Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 10

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 10 celebrates enduring screwball classics that sparkle with wit and style.

Join Megan McGurk each Thursday in May, at 7.00, in the Brooks Hotel Cinema, Drury Street, Dublin.

Only a tenner in. Popcorn included!

Tickets through Eventbrite.

Series 11 screens in September, 2019.

Hands Across the Table (1935)

2 May

Ernst Lubitsch believed Norman Krasna’s script was the hottest comedy in Hollywood. He selected Hands Across the Table to be the first project he supervised in his new role as head of production for Paramount studio, lending his famed ‘Lubitsch touch’ for the benefit of director Mitch Leisen. Carole Lombard plays a manicurist on the hunt for a rich husband. Even though her client Ralph Bellamy is wealthy and uses any excuse to summon the lithe blonde who will gently soak his mitts in a bowl of water, Carole considers him only a friend. Instead, she falls for another client, Fred MacMurray, who has a society name but no money. What happens when sass mouth meets scapegrace? Does she marry for love or money?

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

9 May

Upstanding women of the Lynnefield Literary Society disapprove of a bestselling book, excerpts of which are printed in the local paper. In a letter of protest, one member dismisses the scandalous novel as ‘sexy trash’. What the ladies don’t know is that one of their own penned the bodice-ripper under a pen name, Caroline Adams. Quiet, unassuming Theodora Lynn, played by Irene Dunne, wrote the book that the ladies want banned. During a secret trip into the city to meet with her publisher, an illustrator (Melvyn Douglas) figures out who she really is and pressures Theodora to stop hiding from the town’s disapproval. Why not discard a proper reputation if she longs to be called ‘baby’? But what if Theodora gives him a taste of his own medicine?

Woman Chases Man (1937)

16 May

Miriam Hopkins plays an architect who charges into a wealthy developer’s office (Charles Winninger) with a pitch for a new social housing scheme. When he attempts to get rid of her, she passes out cold, woozy from two days without eating. Depression-era woman’s pictures contain numerous scenes of women who faint from hunger, but a Southern belle like Miriam has a stylish fit of vapours. After he revives her with food, they hatch a plan that will make his son (Joel McCrea) finance their project. Once she sees McCrea, business seems less important than being in his arms. If Miriam were not already a sass mouth MVP, she would certainly win the honour with her Pre-Code gangster impression.

Midnight (1939)

23 May

Forget the fairy tale about a dame in a poufy dress and glass slippers. Legendary screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder update the Cinderella story for Claudette Colbert, who plays a former chorine down on her luck. She rolls into Paris with nothing but a gold lamé gown and a ticket from the municipal pawn shop in Monte Carlo. As luck would have it, she crashes a society party where John Barrymore notices the interloper. He waggles those bushy eyebrows and offers his services as a would-be fairy godfather, outfitting her with trunks of fabulous clothes and a line of credit. All she has to do is pretend to be an aristocrat and distract a gigolo away from his wife, played by Mary Astor. In the middle of this, Don Ameche plays a taxi driver who starts a city-wide search party among his fellow cabbies to find the woman he fell for—the dame in the gold dress.

Cluny Brown (1946)

30 May

In the title role, nothing gets Jennifer Jones more excited than a clogged sink. When she looks at a sink full of water and vegetable scraps, Cluny Brown rolls up her sleeves. With a large wrench in hand, she bangs away at a pipe until the blockage drains. But her guardian uncle thinks it’s undignified and tells her to learn her place, which he decides should be working as a housemaid in the country. The only person who supports Cluny’s desire to serve the pipes is Charles Boyer, the king of the swoon merchants, a man who could charm the tail from a fox. On the surface, Ernst Lubitsch’s picture is about a gal’s dream of being a plumber; more importantly, it’s an impassioned clarion call for being true to one’s self above all. Since it’s a Lubitsch production, you know everything’s about sex, too.

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.

BONUS FEATURE: Havana Widows (1933) with Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell will close out Series 9.

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.


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)”