Friday, July 03, 2009

Anecdote of the Week: Myrna Was the Lady in Red


From Being and Becoming, the autobiography of the peerless Myrna Loy:


[Metro] put me right to work in Manhattan Melodrama, which precipated the demise of John Dillinger, Public Enemy No. 1. FBI agents shot him down outside the Biograph Theatre, in Chicago, after he'd seen the film. Supposedly a Myrna Loy fan, he broke cover to see me. Personally, I suspect the theme of the picture rather than my fatal charms attracted him, but I've always felt a little guilty about it, anyway. They filled him full of holes, poor soul.

For anyone who has read her book, the above paragraph is Myrna Loy in miniature: intelligent, down-to-earth, self-deprecating, and compassionate.

As you can probably guess, the Siren selected this one because the film blogs are full of Public Enemies this week. Glenn Kenny liked it, Lou Lumenick did not. Manohla Dargis had a well-written rave but the Siren was a wee bit flummoxed by her closing sideswipe at Manhattan Melodrama. I haven't seen Public Enemies yet, but as much as I like Johnny Depp (and I do, I do), of course Michael Mann's gangsters will be no less "false" than W.S. Van Dyke's. (And while the new film may not look like "the usual gangster picture," for some of us old fogeys that's no bonus. Come on, even if she likes Public Enemies we all know the Siren is going to miss James Wong Howe.)



Manhattan Melodrama is worth cherishing for a reason that has nothing to do with gangsters: It was the first film Loy made with William Powell.


My first scene with Bill, a night shot on the back lot, happened before we'd even met. Woody was apparently too busy for introductions. My instructions were to run out of a building, through a crowd, and into a strange car. When Woody called "Action," I opened the door, jumped in, and landed smack on William Powell's lap. He looked up nonchalantly. "Miss Loy, I presume?" I said, "Mr. Powell?" And that's how I met the man who would be my partner in fourteen films.

*****

Flickhead's Claude Chabrol Blogathon is now over, but the Siren hopes you have followed it as avidly as she has. It's wonderful, with some of the best, most appreciative writing on Chabrol to be found anywhere. Start here and follow the links.

77 comments:

Vanwall said...

Lovely tidbit from Myrna, she was much more aware of her connection to the viewers than many a star ever could be. Powell's urbane introduction is classic - you can imagine them saying it onscreen. The pair of them, the best pairing ever in film, are so much fun to listen to.

Loved the Chabrol-athon, it had some wonderful insights and impressions. It was interesting to read one of them, and an hour later "The Flower of Evil" shows up on cable TV. Almost like they were reading them, too.

Campaspe said...

Flower of Evil was a good one. Chabrol is having a very good run of late (although I didn't see the latest one yet).

Isn't that Loy/Powell meeting the most perfect thing ever? I do like Manhattan Melodrama. It has a poignant opening, the cinematography is great (of course) and the chemistry between Powell and Loy is extraordinary. Immediately after she describes meeting Powell Loy goes into an analysis of her interaction with Gable, and then with Powell, that is amazing in its perceptiveness. Not many stars could stand back and look at their on-screen pairings with the same keen eye.

Greg said...

Manhattan Melodrama is cherished by all true film fans...

A swipe at Dargis? Implying perhaps she's not a true fan of film?

I loved the Chabrol-a-thon too. I was introduced to Chabrol's films by Ray and he's been one of the most pleasant surprises of a filmmaker I've yet come across.

Campaspe said...

No, not at all -- will try to edit to avoid that implication, it hadn't occurred to me. I am admirer of Dargis's -- I am sure she likes Manhattan Melodrama for that if no other reason. I just didn't get what she was driving at in that last graf.

Robert said...

James Wong Howe, one of the great DP's of all time, was also Anny May Wong's cousin.

Robert said...

Sheesh, why don't I use preview?

Anna May Wong.

Yojimboen said...

Re Chabrol: A couple of nights ago at the American Cinematheque, Agnès Varda – screening her latest, Les Plages d’ Agnès - responded to a (sadly frequent) question from the audience on how it feels to be the last of the Nouvelle Vague directors working. Mlle Varda patiently reminded the questioner that Godard “is still working on TV”… “Alain Resnais just finished his latest film… at age 87”… “and Chabrol keeps making one a year…” she smiled inwardly, “…he’s a machine…”

Alex said...

