Tag Archives: Myrna Loy

The Jazz Singer, The Real 1st Best Picture

 

The first Academy Awards Ceremony on Thursday May 16, 1929, lasted only 15 minutes and honored only silent films. It was the last Academy Awards to do so as the invent of the talkies had just hit in a very big way. The big subject of the night was talking pictures. This was the last ceremony to include silent films exclusively.

The talking picture development, begun with the Jazz Singer’s famous line “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet”, was about to revolutionize the industry, which had been in decline. The Jazz Singer, released during the award season (made in 1927, released in 1928), had not been allowed to compete for best picture because the Academy decided it was unfair to let movies with sound compete with silent films. It was a travesty, as it probably would have swept the awards that year.

When a film comes around that is this revolutionary, it should be allowed to compete, not be excluded, just because it was so far ahead of it’s time.

That first best picture winner went to Wings, a tale of World War One pilots directed by William Wellman, which at $2million was the most expensive movie of its time. A great film in it’s own right, with some of the best aerial photography ever filmed. We talk about it at length in our blog post, called Dick Grace and Wings.

Also, just a side note, much of the chatter at the ceremony also included how Buster Keaton’s now classic silent film The General had been snubbed.

The original Jazz Singer was a Broadway hit, which opened at the Fulton Theater on Sunday, September 14th, 1925 and ran for 303 performances. The play starred George Jessel (who was asked to star in the movie, but declined!). Also in the cast were Phoebe Foster as Mary Dale, Arthur Stuart Hull as Harry Lee, Sam Jaffe as Yudelson and Howard Lang as The Cantor.

Al Jolson, the star of The Jazz Singer, was directed by Alan Crosland.

Top 15 William Powell Movies

 

One of my all-time favorite actors…even though he’s not as flashy as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy…who are all in my top 5 as well. William Powell seems to sneak in there on the sheer strength of his whole film library. Arguably, he’s the most consistent. He put out some of the finest work ever seen on film, and most, if not all of his movies, stand up today as some of the greatest ever made. Judge for yourself, here are my 15 favorites:

15  The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)

This one is special because of the pairing of William Powell and Jean Arthur. Powell would make a career out of teaming with some of the strongest actresses of the time and then competing with them as equals. He manages to hold each of his female partners in such high esteem, while all along joyfully and playfully sparing with them with wonderful wordplay. This becomes his signature, and not only did the audience enjoy the sparks, but his on screen partners adored him in real life as well. So much so that he fell in love and married 2 of them. He would have married Jean Harlow as well, they were engaged, but she fell ill and died before they married. Back to this film, the script is a little light, but Powell and Arthur are fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Arthur look better than she does in this movie. She just shines.

14  One Way Passage (1932)

This one was the 6th pairing of William Powell with Kay Francis. The story is far fetched, as Powell plays a prisoner- a murderer being sent to prison for his hanging and Francis is on her last cruise as she has a terminal illness. They fall in love and spend their last trip together.  It has a mix of drama and comedy, which seems a bit weird due to the material.

13  The Philo Vance Mysteries (1929-1933)

William Powell starred in 4 of the Philo Vance mysteries, I’ll include them all together in one entry: The Canary Murder Case, The Greene Murder Case, The Benson Murder Case, and The Kennel Murder Case. Because of these movies and the Thin Man series, Powell becomes very well known as a Detective. It’s what puts him on the map initially, I would say, even though it’s his pairings with outstanding female partners that really makes him shine. William Powell is the first to star as Vance and arguably the most successful. These films are fun and I can see why Powell would become very popular as a detective over the next 20 years.

12  For The Defense (1930)

Another movie starring Powell and Kay Francis, this time Powell plays an attorney defending the man that Francis is two-timing him for murder. This was a surprise hit for Paramount. A quickie, it was shot in a mere 15 days and its success immeasurably helped director John Cromwell‘s career, who would go on to direct Tom Sawyer, Of Human Bondage, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Prisoner of Zenda, Algiers, Made For Each Other, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and Dead Reckoning after this one.

