Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 9

Spring is coming up sass mouth.

Megan McGurk introduces four Pre-Code woman’s pictures, Thursdays in March in the Brooks Hotel Cinema, Drury Street, Dublin.

Tickets available through Eventbrite

Girls About Town (1931)

7 March

Series 9 opens and closes with Kay Francis, because she was top of the box office during the Pre-Code era, playing a wide range of complex women. Here she plays a clip joint hostess along with Lilyan Tashman. They breakfast at twilight on aspirin and juice before they empty men’s pockets for a living. Kay Francis complains about the middle-class Babbitt types who paw the gals and tear their dresses each night, so she decides to go straight for Joel McCrea. Lilyan Tashman, with a smooth mercenary platinum wave and a caramel-coated purr in her voice, evens the score with wisecracks. George Cukor proves he had a gift for directing women in this early-career gem.

Midnight Mary (1933)

14 March

In Pre-Codes, one of the biggest themes was ‘the kept woman’. Sometimes it worked out, as it did for Joan Crawford, who trades a love nest for marriage and respectability with Clark Gable in Possessed (1931). Then other times, as with Loretta Young in this picture, she realises that while she reads books written in the Enlightenment era, she’s embroiled with a mug from the criminal rackets (Ricardo Cortez). Loretta decides that being poor isn’t half as bad as being kept by louse. All she wants is a good job. Enter Franchot Tone, in one of his best society roles, trading quips with a scandalised butler. Una Merkel, as Loretta’s sidekick, plays an unabashedly greedy dame, and is wonderful, as always. William Wellman’s innovative work as director exhibits great care for the subject matter.

Female (1933)

21 March

Don’t get the impression that women in Pre-Codes were all sex workers or fallen women. Sometimes they were the brains behind the rackets (Joan Crawford in Paid, from 1930, or Joan Blondell in Blondie Johnson, from 1933), or a magazine editor (Kay Francis in Man Wanted, 1932), a social worker and best-selling author (Irene Dunne in Ann Vickers, 1933) or even head of a factory. In Female, Ruth Chatterton plays the boss of an automobile company. In her downtime, she unwinds with casual sex, often with the men who are on her payroll. If men complain, or want anything more intimate than a fling, they can expect a pink slip in their pay packet. Ruth Chatterton looks supremely comfortable behind a huge desk in a corner office wearing enviable suits and frocks. George Brent is the one man able to resist her terms. Chatterton and Brent were married in real life at this time, and their passion for one another shows. Director Michael Curtiz crafts one of the most significant films about sex and power ever produced by Hollywood.

Mandalay (1934)

28 March

What do you do when your lover commits the ultimate betrayal? Kay Francis is woefully unprepared for the moment when Ricardo Cortez uses her as payment to settle his debts with a brothel owner. Abandoned and devastated, Kay heeds advice from the brothel’s madame, who reasons that since a man got her into trouble, she should use them for a way out. With hair like an Art Deco sculpture, and exquisite outfits, Kay transforms herself into ‘Spot White’, a sensation every man must have. If the Academy Awards had acknowledged costume design (they didn’t until 1948), Orry-Kelly’s glamorous ensembles would have been hard to beat. Director Michael Curtiz helms a picture that celebrates resourceful sass mouth dames.

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 8

Join Megan McGurk for a sterling collection of Pre-Code woman’s pictures. Let’s revisit an era when Hollywood took women on the screen and in the audience seriously.

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 8 meets each Thursday night in January at 7.00, in the Brooks Hotel Cinema, Drury Street, Dublin.

Only a tenner in!

Tickets through Eventbrite.

Our Blushing Brides (1930)

3 January

In woman’s pictures, a reliable formula presents a cautionary tale of three women who seek to make their fortune. Set in a department store among women who work behind a counter, or model clothes as ‘mannequins,’ they pool resources in flat shares and skip lunches to afford clothes. Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Dorothy Sebastian bide their time on stingy wages while they fend off a pack of society wolves. Joan Crawford tries to keep her friends from falling for the cheap lines pick up artists use. The picture includes fashion show sequences featuring swoonworthy designs by Adrian.

