Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Bell Tolls for Vera Zorina

And there she is, bending gracefully over us all and doing a splendid job of boosting the Siren's traffic (thanks, Mr. Wolcott!)--voilà, Vera Zorina, pictured above in her Waternymph costume from The Goldwyn Follies. Another final-round question for Silver Screen Trivial Pursuit (congratulations, Jonathan). One of Samuel Goldwyn's found-and-losts, like the gorgeous, luckless Anna Sten. Until recently the Siren knew Vera primarily as George Balanchine's second wife and the woman whom Ingrid Bergman replaced in For Whom the Bell Tolls. But the Fox channel ran one of the ballerina's few starring vehicles, a fluffy thing called I Was an Adventuress. And you know what? Zorina wasn't half bad, even when she wasn't dancing.

She had a refreshingly strong profile and a figure that was sheer perfection--toned beyond belief, more buxom and far less sylph-like than later Balanchine stars like Tanaquil Le Clercq or Suzanne Farrell. (However, upon comparison with the above still, the Siren thinks Zorina was padded quite a bit for Adventuress, a pretty common practice at the time.) Her acting is somewhere around the level of Hedy Lamarr on a really good day--definitely not great, but watchable. She has warmth and presence.

I Was an Adventuress was directed by Gregory Ratoff (hey kids, we all forgot him for Great Comic Character Actors and we shouldn't have). According to IMDB the movie was a remake of an Edwige Feuillère vehicle, J'étais une aventurière, and that's all the site says about the original, except that it was banned in Finland. (Your guess is as good as the Siren's.) Anyway, in the Hollywood version Zorina is the accomplice and lure for two crooks, played with gusto by Erich von Stroheim and Peter Lorre. Stroheim and Lorre have excellent chemistry, more so than the romantic leads. The two con artists give the same sub rosa sense of a bickering couple that you get from the Sidney Greenstreet/Lorre outings, as the Stroheim character tries to rein in Lorre's kleptomania and Lorre swears he'll learn to restrain himself, then lifts another watch.

Zorina poses as a countess in order to set up the trio's high-born marks, and her dancing is worked in too, somehow--she's one of those prima-ballerina-fake-countess-grifters that were littering Europe at the time. Would it surprise you to learn that she falls in love with one millionaire she's supposed to be conning? that the couple marry, and one big scene of domestic bliss finds her doing a perfect arabesque in the bedroom? (That was kind of unexpected, actually.) How about that von Stroheim and Lorre are determined to return Zorina to her crooked ways?

Well, I'll tell you what would surprise you--the ballet sequence at the end. The Siren was not expecting to see Zorina's dance partner arrive in full armor, and as he stomped onstage in this Renaissance Faire getup the Siren murmured "Oh, dear." But she should have banked more on George Balanchine's genius, because not only does the dance still work, it is also quite dark and startingly sexual, a different take on the tragic close of Swan Lake. There's a marvelous moment when Zorina bends away from her partner, the move shot straight-on so that she seems to peel away from him like the petal of a flower.

So the movie is ridiculous, but at the same time very enjoyable, with Zorina looking lovely, Lorre approaching the prime years of his Hollywood period and the Balanchine ballet to savor at the end. You can't look at the film and think the brevity of Zorina's career was as terrible a loss as Frances Farmer or Dorothy Comingore, but the Siren did think it was a pity the ballerina's star didn't survive long enough to see her forge a real career in musicals. She could certainly act as well as Cyd Charisse, and her dancing was magical.

A little background here on Zorina. One of the most poignant parts of A. Scott Berg's Goldwyn biography comes when he describes the producer's one-sided crush on Zorina, which played out as The Goldwyn Follies was filming in 1938. The ballerina was just 20 years old and, unlikely as it seems when you read about Goldwyn's behavior, she appears genuinely not to have perceived his feelings for her. Zorina had fallen in love with Balanchine, and was consumed with him both personally and professionally.

