Category Archives: Classics

Two-Faced Woman (1941, George Cukor)

Two-Faced Woman is the story of a successful New York magazine editor, played by Melvyn Douglas, who marries his ski instructor (Greta Garbo) while on vacation. It’s a whirlwind courtship, with one condition of the marriage (for Garbo) being Douglas is giving up New York. Turns out he’s not and off he goes to New York.

Once in New York, Douglas keeps putting off returning to Garbo. Fed up, Garbo comes to the city and finds Douglas out on the town with mistress Constance Bennett. Garbo just wants to go home, but then she’s about to be discovered and decides instead to pretend to be her own twin sister. Hence the film’s title.

While one Garbo is “proper,” the other is a “vamp.” She goes out with Douglas’s business partner, Roland Young, and attracts Douglas (out on a date with Bennett). Then he finds out she’s really his wife and spends the rest of the movie tormenting her.

There are some Catholic Church-mandated (yes, really) changes to the film, which make Douglas’s arc a lot more manipulative in regards to Garbo, but the film still ignores the Bennett situation. The extant version has Douglas dumping Bennett to prime Garbo for mental abuse. Without the changes, he’s just done catting around with Bennett and ready to cat around with his wife’s twin sister.

Needless to say, S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer’s script doesn’t have much going for it. Ruth Gordon–as Douglas’s assistant and Garbo’s confidant–has some great scenes, but it’s more in Gordon’s performance than anything else. It’s the presence of the scenes and Gordon. Gordon and Garbo’s relationship is about the only positive to come out of Two-Faced Woman and it seems entirely accidental.

Cukor’s direction, as far as composition goes, is fine. Joseph Ruttenberg’s photography is solid. The matte paintings of the ski lodge are distractingly weak. Cukor’s direction of actors is similarly fine. He doesn’t do anyone any favors, but he doesn’t hurt anyone too much either.

The performances are generally fine or better. Douglas is not. Even without the mandated revisions, his arc in the script is a mess. He starts the film is a doofus, then gets to romance Garbo. In their first scene together, Douglas can’t stop pawing at her and there’s some energy and brewing of real chemistry. But then it’s back to work and the movie’s then double deception and no more real scenes for Douglas and Garbo. No more chemistry.

Garbo’s good. Her parts aren’t well-written, but she tries and sometimes succeeds. The movie’s tone is all off though, thanks to the edits, so it’s hard to know if she’s succeeding because of something revised or something intentional.

There’s a great ski finale. The script runs out of ways to prolong the third act and instead there’s a ski chase sequence. It’s lots of physical humor and expert stunt skiing. Almost like a reward for sitting through more now humorless scenes of Douglas teasing Garbo. Again, maybe they were humorless before.

Either way, Two-Faced Woman doesn’t do anyone any favors. It does Garbo the most disservice and was her last film, though she didn’t intend to retire because of it. But even if it wasn’t responsible for Garbo’s retirement, you wouldn’t really blame her if it were.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer, based on a play by Ludwig Fulda; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by George Boemler; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Gottfried Reinhardt; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Greta Garbo (Karin), Melvyn Douglas (Larry Blake), Constance Bennett (Griselda Vaughn), Roland Young (O.O. Miller), Robert Sterling (Dick Williams), and Ruth Gordon (Miss Ellis).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE GRETA GARBO BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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You Gotta Stay Happy (1948, H.C. Potter)

It takes You Gotta Stay Happy a while to get there, but it’s actually a road movie. Well, it’s flying movie. Owner-operator James Stewart flies his cargo plane from New York to California with a number of paying passengers (a no no), with co-pilot Eddie Albert doing most of the ticket sales. The film’s title is Albert’s favorite phrase, used mostly to remind boss and friend Stewart he’s not doing enough to make himself happy.

Except the film’s not about Stewart and Albert’s post-war attempts at getting a freight airline going (okay, maybe fifteen or twenty percent), it’s about Stewart and Joan Fontaine. He doesn’t know it, but she’s a wealthy spinster (at the ripe age of twenty-eight) who’s running away from her new husband on their wedding night. Willard Parker plays the husband. He’s awful. Not the performance, the performance is fine, but the husband. He’d be a troll if he weren’t so tall; he’s a dipshit. There’s no better adjective. He’s a dipshit.

