Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Letty Lynton: Pounce.


Via Lou Lumenick: If you move quickly, you can see the legendarily unavailable Letty Lynton at Youtube. The Siren agrees with Lou on all points. A must for Pre-Code and Joan fans. The Siren and Operator 99 of Allure both watched last night and the movie is quite beautiful, even in this format. Clarence Brown had a very graceful sense of framing, the staging of the climax is unforgettable and there are some breathtaking overhead shots. Plus, Joan at her most beautiful, and if you don't believe me, please also check this set of stills at The Best of Everything: The Joan Crawford Encyclopedia.

Update: It's still there, but you have to look hard and act fast.

43 comments:

Yojimboen said...

Too late - it's gone.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Letty Lynton dress is without question the most famous Hollywood costume of all-time. As part of the promotion of the film MGM mass-produced it for public consumption -- and the women of America bought it like nobody's business.

It's an important part of the Crawford legend.

Donna said...

Damn, gone.

I'm a Nils Asther fan in a big way, for the record, a big fan of Joan, too.

The film is still going to remain legendary since almost nobody has seen it, and everyone I know wants to.

The Siren said...

David, yep, and Lou has a great still of the dress. I don't personally care for it myselfj--she wears much nicer things in the movie, I think--but it's a Classic with a Cap C all right.

The Siren said...

Wait, it IS still there. Try again.

flickhead said...

Part one of Letty Lynton: click here.

The Siren said...

Ah, Flickhead the fearless. I was avoiding posting the link but we should all live a little. :) Did you watch it?

flickhead said...

Oops... should I not have posted it? Please advise and I'll delete if necessary.

The Siren said...

Nah, it will be gone soon enough and then I'll delete the link myself. But those who want to see the flick had better act now, as they say.

Ian said...

I watched Letty Lynton courtesy of YouTube several months ago. I loved it. Hopefully your post will continue the fight to bring it out of obscurity!

Kathy G. said...

Folks, if it's still up there, you might want to download it.

Downloading videos from Youtube is surprisingly easy, if your web browser is Firefox. All you have to do is install the "Unplug" feature. Go to mozilla.com, click on the "Add-ons" tab at the top, and search for "Unplug." It only takes a few minutes to download.

Once it's downloaded, go to the Youtube page with the video you want and click on Tools from the Firefox menu. From there it's pretty self-explanatory.

Huge props to the Siren for cluing us all in to this! For the longest time, I've been dying to see this legendary film. Now I'll go watch!

Dan Callahan said...

Glad that "Letty" is on YouTube, in its "now you see her, now you don't" way. I paid for a bootleg through Ebay a while ago, and still have it on DVD.

I don't think they'll ever clear up the legal limbo poor Letty is stuck in. "The Constant Nymph" is also locked up for good, it seems.

Thanks, Kathy G, for your downloading tips; I'll have to try that.

It's really sad when they delete things from YouTube. There was one woman who had created a page of almost all of Crawford's films, and even some radio plays, including Joan's Nora in "A Doll's House" (!)She's actually pretty good in the first scenes. Doesn't seem to know how to play the famous last scene, but that's partly the fault of the abbreviated adaptation.

Laura said...

""The Constant Nymph" is also locked up for good, it seems."

This was shown on campus at USC in L.A. a couple years ago as part of a Korngold tribute. I was really disappointed I was unable to attend! And I see from Google it's playing at the BFI in London just about the very minute I write this.

Let's hope that someday things are cleared up enough it has wider exposure. And as for LETTY, it's really far past time for the powers that be to figure the issues out and quit hiding this classic from the public... What a great movie.

Best wishes,
Laura

Brian Doan said...

Siren, thanks for this post-- I was just talking with my silent film class last week about Brown's FLESH AND THE DEVIL, and they all noted just how elegant his camerawork was, and how well he brought performances out of Garbo and Gilbert. LETTY sounds great.

The Siren said...

Brian, it's true, I was struck by the same thing when I saw Flesh and the Devil--the illicit lovers shot through the husband's fingers, the duel in silhouette. He had real grace and subtlety. Do try to catch Letty, she may not resurface for a while and there are some very beautiful moments as well as a very good performance from Joan.

