe. Cast: Janet Gaynor, Robert Montgomery, Franchot Tone, Reginald Owen, Claire Dodd. B&W-70 mins

22 Thursday 10:45 AM  TODAY WE LIVE (1933)

An aristocratic English girl's tangled love life creates havoc during World War I. Director: Howard Hawks Cast: Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Robert Young. B&W-113 mins,

In 1916, while England is deep in war with Germany, wealthy American Richard Bogard buys an estate in Kent and displaces its longtime occupant, Diana "Ann" Boyce-Smith. Although she has just learned that her father has been killed in action, Ann treats Bogard with brave graciousness and moves to the guest cottage without complaint. She then prepares to say goodbye to her brother Ronnie and childhood friend and neighbor, Claude Hope, both newly trained naval officers on their way to France.

Before he leaves, however, Claude, who has loved Ann for years, proposes a postwar marriage, and she happily accepts. Soon after Claude and Ronnie's departure, Bogard accompanies Ann on a bicycle ride and tells her that he has enlisted in the Royal Air Force. Unaware of Ann's engagement to Claude, Bogard then confesses his love, and she finally admits that she, too, is in love. To Bogard's dismay, however, Ann leaves suddenly for a seaport in France, where she meets up with Claude and Ronnie and volunteers for the ambulance corps. Once alone with Ronnie, Ann confesses her love of Bogard, but although Ronnie advises her to tell Claude the truth, she insists on keeping her marriage pledge.

Later, Ronnie shows Ann an official notice in which Bogard is listed as a casualty of a training accident. Ann quietly mourns for her dead lover, then assures a frightened, drunk Claude, who is about to leave on a particularly dangerous assignment, that she will "be there" for him when he returns. While Claude and Ann move in together with Ronnie's blessing, Bogard, who actually recovered from his accident injuries, returns to Kent and learns of Ann's general whereabouts.

Bogard finally finds Ann in a military hospital, but after a brief, tearful reunion, she runs away without explanation. That night, Bogard and his flying companion, "Mac" McGinnis, come across a drunken Claude in the street and carry him to his home. Stunned to see Ann there, Bogard deposits the oblivious Claude and leaves in a disapproving, jealous huff. Bogard and Mac run into Claude again in a cafe and listen in disgust as he drunkenly tells them about the boat trips he takes with Ronnie. Convinced that Claude has an easy, safe assignment, Bogard invites him to fly his next mission, which involves bombing a German munitions works. Still unaware of Ann's connection to Bogard, Claude agrees to accompany Bogard and Mac and surprises them with his expert shooting and cool-under-fire bravery. When Ann learns of Bogard's actions, she tells Ronnie to invite Bogard on one of Claude's missions, hoping to change the American's lowly opinion of her.

In the pouring rain, Claude, Ronnie and Bogard set out in a speedboat and, while zooming close to a German battleship, hand-launch a torpedo in a blaze of gunfire. Although the ship finally is sunk, Claude is blinded during the attack but, with Bogard, pretends that he can still see. After Bogard tells Ann that he at last understands her situation, Ann learns of Claude's blindness and says a final goodbye to Bogard. When Claude, who has deduced Ann's love of the American, hears that Bogard has volunteered for a suicidal bombing mission, he insists that he and Ronnie use their boat to destroy the targeted battleship. While the blind Claude mans the torpedo, Ronnie steers the boat directly into the German battleship, and both officers die in a spectacular explosion. Free to love, Ann and Bogard return to their home in Kent, where Claude and Ronnie are eulogized as heroes. Source:

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

"Here Comes the Groom" in DVD-duo pack

Two Bing Classics! In "Just For You," widower Jordan Blake (Bing Crosby) has had wild success as a Broadway producer, but not much as a father. To win back their affection, he decides to take one last vacation with his kids. (Bob Arthur, Natalie Wood) before they're not "kids" anymore. But that's when Blake discovers that his son may have grown up sooner than Dad anticipated--he's fallen in love with his father's girlfriend, a musical-comedy star (Jane Wyman)! This lively film also stars Ethel Barrymore and features the Oscar-nominated tune "Zing A Little Zong." And when Bing zings, everyone has a great time.

