Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 5

 

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 5 presents four stellar woman’s pictures from 1930-1935 in the lovely Denzille cinema in Dublin, Thursdays, 31 May-21 June.

Tickets available through Eventbrite.

Megan McGurk hosts each classic film.

Soda and snacks are included.

Ladies of Leisure (1930)

Roommates Barbara Stanwyck and Marie Prevost pay the bills with sex work. One night after a narrow escape from a party boat, with smeared mascara and a torn dress, Stanwyck’s character meets a rich man who drives her back into the city. Ralph Graves plays an artist with his own roof top studio. He offers her a job posing for a portrait. Stanwyck assumes that it’s only a matter of time until he proves himself to be after only one thing, like every other man she has met. Despite her misgivings and his society name, she falls for the guy. Things look swell until his mother attempts to thwart the romance. Can Marie Prevost protect her dearest friend from disaster? This is the first of four pictures that Stanwyck made with director Frank Capra.

Dancing Lady (1933)

A huge hit for MGM, this picture has everything. Joan Crawford performs in a burlesque show that’s raided by police for offence against public decency. Franchot Tone (Joan’s future second husband) sees her in court, pays her fine, and takes her out for a bite to eat. Despite the condescending note he sends the next day (along with fifty dollars) to buy a dress without zippers and shoes without bows, in a snobbish appraisal of her current wardrobe, she falls for the rich man. Crawford’s Janie Barlow dreams of a part in a Broadway show. To speed up the process, she stalks Clark Gable, who plays a big-time producer. They enjoy more than a little bit of sexual tension. Crawford and Gable flirt in a scene set in a gym that’s one of the best onscreen seductions. Other highlights include Fred Astaire in his screen debut as Joan’s dancing partner. The Three Stooges join the cast.

The Girl from Missouri (1934)

Anita Loos (mother of all sass mouth dames) wrote the script about a chorine gal-pal team on the hunt for men with deep pockets. Only Jean Harlow could pull off a woman who waits for her wedding night without suggesting a virginity fetish. Harlow’s so over-sexed, clearly gasping for it, that you can’t blame her for waiting until he puts a ring on it. One night after dancing in a club, Harlow and Kelly finagle an invitation to perform for a private party attended by rich men. Harlow’s character puts the moves on a man with considerable assets, who makes a present of some jewelled cufflinks, right before he puts a gun in his mouth. The gals add suspected of murder to the list of their problems. Patsy Kelly steals the show, like always, by playing the wisecracking loyal friend. She also makes up for her friend’s chastity by giving every man she fancies a tumble.

The Devil Is a Woman (1935)

The last of seven pictures Marlene Dietrich made with Josef von Sternberg, this one has the best tone and aesthetic. Marlene is a glorious nut-buster throughout the picture as a woman who works in a tobacco factory and later becomes a sensation singing in nightclubs. Although not technically a Pre-Code, von Sternberg’s picture has all the hallmarks of the era when women could prioritise their own pleasure at the expense of men without suffering consequences. Dietrich fleeces a self-important army captain (Lionel Atwill), while she juggles other men including a bullfighter and a dashing young Cesar Romero. In each scene, Dietrich is dressed by Travis Banton in show-stopper ensembles, with every fabric in creation, embellished with countless veils, fans, gloves, jewellery and accessories. This picture will cure what ails you because it proves that sass mouth dames need take no prisoners.

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.

 

 

 

Why We Need Sass Mouth Dames, Woman’s Pictures 1929-1959

 

Our current cinema stinks.

Instead of settling for crappy re-boots or second string roles, we should embrace the time when Hollywood believed that a film could only profit if it appealed to women.

Join the new Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series One, Pre-Codes. Dublin 12 Oct-9 Nov.

Get your tickets.

Here’s the Foreword from my book on woman’s pictures:

Sass Mouth Dames: 30 Essential Woman’s Pictures 1929-1939

By Megan McGurk

A punchline from Howard Hawk’s Monkey Business (1952) echoes into Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), the last film directed by Mike Nichols. In the original screwball classic, Cary Grant appears puzzled by Marilyn Monroe as a secretary who pleads with her boss for another chance at typing. Charles Coburn, as the boss, tells her no, that it’s very important, and to get someone else to do it. Crestfallen, Monroe accepts the sheet of paper and leaves to find a typist. The men watch Monroe wiggle out of the room. Coburn deadpans an explanation: ‘Anybody can type’.