Kathy, thanks also for the tips!

Vanwall said...

Brown was an under-appreciated director in general, always linked with Garbo somehow. "Intruder in the Dust" is an amazing film, especially for the era. Thanks for the links, all.

Lou Lumenick said...

Some Peter Lorre has posted three tantalizing clips from "The Constant Nymph'' on You Tube. Plus, you can catch Edmund Goulding coaching Fontaine on how to flirt with Boyer in "Breakdowns of 1942, Part 1,'' a Warner blooper reel.

Goose said...

Clarence Brown is indeed underappreciated, a victim of being unfairly written off as a house director at MGM. But Garbo emerging out of the train steam in Anna Karenina, the tracking shot down the table at the banquet in the same film, the dolly shot to the finger dropping the wedding band in (?? I forget which silent) are examples of striking and imaginative filmmaking. His greatest strength may have been in rural or small town settings, such as Intruder in the Dust, The Yearling, and Ah Wilderness. Most known as Garbo’s favorite director, his work with that goddess tends to be overshadowed by Cukor’s in Camille. But the performances in his Garbo pictures maintained a higher standard than the hopeless Robert Taylor and the bombastic Lionel Barrymore in Camille.

Goose said...

Clarence Brown is indeed underappreciated, a victim of being unfairly written off as a house director at MGM. But Garbo emerging out of the train steam in Anna Karenina, the tracking shot down the table at the banquet in the same film, the dolly shot to the finger dropping the wedding band in (?? I forget which silent) are examples of striking and imaginative filmmaking. His greatest strength may have been in rural or small town settings, such as Intruder in the Dust, The Yearling, and Ah Wilderness. Most known as Garbo’s favorite director, his work with that goddess tends to be overshadowed by Cukor’s in Camille. But the performances in his Garbo pictures maintained a higher standard than the hopeless Robert Taylor and the bombastic Lionel Barrymore in Camille.

As an anecdote, I gather from a Robert Osborne intro to Sadie McKee that the long-lived Brown was offended by a negative comment about that film from the Crawford character in WH to Baby Jane.

Goose said...

Clarence Brown is indeed underappreciated, a victim of being unfairly written off as a house director at MGM. But Garbo emerging out of the train steam in Anna Karenina, the tracking shot down the table at the banquet in the same film, the dolly shot to the finger dropping the wedding band in (?? I forget which silent) are examples of striking and imaginative filmmaking. His greatest strength may have been in rural or small town settings, such as Intruder in the Dust, The Yearling, and Ah Wilderness. Most known as Garbo’s favorite director, his work with that goddess tends to be overshadowed by Cukor’s in Camille. But the performances in his Garbo pictures maintained a higher standard than the hopeless Robert Taylor and the bombastic Lionel Barrymore in Camille.

As an amusing anecdote, I gather from a Robert Osborne intro to Sadie McKee that the long-lived Brown was quite offended by a negative comment about that film from the Crawford character in WH to Baby Jane.

Goose said...

Sorry for all those repetitions!

Gareth said...

Thanks for the tip, or the tip about the tip; even on Youtube Brown's skill is apparent, particularly when it comes to framing. There's a great shot, for instance, as Crawford leaves Nils Asther's New York "rooms," where she darts back to grab something. It's worth reading David Bordwell's latest post in tandem with a viewing, too, since he's looking at films from right around this time, albeit from Columbia. There's a fine example of the striped shadows/venetian blinds effect in the climactic sequence of Letty Lynton.

Karen said...

A thousand thanks to Kathy G! I had no idea about UnPlug. I am unplugging Letty even as I write, and will settle down to watch her over the weekend. Yum!

A shame it's such a dreadful print--but better than nothing.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

I loved watching "Letty Lynton," which I had not seen before. Thank you, Siren, for suggesting it!

Can't say that I'm crazy about Crawford's acting, but she *looks* terrific. What was that comment that young Spielberg allegedly made, around the time of filming Crawford in the "Night Gallery" TV movie, about her being a Faberge egg or an exotic ornament and filming her as such? Not a bad description of her appearance here.