Safe in Hell (1931)

10 January

Next time you hear someone make a sarcastic comment about ‘Hollywood endings’, as a shortcut for saccharine fade outs, point them in the direction of Pre-Code Hollywood pictures like Safe in Hell. In one of the most notorious Pre-Codes, Dorothy Mackaill protects herself from a customer’s assault, and afterward, hides out in a Caribbean bolthole to avoid extradition. At first, she thinks boredom is her worst problem. When she accepts an invitation from the men who loiter in the hotel lounge, they compete for her as though she were a roast chicken at the end of forty day fast. William Wellman’s production reminds us that women are never safe when men are around.

 

Vanity Street (1932)

17 January

Helen Chandler, tired, hungry, and homeless, smashes a window so she can at least have three hots and a cot in prison. A police detective (Charles Bickford) takes pity on a woman down on her luck. He offers a meal and his sofa, and then gets her a job in a chorus line. The real star of this picture though is Mayo Methot, better known for being the third Mrs Bogart. Mayo Methot had a gift for playing characters who learn difficult truths about things like inconstant lovers and the fleeting nature of youth and fame. She lays bare the emotional contours of women who have been tossed aside. Not to be missed.

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

24 January

During a bank heist, Barbara Stanwyck gets pinched. She doesn’t squeal on her boyfriend’s criminal rackets. She hopes to gain the influence of a popular radio preacher she grew up with, and have the sentence suspended. The plan doesn’t work, so she joins the women’s prison as a ‘new fish’. Stanwyck proves a quick study for how to manage a dame looking for a fight. The scenes behind the walls resemble a sorority house more than the hoosegow. Despite a carceral effect, women on the inside mitigate their grim plight with decorative touches applied to their uniforms and jail cells. You can’t keep a good dame down, even when she’s behind bars.

Heat Lightning (1934)

31 January

Where do you go after you’ve had enough of men and life in a chorus line? If you’re Aline MacMahon, you get as far away as possible–the Mojave desert. She opens a filling station and café with her younger sister, played by Ann Dvorak. Wearing overalls, with her mermaid tresses tucked under a bandana, MacMahon limits her worries to heat, rattlesnakes, and keeping her sister out of trouble. Then one day an old flame (Preston Foster) shows up, on the run from the law. Suddenly the great big desert is too small. Cornered, with a siege mentality, a resourceful dame does what she must. To lighten the drama, Glenda Farrell and Ruth Donnelly trade barbs. Director Mervyn LeRoy doesn’t waste a moment in this 63-minute gem.

SASS MOUTH DAMES FILM CLUB SERIES 7

Megan McGurk presents a brand-new series of Pre-Code woman’s pictures.

Series 7 may be abbreviated, but three platinum blonde sass mouth dames provide a cure for what ails you. And I’ll return to screening five films for Series 8, each Thursday in January, 2019.

Join me in the Brooks Hotel Cinema.

Seating is limited, so book in early.

Tickets available through Eventbrite.

 

As You Desire Me (1932)

8 November, 7.00

You may be tempted to roll your eyes at the idea of amnesia used as a plot device, but Greta Garbo teases out subversive possibilities from a familiar trope. Without the encumbrance of memory and identity, a woman might become a bit reckless. She can turn platinum, sing on stage, demand more champagne, and juggle a retinue of admirers. Chief among the men who queue for Garbo is Erich von Stroheim, playing one of his all-time best scoundrels. Out of nowhere, Melvyn Douglas appears and claims to be Garbo’s long-lost husband. Does she trade a life of independence and intrigue to settle down with a dashing man in a uniform?

 

Blonde Venus (1932)

29 November, 7.00

Often imitated yet never equalled, Marlene Dietrich’s opening nightclub act still has the power to shock and enthral audiences. Wearing a platinum afro wig, with an African American chorus line, Dietrich’s playful revue mocks stereotypes about race and gender. The nightclub routine provides relief from Dietrich’s day job as wife and mother. After her husband (Herbert Marshall) suffers a health crisis, Dietrich struggles to be the sole provider for the family and pay for expensive medical care. She makes the ultimate sacrifice by having sex with Cary Grant for money. Nice work if you can get it.

 

I’m No Angel (1933)

6 December, 7.00

Mae West saved Paramount Studios from bankruptcy with racy hits such as Night After Night (1932) and She Done Him Wrong (1933). Box office receipts gave West the clout to develop the stories she wanted to tell. In this case, for her third picture for the studio, she indulged a life-long fantasy to play a lion-tamer. Before West graduates to snapping a whip in a cage around magnificent beasts, she plays a cooch dancer. While the men watch her shimmy, she takes stock of their jewellery. After the show, West stages a one-woman clip-joint to collect rings, tie pins, and other baubles that catch her eye. The picture includes the immortal line, ‘Beulah, peel me a grape’, a request which inspires micro-level pampering for ambitious sass mouth dames.

