Sass Mouth Dames Film Club series 16

Each Thursday in November, Megan McGurk introduces a classic woman’s picture in the Brooks Hotel cinema.

Popcorn included!

Tickets are available through Eventbrite

Be sound and wear a mask. Bring your vaccine cert.

Primrose Path (1940)

Ginger Rogers is supposed to follow the women in her family who work in the world’s oldest profession. She hides out in tomboy duds until one day she falls for Joel McCrea. Ashamed of her family, she tells a whopper about being thrown out of the house to hasten their nuptials. Trouble follows when he learns the truth. Director Gregory La Cava had an eye and ear for sass mouth dames–he was always on our side.

Screens 4 November

The Seventh Veil (1945)

I bet you can name at least a dozen pictures about a male genius and the woman who loved him. How many can you think of where the woman is the genius and the man devotes his life to serving her art? Ann Todd and James Mason flip the traditional script in a gorgeous tale about the collision of art and desire with some psychological twists.

Screens 11 November

Sleep, My Love (1948)

Claudette Colbert can’t figure out how she woke up on a train without having any memory of getting there. Nor can she account for other foggy recollections or why she’s sleepwalking on her balcony. Could it have anything to do with the strange man in thick glasses who scratched up her upholstery? Is it because of another strange man who seems so solicitous? Or is her handsome husband, played by Don Ameche, with that pillow talk voice, the one responsible? Douglas Sirk goes full Bluebeard.

Screens 18 November

Tension (1949)

Technically, this isn’t a woman’s picture. But there would be no other reason to watch it but for the sublime acid tongue, unabashed greed, and self-absorption of star Audrey Totter. If they had assembled 90 minutes of Audrey Totter scowling at men, I’d still be watching it. And Cyd Charisse is along for the ride.

Screens 25 November

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club series 15

Megan McGurk introduces a pre-Code woman’s picture Thursdays in September.

Tickets available through Eventbrite.

Be sound and wear a mask over your nose and mouth.

MADAM SATAN (1930) screens 2 September

Kay Johnson plays a long-suffering wife with a cheating husband (Reginald Denny). To win him back, she uses a fake accent and wears a smoking hot devil ensemble (by Adrian) for a costume ball aboard a zeppelin. Cecil B DeMille’s picture has one of the wildest party scenes in the pre-Code era.

JEWEL ROBBERY (1932) screens 9 September

Kay Francis plays a society dame who falls for a robber (William Powell) during a heist. She has an exquisite wardrobe by Orry-Kelly, including a velvet gown that defies gravity.

THIRTY-DAY PRINCESS (1934) screens 16 September

One minute Sylvia Sidney is stealing a turkey dinner from the Automat, and the next, she’s propositioned with a job to impersonate a visiting royal for a month. A nosey reporter (Cary Grant) smells something fishy. Sylvia looks super cute (poor or rich) in designs by Howard Greer.

BOLERO (1934) screens 23 September

Carole Lombard joins up with a taxi dancer (George Raft) who dreams of opening his own nightclub in Paris. In real life, Raft paid the bills by pleasuring women on and off the dance floor before he signed a Hollywood contract. Carole is draped in silk and satin confections from Travis Banton.

THE SCARLETT EMPRESS (1934) screens 30 September

Playing Catherine the Great, Marlene Dietrich finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to a debauched idiot (Sam Jaffe) and lusts after Count Alexi (John Lodge). Josef von Sternberg attempted to match the scenery with perversity of the Russian court. Travis Banton swaddles Marlene in an orgy of fur.

Podcast Highlights

Looking for stories about ambitious women who climbed to the top in Hollywood?

Step this way–>

RKO thought Lucille Ball was only good enough for ‘B’ pictures–then she bought the studio

Joan Crawford showed Depression-era women how to survive by their wits

Sheilah Graham was the gossip columnist who sobered up F. Scott Fitzgerald enough to write his last novel

Lynn Bari started out as an MGM showgirl at 13. She came of age when Hollywood was a woman’s town

June Havoc endured a monstrous stage mother in vaudeville and then horrors in the dance marathon racket before she went to Hollywood

June’s sister Gypsy Rose Lee survived by turning burlesque into a highbrow art form even though censors prevented her name from appearing in the credits

Susan Hayward lost an Oscar to scandal but ignored bad publicity as Queen of 20th Century Fox

Two studios shared Mae Clarke’s contract, worked her relentlessly, until she was under care of shady doctors who nearly let her die in a psychiatric ward

Carole Landis had a famous figure but was really born for screwball comedy

Ann Todd had a smoking hot affair with James Mason while they made a picture where she played the genius

Geraldine Fitzgerald earned an Oscar nomination for her first Hollywood picture yet had Jack Warner insist she wasn’t in Ingrid Bergman’s league.