Knowing nothing, basically, about the movie except images of The "Letty Lynton" Dress, I was impressed by the way it progressed from screwball-ish comedy to something like "Tosca"-style tragedy. (I'm laboring not to give away plot points.)

My favorite moments were (1) Crawford, in The Dress, and Montgomery sprawled on sofas as he makes his casual marriage proposal ... which might be an encapsulation of '30s moderne chic; (2) the physical business accompanying Asther's Scarpia-like "We'll dance!!"; and (2) a Deco-ish image of Asther looking down as Montgomery and Crawford enter their taxi, the diagonals of the steps down below rhyming with the pattern of Asther's fur collar. Might've been a stylized caricature for '30s Vanity Fair.

Gorgeous stuff!

D Cairns said...

Crawford keeps impressing me more and more. How could someone so transparently fake in interviews appear so genuine when acting. The scene with the d**d b*dy is incredibly powerful, one of the few times anybody has bothered to respond with animal terror to the presence of death in any Hollywood movie I've seen. It points to Brown being a director with an interest in Truth, something that was generally overlooked in the stampede to mark him down as an MGM stylist/hack. Intruder in the Dust, of course, is the film where he gets to take this interest to an astonishing extreme.

The Siren said...

MrsHWV, the overhead shots are something to treasure in this movie. Like David C., I did like Crawford in this, although she is more relaxed in the character when she is bantering with Montgomery than later when she is cornered by Asther. The whole sequence in the hotel room works so well for me, though. It is High Melodrama indeed but as David says, it is anchored enough in truth that events keep the audience in almost unbearable suspense. There are very few old movies where a scene like that can surprise me, and that one certainly did. The moment where Crawford is making her big choice--Brown draws it out and draws it out, and it holds.

**SPOILERS**
Crawford's interactions with Asther are more presentational than the moments where she is deciding what to do and then hiding. He is very, very stylized and she seems to be taking cues from him when they are arguing and she is begging. Once he's safely dead she stops all indicating and becomes, as David says, truly impressive.

And I have no words for how much I love that waiter, and the filming of his bit--the suspense still holding even as you are chuckling.

I think her scenes with Montgomery may seem more natural because HE is a more natural actor. I think Montgomery does wonders with a part that many actors of the period might have turned into a snooze. You see his lazy attractiveness, you see his essential decency, you see his attraction to Letty and you believe in his love.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Verification word = "opropwed." Something to do with ballot propositions and weddings (asked the Californian)?

People keep referring to Asther as Crawford's "Latin lover." Wouldn't it be more accurate to think of him as Crawford's lover while she was in Latin America? Sort of a free-floating louche amour?

In any case ... in the early reel I thought of Asther as the man who kept Crawford, the one who insured that "her pretties are very pretty" (or whatever that "Top Hat" line is). Then, later on, we learn that Crawford is supposed to be a child of Old Money. [Pause for laughter.] Thus explaining the Adrian wardrobe and maid and liner tickets.

Do you think that my reaction was the intended one, with the "old money" stuff a ploy to appease the censors? Or are we supposed to buy the notion of Joanie as upper-class?

(An aside: Somebody-or-other, perhaps Fitzgerald in his MGM days, wrote that the appeal of Crawford was that she looked like a shopgirl ... only dressed as a shopgirl *wanted* to dress. Or so my memory tells me.)

Belvoir said...

Really enjoyed watching this last night, thanks for the heads up.

Some very elegant cinematography- not just the overhead shots, but horizontal moving shots as well.

-Joanie looking pretty iconically great. Her face was pretty masklike and sheer artifice, but with those eyes, that profile, it's fine. Wonderful and famed costumes, of course. That much copied dress made me realize one advantage of those high flaring shoulders- they can discreetly obscure a kiss. I liked best that sort of military? coat-dress with the gold buttons up the sleeve. And that gold dress glinted nicely in the dark when she was hiding from the waiter at the scene of the crime.

