Saturday, June 26, 2021

Bette's Hats and Reviews: Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Mae Clarke & Bette Davis

Waterloo Bridge (1931) was Bette's third film. In her autobiography, The Lonely Life, Bette wrote, "Universal, now irrevocably convinced that they had been duped, made the best of a bad bargain and cast me in Robert Sherwood's Waterloo Bridge in which Mae Clarke played Myra opposite Douglas Montgomery's Roy. I was his gentle sister, Janet, who is kind to the hapless heroine. And that was that!" (Davis, 117).

She wore one hat. You can just make out a bow on the band on the right side of the hat.

Bette's performance was not mentioned in the reviews. The film was on YouTube but has been removed twice. 

Davis, Bette. The Lonely Life: An Autobiography. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1962. 
Ringgold, Gene. Bette Davis: Her Films and Career. Citadel Press, 1966.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Cinema Wedding Gowns: I'm No Angel (1933)

Well, it's been a long time since I posted one of these! The last one was in early 2018!! 

For today's Cinema Wedding Gown I picked one that had a smaller amount of screenshots to choose from lol. It's Mae West in I'm No Angel (1933). This was my first Mae West movie. I watched it for Cary Grant. I may or may not have gone around the house the rest of the day saying "Mm, mm..." 

The costumes for this film were designed by Travis Banton. In this scene Mae West is trying on her wedding gown before her upcoming wedding with Cary Grant. Unfortunately he hears that there was a man in her bedroom (a louse from her past) and calls off the wedding without asking her for an explanation - as one does in the movies. The truth comes out in the courtroom, however, and all is rosy again. 

Gathering at the bust and exquisite beading/sequin work down the front and sleeves. Notice the sequins sprinkled all over the trailing tulle veil. 

A look at the leaf applique pattern at the neckline that is repeated in the tiara. Also notice the puffed sleeve. You can also make out the strapless lining. 

There are some fabulous publicity photos that really show the detail here, here, and here

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Bette's Hats and Reviews: The Bad Sister & Seed (1931)

Bette Davis made her film debut at the age of 23 in Universal's The Bad Sister (1931), playing Laura Madison. In her autobiography, The Lonely Life, Bette remembered:
I felt my chance had come. But it was not yet my day. Sidney Fox was given the lead...and I was cast as her sister. I was thrilled to be in a picture with Conrad Nagel, whom I had seen so many times on the screen. I couldn't believe that I was actually sitting next to him on the set (Davis, 111). 
She continued:
I was so virtuous, so noble and so saccharine that it turned my stomach. All that nobility and what did it get me? The second lead (Davis, 111).
According to biographer Grace Mary Carter, when Bette went to see the film with her mother she was horrified. 
It was awful. So was she. Bette could plainly see that she was not the least bit photogenic. To make matters worse, her smile was lopsided, caused by being embarrassed in front of the camera. "My hair! My clothes! My God!" she thought. When the film was over, mother and daughter drove home in silence (Carter).
Luckily this wasn't the end of Bette's career. Cameraman Karl Freund noticed that "Davis has lovely eyes" and Universal kept her for another three months. "What better reason to renew my contract?" Bette joked (Davis, 113). 

She wears one hat in the film at the very end. There's also a great photo on Getty Images

The critics had conflicting opinions of her first performance:
Miss Davis' interpretation of Laura is too lugubrious and tends to destroy the sympathy the audience is expected to feel for the young woman. 

Bette Davis holds much promise in her handling of Laura, sweet, simple, and the very essence of repression. 

The film has been independently restored and upload to YouTube. You can click here or watch below. 

I cannot find a copy of Bette's second film, Seed (1931), so I don't know if she wears any hats in it. The critics do not mention Bette's performance (the NYT wrote that there were "passable performances by some other players" and Bette often omitted it mentioning it herself when talking about her career). However, I do want to include this stunning photo of one of her costumes that appeared in the August 1931 PHOTOPLAY segment "Reviewing Screen Fashions with Seymour."

Carter, Grace Mary. Bette Davis. New Word City. 2016. 
Davis, Bette. The Lonely Life: An Autobiography. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1962.
Ringgold, Gene. Bette Davis: Her Films and Career. Citadel Press. 1966, 1985.
New York Times

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Royal Film Performance Series: A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

On November 1, 1946 the Royal family attended the very first Royal Film Performance. The film chosen was A Matter of Life and Death (released in the US under the title Stairway to Heaven), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and starring David Niven (in his first film after being released from the Army), Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, and Raymond Massey. The event, which was held in aid of the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund, was held at the Empire Theatre in London. 

This poster has "The First British Royal Command Film" printed on it!

