Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Loosen the Ties and Put Some Sweat on Them": 12 Angry Men (1957)

Spike Lee was in my Twitter feed today, saying, "I was NO WAY this HOT when we did Do the Right Thing." Once again my beloved New York is, as Auntie Mame said, "hot as a crotch."

But there is nothing like a heat wave to fill the Siren with love for her fellow New Yorkers. There they are, the grimly embarrassed men daring you to stare at the enormous sweat stains on their chest; the women in varying stages of undress, their hair scraped back in styles you could christen "I Give Up"; the toddlers in their sun hats and smudged sunscreen, clutching their bottles as though wondering how Mommy let things get this out of hand.

The Siren feels for them all, as she unfurls her parasol and hopes the heat doesn't turn the skin under her freckles bright red. We're trying, aren't we? We're trying so hard not to exert ourselves too much by, say, starting a riot. We're just working to avoid the greatest New York City sin of 'em all: becoming a bore on a single topic.

The movies offer several bards of the New York heat wave. Three who really get it, as indeed they get everything about the city, are the aforementioned Mr. Lee, Martin Scorsese and the late, very much lamented Sidney Lumet. When Lumet died the Siren didn't post a tribute, but this weather prompts her to rectify that, in her own small way. The magnificent Dog Day Afternoon has been in her mind for a few days--those people in the stifling bank, willing themselves not to move as they seem to listen to the drip of their own sweat. Even more so, though, the Siren has been thinking about 12 Angry Men, from 1957.

Nowadays it's a well-loved movie, despite its near-incomprehensible box-office failure. The way it was made is well-known too, from the television origins to the two-week rehearsal process (a Lumet trademark) to the way it was shot one angle at a time, to save on camera set-ups. One particularly brilliant moment is the establishing shot of the jury room, which Henry Fonda (in Mike Steen's Hollywood Speaks) said took all day to set up and ran about two minutes on screen. And the Siren dearly loves an even earlier glimpse of the defendant, played by an uncredited John Savoca, who seems to have disappeared afterward. You could argue that the shot tips the movie's hand; the sad-eyed, clearly terrified Savoca draws your sympathy from the beginning. The Siren cannot look at the kid without wanting to drape an arm around his shoulders, give him a motherly squeeze and hand him a sandwich and a Coca-Cola Icee. But it also raises the stakes, putting the audience on board with Henry Fonda's desire to at least give the boy the courtesy of a full deliberation.

But afterward Lumet's methods were different, Fonda told Steen:

Say, the camera would be on two actors for a scene. After that scene was gotten, Sidney would say, 'Now take their coats off, loosen the ties and put some sweat on them, and we'll shoot scene ninety-two,' which is forty pages further, but requiring the same setup or camera and light position.

Let's look at that title, 12 Angry Men. Well, why are they angry? The script gives you reasons for many--Ed Begley is a bigot, Lee J. Cobb has transferred his anger at his own son to the defendant--but on the simplest, most fundamental level they are angry because there's a heat wave on and they are stuck in this deliberations room with a water fountain and ineffective fan and no AC, and Henry Fonda won't let them vote guilty and get the hell out of there. He's fighting not only their preconceptions, but their physical discomfort. At first, the other jurors want nothing more than to go home and, like the Coo-Coo Pigeon Sisters in The Odd Couple, sit in front of the icebox in the altogether. In fact, if you think about it, Fonda is the least angry man there. Mostly he's just rational. But 11 Angry Men and One Rational Guy in a White Suit would have been hard to fit on the marquee, I suppose.

Cold makes New Yorkers bundle up and scurry along and lets us indulge our natural tendency to stay out of each other's way. Heat takes away the physical barriers and leaves us contemplating each other unadorned, and that's by no means always a good thing. Scan the jury room and you will see a full range of the way New Yorkers cope with heat. Some lash out, like Cobb and Begley. Some try to ignore it, like E.G. Marshall. Some crack jokes or work their tails off just trying to be agreeable. Not all of them have pure motivations for their final votes. But in the end, you also see New Yorkers rising to overcome yet another of this city's indignities, its frankly terrible climate, and as Lee would say, do the right thing.

There's a heat-related plot point that the Siren always relished on a personal level. She's written before about her years in a non-air-conditioned apartment in Harlem. It was right over the elevated part of a subway line. So a key revelation--that witnesses who claimed to have heard something during the murder couldn't have possibly, because the noise of a passing elevated train would have muffled it--was spotted immediately by the Siren and her two roommates when we watched this one long-ago sweltering summer. The noise made by the subway in our apartment when the windows were open was, in fact, so deafening that we watched a lot of foreign movies. You could read the subtitles.

One last thing. The Siren notes that yesterday's temperature of 104 in Central Park broke the New York record, of 101 degrees, previously set for that date in….



Yojimboen said...

@ ken of pleasant valley, better late than never; the “Dr. Pepper photo” was taken by Marion Post Wolcott in Belzoni, Mississippi in October of 1939.

The Goddard banner photo is by William Wallace – Chaplin’s still photographer on the set of The Great Dictator, 1940.

Hope this helps.

The Siren said...

Yojimboen, thank you so much for that. I confess I'd forgotten to look it up. Interesting that the Dr. Pepper photo was taken the same year as The Rains Came.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ever-so-glad I left New York in '76. Thirty years was enough. And it will stay alive in my memory.

Among those memories is something I'm not sure if I mentiond to you before, Siren -- I knew Dog Day Afternoon with the original cast.

Littlejohn was a West Village character with connections to a West Side Mafia dive that wasn't doing too well as the GAA Firehouse got the lion's share of business on the weekends. Littlejoh showed up at GAA meetings, promised to go on our demos ("Zaps" we called them) and never showed. He was there to spy for his Mafia pals.

Untrustworthy as he was we found him pretty amusing nonetheless and when we got our video camera ( one of the early ones -- a big bulky thing) we used ti to shoot footage of The Divine Miss M at the Continental Baths AND Littlejohns "wedding" to his transgender girlfriend (this weekend those quotes are off.) She wore a great white dress. He was resplendent in full miltary regalia. I trust it's archieved somewhere.

Anyhoo there was a particular reason why that particular bank was chosen.
It's where his Mafia pals dropped their money. I told Lumet about all this at the Awards dinner we of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association threw for him several eyars back when we gave him our "Career Achievement Award." He was gobsmacked to hear about it. Littlejohn had been bugging him about the film, but he had nothing to complain about. Who wouldn't want Al Pacino to play them in a Sidney Lumet movie?

Al's still with us.

As for Lumet, the great John Cazale and Littlejohn as the title card reads at the end of Barry Lyndon "They are all equal now."

The Siren said...

David, WOW. I am gobsmacked myself. I do think I read somewhere that Littlejohn had beefs with the film but not many other people do. God, it's a wonderful piece of moviemaking. And Cazale was a particularly cruel loss. I think Lumet was a great filmmaker; in any event he made about a half-dozen films that still give me such pleasure.

rcocean said...

Great post Siren. Fonda looks the coolest in the jury room, I assume its because he's wearing a linen suit.

rcocean said...

Also, reminds me of "Rear Window" another good NYC heat wave movie.

Edgar W Hopper said...

Thank you for this Siren. As usual your posts so often remind me why I'm in my comfort zone, neurotic as it may be, reading your posts and feeling really good about having lived in New York for most of the past 82 years. Big city life is a kind of psychic masochism that can teach you a lot if you just listen.

The Siren said...

Rocean, my "air conditioner" link at the bottom goes to my old Rear Window post, which has some commentary on heat waves. I agree, it's a great example; and the movie couldn't exist with air conditioning because you would not be able to hear your neighbors.

Edgar, always such a pleasure to see you here. It's brutal this week and I hope your AC is in good shape. We just replaced ours, which were practically ready for the Smithsonian. Thanks so much for the good words.

X. Trapnel said...

Wonderful post, Siren. My favorite part of 12 Angry Men is that wondrous, heaven-sent downpour ("Whoosh!"--Marty Balsam) at about midpoint followed by Juror 1's dada soliloquy and Juror 8's palpable boredom/discomfort (Fonda acting brilliantly with the back of his head), a humanizing moment for the latter.

Vanwall said...

As a former desert rat, I will refrain from discussing temperatures, other than to point out part of my honeymoon trip up the West Coast was scoping out the weather in various places. Moved to the place with the best climate, done deal.

I really watch 12AM for the wonderful supporting roles by actors who rarely had that kind of chance again: Edward Binns, John Fiedler, Joseph Sweeney, those kinda killer little parts. Yes, there were stalwarts that had more of those chances there, too: E. G. Marshall, Jack Worden, Ed Begley, but they don't overshadow the minor keys. It's like Houseley Stevenson and Tom D'Andrea in "Dark Passage" - they inhabit the roles to a degree that they subsume the headline actors' ability to overshadow, and become the stars of their little screen time - they help suspend my disbelief much more than the scrips or big names.

The thirsty films for me are "The Professionals" and "Ice Cold in Alex."

The Siren said...

XT, "dada soliloquy"--hilarious, and so true. I think Fonda's so good in this one, would rank it easily among his best.

Vanwall, it's true though that the smaller players also make the most of their moments. Joseph Sweeney is particularly fine, and I gather this was his biggest role, as you say. And yes, The Professionals is one thirsty movie. And The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has occasionally crossed my mind when I am tempted to forego the sunscreen.

Paul Anthony Johnson said...

Great write-up on one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. It's easy to dismiss as liberal feel-good kitsch, but it's really well done liberal feel-good kitsch. (Though count me among those heartless souls who groan a little at that shot of the defendant, which basically tells you there's no way in hell this adorable little kid out of a Bowery Boys movie is going to go to jail.) I think my favorite of the cast is Jack Klugman, who has what might be the quietest, least showy part in the cast, but still conveys a fully lived-in sense of a man who seems just as fundamentally decent and fair-minded as Davis,and, too borrow Manny Farber's insight into the Fonda character, isn't something of a sanctimonious prig.I don't think Klugman ever again had a screen role that good.

X. Trapnel said...

My favorite, because most subtle, performance is E.G. Marshall, Fonda's only formidable opponent, the man who doesn't sweat. His cool complacent contempt for the other jurors is a neat counterpoint to Fonda's nobility and for me his "I did" (i.e., saw the marks on the lady's nose ["Yeah, whaddaya call those things?" asks Marty B in his dada cum Beckett mode) has tremendous dramatic force in its quietness and the way it breaks down the man's arrogance to reveal his fundamental decency.

And speaking of sweat, thank god Edmund O'Brien wasn't in that jury room. It might have been more like Lifeboat.

I understand the tendency to see 12Angry Men as liberal kitsch, but one of the things I've come to appreciate more and more lately after countless viewings is Fonda's aggressiveness ("You're a sadist!") and steadfastness, both rather lacking in today's so-called liberals. Those were the days.

The Siren said...

Paul, it's interesting to look at why 12 Angry Men works as a piece of liberal agitprop, even for those who don't share Fonda or Lumet's politics. I think it's because despite the shot of Savoca, and Begley who's a bit of a gargoyle, the others (via Reginald Rose's fantastic script) occupy a range and, as Renoir would have said, all have their reasons. Even Cobb, the most aggressive antagonist, isn't beyond the point of being able to see himself. It's Jack Warden who's the least sympathetic to me--and he's basically apolitical, and you end the movie still not sure if he's just changing his vote to get out of there. Klugman really is wonderful and he's complex, too; he's from the slums himself but he isn't using just that to come to a decision, either with his guilty vote or later when he changes. He's much more than his background. Klugman has always been such a pleasure as an actor. (Is he the only one of the 12 still alive? I can't bear to check.) When I did a brief on Days of Wine and Roses a while back, a friend emailed me and remarked, "God, who wouldn't want Klugman as his AA sponsor?"

And XT, I was going to say above but somehow didn't, that E.G. Marshall is probably my favorite, too. He's as reasoned in his way as Fonda in his, and no more inclined to give in to the group. He also gets the most devastating put-down in the movie, when Begley is almost pleading "listen to me!" and he responds, "I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again." (And Begley doesn't.) Also, Marshall sweats the least, which is kind of fascinating. Nice shout-out to O'Brien, who may be the only actor whose sweat won him an Oscar.

In addition to the shot of the defendant, at that pre-Leone point in movie history it must have been inconceivable that Fonda would object to a guilty vote and have the accused turn out to really be a murderer; his mere casting is a tell. Paul brings up Farber; I remember Farber talking about Fonda at the sink, drying his nails one by one, but as I recall Farber complains that this revelation of a certain prissiness doesn't go anywhere. But I don't agree; I think, circling back to XT, that the movie acknowledges that Juror 8 is a pain in the ass and that this is probably what enables him to hold out and bring others around. 12 Angry Men would make a great Fonda double feature with The Ox-Box Incident, where Fonda reading that letter takes an exercise in theme-hammering and turns it into a supremely lyrical moment.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I was unaware that 12 Angry Men was a flop when it was first released. Just goes to show what time will do for a film. Did you see the relatively recent Russian version? Pretty good, even if a little bit long.

DavidEhrenstein said...

While we're celebrating Sidney I'd like to put in a few good words for some his less-heralded titles.

Bye Bye Braverman(1968), the movie version of Wallace Markfield's roma a clef about Delmor Schwat's funeral "To An Early Grave" with George Segal Zohra Lampert and my friend Tony Holland.

Running On Empty (1988), the counter-culture outlaws on the run saga higlighted by the best performance in River Phoenix's sadly brief career, plus a nice turn by Kit Carson and a humdinger of a scene between Christine Lahti and Steven Hill as her estranged father.