Wynn Everett, listed in the credits as receptionist ‘Charlie’s Angel #1’, delivers the revised line in Charlie Wilson’s War.  She responds to a similar query from a visitor about the bevvy of centrefold-grade office staff employed by the Texas Congressman (played by Tom Hanks) in her boss’s knuckle-dragger wisdom: ‘You can teach ‘em to type, but you can’t teach ‘em to grow tits.’ Perhaps they felt the line wouldn’t seem as terribly sexist if it came from a woman. The original was funny because it need not state the obvious, while the updated version feels ugly and crass. ‘Grow tits’ has an odious ring to it, particularly when women are named in the cast after the man they happen work for, which recalls the grim totalitarianism of Ofglen and Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. Who needs a name when you have great breasts, I suppose the logic follows.

Continue reading “Why We Need Sass Mouth Dames, Woman’s Pictures 1929-1959”

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series One Pre-Codes, Dublin, 12 Oct-9 Nov

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series One Pre-Codes

Your hosts: Megan McGurk & Danielle Smith

Thursdays, 12 Oct-9 Nov, 19.00-21.00

Denzille cinema

13 Denzille Lane

Merrion Square North

Dublin 2

Tickets: €10.50

Soft drinks, tea & coffee, snacks included

 

SADIE MCKEE (1934)

12 October, 19.00-21.00

Joan Crawford stars in the title role as a cook’s daughter serving rich folk their dinner. Over the first course, their son Michael (Franchot Tone) condemns Sadie’s boyfriend Tommy (Gene Raymond) as a thief. Sadie threatens to throw the soup in his face, quits, then runs off to New York with Tommy. They meet Opal (Jean Dixon) in a greasy spoon, who gets them a room in her boarding house. The next day, left alone for five minutes, Tommy takes off with mantrap vaudevillian Dolly Merrick (Esther Ralston). Jilted and penniless, Sadie takes a job dancing in the nightclub where Opal works as a hostess. Millionaire dipsomaniac Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold) soon proposes. Can money buy Sadie’s happiness?

Based on a story by bestselling author Viña Delmar, directed by Clarence Brown, with gowns by ADRIAN.

 

BLONDIE JOHNSON (1933)

19 October, 19.00-21.00

In laddered hosiery and shabby clothes, Joan Blondell’s Blondie Johnson petitions for help in the relief office, a desperate plea for mercy on behalf of her sick mother. The clerk rules against Blondie, and as a result, her mother dies. Rather than sink into the gutter, Blondie devises a plan that involves taxi driver Red (Sterling Holloway) to fleece men with a sob story about a need for crosstown fare. Blondie splits the money with Red. After a big celebratory meal, one of the marks—Chester Morris, as Danny—calls her out on the scam. She compensates by helping him move up the ranks of a crime syndicate. Blondie proves a dab hand at gangster politics and before long, she runs the rackets. Backed by Mae (Mae Busch) and Lulu (Toshia Mori) and a phalanx of men, how long will Blondie occupy the corner office?

Directed by Ray Enright, with wardrobe by Orry-Kelly.

With bonus short: BABES IN THE GOODS (1934) Starring Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly.

 

 

VIRTUE (1932)

26 October, 19.00-21.00

Carole Lombard plays Mae, a sex worker ordered by the court to board a train out of New York. She sneaks off the train and seeks refuge with her friend Lil (Mayo Methot). On the way to see Lil, Mae had stiffed cab driver Jimmy (Pat O’Brien), but she later tracks him down to settle the debt. Mae and Jimmy bicker on the street, sparks flying. While she dates Jimmy, she works behind a lunch counter and allows him to believe that she was previously a secretary. After they marry, a detective from the vice squad tracks her down and mistakes Jimmy for a customer. Their marriage licence satisfies the cop that she has gone straight, but will Jimmy accept the truth about Mae’s past?