- I love old movies that take place on ocean liners, still find it glamorous.

-I like how over the top the depicting of the rich is. Joan and her cranky Victorian mother seem to live in some gigantic marble national monument, or the NY Public Library. Montgomery's parents seem to live in Windsor castle. Disbelief really needs suspension to enjoy this film!

-Like people keeping vials of potent poison in their medicine cabinet. That whole hotel scene was so well done though, Joan broke out of her ice-queen mode and was harrowingly effective. But..

-The question I came away with was: does Letty have any redeeming qualities at ALL? A spoilt adventuress who does as she pleases, treats old Miranda as a slave and donkey (I died laughing when she left Miranda to deal with her 200 trunks at Customs), lets Nils drink the poison, rages at him as he's dying, flees again. Asther's character is a rotter, but her manic hatred and pleasure? at his death - uh, Letty's sort of pretty horrible herself.

-Are we supposed to feel bad for her because her Victorian mumsy disapproves? That's what all those Victorian mothers are for in a thousand old films!

-Loved how the DA used her shocked/aghast-looking photo in the newspaper as evidence! And of course, how casually he dropped the case when Mumsy lied to save her scrapegrace daughter. He had breakfast to get to!

A thoroughly enjoyable film. Montgomery was very attractive, his casualness playing against Joan's uh, strenuous acting style, never relaxing. I read up on the film today, trivia that people here probably already know but:
-The film was released a mere month after Grand Hotel.
- It was banned in the UK not for copyright reasons, but because Letty's crime went unpunished. Depraved modern cinema!

Thanks again, Siren.

Vanwall said...

The most unusual thing about this link, even more than the surprising fact of its existence online, is the manner in which it was reproduced: a VCR recording from what could be a broadcast; the tape was tracking poorly in spots, and the bottom of the screen is often streaky. Interesting that a film effectively barred from release due to legal issues may have been shown on TV somewhere.

The stills from this film, striking as they may be, don't do justice to it, that's for sure - it's even more interesting than I thought it would be. I'm not really enamored of a lot of Crawford's films, and she has a rigid, stonefaced look for a lot of this one, but boy, howdy, she comes on strong at the end. So much so that many of the gaping holes we have to ignore seem like they hardly exist. Montgomery was at his most approachable, and this performance was also one of his best.

As I mentioned, Clarence Brown seems like a forgotten man, and it's almost like his skills are seen as secondary to his stars', which is completely upside down - Brown made these actors and actresses look great, regardless of their talents. Siren had it right, the waiter's scene is brilliantly directed, and it's a throw away scene with an un-billed anybody that becomes indelible; Brown's directorial efforts need to be seen more often, and not just the usual suspects.

Vanwall said...

BTW, it's been taken down due to WB. Do they have search bots just looking for Letty to appear, so they can nix it?

Yojimboen said...

Dear me, there’s no way not to sound fatuous and tiresome about this but, it transpires that the film under discussion was based on a real murder trial in Glasgow in 1857. So it seems we Scots even invented Letty Lynton.

D Cairns said...

Ah, the Madeleine Smith case! As filmed by David Lean in Madeleine, one of his few flops. Since the real-life Madeleine was acquitted, there would have been potential for yet another lawsuit had she been alive when LL was produced...

The Siren said...

Dear D. & Y., as I recall the verdict on the fascinating Madeleine wasn't a full-fledged acquittal of Not Guilty, but rather the inimitably Scottish one of "Not Proven." Think what the availability of such a verdict could have done for some celebrated American trials...

The Lean film is absolutely wonderful, as brooding, sexy and engrossing as his Dickens adaptations. I always think that no one ever did Victorian atmosphere like Lean.

D Cairns said...

You're right, "the bastard verdict" was used for MS. It's a dreadful idea, encouraging the belief that those who can't be convicted should still be considered tainted. The same thinking applies to keeping people in Guantanamo because they're "too dangerous to release" but there's insufficient evidence to prosecute. Absurd in law.

Yojimboen said...

