Friday, November 11, 2011

House Problems = Lack of Inspiration

Hello folks!  The last few weeks have been troublesome, to say the least.  Besides being very busy at work, I've dealt with plumbing problems, broken appliances, even squirrels nesting in the walls!  It's just been a lot to deal with and as such, FF&SS has suffered.  Please stick around though because I promise there will be some worthwhile updates.

In the meantime, please say a prayer or cross your fingers that things improve for us soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Buster Keaton: Parkour and Pathos

If you know me, you know that Buster Keaton is my favorite of the silent film comedians. He’s the Star of the Month on TCM (!) and I’ve been giddy as a fifth-grader at a Justin Bieber concert, pushing my poor rickety old VCR to grab up all the shorts and films I haven’t seen yet.

“But Jen,” you might be saying, “why such a soft spot for Buster instead of, say, Charlie Chaplin?”

Damfino, dear reader!

(But seriously, folks…)

I have great respect and appreciation for Chaplin as an artist, and I find Lloyd’s films very funny and extremely entertaining (he’s my second favorite), but my heart belongs to Keaton, and it all started with The Cameraman (1928).

I’d never seen a Keaton picture before, and had only passing acquaintance with a short or two, when the local art-house theatre advertised a screening complete with accompaniment by the wonderful Ben Model. Ooh, I couldn’t pass that up! I’d already seen Safety Last! that way and it was fantastic.

The lights dimmed, the piano thrummed an intro, and suddenly we were transported through the time machine of a little fellow with large, limpid eyes and a stoic expression. (And a surprisingly athletic body under all that baggy clothing!)

For those who haven’t seen it, The Cameraman is about a photographer who – after falling in love with Sally, a girl working for the newsreels (Marceline Day) —decides to ditch the tintypes, get himself a movie camera, and impress her. Sounds simple enough – until he gets embroiled in enough trouble for ten newsreels! It’s a lot of fun, especially the scenes where Buster and Sally spend a day at the swimming pool. But...there’s more to it than that.

A way I’ve taken to describing Keaton lately is parkour and pathos: he does his breakneck stunts—how that man lived to be as old as he was, I’ll never know—but there is also genuine love and heartbreak. Without spoiling it for newcomers, there’s a scene on the beach where you positively ache for him, the disillusionment and bitterness seeping out of his frame and keenly making its mark on the audience. It’s a powerful shot because we can all relate to what he’s going through at that very moment. (Though most of us don’t have a monkey filming it!)

This looked like a promising first picture under his new contract with MGM, but history sadly proved that not to be the case. Yet, even knowing it was the harbinger of a difficult period in Buster’s life, I still love this movie and consider it to be one of his best.

Simply put: Buster wasn’t just a comedic genius, he was an excellent actor. By the time the lights went up, I was hooked.

Since that day back in 2007 I’ve read and watched a great deal of Keaton and I have yet to be disappointed. Some of it might be hysterical (Steamboat Bill Jr, amongst many others) and some might be horrendous (Free and Easy), but it’s always worth the time. I can’t ever imagine becoming tired of him.

This year we celebrate his 116th birthday. Why not get one of his films or shorts and let him enchant you? I could make a starting suggestion… ;)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Thanhouser Twins

Madeline traced the raindrops on the window,
watching them branch into
separate little rivers
then run back into each other's arms.

The train lurched
and Marion grabbed her hand.
"We're almost there," she said,
"and it's your turn to quiz me."

Quelle est la couleur est le ciel? said Madeline.
Le ciel est bleu, said Marion,
their smiles spotless mirrors
as they pulled into the New Rochelle station.

The Fairbanks Twins: Marion and Madeline

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


In my reviews I often talk about the perfect “pre-Code ending”. What the heck does that mean?

In pictures made after the code, especially those in the Forties and Fifties, whenever someone was “bad” – most of the time a woman who enjoyed being sexually active – he or she was punished by the end of the film for his/her behaviour. Did she lure someone else’s husband into her bed? BAM! Hit by a train in the last reel. If there wasn’t a punishment, then there was a reforming – perhaps she renounced her promiscuity and left town, to start a new squeaky-clean life. Lesson learned.

Pre-Codes have none of this. Think of Red-Headed Woman: Lil acts like a whore, and yet she gets exactly what she wants by the end of the picture. She doesn’t become a nun or get hit by lightning. Things happen the way they happen in real life: sometimes, people act terribly, and yet nothing bad happens, or they’re even rewarded. Best example I’ve seen recently was the end of Employee’s Entrance, where Warren William just continues with his behaviour, not changing an iota of it even after it causes pain and shame to quite a few people. To quote an oft-used phrase: “it is what it is”.

