Monday, June 13, 2011

So Much for the Sleeve-Tuggers: The Phantom of the Opera (1943)


The Hard Way, below, got the Siren to thinking about the character of the ambitious heroine’s sweetheart--the one who keeps tugging at her spangled sleeve and reminding her that after all, she’s a woman, and he’s a man, and sure, she’s got the adulation of thousands but is that gonna keep her warm at night?

At least one perfectly logical answer being, "Hell yes, assuming I make some decent investments, it will keep me warm and then some, you boob."

But that’s so rarely the answer a Hollywood heroine gives, which is amusing, considering it’s the real-life answer a lot of big female players in that town give every day. Not in movies. Not in Cover Girl, not in The Red Shoes, not in A Star Is Born, not Lana Turner or Hedy Lamarr in Ziegfeld Girl, not Woman of the Year, not Funny Face, not even poor Anne Hathaway when she’s handed fashion-magazine stardom in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, oh no, she still wants that drippy sous-chef. Mind you, the Siren loves all those movies; yes, even The Devil Wears Prada. It’s just a persistent trope, that’s all.

But the Siren bethought herself also of the 1943 Phantom of the Opera.

All right, all right, you're probably tired of The Phantom of the Opera, but the Siren has enduring affection for this version, more so than the admittedly greater 1925 silent with Lon Chaney. The 1943 version is in Technicolor, and the Siren never gets tired of Technicolor. The script has some wit and bite to it, which the Siren attributes to screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein, who’s a side obsession of hers. Claude Rains gets a real character with a detailed background and motivations. And Rains, fabulous actor that he was, knew you couldn’t play this 19th century melodrama in any way other than all-out. He chomps at the scenery with such gusto that the Siren imagines him licking his lips and downing a bromo-seltzer between takes.

In addition to all that, there's the fadeout.

Christine, the heroine, is played by Susanna Foster, a pretty woman and a good singer, and she gets two suitors, Anatole (Nelson Eddy, quite animated and appealing here) and Raoul (Mercury Theater veteran Edgar Barrier). So the action’s over, Christine has been rescued from the lower depths of the Gaumont Opéra (the Siren’s favorite building in Paris, not that you asked). Which sleeve-tugger will she choose?

You can watch below; the part that the Siren is talking about begins around the 7:15 mark. The Siren hopes it brightens your Monday as much as it does hers.




Update: Beloved Siren commenter MrsHenryWindleVale, who knows from sleeve-tuggers, points to Harvey Korman's perfect rendition of the type in the "Torchy Song" skit from the old Carol Burnett Show. No one who didn't love Joan Crawford could do Joan this well, is what I say: "All I have are these miserable scrapbooks, filled with nothing but thousands of articles telling me how wonderful I am."

Embedding is disabled, alas, but part one is here. Part two is here.

35 comments:

Zelle said...

I remember I watched this movie when I was very very young, probably ten years old. You see, I consider it to be the best Phantom of the Opera on film in my opinion. And I didn't even remember Christine character played here by Susanna Foster, I only remembered Claude Rains where I feel he makes a superbe performance. I have never forgotten the begining of the movie as well as the moment when Claude Rains gets the acid all over his face. I think Rains was a great great actor, more than we normally think. He has played many different characters but as the Invisible Man, or in Hitchcock movie, he was incredible. And by the way, here is a big fan of The Red Shoes :-)

The Siren said...

I adore Rains in this movie, as I do in just about anything, even when he's alarmingly miscast as in They Made Me a Criminal. Of his lesser-knowns, you haven't seen The Unsuspected, that's a great one, as is Deception. He was supposedly a big ladykiller off-screen, which I don't find hard to believe despite his shortness. I mean, that VOICE!

And it's also my favorite Phantom by quite a large margin, though I do think the silent is a better film overall...the difference between affection and artistic judgment, I suppose.

X. Trapnel said...

I'm not sure whether it's Rains or his hat that's miscast in TMMAC. The latter is a wonder to behold.

john_burke100 said...

I found the resemblance between Raoul and Inspector Clouseau sort of distracting.

Sleeve-tugging reaches really scary heights in The Great Lie, with George Brent demanding that concert pianist Mary Astor cancel a scheduled performance because he insists they repeat their wedding--a technical formality--on Tuesday, not Monday or Wednesday; when she won't go along, he concludes (without any perceptible regret) that the marriage is off. That whole movie is a jaw-dropper--Bette all butched up while Mary delivers the baby, then femmed out as its adoptive Mom, and finally the ending which always makes me think they had run short of film stock.

Zelle said...

No, there are so many titles with Rains I have not yet seen. So i take note of your comment. I really like Claude Rains, have always liked him and I also think he has a very beautiful special expressive and powerful voice. I read he out of the movies he had a real strong personality, and lately reading This N' That by Bette Davis I discovered Claude Rains was her best actor to play with in a movie, she excels his work in the movies, she felt he was so great. And it's true. I have seen a few movies so this moment is good to go and enjoy Rains savoir faire:-) In Now Voyager, I frankly could not have chosen any other actor but him. How sympathetic and fair he is, the psychological approach towards Davis is almost real, he communicates all the feelings.

