Don't forget to refer to my Contents page for a more convenient reference to past articles.

For More L.A. La Land, visit my writing/art/film appreciation site on Facebook at Quoth the Maven and follow me on Twitter @ Blahlaland. :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Two big Hollywood stars would meet Bette Davis back 
when she was an innocent ingenue... But that 
Bette didn't last for long.

Believe it or not, when Bette Davis first arrived in Hollywood, she was a much more demure figure than history recalls. An insecure, uncomplaining worker, she gave her all for long hours in ridiculous projects in order to make a good impression and hopefully carve out a niche for herself. With her self-esteem at a low, she would need time, experience, and box-office clout before she transformed into the demanding diva we all know and love. Also not popularly known is the fact that Bette remained a virgin until her wedding day-- a fact she proudly proclaimed in later life... before listing the names of her following lovers. Thus, young, unmarried, innocent Bette stood out like a sore thumb in her early days of Hollywood. Unaccustomed to men and unaccustomed to the business, she had a thing or two to learn. One evening, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. thought he would help her out.

On New Years Eve of 1931, Bette was attending a posh Hollywood party being thrown by Lois Wilson. She had hoped to meet some important people, schmooze, etc, but as shy as she was, she spent most of the night in a corner by herself. Doug (left), clearly drunk at this point, noticed the delicate, doe-eyed, cream-puff and swaggered over to her. In her eye-catching gown, with decolletage on display, Doug must have noticed the strange inconsistency between her shut-off demeanor and her come-hither gown. Clearly, this was a girl hoping for attention yet unable to play the Hollywood game-- i.e. use her sexuality to gain control. Thus, reaching into her dress and groping one of her breasts, he offered the following advice: "You should use ice on your breasts the way my wife does." His wife of the time, incidentally, was Joan Crawford. He then stumbled away. Bette was mortified! She rushed home in tears, terrified of this new place called Hollywood and its questionable inhabitants. She quickly wed her first husband, Ham Nelson-- a much more bashful fellow-- in an attempt at normalcy, but Doug's slurred words must have had some effect. Though she never had a penchant for ice, she got the underlying message, and slowly came out of her cocoon and became one Hell of a bulldozing butterfly. One wonders if she ever thanked Doug for the tip? One wonders if (sober) he even remembered giving it???

There are a lot of stories regarding the competitive relationship that Bette shared with Joan Crawford, which came to life fully in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? While Bette always craved Joan's star appeal, Joan always envied Bette's talent. Their conflicting egos would make the shooting of this particular film a tense affair. Coincidentally, it was their only collaboration. But, Bette actually had a more profound rivalry and deep-rooted hate-fest going with Miriam Hopkins (right). Interestingly, these two ladies crossed paths long before Bette's Hollywood days when both were members of George Cukor's theater company in New York in 1928. At the time, Miriam was the leading lady and Bette a mere featured ingenue. The tables turned and the mini-degrees of separation continued when Bette starred in Jezebel, a role that Miriam had brought to life on the stage. Bette then had an affair with Anatole Litvak, Miriam's husband, who directed her in The Sisters. By 1939, when the two ladies starred together in The Old Maid, there was definitely some animosity. Bette wanted to play both of the lead roles herself, as a dual force phenomenon, but failed to convince production. Miriam was cast opposite her instead. Afterward, Bette would recall Miriam as being a great actress but a "total bitch." Of course, Bette conveniently forgot her tryst with Anatole, which was a major factor in Miriam's hatred. On the set, the ladies continuously tried to out-do each other, as they later would in Old Acquaintance. Bette would conspire with the director and keep Miriam out of the loop; Miriam would over-act and position herself so that Bette couldn't steal the frame. When it came time for Bette's character in Old Acquaintance to shake the daylights out of Miriam's character, there was little acting involved. Yet, because the two had such history together, it made their performances opposite each other much more intricate and believable. Some frenemies go waaaaaaaay back.

Two other Hollywood ladies were 'old acquaintances,' but in their case, there was genuine friendship. Back in 1922, Mae Clarke (left) was dancing with a slew of other hopeful young women on the stages of The New Amsterdam Theatre in New York as a part of the illustrious "Ziegfeld's Follies." Her roommate and fellow high-kicker during this time? Barbara Stanwyck. The two were close friends with mutual aspirations toward fame, fortune, and getting the Hell out of a compromising lifestyle. At the time, they were living above a laundry with a third roomie, Walda, trying to eek by. Later they all moved to the Knickerbocker. In Barbara's memory: "I just wanted to survive and eat and have a nice coat." Happily, both Mae and Babs would shimmy their way out of NYC and come to mutual acclaim in Hollywood. Barbara's personal ambition was a little stronger than Mae's, so she would enjoy a lengthier and more memorable career, though Mae's roles as gangsters' molls also give her a safe place in cinematic history. Certainly, when the two pals crossed paths in Hollywood, years after their youthful, scantily-clad beginnings, they must have shared a laugh about the old days and how far they had come. Despite the pain of those years, Barbara always remembered them with fondness, most probably because of the bonds and alliances she shared with so many young women experiencing and trying to survive the same circumstances.

When Veronica Lake came to Hollywood at sixteen, she had mixed emotions. On the one hand, she was in a place where dreams allegedly came true and where some of her screen-heroes came to life. On the other hand, she wasn't sure about all this acting jazz and wasn't too happy about her mother's plans to push her into the spotlight. Her experience in Tinsel Town would go down in history as one of the most tragic examples of the monster celebrity machine, but there were too some good days. One of these days occurred when Ronni and the family-- including her mother, stepfather, and cousin-- first pulled into Los Angeles in 1938. Famished after a long trip, they stopped to eat at a drive-in burger joint. Suddenly, another car pulled beside them. Casually glancing at the driver next-door, Ronni's jaw hit the floor when she saw that it was one of her idols: Anne Shirley (right)!!! She tried to play it cool, but she was overcome with excitement. Ronni watched Anne scarf down a burger with as much attention as she gave to any of her films, then sighed as the starlet drove away. Funnily enough, Ronni would later work with Anne in Sorority House, although Ronni played a measly extra in the film. Ronni never had the courage to tell Anne about their shared lunch, but she did muster the strength to introduce herself and express her gratitude at being able to work with, or at least near, her. Anne was a doll, and wished Ronni much luck in her career. The wish came true when Ronni became the peek-a-boo girl of the movies.