Goldwyn, meanwhile, threw everything he had into making her debut as memorable as possible, including hiring Vernon Duke to write the music for the Waternymph ballet. He watched Zorina's screen tests over and over, lavished advice and favors on her, snuck over to Balanchine's closed studio to glimpse her rehearsing. Lillian Hellman, on the lot to try and shake some sense into the Follies script, observed one day that Goldwyn always departed the studio minutes after Zorina did. She alerted colleagues and word spread. With malicious enjoyment, the others in the building started a betting pool based on how many minutes would pass between Zorina's exit and Goldwyn's. After a few weeks of this an enterprising writer followed Goldwyn and discovered that the producer's cab was tailing Zorina all the way to her house. Goldwyn would watch Zorina disappear inside, then order the taxi back to his office.

Like everyone else in Hollywood apart from Zorina, Goldwyn's wife Frances had got wind of her husband's behavior, but she became convinced it was an actual affair. One night she telephoned George Cukor, and her old friend arrived to find Frances descending the stairs, every item she owned packed and ready to go. Cukor ordered her back in the house and that, apparently, was that. After the Follies Zorina never made another movie for Goldwyn, although he loaned her to other studios and allowed her to work in theater. For decades Zorina took this as a comment on her talent; Berg writes that "something so far removed from her dancing as the preservation of a marriage had never even occurred to her."

But it wasn't just Goldwyn's withdrawal that doomed Zorina's career. What finished her chances for real stardom was being sacked from For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1943. Zorina actually spent three weeks on set with Gary Cooper, only to have Paramount abruptly change its mind and replace her with Ingrid Bergman. Bergman had lobbied frantically for the part and was Hemingway's choice as well. The co-author of Bergman's autobiography, Alan Burgess, says Paramount hired Zorina in the first place largely to save money, on the theory that once upon a time nobody had heard of Vivien Leigh, either. TCM's notes also cite an old rumor that Zorina, whose marriage to Balanchine turned out to be unhappy, was having an affair with somebody important.

Burgess says that when the first rushes came back, the studio told the press that "light was apparently draining off Vera's face when she was photographed from above." The Siren has no idea what that means and poor Zorina didn't, either. Ingrid Bergman had her own theory:

The real trouble was that Vera was a ballerina. Yet she had to run around those mountains like a little wild animal. And Vera was afraid of damaging her legs.

They were to her why my face was to me. If an onrushing train came against me, I would protect my face. Vera would protect her legs. So when they saw the first rushes of the film taken in the mountains this came through quite clearly; and they decided that Vera was unsuitable. They took her off For Whom the Bell Tolls, and gave her another picture.

This is an interesting and rather charming explanation on Bergman's part, but the Siren doesn't buy it and never has. For one thing, what was this other picture? Zorina's next, Follow the Boys, came an entire year later and was made for Universal. This article by Robert Osborne seems far more plausible. Zorina wrote in her memoirs that Paramount couldn't have hated her rushes, since all she ever filmed was one short scene where she carried a loaf of bread. The ballerina believed that filming was deliberately stalled while director Sam Wood and Cooper waited for the actress they really wanted, Bergman, to be finished with Casablanca. Zorina said David O. Selznick, who had Bergman under contract, told her many years later that he had engineered her firing.

So many machinations and bitter feelings over a film whose charm has always eluded the Siren. If any of her readers want to praise For Whom the Bell Tolls the Siren would love to hear it, but she always found it dull at best and risible at worst, with all the politics carefully siphoned off and most of the cast sporting every accent conceivable except Spanish. The Siren wishes Zorina were still around. She'd tell the dancer that, in all honesty, she prefers I Was an Adventuress.


Uncle Gustav said...

Very cool piece of work...first you knock my eyes out with That Photo, and now this profile. Time for me to take a cold shower.

Your mention of Vera's acting and that of Cyd Charisse brought to mind David Thomson's amusing though acerbic quip about Cyd: "Her acting is like the songs in Marx Brothers films."

I also came away apathetic from For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway rarely translated well to the screen...though to this day I've yet to see The Sun Also Rises. My favorite Hemingway novel, I can only imagine the film's gaudy splendor.

The Siren said...

I adore Charisse (she was my father's favorite movie star) and I never found her acting all THAT bad but I do spend most of her scenes waiting for her to dance. I always thought she started to show that she had learned some acting chops right around the same time that her career cooled along with the musical. She's pretty good in Party Girl and the way-underrated Two Weeks in Another Town. She's even not bad in the Garbo role in Silk Stockings (which as I recall Thomson cites as one of MGM's two best musicals, consistency be damned).