Having grown up with the third choice verdict Not Proven (rhymes with rovin’ BTW), one learns to accept it for what it is: a natural by-product of the psychological (or psychotic) imperatives of Messrs Calvin and Knox bred into every native Scot; [If you’re happy, you’re sinning] viz, “You may not be guilty, Miss Smith, but you’re certainly not innocent! Therefore we’re going to taint you for the rest of your life!”
Sounds fair to me.

The Siren said...

Well, Madeleine was a canny lass and hard to taint. F. Tennyson Jesse, in her brilliant essay on the case, summed up the prevailing wisdom on Miss Smith (my kinswoman, I wonder?): "Probably she did it, but anyhow he deserved it." She married an artist later, had some children and disappeared into the mists of time. I love to think of her latter-day husband, accepting a cup of hot tea from Madeleine after a marital tiff the night before; or perhaps he was wise enough not to have such tiffs.

One of my favorite Victorian women. The Lynton connection hadn't occurred to me but yes, of course that must have helped to inspire it. And like Letty, Madeleine was gently bred and indulging some baser appetites with her foreigner.

And it is also occurring to me that I have an inordinate love for Scottish settings...an Old Dark Country, as it were.

Vanwall said...

John Inglis, her defending council, was once asked if he believed that Madeleine was innocent. After a pause, he said that he would "rather have danced than supped with her."

Karen said...

I'm so pleased to hear your kind words for Montgomery, Siren! He is a particular favorite of mine. I compared an acquaintance of mine to him recently, who knew him only from They Were Expendable, which doesn't quite convey the droll insouciance I was going for. It's a sin that so few early Montgomery fans are on DVD.

Speaking of sins: I was so looking forward to watching Letty Lynton this weekend, and I followed all of Kathy G's instructions carefully, but my downloaded files do not wish to play. They tell me that the "codec" (wha??) is wrong, and that I need a different filename extension. I am inconsolable! I am Lynton-less!!

Gareth said...

Karen, it's probably because the .flv files that you get when you download something with "Unplug" don't play on all media players (e.g. Windows Media Player or QuickTime). You either have to convert them to something like an .avi file - for which you'll need to download a converter - or you can download the VLC media player (works with Mac and Windows) and that will play them. You can get the player here. It's a small bit of software that plays a much wider variety of files, and also allows you to play DVDs from any region on a computer without having to mess around with region coding. I think it's great in terms of being small and multi-purpose. I did not try to convert the .flv files mostly because it seemed more time-consuming, although the quality might possibly be better.

Yojimboen said...

Karen, let me echo Gareth’s advice, I’ve been using VLC Media Player for years – it’s by far the best universal player available. Another one is the GOM Player (Windows, not sure about MAC), available
here. The GOM Player has the best fast-forward/search mode – via arrows or slide-bar – of any of the players.

When all else fails, you can download the FLV Player – Windows or MAC - here.

With these three players – happily all free downloads – you can play pretty much anything; including as Gareth says, foreign region DVDs.

But much more important, said he, breathlessly, how was The Red Shoes print?

Karen said...

Gareth and Yojimboen, a thousand thanks!

And to answer your question, Y: simply divine. The colors were even more startling than I'd ever seen them before. And--to be able to see Anton Walbrook's facial expressions in big-screen dimensions is a blessing and a treat. That man could convey more with the tremor of an upper lip than most actors can with their whole damn bodies.

And it's really an amazing experience to be able to watch a film like that with an audience. I can guarantee you that there wasn't a dry eye in the house at the closing credits.

God, how I love that movie.

Donna said...

It's gone now, btw. I was away and only was able to watch part 1, talk about a tease...

Clarence Brown copied the tracking shot down the dining table from UA's 1925 Valentino film, The Eagle for Anna Karinina (Love). He had a good long career, made some dynamite films. Soemday, I'll get to Knoxville to see his papers.

Igenlode Wordsmith said...

I'm afraid it was the silent "Constant Nymph" showing at the BFI in London in November -- Ivor Novello/Mabel Poulton, not Joan Fontaine.

Interesting to see Novello playing what is basically an impudent, heartless part rather than a tragical suffering one, for once...