Carroll Baker's career-changing trek to Los Angeles was equally illuminating. When in flight for her first meeting with George Stevens regarding a possible role in Giant-- one she inevitably got-- Carroll was killing time with a little reading. She had just wed Jack Garfein, and in order to become more accustomed to and appreciative of her husband's religious life, she had brought The History of the Jews along for the ride. As her eyes flicked from page to page, she heard a voice: "What's a shiksa like you doing reading The History of the Jews?" Carroll looked up and her eyes bulged. It was Danny Kaye (left)!!! Not only that, but he was flying with famed director Mervyn LeRoy! The two men shared chuckles over her choice in literature and then got to talking. When she mentioned the Giant offer, Mervyn wished her luck, but Danny offered a warning: "Go back!" Concerned for the young girl, after having endured his share of sleaziness and back-stabbing in Hollywood, Danny continued with the fatherly advice, urging Carroll that Tinsel Town wasn't "for everyone." Carroll took the information to heart, but at a young age, she had already encountered more than a few harsh life lessons and felt ready to take the plunge regardless. After some personal hurdles, she certainly may have wondered whether she should have taken Danny's advice, but in the end she conquered both her demons and Hollywood, becoming one of the most memorable performers of the "Method" generation.

Some celebrity meetings are less exciting, if only because at the time, the mutual stars don't know that they're stars: they're children. When Louise Brooks (right) was growing up in Cherryvale, KS, she was already sporting her notorious Buster Brown haircut and exploring the world of dance, but she lacked all other indications of her later splendor-- save maybe her "devilish" personality and an early fascination with films. At the age of four, she was just a young-un, enjoying her youth, playing with neighborhood kids, and getting into the usual bits of trouble. Of course, her childhood was not an easy one, including familial tensions and a tragic experience of sexual abuse that would definitely shape her protective, defiant demeanor. While part of the neighborhood band of kids, she somehow still seemed on her own, separate, and a bit puzzling to her contemporaries-- one of whom was Vivian Vance, the lady later known as Ethel Mertz on "I Love Lucy." At the time, Vivian's last name was still "Jones." She and her sister Venus lived across the street from "Lulu" and they were all close chums, though the sisters often had trouble keeping up with Louise's never-ending energy. They also knew not to come between Louise and her fudge. No one, but NO ONE, ate Louise's fudge. In later years, few would even think to put Vivian and Louise in the same category, but in their youths, Venus would recall that Louise's passion for dancing mixed well with Viv's already well-honed comedy skills. Who knew that the Queen of the Silent Screen was once BFFs with the Princess of the TV set?

Vivian Vance... reminiscing about her Cherryvale and 
"Brooksie" days?

Friday, July 20, 2012

LALa Update

Just a little FYI for my handful of devoted readers:

One, I was recently and most graciously "stamped" by fellow blogger and film enthusiast Danielle Carvalho with the "This Blog is Perfect" award. Needless to say, I am flattered and also embarrassed, considering the imperfection of my blog, which I realize is constantly riddled with typos-- have you ever tried to proofread something after staring at it for countless hours? Thanks a million to Danielle for the honor. Be sure to check out her own superb writing and commentary on cinema in the following blogs:

Also, the Film Classics Community is running a great contest for writers and movie fans, including a Writing Contest-- featuring an entry by yours truly-- a Video Tribute Contest, and a Colorization Contest. To secure your place in any of the competitions, go to the site and contact the owner. Move fast, because the spots fill quickly. Aside from the prestige, there are prizes-- movie-themed of course-- which any film buff will enjoy. Stay tuned for the results! (

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TAKE ONE, TWO, THREE: Love's a Bitch

It takes a lot of strength to survive one's life. It takes even more courage to live it. Each man's journey from adolescence to adulthood is marked with pivotal moments of chance, insurmountable road blocks, and distracting temptations. All of these things work together to guide one through his own personal life experience and educate him from the boy as whom he started to the man he will become. There have been many novels that have communicated the "long day's journey into night," but one of the most interesting and consequently important in Hollywood history is W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. In his description of the nakedly bare and flawed life of Englishman "Philip Carey," the reader is forced to ask what it is that "binds" us in life and to it. What ties us to certain people, what holds us back, what sets us free? And how do we overcome any of these restraints to reach a place of semi-solidarity and happiness? The answer: live. Life will teach you how to grow up, though the voyage will not be easy, particularly once love enters the picture.

Of Human Bondage 'entered the picture(s)' in 1934, followed by two re-makes in 1946 and 1964. In each version, a large portion of Philip's life tale and early childhood is omitted, and the plot revolves more concentratedly around his first, most intense, and most damaging experience of love with the cold, coquettish conundrum, "Mildred Rogers." Maugham makes his leading man a representative of all men, but increases the intensity of his personal life struggle by giving him a physical handicap: a club foot. This serves not to evoke pity from the audience. The club foot is never a club foot-- it is a physical representation of man's emotional insecurity, which hampers his ability to advance and to mature. It is a ball and chain of self doubt. Mildred is another such malady-- the ugly side of man's desire, which holds him back from true love and binds him to his own self-indulgent torment. Philip's battle with Mildred becomes his battle to overcome his own demons and the dissenting voices in his head that tell him he is subhuman. But breaking these bonds is not easy, and  they are never fully escapable. One can't forget the past but simply move from it, accepting the ugliness one has suffered and inflicted to survive.  The real bonds are those that tie boy to monster to man, and they shall be connected always. The difference, Maugham suggests, lies in which side you allow to do the leading.

Sounds like a great story. Roll cameras!

As in most cases, the original offering is also the best. The 1934 casting is superb, the performances are legendary, and the direction of John Cromwell uncovers and translates the themes of the book in such an intelligent and direct fashion that Maugham's world, while in black and white, is still reflective of all the shades and colors of natural disaster. Leslie Howard (left) is cast as Philip. Handsome but not masculine, his frail physique is further hampered by his noticeable limp. In body and soul, there couldn't have been a better choice for the leading man. Leslie's Philip is romantic, emotionally immature, and feeble, but his weaknesses are balanced by his armored intellect and posture. Throughout the film, Leslie remains very still in an effort to remain composed and controlled. This intensifies the desire in him, which the audience waits expectantly to see reach a boiling point. Yet, Leslie's Philip is the perfect villain, only ever a villain to himself.

The film opens on Philip, who-- almost as soon as the film begins-- is metaphorically castrated before the audience. First, his dreams of being an artist are crushed when he is told in no uncertain terms that he lacks the talent to be a true genius. This presents another Maugham theme: Pragmatism vs. Idealism. In life, it is pragmatism that almost universally wins out, and youthful folly is consequently left behind. So, Phil is immediately told he is not one of the "special ones" who can live his dreams. He decides to become a doctor instead: useful to his fellow man. During one of his medical labs, he is confronted with a little boy who too has a club foot, and his instructor humiliates him by having Phil remove his own shoe so that the other students can compare his mutation with the young patient's. This is his physical castration.  Before he knows it, he is at a restaurant trying unsuccessfully to flirt with a waitress, Mildred, on whom his friend has a crush. Mildred is hard, ambivalent, and completely immune to Phil's charms, despite the fact that she is-- as his friends make clear throughout the course of the film-- nothing but a "low class whore." In addition, she is not beautiful. At best, she is attractive, at worst-- as Phil himself says-- she's "anemic." Yet, to be shunned by such a low, uncouth specimen is doubly humiliating, resulting in Phil's final castration-- a sexual one. Physically disabled, deprived of passion, and now romantically inadequate, Phil has suffered three strikes within the first ten minutes. He's out.