I want to like The Sun Also Rises and watched it again recently but despite my newfound respect for Tyrone Power it just ain't gonna happen. The movie is indeed an eyeful but the only actor who didn't bore me to tears was Errol Flynn, who was excellent. No, I take that back--Eddie Albert also acquitted himself well.

peg said...

i so enjoy your posts!

as to cyd charisse - the best thing that can be said for her is that she (her legs?) inspired the most brilliantly engineered skirt designs ever. truly, there are times when i skip watching the dancers altogether for not being able to take my eyes off the third (and most elegantly graceful) star of the number - her skirt.

Greg said...

I never knew so much of this about her. It's quite an interesting story.

And it's a sad story. I imagine things like this happen often enough in Hollywood but I question the reason she never had a further career. Bergman's account seems like pure rubbish and she deserves some kind of an award for delivering that explanation with a straight face - it's ripe. I also agree that Osborne's explanation rings true. My only question is about Zorina's acting abilities in part, and her presence on the screen as well.

I know she has that presence in the Goldwyn Follies (and it's the only thing I've seen her in so it's all I have to go on) but acting abilities be damned, sometimes performers just don't register on the screen. And when that happens they don't get used. If they're good, they do. I have known actors who have been sacked from shows I have worked on and they have continued to find work. Going back to your previous post, in the Marathon Man doc Scheider and Hoffman talk about how they were in a play together in the sixties that Hoffman got canned from. And we all know it didn't affect his further career.

So my thinking is, there's more to this than meets the eye. Getting sacked from the movie is pretty bad I admit, but if Zorina had an irresistable presence before the camera it would not have affected her career. Producers and directors would have kept requesting her.

But all of this is, and will remain, conjecture on my part. I have but one movie to base it on and what I remember is the ballet. Having seen more of her onscreen work you are the better judge of this. So if you are saying she was good in I was an Adventuress I believe you. My question is, while watching it, did you think she had onscreen charisma or not?

The Siren said...

Jonathan, there are some clips from "Adventuress" on Youtube so you can judge a little bit for yourself. The clips were posted by a Lorre fan but there's a fair bit of Zorina too. I remember liking her in Louisiana Purchase too. (I am trying to put a clip on here but running into some sort of obstacle that may be specific to my computer--don't ask.) I would say charm yes, charisma no, not when she wasn't dancing. When she's dancing, that goddess picture is no joke. That's why I think she missed a shot at musicals, where Charisse did splendidly based solely on her beauty and incredible dancing.

Bergman's memoirs have several passages, like that Zorina moonshine she spins, where she downplays her own ambition to an absurd degree. Maybe that's a leftover from an era when women didn't admit to career ruthlessness, not unless you were Bette Davis. But you'd have to be touched in the head not to think that Wood and Cooper and everybody else wanted Bergman because she was a great actress and astonishing screen presence, simple as that. Zorina wasn't in that league, I have to admit, though as frequently happens with me I got quite fond of her while looking up material for this post.

DeeLuzon, it is nice to see you here! I completely agree about the Skirts of Charisse. You have me thinking about those dangling green fabric strips in Singin' in the Rain. Speaking of which, you simply must check out this link to Raymond De Felitta's place, where he relates a delightfully off-color story from Stanley Donen about just how short one of Charisse's Singin' outfits really was.

peg said...


thanks for the welcome and the referral to the donen anecdote. the green spangles were great, but i think that the most perfect skirt ever was the "simple" pleated, white one for the "dancing in the dark" number. truly, the most brilliant skirt ever created. it has a life all its own and, thanks to the miracle of tivo, i have, in fact, rewound the number just to watch the skirt which seems to have been choreographed, itself, so perfectly does it move.

i am fairly sure that, back in the day, it was the first "girlie" item of wardrobe i ever coveted from a movie, having been a tomboy far more desirous of a snappy cavalry shirt and jeans (or doris day's outfit from the "secret love" number).

Karen said...

Oh, Siren, I do love it when you pull out the stops and deluge us with anecdotes! This was one high-quality post, my friend.

I wanted to find out why "I was an adventuress" was banned in Finland, so I went to my old friend, the AFI Catalog, but it let me down. No explanation provided. But to make me feel better, it gave me plenty else, which I will herewith share with you:

"A working title for this film was European Plan. According to onscreen credits, the 1938 French picture, J'étais une Aventurière, on which I Was an Adventuress was based, was produced by Gregor Rabinovitsch. The Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library credits Jane Hinton Smith with translating the film into English. According to a Mar 1939 HR news item, at the time that Twentieth Century-Fox acquired the rights to remake the French film, Myrna Loy and Warner Baxter were announced as the stars. Jul 1939 HR news items indicate that the film, which was then slated as a "top budget picture" starring Marlene Dietrich, was moved over to the Sol Wurtzel unit and set for production as a "programmer." In Oct 1939, a HR news item noted that actress Madeleine Carroll was set to play the female lead following the studio's failure to negotiate a deal with Dietrich for the part.

"Although a 9 Dec 1939 HR production chart indicates that production on the film began on 8 Dec, under the direction of Ricardo Cortez, subsequent production charts and news items suggest that filming did not begin until 15 or 18 Dec. The inclusion of film footage that may have been directed by Cortez in the released film has not been determined. HR production charts list actors Albert Conti, George Humbert and Anna Demetrio in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to HR pre-release news items, James Havens directed the second unit, which was set for filming on location in Orange County, CA, and associate producer Nunnally Johnson was to participate in preparing the script. HR news items also indicate that star Vera Zorina was forced to suspend her work on the film at least twice during production: In late Dec, Zorina was reported to have collapsed on the set following her recuperation from a bout with influenza, which, along with "an approaching nervous breakdown," was attributed to the star's fourteen hour-a-day shooting schedule; and in Feb 1940, Zorina was ordered to stop rehearsals for the ballet sequence when she developed an inflammation of the ankles.

"Studio publicity records relate the following information: director Gregory Ratoff insisted on an all-European cast for this film, and banned all discussion of the war in Europe or international politics on the set in order to prevent fighting among cast members. To demonstrate how he wanted each scene performed, Ratoff reportedly acted out every scene in the film. Ratoff also insisted that the jewels in the film be real, so he borrowed jewels (valued at $300,000) from a jewelry store and hired studio police and private guards to keep watch over them during production. Vera Zorina, whose real name was Brigita Hartwig, was married to dance director George Balanchine. The twelve minute ballet sequence of "Swan Lake" was the longest ballet scene to appear in any film to date. For the scene, a $15,000 all-glass set, the first of its kind, was built using 40,000 square feet of 1/4 inch plate glass. Jack Lorenz, a studio electrician, fell to his death from a thirty-foot high catwalk while lighting a scene for the film."


About "For whom the bell tolls" (a film I don't particularly care for, either, because I find Hemingway pretty risible in himself, but which I think is beautifully shot), AFI says only "Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following: Vera Zorina was originally cast as "Maria," but was replaced after two weeks of shooting by Ingrid Bergman, director Wood's original choice, because the producer and director were dissatisfied with Zorina's performance and appearance."

Poor Vera!

Noel Vera said...

On For Whom the Bell Tolls: Much of the movie's heavy-handed, though I did like Katrina Paxinou and Akim Tamiroff's bickering couple, and I'm a bit of a sucker for Cooper's final self-sacrificing monologue (what can I say? I was ten, twelve at the time).

That said, Ingrid Bergman in that film looked indelible. Didn't she start a whole fashion trend with that haircut, the 'shepherd boy' look or somesuch?

Noel Vera said...

And as someone points out in imdb's commentary section of all places, no one weeps like Bergman. That was the first time I got treated to her emotional nakedness onscreen, and for a young kid it made a pretty big impression, you betcha.

Bob Westal said...

Wow, no one racks up the comments like the Siren. And, btw, the Woolcott link has a penumbra effect -- because you linked to me in that piece (twice), my stats went pretty darn high, although I'm sure no one near your stratospheric levels. So, at one remove, thanks Mr. Woolcott.

Re: Cyd Charisse -- I generally agree with Thomson, but she was very good in "It's Always Fair Weather" playing a very smart character with a warm interior but a cool surface. Why this didn't work for her as Ninotchka in "Silk Stockings", I have no idea.

The tale of Vera Zorina reminds me a little bit of the attractive skater who was brought in as kind of latter day Sonja Hennie for a poverty row studio (I think) in the forties...only her best known film was a truly strange film noir with frequent interludes for skating numbers. Anyone remember the name of that one, or the woman?

Ingrid Bergman's story seems like the kind of thing you tell yourself to make you feel better after benefiting from other people's ruthlessness perhaps. It's interesting how many other ballet dancers have made the transition and been rather good actors, from Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann (who popped up in seventies horror pictures, well one anyways) and much more recently geek-fave and former ballet dancer Summer Glau of "Serenity" and TV fame who uses her dance skills to kill and maim gorgeously.

I'm also reminded re: movie and literary amnesia that I'm honestly not sure whether or not I've read "For Whom the Bell Tolls" or maybe just started it. I know it's got lots of ambulance driving in it! (I think I fell asleep watching the flick on TV once or twice...still, can't be as bad as the overaged "Sun Also Rises")

The Siren said...

Dee, I loved the whole Band Wagon outfit. She has a silk scarf as a belt and charming flats, too. The whole thing is just breathtakingly chic, sexy without being clingy or obvious.

Karen, wow, you give good anecdote yourself. I should clarify that it was the original that was banned in Finland, but I still have no idea why. Feuillere was in two Ophuls I have never seen so I have a date with her for the future.

But it's the "no politics" edict from Ratoff that has me fascinated. I assume that no one, especially not the Jewish Stroheim and Lorre, was supporting the Nazis and so I figure the potential debate must have centered on American intervention, or possibly the non-aggression pact. Or maybe military tactics--I am reminded of a scene in the book Auntie Mame, where Patrick walks in and she's sticking pins in her Rand-McNally war atlas and saying "I'm telling you, darling, you've got to hand it to that Rommel, bastard though he is."

The Siren said...

Noel, Bergman is one of those actresses whom women love, but all men fall in love with. And from what I can tell from reading contemporary reviews, For Whom the Bell Tolls had that effect even more than Casablanca. Tamiroff and Paxinou were the high points for me, too, but though I am something of a Cooper apologist I did not dig him in that movie at all.

Bob, I agree about Helpmann, he was always a delight (the Childcatcher!) but if you believe Michael Powell (and I did) getting a real performance out of Shearer was no mean feat. Barishnykov has been pretty good on occasion, though, ditto Godunov. I think they wanted to cast Darcey Bussell in the remake of Sabrina but went with Julia Ormond instead; Bussell must have been glad she dodged that bullet.

As for the film-noir ice skater I think you mean the British star Belita. I had only vaguely heard of her but the "Suspense" movie sounds kind of good, doesn't it? Great quote from Barry Sullivan in that obit: "I loved Belita because she didn't know what the fuck was happening."

Bob Westal said...

"Suspense" -- that's it! Thanks for the memory jog, and yes, Belita was her name.

However, I have to say that "good" is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of it, but then neither is "bad." Though I've pretty much forgotten the film's details -- all I really remember going from being a little impatient, to extremely amused by some of the kitschy/borderline surrealist skating numbers. (It turned up at one of the annual Film Noir fests at the L.A. Cinematheque and, sadly, does not appear to be available on DVD.)

My overall impression was that someone at Monogram thought, "Hey, these dark, gritty suspense movies seem to be doing well, and ice skating musicals are still doing okay. Let's make a darkly gritty suspenseful ice skating picture!"

I'm still waiting for the inevitable release of "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Dog" (though, in a few years it might be "Barack Obama's Obnoxious Surgeon's Ferret" or something.)

Bob Westal said...

Oh, and I'm sure I do believe Michael Powell about Helpmann -- I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read his books. Yet. (Up until recently, I've actually sort of avoided reading books about movies for wacky reasons of my own.)