Directed by Edward Buzzell.

With bonus short: BEAUTY AND THE BUS (1933) Starring Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly.

HOLD YOUR MAN (1933)

2 November, 19.00-21.00

Jean Harlow’s Ruby relies on patronage from men and sales from bathtub gin to pay bills. Eddie (Clark Gable), a con man pursued by police, bursts into her flat to hide. Ruby assists, passing him off as her husband. Ruby and Eddie begin a romance which goes over like a lead balloon with his former lover, Gypsy (Dorothy Burgess). Eddie receives a custodial sentence and later so does Ruby, thanks to her dim but handsome partner in crime. In the reformatory, she finds Gypsy among her new roommates. How will Ruby survive in prison? Will Eddie remain true?

Story by bestselling author Anita Loos, directed by Sam Wood, and gowns by ADRIAN.

 

 

BABY FACE (1933)

9 November, 19.00-21.00

Barbara Stanwyck, as Lily Powers, was put to work in the sex trade at age 14, servicing men in her father’s speakeasy. Lily prevents lowlife Mr Powers from sacking her best friend, Chico (Theresa Harris). When she’s not pouring hot coffee on the johns, or breaking bottles over their heads, Lily learns about Nietzsche’s will to power from a kindly old cobbler who offers her advice to use men to get the things she wants. Lily and Chico ride the rails to New York, where Lily takes a job in a bank and uses sex to ascend the financial ladder. Men lose the run of themselves over Baby Face, who meanwhile fills a treasure chest she trusts only to Chico. Bank president Trenholm (George Brent) attempts to manage the scandal that results from Lily’s conquests. Lily’s life has been bitter and hard. Will she ever find happiness?

Directed by Alfred E. Green, with wardrobe by Orry-Kelly.

With bonus short: TOP FLAT (1935) Starring Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly

Barbara Stanwyck’s Sleuth in The Mad Miss Manton (’38)

By: Megan McGurk

When I suspect a potential convert to the church of the sass mouth dame, my missionary zeal homilises pleasures manifold in woman’s pictures, from watching women installed in rewarding careers, to those who clawed their way from poverty, left an unsatisfying home life, women who boosted each other to make dreams reality, along with women who made short work of men who stood in their way, while draped in exquisite clothes. You have settled for the false goddess of lowered lids and slinky gown vestiary in classic film, I preach, but has she fortified your interior life? Has a sexy dame ever bolstered your core sense of self in an hour of need? I want to submerge them in the restorative powers of woman’s pictures from the 1930s, when we flourished in stories beyond secondary love interest roles, boner management, a noir virgin/whore coin toss, or a bad reputation as deadlier than men twice our size packing guns.

Let me guide you to the promised land, oh my sister, where it’s all about us for a change, when glamour proved a safeguard, a method of protection from ransack and humiliation that awaited us in a man’s world. Votaries of woman’s pictures experience an epiphany that reveals keen seductive skills waste precious time. Sass mouth dames know how to save face and how to fight back—they use lipstick in a lionhearted way to meet the firing squad (Dishonored 1931) rather than roll a tube of lippy toward the feet of an unwitting dupe (The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946).

Barbara Stanwyck channels the sass mouth dame’s fondness for lipstick as a handy exclamation mark when she delivers a spirited warning to bothersome men from the press and police force in The Mad Miss Manton (1938). Backed by her crew of socialites, Stanwyck’s Melsa Manton vows to Henry Fonda’s reporter and Sam Levene’s officer:

You made liars and social parasites out of us. Now we girls are going to collect that million dollars from you. And as for you Inspector Brent, false arrest is a very serious charge and we’ll have your badge before we’re through with you. We’re going to make you all feel pretty small and silly. Who’s got a lipstick?

Their agenda includes crime solving and public vindication, but a lipstick reserve sets a boundary for poise, self-control, and a reminder that a lady upholds standards, even when dragged through the mud by a pack of blockheads. Glamour rituals remain the province of women; male preference never enters the picture. Stanwyck’s lippy acts as a battle cry.

Continue reading “Barbara Stanwyck’s Sleuth in The Mad Miss Manton (’38)”