This feeling of inferiority is what binds him to the equally inferior Mildred-- played by Bette Davis in her star-making role. Phil exits the restaurant, and Cromwell's camera follows his disfigured feet as they walk away and return full circle back to Mildred. Set against the intense and melodramatic score, the message can't be missed: it is Phil's handicap and his own definition of himself as a "cripple" that keeps bringing him back to Mildred, who in turn is a social cripple-- a cast away. In effect, the two are perfect opposites. Both are low, yet both assume that they are just slightly superior to the other. Mildred quickly identifies Phil's handicap, and Bette brilliantly lets a look of embarrassment flash over her face before she laughs it and him off: "Pft." That 'pft' is all Phil will ever mean to her. He is "fine." He is a "gentleman in every sense of the word." But, he is no man.  Bette brings life to her offensive antagonist with closed-off mannerisms and avoidance. The detail she uses is hypnotic, including the way she uses her eyes. Her stony indifference and lack of eye contact is her protection (see right). She only looks at Philip with strategy-- studying him and his weaknesses when he is not watching, or seducing him with a look just enough to keep him caught in her web when his gaze is fixed on her.

The man that a girl like Mildred wants is the one played by Alan Hale: "Emil Miller." He is gruff, masculine, and financially secure. He even gives advice to Phil at one point, because they are both after the same thing-- sex with Mildred. The suggestion is that Emil has no qualms about sharing Mildred as a sexual partner. But then, he is a caveman, which coincidentally is the advice he gives to Phil-- be more manly. But Phil is not a "man's man." He is a dreamer, a poet, a romantic-- these are the tools of his escape. Mildred is a realist-- the tool of her escape is her body. Cromwell displays this brilliantly in the direct to camera shots he gives both actors. They sip champagne, and through Phil's eyes we see Mildred in romantic, soft lighting, with big, enticing eyes (left). Mildred's view of Phil is different: she sees a desperate, frail rodent to play with. Mildred may not be smart, but she's not stupid. She knows her limitations as a working class woman: either sleep her way into the marital bed with a man who can support her, or wind up on her back supporting herself. Thus, it is only to Miller that she will give her laughter and smiles, because he is a worthy risk. Still, she plays with the continued affections of Phil as security, in case her current investment with Miller doesn't pay off in matrimony. It is this sexual power that places her above Phil in her mindset.

Phil, in his mind, is higher than Mildred in intellect and class. Though his youthful ideals of a life of beauty in art were foiled-- "it is better to be a good butcher than a bad artist"-- he is now on track to become a doctor. He has recognized that he will not be special, so he has decided to be useful. He is at least going places. Mildred is going nowhere. She, like him, is a reject. This makes him want her. She is perhaps the only woman low enough to accept him. Thus, he follows her around like a puppy, begging for kisses and not receiving them; asking for dates and receiving only Mildred's noncommittal "I don't mind..." The relationship is doomed to fail because both are seeking freedom in domination. The harder they struggle, the more they tie themselves to each other, and the uglier they become. Phil struggles to obtain Mildred, to prove his virility as a man, and to flatter his vanity as a man of higher class. He insults Mildred's ignorance from time to time, just as she insults his lack of sex. He desperately follows her, spies on her, just as she desperately chases Emil, whom she eventually tells Phil that she is going to marry. The news devastates Phil, then sets him free. Or so he thinks...

When one is hurt and brokenhearted, the instinct is to turn to one's mommy. This the orphaned Phil does by turning to the more mature and maternal affections of dime novelist "Norah." In the role, Kay Johnson (right) is heavenly, supportive, and affectionate. With her total devotion and love, Phil regains confidence, he passes his medical exams, and wonders what the heck he ever saw in Mildred. The answer: sex. His relationship with Norah cannot work, or else it would become Oedipal. This is a fact Cromwell makes apparent when Norah comes looking for Phil after a long absence. She leans her head against the door, trying in vain to be sexy, but her eroticism falls flat. It feels like incest. Phil can't test his virility on a nun, after all. Thus, their relationship remains fond but asexual. Norah pines and plays the love-sick pup giving all to the man who can give nothing in return. He doesn't really want her, and when Mildred re-enters his life, he easily leaves Norah behind to try once again to conquer the whore. The angst of youth instructs one that love and pain are the same thing, so Phil departs to cut himself on Mildred.

Unfortunately, Mildred comes to Phil as her surrogate father figure, to ease her pain and heal the wounds she has suffered. Phil is her Norah. It turns out, Mildred never married Emil, because he already was married, but she is pregnant with his child. The cripple in Phil, who doesn't believe he deserves happiness, takes Mildred in. He pays for her room and board and the birth of the baby. It is a self-lacerating act, but when his penance is done, he hopes to have a grateful Mildred on her knees in contrition for his divine acts. No dice. While desperation has temporarily softened her, Mildred has no passion for Phil. She falls instead for his more sexually adept friend, "Griffiths" (Reginald Denny). Phil puts Mildred in the same room with the suave Griffiths just to test her, to see if she will take the more appealing bate, and perhaps to punish himself further. The result is as expected. Mildred and Griffiths hit it off. Phil begs Griffiths to leave Mildred to him, and later tries to insult Mildred's sexuality by saying that Griffiths doesn't give a damn about her. Mildred stops this diatribe quickly by waving a love letter from Griffiths in Phil's face-- castrating him once again. Phil reacts by calling her "cheap." She slaps him! But, in her eyes, Phil has grown a little taller. He has used the one word that demeans her and puts her below him. He has found the source of his own power, which was not his fragile kindness but the kind of masculine hatred reserved for disposable females. Mildred's face for the first time grows panicked. She apologizes. She backs out of Phil's life and into the arms of Griffiths, who like any respectable man uses and discards of her quickly. Her second gamble again fails to pay off, as did Phil's gamble on her. Watching Bette cry on the harsh Denny's doorstep, while he callously tells a policeman to take her away, is a damning and moving piece of film.

Now a little wiser and loveworn, it is time for Phil to leave sexual immaturity behind and become a family man. Enter his latest patient, "Thorpe Athelny," (the convivial Reginald Owen) who is indeed a husband and father. He breaks bread with Phil and extends legions of fatherly advice, including the gem: "Don't marry a lady." He essentially bolsters Phil's internal need to rise up and become the conqueror and not the conquered. The fact that he introduces his daughter "Sally" (France Dee) to Phil and encourages a romance between them too implicates that Sally, while much more polished than Mildred, is equally 'not a lady' (all three left). Fairly uneducated in anything other than domestic chores, Sally will make a good wife-- a support system/servant lacking in the defensive venom of the love of youth. (Feminists could have a field day with this, but I won't go there today). Another thing that attracts Phil to Sally is her fortunate attraction for him, enhanced by the fact that she is quite pretty and apparently has a slew of men who are interested in her. To obtain such an admired flower would do wonders for his self-esteem. He knows this. But, his insecurity still holds him back. He is bound to the Devil in his ear-- the one who is afraid to grow, who is afraid he can't hack it in a man's world. Just so, Mildred's voice calls to him in the dark and summons him back to her rooms. He goes.

Mildred is an official whore now, making money the only way she can. She has become increasingly socially crippled with years, just as Phil has continued to grow out of his impairment. The reason could be that Phil learns from his mistakes, accepting his faults as he surpasses them. The reason too could be a simple one of sexual politics-- at this period of history, a woman had fewer options in life, and none if she broke the rules. Mildred's attempt to sleep her way to the top has thus left her in the gutter. Again, Phil takes Mildred in, partially as a result of his own guilt over the fact that it was abusive men like himself who pushed Mildred into the dark corner in which she now lives-- he may not have taken advantage of her, but had he been born a man with Griffith or Emil's virility, he surely would have, as he did countless times in his mind. He too is testing his own strength, and indeed, Phil has outgrown her. Her sexual powers no longer work on him, try as she may to seduce him. 

Mildred plays her last card, and throws herself sexually at Philip, 
a "fine" but inferior man.

Mildred is affronted by the nude drawings that Phil uses to cover his walls-- mementos from his art days. The idea that his eye could be attracted to another female form threatens her power. This presents a slippery theology: man must make whores of certain women in order to make Madonnas of others. The role both sexes play in this game is self-fulfilling, self-flagellating, and sadistic. Again, Phil has survived, because he has the option-- men have the great luxury of being untainted by sex. With Phil's final refusal of her, Mildred rages against him. Bette lashes out as a caged animal (in the scene that should have won her the Oscar). While her Mildred is dirty, selfish, and cruel, it is the world that made her this animal. Her human education was her undoing. One can't help but empathize with her, to scream, "Hell yeah!" in chorus with her final eviscerating act-- of telling Phil that every time he kissed her she would wipe her mouth!!! A refusal from one even as low as she, and Phil is suddenly left feeling like a small, vulnerable child again. Yet, watching her lose control is like watching the tormented beast of his own character. He pities it and is able to let it go, because he understands it.

After Mildred trashes his apartment, cuts his paintings to ribbons, and steals his money, Phil is forced to drop out of medical school yet again. But this final confrontation with Mildred has erased any last question he could have about the path he must take. Left with nothing, he has nothing but himself. It is time to grow up. Not coincidentally, just as he cuts Mildred out of his life, he has his foot operated on. He too has the continued devotion of Sally. Physically and romantically, he is remade. He has but to establish himself in the working world-- acquire a new passion-- and he will have overcome all of his prior castrations and arrive fully into manhood. After a brief spell of poverty, he obtains a job as a window-dresser-- a touch of the old artist. His uncle dies, leaving him money, and he is able at last to return to med school. Here, he says goodbye to Mildred for good-- she has died of syphilis. The shot of Bette's corpse, a total wreck of a woman, is one for the ages (right). 

Phil's plan to practice medicine abroad is forgone now, for he has no reason to run away. The temptress is dead. He opts to remain in London with Sally and marry her. With nothing holding him back, he is a man ready to be united to her woman. Why? She does not bind him with anything other than affection. In this, he has freedom and thus the freedom to love her of his own volition. We know this because, she initially tries to reject his proposal, fearing he says it only out of "obligation." The film leaves out a tasty bit of trivia here, which is that, in the book, Sally believed herself pregnant with Phil's bastard. To remove this unacceptable truth, the censors replaced the characters' dialogue in this final scene with the beeping of car horns. It is awkward, but well informed readers know what is being said beneath the honking: Sally, it turns out, is not pregnant. Phil is therefore free to do as he chooses, and he chooses Sally-- a nice normal girl, not a lady and not a whore.

The themes of dreams and illusions versus the demands of life are a large part of the tale, wherein Maugham mixed a lot of his own personal doubt about his craft and shame of himself as an artist. The passions of youth versus the responsibilities of adulthood are also examined, with the bittersweet notion that one must surrender divine hope to obtain happiness and security. Mildred reached too high, pretending to be a first class citizen, when she was meant to be human driftwood. Phil, in time, accepts his mediocrity and makes the most of it. His triumph, thus, is his acceptance that he will not triumph, but merely live as a serviceable man, and a man most of all-- one who has survived youth and quieted with time the childish voice of sexual deviance and impracticality. His existence is still a compromise, a cage in many respects-- a windowless room without impossible dreams-- but he fears it not, because he has chosen it.

~     ~     ~

I will devote less time to the other two films because, a) they follow the same plot with minor changes, and b) both fail to live up to the expectations put forth in the original. In 1946, Edmund Goulding was brought on as director. Though a well-respected filmmaker who produced many a quality movie, he was left with conflicting pieces of a puzzle that fail to fit together properly. The casting at first glance seems perfect. Eleanor Parker (left), a gutsy actress in her own right, seems to fit well into the ideal of Mildred. Like Bette, she is attractive, but not a knock-out. Willing to take chances and get ugly, her characterization is unapologetic and demoralizing... but too much so. She seems to be working so hard at out-doing Bette that she misses the soft nuances, sensuality, and vulnerability that made Bette's Mildred so human. Eleanor's appearance too-- bravely going without make-up-- is commendable, but so drab is her appearance that she blends with the sets, and the audience is left with no conceivable idea as to why Phil is interested in her. And why would he be? He's Paul Henreid! Paul is far too sophisticated and handsome (and too old) to be playing the role of Philip. His seductive foreign appeal works against him, as he is completely unable to metamorphose into the desperate weasel that Leslie created in the earlier film. When he tries to make love to Mildred, it chafes the skin. You keep waiting for Ingrid Bergman to walk in and whisk him away, or for him to light up a cigarette and say, "Auf Wiedersehen, baby."

