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.

 

 

 

‘You ought to do something about your eyes’: Miriam Hopkins in Woman Chases Man (1937)

Miriam’s signature pose in Men Are Not Gods (1936)

 

By: Megan McGurk

Among the scenes depicting a woman’s libido on film, Miriam Hopkins lolling around on a bed lamenting the fact that she’s not a gentleman should rank at the top. While she’s remembered for her sexpot role as Gilda in Design for Living (1933), where she plays a woman enjoying a luscious three-way romance courtesy of Ernst Lubitsch, Miriam gets lost in the shuffle in favour of other screen goddesses from the era. She did not announce her desire in the same way that other women did on the screen. Miriam didn’t lower her lids and hug the shadows like Marlene Dietrich; she did not fall into a swoon like Garbo; nor did she adopt a suggestive slouch like Jean Harlow; and she didn’t drape herself in luxe high fashion like Joan Crawford. Miriam, often buttoned up to her neck, with a sober bow laced under her throat, could make a prim skirt suit appear as seductive as a silk bias cut gown. Her trademark used splayed hands across her hips and abdomen, as if to hold firmly in place the seat of desire. Miriam never left you in any doubt when her characters were gasping for it, especially in Woman Chases Man (1937). Posters for the screwball gem label her a ‘she-wolf’ which may misrepresent the romantic dynamic, but she serves as proxy for women (and men) in the audience who want to ogle Joel McCrea. She’s hot-to-trot for him in every scene.

Instead of obvious touches with wardrobe or boilerplate mechanics of allure, Miriam creates a subtle version of a grown woman’s sexual appetite. Miriam also straddles the line between seduction and screwball antics better than anyone, Carole Lombard included. Not many women can shift from a George Raft impression (talking out of both sides of her mouth at breakneck speed) in one scene to salivating over Joel McCrea in the next. Her desire for McCrea knocks against the restraints of a genteel background to  obliterate distinctions between a lady and a dame. Miriam’s debutante accent announces cotillions, mint juleps on the veranda, boarding schools, and echoes those familiar rules about what nice girls do and instead blows them a raspberry.

As Virginia Travis, a struggling architect, Miriam conspires with Charles Winninger’s failed entrepreneur B.J. Nolan to take his son through the hurdles, so that Kenneth (McCrea) will shell out from his inheritance and fund an experimental social housing project. But she’s distracted from the plan to eradicate tenements once the tall drink of man-water arrives. Suddenly, the petite blonde looks like a wolf in grandma’s clothing when her eyes land on the son. Joel looks so delectable from his first scene when he’s introduced in a manner that’s usually reserved for a socialite character in film (Claudette Colbert or Barbara Stanwyck, for example). Since we are in woman’s picture territory, our gaze lingers over McCrea lounging ship deck wearing glamorous black sunglasses with all the other gorgeous rich folks. He looks good in a suit, too, when he turns up to lecture his father about fiscal responsibility.

Continue reading “‘You ought to do something about your eyes’: Miriam Hopkins in Woman Chases Man (1937)”

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series Two Pre-Codes

 

Join us for a film series from when Hollywood made films for women.

Hosted by Megan McGurk

We’re screening five Pre-Code woman’s pictures from 11 January-8 February

Get your tickets.

See you in the Denzille.

What Price Hollywood? (1932)

Screens 11 January

Constance Bennett plays a waitress in the Brown Derby who gets a renowned Hollywood director in her section and finagles a ticket to a big premiere and then a screen test. George Cukor’s picture gives women the playbook on how to become a star on the stairs. Considered the earliest version of A Star is Born dynamic about a woman whose career rises as a man’s falls, What Price Hollywood? examines the price of fame, while it also offers one of the best behind-the-scenes view of the motion picture industry.

Three on a Match (1932)

Screens 18 January

Director Mervyn LeRoy’s economy of storytelling leaves not a moment wasted. In 63 minutes, he traces the fortunes of three schoolgirls as they grow up. What happens to the bookish girl (Bette Davis) who went to business college? Or the bad girl (Joan Blondell) who skips class to smoke cigarettes with the boys? Or the rich girl in a boarding school (Ann Dvorak) who reads bodice rippers aloud after lights out? As adults, the trio struggle to make their own way. Ann Dvorak seems to have made an ideal match to a rich lawyer (Warren William) but everything leaves her cold. The picture also includes one of the frankest depictions of cocaine addiction in the Pre-Code era.

