Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series 4

Join Megan McGurk 10 April to 12 May for another round of woman’s pictures from Hollywood’s classic period.

Screened Thursdays at 7 in the lovely Denzille Cinema, Merrion Square.

Snacks and soda are included.

Get your tickets

 

A Woman’s Face (1941)

12 April

Joan Crawford believed A Woman’s Face earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress as much as Mildred Pierce. Crawford stars as Anna Holm, a scar-faced woman who runs a blackmail ring. Conrad Veidt plays Torsten Barring, a scapegrace who recognises the power she wields and draws her into a torrid love affair. He manipulates her with sex until she agrees to participate in a scheme to eliminate his rival heir. In an odd twist of fate, she meets Melvyn Douglas, a world-renowned plastic surgeon who specialises in scar removal. What happens after the surgery? Will Anna become a beautiful monster?

The Great Lie (1941)

19 April

Bette Davis and Mary Astor took one look at the lousy script about two women who compete for George Brent and decided they would re-write it to salvage the picture. Their collaboration made the man an afterthought in a story that locates the drama between two women. Mary Astor won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a temperamental classical pianist who dallies with Brent and ends up pregnant with his child. Bette handed the juicy part to her friend for what amounts to a high-toned study of how women transcend jealousy so they can both get what they want.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

26 April

Charles Boyer (king of woman’s pictures) plays a European gigolo down on his luck, waiting at the Mexican border for a visa into the States. Paulette Goddard, an ex-lover and fellow scam artist, tells him to follow her example and marry an American for citizenship. When he sees Olivia de Havilland shepherding her pupils around on a school trip, he dials up the charm to warp factor ten. Olivia’s character had held out for romance and now she’s unable to resist the elegant man who murmurs in her ear at sunrise. Paulette still carries a torch. She suggests they resume their act bilking rich folks once he’s legal. What does he do about the teacher with cheeks plump like summer fruit, who plans on hanging curtains for her new husband?

The Hard Way (1943)

3 May

Based on the life story of Ginger Rogers, Ida Lupino and Joan Leslie play sisters (rather than mother and daughter) determined to leave a small town and find success on Broadway. Ida Lupino’s character does everything in her power to make her sister a star. Director Vincent Sherman thought it represented his most personal expression to develop a story. The Hard Way features outstanding performances from Lupino and Leslie, but also from Gladys George (as the washed up star) and Jack Carson (as the first husband who launched the teenager’s career). James Wong Howe’s cinematography creates gritty realism to produce one of the best woman’s pictures during the war made by Warner Bros.

Lady in the Dark (1944)

10 May

Although this production had plenty of trouble on the set, with everything from bitter feuds, health and safety hazards, costume snafus, to schedule and budget problems, virtually none of it shows on-screen. Mitchell Leisen’s picture uses elaborate set and costume design to stage the psychological crisis Ginger Rogers experiences as a fashion magazine editor who has sudden panic attacks and can’t make up her mind. In her first film shot in technicolour, Ginger shines in dream sequences dipped in a primary colour palette of blue, white and red. Edith Head designed the mink skirt lined with red sequins that Ginger wears for the show stopper ‘The Saga of Jenny’. Not to be missed.

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?

 

Semiotics from Ginger Rogers

By: Megan McGurk

When almost beggared and starved, with only a few crackers and an apple for an evening repast, a lecture from a well-fed man about the sexual dimorphism of seals seems indelicate if not outright vulgar. Spare a lady a disquisition of facts collected during the time you sat at a table reading while someone else prepared the dinner. A hungry woman would rather console herself that it’s no fun to swim around in a fur coat all day, instead of listening to the species defined by a male example and the female as its mere opposite. In Gregory LaCava’s Fifth Avenue Girl (1939), Ginger contests the male speaker’s authority in a brief exchange, issuing a robust protest, one that anticipates hallmarks of the personal-is-political vanguard still thirty years in the future.