 

 

Dolly Tree’s Cellophane Bridal Veil for Man-Proof (1938)

By: Megan McGurk

What are your favourite bridal looks on film?

The organdie gown with floral spray buttons that Joan Crawford wears in Love on the Run (1936) captures the mood of a garden wedding. It moves like a spring breeze.

Ginger Rogers looks like a Madonna in a starry halo, one of many bridal ensembles she wears to play a serial runaway bride in It Had to Be You (1947).

Gene Tierney’s husband Oleg Cassini created a classic romantic confection for her wedding scene in The Razor’s Edge (1946).

But try and find another duchess satin turtleneck gown onscreen, with a wimple, that carries a forty-foot plastic veil, like the one Dolly Tree designed for Rosalind Russell in Man-Proof (1938). There’s nothing else like it in the history of cinema.

Forget sweetheart necklines, or lace, or beading, or any other detail that’s so last century by comparison.

There’s no traditional promise in Roz’s wedding look.

 

Rather than opt for demure or dainty, Roz looks remote and inaccessible, bolstered by satin and luxe plastic.

Dolly Tree created something more complicated than expected, something myth-bound, like a labyrinth with a Minotaur at the centre. It announces ‘unwrap me at your peril’.

Continue reading “Dolly Tree’s Cellophane Bridal Veil for Man-Proof (1938)”

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 6

Join me on Wednesdays this autumn for another round of classic woman’s pictures from the Pre-Code era.

Screened in the gorgeous Denzille Cinema in Merrion Square for 19.00, 26 September-24 October.

Soda & snacks included.

Tickets available from Eventbrite.

Night Nurse (1931)

26 September

‘I’m Nick—the chauffer’.

If Clark Gable’s line delivery doesn’t make you gasp the way it does Barbara Stanwyck, you’re probably in the wrong cinema. Stanwyck proves why she’s Queen of the Pre-Codes in this gritty picture about injustice, corruption and the most vicious cruelty. When no one else cares or intervenes, Stanwyck charges the bullies full steam. She can’t go wrong with Joan Blondell on her side. This was the first of five pictures Stanwyck made with director William Wellman. He said of her ‘she not only knew her own lines but everyone else’s. I love her.’

Possessed (1931)

3 October

Joan Crawford works in a paper box factory. She watches the train cars full of glamorous people on their way to New York one night after work, when a stranger in the caboose pours out her first taste of bubbles, and then tells her to run to the big city to be done wrong by. Crawford makes her way to New York and snags the first rich man she encounters—Clark Gable. In a love nest feathered by Gable, she does everything that becomes a lady. Without a wedding ring, society will always regard her as a chippy from the sticks. Joan made life-long fans among women for this tale about double standards and social climbing.

Thirteen Women (1932)

10 October

If only we had the fifteen minutes that were cut from the original picture. No doubt the edited sequences contained additional stylish revenge scenes. Myrna Loy plays a biracial girl who suffered untold misery from the privileged white girls in an exclusive boarding school. She was tormented by her classmates. All grown up, Myrna mesmerises a famed astrologer into sending horoscopes that she designs with the power of suggestion to bring about a series of gruesome tragedies. Irene Dunne plays one of the former pupils who denies the power of the star charts. This is the only horror picture I’ve included in the series so far. Not to be missed.

No Man of Her Own (1932)

17 October

What does a small-town librarian do for fun? Well, if you’re Carole Lombard, you hook up with a random dude (Clark Gable) one night after the library closes and parlay that into wedded bliss. Lombard soon learns what her husband really does for a living, which rocks her to the core. Can she make him go straight? This was the only picture that Lombard and Gable made together. Although their romance did not commence until the Mayfair Ball in 1936, they still generate enough heat to burn down the stacks.

Bombshell (1933)

24 October

Jean Harlow stars in a picture that borrows from Clara Bow’s life story. Beset by moochers who feed stories to the tabloids, Harlow’s character endures the studio’s demanding schedule, while she picks up the tab for a shower of freeloaders. Harlow strips the varnish off the glamour factory and shows viewers the grind behind the glitz. She’s at her snarling-best in this picture. Sass mouth dame all the way.