And Fontaine releases she doesn’t want to be married to a dipshit, regardless of his social position, personal wealth, and career success. So she ends up in Stewart’s hotel room, letting him make assumptions about why she’s running away from Parker. Stewart too knows Parker is a dipshit and feels sorry for Fontaine. She doesn’t correct any of his wrong assumptions.

Stewart and Fontaine’s first night, which features mishaps with wake-up calls, sleeping pills, and intrusive hotel staff, sort of acts as first act, sort of not. Karl Tunberg’s screenplay is an adaptation of serialized story, which would make the film seem more episodic if Tunberg weren’t so good at streamlining and director Potter didn’t have such a fine sense of comedy. And, of course, there’s Stewart and Fontaine. They have very different styles in first act; he’s tired and distracted, she’s on the run. They have entirely different motivators and different ways of pacing their performances. The whole film has great pacing and it’s right from the start.

Then Albert comes in and the plane and the passengers and the cargo. There are newlyweds onboard, there’s a chimpanzee who only likes Fontaine, there’s an embezzeler on the run. The plot progresses along the plane’s flight plan, with Stewart and Albert mistakenly concluding Fontaine’s the embezzeler (not a rich heiress). Fontaine gets some fun scenes before the romance subplot takes over. Turns out Stewart’s taken with her, regardless of suspecting her to be a fugitive.

Many complications ensue, including some with phenomenal minature special effects of the airplane. And Stewart and Fontaine get in sync as far as their performances. You Gotta Stay Happy has a short present action–two and a half days at most–and for the romance to work, the chemistry’s got to be palpable. It ends up so thick it needs to chiseled. With Stewart’s arc mostly pragmatic–he’s got a plane to fly, cargo to deliver, Albert to control–and Fontaine losing her share of solo screentime after she gets onboard, their romantic subplot becomes Happy’s relief moments. They’re somehow set back from the plot–they’ve both got their own trajectories, which have to conclude, and their gentle, tender scenes together hint at something deeper.

It’s not easy to imply that depth, either, because the film is pretty clear about Fontaine’s romantic feelings after a certain point. But there are still problems to be resolved and Tunberg has some last act revealations about Stewart’s character to get in as well. There just wasn’t time to reveal them during the screwball scenes.

The supporting cast is excellent. Albert’s awesome. If it weren’t Fontaine and Stewart in the leads, he’d be able to run away with the movie. Percy Kilbride, Porter Hall, Marcy McGuire, Edith Evanson, they’re all excellent. Potter always gives his supporting cast a lot of room to work without ever overpowering a scene. Though Stewart and Fontaine are always more than willing to make room. The film’s got a wonderful balance. Helps there’s a built-in plot with the flight.

Daniele Amfitheatrof’s score, which is very screwball, gets a little much at times but never enough to break a gag. Russell Metty’s photography is gorgeous, especially once he gets to do night time exteriors. The film spends its open in hotels and hotel rooms, then moves into an airplane interior. Getting outside in to the air gives Metty a chance to shine.

Albeit at night.

You Gotta Stay Happy is a lot of fun. Potter’s direction. Stewart, Fontaine, and Albert’s performances. It’s not a surprise it’s a success–it puts a smile on your face and keeps it there once it’s over. The only time it doesn’t is when it’s making you laugh.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by H.C. Potter; screenplay by Karl Tunberg, based on a story by Robert Carson; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Paul Weatherwax; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; production designer, Alexander Golitzen; produced by Tunberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Joan Fontaine (Diana), James Stewart (Marvin), Eddie Albert (Bullets), Willard Parker (Henry Benson), Porter Hall (Mr. Caslon), Marcy McGuire (Georgia Goodrich), Arthur Walsh (Milton Goodrich), William Bakewell (Dick Hebert), Percy Kilbride (Mr. Racknell), Edith Evanson (Mrs. Racknell), and Roland Young (Ralph Tutwiler).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE JOAN FONTAINE CENTENARY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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Dracula’s Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer)

Dracula’s Daughter starts as a comedy. With Billy Bevan’s bumbling police constable, there’s nothing else to call it. Sure, the opening deals with the immediate aftermath of the original Dracula–returning Edward Van Sloan arrested for driving a stake through a man’s heart–but it’s all for smiles, if not laughs. Bevan’s terrified expressions carry the movie until it’s time for Gloria Holden to show up.

