Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 11

Megan McGurk presents four pre-Code smashers from 1932, Thursday nights in September, 2019.

Tickets available through Eventbrite

Blondie of the Follies (1932)

5 September

As Blondie McClune, Marion Davies has only one dress to her name. Although she saves money for a new one, her mother needs the cash to pay rent. Blondie’s oldest friend, Lurleen Cavanaugh, played by Billie Dove, lives in the same cold-water tenement, but soon moves into a penthouse after she lands a spot in the Follies, thanks to her ability to wear a skirt made of pearls. Lurleen changes her name to Lottie and develops notions. The story by Frances Marion and dialogue by Anita Loos captures a passionate rivalry between women who want to shed their origin. And Marion’s impression of Greta Garbo is not to be missed.

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

Forbidden (1932)

12 September

In his memoir, Frank Capra described his goal as a director: ‘I would sing the songs of the working stiffs, of the short-changed Joes, the born poor, the afflicted. I would gamble with the long-shot players who light candles in the wind, and resent with the pushed-around because of race or birth. Above all, I would fight for their causes on the screens of the world.’ Capra also included the pushed-around Janes of the world in his pictures. He made five of them starring Barbara Stanwyck. In Forbidden, Capra’s answer to Back Street (1932), Stanwyck plays a small-town librarian. Tired of dull routine, Stanwyck longs for adventure. She cashes in her savings for a new wardrobe and lavish cruise, where she hooks up with a married man. Will she be content as a mistress?

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

19 September

Dorothy Arzner’s cautionary tale shows women why they should avoid a hasty marriage to a random lad from a party. Arzner’s picture scuppers the romantic myth that women can save men from themselves. Sylvia Sidney stars as a socialite who falls for a dissolute writer, played by Fredric March. Each time he proves unworthy, she ignores the facts. What happens when she agrees to a modern marriage on his terms? James Baldwin once wrote that Sylvia Sidney ‘was the only American film actress who reminded me of reality’. Sylvia Sidney bore her share of troubles onscreen with an angelic grace that was the antithesis of hardboiled dames from the pre-Code era.

Shanghai Express (1932)

26 September

Series 11 closes with the fourth film Marlene Dietrich made with Josef von Sternberg, which was the top-grossing film from a stand-out year for pre-Code woman’s pictures. Nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, it won for Best Cinematography from Lee Garmes. In an elaborate feathered costume designed by Travis Banton, Marlene looks like an exotic bird who longs for wings fast enough to carry her away from men. You can’t beat Dietrich and von Sternberg for style, mood, and dramatic atmosphere. Anna May Wong gives a standout supporting performance.

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.

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 3

 

Thursdays in March.

Hosted by Megan McGurk

Join me for another round of classic woman’s pictures.

Tickets available through Eventbrite

 

1 March

The Good Fairy (1935)

William Wyler spins a modern fairy tale from an age-old nightmare about a young woman among wolves. Margaret Sullavan exchanges her drab orphanage smock for a hussar hat and cape when she accepts a post as a cinema usherette. On her first day, she meets a waiter who extends an invitation to an opulent ball. Instead of Prince Charming, she meets a rape-minded butcher. To forestall his attack, she invents a husband, a random name she picks out of the phone book. In a winsome script by Preston Sturges, Sullavan takes initiative and acts like a good fairy for her pretend husband, played by Herbert Marshall. When the world seems especially bleak, The Good Fairy helps restore your belief in common decency.

 

8 March

These Three (1936)

Production code censors demanded no mention be made of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour in the screen adaptation, nor that the script include any reference to repressed lesbian desire between schoolteachers, as in the stage production. Although the film develops a heterosexual triangle between Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea, Hopkins gives such a nuanced performance, that viewers could interpret her desire for either Oberon or McCrea. Bonita Granville steals the picture as a hellion who fabricates gossip about her teachers. Granville received an Oscar nomination for the role when she was only fourteen.

 

15 March

Marked Woman (1937)

Bette Davis stars in this film based on a true account of sex workers who joined together to appear on the witness stand against Lucky Luciano, a notorious gangster known for his violence against women. Davis leads a group of clip joint hostesses who balance demands from the mob and the district attorney played by Humphrey Bogart. Marked Woman looks and feels like a Pre-Code, in a story about women who speak truth to power and resist exploitation when they’re doing level best to survive the Depression. Bette Davis fought for realism and refused to accept the studio’s makeup treatment for a scene that involved a brutal attack. She had her personal physician dress her character’s injuries for the camera.

 

22 March

The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

Barbara Stanwyck’s character discovers a dead body during a late-night dog walk, then faces accusations from a cop and a reporter, who charge her with filing a falsified report for larks. Since the men in charge are inept, as they often are in any solid woman’s picture, Stanwyck’s Miss Manton enlists a crew of socialites to clear her name and solve the case. Stanwyck and company accessorise a battle against male authority with lipstick, sumptuous fur and bouncy hair. Their combined wit and power of deduction run circles around the men in charge. A classic screwball comedy, The Mad Miss Manton stands out for the multiple times society dames beat the living daylights out of Henry Fonda (who totally has it coming).

 

29 March

The Women (1939)

Anita Loos and Jane Murfin adapted Clare Boothe Luce’s Broadway hit for the screen. An all-women cast of 135 assemble for a story about a shopgirl mantrap (Joan Crawford) who steals a husband from a Park Avenue socialite (Norma Shearer). Although the tag line promises ‘it’s all about the men’, the ladies may as well be arguing over a new designer gown, because they change husbands as frequently as they do their wardrobe. Rosalind Russell steals the show as the scandalmonger who stirs up trouble and gets plenty in return. George Cukor’s The Women rates the gold standard woman’s picture. It continues to hold influence over how women’s relationships are depicted on-screen, especially when there’s conflict. Adrian, who produced between 50 and 75 sketches daily throughout his tenure in MGM, designed more than 230 gowns, many of which appear in a short technicolour fashion show sequence. This one’s not to be missed.