The supporting cast, however, is strong, but we see too little of them. Alexis Smith appears at the beginning of the film as Nora, and she is so full of life and smarts that she actually presents a better player opposite Paul's Phil (right). They become friends, or acquaintances at least, before Phil even meets Mildred, and one assumes that the story is going to alter from the original: Phil will wind up with Nora, his good friend, who stuck with him through thick and thin. Not so. Nora does play a large part in his life up until about a third of the way through the film. Then she abruptly disappears, never to return. Her beauty and presence are palpably missed in the remainder of the drab picture. Patric Knowles also makes a good representation of Griffiths with his boyish good looks and charm, presenting a less menacing presence than Reginald Denny in the first film, but he is also used too little. Edmund Gwenn is another saving grace as the father figure Athelny, but his advice to and guidance of an already mature Henreid is ridiculous. His efforts seem forced, and the teacher does not fit the pupil. All in all, these interesting periphery characters are not utilized properly enough to give the film room to breathe or come alive. So much time is wasted on the moodiness of Phil's misplaced brooding that I honestly had trouble staying awake. Goulding mires the pictures in a dark atmosphere, eliminating the lighter qualities of Phil's whimsy to elevate the story. I wanted Phil to kill Mildred, or Mildred to kill Phil, but that clearly does not happen in the plot.

Another problem that effected the outcome was the editing. Apparently, the studio cut the film so much that whatever positives there were in the original were lost to the cutting room floor, including a supposedly heart-breaking death scene by Eleanor-- a too often forgotten and normally superb actress. The bits and pieces remaining are so clumsily strung together and hard to follow that the film becomes a wasted opportunity. The film is not so much about Philip's voyage to personal and sexual maturity as it is about why one should never try to re-make a classic.

This is a message that Ken Hughes failed to receive when he made his attempt at another adaptation in 1964. Despite its failings, one can say that this offering is at least superior to the '46 version. Hughes (with a little help from Henry Hathaway and Bryan Forbes) opens the film in a devastating fashion-- and I mean that in a good way. We start on Philip as a young boy still in school. He is violently bullied by his classmates, who ridicule him for his deformity. It is always painful to witness a child being tormented, particularly one with such an obvious handicap, and the scene is a moving way to open a piece that we are led to believe will revolve around the tortured little boy still living inside Philip. Next, the opening credits roll upon the backdrop of sculptures... Sexual ones. Naked men and women of stone wrap around each other, tear at each other, and exhibit ecstasy and pain. We see in this all of the beauty and danger of love. We also are led to believe that the movie is going to be much more about man's sexual nature-- again, feeding that external beast to quiet the whimpering boy within. Does Hughes follow through? Yes and no.

Hughes fails to live up to his promises, but mostly because the studio clearly muted him. They didn't want this artistry; they wanted a block-buster. The film becomes too polished and overridden with the star system mentality. Phil is played again by a man far too composed and handsome for him: Laurence Harvey. Working in Laurence's favor is his intensity, but he is playing, in this version, too vanilla a character for all of his dark layers to come out. He seems to be trying too hard to control his instincts as an actor. Whereas in '46 you expect Paul to bow and exit for better prospects, here you expect Larry to bitch-slap Mildred and have his naughty way with her. He slaps her at one point, but it is less than effective. Mildred is played this time by Kim Novak. Kim is no Bette Davis, but to her credit, she knows it. She doesn't seek to replicate or improve upon Bette's previous interpretation of the role, but makes it her own. Whereas Bette saw Leslie's club foot with contempt, Kim sees Laurence's foot and feels genuine pity. Her Mildred is light, sexy, and by all accounts kind. She lets Philip make love to her, because she feels sorry for him. The script is indeed more steeped in sex, and this time Mildred openly seduces and sleeps with Philip. It is her way of saying that she is "sorry": sorry he is crippled, sorry she ran off with someone else (twice), sorry she was born with this irresistible body, etc. Her character's transformation becomes a bit more fascinating to watch, because her original, playful intent to give Phil a kick with her flirting and charm transforms into her desperate hold over him-- the only man she can really count on.

However, in the end, Kim is too damn nice and too damn pretty. While she makes the role something different and more suitable to her gifts, she does not make her Mildred Maugham's Mildred. The supporting cast this time is strong but not as interesting as in past versions, minus perhaps Siobhan McKenna as an older Nora, of whom you wish to see more. The whole film seems almost to be occurring in Philip's head, with Mildred representing the sexual parasite he must exorcise in order to embrace the again too pretty Nanette Newman as his bride Sally. The studio clearly wanted one film-- a romantic one, which is enhanced by the musical score that does not fit the tone at all-- while Hughes wanted another one-- a film tormented and realistic. The compromise reached does not satisfy the audience. While the film is enjoyable to watch, once it is over, I wasn't certain what it was about.

Bette's "shoulda-won-an-Oscar" moment.

That being said, I think it is clear that one should look to 1934 for the most sublime version of the film, if only for that one moment where Bette really lets the she-wolf out and cuts Leslie down to size one last time. While the film revels more in sexual themes and themes of love, one should also look to the book for further analyses of man's struggle against and for the meaning of life. One important fact missed and not utilized in any of the films is an analogy one of Philip's friends makes between a Persian carpet and this search for "meaning." Philip fails to connect the dots for the majority of the book until he banishes Mildred and all other selfish acts of youth from his mind. He finally sees that in life one must seek to "make a design, intricate and beautiful, out of the myriad, meaningless facts of life: had he not seen also that the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children, and died was likewise the most perfect? It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories." Mildred represents a very intricate part of the pattern of his life, one powerful, visible, and permanent. She is a part of the fiber of his being now, but woven with the other threads and stitches, she is harmless and unthreatening. Her ugliness has become a part of his life's beauty. To remove her completely, would be to leave a hole in him, and certainly a gaping one in our cinematic history!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

PERSONAL NOTE: Talkin' 'bout My Generation

Holly-would-if-she-could... But will she???

There is something magnificent about watching the way cinema has grown, traversed, and metamorphosed over the years. Flickering images without agenda became visual poems to the human condition; these poems became harsh, reflective realities and calls to action. We have over time had a consolation in our personal upsets, frustrations, and fears that our unified voices were being represented by a medium at times silent, at times loud, but always brilliant in its communion.

Where did that beauty go?

 I have dissected the dissolution of Hollywood's previous majesty in past articles, (most particularly in YouTube Killed the Movie Star), so I will not repeat past assertions. The world has changed, we have changed, and it only makes sense that our most powerful artistic venture changed with us. In a way, we have outgrown film, or at least outgrown Hollywood. The appeal, fanaticism, and excitement is not as palpable nor as necessary as it once was. Its accessibility renders it obsolete; our own narcissism dilutes its usefulness. With so many actors, directors, venues, and products, films are now mere topics for conversation or happy distractions rather than monuments to our race. In a strange way, movies are like they were in the beginning: random, nonsensical pieces of action, without real purpose, haphazardly thrown together to reach the populace. (Arrival of Tongkin Train was no masterpiece). I accept this. The difference is that early film was made out of fascination and a drive for creativity-- movies made for the people. Today, movies are contrived, recycled standards adhering to the tested and approved structural staples that have made cliched products of what was once a movement brimming with integrity. This, I cannot accept. 


My reaction to this phenomenon has been a painful one. Anyone who knows me associates me with one thing: film. My entire being is wrapped up in it. God knows why... That's just the way my mind was geared and where I eventually landed. Movies were my safe place, but moreso they were a place of inspiration. Just like reading a good book or seeing a great play, watching a powerful, well-made film makes you want to live-- fully, richly, passionately, ferociously, romantically, exponentially. It makes you want to be more than you are. It makes you want to be better. Yet, the original adrenaline rush and sense of hope that I once felt while settling into my seat at the theater has been replaced by a case of the doldrums and low expectations. I am tense as the credits roll-- please let it be good-- whereas I once merely sat back and waited for intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual elevation to set in. I savored the feeling of the wheels of my brain cranking, my heart's pulse racing... My eyes were once wide in eagerness. They are now half asleep with indifference.

Perhaps this is a result of my own personal maturation into adulthood-- the old camera tricks don't work on my (hopefully) more developed mind. But, I think the issue lies deeper. If I have aged, there should still be offerings on the silver screen to represent me. There are not. Ah. There it is. The problem. I and my generation have no voice on the silver screen. We are mute, brain-dead, plastic, disconnected. I sit in the theater and think, "Where are my people? Where are my stories?" I grab my throat, I clasp my chest, I try to scream-- but no sound. Silence alone echoes, accompanied by blank stares and enhanced by a brigade of either easy, go-to, sexualized scripts lacking in depth or Action Movies by Numbers 1,2,3... There are brilliant moments, there are some laughs, but the soul is missing. The movies are not talking to us anymore, and thus they are not talking for us.


In every generation of film, there are movies that come to represent the strange tension that occurs when the youth generation inherits adulthood. For my grandmother, it was Rebel Without A Cause. For my parents, it was The Last Picture Show or The Graduate. In some way, the movies were describing the current tide, reflecting society's inner mania and confusion. Images, dialogue, and pretty or not-so-pretty faces, represented our need to resist versus our need to acclimate. We yearn for independence, adulthood, freedom, yet fear the restraints that come with it. Our stories were interpreted many times over, and (gasp) they never got old, because they explained us to ourselves in new ways-- in ways that we all understood, because we were going through it separately but together. Movies correctly translated what it meant to be alive in every era during every era. We grew up and in the movies. The movies were us. We had a voice.

Where did that voice go? While perhaps a director like Quentin Tarantino represents us well in terms of style-- blending genres, fast-paced, head-splitting, dialogues and super-charged visual stimuli--he is too specific in his storytelling. He is an entertainer, an illustrator, but not an orator. He tells us not so much who we are, but who we want to be in our fantasies or nightmares. While I can watch his films or Nolan's or Finch's and be moved and see pieces of myself, I do not see myself in toto. This is criminal. For, without a voice, what will my generation have to pass on? What legacy leave behind? The only genre making an active commentary is comedy, via the always current and satirical "SNL" or "South Park," but somehow this is not enough anymore. The joke isn't funny anymore. Not to me. When the generations to come look back at "my time" and see only "Jersey Shore" and Magic Mike, what will they think of me? They won't. They will see only a fracture in our creative process: the dark age of celluloid. But is this dark age permanent? Or can we somehow salvage the once proud Ark that has become a sinking ship? Is there a J.D. Salinger waiting in the wings to carry the weight of our consternation?


My greatest frustration is that this, despite the at times existential hysteria that seems to be exhibiting itself, is a fascinating time to capture and lend voice to. The World is changing before our eyes, and there is so much to comment upon-- so much we gain technologically and socially, and so much that we seem to be losing. We have Facebook, which connects us to people we call 'friend' but with whom we cannot hold a conversation in person. People don't date anymore, or call each other on the phone with an awkward vocal exchange. Instead, they break-the-ice on, etc.The standard of living and the expectations of familial structure have changed as well. The totems of spouse, children, and home make way for latent adolescence and extended periods of "finding ourselves," yet this liberating freedom only serves to cripple us. Without these staples in life as necessary pillars marking our ascent and success, how do we know that we are succeeding? What does it mean to grow up anymore? How does one thrive without structure, or money for that matter? People keep looking to government and politics to give us answers, and Republicans and Democrats keep frothing at each other for the almighty solution, but the truth is that the world can't be fixed. Once you fix it, it changes yet again. It becomes something else. That something else soon needs fixing. The problem is us. So who are we, and why isn't anyone talking about it?

Our issue is that we have too much, or had too much, and the wide open world has become a terrifying vacuum. With a world full of "stuff" there is little room for people. We enhancingly become dehumanized, and thus our movies reflect it. There are no humans in Hollywood. There are super-heroes, super-models, or trusted two-dimensional character types. I could deal with this back when it was the exception and not the rule, but when I look around me and don't see any vestige of humanity, it becomes a terrifying contradiction. The flesh and blood of our craft has drained out, because we don't know how to talk to each other anymore. If modern cinema is saying anything it's " bluuurrrrgh..." Or am I the only one who feels this way? So again I ask, "Where are my people?" There are talented people out there, working, making decent films. We aren't creatively handicapped-- we're amazing in our innovations. It is our message that is scrambled. We are speaking the wrong language-- one that is either sentimentally clinging to the past, acid-tripping on a streamlined future, or mumbling gibberish between pieces of popcorn about our current, artistically undernourished (and apparently unapologetic) present. Our apathy and adherence to the concepts of dollars and cents and classic story formulae has become that knife stabbing our own backside.The more silently we sit, the more we drive said knife in deeper.

And yet, "none of me "aka No.

What is the solution, you ask? I think we have to storm the battlements. In this case, I make a call to action to my brethren who seek to resuscitate a dying medium. We have to take the studios down by using our own creativity against their statistics and test audiences. We have to want more, demand more, and most importantly do more. It is no secret that Hollywood is out of ideas, that every film out there is a tweak on a homogenized concept already produced ad nauseum. The big guys need our help-- what they possess in drive they lack in vision. They don't know what we want anymore, and they're too scared to take a risk on a new visionary, because what is "new" hasn't been tested. Thus, the only venue we can use to get to them is the independent film: the auteur's way of saying, "Can you hear me now?" While studios can't see past the nearest buck, WE can. If they won't take a gamble on us, WE can. Just because they won't listen to us doesn't mean we can't sass them back. Hollywood didn't know what to do with some of its greatest contributors of all time-- Bette Davis, or Greta Garbo, or Rudolph Valentino. These individuals crafted their own art , defied convention, succeeded, and then the studios took the credit. Therefore, the power has never been in studio hands. Nor is it now. The power lies in us. So, instead of standing around like cattle in an open field not going anywhere, let's at least start moving again. We're overdue for a pilgrimage. 