Peter Nellhaus said...

OK. I'll give this a second look. Last time was way back in the 60s on black and white TV. As soon as there's room, this Phantom will trail Son of Fury and something with Deanna Durbin on the perpetually filled Netflix queue.

The Siren said...

Peter, a couple of sources say Foster got this part because Durbin turned it down. If true, as a Durbin fan I think that's a pity. I hope people click on the Foster link though, that's an interesting blog.

XT, that hat is marvelous! I so love Rains in that movie for how incredibly uncomfortable he looks, like an operatic tenor at a square dance.

John Burke, you are so right about The Great Lie, though that is one hell of an entertaining movie and Astor is just marvelous. I feel like the movie is just imbued with Astor and Davis' mutual respect and liking for one another; their scenes together are so good.

Laura said...

I was just thinking about how rad this ending is when someone mentioned Phantom to me recently. The overall movie might be a bit bright and sugary compared to most versions, but I actually don't mind anymore, now that I've recovered from my middle school choir girl days when I was obsessed with Phantom. Rains is heartbreaking and Foster's Christine makes the decision I wish every Christine had made. Plus, props to her for being the only Christine to ever sing with her own voice, barring the musical ones, of course.

Speaking of which, can you believe she was only eighteen or something at the time of filming? Madness. Someone should write about insanely young women playing the lead roles in Hollywood: Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not at age nineteen, Valerie Hobson in Bride of Frankenstein at age seventeen, Loretta Young in Laugh Clown Laugh at age fourteen....

Rachel said...

My mind boggles at Linda Darnell, playing in things like Daytime Wife at sixteen.

That was a surprisingly sweet ending for a Phantom movie. It's almost enough to make me forget that Andrew Lloyd Webber saw fit to foist Love Never Dies on an innocent public.

To the list of annoying sleeve-tuggers, I'd add the husband from the much more recent film Secretariat. Oh no, my wife inherited a race horse and is sometimes called by her maiden name! How could she do this to me?

Yojimboen said...

Somebody has to say it: Loretta Young was never fourteen.

Men with Hats.

The Siren said...

Y., that's a great shot!!

Laura, I read that Loretta Young had to have forms put around her legs in Laugh Clown Laugh, that's how young she was. Ann Miller always claimed she was around that age when her career began but I never knew whether or not I believed that. But I pretend to believe it, because I love Ann Miller.

Rachel, surely one of the reasons we all love His Girl Friday as much as we do is because the sleeve-tugger loses the girl. And Stage Door is so hip, it doesn't even have a real version of the type.

Rachel said...

Siren, Sheila had a fascinating entry not too long ago about the distaff counterpart to sleeve-tuggers, the nagging wife/girlfriend. The one who always comes in to try to spoil the guy's fun/quest/thing he's just got to do and tells him that saving people is all very well but can you please come home and take out the trash. She zeroed in on the wife in Field of Dreams and pointed out how refreshing it can be when Hollywood makes the romantic partner supportive and intelligent.

http://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=37927

To which I'd add that one of my favorite movies, Letter to Three Wives, makes the sleeve-tugging husband into someone who's actually smart, supportive, and patient. His complaint isn't that Ann Sothern's character is working or that she neglects the family, but that he wants her to stand up to her boss, to be more assertive. I loved that.

john_burke100 said...

@Rachel: I saw Nora Ephron talking about that to a gathering of women screenwriters--she mentioned Sissy Spacek as Liz Garrison in "JFK" and Angela Bassett as Betty Shabazz in "Malcolm," among others. There's probably a dissertation topic in there about how the Private and Public Spheres are gendered, but you don't need a Ph. D. to notice lazy, stereotyped writing.

Untouched Takeaway said...

The blog you hyperlinked to for Susanna Foster has to be one of the most heart-breaking things I've ever read in my life. Not sure how I originally found it, but I had to stop, because it was actually making me ill to read it.

Tragic life for such a talent.

UT

Catmommie said...

Then there's that repellent moment in All About Eve where Margot Channing sleeve-tugs herself to Celeste Holm:

"Funny business, a woman's career - the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman. You're something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you're not a woman. Slow curtain, the end."

I'm convinced they cut that scene at the point where Margot paused for a moment, then said "Wait a minute...what the hell? Which mouth breather wrote this garbage?"

The Siren said...

Untouched Takeaway, I confess that all I read was the Phantom entry...I just did a little more digging and it's a fascinating blog, with all kinds of documents about his parents, but very stream-of-consciousness so it's a bit hard to piece the story together.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

There was a discussion, a while back, where I was talking about some-lust-object-or-other ... I forget the specifics ... but I gave as a justification a George Orwell-influenced phrase "Self-hatred combined with bully-worship?" Perhaps that might apply to a couple of these females qho acquiesce to dubious males in the films under discussion

gmoke said...