Yvonne De Carlo paid her dues in burlesque then leveraged ballet training into top-billing

After Esther Williams scolded Louis B Mayer, she gained the first lucrative endorsement deal for an MGM star

Sex on the Instalment Plan: She Married Her Boss (1935)

By: Megan McGurk

In the opening scene of She Married Her Boss (1935), Claudette Colbert wears a modified tuxedo, which seems like an inspired choice, since she plays a predecessor to William Powell, who wore a penguin suit to work as a butler in My Man Godfrey (1936). Both Colbert’s Julia Scott and Powell’s Godfrey Park reform dysfunctional wealthy families, a recurring theme in the work of director Gregory La Cava. As an executive secretary to Richard Barclay (Melvyn Douglas), Colbert finagles a deal to run things as smoothly at home as his new bride. The proposal and elopement happen off-camera. After the ceremony, their sexless marriage carries on like a cold business transaction. When Barclay popped the question, I imagine it went something along the lines of ‘Can you buttle?’

Claudette Colbert spends most of the run-time in a quest to consummate their union—to be a wife rather than an employee. As the new Mrs Barclay’s sexual frustration grows, the picture argues that a second shift not only sucks the life from Julia Scott, but commerce in general can be blamed for dousing the fire of her sexual desire. Ultimately she’s left wondering what a woman has to do to get some action.

During the opening scene, she sits behind a desk with two ringing phones and a buzzing intercom. Julia Scott settles a dispute between clerks over which product should receive a better placement in an advertisement for Barclays department store—men’s pyjamas or linens? If viewers hadn’t been convinced by Julia Scott’s name on the door, the image of her dispatching orders wearing a Noel Coward version of office attire clarifies for viewers who really runs the joint.

Robert Kalloch designed the tailored black frock offset by a starched white bib-front, adding extra-wide stiff white lapels and cuffs, and a snappy black bow tie. Colbert’s sleek monochrome look signals a woman who knows her onions. She looks as efficient as an Underwood typewriter with a pulse. Kalloch would later do for Rosalind Russell with chevron striped suits in His Girl Friday (1940) what he does with Colbert in the revamped tuxedo—create upwardly mobile designs for working women.

During his introductory scene as the harried and dyspeptic boss, Mel Douglas as Richard Barclay complains about indigestion from last night’s dinner. Claudette Colbert does four things at once to soothe his irritability: she mixes a bromo, rings a doctor for Barclay’s daughter (also suffering a touch of ptomaine from bad lobster), memorises his request to replace a broken toy piano, and then offers an opinion on the possible acquisition of another department store.  Among the list of things Barclay doesn’t know is that his secretary has been in love with him for six years. In woman’s pictures, what men don’t know fills volumes. Julia Scott believes by becoming indispensable to her boss at work and home, he will reciprocate her feelings in time. She’s banking on his affection in an instalment plan. Eventually, he’ll pay off by putting out.

The World’s Dead and Everybody in It’s Dead But You: Podcast ep 85

Joan Crawford has her pick between a troubled veteran (Henry Fonda) and a smug married man (Dana Andrews). Does she want the man who has good lines (‘The world’s dead and everybody in it’s dead but you’) or does she stay with the same old masculine lines (‘It won’t be over til we’re dead’)? Crawford looks good in the back street as well as the sunshine, thanks to the poetic photography of Leon Shamroy, who believed that every light had to be justified ‘like words in a sentence’.

Career gal Joan has a cute flat, the freedom to lose herself in work, and a great wardrobe by Charles LeMaire. I’m not sure why she wants a husband, but my interest in woman’s pictures is always seeing a woman who gets what she wants.

Catch up with podcast episode 85 on Daisy Kenyon (1947).

If you’re looking for more podcast episodes on Joan Crawford, step this way—>

In episode 60, I talk about Sadie McKee (1934) , the gold standard Crawford picture. It has everything I desire: Joan absorbs the slings and arrows of unworthy men, triumphs over their low opinion, has the support of a dear friend (Jean Dixon), and parades in exquisite designs by Adrian. And it has a scene set in the Automat, which is what I use to centre my best intentions each time when I sit down to write. Joan has a few coins in her pocket, but fortified by a smart wool topper and hat, she uses great style as a shield against pity and misfortune.

For episode 50, I talk about how Joan Crawford just wants to be left alone in her beach house. She foils the plot of a rough trade grifter and his backers, sidestepping the fate of women of a certain age.

In episode 36, Joan stars in a fabulous spy caper to defeat the Nazis.

Matt Harris, archivist and fellow Joan Crawford obsessive, joins me for episode 20 to talk about Joan in Flamingo Road (1949) and in episode 66 for Queen Bee (1955).

In episode 77, I admire the way Adrian develops his signature metallic look for Joan Crawford in No More Ladies (1935). The picture evades the usual tropes about a woman driven witless by a cheating husband. Joan turns the tables on Bob Montgomery until he sobs in her arms and begs forgiveness.

In episode 4, I talk about how watching Joan Crawford in Torch Song (1953) as she tries to do nothing on a Sunday leaves me with white knuckles.