I know someone’s going to bring up Female, with its cheesy and disappointing ending. Yes, it’s true that it doesn’t quite follow the pattern. All I can say is, watch the first half of the film; I think perhaps such a strong woman was a little too threatening for Hollywood, and they needed to tone her down somehow. Such a case is the exception, though, rather than the rule.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.Seneca

Friday, October 7, 2011

Street Scene (1931)

Let's play "guess which tenant they don't like"!

It’s summer, and the occupants of a tenement spill out onto the sidewalk in order to escape the heat. Conversation waxes and wanes, and everyone has their troubles…until one tenant’s problems envelop them all in a world of intrigue and, ultimately, violence.

I think the first thing that struck me about this picture was how modern it was, while simultaneously being a perfect snapshot of early 30s working-class New York. Every immigrant group was represented: Irish, Jewish, Italian, Swedish, each with their own quirks and stereotypes. The film is adapted from a play by Elmer Rice, and even though it retains some stageyness, it never feels static, thanks to the wonderful direction of King Vidor, In many ways, this film reminded me of a grittier, more jaded version of The Crowd, which he also directed.

Sylvia Sidney plays Rose, the oldest daughter of a couple on the rocks; Mom (Estelle Taylor) cheats with the milk money collector and Dad (David Landau) drinks too much. William Collier Jr plays Sam, the son of the Jewish family, raised by a long-winded Socialist father and a sister who tries to break him of his lifelong love for Rose. Both children are desperate to get out of the tenement but aren’t quite sure how…then Fate intervenes, and we aren’t quite sure for the better.

Beulah Bondi owns this picture with her portrayal of Emma Jones, the “mayor” of the apartment building and an informal narrator of sorts; it’s through her gossip that we learn the background of the folks living in the building, their heartaches and foibles.

This film was restored by the Library of Congress – the print can be a little scratchy at times but believe me, you will not even notice it. A gripping story with fine performances by all, and a slice-of-life ending that will keep you guessing.

(Something interesting I found out while Googling for pictures: Rice's play was also adapted into an opera/musical in 1946, with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Langston Hughes.  Catherine Zeta-Jones performed in a 1989 production.)
I give this one:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

OT Post -- but please read!

(Because I know quite a few of you are in school or have your own blogs...)

Do you need to write an essay, blog entry, or important email, but are having trouble wording it just the right way?

Help is here!

or comment here with your email for further details.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Birthday Buster!

Happy 116th Birthday to one of the most talented men to ever grace the screen (and my silent film boyfriend -- shh, don't tell Eleanor!).  I watched "The Boat" and "The Love Nest" last night and have more goodies waiting for me when I get home!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

This does not end well.

For lovers of pre-Code, this is somewhat of a Holy Grail. Not on DVD and shown infrequently on cable, I was thrilled to finally watch it – and boy, does it earn its reputation. Promiscuity, rape, violence, murder, intoxication, bootlegging: you name it, Temple Drake has it…including a very pre-Code ending.

The beautiful and sadly forgotten actress Miriam Hopkins plays Temple Drake, a party girl who one day runs away with one of her many, many boyfriends. An accident steers them off the road and into some really big trouble, from which Temple might never recover. How does she handle the changes in her life? How will she tell her family what’s happened? Will the man who loves her make her come clean about everything before an entire courtroom?

Hopkins is fantastic in the lead role, infusing it with enough fire and passion for two films, yet somehow never overplaying or inching towards melodrama. William Gargan is excellent as Steve, the man who loves her but loves justice more, and has to find a way to choose one over the other. But the man who steals the show is Jack La Rue. He oozes onto the screen as Trigger, the gangster who changes Temple’s life, and there’s never a moment where he isn’t genuinely menacing, the ever-present phallic cigarette dangling from his lips.

I think my favorite part is when Temple and Toddy, her flavor of the month, are forced to hole up inside a bootlegger’s shack. It is truly a house of horrors, and I will not spoil it for those who haven’t seen it; but trust me, it’ll give you the shivers. Florence Eldridge as the bootlegger’s common-law wife is chilling.

I really, really liked this – if you ever get the chance to see it, walk, don’t run.

I give this one:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Employees' Entrance (1933)

This picture can be summed up in one sentence: Kurt Anderson is a bastard.

