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

Joan Bennett, Artist: ‘They’ll be masterpieces’

By: Megan McGurk

Whenever an article talks about a New York ‘It’ girl, I automatically figure they must mean Joan Bennett. She did not match her sister Constance’s fame or salary, but because she flew a bit lower on the radar, she earned a cooler status than Constance could reach. Something in Joan’s wry manner—aloof but keen, a tell-tale squint that indicated missing glasses and bookish habits, along with an imperviousness toward Cary Grant’s mugging in Big Brown Eyes and Wedding Present (both from 1936), suggest a woman who knew her onions and could navigate any encounter with surefooted nonchalance. Joan Bennett, with her boarding school education and theatre denizen bona fides from a family tradition on the stage dating back to the mid-19th century, seems like the type who has read books you don’t know, owns records you don’t have, and hangs with people who would never invite you for cocktails.

By strange coincidence, Joan Bennett boasts more credits featuring plots about artists than any other women of the silver screen, probably since she manifests a bohemian sensibility that naturalises close circles with the brush and palette set. Cast next to characters who paint, she looks a dab hand to assume an artist role, and even appears more convincing in the creative role.

Despite the misleading title of Artists and Models Abroad (1938) which applies a loose definition of ‘artist’ to connote the stage rather than garret studio, if the film had concerned painters, viewers would assign the role to Bennett rather than her co-star, Jack Benny. Fans of woman’s pictures discern an equanimity Bennett possesses as the hallmark of an artistic temperament. Benny doesn’t look like he could be quiet or stand still long enough in front of an easel to finish anything. And how many socialites ran off to Paris to study art over the years? It would have been a plausible script for a plot that flounders except for a stunning makeover sequence.

Continue reading “Joan Bennett, Artist: ‘They’ll be masterpieces’”

Rosalind Russell’s Power Move in the Dressing Room for Take a Letter, Darling (’42)

By: Megan McGurk

A fitting room seems an unlikely backdrop to stage a display of female power, except the one in Take a Letter, Darling (1942) will blow your socks off.  Rosalind Russell looks as powerful half-dressed as Louis B. Mayer was in a suit seated at his gigantic white desk at MGM. Since a changing room represents gender-divided space as much as the powder room, it serves as the perfect setting to rattle Fred MacMurray, whose character works in a subordinate position as Rosalind Russell’s secretary. Society dictates that men are not allowed, unless they wear a measuring tape around their neck and pin cushion on their arm. Perhaps the director, Mitchell Leisen, recognised the dramatic potential fitting rooms held after years of experience in fashion design. He created gowns for Gloria Swanson, Natacha Rambova and Mary Pickford to wear onscreen. He continued to design (often uncredited) throughout his tenure as director, making clothes for Marlene Dietrich in The Lady Is Willing (1942), Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark (1944), Paulette Goddard in Bride of Vengeance (1949) as well as Rosalind Russell for Take a Letter, Darling. Leisen’s proximity to women in fitting rooms behind the scenes informed his perspective behind the camera, which helped cultivate a sensitivity for what it was like for women who tried to get ahead in a man’s world. Leisen knew how women reveal themselves during intimate moments between costume changes. He also understood that an imperious woman maintains her aura, even when starkers in front of a mirror.

If men in charge repair to the steam room, golf course, or club to mix business, a lady boss unwinds as she chooses frocks to entertain clients. Rosalind Russell’s A.M. MacGregor runs a crack advertising firm while her partner (Robert Benchley) fritters away his time on novelty office games created for the man who has everything (golf putting, puzzles, ring toss, you name it). MacGregor’s concession to comfort in a hard nose pursuit of revenue falls to a pair of feathered slippers she wears around the office. When she learns of a shot at landing an account with a tobacco company giant, she rushes to Francesca’s on Fifth Avenue to equip herself with just the right sartorial lure for the CEO, a notorious woman hater.

When MacMurray enters the boutique, he initially compares with other men waiting for women to emerge from private dressing rooms in the back. Other men object when they hear MacMurray’s Tom Verney receive permission to enter number three. After all, if they’ve seen their wives change a million times, why should they be barred entry? In a whisper, the shop owner explains that he’s a secretary, which mollifies seated husbands, but Verney blanches and replies vehemently:

That’s a dirty lie!

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Gene Tierney’s Poor Appetite in Dragonwyck (’46)

By: Megan McGurk

Among the bits of business that actors must do on camera, eating proves one of the most difficult, far above the physical dexterity necessary for set pieces that include some athleticism. Maybe only love scenes appear more gruelling. When you’re wrapped up in the electric jolt of performance, something simple as the ability to chew and swallow seems nauseating, if not nerve wracking. I can’t stomach anything to eat before I give a lecture, so there’s no way I could handle a plate of food in the middle of one. No one eats better than George Sanders on film though. He somehow manages to take huge, gusty mouthfuls of food, which he enjoys unabashed, yet he never looks like a slob or a rabid beast, nor does he skimp on delivering his lines with customary caddish panache. He savours a chicken leg in Rebecca (1940) with so much elegance that you can almost see Laurence Olivier turn ashen at the sight of someone stealing the scene—all with a chicken leg stuck in his kisser. When Sanders plays a hedonist based on Gauguin’s biography in The Moon and Sixpence (1942), he takes a hefty piece of rack of lamb with his hands and strips the meat from bone in a few bites. It surpasses the culinary trick of peeling an orange in one piece, because fatty roasted lamb proves a great deal more slippery and juicy. He cleans the bone in seconds without pause or splattering his face and clothing. Had most actors tried that they would have resembled what viewers imagine Ty Power did to the chicken as the geek in Nightmare Alley (1947). Otherwise dapper men like Cary Grant take as few bites as possible in a meal scene. During the luncheon when he hosts the police inspector in To Catch a Thief (1955) he puts his napkin and utensils at rest after maybe three bites of quiche.

During the Depression, audiences saw plenty of women onscreen who sat with an appetite at table, who tucked into dinners they savoured when the next one was uncertain. Amid widespread hunger that culminated in bread lines and soup kitchens, circumstances permitted heroines to eat onscreen without censure. In Thirty Day Princess (1934), not only does Sylvia Sidney steal food from the Automat by slamming her hand against the display case holding a turkey leg and all the trimmings until it opens, she later uses a knife to shovel food in her mouth, much to the horror of straight-laced Cary Grant. For a woman with ‘prospects as high as the gutter’, she doesn’t have time to pay attention to table manners. She’s penniless and starving. She can’t get her fill fast enough.

After the 1930s viewers see fewer depictions of women enjoying food and more pretend eating in film. Marilyn Monroe wrestles with a candy bar in Clash by Night (1952) making it seem as though she’s taken a huge bite and has a cheek stuffed with chocolate, when it really appears to vanish in her mouth with just her tongue standing in for the treat. Instead of chewing the candy, she concentrates on licking her fingers, because I suppose men in the audience find more interesting. Monroe’s boyfriend echoes male displeasure at seeing women enjoy food when he first plucks the chocolate from her hands and warns ‘you’ll spread.’ Perhaps the worst fake eater award falls to Audrey Hepburn’s character in Charade (1963). She’s supposed to play a woman who eats her feelings, but meanwhile, it looks like she chokes and gags on each bite in an anorectic revulsion. Her arms rival match stick silhouette and her throat stretches paper thin from want. She’s the least likely binge eater in cinema.

Continue reading “Gene Tierney’s Poor Appetite in Dragonwyck (’46)”

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.

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