Holden plays the title role. She’s in England to dispose of her father’s remains and to paint (and to prey upon the living). She’s not happy about preying upon the living and Garrett Fort’s screenplay implies its all going to be about vampirism as a compulsion. Top-billed Otto Kruger ties everything together; he’s a society psychiatrist, trained by Van Sloan, who ends up defending his old teacher while taking an interest in Holden. She’s in society because her paintings? It’s unclear why anyone would invite her. Fort’s script isn’t good on narrative progression.

Holden thinks Kruger might be able to help her with the vampirism. She assumed her father’s death would help, but her man servant and familiar Irving Pichel convinces her otherwise. Pichel’s just around to encourage Holden’s bad habits. He definitely looks creepy, but he doesn’t treat her with any respect, much less fear. It creates a bit of a tonal imbalance–the vampire isn’t bad, the human encouraging her is bad–until Holden finally takes up the villain reins.

Once Holden and Pichel go after Nan Grey (who’s rather good in her small part), it’s clear the happy London society dalliances are soon to be over. See, Kruger’s her doctor too. And he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Can Holden convince him to join her–possibly replacing Pichel–in Transylvania before Kruger can dehypnotize Grey long enough to find out who attacked her?

It’d be a far more effective twist if Holden’s character were better developed (and established in the first place) and if director Hillyer didn’t direct Kruger like he’s always waiting to react to a punchline. Once the initial comedic stuff is over–though Scotland Yard man Gilbert Emery is mostly for laughs (including the film’s best ones)–Hillyer starts giving Kruger these close-ups where he’s just reacting to something or pensively smoking. I guess he needs to be doing something since he’s not figuring out Van Sloan’s not crazy and Holden’s got something weird going on.

Twenty-something Marguerite Churchill is quinquagenarian Kruger’s assistant. She’s an heiress or something so she gives him a lot of guff. She’s also, of course, enamored with him. Because why wouldn’t she be enamored with her fifty-year old boss. They don’t have any romantic chemistry, though occasionally Kruger does come off paternal. Too occasionally.

Churchill’s unprofessional jealousy of Holden eventually gets her in a lot of trouble, kicking off the final act, where Kruger’s got to fly to Transylvania to try to save the day. He doesn’t, as it turns out, because Fort’s script is goofy. I wonder if it had to contort itself through the Hays Code. Hopefully. At least contorting for the Code would provide an excuse.

The film’s got good sets and fine photography from George Robinson. Hillyer starts with some creepiness, but soon gives it up. Why the film should want to scare Bevan’s bumbling constable but not Churchill or Grey’s damsels is another of its mysteries. There are some excellent foggy London effects and some real mood with Holden, in her black wraps–though Holden’s costuming when she’s not a creature of the night is grey and drab.

Holden’s okay. The film’s failures aren’t her fault. They’re not Kruger’s fault either, but he’s so miscast after a while–and Hillyer’s direction of him is so awry–he gets tiring. Van Sloan’s fun for a while, but he too can’t survive. Churchill’s just annoying. Maybe it’s supposed to be the part.

Dracula’s Daughter is an almost solid production of a troubled script. It’s a bunch of ill-fitting pieces mashed together without success.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on a suggestion by David O. Selznick and a story by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Milton Carruth; produced by E.M. Asher; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Otto Kruger (Jeffrey Garth), Gloria Holden (Countess Marya Zaleska), Irving Pichel (Sandor), Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Marguerite Churchill (Janet), Gilbert Emery (Sir Basil Humphrey), Nan Grey (Lili), and Billy Bevan (Albert).


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Desk Set (1957, Walter Lang)

Despite being an adaptation of a stage play and having one main set, Desk Set shouldn’t be stagy. The single main location–and its importance–ought to be able to outweigh the staginess. Desk Set does not, however, succeed in not being stagy. It puts off being stagy for quite a while, but not forever, which is too bad.