His job as head of the Franklin-Monroe Department Store shows him to be a heartless taskmaster, planning to keep his store on top regardless of what –or who—comes his way. In this case, it’s Madeline (Loretta Young), whom he comes across camping out in his department store, waiting for an interview. He takes an instant liking to the girl, and with her sweet smile and giant, liquid eyes, who wouldn’t? She flirts with him, and suddenly his icy demeanour appears to melt…but the next day, he’s back to his soulless, whip-cracking self. However, satisfied with what happened behind closed doors, he gives the girl a job, where she meets an up-and-coming employee, Martin West (Wallace Ford), and the two hit it off.

Will Martin and Madeline end up together? Will he find out just how she got her job in the first place?  Will Mr Anderson’s stone heart ever crack? Will the store survive an encroaching financial collapse?  Will I ever stop typing questions?!

Employee’s Entrance is one of the perfect pre-Codes. It comes in with the frank bitterness only the Depression could spark; everyone’s on tough times and it shows in their attitudes. Everyone’s willing to tarnish their halo a little in order to eat. Alice White plays a particularly jaded woman who appears to be on the payroll purely to “entertain” anyone Anderson needs to be on his side, and is not only okay with this, she revels in it, happy to identify as company whore if it puts dollars in her pocket.

photo courtesy Immortal Ephemera

It’s a harsh film, filled with grit and sex and pain, and the end is what I love most about pre-Codes: there is no moral, no lesson learned…everyone just keeps on keepin’ on, as it were, with no treacly sentimentality to gum up the works. Warren William is a treasure, and better minds than mine have written about how priceless he was to these hard-boiled films of the early 30s; I can’t imagine anyone else in the title role. Loretta Young is luminous and emotional without overplaying; Wallace Ford wrestles beautifully with the horrors William dishes out with glee. Highly recommended.

I give this one:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Sorry folks!  Been dealing with some health issues and as such, have been neglecting FF&SS. 
Been working on some reviews, though, so stay tuned for those and for a Silent Stanzas poem about Eleanor Boardman -- all coming very soon!

I also want to take a moment to thank you readers and fellow bloggers for all you do.  You've been the bright spots in my day more often than I can say.  ^_^

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fairbanks and Chaney and Veidt (oh my)!

Catching up on some recorded movies while the cable's out (just don't spoil me on True Blood)!

First, we have

The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Most folks already know the mythos, since it's been remade so many times: a masked, Robin Hood-style character defends the common people against corrupt government officials.  Because it's such a familiar story, parts of it that were probably interesting in 1920 come across a bit dull.  However, and this is a BIG however, once Douglas Fairbanks takes over, it's anything but dull!  He plays Don Diego (the daytime alter-ego of Zorro) as strange and effete, constantly pulling little magic tricks in an attempt to impress Lois Lane Lolita (Marguerite de la Motte, who could pass for Dolores Costello).  Lolita is only there because her father wishes her to marry money, and finds Diego boring and awkward.  This only gets worse after a chance run-in with Zorro, who steals her heart.  Little does she know!  *wink wink*

This was the first time I got to see the legendary Fairbanks in action, and oh, those stunts!  Amazing!  At one point I wrote in my notebook "grandfather of parkour".  I was duly impressed by his strength and finesse.  (Hey, that rhymed!)
Silly little thing that I loved:  watch Marguerite de la Motte's hands in the closing scene.  Hee!

I give this one: 

Next one up is

The Ace of Hearts (1921)

A drama with an interesting premise:  a Secret Society exists to rid the world of those who make the world worse instead of better.  The soldier of the Cause, as it were, is chosen via a deck of cards - he who chooses the Ace of Hearts must kill "the man who has lived too long". 

The Society is composed of nine (in numerology, a number of completion) - one woman, Lilith (Leatrice Joy), and eight men, two of whom (Lon Chaney and John Bowers) are in love with her.  She feels no affection for anything but the Cause, until Forrest (Bowers) draws the "lucky" card.   She warms to him and they marry, much to the anguish of Farallone (Chaney, who is just heart-rendingly pathetic in his scenes on the steps).  Love changes a person, however, and suddenly both Forrest and Lilith are unsure of what they're about to do.  Will they still carry out the assassination?  Will Farallone help them, or will his bitterness cause a rift? 

I really liked this movie.  Yes, it was predictable, and hugely overacted (especially by Joy), but it was different than the usual "boy meets girl" plots, and the ending is terrific.   I especially enjoy when Chaney gets to play a man rather than a monster, and uses that beautiful face of his to tell the story just as well as when he's in prosthetic makeup.

I give this one:

The last film I watched before the power went out (of course) was

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

Aaaaaaand then the lights went out.

At the top of my notebook in big block letters:  CREEPY.