The Offence (1972) sean Connery's greatest performance as an out of control police detective who loves to torture suspect. Takes up from where Nick Ray's On Dangerous Ground left off and goes the distance.

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980) Alan King as a New York Big Deal who falls apart when his mistress (Ali McGraw in a truly great perfromance) leaves her for a younger man. "I'M A DEAD JEW!" he screams to hsi secretary -- Myrna Loy in a great final turn. WAY "Too Hip For The House" when it came out and even today.

Q&A (1990) Marvelous police corruption sags. Nick Nolte at his greatest with International Chrysis as his transgender girlfriend. She gave an amazing performance that she never lived to see as she died of cancer shortly before the film's release.

John Fitzpatrick said...

For Sidney I’ll put in a word for Fail-Safe –- a movie that manages to induce sweat even in the air-conditioned confines of SAC headquarters and the White House bomb shelter. I know this is heretical, but I prefer this version of the apocalypse to Dr. Strangelove. Ever since Kubrick had the genius to play the arms race as farce, it’s been critical dogma that you can’t take a straight treatment seriously and that Fail-Safe was a failure. I don’t buy it. I saw Fail-Safe after Strangelove, and it still scared me senseless. The frequency of its telecasts suggests that the thing still works for 21st-century audiences. And of course Lumet deserves most of the credit -– for the intensity, the pacing, and the conviction of his cast. Fonda may have killed a few kids in Once upon a Time, but here . . . For a testament to Lumet’s effectiveness compare the live but lifeless television version produced by George Clooney.

DorianTB said...

Siren, as both a native New Yorker (though we moved to NE PA in 2001 on account of my husband's job) and a Sidney Lumet fan, I was blown away by your incisive post about 12 ANGRY MEN! Whatever one's political leanings, it's still a powerful film with a powerhouse cast. That said, for the record, DOG DAY AFTERNOON is my favorite Lumet movie hands-down.

Ironically, our area is almost as hot as New York has been during this summer's heat wave! :-)

DavidEhrenstein said...

What's so great about Dog Day Afternoon is Lumet's adamant refusal to sensationalize anything. The situation is bizarre, and the people emeshed in it are objectively absurd, but Lumet treats every single last one of them with respect and consistently avoids makign the whole show into a cartoon. It's all painfully real.

Vanwall said...

From having sat on juries, and also from a particular case someone else I know well was a juror on, many people are willing to take shortcuts in their thinking to speed up the process and get home, and even more curious, seem deliberately obtuse to get to a verdict faster. Sometimes you can see it coming when the challenges are over right at the start.

One civil action jury I sat on had a serving police officer selected - the Chief wasn't excusing them automatically from civil case jury duty anymore, a common practice in many cities, sadly - and he resented serving on it at first, but I think it opened his eyes when all was said and done. One potential juror excused for cause (which cause is always unstated, I guess) was a recently retired major bank executive who'd never been called before, and was obviously smart as a whip in questioning; I think both sides were looking for the lowest common denominator to manipulate as the trial progressed.

The case I mentioned that wasn't my direct experience had eye-popping ignorance displayed by some jurors, and willing participation to ignore direct evidence and substitute what were obviously prejudicial beliefs for logic, ye, just like 12AM. One aspect of the case was who was driving the car in a criminal accident - the shoulder strap bruise on the defendant and physical evidence on the passenger's airbag was obviously only possible if they were in fact the passenger, but amazingly convoluted "logic" was used by the ADA and almost all the jurors bought into it. It ended up a hung jury because my friend refused to cave unreasonably, and the motivating factor for most of the jury was time - as in it was time to shut up and go home.

My favorite jury I was on was a civil case that reached back into the 1950s, and read like a Ross McDonald story mixed with Tennessee Williams, lots of alcohol, drugs, Elvis, cheatin', bisexual denials and reveals, manipulation, & family secrets, and lawyers invoked Perry Mason, Phillip Marlowe and Sherlock Holmes, among other real and imagined figures.

X. Trapnel said...

Yes, Klugman is the Last Angry Man.

David, we've had this discussion before, but Bye, Bye Braverman is, I think an uncomprehending botch of Markfield's novel, though the scene with Joseph Wiseman and Tony Holland is superbly acted and utterly faithful to the book which makes one wish the rest could have been so. And Alan King (I shudder at the memory) puts the last nail in the coffin of Braverman/Schwartz and the movie itself.

X. Trapnel said...

The heat is melting my brain. the model for Braverman was, of course, Isaac Rosenfeld, not Delmore Schwartz who was still alive when Markfield's novel came out. A recent biography of Rosenfeld uderscores the intense comic malice, insecurity, rivalry, and egomania of the NY intellectual circles that Lumet's film, more borscht belt than Partisan Review, barely hints at.

DavidEhrenstein said...

BTW, X, did you know that the last episode of My So-Called Life (the best series in the history of television) was entitled "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"?

X. Trapnel said...

No, I didn't know this. The series began long after I'd given up on television. The line was originally the epigraph to Yeats' 1913 collection Responsibilities.

DavidEhrenstein said...

It only ran for one season. it was cancelled because of low ratings. But no one who saw it ever forgot it. It made Claire Danes a star, and gave Wilson Cruz and Jared Leto careers.
There are a few adult charxters but the principles are high school kids.

But it's not about kids and it's not about highs school. They've been re-running it on the Sundance channel lately, but the whole series is on DVD.

In the last episode when Devon Gummersall lets slip to Claire Danes that he wrote the letter for Jared Leto, sayig "I meant every word," I am reduced to a sobbing wreck.

I don't have the words to describe the extreme sensitivity of this show to genuine human emotion as they are actually lived. In my book it's right up ther with Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train.

gmoke said...

"12 Angry Men" was the only film Fonda produced. Once read or heard that Peter Fonda called it his father's "Easy Rider."

Last time I saw it, I thought Joseph Sweeney stole the picture.

cgeye said...

"Rozsaphile said...

For Sidney I’ll put in a word for Fail-Safe –- a movie that manages to induce sweat even in the air-conditioned confines of SAC headquarters and the White House bomb shelter. I know this is heretical, but I prefer this version of the apocalypse to Dr. Strangelove."

-- the last weekend when TCM played FAIL-SAFE and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, near back-to-back? Cold War paranoiac heaven.

The one film that proved, yes, Larry Hagman once didn't exclusively play caricatures, but could stand toe-to-toe with Fonda. And a supporting cast just as strong, from Edward Binns to Fritz Weaver to Walter Matthau (whose character a certain Mr. K. took notes....)

Screw the Kubrick cynical hipsters -- when the bomb drops and the phone melts, I want to *cry*, dammit. I'd love that movie for Frank Overton yelling, "THIS IS NOT A FOOTBALL GAME!" when the bunkered soldiers yell when something goes their way -- the wrong way, of course, to , but still. I'd like to punch Michael Bay and every macho fascist director for depicting observed conflicts as video games, and allowing cheers over deaths the observers never have to feel.

FAIL-SAFE, at its best, trusts us to feel the pain on both sides. Thank you, Mr. Lumet and company....

cgeye said...

(That ", to ," said "(spoiler deleted)" -- just keeping mindful of the tiny tots who haven't seen it yet.

X. Trapnel said...

That Dali-esque melting phone etched itself indelibly in my childhood consciousness. Fail-Safe is infinitely superior to Strangelove (talk about self-congratulatory liberal kitsch. Gen. Jack D. Ripper. Hilarious) as Lumet is to Kubrick.

Who was that actress Walter Matthau picks up at the party early in the film?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Larry Hagman starred in the Borwardway production of The Nervous Set -- the legendary musical maudit. whose Lyricits FRan Landesman has just passed away.

Hagman had the 11 O'Clock number -- a real rouser called "Travel the Road of Love."

The Big Hits rom the show were Spring Can Really Hang You The Most and Ballad of the Sad Young Men

Ned said...

Henry Fonda, in a brilliant set up by Lumet, executes one of the more dramatic scenes in the film when he produces the knife. It's all about set up. E.G. Marshall, in his dissertation about the unique qualities of the knife and how such an unusual knife would be so difficult to find provides a perfect launching pad for Fonda, in a wonderfully fluid and definitive move to stand--the camera focused on the knife exactly where Marshall had left it, stuck into the juror's table--pull out an exact replica of the knife, and jam it into the table next to the knife from the evidence locker.

It's a great scene reminiscent of another set up created for him in My Darling Clementine. The scene where Fonda confronts the evil Clanton brood afte they had just murdered his brother and rustled his cattle.

Fonda, as the stranger in town tells old man Clanton that he planned on sticking around for a while. As the town Marshall. This elicits great hilarity as Clanton (the great Walter Brennan) says "Marshall? In Tombstone? Well, good luck to you mister...."

"Earp" says Fonda, tossing the name on the floor as if it's a grenade. "Wyatt Earp".

Hilarity gone.

It's a moment, like the production of the knife in 12 Angry Men, that serves as a tipping point for the film. It ends the first part of storyline, answers some questions, then asks a lot more and opens up a door in the narrative that hadn't been there previously. A door that characters can walk through if they so dare.

A great pick for a hot week, Siren. The heat index down here in Kentucky was 115 degrees yesterday. Plenty of angry and hot people here. Hopefully, sans switchblades.

The Siren said...

Peter, I was startled to be reminded of that, too. Cost next to nothing and still didn't turn a profit. I saw that referenced often but no reason conjectured; maybe the TV drama gave people a BTDT excuse?

David, I think Lumet's whole filmography is very strong, although not immaculate; whose ever is? But Lumet made so many strong, vibrant movies. I had a film writer I respect tell me at a party he didn't think Lumet was much of a director and I just sort of gaped at him--say whaaaa? No pleasure out of THESE movies? Just Tell Me What You Want was one I saw as a teen and liked a little, but not a lot; I suspect its very adult perspectives would play better with me now.

Rozsaphile and Cgeye, I saw Fail-Safe also as a teen and it spooked the bejesus out of me. A good movie, but one I never want to see again.

The Siren said...

Dorian, thank you so much for the compliment, and I hope NE PA has cooled off as has NYC. Dog Day Afternoon would be my pick too, but just by a hair; it's a remarkable filmography he racked up.

Ned, you're so right. Another set-up I relish: when Cobb lunges for Fonda yelling "I'll kill him" and Fonda points out that's the sort of thing Cobb wants the jury to take as a real threat from the accused. In addition to being so well-directed, the script is a marvel.

Ned said...

I think it's a testament both to the material Lumet selected, his spot-on direction, shot selection, and finely tuned sense of mise en scene that two of his greatest films were re-made nearly shot for shot and both were, in my opinion, successful: Fail Safe, remade as a live TV event in (I think) 2000, and 12 Angry Men, remade by Billy Friedkin in the late 90s.

Of course not all shot for shot remakes work (the Stewart Granger Zenda is serviceable and fun if not as crazy good as the Ronald Coleman version), but the shot by shot Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho is execrable and should probably only be screened as an example of what NOT to do).

Gareth said...

When I turned seven or eight, my father started to feed me black and white movies, letting me stay up late if there was something particularly good, in his estimation, on the box. The first one I remember is Twelve Angry Men, which transfixed me as a child, and which I still find enormously absorbing: growing up in the countryside in Ireland, I'd never experienced a really sweaty city day and yet I could feel the atmosphere as though it was part of my everyday experience. Someone else mentioned Rear Window above and I've the same childhood memories of the vividly - but to me completely foreign - sweaty atmosphere.

I'm with the Siren on the significance of Fonda's methodical hand-drying: I don't think it's a throwaway moment at all, but very much an indication of his methodical, even painfully methodical, modus operandi.

Trish said...

All is well on this side of the border after a 5 day stretch of 99F temperatures. I don't mind the heat so much, but the humidity saps my energy. Maybe its because 12 Angry Men was released the year of my birth, but I prefer it so much more than To Kill a Mockingbird.

X. Trapnel said...

Re To Kill a Mockingbird, does Gregory Peck sweat? (He wears the Juror 8 white suit). An interesting essay could be written on northern vs. southern sweat in fifties and early sixties film, the golden age of perspiration. This was also the women in white slip period (Mrs. Thorwald being my perverse favorite; she is hot in both senses).

Trish said...

To the slips period I will add Marilyn Monroe in Niagara.

X. Trapnel said...

Trish, while I assiduously avoid any and all Marilyn-burdened films, I'm wondering, given our topic, whether Niagra is a sweaty movie or do the characters glisten with spray from the falls.

I tend to think (beyond the obvious reason) that northerners specialized in the cold sweat, jangled nerves from gray flannel angst, atomic threat, etc. I imagine the saline content is the same, north or south. This reminds me that the characters in Lifeboat, save Hauptman Willy, can't sweat.

Nervous films from this period are worth exploring. One that especially disturbed my sleep in childhood was the forgotten Pressure Point.

John Fitzpatrick said...

Don't forget Body Heat, a contemporary (1981) film that seems to take place before the invention of air conditioning.

Yojimboen said...

X - Forgive delay - been flu'd.

Actress's name is Nancy Berg; character's name, believe it or believe it not is Ilsa Wolfe (not, we hope, associated with any She-Wolves of the SS).

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I knew you would come through. And rising from your sickbed to do so...

WV: [s]wetteri

Vanwall said...

"Yellow Sky" has a lotta sweatin' in it, mostly due to good hard work, like bank robbing and gold thievery. "We Were Strangers" has a lot of perspiration, too, and John Garfield, and a dampish Jennifer Jones, who looked pretty good even when rode hard and put away wet. "Heat Lightning" is a hot-looking film, and not just because it's in the desert - the innuendo and downright admissions went right along with the lack of air conditioning and the general wringing-out look of it.