"Here Comes the Groom": With the legendary Frank Capra in the director's seat, the inimitable Bing Crosby stars as an overseas reporter with a song in his heart...and room left over for two war orphans. They are his to adopt, if he can find a bride in just five days! His former fiancée is the perfect candidate, but she's destined to marry millionaire Franchot Tone. Or is she? Among the highlights of this sparkling musical romp is Der Bingle's crooning of the Oscar-winning song, "In The Cool, Cool Of The Evening."

In Here Comes the Groom, Crosby is a journalist who has come back from his World War II European post with a pair of orphans. He's been a dog to his girlfriend (Jane Wyman) and she is preparing to marry an obscenely wealthy man (Franchot Tone) after waiting for far too long for a proposal. Crosby needs her to marry him though, and who knows if he really loves her that much, but he can't adopt his young charges without her. So he harasses her, and her fiancée, until he bends her to his will.

The best non-musical scenes in the movie are between Crosby and Tone, who have fantastic chemistry. I don't think this has anything to do with the leading lady either. Der Bingle just tended to be a lot better onscreen with other men.

Franchot Tone is amusingly sly and Alexis Smith shows off some very silly physical humor in a rare comic role as Tone's distant, and smitten, cousin.

In the film Crosby is a successful Broadway producer and Wyman is his star. This time around there's not much romantic turmoil between the leads, most of the drama revolves around his troubled relationship with his kids.

There's a smattering of musical numbers, all of which feel spontaneous to the point of seeming entirely unrehearsed, and one in particular where Crosby attempts to show a leading man how he wants a number performed while appearing perfectly polished and completely nonchalant at the same time. There's also some lively lakeside footage that opens up the movie and gives it a bit of air. This is a good double feature for Crosby completists and devoted musical lovers and will likely hold some appeal for most other classic movie fans. Source:

Like Jean Arthur in You Can't Take It With You, Emmadel (Jane Wyman) is a secretary who becomes engaged to her boss; in the Riskin version her boss, Wilbur Stanley, is a notorious slumlord Pete exposes in his paper as part of his campaign to win back Emmadel. Capra made Wilbur (Franchot Tone) over into a fairly decent chap who treats her much more kindly than Crosby does. Capra also hewed to the conservative counsel of Connolly in stressing the virtues of domesticity by having Emmadel "housebreak" the roving Pete.

Here Comes the Groom represents the culmination of the growing sexist trend in Capra's postwar work, mocking Emmadel's former occupation and having her succumb to Pete because of her emotional ambivalence toward the working world: "I'm gonna slow down. As a matter of fact, I'm gonna stand still! First egghead comes along can have me. I was born to be a mother, not a poised pencil." Her weary capitulation to the defeat of "security" is accomplished with an unconvincing change of heart, in a scene Capra added to the script: "I used the walk down the wedding aisle that was straight out of It Happened One Night,'" he recalled, "and I decided that if I was having to steal from my own pictures, it was time to take a long rest."

At the fade-out, Crosby croons, "Now, if a wedding is nigh—" and Wyman responds, "Bring your own FBI!" The intrusion of these unfunny elements into an attempt to make a light comedy showed how obsessive Capra had become about his own growing fears of governmental persecution ("This is still a democratic country," Crosby hopefully asserts at one point) and how impossible it was for him, that fall and winter of 1950-1951, to dismiss those fears with satire—how impossible, indeed, it had become for him even to make a comedy. Capra did not make another feature film for more than seven years.