My main impression is from an Australian thriller I liked a lot as a teenager called "Patrick" in which Helpmann had a pretty big part. I got the impression from hearing the director, Richard Franklin, that he was, by then, quite the old pro and easy to work with. I don't know what "the Childcatcher" is, but that sure sounds interesting.

In general, my point was that some percentage of performers in other fields are able to translate that into screen acting. I think there's something about the discipline of being a dancer or a musician (especially a singer) that can sometimes aide in becoming a decent movie actor.

camorrista said...

As Flickhead notes, Hemingway's novels don't transfer gracefully to the screen, and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" hasn't worn that well even as a book.

But if you were going to attempt it, would you really hire the director who gave us "A Day at the Races," or "Goodbye Mr. Chips?"

Interestingly, the best adaptations of EH were the two versions of "The Killers" (1946, Robert Siodmak and 1964, Don Siegel); and the Hawks-Furthman-Faulkner "To Have and Have Not." All short stories, all directed by men who shared Hemingway's laconic, macho esthetic.

As to Vera Zorina, well, despite her supernatural beauty and breathtaking grace, she attracted more famous lovers than decent parts--the honor roll is extraordinary, and she wound up marrying not only Balanchine but Goddard Lieberson, the emperor for decades of Columbia Records.

My guess (and here I agree with Jonathan Lapper) is that not only is her tale of intrigue about "Bells..." fiction, but that it was also her excuse to leave Hollywood. Audiences never warmed up to her (nor she to them, really); and she resisted doing anything useful about her accent.

Dancers who can't act (or sing passably) have it very hard in movies; the successful ones can do either or both--Leslie Caron, Debbie Reynolds, Mitzi Gaynor, Jane Powell, and yes, even Cyd Charisse.

But, anyway, all hail Ms. Zorina, and thanks to the Siren for reminding us of another small, shiny gem in the Hollywoodo jewelbox.

The Siren said...

Hey, I like Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and I out-and-out love A Day at the Races. But you're right, not a resume that screams "hire me for a politically aware action/romance right now!" I wonder what a Wellman or Huston would have made of the movie. I didn't read up on Ms Zorina's lovers, but I do think she's probably right that cast and crew were stalling until Bergman was available. Despite her Hollywood career fizzling she seems to have had a pretty good life altogether, possibly better than if she had stuck around in Hollywood. (In this she reminds me of Luise Rainer, who also married well and got the hell out.) A lot of great stars came to much, much sadder ends.

camorrista said...

Wellman, or Huston, or Walsh, or Hawks, or any of those guys who had talent and appreciated Hemingway's macho mannerisms (in life and on the page) would probably have done better than Wood, but I suspect (based on the debilitating perils of adaptation) that nobody would have made a decent movie of the book.

You'd think that Hemingway would really lend himself to movies, but not so. Orgiginal Hemingway (or Pinter, or Beckett, or Mamet, or any of the laconic masters) doesn't migrate well. Movies are too realistic, in the sense that even the slowest spectator, when he hears an over-stylized piece of dialogue, asks himself, who talks like that...?

As to "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," well, your praise for it leaves me scratching my head in puzzlement, but then, I've always had a terrible weakness for "Strawberry Blonde."

The Siren said...

It's been a long while since I sat through For Whom the Bell Tolls, but as I remember I walked out blaming screenwriter Dudley Nichols more than anybody. I thought he took the stuff that was the least interesting (the sappy romance, the windy philosophic stuff) and elevate it while excising the stuff that was the most interesting (the history, the conflict, the politics).

I'm looking at Sam Wood's filmography to refresh my memory, and he actually did a number of movies I quite like, incl. The Pride of the Yankees, Kings Row and Saratoga Trunk, plus one more masterpiece (YES, I mean that) A Night at the Opera. (Though I doubt very much any one person can be plausibly called the "auteur" of a Marx Brothers movie, not even Groucho.) But none of those really have the dynamism that the Hemingway needed. Walsh or Hawks would have done better, too.

I am trying to think of more Hemingway-on-screen and I do remember liking The Macomber Affair when I saw it.

As for Goodbye Mr. Chips, I find it sweet and nostalgic and I like Robert Donat. I do have a weakness for boarding-school stories; I sat through all 13 parts of To Serve Them All My Days when I was a lass. So now you have wormed one of my secrets out of me.