Below is an article from Picturegoer (which I found here - there are also scans of the program) which described how the event came about and how the film was chosen:

First Royal Film performance ever to take place will be on Friday, November 1, at the Empire, Leicester square, in the presence of the King and Queen and the Princesses. It will be in aid of the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund.

This will be an historic event. For many years the stage and music hall have been honoured by Royal Command performances. Now the cinema receives equal recognition. As can be understood it was no easy task to choose a film for this occasion. A special viewing committee representing all sides of the industry saw all the films submitted by British and American producers. They were considered not only for their intrinsic merits but also in view of their suitability for this particular occasion.

Finally, the entrants were narrowed down to three.

These were Metro's The Green Years, which had very strong claims because of the nature of the story and its many British associations.

The Magic Bow, a story of Paganini with Stewart Granger and Phyllis Calvert in the leading parts, and Yehudi Menuhin responsible for the violin playing.

And A Matter of Life and Death, the Michael Powell - Emeric Pressburger picture starring David Niven, Raymond Massey, Roger Livesey, and Kim Hunter.

After much careful consideration, the Viewing Committee decided on "A Matter of Life and Death". This is an honour to British films of which we can be justly proud. We don't mean to suggest that we can beat the Big Drum and crow about scoring over Hollywood. Far from it. We can be modestly happy that we are producing pictures which are worthy of a Royal Command performance.

Not everyone was pleased with the choice, however. The Daily Graphic said:

There will be widespread indignation at the choice for the first Royal Performance last night of a picture which might have been made specifically to appeal to Isolationist and anti-British sentiment in the United States. ...Ancient charges against British imperialism, which for the most part never had any real substance, are paraded here and no defense is offered. ... It is a pity that the film should cross the Atlantic carrying the cachet which comes from its Royal showing (The Other Side of the Moon: A Biography of David Niven. Sheridan Morley. Pages 136-137). 

Embed from Getty Images

Kim Hunter recalled in a 2003 interview for the BBC:

Niv[en] had high hopes for the film, which took two months to shoot, was released in Britain amazingly quickly, in November, and was chosen to be the first Royal Command Film Performance, much to the fury of most of the British critics, who were almost unanimously condescending, though the Daily Telegraph said quite rightly that "David Niven has done nothing quite so good as his airman trembling on the brink of a nervous breakdown without lapsing into hysteria" (Niv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven. Graham Lord. Page 134).

Ray Milland, shown above meeting Princess Elizabeth with King George VI in the foreground, recalled the evening in his 1974 autobiography Wide-Eyed in Babylon

It was to be the first big gala after five years of war, and London was girding for it. My invitation, when it came, was most impressive, all covered with seals and ribbons. 

On the evening of the Command Performance itself, London put on the closest thing to a riot since the days of Titus Oates. In one interview I referred to it as the Battle of Leicester Square, and it was by that name that it was known for the rest of our stay (228).

The frenzied scene, as reported by this Australian Newspaper even included a quote by the King who remarked, "I thought at one time I was going to be a casualty myself. We arrived practically on two wheels."

I noticed you have to license films from the British Pathe and I'm not sure 
if I can display it to play IN my blog post, so I will be linking them only. 

In the video above, from the British Pathe, you can see King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), as well as Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret. Movie Stars in attendance were Ray Milland with Kim Hunter, Reginald Gardiner, a brunette Dorothy Malone (talking to the princesses), Hunter and Pat O'Brien meeting the Queen Mother, Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh, John Mills, Malone walking with Stewart Granger, (I recognize the actress at 1:21 but don't know her name), Deborah Kerr meeting the Queen, Joan Bennett, Margaret Lockwood, and more.

Here is a Royal Command scroll signed by the stars who attended that sold on Bonhams
You can make out the signatures better on their site.

An excerpt from a review by VARIETY:

Returning from a bomber expedition, Squadron-Leader David Niven is shot up. Last of the crew, minus a parachute, and believing the end is inevitable, before bailing out talks poetry and love over the radio to Kim Hunter, American WAC on nearby air station. Miraculously Niven falls into the sea, is washed ashore apparently unhurt, and by strange coincidence meets Kim. They fall desperately in love.

Meanwhile in the Other World there’s much bother. Owing to delinquency of Heavenly Conductor Marius Goring, Niven has failed to check in, and Goring is despatched to this world to persuade Niven to take his rightful place and balance the heavenly books.

The rest of the review isn't very flattering, complaining that "the striving to appear intellectual is much too apparent. Less desire to exhibit alleged learning, and more humanity would have resulted in a more popular offering." 

There's a fantastic article about the film with some great behind-the-scenes photos on the Criterion website. I really liked the opening paragraph:

To love the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, among the most mischievous and inventive of all cinema poets, is to accept that there’s more to life than you’d previously imagined: more color, more humor, more ardor, more blissful confusion. In those terms, A Matter of Life and Death is the quintessential Powell-Pressburger movie. It’s a fantasy love story, imaginative to the point of being hallucinatory, one of the most out-there pictures of the last century.