During the shooting of Here Comes the Groom, he told Alexis Smith, whose playing of Wilbur's spinster cousin Winifred is one of its few delights, that he did not want to make any more movies because "It isn't fun anymore." "I was shocked," she remembered. "I thought he was kidding at first, he seemed to be enjoying himself so much on the set, but he said, 'No, I'm serious. I don't mean it isn't fun here, I mean the pressures that come from the schedule and from money.' That drove him crazy. He said he wasn't used to the banks moving into a position of creative control. This was before the drastic changes in the industry became apparent, and he was probably ahead of a lot of people in realizing what was happening. But I remember being very disturbed by it, because I didn't think Frank Capra should just walk away from it." -"Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success" (2011) by Joseph McBride

Monday, January 05, 2015

"Today We Live" (1933), Joan Crawford as flapper in "Our Dancing Daughters"

Pre-Code Movies on TCM in January: "TODAY WE LIVE" (1933) THURSDAY 22nd, 10:45 AM
During WWI, two officers, one a pilot and the other in the navy, compete for the same beautiful young woman. An aristocratic English girl's tangled love life creates havoc during World War I. Based on the short story "Turn About" by William Faulkner (author of the film's dialogue). Director: Howard Hawks. Cast: Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Robert Young, Franchot Tone.

Louis B. Mayer, Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford and producer Hunt Stromberg at the premiere of "The Women" (1939)

F. Scott Fitzgerald worked for MGM producer Hunt Stromberg from May to October 1938 writing a screenplay based on the hit play The Women (1936) by Claire Boothe Luce. The cast included Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, and Rosalind Russell, all of whom Fitzgerald had to provide with equally good lines. The job was complicated by health problems which prevented Stromberg from giving adequate attention to the project. Toward the end of the assignment, Donald Ogden Stewart was assigned to work with Fitzgerald, but they were replaced by Jane Murfin and Anita Loos when it was decided that female screenwriters were required. -"Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work" (2007) by Mary Jo Tate

"The Offshore Pirate" is one of the eight stories originally published in F. Scott Fitzgerald's first collection of short stories "Flappers and Philosophers" (1920).

Ardita, the heroine of "The Offshore Pirate" values her courage "as a rule of life - a sort of insistence on the value of life and the worth of transient things." Yet clearly, Fitzgerald implies, if we have lived fully, even for a moment, then we have achieved victory over darkness and death. "Why, then I'd won" is Fitzgerald's reply to those who would moralize over the antics of the flapper.

Both comedy films "The Chorus Girl's Romance" (1920) and "The Offshore Pirate" (1921) featured one of the most popular female stars of the era, Viola Dana, an early flapper with less overt sex appeal than Clara Bow or Joan Crawford, but a unique screen personality. Joan Crawford, looking back, said "Our Dancing Daughters" (1928) was "a field day for me - I think it was the first time the script department was told to write strictly for Crawford." -"Fitzgerald's Flappers and Flapper Films of the Jazz Age: Behind the Morality" (2004) by Ruth Prigozy

In "Our Dancing Daughters", Jazz-baby Joan Crawford (playing Diana 'Dangerous' Medford) is actually a good girl despite her hedonistic lifestyle. She wants to marry young millionaire Johnny Mack Brown, but he is tricked into marriage by deceitful Anita Page. After drinking herself blotto at a party, Anita brags about her subterfuge, then conveniently tumbles down a long flight of stairs to her death. Thus, Crawford is able at last to link up with Brown, presumably to live happily ever after. Released with synchronized music and sound effects, Our Dancing Daughters manages to convey the "noise" of the Roaring '20s without sound, relying instead on inserted shots of art-deco statuary and the bubbling-over performance of Joan Crawford in the role that made her a star.

Crawford was reunited with her Dancing Daughters co-stars Anita Page and Dorothy Sebastian in two follow-up films (not sequels), Our Modern Maidens (1929) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). -Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide)

Around the time of the shooting of Our Dancing Daughters, rumors of Joan’s bisexuality began to surface, in spite of (or perhaps because of) her highly publicized relationship with pretty-boy Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Part of it was her intense desire to become friends with costar Anita Page, which some thought indicated that she had a crush on Page. Anita Page later told writer William Mann that “it may have been true in the beginning, that she wanted to know me for that reason.” Her friend and confidant Jerry Asher was certain that Joan had lusted for Page. Joan got farther with Dorothy Sebastian, cast as Beatrice in Our Dancing Daughters, and with Gwen Lee, who would appear with Joan in Untamed and Paid.