The plot has so many twists and turns that you will get dizzy (in a good way) so I will just say this:  Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss) has a booth at the annual carnival, presenting Cesare the Somnambulist (which literally means "sleepwalker", but in this movie is more like a zombie).  He sleeps day and night but is still able to tell your fortune upon a command from Dr C.  Two young men (Friedrich Feher and Hans Heinrich v. Twardowski) visit the booth and one asks when he is going to die.  "Before dawn tomorrow," replies Cesare (a very young Conrad Veidt).  Sure enough, Alan (Heinrich) is found dead the next morning.   Francis (Feher) rushes to tell Jane (Lil Dagover, who looks like a cross between Theda Bara and Siouxie Sioux), the woman they are both madly in love with, then off to the police.  Meanwhile, we see Dr Caligari feeding a still-sleeping Cesare, sitting up in his cabinet/casket...

So much has been said about the German Expressionist sets, but they really are striking and heighten the sense of eerie claustrophobia. (An aside: "crooked" is often used to describe the occult.)  They make the film, hands down.

I can't describe any more.  You have to see this.  If you are a fan of modern fare by Tim Burton, you will love the sets.  The plot blows away most of today's "horror thrillers".  It is spooky, nightmarish, and absolutely riveting.   Look for the scene where Caligari staggers through the streets while chased by his own horrible thoughts, quite literally.

I give this one: 

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Thank you (and lots of glitter) to FlickChick at the wonderful A Person in the Dark for bestowing this delicious little award on me!   If you don't follow her blog, what are you waiting for?  GO NOW

There are rules, however, and because I'm a good, law-abiding citizen, I will only follow half of them.  ;)   Waaay too many terrific blogs for me to tag, so all you folks - consider yourselves Irresistibly Sweet!I will comply with the Seven Random Facts about myself, however:

• I am addicted to lip balm.  I have one with me at all times.
• Yes, I am a proud Star Wars Nerd™.  Original trilogy, though I did like Sith.
• I'll be 35 next month, or 872 in Tumblr years.
• Smiley faces are my trademark!
• Red is my favorite color.  Especially deep shades like garnet.
• Long fingernails drive me crazy.  I have to keep them cut very short.
• My favorite authors are the Brontes and Oscar Wilde. 

P.S.  After this post went live, I was also awarded the same honor by Rianna of Frankly, My Dear.  Thank you so much! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hollywood Blondes (that have nothing to do with wrestling)

I have a thing for 1930s peroxide blondes.  Hardboiled little things with vanilla-colored hair, tough and fiery and sure of themselves.  They turn up in every pre-Code movie, forever Party Guest #3 or Telephone Operator.  Even though I know they're a Hollywood invention, they've come to represent the Depression for me: women who know a thing or two about struggling and are willing to fight to survive.  Here are three I love:

Jean Harlow is the quintessential example, the Platinum Blonde who started it all.   Sure, she was sexy, but she was also smart as a whip and quick with a comeback.  (She was also very intelligent off-screen, too; one day I'll devote more time to the Baby, one of my favorites.)

Another favorite of mine is Toby Wing, the world's most famous chorus girl.  She never rose to the heights of stardom, but she was in quite a few important films -- yup, that's her getting serenaded by Dick Powell in 42nd Street -- and even though she was usually uncredited, she managed to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I absolutely adore Polly Walters and squeal when she shows up in a movie!  Her career was short, and mostly spent playing telephone operators, but her nasal honk and sweet little face is immensely endearing.  She did very well in Broadway, starring in a hit 1933 show called She Loves Me Not.

Almost everyone tried to go super-blonde when it was popular, with mixed results.  Here's Bette Davis early in her career: 

And here's Joan Crawford, looking, well...let's just say brunette suited her much better. 

(screencap courtesy The Crowd Roars)

Regardless if they're in the lead or only on-screen for a moment, these "broads" with a heart of gold are just one of the things I find so irresistable about the pre-Code era. 

(p.s.  I know I didn't mention Joan Blondell.  Shame on me!  She's fantastic!  Oh - and how could I forget Thelma Todd?  Yikes!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Telling it to the Daisies

and to my readers, too! 

Look for more personal stuff, more things about my life and love of the 20s and 30s, in between reviews.  Because one does not live on movies alone!  ;)

What do you guys think, should I consolidate this blog and Silent Stanzas?  Or should I keep 'em separate?

Since I have it stuck in your head now, here's a little Annette Hanshaw for you.  Blame maudelynn on Tumblr for getting me started.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hartsook Studio, 1916

When I came across his photos, I was struck by how attractive Carlyle Blackwell was.  Not much info exists on him, I let my imagination play a little with this one.  Hope you like it.

