Friday, January 29, 2010

Sponsored by Mineralava

For Rebecca. 

standing there, gazing,
they all thought him a god -
eighty-eight ladies lined up like the keys
of a freshly tuned baby grand;

he was tired of music
(but too gracious to show it).

seventeen weeks of sweating and smiling
and barely a moment alone with his bride...

that night, at the garden,
he crowned one a queen,
the final note in
a minuet of merchandising.

Rudolph Valentino and the Mineralava Tour

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dedicated to Nate and Peg

Two little girls with the Talmadge name,
They were the furthest from being the same -
Drama was Norma, an elegant touch,
Comedy Constance (her nickname was Dutch).
One the sophisticate, a glamorous queen,
the other loved absurdity up on the screen.
Both girls were inseparable - beautiful, smart,
Supported the other's pursuing their art;
Successful yet grounded, with talent most ample,
It's shameful that others don't heed their example.

Norma Talmadge
Constance "Dutch" Talmadge

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help for Haiti

In light of the horrific devastation in Haiti, I'm forgoing this week's poem, and instead am asking my readers to help in any way they can.  Even if you don't have the money, at least spread the word.  The more people we can get involved, the better the chances for all those in need.

The Red Cross:

Doctors Without Borders:

YĆ©le Haiti:

Whatever your beliefs may be...pray for the people of Haiti.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Doctor Monica (1934)

Kay Francis suffers and looks fantastic doing it in this soapy drama about illicit love and its consequences. Yes, Kay dealt with love and loss in every picture, but there was a reason for that: no one did self-sacrifice as well as she did. You know what’s coming from the opening credits yet you still cling to her every word and expression. The ending was a bit too convenient for my taste – if it’d been me I would’ve liked Warren William to squirm a bit more – but it all makes for a pleasant little programmer.

I give this one:

A Discovery

Thanks to Amy Jeanne of It'll Take the Snap Out of Your Garters! for suggesting Dorothy!

Her name was Dorothy Devore,
I'd never heard of her before.
This gifted physical comedienne

Did two-reel work that raised the bar,
she was a WAMPAS Baby Star
of '23, though hardly its doyenne.

When some let others take the brunt,
she never shrunk back from a stunt
(as befit a darling of Al Christie).

Box-office leader in her day;
though dulled with time, I hear her say:
"I was the female Lloyd! How did you miss me?"

Dorothy Devore

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ladies of Leisure (1930)

This picture has Barbara Stanwyck playing her pre-Code forte: the hard-boiled girl with a heart of gold who gets the leading man (in this case, Ralph Graves) by the end of the last reel. My, but Stanwyck could speak volumes with her eyes. Each gaze holds a plethora of emotions almost too fleeting to list…but first and foremost is defiance, white-hot and fierce. She was nobody’s fool, but on the rare occasion that she could see the tumult inside her, the rage against her own heart. A snappy little soaper that is comforting in its predictability, and livened up in spots by the always-wonderful Marie Prevost. Fun Fact: Early directorial work of Frank Capra.

I give this one:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Downstairs (1932)

Oh, to be able to leap through time and plant a big kiss on Jack Gilbert for this one! He is deliciously deviant in this little gem about a chauffeur who leaves discord wherever he works. It’s a shame and true loss to cinema history that he didn’t make a comeback after this film (though, in all honesty, he probably wouldn’t have been well enough to handle it); he is in fine form, strong and handsome with a voice reminiscent of William Powell’s. You will love to hate him! This picture deserves to be known (and shown!) more than it is – and Gilbert deserves accolades for coming up with the storyline. Highly recommended!

I give this one:

Lady of the Night (1925)

Cute early Norma Shearer vehicle, pitting her “good” self against her split-screen “bad” self in a story of luxury vs. poverty (written in part by Adela Rogers St. Johns). The “hard” Shearer is delightfully over the top, the “sweet” one virginal to a ridiculous level; the whole picture is too trite a melodrama to take seriously, but it’s great fun watch Norma on her way to stardom. Fun Fact: during the scenes where the two Shearers embrace, a young Joan Crawford is Norma’s body double.

I give this one:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Golddiggers of 1935

C’mon along and listen to / the Lullaby of Broadway…

So begins the most memorable sequence of the film, the first appearance of this now-classic song accompanied by a strange, melancholy little story. It’s artistic and jarring and, unfortunately, the high point of the picture – they knew well to place this just at the end. The rest of the movie is tepid, the cast amiably marking time until said musical number. Dick Powell is his usual gosh-golly affable self, and while Gloria Stuart is no Joan Blondell, she does well opposite him. Not a horrid picture, but devoid of any real magic.

I give this one:

The Younger Generation (1929)

I may have to take back what I said about Lina Basquette. While still not what I’d consider a terrific actress, she deserves more credit than I’ve given her – especially after watching her tackle another emotionally taxing role and do it so well.

This picture is a moving examination of how the children of immigrants often rejected their cultures in order to assimilate and get ahead. Ricardo Cortez is good as the son trying to erase his Jewish heritage, but the film belongs to Jean Hersholt. He exhibits such quiet dignity, such familial pride and genuine love that, when shattered, his disbelief and pain stuns you. Basquette is very effective as Birdie, the daughter deeply in love and caught in the middle. Her suffering is very real and you ache for her.

“Generation” was made on the cusp of sound, and as often happened, contains some talkie scenes. Compared to the rest of the film they seem stilted, but that was par for the course at that time and does not hurt the picture as a whole. I defy you to watch Hersholt quietly singing to his as-yet-unknown grandchild with dry eyes.

I give this one:

Ben-Hur (1925)

From the beginning, DeMille proved he was a master of the epic film. A visual feast containing everything state-of-the-art for 1925: tinting, beautifully rendered title cards, enormous sets, even two-strip Technicolor. Ramon Novarro is the perfect choice to play Judah – his natural sweetness and purity shine through. But my favorite is the scene-stealing, glorious side of beef that is Francis X Bushman’s Messala. It’s a bit overlong, but this is DeMille we’re talking about, so all is forgiven. Recommended.

I give this one: