Friday, March 23, 2007

Joan Crawford: They called her a scar-faced she-devil!

Not really. That's just the tagline for A Woman's Face. Today is Joan Crawford's birthday and in honor of that fact what could be better than a film that pairs her with Conrad Veidt? Directed by George Cukor, A Woman's Face (1941) stars Joan Crawford as Anna Holm, a scheming con woman shut off from society because of a disfiguring facial scar. When a plastic surgeon (Melvyn Douglas) removes the scar, Anna is determined to start over but a chance at love from dashing playboy Torsten Barring (Conrad Veidt) draws her into a murder plot and a return to her criminal past.

Though I must confess I'm not a huge Crawford fan, I do have several favorites. Here's a short list:
The Women (1939)
Joan is Crystal Allen, a shopgirl having an affair with husband of society matron Mary Haines (Norman Shearer). When Haines hears the gossip around town she hops a train for a Reno divorce and Crystal marries the ex, but when Crystal steps out on her meal ticket with cowboy singer Buck Winston its back to the perfume counter for her!
Mildred Pierce (1945)
After her cheating husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) proves she can become independent and successful with her own chain of restaurants, but in order to please her money hungry daughter she must sell out and marry a man she doesn't love. Blackmail, murder, revenge!
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Joan is Vienna"Gun-Queen of the Arizona frontier." When four men hold up a stagecoach and kill a man, the town officials come to Vienna's saloon to grab four of her friends. Vienna stands strong against them and is aided by the presence of old acquaintance Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), who is not what he seems.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Joan plays Blanche Hudson a crippled actress living as a recluse in a Hollywood mansion with her aging child star sister Jane (Bette Davis). A combo psychological thriller, black comedy, and all out camp melodrama. Watch Crawford and Davis duke it out!

Monday, March 19, 2007


Is it your fondest dream to watch the greatest American comedy on the big screen and in the presence of an appreciative audience? If it is, you're in luck because Wednesday night Some Like It Hot is showing at the ArcLight. Written by I. A. L. Diamond and directed by Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot (1959) stars Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Joe E. Brown, and George Raft in one of the greatest of all screwball comedies. A spoof on 1920s gangster films and slapstick, Some Like it Hot plays with gender, identity, and disguise and was condemned by the Catholic League of Decency (a heck of a recommendation in itself) for challenging the production code with its use of innuendo and controversial sexual and social themes.

Two struggling musicians, Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Lemmon), are on the run from a Chicago mob boss after witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Spats Columbo (Raft) orders their execution but they escape and in desperation join an all-girl band on their way to Florida. "Brand new" girls Josephine and Geraldine, er...Daphne, run into "Sugar" Kane Kowalczyk (Monroe), the band's Polish-American ukelele playing singer and it only gets more improbable from there.

Some Like It Hot will be shown at 8 pm on Wednesday March 21 at the ArcLight Theatre in Hollywood. Tickets are $11, $10 for ArcLight, AFI and Skirball members, on-site parking is $2 for four hours with validation. To order advance tickets, go to, call 323.464.4226 or visit ArcLight Hollywood's box office at 6360 W Sunset Blvd. (at Ivar). Admission prices may vary depending on event.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Conrad Veidt as Ivan the Terrible in Waxworks

Paul Leni's 1924 film Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) stars Emil Jannings as The Caliph, Conrad Veidt as Ivan the Terrible, and Werner Krauss as Jack the Ripper in a story about a young writer (William Dieterle) who is hired by a carnival promoter to write stories about each of his wax figures. The first story about the Harun al Raschid and a young Baker's wife is wonderful, primarily for its set design, which depicts a fantasy Arabia of mushroom-shaped houses connected by miniature stairways and catwalks. The second story is about Ivan the Terrible who, habitually sentencing his enemies to death, orders the execution of the court chemist. The chemist decides to get his revenge by poisoning the Czar, but is interrupted after writing his name on an hourglass. Seeing his name there, Ivan is driven insane by the idea that he is about to die. The final story is not written by the young writer, but dreamt by him. Having fallen asleep while writing he dreams that the carnival promoter's beautiful daughter is being pursued by Jack the Ripper.

I rented this movie primarily to see Conrad Veidt's performance as Ivan the Terrible since I've been on this jag lately to see everything he ever made. You may have noticed this. The film itself is not bad. Like many silents it's a little slow in spots, but Veidt's performance as Ivan the Terrible is really extraordinary. The scene where Ivan finds his name written on the chemist's hourglass is fascinating. You can see him going mad as he keeps turning the hourglass over and over in an attempt to prolong his life. It's the kind of thing lesser actors would have turned into satire, but in Veidt's performance it is truly magnificent.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

THIS JUST OUT: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

A great example of British kitchen sink realism, Tony Richardson's 1962 "angry young man" film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, has just been released on DVD. Colin Smith (Tom Courteney) is a bitter young man from a working class family. Uninterested in school and determined not to follow his father into factory work, Colin and his friend Mike (James Bolam) make their pocket money through petty crime. When they're arrested for the robbery of a bakery and sentenced to reform school, the Governor of the school (Michael Redgrave) takes a keen interest in Colin, but he cares less for his rehabilitation than his gifts as a broken-field runner. Colin finds himself torn between the need to please his captors and play the game and his determination not to participate in what he sees as a corrupt system.

Considered an example of British New Wave filmmaking, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner owes a lot to the innovations and themes of French New Wave films (The 400 Blows especially), such as long tracking shots, jump cuts, and the use of handheld cameras, but it also shares its focus on themes of individual angst. Having watched his father work for the local factory all his life only to die of a work-related illness, Smith has a clear understanding of working class oppression. Smith expresses a Marxist view of class inequity. As a member of the working class he feels that whether by working or by spending money his actions only go toward enriching the powerful and assisting his own oppression. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a thoughtful film, socially engaged, artistically skillful, and extremely relevant in today's corporate/consumer culture.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Douglas Sirk: The Far Side of Paradise at American Cinematheque

Imitation of Life, All I Desire, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, melodrama never got any better than in the hands of "weepies" master Douglas Sirk. In celebration of Sirk's "ability to transform often ludicrous material into sublime, multi-layered narratives" American Cinematheque will be showing nine of his films from March 1through March 4 at the Egyptian in Hollywood and from March 15 through 21 at the Aero in Santa Monica. Though they're showing all of Sirk's most famous melodramas, they're also showing several of his earlier and lesser known films as well, many of them not available on DVD. Bring your hanky!

Series Schedule at the Eqyptian Theatre

Series Schedule at the Aero

"…the word ‘melodrama’ has rather lost its meaning nowadays: people tend to lose the ‘melos’ in it, the music…Most great plays are based on melodrama situations, or have melodramatic endings…but craziness is very important…This is the dialectic – there is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains the element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art." – Douglas Sirk

Imitation of Lifelessness at Bright Lights Film Journal
All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind at Images
Weepies at GreenCine
Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Women's Film