Joan also was sexually curious about Bette Davis, but, according to Asher, more than anything else it had to do with Joan’s amusement over Davis’s crush on her then-husband Franchot Tone. Joan remembered that she was “extremely uncomfortable with a British accent” in "Today We Live". -"Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography" (2002) by Lawrence J. Quirk & William Schoell

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Is Customer Service Dead?

The classic consumer lament is that customer service is dead. The complaint is not completely without merit. Being a consumer in today’s world is not the warm and fuzzy experience it was when everyone shopped at the neighborhood grocery store. Times have changed, but there are still plenty of retail associates, fast-food workers and hospitality employees who go above and beyond to make their customers happy. Here are some of their stories.

Morton’s Steakhouse Delivers

An entire team came together to deliver a surprise to business consultant and author Peter Shankman. Hungry and bored to tears on a 2.5-hour flight, the last leg of a long travel day, Shankman tweeted a message to Morton’s Steakhouse. His tweet, “Hey @Mortons - can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :),” was meant as a joke. Imagine his surprise when he stepped off of the plane. A man in a tuxedo handed Shankman a bag with a 24-ounce porterhouse steak, potatoes, shrimp, bread and eating utensils. It was truly an amazing feat since no one at Morton’s Steakhouse knew Shankman’s flight information or exactly where he would land.

Chef’s Mother-in-Law Saves the Day

A family arrived at the Ritz-Carlton in Bali with a son who had severe food allergies. Unfortunately, the safe food they packed for their son was destroyed en route. The Ritz-Carlton manager was unable to find the required food in town, but the hotel’s executive chef remembered that a store in Singapore sold the required items. The chef’s mother-in-law lived in Singapore, purchased the items and took a 2.5-hour flight to Bali to deliver them to grateful family.

The Spa Comes Home

A writer staying at the Gaylord Opryland loved the clock/radio/sound machine, particularly the relaxing spa-style music included in the sound machine repertoire. During her stay, she tweeted the hotel folks, asking where she could get one of her own for home. They informed her that those particulars units were made exclusively for the hotel and referred her to a similar Sharper Image model. It didn’t have the spa music, but she thanked the employees for their efforts on her behalf. When she returned to her room hours later, she found a second clock radio next to the first, with a note that read, “We hope you enjoy these spa sounds at home.”

Trader Joe’s Braves the Snow

An elderly WWII veteran in Pennsylvania found himself at home in the midst of a snowstorm with little food. His daughter tried to find a nearby store to deliver items, but the only store that did was Trader Joe’s. The daughter ordered approximately $50 worth of food and the clerk suggested a few more items that fit in with her father’s low-sodium diet. The food was delivered within 30 minutes of the call. What makes this store an exceptional example of customer service? The Trader Joe’s employee who delivered the food refused payment for the order. What makes this story even more of exceptional? Trader Joe’s does not normally make deliveries, but they made an exception for an elderly gentleman in need.  

An Airline With a Heart

It’s not often that great customer service and the name of an airline are used in the same sentence, but this time it fits. After a flight delay, Kerry Drake was certain he would miss saying goodbye to his mother, who was gravely ill and expected to soon pass away. Flight attendants on his United Airline flight noticed his distress and asked what was wrong. After he explained, the flight attendants informed the captain who then radioed to pilots on Drake’s connecting flight. The connecting flight crew delayed take-off until Drake’s plane touched down and he boarded. He arrived in time to be at his mother’s side during her final hours.   

Searching Nordstrom’s

Nordstrom's employees didn’t have to dumpster dive to help their customer, but it almost came to that. A security guard noticed a woman crawling on her hands and knees on the sales floor. When asked what she was doing, the woman replied that she had lost the diamond out of her wedding ring when she was trying on clothes and was frantically trying to find it. The guard got on his hands and knees to help search and recruited a small team of employees to help. The diamond was finally found, but not before employees had sifted through the dirt from the store’s vacuums.