As many of my loyal commenters can tell you, The Strawberry Blonde is held in very high regard here in Siren Land.

camorrista said...

"...I do have a weakness for boarding-school stories; I sat through all 13 parts of To Serve Them All My Days..."

I spent my boyhood years in England, so, of course, "Tom Brown's School Days" was my gruel. Maybe that's why, in contrast to you, I'm allergic to boarding-school stories.

On the other hand, I'm an abashed sucker for the cheesiest medical soap operas--"The Doctor," "Lorenzo's Oil," "The Men," "Cier House Rules," "The Citadel," "Johnny Belinda," "My Own Country," "The Quiet Duel," "Miss Ever's Boys," and I'm not even mentioning the comedies, or series like "House," "St. Elsewhere," and "ER." Talk about marzipan!

By the way, I understand why you blamed Nichols for the flaws in "Bell..." but don't forget that the book glorified the communists =and= the anarchists, and both Mayer and Wood were staunch right-wingers. No way, Nichols, admired as he was, leftist as he was, could have smuggled any of Hemingway's politics into the movie.

Scott Rudin once said a studio picture is about two male stars or a male and a female star. For Metro, "Bell..." was about Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, 1942) and Gary Cooper (Sergeant York, Ball of Fire, Pride of the Yankees, 1941).

WelcometoLA said...

Well, OK, I'll fess up: At first, I thought that was a picture from "Showgirls" and you were finally loosening up those standards of yours.

The Siren said...

Camorrista, you are absolutely right, I shouldn't lay it all on Nichols who I'm sure was writing to studio specs.

Larry, good to see you! but don't try to tell me anyone in Showgirls is as beautiful as Vera, not even Gershon. Though your reaction does give credence to Karen's "nip slip" theory above. :)

surly hack said...

To the aforementioned To Have and Have Not and Siodmak's The Killers I'd add Borzage's deliriously romantic A Farewell to Arms as my favorite Hemingway films--and all were greatly altered or expanded from their sources.

Campaspe, you mention "the way-underrated Two Weeks in Another Town", and I heartily agree. Kirk Douglas's vertiginous spin-out in the sports car is just one of the many fabulously stylized moments in Minnelli dramas. Do you have an article in you on Minnelli using the stylization from his musicals in his melodramas? Some Came Running is one of my favorite films.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

From James Agee's review of FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, "If you are not careful, you may easily get the impression that Gary Cooper is simply fighting for the Republican Party in a place where the New Deal has got particularly out of hand."

I'll still hold out for the Borzage-directed FAREWELL TO ARMS as an effective Hemingway adaptation ... even though Boezage's brand of purposeful naivite (uxorious, mystical) is an awkward fit with that of Hemingway (masculinist, denying transendence).

Zorina is fine in LOUISIANA PURCHASE. Too bad it has a non-director, Irving Cummings, and that it's one of those sorta- kinda- not-quite-a-musical(s) that Paramount associated with Bob Hope. The gorgoues color remained, though, and Dona Drake wiggling her way through the title song (words and music: Irving Berlin).

Unknown said...

To correct one of the commenters, For Whom The Bell Tolls was a Paramount picture. LB Mayer had nothing to do with it. But Y. Frank Freeman, the chief exec. at Paramount was a right winger too. Andrew S.

john said...

If memory serves there was one sequence in FWTBT that scared the merde out of a ten year old who saw this in 1943 at a Manhattan Nabe. To wit:When Akim lined up the town's notables at cliff's edge and had them jump. I've seen subsequent versions with this bit of frugal Republican "sang froid" missing. Saved a bit of ammo for their Cause!
Also saw "Mission to Moscow", "The Fallen Sparrow" and a Patriotic Epic in which Dana Andrews played a Red pilot crashing his plane into a Nazi, von Stroheim draining the blood of Soviet Kiddies and Jane Withers manning an anti-tank rifle while emoting in in halting english.Due to the absence of a madeleine,the title escapes me.
But I do remember "Mission to Moscow" and over the top propaganda train stations: one in Heart of Darkness Dystopia t'other in Komsomol Utopia.