Bonus: Humphrey Bogart in an early role as a rough trade gangster.

Gold Diggers of 1933 

Screens 25 January

Another hit from Mervyn LeRoy and the best of the Busby Berkeley musicals, Gold Diggers combines glitz, glamour and a whole lot of wisecracks from sass mouth dames. Aline MacMahon, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers star in a Broadway show about the Depression. When the high-steppers are off-stage, they wage class war on a pair of rich men who declare them ‘cheap and vulgar’. If you ever wanted to learn how to get men to foot the bill for dinner or a new hat, Joan Blondell and Aline MacMahon have you covered. Don’t miss the spectacular musical numbers ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ and ‘Remember My Forgotten Man’.

Ann Vickers (1933)

Screens 1 February

Once upon a time, Hollywood could imagine a scenario with a woman who has an abortion and still goes on to have a happy and rewarding life. Irene Dunne plays a social worker who falls for a heel. Luckily, she has a dear friend who happens to run an abortion clinic in Cuba. Afterwards, she takes a job as warden in a woman’s prison. When Irene Dunne attempts to improve dire conditions, the men in charge frame her and threaten a scandal unless she leaves. She writes a bestselling expose about her time in prison. At a party a judge (Walter Huston) professes his admiration for her work. Unfortunately, he’s soon in the middle of his own scandal. Will Irene Dunne stand by her man?

Design for Living (1933)

Screens 8 February

Miriam Hopkins stars in Ernst Lubitsch’s masterpiece about a woman who picks up two men on a train, arranges a ‘no sex’ agreement, which she then abandons at the first opportunity. As an advertising executive, more successful than the two starving artists, Miriam mentors the painter (Gary Cooper) and the playwright (Fredric March). When things become complicated, she takes the easy way out in a marriage to straight-laced Edward Everett Horton. Will Miriam settle for monogamy or will the three-way romance win out?

 

Swaddle This: Joan Crawford in Fur

 

By: Megan McGurk

Letty Lynton (1932), well known for the exaggerated organza sleeve gown that Adrian designed to embellish Joan Crawford’s already significant wingspan, features so many more interesting clothes. Clarence Brown’s picture remains out of circulation after an author of a play no one remembers sued and won for plagiarism. It’s a crime against cineastes, because Letty’s wardrobe by Adrian features some of his best work in fusing costume with character. Joan Crawford, queen of underplay, performs an uncharacteristic bit of scenery chewing in the climax scene with Nils Asther. A single blob of mascara slides under her eye as a result. We won’t see Crawford with a smudged face again until she’s beaten and tortured by Nazis in Above Suspicion (1943), her last picture before she left MGM. The ‘Letty’ dress that sold half a million knockoffs pales in comparison to the gown she wears for a first date with Bob Montgomery, a white column gown with silver beading and sleeve inserts in white mink. Joan’s fur shoulder cuffs look like clouds of candy floss that reflect all the light in the room upon her face. She casts an ethereal dream vision to dazzle the spoilt Montgomery.

 

Adrian gave Joan two different duvoons to snuggle into for this picture. The first is a praline-coloured confection she wears to disembark the ship from South America. When she discovers Nils Asther’s Emile, an ex-lover who turns up like a bad penny to ruin the glow of her recent engagement, she barricades herself in the sumptuous fur to reject his demand that their romance continue. Joan’s Letty cocoons in another fur duvoon, this time in black sable, when she meets Nils Asther in his hotel room to put a stop to his sexual blackmail. Never mind why Joan’s character keeps a bottle of poison in her medicine cabinet, or why she intends to drink it herself as a means to escape Nils’s threat to expose her love letters. Wanda Tuchock and John Meehan’s script contains gems that match the sartorial flair on offer, such as Joan’s remark after she takes off the black duvoon, revealing a silver metallic dress, and asks ‘any wine left? I’m congealed.’ (Or earlier, right before she breaks up with Nils and some random former lover goes in for a smooch and Joan shuts him down ‘You know I never kiss anyone before one o’clock’). Between the armour-plated frock and the duvoon, viewers know style vouchsafe when we see it. Joan appears as impervious to his nefarious plan as if she were wearing a shield and sabre. Nils deserves what he gets when he says ‘women don’t think. They change their minds, that’s all’ and then he knocks Joan to the floor twice. Down the hatch, Emile.

Continue reading “Swaddle This: Joan Crawford in Fur”