"In Heaven, we are so starved for Technicolor." Marius Goring as Conductor 71 in "A Matter of Life and Death" or, if you prefer, "Stairway to Heaven."

Of course, the opposite of the sleeve-tugger is the Svengali heel.

The Siren said...

Catmommie, you have fingered my least favorite moment in one of my favorite movies. However, I never agreed with those who say Margo is giving up her career at the end; she's taking a break. Which we're all entitled to. Especially when three months ago we were forty years old, forty, four-oh...

And I always thought that "slow curtain, the end" undermined a bit...she knows she's being maudlin and full of self-pity.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

(Code phrase: "pitimm", as in "Pity! Mmmm...")

If I had the ability to imbed a link, I'd do it to the Carol Burnett spoof of "Torch Song" entitled "Torchy Song." The relations between Crawford/Burnett and Wilding/Harvey Korman say all that needs to be said about such couplings.

BTW, while reading Siren's excellent piece (brava!) my eye first mistook the "Anatole" of Nelson Eddy's character for "Assh*le". A judgement I feel inclined to stand by.

The Siren said...

Mrs HWV, I linked Torchy Song in an update at the bottom, as promised! It is truly genius. "It took me years to perfect THIS POSE." (Actually, Carol had great gams. Who knew.)

Buttermilk Sky said...

To Laura's list of girl actresses I have to add Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place In the Sun." Sure, she had had years of experience, but she wasn't even twenty in that one. "Tell mama," she murmurs to Clift, and suddenly he's the child...

Claude Rains alert: TCM has "Caesar and Cleopatra" late Tuesday. Make all arrangements for recording.

The Siren said...

Buttermilk, I so wanted to love Caesar & Cleopatra and just didn't. Rains is good and Leigh is too, but the movie itself is dramatically DOA. As a Shaw fan from way back I was keenly disappointed. But by all means, set the DVR and come back to tell me I'm WRONG...

The Siren said...

Also, I am thawing out toward many of the people on what Wolcott christened my "Hollywooden" Actors list and at some point I will probably post an--apology? addendum? "is my face red" walkback? Anyway, Nelson Eddy is one of them.

I'm just not inclined to dislike any Old Hollywood actors, except June Allyson, and I might even turn around on her if I ever get to see The Shrike.

Rachel said...

That "Torchy Song" is pure bliss.

Catmommie, while I agree that Margo's speech is truly gag-worthy, in an odd way, it made sense to me for Margo's character. I could believe her as the kind of woman who mouthed those sentiments, but didn't truly live by them. After all, Joan Crawford made that crack about Women's Libbers being "unhappy" and "bitter," but she was nobody's idea of the demure, unassuming housewife.

I theorized that Margo's speech was fueled not so much by career dissatisfaction, but by her own bitterness at not living up to the feminine ideal personified by Eve, who bats her eyes and plays the adoring acolyte.

Vanwall said...

"Money can't buy you love, but it can keep a pack of troubles off your front porch!" Way to go Christine! She was only using her head, and her heart, too - best to make careful investments with that. But H'wood couldn't have too much of that, now!

Vanwall said...

Off topic, but I wouldn't want anyone here to miss looking at:

auction1

auction2

DavidEhrenstein said...

Torchy Song -- Part 1

DavidEhrenstein said...

Torchy Song -- Part 2

DavidEhrenstein said...

My favorite line: "I've read it -- it's dull!"

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

It was David E who reminded my about "Torchy Song," which I had seen aeons ago and didn't particularly remember. (Thank you, David.) Perhaps that balances my having forwarded to him a clip of the Jack Cole/Mitzi Gaynor "I Don't Care!" number.

One notices that Crawford's character is named Janny Driver -- a reflection of Jenny Diver in "Threepenny Opera"?

As for Burnett's expertise at playing Crawford ... I remember reading Burnett's autobiography, where she writes of meeting Crawford and telling JC "You remind me of my mother." Perhaps that's where some of the --engagement? empathy? -- comes in.

The Siren said...

I love that skit SO MUCH and if I saw it (I used to watch re-runs of Carol Burnett all the time) I'd forgotten it. I can't thank you enough.

"I'll filigree YOUR piquancy, bud."

"When I lost my position as a theater critic due to a sudden attack of nearsightedness, I did the only thing I could do. I took up the piano."

And when she blows her line, it's also perfect: "All I needed was a man strong enough to take care of, and yet helpless--oh, I mean strong enough to boss me around, and yet helpless enough to take care of."

GENIUS.

The Burnett parodies are always deeply affectionate. They make the movies funny by taking them up a few notches to the level of complete absurdity, not by sneering.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Speaking as a (cough!) not-writing-at-the-moment (cough!) theater critic who plays piano ... I resemble that intermediate remark!

THE FUTURIST! said...

The two romantic leads look so much alike. Their facial lip adornment seems manicured by the same stylist. THE FUTURIST! feels elated at the end of this scene. He believes they have dinner together and then find love with each other. Their mustaches live happily ever after. THE FUTURIST!is very happy! Thank you, Siren!

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Does you pool heater malfunction Louise?!"