The fault lies with director Lang. He moves between three camera setups on the main set–the research department for a television network (FBC but in NBC’s building). When it comes time to change everything up in the third act, Lang doesn’t change his camera defaults and it really does knock the film down for its finale. Desk Set was already going a tad long–not good considering it runs just over 100 minutes–and the film needed a strong finish. A really strong finish.

It gets a tepid one instead. Worse, it gets multiple tepid finishes. It’s a shame because the film’s often a lot of fun. Spencer Tracy is a mysterious efficency expert sent to Katharine Hepburn’s research department to do… something. Desk Set takes its time revealing Tracy’s assignment, not even providing clues while he’s rooting around the department, often crawling around on the floor. It’s a quirky part; Tracy’s socially awkward, absentminded, and entirely lovable. At least to the audience. The viewer isn’t worried about getting fired.

In addition to Hepburn, there’s her staff who’s got to worry about getting the pink slip. Joan Blondell, Sue Randall, and Dina Merrill. Randall and Merrill don’t get particularly good parts. They get stuff to do, they get a lot of scenes–the film’s mostly set in the workplace after all–but there’s nothing to them. Randall opens the movie trying to get a better price on a dress and it’s more than she gets to do than in the rest of the picture. Merrill doesn’t get anywhere near as much to do. It’s too bad, they’re both extremely likable.

Though likable is what Desk Set is always going for. Take Gig Young, for instance. He’s Hepburn’s boss and her consistently–but not constantly–frisky paramour. Even though he’s an absolute jerk, he’s fairly likable. I mean, he gets everyone Christmas presents; he didn’t need to get everyone Christmas presents.

Blondell gets the best part in the supporting cast. She’s Hepburn’s confidant, although only sporadically and less after the first act. The first act is a very long day at the network, starting with Tracy arriving, then meeting Hepburn, then the focus moves to Hepburn and her strange encounters with Tracy. The ingrained momentum of the day doesn’t keep up after the first act. Desk Set moves over to summary and slowing down for big sequences.

There are some lovely big sequences, like Tracy and Hepburn getting caught in the rain and having an impromptu dinner date. All of their scenes one-on-one are good–at least, until the third act–with Tracy playing somewhat coy. He’s incredibly impressed with Hepburn and doesn’t seem to know what to do with that admiration. If the third act were stronger, it’d become a problem when Tracy’s crappy to his own employee (Neva Patterson). But it’s not because by that time, Desk Set is about ten minutes overdue for an ending.

Phoebe and Henry Ephron’s script is fine. Leon Shamroy’s photography is decent. Robert L. Simpson’s editing is too jumpy but it seems like director Lang didn’t give him enough to work with. Again, makes no sense since there’s basically just the one location. It’s inexplicable how Lang can’t get enough coverage for it.

Tracy’s great, Hepburn’s better. She energetically embraces her part’s particularities–like reciting full poems or elaborating on her memory shortcuts. She does a lot with those moments. And Lang seems to get it because he just lets the camera watch her deliver the impossibly wordy lines.

It’s just a shame Hepburn’s character becomes a complete moron whenever Young shows up. She does his work for him–her abject deference to such a tool is a big disconnect. Though it does give Blondell some good lines when she’s chiding Hepburn about it.

Tracy and Hepburn make Desk Set, but not even their ability and charm can make up for director Lang. He’s too concerned with making it feel wide–it’s Cinemascope–and fitting as many actors in frame as possible. The third act in the script is problematic too, but better direction might have gotten it through.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Lang; screenplay by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, based on the play by William Marchant; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Robert L. Simpson; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Henry Ephron; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Richard Sumner), Katharine Hepburn (Bunny Watson), Joan Blondell (Peg Costello), Sue Randall (Ruthie Saylor), Dina Merrill (Sylvia Blair), Gig Young (Mike Cutler), Harry Ellerbe (Smithers), Neva Patterson (Miss Warriner), and Nicholas Joy (Mr. Azae).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE SPENCER TRACY & KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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