11  Jewel Robbery (1932)

The last one on the list that also stars Kay Francis, this one is my favorite of all the ones they did together. Powell plays a gentleman thief…which reminds me that he would have been the perfect Arsene Lupin over the years if he had ever decided to take that character on.  This began as a stage play, and then turned into a movie, and you can really tell with the great dialogue.

10  Double Wedding (1937)

The first one on the list that features Powell with his best collaborator, Myrna Loy! They are most famous together in the Thin Man movies but they performed so much together over the years that most people thought they were really married, which caused a lot of trouble for the couple whenever they went on location as often the hotels would book them accidentally in the same room! They would eventually star in 14 films together.  When I mentioned earlier that he was engaged to Jean Harlow, but she died…it was during the filming of this movie. They had to shut down production for a few weeks and I think you can tell in Powell’s performance that he was distraught. Also, can I just mention that I hate his artist costume in this movie.

9  Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

Fun little movie, seems like it would have been perfect for Don Knotts in the title role, but he was decades away from doing movies…Powell is still fun as always. Ann Blyth plays the mermaid in a very effective costume…at times she seems like a very real mermaid!  In an article in “Look” magazine that came out at the time the film was released Ann Blyth said that the hardest part of making the movie was trying to learn to swim while wearing the mermaid tail. She said that she practiced for more than a week before she felt comfortable with not being able to kick her legs to help her swim. During the film Ann Blyth has no dialogue. She laughs, sings (without words) and cries but does’t talk.

8  Libeled Lady (1936)

Great cast with Powell and Loy as usual, but with the additions of Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy!  Reportedly, while shooting the movie, the four stars had become close friends, and William Powell even gave up his old habit of hiding out in his dressing room between scenes so he could join in the fun with the rest of the cast. One of the biggest jokes was a running gag Spencer Tracy played on Myrna Loy, claiming that she had broken his heart with her recent marriage to producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. He even set up an “I Hate Hornblow” table in the studio commissary, reserved for men who claimed to have been jilted by Loy. Myrna Loy recalled in her 1987 autobiography that a good time was had by all during the shoot – “Libeled Lady was one of the best of the so-called screwball comedies, with a great cast, and Jack Conway directing us at breakneck speed.” She praised her co-stars and also expressed her love for working with Walter Connolly, whom she described as “darling.” Some of the cast and crew travelled to the California mountains during production in order to shoot exteriors of the bucolic scenes. They spent nearly a week living cosily in small cabins, according to Myrna Loy, and enjoying the rustic scenery far from the bright lights of Hollywood. This was where William Powell filmed his bit of slapstick in which he must pretend to be an expert angler in order to impress Connie’s father. “It’s a hysterical piece of work,” praised Loy, “but then Bill was a very gifted man, able to do great comedy and tragedy, everything.”

7  The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

William Powell plays the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. in this biography of his life. He would go on to play Ziegfeld again later for a showcase of some of Ziegfeld’s finest work in Ziegfeld Follies.  Billie Burke, the wife of the real Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., never really rated the film much despite taking a personal interest in the writing of the script. She went to great lengths to make sure that writer William Anthony McGuire never besmirched the good name of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., hence the playing down of his infidelities.  The Great Ziegfeld would become the first biopic to win an Academy Award for “Best Picture”. Powell himself would be nominated for My Man Godfrey, that same year.

6  I Love You Again (1940)

This one is quite fun, Powell plays a man who is a normal boring businessman that bumps his head a second time, which makes him recover from amnesia, only to remember his life as a con man before he had amnesia! In the process, he comes to learn that he’s deeply in love with the woman that is soon to be his ex-wife, Myrna Loy.  The fun part of this movie is the total change in Powell’s personality and then the wooing of his wife (coo-ing?). It does have a lengthy Boy Scout sequence, which is delightful, but to me, takes it away from the fun parts that are Powell-Loy laden.

5  Life With Father (1947)

I love Irene Dunne and she is really in fine form in this great family film.  In later years, Irene Dunne admitted that she hated playing the part of Vinnie, the wife, as she considered the part to be “rattle-brained”.  The original play, “Life With Father” is the longest-running Broadway non-musical play ever. It played on Broadway for nearly eight years (3224 performances), from 1939 to 1947 and held the record for 25 years until “Fiddler on the Roof” surpassed it. In the play, author Howard Lindsay played Father, Dorothy Stickney was Vinnie and Teresa Wright was Mary. The film version was released in 1947, the year that the Broadway run ended. William Powell had his 3rd Academy Award nomination for this role.

4  Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Clark Gable adds to the fun in Manhattan Melodrama. Interesting thing about this is that both William Powell and Clark Gable were married to Carole Lombard, at different times, of course, neither during this movie.  This was also the first movie to feature Powell and Loy together. Interesting to note, this movie is probably most famous for being the movie that bank robber John Dillinger had just seen before he was gunned down in front of Chicago’s Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. He had been set up by Anna Sage, the madam of a brothel, who knew Dillinger’s girlfriend, Polly Hamilton. Sage was facing deportation and thought the tip might get her off. She told FBI agent Melvin Purvis that she would be wearing orange which appeared red, leading her to be dubbed “The Woman in Red”. Dillinger was shot three times when he tried to escape, and Sage wound up being sent back to Romania.

3  Mister Roberts (1955)

William Powell’s last movie, based on the play which also starred Henry Fonda as Mister Roberts. The supporting cast in this film is incredible with great parts for James Cagney and Jack Lemmon, who won an Oscar for his role of Ensign Pulver. Initially directed by John Ford, one of the few non-westerns he did.  On this movie, he was apparently mean and abusive.  When John Ford met James Cagney at the airport, the director warned that they would “tangle asses,” which caught Cagney by surprise. Cagney later said: “I would have kicked his brains out. He was so goddamned mean to everybody. He was truly a nasty old man.” The next day, Cagney was slightly late on set, and Ford became incensed. Cagney cut short the imminent tirade, saying: “When I started this picture, you said that we would tangle asses before this was over. I’m ready now – are you?” Ford backed down and walked away and he and Cagney had no further conflicts on the set.  Later on, there was a disagreement between John Ford and Henry Fonda that led to Ford punching Fonda in the mouth, ending their 16-year personal friendship and eight-film professional relationship, even though Ford apologized to Fonda afterward. Fonda only appeared in one more Ford film after that. Ford was eventually dismissed from the film and Mervyn LeRoy took over.  John Ford’s dismissal from the film pushed him over the edge. He began drinking heavily, and was hospitalized in Hawaii for alcohol poisoning.

2  The Thin Man Mysteries (1934-1947)

To this day, these are the films that William Powell and Myrna Loy are most famous for, with good reason, they are awesome.  I don’t need to go into much detail, as I do that here in another blog post.  Now after you’ve read that go see the series, it’s great.

1  My Man Godfrey (1936)

My favorite movie featuring Powell is also the one that really features his ex-wife Carole Lombard most effectively.  It’s about a scatterbrained socialite, who hires a vagrant as a family butler…but there’s more to Godfrey than meets the eye.  William Powell suggested his ex-wife Carole Lombard for the leading role with the explanation that his real life romance with Lombard had been much the same as it was for the characters of Godfrey and Irene. Although stars William Powell and Carole Lombard had been divorced for three years by the time they made this, when offered the part Powell declared that the only actress right for the part of Irene was Lombard.  This is the only film to receive Oscar nominations for writing, directing and all four acting awards without being nominated for Best Picture. It was also the only film to receive those six nominations without winning in any of the categories until American Hustle (2013).

Cary Grant’s Top 15 Movies

 

You’ll be surprised at what I rank as the top Cary Grant movie! Let’s get that out of the way, right up front. You should also know that he’s my favorite actor, so I love most of his movies. It’s really hard to come up with his best, so I’ll for-go that and only pick my favorites of all of his films. I also may have nostalgic reasons behind some of my picks, but as time goes by, those types of things really play into our favorites don’t they? Like who we watched it with, what was going on in our lives when we saw it, how did it make us feel, and so on and so on.

15.  Gunga Din

Grant, Cary (Gunga Din)

There are really two storylines here, the first one is based on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories of The Soldiers Three and is the reason why the movie made my list. The second  storyline is based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din and is the reason this movie almost didn’t make my list. The poem is about a boy and would have made for a great movie, if the role was not played by a 47-YEAR OLD WHITE MAN (Sam Jaffe). The two storylines mingle pretty well overall, it’s just really annoying to see this old man playing a boy.

14.  An Affair To RememberAn-Affair-To-Remember

Of course you can thank Sleepless in Seattle for an awareness to this movie to my generation in the 80’s…but it’s such a great movie, it was bound to have a resurgence. This is a remake of Love Affair, both directed by Leo McCarey, and is superior to the first film in a lot of ways, but in part due to the fact that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr was given the freedom of improvisation during filming and many of the new lines made it into the final cut.  Cary Grant was a brilliant improviser.

13.  Holidayholiday

At about this time, I realized that Katherine Hepburn had actually several successful on-screen pairings with other actors, other than Spencer Tracy, and one of these was with Cary Grant. They are magnificent together and would go on to appear in four movies together. One of the things I remember about this movie is the flip that Cary Grant does at the end of the movie.  It was one of the only times that his background as an acrobat is ever seen on-screen in his movies. This list could also be a celebration of the writer Donald Ogden Stewart, as 3 of his movies make this list as he wrote Love Affair, Holiday and The Philadelphia Story.

12.  Houseboathouseboat-cary-grant-sophia-loren

I won’t talk a lot about this film, as I enjoyed it, when I first saw it. It’s tainted a bit over time when I learned about all the cheating that was going on behind the scenes. You can read up on that somewhere else. It’s ironic, really, when you think of all the fantastic family films that the director Melville Shavelson is famous for. Films like Yours, Mine and Ours, Room For One More (also starring Cary Grant and then wife, Betsy Drake, but doesn’t make my list), Trouble Along the Way (which I mention in a previous blog post), The Seven Little Foys, and The Five Pennies.

11.  Operation Petticoat

Operation_Petticoat_poster

Great movie directed by Blake Edwards and also starring Tony Curtis!  Some of the plot points of the movie are based on real incidents in WWII. The original actor chosen to play the role Cary Grant took was Bob Hope, but he turned it down and later really regretted it.

10.  My Favorite WifeDunne, Irene (My Favorite Wife)

This is just a really fun movie directed by Garson Kanin and co-starring Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were roommates for 12 years when they first arrived in Hollywood. This is their first and only movie together. Irene Dunne acted in 3 movies with Cary. They are a great pair and I could have easily added their other two movies to this list but one movie is really sad and the subject matter of the other is just not one of my preferences, but both movies were very good. Penny Serenade and The Awful Truth. My Favorite Wife was remade in 1963 as Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner. I really like that version as well.

9.  Father GooseFatherGoose

This is Cary’s second to last film and by all accounts his character is supposedly the closest to his real personality. He later said that he enjoyed making this movie as he got to be the “Father” to a group of young girls and it made him realize that he missed out on fatherhood. He and wife Diane Cannon would have his own daughter just 2 years later, Jennifer Grant. he would stay in touch with many of the girls over the years as they grew up and had families of their own. He was an incredibly devoted father and retired soon after Jennifer was born so that he could spend his remaining years with her. He would go on to say that she was his “best” production.

8.  I Was a Male War Bridei-was-a-male-war-bride

My mother introduced this one to me one afternoon when I came to visit her and we spent the day just laughing all the way through it. Especially when Ann Sheridan makes Cary Grant climb a pole to read a sign at the top of it just to realize that the sign says, “Wet Paint”. Directed by Howard Hawks, this film was pretty popular when it came out, but virtually forgotten over time. The film grossed over $4.5 million, making it 20th Century Fox’s biggest earner of 1949. The film was also Howard Hawks’ 3rd highest grosser, behind only Sergeant York (1941) and Red River (1948).

