Monday, October 01, 2012

Tay Garnett: Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights

The Siren has written before about director Tay Garnett: his marriage to actress Patsy Ruth Miller, and his script for and direction of One Way Passage, which the Siren would unhesitatingly cite as one of the best films of the 1930s. And since the 1930s was a great film decade, period, well, you do the math. The Siren has enormous regard for The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett on the set above, with the poor unphotogenic creatures who were his stars), thinks Trade Winds, where Joan Bennett went brunette, is a pip, and so is China Seas, thinks a large number of Garnett's many, many other films are subject for further research, as a great critic used to put it.

All this, and Garnett wrote a corking autobiography, called Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights, after the on-set directions he got as an extra in a historical epic. The Siren has, as we all know, read way too many Hollywood memoirs so believe her when she says that this is one of the liveliest, most enjoyable and original you will ever pick up. If you can pick it up, that is. It's out of print.

Now his daughter Tiela has embarked on a project to get the book back into circulation, and at the same time resurrect her father's memory with the public. The Siren hasn't pointed out Kickstarter campaigns before, and has no plans to make a habit of it, but she can't resist this one, because the book really is wonderful. (David Cairns thinks so too; he calls it "magnificent," not an adjective he slings around with abandon.) If Tiela gets sufficient funding, she plans to write a coda to her father's book. The Siren hopes it will fill out the story of his lifelong love for the mysterious Joan Marshfield, which forms such a romantic throughline that would have fit perfectly in one of Garnett's own movies.

The description of the project is here.


Happy Miser said...

Call me: impulsive; but, I just purchased a copy on eBay at a very reasonable price! Now I just might have to pick up the Four Star Playhouse DVD that list him as director, too!!! Frankly, I'm not familiar with his movies. My mom and sister rave about "Valley of Decision".

La Faustin said...

The Paris Cinematheque will be doing a Tay Garnett retrospective next spring!

Yojimboen said...

Read once it was Tay Garnett who famously one day - while directing the Loretta Young TV series - grew tired of Loretta’s prissiness (she kept a “quarter a cuss word” swear-box on the set) turned on her with a 30-second stream of every epithet known to mankind, shoved a twenty dollar bill in her swear-box and walked away.

Personally I fell in love with Garnett back in the 60s at the NFT at a screening of Her Man - a hilariously/exciting comedy/adventure (or excitingly/hilarious adventure/comedy – I’m still not sure) not least because the lead actors bore the adorable names of Phillips (plural) Holmes (plural) and Helen Twelvetrees.

(Also featured were Thelma Todd and Franklin Pangborn; what’s not to love?)

barrylane said...

Valley of Decision is based on Marcia Davenport's immense novel about Pittsburgh, the steel industry from mid-1800's and continues into the second world war following the formulation of Czechoslvakia. The film is barely a sketch of these things and based on what it could have been, the Gone With The Wind of Pennsylvania, it is deeply disappointing. The players are uniformly good, with Marsha Hunt a stand out. Greer Garson and Gregory Peck, Preston Foster, Gladys Cooper and Donald Crisp, all effective. The author, was the half-sister of Efrem Zimablist, Jr. and mistress of Jan Masaryk. The more you know, the more you need to knw.

Karen said...

Hmmm...she's got just 12 days to raise over $70,000? I've gone ahead and pledged, but I'm not holding my breath for her reaching her goal...

Kirk said...

You mentioned TRADE WINDS. While Joan Bennett and Fredic March are good in it, it's Ralph Bellamy's hilarious performance that makes that movie for me. He's kind of a proto-Ted Baxter in it.

johncarvill said...

Agree he should be better known. Trade Winds is quietly enjoyable. And Joan Bennett is another strong candidate for a profile boost: beautiful, sexy, oozing class, a great actress, with such expressive eyes and a fantastically smoky voice.

China Seas is great. That scene with Jean Harlow clay pigeon shooting is sublime. The way she says 'Pull' to express her anger is worth the price of admission.

The Siren said...

Thanks guys! Karen, it's a long hill to climb but I hope she makes it.

La Faustin, that is awesome news about the Cinematheque; that could well signal more subsequent interest over here, as it often does. My French is rocky (VERY rocky) but I'll keep an eye peeled for write-ups, because I would love to know what kind of angle the Cinematheque is taking if they are approaching Garnett as an auteur.

gmoke said...

Checking imdb I see he directed "Bataan" too. Always enjoyed that film when I was kid devouring all the movies I could see on TV.

Yojimboen said...

An interesting actress, the above-mentioned Helen Twelvetrees; she worked for Tay Garnett twice, in Her Man and Bad Company. A major star in early sound pictures – she was a stable-mate of Constance Bennett’s and Anne Harding’s at RKO until Kate Hepburn brought her sharp elbows to the studio and all three were shunted aside to other pastures.

Helen Twelvetrees bio at Wiki.

Helen Twelvetrees by A.C. Johnston.

The Siren said...

Y., I don't think I have ever seen Helen Twelvetrees in anything and I am intrigued as hell by Her Man. I always wanted to see more of her as her career was, as you say, over very early and it's a very interesting name.

The Siren said...

and OH MY...that will teach me to click on your photo link AFTER posting. When I said I wanted to see more of her, I didn't realize just how much was already on offer above. I am sure however that it's purely Ms Twelvetrees' dramatic talent that's of interest.

Yojimboen said...

Here are links to two of her films - legally downloadable.
(public domain):
Millie (1931) and The Painted Desert (1931)
Note she is top-billed in both, above some impressive names
(Joan Blondell; Clark Gable).

I find it’s easier to download the files and play whenever.
Millie: download and save the MPEG2 file.
Painted Desert: download and save the ‘Cinepack’ file (.avi)

Both films will play - in decent quality - on a VLC Player.

Yojimboen said...

For some reason that hotlink I made isn't connecting. Try this:

D Cairns said...

Garnett's early talkie work is stylistically impressive as hell -- Prestige is visually stunning but dramatically ludicrous, while Her Man is the whole package -- well-acted, filmically exhilarating, a good story and wildly entertaining.

Later, he settled into a more standard-issue Hollywood classicism. Just watched Cause for Alarm! with the aforementioned Loretta Young suffering photogenically, and it's a very nice job.

Yojimboen said...

Plan ahead:

From the Paris Cinematheque Calendar for Spring 2013

Printemps – P 24

“Tay Garnett (1894-1977)
Un aventurier du cinéma américain. Il est surtout célèbre pour son adaptation en 1944 du Facteur sonne toujours deux fois, avec Lana Turner et John Garfield. Tay Garnett, né le 13 juin 1894, fait ses débuts dans le cinéma en 1920 comme scénariste et gagman chez Mack Sennett et Hal Roach (le producteur de Laurel et Hardy, notamment). Sa filmographie apparemment versatile comprend, entre autres choses, une étonnante dénonciation de la corruption (Ok America !), un mélo légendaire (Voyage sans retour), un film d’aventure exotique avec Marlène Dietrich, célèbre pour sa bagarre finale (La Maison des sept péchés), un âpre film de guerre (Bataan). Ayant toujours souhaité garder un maximum de contrôle sur ses films, Garnett en revendiquera souvent les dialogues et le montage ainsi que l ’écriture du scénario.”