The World’s Dead and Everybody in It’s Dead But You: Podcast ep 85

Joan Crawford has her pick between a troubled veteran (Henry Fonda) and a smug married man (Dana Andrews). Does she want the man who has good lines (‘The world’s dead and everybody in it’s dead but you’) or does she stay with the same old masculine lines (‘It won’t be over til we’re dead’)? Crawford looks good in the back street as well as the sunshine, thanks to the poetic photography of Leon Shamroy, who believed that every light had to be justified ‘like words in a sentence’.

Career gal Joan has a cute flat, the freedom to lose herself in work, and a great wardrobe by Charles LeMaire. I’m not sure why she wants a husband, but my interest in woman’s pictures is always seeing a woman who gets what she wants.

Catch up with podcast episode 85 on Daisy Kenyon (1947).

If you’re looking for more podcast episodes on Joan Crawford, step this way—>

In episode 60, I talk about Sadie McKee (1934) , the gold standard Crawford picture. It has everything I desire: Joan absorbs the slings and arrows of unworthy men, triumphs over their low opinion, has the support of a dear friend (Jean Dixon), and parades in exquisite designs by Adrian. And it has a scene set in the Automat, which is what I use to centre my best intentions each time when I sit down to write. Joan has a few coins in her pocket, but fortified by a smart wool topper and hat, she uses great style as a shield against pity and misfortune.

For episode 50, I talk about how Joan Crawford just wants to be left alone in her beach house. She foils the plot of a rough trade grifter and his backers, sidestepping the fate of women of a certain age.

In episode 36, Joan stars in a fabulous spy caper to defeat the Nazis.

Matt Harris, archivist and fellow Joan Crawford obsessive, joins me for episode 20 to talk about Joan in Flamingo Road (1949) and in episode 66 for Queen Bee (1955).

In episode 77, I admire the way Adrian develops his signature metallic look for Joan Crawford in No More Ladies (1935). The picture evades the usual tropes about a woman driven witless by a cheating husband. Joan turns the tables on Bob Montgomery until he sobs in her arms and begs forgiveness.

In episode 4, I talk about how watching Joan Crawford in Torch Song (1953) as she tries to do nothing on a Sunday leaves me with white knuckles.

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 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 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.

 

 

 

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.

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