These may sound like the mad ravings of a lunatic in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and that I can't deny. In fact, I agree. I am at my wit's end. I confess. But I won't go down without a fight. I won't let Twilight be the lasting commentary on my generation. Where is my generation's Scorsese? Where is my Wilder or my Kramer? Where is Noel Coward or Nunnally Johnson? WHERE IS BRANDO? I know you're out there. I don't mean that we should make replications of these past geniuses. That is part of the problem. Hollywood keeps trying to recreate what worked before, but what worked before is useless in the present. We need to dip into the pool of "now." We need to introduce new artists who, most importantly, are people and not products. The only thing that the public has consistently latched onto anyway is authenticity. We want what is different, not the same. Can you hear me now? The mainstream media tries to refute this. They say to make it in Hollywood you have to "play to game," but we are all losing. This game has no winners. Let's stop playing. Let's talk to each other. Let's  talk  to  each  other. A society without forward motion, without progress, is no society at all. It is a bowl of festering fruit. We are the Gods of our own creation, so let's not leave it up to the number crunchers anymore. Why leave our souls at the door, if our souls are the only things worth communicating? Let us make movies in our own images again. Let's be interesting. Let's be invested.  Can you hear me...? Can you hear me...?

... and we're wasting them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Bette would wield her riding crop mightily in

James Cagney believed that any actor worth his salt knows how to pepper his performances with "goodies"-- little bits of physical business that add flavors and layers to his characterizations. Subtle movements, ticks, or off-beat choices can take a flat featured role and turn it into a scene stealer. In any case, the difference between an actor who uses 'goodies' and one who doesn't is the same as the difference between an actor who fills out a role and one who simply walks through it. Some of the greatest movie stars of all time possessed commanding presences and pretty faces, but the best of the best were the ones who added a little seasoning to their already palatable onscreen dispositions. Here are a few acting dishes served up hot, which in less adept hands could have left some of cinema's most classic scenes as bland as lima beans.

Bette Davis is recalled as a first rate character actress who, by the way, was one of the only women in history to maintain this station while becoming a movie star. Her attractive but generally imperfect features set her apart from her contemporaries from the get-go, but her talent was able to surpass industry expectations by making her a box-office queen. In other words, for once, substance won out over superficiality-- no easy feat in Hollywood. In addition to her natural command and hypnotic presence, Bette had dance experience working in her favor. While watching her films, one is particularly aware of the way she uses her hands. She often relied upon finicky, twitched movements in the fingers to communicate her characters' inner turmoil while maintaining an outward, stone-cold countenance. In time, her use of various techniques would become less focused, but particularly under the guise of William Wyler, she put her gift for physical communication to great effect. When working on Jezebel, for example, William wanted Bette to create a signature move to indicate who "Julie" was to the audience. This was a puzzle. How was Bette to impart Julie's willfulness, sensuality, and brazenness in one stroke? It turns out, in one stroke was just how she did it. So, the first time the viewer is introduced to Julie, she hops off a horse, grabs the train of her habit with her riding crop, and seamlessly lifts it up over her shoulder. Now we know that Julie is a force to be reckoned with: a lady with the grace of a southern belle and the cocky impudence more readily acceptable in men. After this swift move, Julie carries on with her obstinacy, walking right into a social gathering still in her riding breeches. Bette took an inconsequential moment and made it a monument. From her first appearance, her character is solidified, which makes her undoing throughout the remaining course of the film even more fascinating to witness. (Bette and William enjoy lunch between takes, left).

Another director Bette enjoyed working with was Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who was known for getting supreme performances out of his leading ladies... and then some. In Bette's case, it was all business, and there was indeed one particular bit of business in their collaboration All About Eve that quickly and effectively cut through the armor of her theater diva "Margot Channing" and got to the woman beneath. This is where Joe's genius into the female psyche came into play: the only thing more important to a woman than love... is chocolate. He put this knowledge to good use. During the pre-party scene, Margot is already feeling threatened by sickening sycophant Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who seems to be wheedling her way into Margot's love life and stealing the attentions of her lover, Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill). When Margot descends the stairs, she interrupts the laughing Eve and Bill, and her insecurity as a woman is even further enhanced (see right). Eve departs, and Margot and Bill bicker. Bette was concerned about this-- her first real confrontational scene in the film-- and asked Joe: "What can we do so that it's not just a talky scene?" Solution: during the ensuing argument, Margot keeps pacing past a jar of chocolates, eying them, reaching for them, and denying herself every time. Finally, as the fight reaches a crescendo, and Margot is left unfulfilled and without reassurance from her distracted lover, she gives in and pops a chocolate into her mouth: ahhh, comfort. Since Margot is also an actress, Bette's contribution of the chocolate dance is doubly effective. An actress's body and appearance is particularly important. Since Margot's fading youth and good looks play a large part in Eve's usurpation of her theatrical throne, this moment of chocolatey bittersweetness is all the sweeter in that it indicates Margot's almost accepted decline. If everything is going to Hell anyway, she might as well take a cue from Marie Antoinette: "Let them eat cake!" Or in this case, cocoa.

Spencer Tracy was the king of characterization. Another performer who maintained his stardom while giving his all as an actor, Spence gave his roles many touches that elevated them beyond robotic line-readings. So effective and underhanded were his character choices, that he often stole the scene right out from under his fellow co-stars, including Claudette Colbert, who recalled acting her heart out in Boom Town only to find herself overlapped by Spence's adept subtly. While her ego was certainly bruised, her respect for Spence only grew. Myrna Loy and Clark Gable would also recall another act of celluloid robbery on the set of Test Pilot (left). It should be said that Spence's acting intuitions were also working hand in hand with the welcomed spirit of hijinks and one-up-manship he and Clark enjoyed throughout their working relationship. Spence was well aware of the fact that he was playing second fiddle to Gable's obviously handsome leading man. BUT, that didn't mean that he had to let Clark steal his thunder. Thus, he devised a plot to draw more attention to himself. During a scene in which Clark and Myrna had a back and forth going, Spence ran an approved idea past director Victor Fleming. Instead of just sitting there like a bump on a log during the scene, he would crack nuts. So, Myrna would say a line-- "crack"-- and Clark would say a line-- "crack." This way, while Spence's BFF character would normally be overlooked, he managed to continually draw the camera's attention to himself. This act of acting genius was also star strategy... and it worked. There Spence was, doing nothing but cracking nuts-- and simultaneously busting Clark's balls-- and he managed to steal the scene. Thus, tawdry pages of dialogue became much more interesting and comical.  The only character anyone pays attention to in the scene is Spence. Nutty, huh?