I have to say that the Aerial Mine Episode from TV's "Danger UXB" is without a doubt the most audience sweat-inducing dang thing ever filmed, as far as I'm concerned. Any other motion pictcha defusing attempts are pale shadows that borrow without grace from it.

X. Trapnel said...

Nancy Berg, hm? sojourning in oblivion with Lovelady Powell no doubt.

Trish said...

X., as it happens, I was born and raised in Niagara on the Canadian side and am well acquainted with the location of the cabins where Niagara was filmed. While it is true that the area glistens with mist to this very day, it's also true that there was plenty of heat generated from inside the cabin where Marilyn attempted to put the whammy on Joseph Cotton... :D

X. Trapnel said...

Trish, given my negative feelings re Marilyn this sounds a degree or so more humid than Joseph Cotten being stalked by Wendell Corey in drag in The Killer is Loose.

Shamus said...

X., your antipathy to Monroe is great. And hilarious. I too can't understand why she is an object of such intense - is reverence the right word to use for mastubatory fantasies? I'll settle for adoration - but she does possess some fair comic timing, which is minute, understated portions is quite palatable.
But there is only so much dumbness you can take: in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, is there any doubt that Jane Russell was the best thing in the film?
It's surprising, though, to see how many film noir Monroe appeared in. I just learnt about Niagara now but she also stars in a minor role Clash by Night (sometimes un-noir like, but still an excellent underrated film) and the lead role in Don't Bother to Knock (which I haven't seen and don't intend to), but her very image militates against everything noir: I mean she is not the traditional femme fatale type in any sense of the term and nothing about her appearance or mannerisms (or over-breathy voice) suggest, oh, say, darkness, pessimism, danger.

cgeye said...

'Joseph Cotten being stalked by Wendell Corey in drag in The Killer is Loose' -- WHAT THE WHAT NOW?


I din't read that, it must be the heat....

DavidEhrenstein said...

Hey cgye, you haven't experienced Wendell Corey until you've seen Desert Fury.

Ned said...

If we're talking sweaty films one cannot do much better than Cool Hand Luke. Even Newman's sweat sweats.

How about Touch of Evil? The rasslin' match between Akim Tamiroff and a sweaty Orson Welles is soaked with grand guignol dampness.

Brando sweats with the best of them in Streetcar.

Rozsaphile has already mentioned one of the grand award winners for wall to wall perspiration, Body Heat (although the pores really don't open up full blast until midway through when the color codes go from blue to white to red).

And we would be remiss in the sweat department if we forgot Alec Guinness' triumph of fluid depletion in Bridge on the River Kwai.

But before I go, I, like Cgeye, have to thank XT for the Medusa-like image of Wendell Corey in drag. Seriously?

Now I have to find something equally startling to eradicate that horrific thought. Maybe some Lucien Freud portraits will do the trick.

Goose said...

For Southern sweat,try Inherit the Wind and The Long Hot Summer.

For Southwest sweat, Bad Day at Black Rock, or sequences with Edmond O'Brien (sho else?) in Seven Days in May.

For Western sweat, try John Payne in Silver Lode, he sweats buckets.

Gary Cooper's one bead of sweat in High Noon was very powerful.

Jeff Gee said...

My vote for best sweaty guy ever would be Akim Tamiroff in "Touch of Evil," although Elisha Cook Jr. in "The Killing" also does some very excellent sweating. (I prefer my sweat in black and white, where it seems to bring out the best in my favorite cinematographers)

Does the original TV version, with *Bob Cummings* in the Fonda part, exist? I can't find it on the IMDB. The Wikipedia page lists the cast. Sweeney and Voskovec and the only carry-overs.

Great, great movie. The kid did it, though.

Goose said...

The TV version does exist, but the movie script is much better. The TV version has few of the best set pieces in the film and the climax (the last not guilty vote) is way underwhelming.

The cast is interesting, though, and Friend Cummings is rather good, in fact.

X. Trapnel said...


One of the deeper ironies of Marilyn worship is that probably nobody finds her sexy anymore; the cartoonish sexuality she epitomized was a fifties thing that, ah, climaxed in the sexcapades of the early 60s and detumesced finally with Carol Channing's striptease in Skidoo. What I find objectionable is her saint/martyr status in the conversion of popular culture from entertainement to religion and all the morbid, pompous solemnity that followed therefrom. All the hot air (which puts me in a northern cold sweat) surrounding the demise of this Winehouse person is further proof that we're stuck forever in this sick, artistically sterile, imaginatively impoverished cultural rut. Many cultural bloviators at places like Salon and Slate like to give the impression that the golden age of Hollywood was the 1950s, just when I believe entropy was starting to set in. Now everything has calcified into the stiffness of "iconicity." As you indicate Marilyn was at the fringes of some pretty good films. In Clash by Night she's as good as she ever would be, marginally less annoying than J. Carroll Naish, the man of a thousand faces, all of them the same (probably Bosley C's idea of a "great" character actor).

Yes, cgeye, you did read that and some day you shall see it. What disturbs me most about WC beyond the concave eyes and the weird set of the lips and earlobes (I have floated my theory of WC as Martian scout here) is the fact that he squired the two goddesses of my cinema universe Danielle Darrieux and Margaret Sullavan in a couple of disposable films.

Ned said...

Regarding Monroe, two of her more effective roles were early small parts in The Asphalt Jungle as Louis Calhern's girlfriend (the censors insisted that she be referred to as his 'niece' apparently--which would have been quite a bit more salacious if you think about it) and George Sanders' 'protege' in All About Eve, probably because she was playing herself and not trying too hard to act. The smile she puts on when Sanders sends her to talk to the producer Max Fabian ("Go do yourself some good")is perfect. I'll bet she did that more than a few times in real life (if she ever had such a thing).

Trish said...

Who needs the help of the hipster press to tell us how to think? Those of us with our feet on the ground know she was far too human for either sainthood or martyrdom. I enjoy her in two periods: her Fox colour films, and in The Misfits. The latter not because its her last completed film, but because the make-up artist gave her the most beautiful cat's eyes.

And oh yea, I think there was some sweating in Elmer Gantry.

Goose said...


Don't you think that MM being Louis Calhern's "niece" was the point, as he objected to her calling him "Uncle Lon."

BTW, John Huston films had a lot of sweat, including Asphalt Jungle. And Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And Key Largo, too. Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo sweated in close-up. And the supporting cast in We Were Strangers did the heavy lifting in sweat, with all that tunnel digging in Cuba (there also was a lot of fanning to keep cool).

As for Marilyn, she was funny in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, although Jane Russell's imitation of her stole the show, and in Some Like It Hot. In River of No Return, she was effective, but also affected by overly precious pronunciation. In Niagara, she also was good as a vicious tramp (and speaking in what may have been close to a natural voice), but it really was a showy supporting role. Mostly, and largely including these, she was replacable by other (better) actresses or only called on to do imitations of herself.

The Siren said...

Oh my. Am I, who was never drawn in by the Marilyn mythos, going to be forced to defend her? Listen, I fully admit that she's by far the most overexposed classic-film star, and if I never ever again once in what years I have allotted to me on this planet ever again hear about her and the Kennedys, that would be AWESOME. Ditto for Joe DiMaggio. But truly, it isn't the poor woman's fault. We can blame Norman Mailer, for starters, but Marilyn never went out and said "You know what, I'm going to be the most obsessed-over star of all time, that's what."

For me, the key, as always, is just to return to the movies. I saw All About Eve at the Ziegfeld last year and was thunderstruck by how good she was; it's a dopey role and she hits it out of the park. She's so funny, her timing is genius. When I reviewed Bonjour Tristesse I confessed to being annoyed by Mylene Demengeot and one reason was that I could see Marilyn in that part and she'd have made it funny, which Mylene was not.

In addition to the ones (rather grudgingly) named here, I adore her in How to Marry a Millionaire and she's extremely funny in Monkey Business, which is far from my favorite Hawks comedy. I also like Let's Make Love almost entirely for her. And I have a CD of her singing and would argue all night for her abilities as a singer, which is something I don't see discussed very often. As a beauty, to my eyes, she was at her loveliest in the footage from Something's Got to Give, and in anything where she was mussed and undone.

Since Ehrenstein isn't around, and I know he's a Marilyn lover, I could also suggest reading anything Kim Morgan's written on her; Kim approaches Monroe as an artist, not a martyr or a caricature, and that's really the only way.

rcocean said...

"One of the deeper ironies of Marilyn worship is that probably nobody finds her sexy anymore;"

Speak for yourself Bub. Oh wait, you tossed in the "probably" so maybe its an accurate statement.

Anyway, I find Monroe's combination of sexy good looks and comedic charm irresistible, especially in her earlier films. "Gentlemen prefer Blondes" "Seven Year Itch" and "Asphalt Jungle".

If we're going to discuss over-rated 50s movie actors; lets talk about James Dean. I like Dean but he's gotten a lot of ink for just 3 movies.

VP81955 said...

Many cultural bloviators at places like Salon and Slate like to give the impression that the golden age of Hollywood was the 1950s, just when I believe entropy was starting to set in.

It's that "We Didn't Start The Fire" mentality, which doesn't believe anything happened before baby boomers were born. Of course, to be fair, many of those baby boomers never saw many pre-Code movies, which either were severely censored on TV in those days or never shown at all. Certainly had the pre-Code revival been in force in those days, their evaluation of '30s film would have been considerably different.

Am I, who was never drawn in by the Marilyn mythos, going to be forced to defend her? Listen, I fully admit that she's by far the most overexposed classic-film star ... But truly, it isn't the poor woman's fault. We can blame Norman Mailer, for starters, but Marilyn never went out and said "You know what, I'm going to be the most obsessed-over star of all time, that's what."

And this discussion is taking place while "The Seven-Year Itch" Monroe has become a 26-foot-tall giant in statue form, towering over midtown Chicago. (Hey, if we're going to have a Chicago-themed Marilyn statue, shouldn't it have been as Sugar Kane?) I too defend her as an actress; there's a genuine likability about Monroe (I will not employ the overused "v" word), and one wishes she had been able to work 20 years earlier, when studios gave actresses both better treatment and more substantial roles.

Of course, the statue will likely inspire some producer to persuade Monroe's estate to let her "star" in a CGI remake of "Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman" -- probably the last type of film Marilyn would have agreed to make during her lifetime.

Ned said...

Giant statue of the Seven Year Itch Marilyn? Is that one of those Seward Johnson pieces of crap? The space shuttle program ended too early. We should have packaged him (and Jeff Koons, while we're at it) and all their dreck and set the coordinates for deep space.

There'd be no sweating over that launch.

The only problem would be they might land on some planet and become worshiped as deities.

OR they could be stoned to death as purveyors of degraded culture...

X. Trapnel said...


Right you are. I should have taken a cue from W.S. Gilbert and said, no one thinks Marilyn is sexy/What, no one?/Well, hardly anyone. I've always imagined that Juror 3 (E.G. Marshall) cuts loose at parties by playing and singing Gilbert & Sullivan songs.

Siren, no need to defend Marilyn against the likes of me. It's the mythos (and the constant banging on of it after everything's been said and none of it worth hearing) I can't stand, nothing whatever against N.J. Baker.

The main reason, I think for all the blah concering Marilyn and Dean is that "we" need a myth of origins for contemporary culture (not just pop) which must never violate or transcend the bounds of adolescent sensibility or childlike innocence and "wonder"(Spielberg brand). The literary equivalents are Salinger and the Beats, Harper Lee, and other high school stalwarts.

George Sanders, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

gmoke said...

"I have to say that the Aerial Mine Episode from TV's "Danger UXB" is without a doubt the most audience sweat-inducing dang thing ever filmed, as far as I'm concerned. Any other motion pictcha defusing attempts are pale shadows that borrow without grace from it."

Take a look at "The Small Back Room" with a very tense sequence of defusing a bomb on Chesil Beach.

Maybe the Twelve Angry Men were angry because there were no women and certainly not Marilyn Monroe.

VP81955 said...

Giant statue of the Seven Year Itch Marilyn? Is that one of those Seward Johnson pieces of crap?

He is indeed the perpetrator.

Vanwall said...

gmoke, I've seen "The Small Back Room", and that is a harrowing sequence, But Danger UXB added claustrophobia to the mix, and it was that much harder to watch.

MM was a creation, nothing more nothing less. A perusal of her reading list, and above all her later letters, were like night and day - the day bright as her inquisitive mind, sunny as her surprisingly sharp intellect, she had a green flash ending every day, no doubt; the night was the artificial world she walked through for a career, wraith-like, only the allowed MM showing like a no doubt bitter joke. She was malleable and useable - so she was used and forced into a mold.

I liked a her a lot in "Niagara" and especially "Asphalt Jungle", where she stole every scene she was in, not by her looks alone, but her acting was pitch perfect for the role - Burnett wrote with a no doubt different kind of "non-professional" (as Doc says in the novel) in mind, but she made that minor part all her own, with a little bit of thievery to get herself some room up against a seasoned crew, and she became Angela, the babyish mistress who could call a cop "big bananahead" as natural as could be; the downside being, that was what the Studios decided she should do her whole career. That's when 'being' subsumed actuality for her, sadly.

Yojimboen said...

Speaking of Ty Power…

RIP the First of the Bond Girls.

WV: "Fackilet"; whatever the fackilet that means

cgeye said...

Now yer gonna make me throwdown in praise of Miss MM: THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL. Simply exquisite.

In pre-Great War va-voom attire, she underacts Sir Larry, and has more heart in a role where she could go on autopilot. Simply lovely.

Shamus said...

X., as regards your statement that "nobody finds her sexy anymore", well, all I can say is that many many people give a pretty good impression of it: THAT is what mysifies me in the first place. But I agree with what you say about J. Carrol Naish: he brings down the second half of "Clash" a good notch with his shallow melodramatic hamming.
Of Course, I was forgetting Asphalt Jungle, Monroe had a cameo in that too, but why did she go there in the first place.
Siren, I was reading Robin Wood's book on Hawks where he too professes admiration for that Monkey Business over all of Hawks' comedies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Girl Friday and Bringing up Baby (the last two especially strike me as fairly mean spirited) though he does not mention Twentieth Century.
BTW, Wood also classes Scarface as a screwball comedy and defends Ball of Fire as one of Hawks' most personal comedy, opinions, which on some reflection, are not as whimsical as they sound.
And as for Seven year Itch and that famous, iconic image of Monroe, coyly trying to hold her skirt down (wink wink) gyrating over the subway grate, well, TOO BAD IT WASN'T IN THE MOVIE.

Shamus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamus said...

Siren:"...extremely funny in Monkey Business, which is far from my favorite Hawks comedy."
Oops, looks like I misread you there: I thought you said "by far". Oh well. I haven't seen it anyway, so this is purely academic.
For what its worth, X., I am not sure how much I agree that the 1950s was a time in Hollywood when the entropy was starting to set in (Sirk, Tourneur, N. Ray, Lang, Hitch at his peak, Anthony Mann, god knows who else) but I agree that the comedies as such were far far better in the 30s and 40s with great leading actresses (too many to mention) and wonderful banter between sexual equals (in movies by Lubitsch, Sturges, Leisen and no-one else is needed for further illustration). By way of contrast, the best female roles in 50s comedy were taken up by Curtiz and Lemmon.

Shamus said...

One last thing: the most mystifying thing about MM worship is that there aren't any Jayne Mansfield fans. Mansfield is the logical end after all, but this is getting too mean.
But in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Tashlin does make some exceptionally cruel use of one 50s star (Mansfield, with a bit of Monroe and Hayworth thrown into the satire for good measure) and one 30s star (Joan Blondell, far far from the wonderful days of the pre-code).
For all that, it is a great and hilarious movie, that in no way detracts from the point I'm trying to make (which I don't seem to be able to recall right now).

VP81955 said...

One last thing: the most mystifying thing about MM worship is that there aren't any Jayne Mansfield fans. Mansfield is the logical end after all, but this is getting too mean.

There are a lot of Mansfield fans around -- just tour the Internet. Her legion doesn't rival Monroe's (who does?), and I can't claim she was a great actress by any means (though I love "The Girl Can't Help It," arguably the best rock movie made in the '50s), but she was pretty likable. Silly, at times, but likable.

In many ways, Mansfield was Monroe turned 180 degrees, in that she willingly played the game Hollywood foisted upon her for being a buxom blonde (Marilyn did too, but didn't like it). Conversely, Monroe appeared able to change, as evidenced by "The Misfits," and probably would have been ethereal had she lived into her forties. Mansfield, for all her rumored intelligence (Jayne may not have had the genius IQ the press agents claimed she had, but she certainly wasn't dumb) either didn't or wouldn't adapt, and by the mid-sixties sadly was a dated parody of herself.

Jayne was the subject of an early '80s TV movie where she was portrayed by Loni Anderson, another buxom blonde but a genuine smart cookie. (Arnold Schwarzenegger played Mickey Hargitay, IIRC.) Interestingly, less than a decade later Anderson made another TV movie where she portrayed another sexy ill-fated star -- Thelma Todd, who surely was shapely but not deemed in the superinflated-mammary league of Mansfield. Had it not been for Loni, would you have ever linked Thelma and Jayne?

Shamus said...

My apologies, VP: I had meant any serious Mansfield fans, as for instance those who can declare serious, unqualified enthusiasm for her without intending any irony and unencumbered by any prior IQ issues. J. Hoberman of the Village Voice called her, I think, a computer-generated image before the fact, and which is what she is.
You say "by the mid-sixties sadly was a dated parody of herself," but when you watch The Girl Can't Help It or Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, both she and Tashlin are not clear themselves how much her character is a parody, how much of Mansfield is really a part of that character and how much they are actually pandering to our, um, highest and noblest impulses. Probably all at the same time. Mansfield is intended as a parody as "Rita Marlowe" in Rock Hunter but the studio could still sell her to the public as a Monroe-substitute. Note the contradiction. And Tashlin was oddly obsessed by her eh...if you've seen the scene in The Girl Can't Help It with Mansfield and the milk bottles, you'll know what I mean.
Incidentally, Girl Can't Help It was intended to be a parody of rock-n-roll, but it was a huge hit with the young (and presumably rock-n-roll fans), which if it was a straightforward parody, it should not have been (for instance, Rock Hunter, the better movie of the two, flopped). The audiences back then couldn't tell the difference and now we can't either: the same applies to Mansfield and how Tashlin portrays her.
P.S. I can't believe we're having this discussion: I brought up Mansfield just to make a (admittedly not a very good) point. Let me make one more comparison: It Happened One Night (1934) and Roman Holiday (1953); Audrey Hepburn and Claudette Colbert, the heiresses they play and the attitudes they embody. Now I'll stop before someone throws something.

Trish said...

Siren, you make a great point about MM in SGTG. She is lovely. Not squeezed into a strapless costume, but dressed in the fashion of the day -- a lovely, maturing woman. I for one am thankful for Marilyn mania if only because the assembling of her unfinished film may not have happened otherwise.

DavidEhrenstein said...
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DavidEhrenstein said...

"The main reason, I think for all the blah concering Marilyn and Dean is that "we" need a myth of origins for contemporary culture (not just pop) which must never violate or transcend the bounds of adolescent sensibility or childlike innocence and "wonder"(Spielberg brand). The literary equivalents are Salinger and the Beats, Harper Lee, and other high school stalwarts."

Point well-taken. But artificial cultural imperatives aside interest in Marilyn James Dean and other "Golden Age" stars persist because we don't have anyone like that today. There's no "aura" to our stars anymore. Brad and Angelina are Big Deals but we know so much about them they may as well be living next door to us. We can't imagine stars of yore that way.

The thing that shouldn't be forgotten about Marilyn is that at the time of her rise she was afforded about as much serious respect as Paris Hilton. Everyone thought she was just a fad. But she wasn't. The Seven Year Itch didn't just click iconographically, it projected her image of warm, playful sexuality to the max. There wasn't anything around like that then. Jayne Mansfield wasn't at all like Marilyn. She sold herself as a living, breathing cartoon and was used as such by Tashlin to great effect. But outside of The Burglar, The Wayward Bus and Kiss Them For Me she never tried anythign serious. And in serious mode she came off as a U.S. version of Diana Dors.

Prudes thought Marilyn "vulgar." but I've never seen her as anything other than fresh and delightful.

James Dean was quite another matter. Read Larry Frascella and Al Weisel's "Live Fast Die Young -- The Wild Ride of The Making of Rebel Without A Cause."

Had Dean lived he would have undoubtedly gone on to greater acting glory. But off-screen he would have been in a world of trouble. He was a manipulative leather top and "dating" Pier Angeli (who was madly in love with him) would have only gone so far in "bearding." His gay antics were far too well knwon about. The high point of the book mentioned above is Jack Larson's account of Dean and his slave Jack Simmons trying to pick him up for a three-way at the Ranch Market that used to be at the corner of Sunset and Fairfax.

X. Trapnel said...


By "entropy starting to set in" I meant to leave a good bit of room for the great and good films of the fifties, but against these (and I fully endorse your list with reservarions re Sirk) I must set the ponderous bloat of George Stevens, Mankerywankery, Methodism and the dire incursion of the Theeyaytah, Kazan's shrieking "realism," the collapse of John Huston's talent from pulpy brilliance to literary "prestige," the rise of Stanley Kramer and Jack Lemmon, the muffled careers of so many talented and lovely actresses the better to trumpet the likes of Marilyn and Liz, Billy Wilder getting less and less funny and more and more noisy (since you rightly mention the decline of comedy I'll gratuitously insert here my belief that Wilder's hostility to Mitchell Leisen was perhaps rooted in the bitter knowledge that the, rather than the former had something approximating the Lubitsch Touch).

Ned said...

X, was the animosity on Wilder's part partially due to Leisen having successfully directed a couple of his (Wilder's) early scripts, including Hold Back the Dawn? I'm not that familiar with the particulars of Wilder's grudge except from what I've read in some interviews where he blamed Leisen for ruining his scripts.

I've heard some claim that Leisen was only as good as the scripts he directed and I think he also had a couple (or at least one) by Sturges as well, early on, but I'm not well enough versed in his opus to say yea or nay to that one.

I'm not too familiar with his fifties stuff either but I did enjoy No Man of Her Own (anything based on Cornell Woolrich can't be that bad) even if they did change the ending.

You can't beat Stanwyck in a decent noir, especially one written by Woolrich.

X. Trapnel said...


Depends on your definition of "ruining." I don't see how Hold Back the Dawn can be regraded as the ruination of anything (The aggrieved shade of BW: "What about my cockroaches!!??") It seems to me that Leisen's films never lack for visual interest, palpable mood and mise en scene. He certainly achieves a romantic afflatus that Wilder never got near in his dreary Old Man and the Sylph films of the 50s.

DavidEhrenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidEhrenstein said...

Wilder's hostility to Leisen stemmed entirely from his willingness to give in when Big Star said "Mitch, couldn't I just say 'Blah Blah Blah" instead." Wilder insisted that NOT ONE WORD be changed from his screenplays. In fact he said he became a director "in order to complete my work as a writer.

X, it sure sounds like you had No Fun At All at the movies after 1947.

X. Trapnel said...

Not so, David: In a Lonely Place, Vertigo, N by NW, The Man from Laramie, Sweet Smell of Success, Bigger Than Life, The Killing, 12 Sweaty Men, On Dangerous Ground, Pickup on South Street, Rear Window, and many, many more. Favorites all; the cut-off date is 1960 or thereabouts.

Karen said...

Several days late and several dollars short, I chime in to say that one of my 13-year-old nephews is in a class reading 12AM aloud, and I don't think he's the first of that age who's told me that. I recall my own class doing a staged reading when I was in junior high. The script is a perennial discussion catalyst for youth beginning to piece together society's ways.

I'm late because I've been in San Diego at Comic-Con, where the thermometer settled around the mid-70s by midday and dropped to the mid-60s after dark. I was gone Thursday through Monday, so missed the worst of it; it's really rather lovely today, although still hot.

I love 12AM for being such a New York movie. Every New Yorker knows what a New York summer is like, and for those of us who live without A/C (I just have ceiling fans) NYC teaches us to move slowly and deliberately through the summer months. Having come back from New Orleans (a library conference in late June), however, I can't complain unduly. It is in places like that where I think of our 19th-century foremothers, in their neck-to-wrist-to-tow layers, and understand why they all died so young.

Films from the late '40s and the '50s, and both the noir and the cinema verite-ish influences thereupon, brought us some memorable scenes of sweat. Pit-stained straphangers with handkerchiefs at the ready, sopping the damp from foreheads and necks--these are things I associate with 1950s B&W (as opposed to the metabolism-free technicolor of the decade's musicals). The Naked City (1948) is another film that shows New Yorkers making it through the summer the best they can.

Sweaty summer New Yorker films--there's a blog post subject for you. But perhaps one to tackle in the winter months, when it doesn't raise your own metabolism too high!

rcocean said...

I agree with X, although I'd place the decline about 1954. Other than Hitch, its hard to think of many Great 40s directors who didn't start to decline after '54. Even Mann did his best westerns before '55.

Post '54 Hollywood movies just kept getting wider, bigger, longer, also slower and less witty.

Goodbye Bette Davis & Myrna Loy, hello Liz Taylor and Doris Day.

DavidEhrenstein said...


And at 88 she's cutting a new album -- even as I post.

X. Trapnel said...

Doris Day isn't a goddess to me though I can see why she would be to others. Beyond her big talent I hugely respect her exemplary grace and dignity in retirement and implicit refusal to become a gargoyle (Rcocean: 1954was the year of Johnny Guitar so you may be on to something)as many Hollywood Babble-On types would no doubt wish.

Shamus said...

X., have you seen Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes?: it was made by Wilder in the early 70s and it delicate, delicate and full of a romantic longing that has probably never been a part of the Wilder oeuvre till then. It is a masterpiece and if you think that by the 50s Wilder had begun to lose his touch, then please watch that movie. There is no Lemmon in that since you seem slightly averse to him.

Jonathan Rosenbaum (he the great MM fan, but let's not bring that up again) has also championed Avanti, made immediately after Sherlock Holmes and that too has the curious elegiac quality of a life ending but with the longing for it to go on forever. Lemmon is excellent here and the movie is about 2 and a half hours long but the events take place over a couple of days so a lovely kind of transcience is established. They are as far from Fortune Cookie as they could be.
I intensely admire Leisen but Wilder is indisputably greater.

But I second Ned's admiration for No Man of Her Own: Stanwyck in the fifties had an extremely interesting (but somewhat uneven) period when she worked with Leisen, Lang, Sirk (twice), Anthony Mann and Fuller. Two other grossly overlooked but wonderful Stanwyck noirs: The File on Thelma Jordon by Siodmak and Crime of Passion by Gerd Oswald.

Thelma Jordon and No Man have not even appeared on DVD yet but you can see why she is (in all probablity) the greatest actress in American cinema.

X. Trapnel said...


I have to agree with you that Wilder is the more consequential filmmaker than Leisen, though I like the latter more than the former. Why is this so? Well, Leisen certainly never made anything to touch Double Indemnity or The Lost Weekend, for me Wilder's 2 unalloyed masterpieces (LW is so much more than a late 40s problem film). I have to admit as well that Wilder is for better or worse central and defining to American film culture while a director like Leisen exemplifies the quiet excellence that could thrive in the shadows.
To paraphrase Juror No. 3 (truly, this film is inexhaustible) I find Jack Lemmon VERY annoying, especially his unbearably mannered, self-pitying everyman turns. He seems to have been Wilder's latter-day muse and brought out all that was sentimental and misogynistic in him (there were better qualities as well). The last shot of The Fortune Cookie is a nadir of cinematic, nay American, nay Western culture. However, on your say so I'll have a look at The Private Life of S.H. (It's got a glorious Rozsa score. Did MR do Avanti as well? I know he did Fedora).

X. Trapnel said...

Oh, and absolutely agreed about Stanwyck as the Greatest. Did anyone suspect it at the time or were they so mesmerized by the Great Lady theatrics of Davis and Hepburn.

Shamus said...

Ah, but I suspect that our host(ess) might have something to say about that and I don't want to appear rude.

My impression, though, is that Stanwyck could do ANYTHING: I mean you just have to see Ball of Fire and let's say, Remember the Night and any one of the aforementioned noirs to see her extraordinary range.

But my personal favourite is Lady
Eve: she could be pathologically funny with just the slightest twitch of her eyebrows or a small pause between two words. Dunne, Colbert, Loy, Russell, Lombard could all be very very funny (K. Hepburn not so much I think: she gave a windmill-like quality of her enunciation that constrasted with the pert delivery of the best screwball comediennes) but none of them could hold a candle to Stanwyck.

But it is mostly Stanwyck way of blending sex and humour sets her apart from all other actress, and you can see this beginning to be register in the 50s with the likes of all the actresses you mentioned.

rcocean said...

Doris Day is a great actress and singer. But so many of her movies are mediocre and only watchable because she's in them.

And she's a great singer. But how many great songs does she sing post "Love me or Leave me"? And I love "Pillow Talk" but the theme song is rather pathetic. I've never understood it, except maybe the producers thought any mediocre song (1959-1967) would be popular if Doris sang it in the movie.

Shamus said...

Avanti has a collection of Italian pop songs that go very very well with the setting. It really is a great film and very very underrated.

Ending of Fortune Cookie, agreed, but that was never Wilder's greatest film. As for the noir, I am starting to lean toward Ace in the Hole as Wilder's greatest non-comedy.

I can see how someone could dislike Lemmon (just like I can understand how someone could dislike Wilder or Kubrick, say) but I like him (though he can be quite aggravating at times) and Wilder and Kubrick and others.

I really have to see more of Leisen: I just saw No Time for Love recently (hence the reference to Colbert) but I was struck by how none of his leading actresses seem to give bad performances: Colbert, Stanwyck and especially Lombard (who has one her few dramatic roles and she is excellent: it is one of her best performances).

The movie itself not a great by any means but still good enough to watch.

Shamus said...

Re: Lombard.
I was talking about Hands Across the Table.

X. Trapnel said...

One can't blame Day for the declining quality of American song writing (and to her credit she loathed Que Sera Sera). Sinatra was always seeking out new material but his post-September of My Years recordings are depressing (like seeing You Can't Run Away From It immediately after It Happened One Night), but I suspect the awful songs were the best he could find. Popular music like the movies ended fifty years ago. Dixi et animam levavi.

Stanwyck had everything (one is supposed to add that she "wasn't conventionally beautiful" as though beauty is ever conventional) and was funny to boot. Oh, how I wish it had been she and not Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (another mark of Wilder tastelessness. How could anyone imagine returning to the original Front Page after HGF?)

Shamus said...

Conventionally beautiful? I think the point is that the 50s had the most conventionally beautiful stars in Hollywood: Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and others but look where it got them. And us. Sometimes I feel as though, chic as they were, they seem trapped in those glamourous clothes (what a prison to be in) but there is something freeing and liberating about screwbaalll comedy in general which died in 1942.

I know I'm supposed to like Girl Friday but like Hawks' other comedies, I find it too unrelentingly mean-spirited, too enthusiastic in heaping humiliations on actors who are NOT called Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. There is also an underlying smugness to Grant being Grant that is sort of reprehensible. He is not at all like that any of the other great films he was in (and how many are there like that?). But Russell was fine: I really don't see how you can complain.

Wilder regretted making the remake, so there. How bad is Wilder's version though? I haven't seen it.
But One, Two, Three is a comedy that moves on at much the same pace with the same number of in-jokes and political asides and I like to think that it is sort of a riposte to Girl Friday. (Yes, I am insane: there is no connection 'tween the two but there you have it).

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus, your point about His Girl Friday is a good one and is seldom addressed by Hawks cultists, i.e., his division of the world into the cool and the uncool, the saved and the damned. I like Hawks (and love HGF, to me the funniest movie ever, if not precisely the greatest comedy [which of course is The Rage of, The Shop Around the Corner]) but on this point prefer Raoul Walsh who working in a not dissimilar vein always shows agreater range and depth of sympathy that transcends "style," and coolness is a style, something assumed or put on.

X. Trapnel said...

The conventional beauty of Kelly and A. Hepburn, mannequins both and prizes for tired middle-aged rich men, was an outcome of the culture of wartime production which we have never really escaped.

Shamus said...

X., I had never connected Hawks and Walsh in that way, that's a great point you make. My impression is that Walsh's was always directed to the isolated hero (and heroines if you count The Man I Love) who are also generally criminals: he seems to have little sympathy for authorities in general and the police especially, and in White Heat, he is never more furious than when Edmond O'Brien shoots down Cagney in a particularly cowardly fashion, with a sniper rifle.

Are there any more Walsh films you recommend, apart from those two, High Sierra and Strawberry Blonde?

Lubitsch's Shop practically justifies the classical Hollywood movie but it has a good deal off trauma and sadness to qualify as comedy proper. That is a characteristic of Lubitsch in his late career: To Be or Not to Be and Heaven Can Wait are other examples.

Shamus said...

Mannequins: that's funny: its exactly the word I wanted to use: you pre-empted me. But I'd rather we talk about the divine Margaret Sullavan than about those "mannequins" cluttering up the warrens and warehouses of cinema.

X. Trapnel said...

How can I complain about Russell? Easy. No sex appeal; Stanwyck had it to burn (bringing us back to the subject of sweat?).

You may be right about Grant; Bogart brushes up against smugness in To Have and Have Not. It's funny that THAHN is often praised as an off-hand smack at Casablanca's posturing nobility, but Rick's coolness is relentlessy broken down through 3/4 of the film. Rick: "Did you run out on me because you couldn't take it?" etc. Ilse: "You can believe that if you wish." Let that be a lesson to the cool.

X. Trapnel said...

It's 3:00 am here and I would talk gladly about the divine Margaret S. till the birds start twittering, but as Stendhal liked to say (cf. The Life of Henry Brulard), "le sujet surpasse le disant."

Shamus said...

It's really not fair to compare Russell (or anyone really) with Stanwyck, but I do find Russell quite sexy (its probably subjective anyway): she seems oddly both completely feminine and "one-of-the-boys". By contrast, Stanwyck was always apart even in Hawks' film.

I also don't find Katherine Hepburn sexy; warm and charming in her best roles but by the end of the 40s (to be more precise, by the time of Adam's Rib), she was essentially an old maid. The unfair thing to do would be to compare her with Stanwyck, who was exuded sex at least until the late fifties.

I actually love To Have and Have Not; it is probably only second to Scarface as Hawks' finest film. But Bogart does not display the same offhand vituperation at others just for existing (like Grant does in HGF) but he seems actually quite understanding: the only people he really despises are the Nazis and, well, who doesn't.

Shamus said...

Well then I admire your willfulness for staying up this long to speak about the glories of Stanwyck and Lubitsch and speak derogatorily of Audrey Hepburn. Bonne nuit.

X. Trapnel said...

No, I don't think Walsh emphasizes the solitary hero (or hero-villain). What i find consistently in his films is the intense interaction between pairs of characters (as against the Hawks group with dominant star): lovers and would be lovers (think of Gladys George in Roaring 2s/Bogart & Joan Leslie in High Sierra, spouses, friends, partners, enemies. There are so may powerful or poetic scenes between two people. A real Walsh one-two punch in this regard is Flynn/Arthur Kennedy and then Flynn/Olivia on the night before the Little Big Horn in They Died with Their Boots On. Two other favorites of mine are Cagney pouring coffee for the sleeping Frank McHugh in R-ing 20s and the rueful/affectionate conversation between Bogie and the dying crime boss in High Sierra. all of this out of Hawks' range. What Walsh could have done with Leopold Bloom and Stephan Dedalus.

I find Walter Brennan so irritating in THAHN that I find myself rooting for Dan Seymour. Just imagine the post-film menage a trois. Bacall should have taken that ticket.

Shamus said...

X.T., thank you very much for that nightmare: I was about to remark on Hawks' superlative use of diegetic music in THAHN and Only Angels have Wings and Ball of Fire and how it corresponds with Walsh's manner of staging his music in The Man I Love, but now I must drop everything to find a suitable scrub to exfoliate my mind. Great Job on the gross-out: just remember, I owe you one.

DavidEhrenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidEhrenstein said...

One Two Three (a film which I utterly adore) is actually faster than His Girl Friday

The Straubs loved Avanti! It's pleasant but Wilder, like so many Golden Age filmmakers had a lot of trouble after 1960. The studios had fallen apart. The public had chancged. And merely trying to assemble the right group of people to do a film was like climbing Mount Everest with your teeth (ie. Fedora)

Mitchell Leisen was an old school Hollywood craftsman, whose career is of considerable interest for a number of reasosn. He started out as a costume designer for DeMille. When the project was right (ie. Midnight, Remember the Night, To Each His Own) he knew just what to do with it. He knew just what to do with a piece of moldy camp like Bride of Vengeance too.

Read David Chirachetti's book about him. It's quite a story.

Here's the best scene from his last movie. Gower Champion was the shoreographer

Ned said...


Quite right about the problems of producing films in the fifties.

For one thing, during the previous three decades, the heyday of the studio system, stars were protected, the assembly line hummed along and even those who complained bitterly about the cast iron nature of the place benefited at least in being able, if they were at a certain level, to command a virtual army of skilled artisans, musicians, writers, script doctors, composers, set designers, and a passel of fabulous assistant directors (a cadre that gets little acknowledgment except among the true cognoscenti).

When the system broke down none of this was available. Just think of all the mediocre films turned out by actors and directors who tried their hand at creating their own film companies. Even a great star like Cagney who attempted a couple of independent forays--albeit while the studios still held sway--realized only moderate success.

During the fifties it was much tougher. The most obvious clues, aside from the uneven quality of many scripts (the HUAC was in full swing and everyone was nervous about what they could and couldn't write), were the low production values of many films.

The films that had huge budgets and fabulous production values were religious-based pictures, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Robe, etc., an indication of the swing to the right, an attempt by some producers to prove that Hollywood was not the domain of America-hating, hedonistic atheists and commies. And likely a way to make good use of the new capabilities of widescreen.

Also the fact that the studios which had previously protected its talent as best they could from scandal were increasingly unable to do so. Sorry examples were made of sons of great stars of earlier years, Edward G. Robinson's son and John Barrymore's son, both of whom had many well publicized run ins with the law and drug and alcohol problems. No one had more trouble with booze than the Great Profile, but the studios largely protected his image with the general public until he collapsed on his own petard.

There are many other reasons for the decline of the Hollywood system that turned out the masterpieces of the thirties and forties, but mostly, as you infer, it was a system on the verge of collapse trying to find a new way of doing business. A few succeeded. Many did not.

Ned said...

Also wanted to return briefly to the discussion X and Shamus were having about Stanwyck.

It's a fun game to think about what films would be like with other actors in the leads. I had never thought of what Stanwyck might have done in HGF but it clearly would not have been the same movie. Like X, I love it as it is, and have done so even with the realization, as Shamus points out, of it's essential misanthropy. It's an exercise in single-minded nihilism, a world in which everything--politics, family life (or the dim promise of such), political corruption, capital punishment, and even stunning world events ("stick Hitler on the funny pages") are secondary to the Morning Post winning. And even that seems not much more than a totem for the Walter Burns character to wrap his brief existence around.

But Stanwyck in the Roz Russell Although I think she may have decided to shoot the other reporters rather than go to all the trouble of hiding Earl Williams in that stupid desk.

And kudos to Shamus for recalling The File on Thelma Jordan. Another great Stanwyck noir. It's not for nothing that she's Queen of the Noirs.

And as much as I adore Hepburn, I can't picture her in Lady of Burlesque while I can picture Stanwyck in some (not all) Hepburn vehicles.

I've always wondered what Saboteur would have been like with the leads Hitchcock wanted (Stanwyck and Gary Cooper) instead the ones he got (Priscilla Lane and Bob Cummings). In a weird way, I think I might like Cummings better than Cooper. Cooper, being of more heroic stature would seem like a natural for taking on the Nazis. Cummings seems like the kind of average Joe Hitch always loved to throw into the fire. But Stanwyck versus Priscilla Lane? Hmmmm....

Shamus said...

"...a director like Leisen exemplifies the quiet excellence that could thrive in the shadows."

Hardly. We now know about Fuller and Ulmer and other B-film makers due to the auteur theory etc. Leisen was not one of the "autuers" and so he was discarded and seen as a studio hack. Okay, but a director who handled A-projects for Paramount for nearly 3 decades can hardly be called "obscure" and "thriving in the shadows."

Even now, I'm not sure how many would agree that he is an auteur. Oh, well... his films are still great though.

Oddest thing was, and this is well documented, Truffaut and others who championed Ray and championed autuers in studio system, grew disillusioned when said auteurs were unable to continue great films at time of said studio collapse and when they gained the independence they vigorously sought for. But whether this somehow invalidates the auteur theory or whether Ray simply lost his powers is of course moot.

Shamus said...

Ned, here is a thought: Stanwyck in an early or pre-code Lubitsch film: she is clearly the most sexual of all the great screwball comediennes and Lubitsch at that time (say, Trouble in Paradise, One Hour with You - but that is a musical - Design for Living) had only one thing on his mind. Ah, it's good to speculate these things, even if that Brooklyn accent... no, it doesn't really matter.

Ned said...

Shamus, ahh yes. That accent. The primary reason I couldn't see Stanwyck in something like The Philadelphia Story. But she does a passably fake English accent in The Lady Eve. Passable, but still fake.

Nonetheless, substituting Stanwyck for Miriam Hopkins in Trouble in Paradise (unless you were thinking of the Kay Francis character, but I doubt it) would have been great fun.

For Lubitsch and for us.

Shamus said...

Ned, Hopkins of course, but both she and Francis are wonderful in Trouble; I wasn't talking about "improving" Lubtisch (ridiculous, I know) but this is just wishful thinking.

Screwball comedy derived its brilliance in one part from the writers but another from the actors: a game of replacing the actors in Lady Eve, Midnight, Palm Beach Story, Awful Truth, Happened One Night, changes the nature of the movie: I don't think that this could happen with Lubitsch perhaps because his directorial hand is too strong and also perhaps because his are not really screwball in the slapstick sense.

Also, isn't Stanwyck's outrageously fake accent the entire point: would those scenes have been so funny if her accent sounded believable? Eric Blore puts on pretty thick too: "Meet me by yonder window embrasure...and look as though you know nothing."

That accent was probably Stanwyck's post facto revenge at the Academy for ignoring her for three decades while giving the oscar to any bimbo who wore glasses, frumpy clothes and an accent.

VP81955 said...

It's a fun game to think about what films would be like with other actors in the leads. I had never thought of what Stanwyck might have done in "His Girl Friday" but it clearly would not have been the same movie. Like X, I love it as it is, and have done so even with the realization, as Shamus points out, of it's essential misanthropy. It's an exercise in single-minded nihilism, a world in which everything--politics, family life (or the dim promise of such), political corruption, capital punishment, and even stunning world events ("stick Hitler on the funny pages") are secondary to the Morning Post winning. And even that seems not much more than a totem for the Walter Burns character to wrap his brief existence around.

But Stanwyck in the Roz Russell Although I think she may have decided to shoot the other reporters rather than go to all the trouble of hiding Earl Williams in that stupid desk.

Stanwyck as Hildy...hmmm, interesting, though the Roz substitute I've always wondered "what if" about was Lombard. (And it conceivably could have happened, had her price by that time been more negotiable for Harry Cohn; it certainly wasn't anything personal, as Carole had made five films at Columbia between 1932 and '34 and not only was the rare actress who got along well with him, but Columbia did more with Lombard than her home studio at the time, Paramount.)

I can't imagine Carole surpassing Roz as Hildy, especially since she was nowhere as physically imposing as Russell (though more athletic and lithe). But she would have made the character her own, in her own Lombardic way...and we're tantalized at how she and Grant, the actress and actor most identified with the screwball genre, would have spurred each other on.

Here is a thought: Stanwyck in an early or pre-code Lubitsch film: she is clearly the most sexual of all the great screwball comediennes and Lubitsch at that time (say, Trouble in Paradise, One Hour with You -- but that is a musical -- Design for Living) had only one thing on his mind.

How about "The Smiling Lieutenant"? But I can't decide whether I'd have Stanwyck substitute for Claudette Colbert (who's fine in this early role) or Miriam Hopkins (could Barbara pull off playing a rather icy queen?).

Shamus said...

Can I say that, notwithstanding my unqualified reverence for Lubitsch, that Smiling Lieutenant is not entirely successful? Too grim, dark and it has neither the extraordinary lightness of One Hour with You (which is frequently mistaken for frivolous) nor the measured sadness and sense of a proximity to death that you find in To Be or Not to Be and Heaven Can Wait. Lubitsch had just found out that his wife was having an affair, her own private personal Lubitsch movie behind his back: there must be some word more powerful and suggestive than the mere "irony" for moments like these.

How about Stanwyck with Cary Grant in Awful Truth? How about that?

Ned said...

Shamus, yes the fake accent IS the point, and, as you say, adds immeasurably to how much fun Stanwyck's character is having by taking the mickey out of the Fonda character. (Although I've always felt that she went way beyond what was necessary given the fact that she, from the first, was out to strip him clean. She WAS after all, trying to con him even if she had a change of heart, but oh well...).

And changing leads would of course change any film. I think even with someone like Lubitsch for the simple reason that he would likely want to take advantage of that particular actor's or actress's strengths. Replacing Miriam Hopkins with Barbara Stanwyck would have allowed Lubitsch to add some different notes here and there and to adjust the color of certain scenes. Especially, as you point out, any scene involving sex. I'm not sure the Herbert Marshall character would have made it out alive if he had had Stanwyck to deal with.

Think of Hitchcock's icy blondes. They are not exactly interchangeable. Well, not entirely so. that I've written it down, I think maybe they were.

Although I don't think Grace Kelly would have been anywhere near as fun as Madeleine Carroll in the 39 Steps. And Carroll might not have been as haughty as Kelly's ice princess in To Catch a Thief.

VP mentions the idea of replacing Roz Russell's Hildy Johnson with Carole Lombard. Another interesting idea. She would have been a different Hildy but she would not have taken a backseat to Russell in the verbal acrobatics department. Has anyone ever done a word count on His Girl Friday? Some grad student in film studies must have tried this at some point. Really, sometimes it's like listening to a Springsteen song in which he tries to cram 186 words into an 8 bar phrase! But Lombard could have done it.

Then again, we've already had several other Hildys: Pat O'Brien and Jack Lemmon. I don't think we need to go into further comparisons as to the best (certainly the most entertaining) of the three.

As for The Smiling Lieutenant, I've not had the pleasure, but maybe the fact that it starred Miriam Hopkins and Claudette Colbert as the male lead's love interests was what prompted all four Marx Brothers to claim that they were Maurice Chevalier in Horse Feathers!

But anyway...

Ned said...

Shamus, Oh man, I don't know about Stanwyck in The Awful Truth. Irene Dunne is SO good in that role.

Besides, I don't think Stanwyck was as good a singer (the recital scene is one of the funniest in a movie with a load of funny scenes).

Ned said...

Although she would have been a roar as Grant's trashy sister.

Shamus said...


"Replacing Miriam Hopkins with Barbara Stanwyck would have allowed Lubitsch to add some different notes here and there and to adjust the color of certain scenes.": Fair enough.

Madeleine Carroll is my favorite Hitchcock blonde: she is the only one with a real sense of humor. The rest are, X.'s words, "mannequins." (If I were X., I would probably add something witty in French but I don't know french...)

And I never said that Dunne was not great, or that Roz Russell wasn't: just moving the chess pieces across disparate boards. Actually, it could have easily been quite different. Grant badly wanted out of Awful Truth and Stanwyck was the fourth (!) choice for Lady Eve and fifth (!!!) choice for Sugarpuss O'Shea. Now try and imagine the movies without them...

Shamus said...

"I'm not sure the Herbert Marshall character would have made it out alive if he had had Stanwyck to deal with."

Gulp. Best not think about that. Or not.

Ned said...

Shamus, funny you should mention Madeleine Carroll (my favorite Hitchcock blonde as well) because, if memory serves, she was one of the actresses in line to play Stanwyck's role in The Lady Eve.

If she had only ever made 39 Steps and Prisoner of Zenda, I'd love her forever.

I never thought you were dissing Irene Dunne. The game is fun but it's like pulling on a string, things start to unravel quickly once you begin undoing and remaking the casting of a film.

I have to agree with X's description of at least some of Hitchock's blondes. Some, like Tippi Hedren clearly fit that bill.

The one I'm not sure of is the one who actually IS a mannequin, for just about everyone in the film, Kim Novak, in Vertigo. In fact, we only see the real Judy for a few fleeting minutes. I don't know if it's the gestalt of the picture, the highly saturated colors, the hypnotic camera movements, the insidious Bernard Hermann score, or Novak's performance (actually, Hitchcock's use of Novak in a performative mode), but the characterization is so striking that it's hard for me to denigrate it with the a pejorative description.

I guess it's mostly the spell of one of the greatest examples of cinema.

Now can you see Stanwyck in that role?

Trish said...

I like my Wilder nasty: Five Graves to Cairo, Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, Double Indemnity. I'm not such a big fan of Some Like it Hot. It's too over the top, and with all due respect, Joe E. Brown always makes my skin crawl. I loathe Irma La Douce and Kiss Me, Stupid.

Mitchell Leisen's films are like buried treasures and I'm thankful I haven't yet seen them all. So far I like Hands Across the Table, Easy Living, and No Man of Her Own.

I like Priscilla Lane's youth in Saboteur. I kind of think the film would have been too top heavy with an aging Stanwyck, and Cooper. Coop would have been a great choice, by the way, or Joel Mccrea. It's madness that the role went to such a glib, neighbour-next-door type like Cummings. Ugh.

Aaron Haspel said...

The Supremely Rational Linen-Suit-Wearing Man is not so rational for my money. Sure, Fonda demolishes the eyewitness testimony, on which E.G. Marshall, the voice of prosecutorial reason, foolishly bases his case, but eyewitness testimony is usually unreliable anyway. Consider the murder weapon instead. The accused owned a switchblade with an elaborately carved handle, supposedly unique: the storekeeper where he bought it said he had never seen another. A switchblade of the same design was found in his father’s chest. The accused, questioned by the police about his own switchblade, maintained that he lost it through a hole in his pocket. (We’ll presume, though we’re never told, that his pocket actually did have a hole in it.) Fonda produces an identical switchblade that he bought in a pawnshop, reasoning thence that someone else could have done it. (We will pass over the fact that he is guilty of gross misconduct by withholding this evidence during the trial and producing it in the jury room.) Maybe, but if the accused is innocent one is obliged to believe, first, that the real perpetrator committed the murder, coincidentally, with a knife identical to the one the suspect owned; and second, that the accused lost his own knife on the very same night. Reopen the deliberations, dammit! I want to hang that jury.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The thing to remeber about Stanwyck is that of all the major stars of the Golden Age she was never under long-term contract to any studio. As a result she shaped her own image.

Ned said...


For many years, I longed for the Stanwyck/Cooper Saboteur that might have been. But it would have needed both of them. Stanwyck with Cummings would not have been fair. She'd have buried him. Cooper with Lane might have worked, (and we know what Joel McCrea can do as a Hitchcock lead), but I think it's just because Cummings is such a nondescript, guy next door type that makes Saboteur so effective.

You would never bet on "Love that Bob" Cummings against a murderous array of fifth columnists and spies intent on sabotage within the US borders, so his surprising victory is a kind of win for the average guy.

Cooper would definitely have brought a greater edge, more star power, and made for a more powerful protagonist (and even though he played an "average Joe" in Meet John Doe, he was anything but average) but I'm not at all unhappy with the way it turned out.

Oh, and the fact that I would like to have seen Stanwyck in the role doesn't mean I think Priscilla Lane was chopped liver. She makes a good partner in the coast to coast race to save the country.

Still, it's fun thinking about what could have been.

X. Trapnel said...

Please, let us not forget that Eva Marie Saint is a Hitchcock blonde; no mannequin she. In fact, the brittle artifice of Kelly is brillianly played upon in Rear Window to deepen Stewart's reservations about marriage. Otherwise the relationship woul;d be standard sexcapade stuff: avid woman/reluctant man (everyone in the name of cultural anthropology should see the first half hour of Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? [or is it Not With My Wife You Don't?]. Not the Lubitsch Touch nor even the Wilder Jackhammer)

Shamus said...

Ned, back to your original point about Lady Eve, I think that Stanwyck does not punish Fonda/Hopsie so much for his naivete or because he is so enamoured of fiction (his "ideal", which Jean mocks) but his inability to see the tell fiction from reality when it is put before him (that Jean is in love with him). So Jean masquerades as Eve, but I'm not sure that her "education" is successful: at the end, he still can't tell that Jean and Eve are the same.

To confess, when I first saw Lady Eve, I was slightly disappointed by the ending (how stupid is Hopsie really?), but now I think that the ending is not only wonderful, it couldn't have ended in any other way without being didactic (Hopsie learns the truth and asks for "forgiveness") or undercutting the strong female role (if Jean had apologized).

Someone, somewhere wrote of The Lady Eve as "the revenge of Vertigo": the themes are still very tricky and quite similar. In fact, outside of Lubitsch, Lady Eve is probably the least straightforward comedy in classical Hollywood. So you could say that Stanwyck did appear in Vertigo. In a sense.

Count me out of the Eva Marie-Saint fan-club: she is the MOST submissive of Hitch's blondes (her masters are Vamdamn, the Professor, AND Thornhill) and she is completely outshined by Grant and she looks ridiculous running on high heels across the Rushmore monument.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well anyone would look ridiculous in that position. I like Eva Marie just fine. She's not the center of NBNW the way Kim Novak is in Vertigo, and she's scarcely as complex as Grace Kelly in . She's a species of deus ex machina really -- and little more.

Ned said...


I see your point about the stupidity of Hopsie. I think it may be a kind of meta critique by Sturges since the script is just chock-a-block with references to the fall of man. Not only are there the visual references, the apple, the snake, etc. (and in a role reversal, it's the man who befriends and studies the ways of the snake) along with verbal references (the name Eve is a bit of a giveaway). But there might be something else going on because, as you say, the Fonda character STILL doesn't know what's going on at the end of the film, and even the William Demarest character seems to be trying to convince himself of her identity "Positively the same dame".

Is Sturges making a commentary on the essential doltishness of men in general? It's somewhat of a theme in at least a few of his films. The ladies have it all over the men in the Palm Beach Story. It's like they're not even inhabiting the same world (except of course, for the Weenie King). I think the Colbert character says something to that effect concerning the essential child-like nature of men who are just too obtuse to see past the surface and definitely ill equipped to handle the subtleties of sexual chess games.

I guess I'll have to go home tonight and crack open my Sturges DVD collection and watch it again.

What a chore that will be!

Shamus said...

D.E., actually NBNW proceeds the much the same way as 39 Steps, but where Madeleine Carroll has humor and poise, Marie Saint has...I don't mean to be cruel but I loved Marie Saint the first time I saw NBNW but when I saw it again recently, she struck me a pretty shallow. I think perhaps that is Hitchcock's fault, not hers: possibly he was forcing her into directions she could not go.

Apart from Hawks, Sturges is one director who always had very strong female lead roles: the women are always smarter, have a better grip on reality, and they often pursue the men as the men pursue silly dreams. Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in Sullivan's T. and Ellen Drew and Dick Powell in Christmas in July. Who pursues who? And I needn't add the example discussed latterly. In Palm Beach Story, McCrea does chase after Colbert but there is a wonderfully hungry nymphomaniac there waiting for him. As for the two Eddie Bracken films, well...

What was Sturges trying to say? You got me. Actually, no two Sturges films are quite the same so the expectations you carry from picture to picture changes (all of which he wrote, duh, the best of them over only 4 years). On the other hand, Lubitsch's movies which had different writers (over a period of a decade and a half), are all quite similar. How do you explain that?

Ned said...

Interesting point about the themes of Sturges films vs. Lubitsch films. I suppose, with Lubitsch, it has something to do with themes that attracted him personally, themes he could work with, much like John Ford who also worked with many different writers.

Although Sturges stuck mostly to comedies (unlike Wilder who had a wider range) he was always trying to create new platforms for his themes. But he did have a few duds, such as that very weird biopic he directed, The Great Moment, about a dentist who pioneered the use of ether as an anesthetic (!) Seriously?

I guess he said most of what he had to say in those few mercurial years because he was pretty much done after that.

Shamus said...

D.E., to be perfectly honest, I really don't that much difference between one Hitchcock blonde from another (this in the 1950s) and since they all are forced to behave in a very particular way, I wonder if Hitch did himself.

What an extremely presumptuous statement to make! Here is another: I frankly would "prefer" Fritz Lang over Hitchcock any day of the week (except when I am under the weather: then Hitchcock is ideal and oddly comforting). Lang's best noir are so unsettling and complex that it is hard to believe they were made in mainstream Hollywood. Hitchcock was wonderfully perverse, always exciting us with his naughtiness but I don't think, Vertigo notwithstanding, he ever pushed things as far as Lang did in Fury, M, You Only Live Once, Scarlet Street, Big Heat or While the City Sleeps. Lang got shoved into the low budget end, slowly losing control over production by the 50s. (House by the River was made for Republic whereas Fury was an MGM product: imagine another movie as scathing and bitter and downbeat from that studio).

Shamus said...


You like your Wilder nasty but not Some Like it Hot and Kiss me, Stupid?

And aging Stanwyck? In 1942?

Trish said...

Shamus -

Yep! Once she starts wearing shoulder pads and long hair, she ages. Just like Crawford and Russell. It doesn't mean I don't like her. Just that I don't think she was right for Saboteur.

As for Some Like it Hot, George Raft and Pat O'Brien have lost their charms by this time. Lemmon, Curtis and Marilyn are too much, as is the aforementioned Joe E. Brown. Kiss Me, Stupid is a film I can't make sense of, simply because
it's dominated by a terrible and unfunny actor, Ray Walston.

Steve Paradis said...

Hmm, sweat and Lumet--anyone mention "The Hill"? The movie where Sean Connery is the quiet one; that BRIAN BLESSED thinks is a bit loud.

But George MacDonald Fraser noted the perfection of the sound of the rippling starch as Harry Andrews put on his Sergeant Major's shirt.

Buttermilk Sky said...

On the subject of sweat (before we veered off onto Doris Day) -- I have to mention "Broadcast News." Poor Albert Brooks finally gets his shot on the air, and he perspires so much viewers think he's having a heart attack. This leads to the only line I can remember from the film: Holly Hunter asks how he did, and William Hurt replies, "Did you ever see 'Singin' In the Rain'?" Mean but funny.

Ned said...

On the subject of The Hill (an excellent picture), this was one of several films Lumet made with Sean Connery, each quite different demonstrating a wide range for both director and star. Although Lumet has tackled corruption and the pressures of police work in other films, nothing is quite like The Offence. Both The Hill and The Offence helped Connery escape the Bond trap. Family Business, while not his best, is enjoyable for the pleasure of watching the three leads work off each other in their own particular styles. I really can't think of a boring Lumet film. I haven't seen them all, but he seemed incapable of putting dull imagery and stories onscreen.

Shamus said...

Back to Lumet again? Is this the time to talk about how "Lumet is infinitely superior to Kubrick"...
I'm guessing that Kubrick doesn't get much love here.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I love Kubrick quite a lot. But he and Lumet are from diffeent planets. Lumet loves actors. Kurbrick turns them into pieces of furniture. He's especially adept at manipulating shallow star-boys like Ryan O'Neil and Tom Cruise -- making them look unwittingly ridiculous and then torturing them. I truly believe he intended Eyes Wide Shut to break up the Cruise-Kidman marriage, which it did handily.

Lang inspired Hitchcock in his youth. But by the time he got to the U.S. -- and tangled with the powers-that-were at MGM -- his career was headed straight for MacMahon adoration.

House By the River is superb. Republic was making "art films" at the time (eg. The Quiet Man) and this one is as perfect a Poe-like mood study as you could possibly imagine.

Sturges' women are indeed smarter than his men -- at all times. Leave us not forget who his mother was.

The Great Moment (a great disappointment) sprang from his inventor side. Remember Struges created "Kiss-proof" lipstick.
The Plam Beach Story is in some ways my favoirte. Especially for Mary Astor -- my role model.

Shamus said...

Reputedly, Sturges’ mother was one his inspirations for Jean Harrington, in which case I would have like to have met her. I haven’t seen The Great Moment, but from what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem fair to blame Sturges considering that he lost control over the cutting process. Its sounds fascinating, though. (Also, Sturges actually did invent the couch you see in Christmas in July, a somewhat ignored picture of his along with Hail the Conquering Hero.)

The difference in Lumet and Kubrick is not just in their use of actors: they are basically from separate planets and there can be no straightforward comparison between the two: Lumet signals to the viewers telling them what to think: Kubrick absolutely does not, which creates problems (for the viewers). Strangelove is supposed to be funny, but if it is a comic film then why are the sets so realistic? This only adds to the confusion of the viewer. More perversely, HAL’s death in 2001 is protracted and messy affair and oddly moving but the other astronauts are terminated like computers.

Kubrick was never seriously concerned about society or its problems, even in The Killing or his war films: his concerns were far more abstract and they were the concerns of one of cinema’s most eccentric (and brilliant) artists.

Ned said...

If there is a Lumet vs. Kubrick thing because of Fail Safe and Strangelove, I think that's a false dichotomy.

Those films are as different as can be, completely separate responses in mood, tone, and mode to the threat of nuclear Armageddon.

But I don't think Lumet is, by default, superior. After The Killing (one of my all time favorites) and Paths of Glory (another great one) Kubrick made a series of films that appear to come out of the ether, as if no one had ever held a camera in their hands before. There never was anything else like Strangelove or 2001 or even Barry Lyndon, certainly nothing like Clockwork Orange, before Kubrick.

His self-imposed exile from Hollywood, in a way, like Lumet's attention to New York, kept both of them from being conventional Hollywood directors, but as David says they had a much different approach to the craft. Lumet was an actor's director. Kubrick was obsessed with the technical problems of cinematic storytelling.

I wouldn't want to have to choose between their films for a desert island collection.

As for the Lang/Hitchcock comparison, I think I'd have to agree that Lang often achieved the creepiness that is often ascribed to Hitchcock.

In Hitchcock it often seems part of the plan, with of course some great exceptions, Vertigo being one. It also stems from Hitchcock's own psyche which make for some truly nerve wracking moments.

With Lang, it often feels much more organic. Something that burbles up from some dark hole. Hitchcock rarely shows us the kind of deep malevolence and personal suffering that hangs over movies like the Big Heat and Scarlet Street, and even Manhunt, like a pall.

I'm not throwing Hitchcock under any bus here. I love his stuff. He is a director of the first water and maybe the comic elements of his films were inserted to allow him to stave off the true horrors just under the surface.

It's just that if we're comparing relative levels of darkness of the soul, Lang can do it with the best. Or should that be the worst?

Ned said...

Shamus, see the Great Moment if you get a chance but only so you can say you saw it.

It's a maddening affair, and yes the studio took it over and yes it's a mess, largely because for ten minutes it seems like a serious biopic then there are a few classic Sturges comic touches, then back to the biopic, then a few more funny bits. Half the time Joel McCrea doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The budget was clearly small because from the sets, it looks like something a young director at the start of his career might have done, not the guy who had already made the Great McGinty, the Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, and the Palm Beach Story all in just a couple of years.

It's weird and disheartening.

But see it if you get a chance. Then set it aside.

Shamus said...

Okay, Ned, will do. By the way, how was the "chore", cracking open that box set?

Hitchcock teases you with perversity but by the end he brings back thing to status quo: it's maddening but since there is often so much humour in his film, we easily forgive him. (Whereas, things can go very very bad in Lang very quickly and not necessarily because of some individual's crime though that also prefigures quite a bit, as you say: its the terrifying Langian "destiny".)

But I was not making any kind of statement about Hitch's craft (I am not qualified, needless to say) but merely that Lang is so often overlooked (by the general public at least) while Hitchcock is regarded as the "greatest". They are both great but one of them is somewhat overvalued. (I added M in my list of his American films instead of Man Hunt, as you correctly point out).

By the way, I liked how you made the distinction between how Sturges and Lubitsch approached their themes; yes, Ford films are also often very similar but Kubrick, as a counter-example, who wrote his scripts, made the oddest and most unprecedented films there are.

Shamus said...

P.S. I didn't realise The Great McGinty figured so highly on your list of Sturges film over something like Miracle of Morgan's Creek or Christmas in July.

Ned said...

Yeah, I love the Great McGinty but to tell you the truth, when I broke into the Sturges collection last night, I watched Miracle. It was my first Sturges favorite and I'll always have a soft spot for it.

But anyone who hasn't seen the Great McGinty doesn't realize how funny it is that the governor of the state and his fixer who "take care of" the wedding license problem for Gertrude Kockenlocker and Ignatz Radskywadsky (those names!!) in Miracle at Morgan's Creek are none other than McGinty himself and The Boss.

Akim Tamiroff is so funny in that very short scene where he's talking on three telephones at once and saying, about the justice of the peace, "His license revoked! He don't work no more."

I think you're right that among the general public, Lang's name does not have the cachet that Hitchcock's does, but at least lovers of great cinema have not forgotten him.

One other way you notice that is the number of times critics compare some new director to Hitchcock whereas I've rarely heard anyone (at least mainstream critics) compare some new work to Lang's oeuvre. Hitchock is more of a brand for average moviegoers whereas Lang is an acquired, somewhat exotic taste.

Just my guess...

Shamus said...


When I first saw Lady Eve, I went on a Sturges/Stanwyck bender: I couldn't get enough of their movies: I quickly moved on Remember the Night (the only other movie they made together, which is a pity and that only by via Leisen) and Great McGinty and Christmas in July. I saw Morgan's Creek immediately thereafter, so yes, I did recognize the Governor and his fixer. But I'm sorry to say, McGinty is only second-tier Sturges: the romantic element doesn't really come off and the dramatic plot doesn't go any place. But the six masterpieces that followed, well...

Also, do you realise that the chronology is off? McGinty is only Governor for a day and then he is thrown in jail (is that even possible? never mind, don't answer that). So when did he have time to field a (very) long telephone call from Morgan's Creek? With Tamiroff whom he's just betrayed...(ominous ellipses)

Jeff Gee said...

So to bring this full (sweaty) circle-- what's the cast of Sturge's version of 12 Angry Men? William Demerest for Jack Warden, or for Lee J. Cobb? Akim Tamiroff for Henry Fonda?

vw: deatioxe
TAMIROFF: I took deatioxe to deapawn shop and found deaidentical knife!

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'd say Frnklin Pangborn for Henry Fonda in the Sturges version.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The thing about Sturges is that he knew precisely how far he could go.
On a certain, let's call it "realistic" level Jean falling for Hoppsie akes to sense. She's ever so much quicker and smarter than he is. That's made overwhelmingly clear at the start in that great scene where she rates the women on the ship trying to make a play for him. She simply sticks out her foot for him to trip over and she's his. This sets up the later dinner scene where a series of roasts fall on top of him requiring him to change his suit over and over. Hopsie isn't clumsy -- just wildly unlucky. "You're a strange girl for a fellow to meet who's been up the Amazon for a year" To which she replies "Good thing it wasn't two years."

Jean's real genius is decideding NOT to disguise hersef as someone entirely different when she comes back as "The Lady Eve." The phony accent ("I've been English before") is part of this. her chief weapon is charm. She pretty much ignores hopsie and spends the better part of her time entrancing his father (Eugene Pallette at his most elegantly loutish) The fact of the matter is she's a sentimental girl at heart. When Hopsie talks romance to her (("I see you not just here but years back. . ") she loves it. The fact that she'll have to "Be the Man" in the relationship doesn't bother her at all. Moreover she's had her revenge in the great honeymoon sequence on the train. The sight of that sign "Pull in Your Head We're Coming To a Tunnel" never fails to convulse me with a force comparable to the last line of Some Like It Hot.

BTW, Gor eVidla is a great Sturges fan. When I ninterviewed him a few years back Sturges Name came up and he immediately recited Robert Greig's great speech warning Joel McCrea against making "O Brother Where Are Thou?" as the poor know about their problems well enough already and the rich are morbid.

Jeff Gee said...

I thnk Rudy Vallee plays Juror 12 (Robert Webber) and Byron Foulger plays Juror 2 (John Fielder). [Vallee is also a possibililty for Juror 4 (E G Marshall), as they both wear glasses]. Not sure about Juror 9 ( Joseph Sweeney) yet, but I'm leaning towards Robert Dudley (The Weenie King).

Hate to waste Eddie Bracken as the Suspect, but he's perfect.

Ned said...

A Sturges 12 Angry Men? Sure. We could let Joel McCrea play the Fonda character and the rest of the jurors would be played by the guys from the Ale and Quail Club in Palm Beach Story.

Speaking of the Palm Beach Story, I have a question that I'm sure someone here can answer (maybe David).

I read somewhere that the character of Toto was based on a famous Hollywood playboy/gigolo, maybe Porfirio Rubirosa. Any truth to this?

If so, Sturges must have been having fun with Rubirosa because Toto is a diminutive little twit in the movie.

By the way, I've never been much of a Gore Vidal fan but hearing that he loved Sturges raises him up a few notches.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Toto mayy well have been based on a particular Hollywood gigolo, but it wasn't Rubi.

Ned said...


Thanks for the info. I don't recall where I read that about Rubirosa but it would be pretty funny if the guy who was supposedly the model for James Bond was also the model for Mary Astor character's pet gigolo, Toto.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Re. Gore Vidal

Plus I Accuse was on TCM the other night. Quite good. Script by Gore. Directed by and starring Jose Ferrer with George Coulouris -- and Anton Walbrook as Esterhazy.

X. Trapnel said...

According to Ian Fleming, Hoagy Carmichael was one of the models for Bond.

It's still pretty hot out so the sweat theme hasn't dried up just yet and I'm still thinking about Edmund O'Brien. Some friend and I were recently wondering whether there was a sufficient number of Johnny (Allegro, Concho, O'Clock, Eager, Apollo) and Cry (Havoc, Danger, Terror, the Beloved Country) movies. At first we sought to combine them: Johnny Cry (a Johnny Ray biopic perhaps) or Cry Johnny (a late forties picture with Richard Conte "in trouble" [qualitatively different from John Garfield's forthright grapplings with They. Farley Granger was often "in trouble.]) We finally came up with an Edmund O'Brien project entitled Johnny Sweat. No plot as yet, but we decided it ought to have a Peter Lorre cringing/craven scene: "No, NO, Johnny Sweat. Don't DO it!!!" Any ideas?

Shamus said...


I'm not sure how much I agree with your statement that Jean is "just a sentimental girl at heart." You are forgetting that Hopsie makes the same speech to her, twice. The first time on the bow of the ship, when it sounds vaguely plausible (and Jean seems genuinely touched) but the next time in the forest glade when it sounds ridiculous (Jean can barely keep a straight face, and her ironic rendering of the love talk is supremely funny). The second time, it’s almost as though Jean/Eve is aware of the fact that she is a character in a romantic comedy and is tickled that Hopsie hasn't caught on yet.

I also disagree that Eve spends more time with Hopsie's father rather than with him: that is merely the luck of the draw and before she is able to go with Hopsie to the green house, well, he goes for a swim in the coffee. The fact remains, she forces herself upon him for most of the film.

Part of the movie's blissful humor comes from the aspect of fiction, and invention; (coming back to the comparison between Lady Eve and Vertigo) unlike Vertigo, where Kim Novak is turned into Madeleine (twice) by her masters, Jean reinvents herself, but to the same end: to present herself as a "romantic ideal" to Hopsie. She seems to have no illusions about love or "ideals" herself (when Hopsie first goes on about his “ideal”, she asks him: “How are her teeth?...”), but then it was Stanwyck's great virtue that she could never appear deluded: she was always inventing fiction in her films, with a speed and power that meant the men who fell for her could rarely keep up. But her powers of invention always seems somehow connected with the fact that she saw reality more clearly than any other person. It is probably this side to her roles that makes her performances so endlessly watchable and intoxicating, makes her, well, the greatest actress in American cinema.

But the ending; well, Lady Eve you are forgetting has TWO great concluding lines. Jean, practically devouring Hopsie with her eyes slowly leading him into her bedroom, and closing the door with a soft: "So am I dear am I." (this scene is so hair-raisingly sexual, this is precisely because of this that I wondered what Stanwyck could have done in a Lubitsch film). And THEN Mugsy comes out of her room in tiptoe (what the hell was he doing in HER room?) with his: "Practically the same dame." Boy, is she ever. Whatever Hopsie went through, it is worth it. (Has Fonda played another character as stupid as Hopsie in his career? He is completely convincing, though, and wonderfully funny.)

Now, you just made me want to watch the film all over again. There simply isn’t the time, damn it…

Shamus said...

Demarest says: "POSITIVELY the same dame." Mea culpa, that was careless of me.

Ned said...

Well, if we're gonna throw Hoagy Carmichael into the mix, we might want to call it something like "Johnny Cry Me a Riverboat Shuffle" and have the Peter Lorre character say (instead of the Melbourne Method) "No, Johnny, no. Not the Mississippi Method!" Edmund O'Brien could break in and sweatily announce that the boat was on fire, the dogs of war had been unleashed, he had somehow drunk something which would kill him within 48 hours, and he had just seen railroad men, bounty hunters and Deke Thornton up on deck. All sweating profusely of course.

It's just an idea...

X. Trapnel said...

Great story line, Ned. I see this on a double bill with A Face in the Hole: bumpkin guitar playing hobo tries to cash in on the story of a trapped miner only to be stabbed by a cheerleader with her baton. LOTS of sweat there.

Ned said...

Yes, but not before the bumpkin runs for president and we find out that his brother (played again by Edmond O'Brien) has been sent to kill him by their mother, played by Angela Lansbury, who also had hypnotized the cheerleader with pictures of Grace Kelly as the Queen of Spades holding a pair of scissors and singing "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie".

Just stop me anytime you want...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Good points, Shamus. But it's porecisely because of Stanwyck's ability to toy with whatver persona she's assuming (and I'm thinking here of Double Indemnity and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers as well in this regard) that makes The Lady Eve so potent. I think Jean likes conning herself re romance as mcuh as she likes TheCon i general.

X. Trapnel said...

And everyone is hypnotized into thinking of the brother as the kindest, bravest, warmest, sweatiest person they've ever known.

Now on to The Sweat Smell of Success...

Ned said...

And Emile Meyer can make everyone sweat by threatening to beat them up, just to stay in practice when Tony Curtis isn't around.

Ned said...

And it can be renamed the Successful Smell of Sweat.

Followed by a double bill of Raging Bull and The Set Up (the less successful smells of sweat).

X. Trapnel said...

or The Sweat Up. Now, a couple of Fritz Lang pictures, The Big Sweat and Human Perspire...

Ned said...

To which we could add You Only Sweat Once and Dr. Mabuse, Der Sweater.

X. Trapnel said...

To say nothing of While the City Sweats. I suspect our hostess may need to intervene soon.

Shamus said...

'...ought to have a Peter Lorre cringing/craven scene: "No, NO, Johnny Sweat. Don't DO it!!!"'

Lorre was an actor naturally prone to those melodramatic situations. His entrance in Maltese Falcon alone, especially the way he appears to pause to find the correct words, is a classic of its kind. But his pudgy serial killer in M is one of the creepiest and most plausible character in cinema. Can't remember how many Looney Tunes cartoons had that character of the short man with large eyes and soft voice so clearly based on him. I tell you, as a child, Lorre used give me nightmares even as a cartoon...

Shamus said...

Lorre also sweats quite a bit in Maltese Falcon, so this brings the discussion back to the original point. He wipes himself off with his perfumed handkerchief: that's probably what everybody should do when they sweat.

Shamus said...


In addition to your list, re Stanwyck let me add The File on Thelma Jordon, Ball of Fire, Meet John Doe.

Sometimes Stanwyck gets trapped in fiction of her own making but this is generally when she is playing someone not particularly intelligent, like in Christmas in Connecticut and No Man of Her Own. Most of the time, her powers of invention are used as a way of escape and more than anything, it is her angry gesture of protest, which in noir, registers with some pretty subversive commentary, as for instance in Gerd Oswald's Crime of Passion.

She really is irrepressible (and inexhaustible). But just tell me when to stop...

X. Trapnel said...

I can't decide whether Johnny Sweat ougth to be a hero or a villain, chiefly because I've never been able to quite process Edmund O'Brien, the tense beefiness running to flab, certain premonitions of Nixon. On the face of it having O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy both in The Hitchhiker would seem redundant, yet I sense what is meant when the latter is (inevitably) termed "dependable" (Got a flat tire? Toilet backed up? Just call Frank Lovejoy!). O'Brien is slippery and amorphous without actually being devious. An odd case, perhaps simply the dark side of Joe Average circa 1949.

On the other hand, Wendell Corey is sometimes called "dependable."

Shamus said...

Doesn't Lovejoy dependably nearly strangle his wife at Bogie's urging in Lonely Place? Dependable? His wife really looked surprised.

You really have it in for Corey, don't you? (Though there isn't any reason you shouldn't.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

After y'all have wiped the sweat off, please check out my Oscar Levant Day at Dennis Cooper's.

Ned said...

Interesting point about Frank Lovejoy being a kind of normalized Edmond O'Brien, the average guy who really is average--without the texture and depth that could make you feel slightly ambivalent about the O'Brien characters. He actually got a chance to play both sides in White Heat. Frank Lovejoy could never have gotten past Cody Jarrett's radar. Plus he was one of the original members of the Wild Bunch. Had Frank Lovejoy played the press agent in A Double Life, it's doubtful the Ronald Coleman character would have suspected him of a dalliance with his wife (of course I'll give you the fact that the Coleman character was halfway bonkers by that time. Still...).

But he played a great character in Seven Days in May (a character about as far away from Nixon as one can imagine. Just think about what side a Nixon-like senator would have been on in that film). I think someone already tagged his sweat-worthy performance in same.

Another interesting point about the Hitch-Hiker is that the guy who plays the psycho, William Talman, went on to star as Burger, the perennially loser of a district attorney on Perry Mason.

All in all, O'Brien has always struck me as a dependable at one thing especially: always turning in good performances as a character actor. Dutton Peabody alone would have placed him high on any list of great character actors. Freddie Sykes in the Wild Bunch is a pretty fine turn as well. He reminds me of the seedier, criminal brother of the Walter Huston character in Sierra Madre; tough, smart, more than bit eccentric--a touch mad, even--but a survivor.

Ned said...

David, by the way, wonderful, wonderful tribute to a brilliant and brilliantly eccentric talent. Levant would be in the top three of any guests I might want to invite to some fantasy dinner party.

He's a big reason that my favorite musical of all time is the Band Wagon.

DavidEhrenstein said...

When he discussed his role in Singin' in the Rain Donald O'Connoer said "Basically I'm playing Oscar Levant."

rcocean said...

You want another 'Sweater' - Thomas Gomez. He could sweat up a storm whether in Key Largo, the Twilight Zone, or Brute Force.

I always picture him with a handkerchief, wiping off the sweat.

VP81955 said...

Thanks for celebrating Myrna's birthday by showing her in her birthday suit (plus water and strategically-placed flora).

Karen said...

Ain't that a corker? Thanks again, Siren!

That oughtta raise the sweat level in this comments section.

Ned said...

I'm guessing the Hays Office never got its greasy little fingers on this picture. Pre-code?

Jeff Gee said...

If the kid saw THIS Myrna Loy movie the night his father got killed, he would have remembered it.

Ned said...

Maybe he DID see this movie and it fried his brain.

Jeff Gee said...

"I don't know how many people I killed that night... all I remember is that bathtub... and those damn flowers..."

Joseph McBride said...

I am glad to learn my former colleagues on the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (of which I was
a founder) finally did give Lumet our Career Achievement Award. I somehow missed that. When I
earlier proposed giving him the award, I was met mostly with scoffing and indifference. Dismayingly
shortsighted and LA-centric, I thought at the time.