Allan Scott’s screenplay contains one of the most striking rejections of a Cyclop’s-squint logic governing a man’s world. Whether you point to Adam’s rib or Freud’s penis-envy, storybooks have a long tradition of spotlighting men for the definition, quote and summary of human experience. Women, cast off as leftovers, become an afterthought, second-rate—bits of what the male embodies in whole form. Shabby patterns of representation always put men in the forefront. Ginger shows viewers how much the world expands when you resist playing an opposite role.

In front of the seal pond, Ginger makes it plain she has no intention of playing a passive audience member to a random blowhard. She interrupts and undertalks throughout his narration, mocking his claim at expert status; moreover, she steals his audience by directly addressing the sad rich man standing between them. Seals rate as one of the smartest of the carnivores, he says, only dogs are smarter. He corrects Ginger’s remark about how joyless swimming in a fur coat seems by saying they’re a different species. He foists his observations on Ginger and the forlorn well-heeled gentleman.

See that fella? That’s a male. Know how I can tell? He’s bigger than the female.

–You mean the female is smaller.

Yeah, that’s right—and lighter in colour.

–I see. The males are darker. And louder.

 

Ginger Rogers may be small, pale, soft-spoken and poor, but she has sense enough to side-step his lazy terms. Mr jibber-jabber fails to recognise that she’s not talking about seals. Ginger’s parting comment, that now she knows how the other half lives, reminds us in the flickering light that men never consider themselves by half measures.

As viewers often discover in woman’s pictures, women like Ginger Rogers have answers that men need rarely notice.

Ginger Rogers: Venus on a Clam Shell in Primrose Path (1940)

By: Megan McGurk

In Gregory La Cava’s sensitive coming of age picture, Ginger Rogers watches Joel McCrea demonstrate how to find clams. It works out to be a bid for romance, one more swoon-inducing than a moonlit walk in a rose garden. Among flirtatious scenes, woman’s pictures found new ways to reinvent girl-meets-boy. Their beach encounter occasions Ginger’s sexual awakening. Delivered by way of clam shell, like a modern-day Venus, she decides to abandon a childish disguise and embrace womanhood. What better time to grow up than to receive more kisses from Joel McCrea?

La Cava selects a bit of shoreline adjacent to a dusty California road for the scene and anchors his picture in a grubby realism that resists flashy aesthetics to stage character growth. My favourite director pares down costume and scenery to underscore an earnest response. La Cava may indulge his version of working class virtue as unadorned, in shabby backgrounds punctuated by scripted double negatives and inelegant syntax in a story that presents sexy poses (for women) and university education (for men) as routes down a less than ideal path, but those objections seem begrudging in an otherwise heartfelt film.

McCrea’s Ed Wallace coaxes Ginger Rogers’ Ellie May Adams through the basics of clam digging. McCrea doesn’t know that she’s scrounging a hangover cure for her resigned alcoholic father, but he admires her pluck. He schools her in foraging arts as a compliment to her wit, which always signals a man above the crowd. They meet for the second time on the beach. The first time they met, in the previous scene, she was a hitchhiker eating a free meal at his lunch counter.

Unlike the ‘Porta-gee’ girls (the script’s colloquialism for Portuguese girls working in the local sardine cannery) who giggle at his behind the counter repertoire (McCrea pronounces it rep-ar-tee), Ellie criticises his banter with customers. In a startling rejection of age-old courtship advice that compels women to laugh at any man’s jokes, Ellie refuses to feign passive delight with Ed’s humour and blisters his cornpone lines one by one. She challenges his cock ‘o the café status and in doing so, she highlights their dynamic with word play and alternate punchlines from the first moment. He may have repertoire, but Ellie turns his solo act into an improvisational duo. As she steals the spotlight with wisecracks, she positions herself as an equal partner before they have traded names. While Ellie waits for Gramp (Henry Travers) to make her a sandwich, she critiques his stale routine. No wonder McCrea’s head snaps around in a reaction shot. Barely a minute at the counter and this so-called kid he had joked about playing truant bests him at his own game. Gramp pushes a plate in front of Ellie, suggesting she ignore Ed’s jokes:

Gramp: Don’t pay attention to him. His mind wanders.

Ellie Mae: Maybe it never came back.

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