"Please put this on, sir,"
she said, her hands
shaking a little as she
held out the freshly pressed suit.
He was the handsomest man
she'd ever seen --
no wonder he was in the flickers.

With a nod and a
"thank you, miss"
he went to change.
With all the primping and posing
for his portrait

did he know she hid behind
the curtain, watching as
they captured it?
One cannot be sure, of course,
but I'd like to think
that after it was over

his solemn eyes began to twinkle
and he turned to her
and smiled.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


The singular actress of this week's selection
is the Biograph Blonde who sounds like a confection
But the name was, for her, quite an oxymoron -
there was hardly a soul she did not slam the door on.
A talented woman, with Pickford and Gish,
who ruined her chances being too diva-ish.
In the storms of success she was more like a shower,
but a potent one - our little "Miss Sweet and Sour".

Blanche Sweet

Jennifer's Massive Film Dump Post (what a lovely name!)

Hi Kids!  I took a little holiday, and as every good film fan knows, watching movies is a manditory part of it.  I caught up on a bunch of things I've been wanting to see, and rather than make you wait for a formal review on each, I'm going to put them up in one giant post with the notes I made while watching 'em.  No muss, no fuss!  Oh, and I've marked the ones I particularly enjoyed with a .  Here we go...

City Lights (1931)
starring Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill

I'm not a huge Chaplin fan, but this was just gorgeous -- no one does sad / pitiful better than him.  A beautiful story with an iconic end shot; everyone should see this. 

Gambling Lady (1934)
starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea

Solid little soaper with good performances from all.  Barbara Stanwyck is always fantastic.
The costumes by Orry-Kelly are both impressive and bizarre; I love the scenes where Claire Dodd and Stanwyck are standing there, being bitchy to each other, in fabulous gowns.

 Secrets (1933)
starring Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard

I LOVE THIS MOVIE.  Mary Pickford (in her last film) is MUCH better in this than Coquette, and she has terrific chemistry with Leslie Howard, who is very charming and looks younger than I ever thought possible (in the first half of the film anyway).   Borzage's direction is masterful, and Pickford somehow manages to still look like a luminous girl. 
• changing scene = LMAO
• Leslie Howard makes a surprisingly sexy cowboy
This movie takes a complete and utter turn, and while I don't want to give it away, you will feel as riveted through the end as you do in the beginning.  Both Howard and Pickford emote like crazy and it is anything but treacly. 

Son of the Sheik (1926)
starring Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky

Valentino's final film is a fun one!  He does an admirable job with the dual role, playing himself and his own father (The Sheik from the 1921 film of the same name).  He does an impressive amount of his own stuntwork while still pleasing all the ladies with his romantic overtures to Banky, who is lovely but otherwise unremarkable.  Karl Dane as Ramadan is a fun bit of comic relief.  I really enjoyed the big Fairbanks-style fight scene at the end and think Rudy would've done well in action films.
• The split screen work was very smart for 1926!  Dad Rudy putting his arm around Son Rudy -- an obvious splice but still well done. 

 Five Star Final (1931)
starring Edward G Robinson and Aline MacMahon

Another great early talkie; feels like one of Warner Bros. hard-boiled stories. It's hard to pick one person out for their performance -- the entire cast is excellent:  Edward G Robinson plays his character perfectly; tough, hard-to-crack, but eventually with that heart of gold within.  Aline MacMahon is perfectly disillusioned and brittle.  H B Warner is absolutely heartbreaking, and to tell you more would be to give away the plot, but he will stay with you even after the movie is over.  Boris Karloff has a small but pivotal role suited to his ability with creepiness.
• I have a crush on Polly Walters (the telephone operator).  LOL  See how many pre-Codes she turns up in! 

and last but not least...

 The Wild Party (1929)
starring Clara Bow and Fredric March

Now I'm sure you all think that I liked this so much purely because of Clara.  Well, you're right.  She never looked better -- all the little improv things she lends to a picture are at their more apparent (and adorable)!  But that's not the only reason I liked it; for an early talkie, it is actually quite entertaining plot with nice flow and movement, equal to late silents. 
Fredric March plays his role well but seriously, making Clara and her merry band of college co-eds seem even more playful!  They are a cute little bunch and their silliness will have you giggling, I promise! 
• Look for the scene where March tells Bow to "shh" -- he sticks his finger in her mouth by accident, and Clara stifles a laugh.  Only one of many unscripted moments that brighten the film.

Whew!  That was a lot of movies, but thanks to the generosity of my friends (blows kisses) and my rickety VCR actually taping (gasp!), there will be lots more coming soon!