Strange. "Being and becoming" is a major philosophic topic.

mndean said...

You mean that people don't know that Chabrol and Godard are still alive and working? Yikes! Resnais is a little more understandable since his output is not exactly a torrent.

Godard and Me: Born on the same day, exactly thirty years apart.

Yojimboen said...

So next Dec 3rd you're going to be 109 years old?
You don't look it.

Campaspe said...

Robert, I never use preview either, which is why sometimes my comments sound like something Babelfish cooked up when I forget a word: "I am admirer."

Y & M - I'm completely, fully, firmly convinced that Chabrol's reputation will take a big swing up one day.

Alex -- The first page says Loy's title is from her version of a Matthew Arnold quote: "Not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming in the character of perfection as culture perceives it." Which she renders as "Life is not a getting and a having, but a being and becoming."

She talks about being in love with Tyrone Power ("but he was married to that damn Frenchwoman") and that they spent a lot of time discussing philosophy. Which is quite the picture!

Meredith said...

myrna loy is my favorite actress. i love her autobiography, there were no showy pretenses with her. and i cannot lie, my first thought when i heard that they were making a film about john dillinger was of whether or not the myrna connection would play any part in it (still haven't seen it but want to soon). great post!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Rodgers and Hart's classic "Blue Moon" makes it s first appearance in Manhattan Melodrama.

Resnias works at quite steady rate. He's just not distrubted stateside much. His musical masterpiece Pas Sur la Bouche went straight to DVD.

mndean said...

Yojimboen,
*snicker* It didn't even occur to me to read it that way.

David,
Now that's sad. I haven't liked all his films, but for a man that talented to go straight to DVD, just sad.

Greg said...

No, not at all -- will try to edit to avoid that implication...

Sorry to have caused that. There was no reason to edit, it was just me reading way too much into it. Sorry.

Flickhead said...

Thanks to a belated post by Sean Axmaker, the Chabrol Blogathon now has a "Better Late Than Never" section of links following the Ten Days' Wonder. Just the right outlet for those who think they missed the boat or who have a sweet desire to tackle Merci pour le chocolat...

Not that I'm trying to pressure anyone, you understand...

I'm now off to a July 4th Mennonite farmhouse barbeque. I don't know much about their religion, but these folks sure do know how to eat.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, have fun partying like it's 1899 ...

Greg, no worries, I was glad you pointed it out so I could fix!

Flickhead said...

Y'know something, Siren? You'd look a'might cute in an ankle-length indigo dress with long sleeves and black shoes. Of course we'd have to tuck those Technicolor locks of yours into a bonnet. If you and the clan hit the road right now, I can probably save you some ox burgers and a few hearty slices of shoofly pie.

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's Gloria's Birthday

Karen said...

I found Dargis' comment about Manhattan Melodrama odd as well. Real gangsters vs fake ones -- when what we're talking about is the movies! It reminded me a little of Kevin Costner's notorious swipe at Errol Flynn, when he claimed that his Robin Hood would be more authentic, not dressed in tights and feathered caps. Of course, the most cursory examination of any 12th-century English manuscript's figural marginalia will reveal lots of tight leggings and caps, and very few instances of people dressed as Davy Crockett.

But I digress.

The anecdote of Loy's is lovely (well, both the description of Dillinger AND the ineffable meeting with Powell). One can absolutely hear her voice when reading this. This may have to be one of the few actor autobiographies I actually read!

Yojimboen said...

I think you’re being entirely too kind and, dare I say, quiescent re Ms Dargis’s review. Her last paragraph is quite facile (leaning heavily towards glib) and she should be called to task. She’s a critic, dear lady, and it is your right and duty to criticize her work when and as you deem it applicable.

Arthur S. said...

I think of this decade, Chabrol's MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT is a masterpiece. It's a really marvellous scary comedy. A real comedy of menace. All the characters are so...nice and it's set in Switzerland which is neutral and peaceful("400 years of brotherly love" as Harry Lime reminds us) and yet the characters are so mysterious, so secretive and it's so unpredictable. Remarkable because if you look at the plot it's cliche'd but what Chabrol does with his actors is superb.

The most recent Chabrol which I saw and liked was A Girl Cut In Two, which I saw only once but found fascinating.

Vanwall said...

I'm invited to a Chamorro 'barbacoa' myself, whole-pig BBQ from a hole in the ground. Much food and liquor in evidence. Much closer to my youthful ones at a Chiricahua family's back yard pit in San Manuel-Middla-Nowhere's-AZ, as well, and it's all you can eat, and then eat some more, as my Jewish grandma no doubt admonished my Mom as she passed that down to us boys and I to my two - trencherman all. Ah, The Glorious Fourth - eating and fireworks. And oh yes, stand by your glasses steady, boys, 'neath the sounding rafters, "a lot of people paid for the celebrations," my Dad once said.

Watching "Die Mörder sind unter uns" with lovely Hildegard Knef, on NFLX after TCM's showing of "The Devil's Disciple" - a sobering comparison of war and peace under different regimes, and perhaps closer to how we may end up than I would wish.

Fireworks later at a restaurant with outdoor seating, only 100 yards form the shooters, and, fingers crossed, bets taken on how many trees'll catch fire this year from the embers - it's dry as a William Powell bon-mot out here.

Campaspe said...

K & Y., I just couldn't believe she meant it in the flip, "oh look at the corny old movie" way it came out. I totally HATE using the alleged phoniness of studio movies as a way to pat ourselves on the back about how much more "real" movies are now. I guess I was holding back because I do like Dargis as a critic (and I do believe she's a true movie lover) but potshots at Gable don't bolster a pro-Mann argument -- jeez, Mann is as stylized as a director as Gable was as an actor.

Arthur, excellent take on Merci ... better than what I was writing, LOL.

mndean said...

Gee, it seems like I'm gonna be the one having the most fun on this holiday. I get to play music, much of which I don't particularly like for a block party. A 15-song set. Roped into it by a very good friend who knew I bought a bass guitar a couple of months back and was learning to play. I got five whole rehearsals, and only the last two did we play all the songs, two of which I still don't know (no chord charts or lyric sheets, heaven forbid any actual written music.). No drummer either. Plus, we get paid in donations. I don't expect dollars to be dropped in the donation bucket, I expect hearing-aid coupons. By the end I'll feel like one of the losers at a '30s dance marathon, trudging home after all that work for nothing.

Campaspe said...

M., your dance-marathon reference got a grim chuckle out of me, but I gots ya beat. I'm at home with a sick six-year-old and two others who resent being cooped up just because she's got a 101-degree fever. Independence Day my ass.

mndean said...

Siren,
You win. That's something my mother had to go through with me many, many times when I was a small child. Bronchitis and pneumonia every year like clockwork, sometimes twice a year. Didn't grow out of it until I was 25. I did learn to like the prescription cough syrup, though.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Chabrol's career is lengthy, complex and multi-faceted. My faves include Les Cousins, A Double Tour, Le Boucher, Dr. Popaul, Betty, and Marie-Chantal vs. Le Dr. Kha

Campaspe said...

David, did you check out the blogathon? It was truly excellent. I don't guess I would call Chabrol underrated, people do seem to appreciate him, but he seems a bit underdiscussed.

Flickhead said...

Criterion certainly has no use for Chabrol.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, you're right. I wonder why?

Arthur S. said...

Criterion has no use for Rivette either or Jacques Demy.

You would expect CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING at the very least or THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG or LOLA(which is quintessentially New Wave).

On Region 2, Chabrol is very well represented by MK2, Marin Karmitz's company and that's like the Criterion of France, doing editions on Truffaut(which impressed the Chaplin Estate enough that they gave them rights to bring out Charlot on DVD), Rossellini, Bresson, Godard and many others.

I've actually looked at a lot of Chabrol films during the period of the blog-a-thon seems like I missed to comment on it. I got to see LA CEREMONIE on the big screen in the meanwhile, it's amazing how disturbing and yet how funny that film is often at the same time. The ending had me in splits. And I also saw AU COEUR DE MENSONGE which is an ensemble film of many characters. I'd like to see that again.

Chabrol may be underwritten because his film-making is so relaxed and assured. But I think he's a giant of French cinema. It's just that his work has a different charm than others. Softer and more subtle.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh yes, La Ceremonie is another really great Chabrol! While it's based on a Ruth Rendell novel it echoes the Papin sisters case -- whcih inspired Genet's The Maids. Huppert and Bonnaire are utterly uncanny in it, and for once Chabrol resists making fun of the bourgeois family who become their victims. Jackie Bissett has a very good scene early on where she's interviewing Bonnaire for the job and completely misses how unhinged she is -- which we see clearly. It's really a question of manners, coupled with a lack of curiosity about people. Both serve to spell her doom.

Chabrol has made so many films for so long he's hard for many people to get a fix on. Critically his greated period was the late 60's whe he was making the lieks of La Femme Infidele (which is very good but one I've never relaly cared for that much.

Les Bonne Femmes is an early comercial flop that cemented his serious critical reputation. It's still an incredibly powerful piece of work.

I find it fascinating the way he directed Bernadette Laffont in her early days. She was an incredibly sexy minx. He knew she'd become the terrifying goddess of Rivette in Out 1 and Noroit?

Arthur S. said...

Les Bonnes Femmes is one of the great New Wave films but it's obscure nowadays. That's a shame. That final scene in the dance hall is burnt into my skull.

Some Chabrol that I haven't seen include LES COUSINS and especially, LES GODELUREAUX which was championed by Godard. The latter is incredibly rare nowadays.

LA CEREMONIE was described by Chabrol as "the last Marxist film", you can see what he means in that. It's a very brutal film about class issues but a very complex one. The poor are deranged here and the wealthy are confused, awkward and dull at best. Very scary stuff. But it's pretty prescient to how things are now.

Reminds me of that line in Flaubert's THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT ANTHONY where one of the many sects in St. Anthony's imaginations declares war under the chant of "Kill the Rich, Beat the Poor"

DavidEhrenstein said...

Boht Les Cousins and Les Godelereaux are dominated by Jean-Claude Brialy -- one of the most important actors in the history of French cinema, and the least acknowledged as such.

Among his achievements -- the discovery of Alain Delon.

mndean said...

Well, someone here admires Brialy as much as I do, and that's even without seeing Les Cousins and Les Godelereaux, neither of which I could find anywhere when I was digging for early French New Wave films years back.

Oh, and I was right about last night. Trudged home with less money than a drunken streetcorner Santa.

Vanwall said...

Perhaps it's distribution rights that's in the way of more of these director's films being available here - money is really the root of all evil, and Chabrol is telling us that, in an elegant and consistent manner.

mndean said...

Money? Shame on you! I'm sure that Universal has a perfectly good reason why the English R2 W.C. Fields box set has all his Paramount & Universal films, while we only got two small R1 box sets with the more obvious selections.


Oh, wait...

Campaspe said...

M., does the English Fields box have Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch? a girlhood favorite. They used to show it around Christmas, haven't seen it in years.

mndean said...

No, it doesn't. It does have Million Dollar Legs, If I Had A Million, Mississippi, and Tillie and Gus. Put that with Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and maybe Alice In Wonderland and you might have a good #3 Fields set.

mndean said...

BTW, I always saw Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch on VHS, but (much like a lot of Warner precodes) never on DVD.

Karen said...

Ach! If I Had a Million???

I've been waiting for that one FOREVER. I might have to go for Region 2 on that one. I hope they have it free-standing, too.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen, if you own the great WPA New York City Guide check through the illustrations for a woodcut of the front of a movie theater. If I Had a Million is on the marquee.

mndean said...

I swore I saw a release of this out there recently. Whether it's kosher or not I haven't a clue.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Ain't a fit night out for man nor beast."

Juanita's Journal said...

The movie's finale had a strong focus on Dillinger watching "MANHATTAN MELODRAMA", before he was shot by the FBI. It didn't hint that Dillinger's main reason for seeing the film had anything to do with Myrna Loy. But there is a moment in which the gangster seemed to be captivated by the actress, for she seemed to remind him - physically - of Billie Frichette.


By the way, I enjoyed "PUBLIC ENEMIES".

Alex said...

"The first page says Loy's title is from her version of a Matthew Arnold quote: "Not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming in the character of perfection as culture perceives it." Which she renders as "Life is not a getting and a having, but a being and becoming." "

Perhaps Loy is doing something which I'm not understanding, but Arnold's original quote agitates against Being - Being is of course a significant topic within Platonic philosophy. Arnold is (seeming to) argue that beauty is dependant on culture (culture is Becoming and decidely not Being), which concept he's likely pulling from Hegel (or the British Idealist followers of Hegel). I.E. Plato argues that the beautiful is a reflection of Being, while the beautiful is something entirely different in Hegelian thought.

Humans can't be Being, which makes Loy's statement that life is Being rather problematic.

Campaspe said...

Alex, I can't argue for or against my beloved Myrna because you've lost me -- but then Arnold always lost me too. Maybe Tyrone Power could have explained it to me ...

Karen said...

XT, I don't own it, but I work in a library that does. I'll be going to find it POST-HASTE. It may be the closest I get to that film since I first saw it 35 years ago. Does TCM ever screen it? I've never seen it in their listings!

Campaspe said...

Karen, I thought there was a DVD of If I Had a Million? So says IMDB, anyway...

Juanita, Glenn Kenny said the Myrna montage was the best part of Public Enemies. :)

X. Trapnel said...

I suspect Arnold was not writing in an idealist/philospohical sense (which is after all very un-English), but even so close to the German notion of Bildung, development of character and sensibility through experience in the world and cultivation of the mind. Germans (being German) are apt to go a little too far with this. Thus Holderlin: "We are nothing in ourselves; we are what we seek." Or Nietzsche: "Our true nature is not in us but above us."

I like to imagine Myrna as Diotima instructing Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger on being and becoming.

Karen said...

Siren, as MNDean points out, the If I Had a Million DVD is Region 2 and part of a Fields box-set. I confess not to caring enough for Fields, personally (YES, I said it!), to support buying an overseas-airmail box-set of his work just to get that one delicious film.

My word verification : boxed. I think someone's laughing at me...

surly hack said...

The "perfect" screen wife, Myrna Loy
The dream of both Thin Man and boy
She's charming and witty
and...perfectly pretty
Her deft repartee is a joy

Before she was typed as a wife
she lived an exotic screen life
As Asian and vamp
she flirted with camp
Her gypsy caused marital strife

As Nora, with Asta and Nick
her wit was both wicked and quick
Her banter as sly
as Martini’s were dry
The tub-full they drank did the trick

Yojimboen said...

Thanks, XT, for clearing that up. I for one will sleep better tonight.
Now where the hell is Judge Crater?

X. Trapnel said...

Judge Crater is living in a fleabag hotel on the same floor as Ambrose Bierce, Weldon Kees, and Flitcraft.

Yojimboen said...

Nah, you're mistaken. It's a well-known fact that Kees only registered at the hotel, but he never checked in! It was a clever smokescreen to cover his tracks while he headed for the Yucatan to hook up with B. Traven.

Vanwall said...

Found Flitcraft, tho - he said Judge and Ambrose were having margaritas on a veranda in the Tropics som'ers. Judge is now a Magistrate and Bierce is editor of the local rag - like Flitcraft, they ended up with similar loves and lives to what they had before.

mndean said...

There is one problem that is mentioned in IMDB about If I Had A Million - it's a cut version from 1949, not the original. Five minutes are missing. Our friends from Universal (well-known for their ineptitude when dealing with precode and Paramount product) have done it again. It's probably the one you saw, but it's not the original 1932 release.

BTW, TCM hasn't shown this title anytime in the past few years, but might eventually since they have a deal with Universal again.

Karen said...

Good news, MNDean! I'm haeding over to TCm right now to request it!

mndean said...

Karen,
Don't care much for Fields? Begone with you!

