Old movies

Jul. 3rd, 2017 11:10 pm
ivyfic: (Default)
[personal profile] ivyfic
I've been listening to the You Must Remember This podcast, which is "forgotten stories of Hollywood's first century." I can sell this podcast as she reads all the out of print celebrity memoirs so you don't have to. The result of listening to this is I've ended up with a passel of old films to watch.

I've listened through two of her seasons, Dead Blondes and Six Degrees of Joan Crawford. Prior to this all I knew about Joan Crawford was Mommie Dearest. So I dug up some of her films (and by "dug up" I mean you can find almost anything on streaming nowadays).

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Watching this film, I can't help but feel like the whole problem would have been avoided with appropriate handicap accessibility. It's a solid psychological thriller that apparently inaugurated the "psycho-biddy" subgenre (which the internet assures me is a real thing). What I find most amusing about it is that when it initially came out, it was rated X in the UK. It's now rated the equivalent of PG-13. It speaks to a certain innocence in films in 1962 that this could be considered an X.

Daisy Kenyon
Joan Crawford gives great melodrama. In this film from 1947, Joan Crawford plays a working woman involved in an affair with a married man and a relationship with a WWII vet with PTSD. It interrogates some of what it meant to be a woman in the immediately post-war era, but is mostly interested in the melodrama of the love triangle, where everyone's damaged and complicated and there's no obvious answer. As I would say in my book reviews when I didn't know what else to write, if this is the sort of thing you like, then you'll like it. In other words, if you want to wallow in melodrama, check it out, but it's otherwise pretty unremarkable.

The Women
A movie that poses the question: is it possible to fail the Bechdel Test in a movie that only has women in it? The answer? Very nearly. This is a movie about one woman, Mary, finding out that her husband is having an affair with a shop girl (played by Joan Crawford). As there are only women in the film, that means the entire emotional aftermath of this is orchestrated by and played out against other women: the gossipy socialites who pretend to be Mary's friends but really want more scandal to keep themselves entertained, the eavesdropping servants, and the conniving other woman. This is a film of moral absolutes: the wronged wife is a saint, the other woman is a bitch. Its gimmick means that it sometimes contorts itself to keep men out of the cast--like the climactic fight between man and wife in which she asks for a divorce is related by the maid to the cook, as the maid breathlessly runs up and down the stairs to hear more of the fight so she can then narrate it to the cook. This also means that when it comes time for Mary to sort out her relationship with her (now ex) husband, she does it by getting catty and tearing down a bunch of other women, including one who was a friend of hers and never did anything to hurt her. I suppose having the men be passive prizes to be one based on women's interactions with each other is novel, but it also means that it's other women who disrupt marriages and must be fought, and not, you know, the cheating husbands.

The lesson of this movie, from 1939, is that Mary lets her pride get in her way, and when she found out her husband had an affair, she should have kept her mouth shut and done nothing about, rather than being a "modern" woman and insisting on a divorce. Also, women are awful. That's the moral. Which makes me wonder why in the name of god this was remade a few years ago. I can take overwhelming sexism in movies made 80 years ago. I have a hard time watching it in modern films.

Also, I had to pause this movie in the middle and do research in wikipedia because the plot had suddenly become incomprehensible. About halfway through the movie, she gets on a train to Reno that is filled with other women getting divorced, and then goes and lives on a dude ranch. Wikipedia tells me that, at the time, Nevada was the only state in the nation with no fault divorce, and in order to take advantage of this, you had to live there for six weeks to establish residency. Hence the dude ranch. They called it getting "Reno-vated." The movie was based on a play that was written about the author's actual experience getting divorced. Which doesn't make the sexism better? But maybe more sympathetic.

The other thing about this film is that, for being in 1939, all the women in it are disgustingly wealthy. When they throw around price tags ($100/hour therapy, a $225 nightie) I looked it up and found that that's around $3,000 and for the nightie. For the height of the Great Depression, excuse my lack of sympathy for the cat fighting of these women. (Yes, there's a literal cat fight, too.)

~*~

From the dead blonde series, I watched the following:

I Married a Witch
Though this is only a little over an hour, gosh it feels longer. Veronica Lake plays a witch who tries to seduce the descendant of the Puritan that imprisoned her to enact her revenge. Then she accidentally drinks her own love potion and falls for him. And he marries her cause...they need to stay overnight at a hotel with only one available room? No really, that's the reason. The innkeeper's husband happens to be a justice of the peace. Then Lake proceeds to magically get her husband elected governor because voter fraud is hi-larious. The highlight of the film is the witch's father, who keeps turning into a puff of smoke then hiding in rum bottles, which leads to him being too inebriated to remember any of his curses. This movie is a thing that happened.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
This Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell film is a classic for a reason. It is delightful fluff to watch. And its ultimate message is that gold digging is perfectly legit. Monroe's winning argument to her would-be father-in-law at the end of the film is that wanting to marry a rich man is like wanting to marry a pretty girl: it's not necessary but it helps. In other words, if guys want to buy it, she's got no problem selling it. It comes across as vaguely feminist, but only for the time and only if you assume the patriarchy will never change. It seems to say the only valuable thing about women is their looks, so get everything you can while you've got 'em. Yay?

Sullivan's Travels
This is an odd one, and one I'd had recommended to me elsewhere. Filmed in 1941, it's about a movie director (Sullivan) that wants to make a great epic about the suffering of the poor titled O Brother, Where Art Thou? If you're scratching your head over that title, the Coen Brothers took it from this film.

The first thing that happens is that Sullivan's studio execs point out to him that he can't possibly do a film about the poor because he's been successful all his life and doesn't know a damn thing about being poor. Sullivan decides they're right. So the solution is to get a hobo costume from the costuming department and go out and find "real trouble." Everyone tells him this is a terrible idea, including his two butlers, who point out that poor people don't particularly appreciate being used as a costume.

First attempt at giving up his privilege:
He immediately discovers that he is being trailed by a bus sent by his studio, containing a press corps, a chef, and a doctor. He attempts to lose them and hitch hikes--telling the driver he'll go wherever. The driver drives him straight back to Hollywood. Depressed, he sits in a diner feeling sorry for how hard it is to get lost, and meets a washed up starlet played by Veronica Lake. He's so moved by her story that he offers to drive her wherever she wants to go. He then runs home to his mansion and takes his car. He's arrested for theft shortly thereafter, and calls his butlers to come bail him out.

Second attempt at giving up his privilege:
This time, he gets his butlers to call up the rail yard, ask when the next freight train is leaving, and if they would be so kind, to tell them how hobos jump on. The butlers then drive him and Veronica Lake to the place where the hobos are, and they jump on a train. Immediately on spotting authentic poor people, Sullivan asks them how they feel about the state of the economy, and they get up and leave the car. Sullivan and Lake jump off the train the next morning and go to a diner for breakfast, where Sullivan discovers he's lost the one dime he put in his pocket. The owner gives him and Lake free donuts because they look hungry, and Sullivan is so moved by this act of kindness, he runs out to the bus full of people from his studio (yes, it's still following him), and asks the journalist to write about the wonderful generosity of this restaurant owner and to give him a hundred dollars. The journalist grumbles that doing this will bankrupt the owner ("he'll give out free donuts to every bum and never hit the jackpot again"), but does it anyway. (The journalist is right.)

Third attempt at giving up his privilege:
This time it seems to work, and passes in a montage of food lines and homeless shelters, though the photographer from the studio is always there to document it. It's about as authentic as Undercover Boss. Sullivan and Lake get to the point where they contemplate eating out of a garbage can and decide that they've had enough "trouble," call the whole experience a success, and chuck it in.

At this point, only an hour of the movie has passed, so I was very confused as to what they were going to fill the last third with. I was not disappointed.

As the studio is calling this the most sympathetic, generous thing anyone has ever done for his fellow man, Sullivan decides to reward the poor he learned so much from by handing out $1,000 in $5 bills (about $90 today) to random homeless people, cause that's how you solve poverty.

This goes about how you'd expect it. Meaning that a homeless guy robs him.

Then the film goes crazy town.

Sullivan, unconscious, is dragged into a train car. The homeless guy then gets hit by a train. Sullivan wakes up in a train yard in some distant city, seriously concussed, and is yelled at by a policeman for trespassing. He reacts to this by picking up a rock and clubbing the guy repeatedly. He's arrested, convicted of aggravated assault (we see the policeman in the court room, heavily bandaged), and sentenced to hard labor.

Meanwhile, Sullivan's friends are looking for him. They hear about the man killed by a train, but he is too mutilated to identify. Fortunately, the studio remembers that they sewed Sullivan's name into the soles of his shoes. And wouldn't you know it, the dead body is wearing those shoes. (Which is quite a feat, as we saw those shoes get stolen several scenes before the mugging, but whatever.) They conclude Sullivan is dead.

Sullivan ends up on a chain gang in Louisiana, loudly protesting that people like him don't get thrown in jail for assault. So, attempt number four to give up his privilege works, and Sullivan doesn't like it at all.

This is the state of affairs with five minutes left in the runtime and I was seriously baffled as to how they were going to wrap this up. You could leave him in jail and have it be a statement about privilege, but for as loved as this film is, I doubted that would be the case.

And it wasn't.

Sullivan decides to get his picture in the paper by confessing to his own murder. And it works--Lake recognizes him. Next scene, he's being welcomed back to the studio with open arms. Nevermind that actual assault he actually committed. When Sullivan said people like him didn't go to jail for crimes like this, he was apparently correct.

The film ends with him saying that he will not make O Brother, Where Art Thou? because he hasn't suffered enough to understand it. He concludes instead that poor people do not want to see their troubles on the screen, they just want to laugh.

The end.

On the one hand, this is a really good analysis of privilege and how hard it is to give up, even when you ostensibly want to--after all, Sullivan retreats to his safety net over and over again whenever he hits a bump in the road. On the other hand, I don't think they meant to say that?

So yeah, it's a good movie, and you should check it out. But it's a bit through the looking glass for its tone versus its content.

Teacher's Pet
I also watched this, because it was on Netflix. It's a Clark Gable/Doris Day romantic comedy, and if you are thinking that Gable is old enough to be Day's father, you are correct. The plot is that Gable is an old-school newspaper man and Day is a newfangled journalism teacher. Gable enrolls in her class under a false name in order to humiliate her and show her that teaching journalism is futile. And then they fall in love. And that's a happy ending, we are told? Skip it, skip it, skip it.

Date: 2017-07-04 05:23 am (UTC)
giandujakiss: (Default)
From: [personal profile] giandujakiss
Hah, this was fun to read - and you'll find in a lot of old movies, going to Reno is slang for divorce. If you're still interested in following along with Joan Crawford, I'd recommend Mildred Pierce. (at some point I might have to do some kind of "sacrificing mothers from the Golden Age" thing comparing Imitation of Life, Mildred Pierce, and Stella Dallas).
Edited Date: 2017-07-04 05:26 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-07-04 06:29 pm (UTC)
yourlibrarian: JamesWhoa (BUF-JamesWhoa)
From: [personal profile] yourlibrarian
I find it's sometimes more entertaining (and informative) to read someone's review of something than the thing itself. I never knew that about Reno (though I expect it would be a definite thing for Hollywood types, so common knowledge there). And I agree with the ugh all around about Teacher's Pet.

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