Spence's lady love Katherine Hepburn would also enjoy a superb cinematic moment, though the thanks for this "goody" goes to her director, George Stevens. Kate wasn't known for being a sex-kitten. Her previous roles and her demeanor may have insinuated a certain amount of girlishness, but sensuality certainly wasn't listed as a top priority in her acting. This is all part of what established her unlikely "type" in the business, but when it came to Woman of the Year, it was sex in particular that Stevens needed to sell. In order to get the audience to believe the affection and attraction between Spence and Kate in their first film together, which had to sustain the entire plot of the film, Kate was going to need to loosen up a little. The chemistry of the soon-to-be real life lovers was already present, but just because Spence was falling in love with Kate, didn't mean the rest of America would. George got an idea! Because Kate's character, "Tess Harding," was supposed to be a brainy take-charge female-- like herself-- the casting was perfect. Yet, the crux of the plot is that underneath all of her smarts and her controlled exterior, there is still a warm-blooded woman. Thus, George decided that the first time Spence's "Sam Craig" sees Tess, he wants there to be a palpable turn-on moment to humanize the otherwise cold, scholarly lady. He asked Kate, therefore, to show a little leg (right). Kate was reticent, but when Spence opens the door to an eye-full of Kate's gam, the look on his face says enough to express what no screenwriter could put into words. From the get-go, Sam wants Tess, and now the audience knows why. With their relationship immediately sexualized, due to Tess's accidental burlesque, the audience can empathize and understand the couple's continuing erotic pull toward each other.

Humphrey Bogart was not known to be a "ham-bone." The closest he ever came to comedy was his turn as the curmudgeonly "Charlie Allnut" in The African Queen. However, cinema's favorite tough guy did allow his sense of humor to guide him in the right direction from time to time.  When shooting The Big Sleep, Bogie was set to do a scene in which his detective, "Philip Marlowe," goes to a used book store to hopefully loot information on his current case. Suspecting that the store is actually a front for less savory business practices, he decides to barge in and test the saleswoman's knowledge about literature. She, in turn, fails to impress, and Marlowe emerges just a little bit closer to solving the mystery. Yet, when rehearsing, director Howard Hawks wasn't satisfied. He wanted the scene to go differently, but he was finding it difficult to articulate just what was wrong with it. It was too "stale." Bogie suggested mixing it up a little. With that, he decided to do a little character acting. He flipped up his hat, put on some glasses, and trudged into the store, not as the hardened Marlowe, but as slightly nasal, totally prissy book snob. As he pulls his glasses down and interrogates the saleswoman on their stock-- of a third edition of Ben-Hur 1860 most particularly-- his mannerisms deliver just enough humor to lighten the heavy tone of the film for a moment and indirectly show us a softer, more affable side of the hard-boiled detective: "You do sell books, hmmm?" (see left). Two birds; one stone. The moment still stands out superbly and humorously from the rest of the film as a result-- you kinda want to see the pompous book-monger again.

Howard Hawks was always looking for creative contributions like these to add more life to his films. One of his favorite actors to work with was Cary Grant. Cary was an adaptable actor, always eager to try pretty much any suggestion in order to improve a scene. During the filming of His Girl Friday, Howard and Cary were looking for a way to relay the exasperation that Cary's character, "Walter Burns," is feeling in reaction to his stressful work at the newspaper in addition to the absolution of his marriage to Rosalind Russell's "Hildy Johnson" (right). Cary would go through the scene and repeatedly deliver his lines and bits of comedy without a mistake, but Howard wasn't satisfied. It was, in his words, "pretty dull." Again, there was something missing. He and Cary conferred, and Howard suggested a vocal goody. Howard had a friend who used to "winnie" like a horse in moments of perturbation. He wondered if Cary would find the same exclamation palatable for his character? He did. And so, when in the world of fast-talking newspapermen (and women) words were not enough, Cary would burst out with a high-pitched "neigh" of irritation. It became one of his trademarks, and he used it on other films when he needed to convey the same overwhelmed demeanor.

If any actor new how to round off a character, it was Lon Chaney. Most recalled today for his macabre and horrifying performances, earlier in his career he had a great deal of success portraying the underhanded "heavy." Due to his textured performances, his con-artists, bruisers, and deviants, were totally believable on the screen, making him an intimidating cinematic presence. As he was always committed to telling a story honestly, he had no qualms about portraying a villain through and through. In doing so, he lived out the dark sides of his audiences, which made them respond to him all the more heartily-- ironic considering how sinister he could be. One example comes in Outside the Law. At the beginning, Lon's "Black Mike Sylva" (left) is plotting with his accomplices, including Wheeler Oakman's "Dapper Bill Ballard," about his latest caper. At a local dive bar, they smoke, sip drinks, and plan away. When the game is set, the trio of thugs rise from the table, throwing down some dough for the swill. As they depart, Black Mike exits last and very stealthily swipes the tip from the tabletop and pockets it! In one swift movement, Lon has told the audience just how dishonest, selfish, and underhanded Mike is going to be. He spends the rest of the film living up to the reputation.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a strange movie in cinematic history. A B-movie potboiler, it is more remembered today for being Kirk Douglas's first film as well as one of Lizabeth Scott's first performances. However, the majority of the plot revolves around Barbara Stanwyck's conniving "Martha" and her prodigal childhood sweetheart "Sam Masterson," played by Van Heflin (both right). Van must have realized from the beginning that this film was not of stellar caliber. A quickly made noir, the film was built to sell tickets not alter the shape of the universe. As such, the only way to amp up the quality was in the acting. Van layered his character with his usual dose of charm and masculinity, but to denote Sam's playful and restless side, he also contributed another gag. He would, throughout the picture, roll a coin between his fingers. It became his character's nervous, boyish habit, and at the very least added a little visual stimuli to a movie that turned out to be a bit of a snooze-fest. Van would recall that Barbara was delighted the first time she saw the trick. A seasoned pro herself, she appreciated Van's extra effort. However, after complimenting his digital dexterity, Babs looked him in the eye and said, "Any time you start twirling that coin, I'll be fixing my garter. So be sure you don't do that when I have important lines to speak." No, Babs wasn't going to fall for that gag-- no one was stealing the scene from her! Thus, Van kept his coin out of Babs's scenes, and she kept the audience's attention!

And so, these Hollywood hotshots took the acting road less traveled by... and that has made all the difference.