Interestingly, this reminds me of a Kael quote which said something akin to Fields being an acquired taste, like gin.

Cute word verification: hymonite. I won't get within a mile of a description of THAT.

X. Trapnel said...

Any possibility that the Hon. Crater and AB met up with Richard Halliburton on the royal road to romance? The golden road to Samarkand? Shangri La? El Dorodo? Sloppy Joe's? Only Jimmy Hoffa knows for sure.

Vanwall said...

I'll sell ya some maps to those places.

Karen said...

I don't care for gin, either.

X. Trapnel said...

"Martinis. An acquired taste, like Ravel"--Joan Crawford, Humoresque.

Surely, Karen, you muust like Ravel, if not Fields, gin (or vermouth).

Exiled in NJ said...

The Judge, Ambrose and Hoffa hang out in Montana:

http://www.myrnaloycenter.com/

I have a friend who once worked there.

Karen said...

I DO like Ravel!

X. Trapnel said...

Exiled,

That makes sense; perhaps Myrna is bringing them back from the realm on non-being via becoming. As Nora C she may have wandered into The Maltese Falcon and done the same for Flitcraft.

Vanwall said...

And back to the subject: mebbe it really wasn't Dillinger got rubbed out at the Biograph like they sez, mebbe Myrna stashed him in a safe house in Montana. They didn't call 'im Big John fer nuthin'. It coulda happen.

Gareth said...

Following up on some of the Brialy comments, the last time I was in Paris an older man asked for our assistance in finding Brialy's grave in Montmartre cemetery but despite scouring the place we couldn't find it. He had an extraordinarily varied career, from nouvelle vague high points to comedy hits and most everything else; he was phenomenal against type in Claire Denis's S'En fout la mort.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Plus he was openly gay his entire life.

Campaspe said...

Many people like Ravel, so that Humoresque line makes no sense. Now if she had said "acquired taste, like Wagner" I've had believed it, and it would have made the Liebestraum finale just that much more delicious. Or if she had said "acquired taste, like Bartok"...

mndean said...

That's true, I haven't met anyone that didn't like Ravel. But then, Humoresque was a strange little melodrama anyway, so the line sticks out. Maybe they could have written a line like "I find Charles Ives so relaxing as bedtime music". Or, "The rhythm of a jackhammer each has its own flavor". It would have made as much sense.

Vanwall said...

Just a side note: the delicious Eleanor Parker is on at this very moment in "Scaramouche" - she's worth the invention and development of Technicolor for her charms alone. even as a boy, I couldn't figure out why Stewart Granger's Andre Moreau was always mooning after the vapid and colorless Aline, a thankless part for Janet Leigh IMHO, while he could've had Parker's amazing Lenore: looks, personality, and talented in more ways than one, and as I'm older, it seems to defy basic human nature. Jeezus, Eleanor was ravishingly gorgeous.

X. Trapnel said...

We may rest assured that Joan C loves Bartok, what with his 3 piano concertos, 2 violin concertos, viola concerto, concerto for 2 pianos and percussion, and, of course, the Concerto for Orchestra (no symphonies to complicate things, and probably no love for the concerto-less Mr. Ives).

I would swear that one of the mildly curious fish observing her gurgling untergang is the same one that gobbled up Tallulah Bankhead's bracelet in Lifeboat.

Campaspe said...

Vanwall, I was watching it too! God I love that movie. And amen to Eleanor. Leigh's character only becomes interesting toward the end, when she picks up a few tricks from the redhead.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My Son John

Bob Westal said...

Don't have time to read all the comments right now, but I thought Campaspe would be interested to know that back in the day my alma mater, Venice High, had a statue outside of it that Ms. Loy had been the model for as a teenager, affectionately named "Myrna."

Every year, especially around the time of the "big game" against cross West L.A. rival University High, Myrna suffered some form of abuse. As the news editor of the Venice Gondolier, the Myrna beat was mine. Though the statue is now gone, let's just say she suffered abuse with great humor and dignity, considering. (Though the real Ms. Loy complained about it a bit to Dick Cavett.)

I heart Myrna Loy big time, and "Manhattan Melodrama" is silly but aces in my book.