Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 6

Join me on Wednesdays this autumn for another round of classic woman’s pictures from the Pre-Code era.

Screened in the gorgeous Denzille Cinema in Merrion Square for 19.00, 26 September-24 October.

Soda & snacks included.

Tickets available from Eventbrite.

Night Nurse (1931)

26 September

‘I’m Nick—the chauffer’.

If Clark Gable’s line delivery doesn’t make you gasp the way it does Barbara Stanwyck, you’re probably in the wrong cinema. Stanwyck proves why she’s Queen of the Pre-Codes in this gritty picture about injustice, corruption and the most vicious cruelty. When no one else cares or intervenes, Stanwyck charges the bullies full steam. She can’t go wrong with Joan Blondell on her side. This was the first of five pictures Stanwyck made with director William Wellman. He said of her ‘she not only knew her own lines but everyone else’s. I love her.’

Possessed (1931)

3 October

Joan Crawford works in a paper box factory. She watches the train cars full of glamorous people on their way to New York one night after work, when a stranger in the caboose pours out her first taste of bubbles, and then tells her to run to the big city to be done wrong by. Crawford makes her way to New York and snags the first rich man she encounters—Clark Gable. In a love nest feathered by Gable, she does everything that becomes a lady. Without a wedding ring, society will always regard her as a chippy from the sticks. Joan made life-long fans among women for this tale about double standards and social climbing.

Thirteen Women (1932)

10 October

If only we had the fifteen minutes that were cut from the original picture. No doubt the edited sequences contained additional stylish revenge scenes. Myrna Loy plays a biracial girl who suffered untold misery from the privileged white girls in an exclusive boarding school. She was tormented by her classmates. All grown up, Myrna mesmerises a famed astrologer into sending horoscopes that she designs with the power of suggestion to bring about a series of gruesome tragedies. Irene Dunne plays one of the former pupils who denies the power of the star charts. This is the only horror picture I’ve included in the series so far. Not to be missed.

No Man of Her Own (1932)

17 October

What does a small-town librarian do for fun? Well, if you’re Carole Lombard, you hook up with a random dude (Clark Gable) one night after the library closes and parlay that into wedded bliss. Lombard soon learns what her husband really does for a living, which rocks her to the core. Can she make him go straight? This was the only picture that Lombard and Gable made together. Although their romance did not commence until the Mayfair Ball in 1936, they still generate enough heat to burn down the stacks.

Bombshell (1933)

24 October

Jean Harlow stars in a picture that borrows from Clara Bow’s life story. Beset by moochers who feed stories to the tabloids, Harlow’s character endures the studio’s demanding schedule, while she picks up the tab for a shower of freeloaders. Harlow strips the varnish off the glamour factory and shows viewers the grind behind the glitz. She’s at her snarling-best in this picture. Sass mouth dame all the way.

 

Constance Bennett: A Star is Born on the Stairs in What Price Hollywood? (’32)

By: Megan McGurk

By 1932, hundreds of girls arrived in Hollywood each week looking for the opportunity to make a screen test. While they cooled their heels, George Cukor gave them the playbook for how to nail one in What Price Hollywood? In his first masterpiece, Constance Bennett plays Mary Evans, a waitress in the Brown Derby, an ambitious woman who scans the glossies for style tips between Garbo impressions and fine-tuning her glamour-puss poses. When she finagles a plum director’s table, she not only scores a noteworthy entrance to a film premiere, she also wheedles a coveted screen test—through yodelling, rather than any tawdry manoeuvres under the sheets.

Mary’s screen test serves as a masterclass in acting craft. Every aspiring starlet in the balcony should have been taking notes. Lowell Sherman plays director Max Carey, a seasoned Hollywood hit-maker. He offers bare bones direction for Mary to descend from the middle of a staircase and deliver two simple lines to the actor standing at the bannister: ‘Hello, Buzzy. You haven’t proposed to me yet tonight’. Then she’s supposed to look and notice a dead body on the floor. To Mary and the audience, it seems like a snap. Do three little things (walk, speak, react) and then sign a contract.

Like Mary, the audience overlooks how many controlled actions need to dovetail with timing for a solid performance. An actor dilutes many isolated components down to one fluid gesture to appear natural. When Mary first attempts the scene, her shoulders graze earlobes they’re so hunched; stiff forearms hold clenched fists; heels pound each stair like a spade in parched soil; finally, two lines collapse into one, delivered at breakneck speed. Mary executes instructions without perception. Max’s pained expression tells the audience what they already know: she stinks.

Continue reading “Constance Bennett: A Star is Born on the Stairs in What Price Hollywood? (’32)”

Sylvia Sidney’s chicken in Merrily We Go To Hell (’32)

By: Megan McGurk

Of all the rotten things Fredric March does to Sylvia Sidney’s character—and there are many—the worst occurs when he ruins her chicken for a dinner party. Any woman under the sun would have grabbed him at the belt and tossed him out the window for that offence. But Sylvia Sidney, with a face like a Valentine, heart shaped and bow-lips, absorbs every indignity he dishes out. She’s the type of woman who’s won over so easily, viewers can only lament that she thought so little of herself. Fredric March, at the one-eye-squint stage of inebriation, nearly legless, woos her at a cocktail party with a vapid ditty:

First she gave me gingerbread and then she gave me cake. Then she gave me crème de menthe for meeting her at the gate.

As society heiress Joan Prentice, the simplicity of the song appeals to Sylvia Sidney’s character. She thinks it’s winsome when she should regard it as a metaphor for their terrible relationship. March’s Jerry will take and take from her without giving anything in return. During their first meeting, there are other signs she should have noticed, especially his assurance that he could talk about himself for hours. Or when he quips ‘all the signs point to three stars’ on the bottle of Hennessy cognac. By the end of their first conversation, he so pie-eyed, he ceases recognition and threatens a bellicose drunkard’s ‘Who’re you?’

Further evidence of how much he’s a scoundrel presents itself during their second meeting. Invited for tea, he arrives after everyone’s gone home and left poor dejected Joan alone, who had assembled gingerbread, cake, and crème de menthe like it was her heart on a plate for him to ignore and then smash. He says he doesn’t like women and ‘prefers the company of men’. Later, when engaged, he goes off the rails on a bender and passes out. Joan’s so humiliated that she leaves the engagement party rather than return without her finance. At the wedding, he has lost the ring and slips a pocket cork screw on her finger. At least he admits ‘I ought to be shot’ for losing it. As the plot progresses, he crawls back in the bottle and then in bed with another woman.

On every level, Jerry should be beaten, shot, buried, then dug up and set on fire for good measure. Yet amidst his narcissistic transgressions, the incident with the chicken remains most exasperating. On a platter for guests, golden brown and carefully dressed, the chicken represents the daily labour of an average wife. Above other dishes, the roast chicken signifies a hallmark of competent housekeeping.  Roast chicken isn’t fancy or expensive, but not everyone can turn out a tasty one. It must be seasoned, kept moist and browned perfectly. When done well, roast chicken demonstrates the cook’s probity through rustic, wholesome fare. If you bring a bad chicken to the table, you’re unlikely to succeed with anything more ambitious. I haven’t eat meat since Clinton’s first term in the Oval Office and I still make a darn good roast chicken. Poor Joan washed the bird, patted it dry, sprinkled it with salt and pepper and rubbed pats of butter under and over the dimpled skin. She kept an eye on it, probably basted it, filled the house with its comforting aroma. Her stomach growled when she thought about carving it at table. Joan’s skill and care baked into the little bird.

Continue reading “Sylvia Sidney’s chicken in Merrily We Go To Hell (’32)”