Further in the article they share Powell's reaction to the Royal Event:

The occasion was so exciting that the film passed practically unnoticed.

I wonder what Princess Elizabeth, then 20 years old, thought of the religious aspects of the film. It's certainly a film to make you think. Click here to see a photo of the Royal Family leaving. 

Next up in the Royal Film Performance Series: The Bishop's Wife (1947)

Lord, Graham. Niv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven. St. Martin's Press. 2003. 
Milland, Ray. Wide-Eyed in Babylon; An Autobiography. William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1974. 
Morley, Sheridan. The Other Side of the Moon: A Biography of David Niven. Magna Print Books. 1985.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Movies I Watched in May

Victoria Shaw, The Crimson Kimono (1959).

This month I binged the rest of The Nanny before we cancelled our HBO Subscription so my movie numbers were down. I also watched a bunch of the TCM Film Festival extras on there. I especially enjoyed the footage from the premiere of A Star is Born (1954). Most of the festival movies I wanted to watch on the TCM app didn't show up there. Luckily the film I was most excited about, They Won't Believe Me, was on there.

* indicates a rewatch

  1. Magnificent Obsession (1935) - Robert Taylor & Irene Dunne, Ralph Morgan, Sara Haden
  2. Stand-In (1937) - Leslie Howard & Joan Blondell, Humphrey Bogart, Jack Carson 
  3. The Falcon Takes Over (1942) - George Sanders, Allen Jenkins, James Gleason, Ward Bond
  4. *They Won’t Believe Me (1947) - Robert Young, Susan Hayward, Jane Greer, Rita Johnson
  5. Skirts Ahoy! (1952) - Esther Williams, Joan Evans, Vivian Blaine, Barry Sullivan
  6. Marty (1955) - Ernest Borgnine & Betsy Blair 
  7. The Crimson Kimono (1959) - James Shigeti, Victoria Shaw, Glen Corbett, Anna Lee
  8. *The Last Voyage (1960) - Robert Stack & Dorothy Malone, George Sanders, Woody Strode
  9. West Side Story (1961) - Natalie Wood & Richard Beymer, George Chakiris, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn
  10. *Period of Adjustment (1962) - Anthony Franciosa, Jane Fonda, Jim Hutton, Lois Nettleton
  11. The Brass Bottle (1964) - Tony Randall, Burl Ives, Barbara Eden
  12. All the President’s Men (1976) - Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam 
  13. *Dogfight (1991) - River Phoenix & Lili Taylor 
  14. Autumn in New York (2000) - Richard Gere & Winona Ryder
  15. Shall We Dance (2004) - Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci
  16. *Star Trek (2009) - Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Simon Pegg 
Least Favorite Film: Probably Skirts Ahoy! It wasn't bad, but the story line didn't grab me and the leading man was boring. I had trouble getting into The Brass Bottle, which I've been meaning to watch for years, but I wasn't really in the mood for it.

Favorite Movie: I thought I wouldn't like West Side Story. I've never had any desire to watch it but, after watching the mini cast reunion that opened the TCMFF, I kept watching. It was nowhere near as bad as I expected. Some parts even shocked me! The worst part was Natalie Wood's phony accent.  The Crimson Kimono was really good and the editing was interesting. Anyone else think Victoria Shaw looks a little like Emily Blunt? They have the same nose. But my favorite was probably the original Magnificent Obsession. It didn't have a soap opera feel like the Rock Hudson version. 

Irene Dunne reading braille in Magnificent Obsession.


In June I will be starting several new series. The first one is the Royal Film Performance Series. At the beginning of each month I will look at a film that was selected to screen for the British Royal Family (my other passion). It will include film footage of the actual event, reviews, photos, and a few thoughts, posted in chronological order beginning with A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

A few years ago I wrote a post titled Bette: Hats and Reviews for a blogathon that looked briefly at the many hats worn by Bette Davis in many of her films along with her review mentions in Variety and the NY Times.  Since then I have taken screenshots of Bette's hats in over 50 of her films. I thought it would be fun to share her hats and reviews from each film in separate posts, twice a month. 

I will also be bringing back my Cinema Wedding Gowns Series, sharing screenshots of wedding gowns that have appeared in Classic Films and doing my best to describe some of the details. These will be posted once at the end of the month (it's really hard to narrow down which screenshots to use!).

If you're wondering where this ambition came from (lol), I turned on my old laptop that stopped working five years ago (shortly after I had won an IPad) to see about getting it fixed and it works perfectly fine! I had turned it on a few times in previous years but it would never run properly. So while it's working I'm getting the next few months' posts prepared :)