7.  To Catch a ThiefCary-Grant-in-To-Catch-a-Thief

One of two directed by Alfred Hitchcock that made my list.  I love it when Cary’s improvisations make reference to his past, as one does in this film. Cary’s role of John Robie, mentions that as a youth he was in a trapeze group that traveled around Europe. In real life, Cary was in an acrobatic troupe that toured around Europe (and eventually came to America) when he was young.  This movie also features Grace Kelly in the on-screen’s only pairing, but they have incredible chemistry.

6.  The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxerbobbysox

This movie is so fun, in part to a just-about-grown-up Shirley Temple (who’s fabulous as usual) but more so because of the fantastic Myrna Loy, who has become a favorite actress of mine over the years.  Directed by Irving Reis and written by Sydney Sheldon (creator of TV’s The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie and Hart To Hart), it’s a great little film that has really gone unnoticed as of the last couple of decades.

5.  North By NorthwestNorth-by-Northwest

The top 5 will make sense to most except my number 1 choice is sure to be confusing to most.  But this one would make just about everyone’s top 5.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better thriller than this one. Great supporting cast with Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau. Cary Grant found the screenplay baffling, and midway through filming told Alfred Hitchcock, “It’s a terrible script. We’ve already done a third of the picture and I still can’t make head or tail of it!” Hitchcock knew this confusion would only help the film-after all, Grant’s character had no idea what was going on, either. Grant thought the film would be a flop right up until its premiere, where it was rapturously received. As a side note, a panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006 said the gray suit worn by Cary Grant throughout almost the entire film was the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men’s style, stating that it has since been copied for Tom Cruise’s character in Collateral (2004) and Ben Affleck’s character in Paycheck (2003). This sentiment has been echoed by writer Todd McEwen, who called it “gorgeous,” and wrote a short story “Cary Grant’s Suit” which recounts the film’s plot from the viewpoint of the suit.

4.  CharadeCharade-1963

Now the placement of these final four was pretty hard for me as I really LOVE all of these films.  They are all perfect to me.  Perfect stories, perfectly cast, perfectly directed by Stanley Donen. Charade is a great movie and has some of the best actors around. Audrey Hepburn, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau and James Coburn.  The chemistry between Audrey and Cary is so great, they had a wonderful time on location and ad-libbed several classic exchanges.  My favorite being, “How do you shave in here…”, Audrey says while pointing to Cary’s chin. After finishing this film, Cary Grant was quoted as saying, “All I want for Christmas is to make another movie with Audrey Hepburn,” and this nearly happened twice when Cary and Audrey almost made My Fair Lady and Father Goose together. The character played by Cary even quotes a line from My Fair Lady (“On the street where you live”), the film version of which would star Audrey the following year.

3.  The Philadelphia StoryThe Philadelphia Story

I mentioned this one earlier as a screenplay written by Donald Ogden Stewart. It also stars Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart. My only wish is that they had given the role played by John Howard to Clark Gable instead, that would have been really fantastic. As it is, he’s largely forgettable in the role as Katherine Hepburn’s fiancee. In response to Cary Grant’s improvisational skills, James Stewart once said in an interview, “I play a writer who falls in love with Katharine Hepburn. The night before her wedding I have a little too much to drink. This gives me the courage to go and talk to Cary, who’s playing her ex-husband. So I go to Cary’s house and knock on the door. It’s obvious I’ve had too much to drink, but he lets me in.  It was time to do the scene, and Cary said, “George, why don’t we just go ahead? If you don’t like it, we’ll do it again.” So, without a rehearsal or anything, we started the scene. As I was talking, it hit me that I’d had too much to drink. So, as I explained things to Cary, I hiccuped. In answer to the hiccup, Cary said — out of the clear blue sky — “Excuse me.” Well, I sort of said, “Ummm?” It was very difficult for me to keep a straight face, because his ad-libbed response had been so beautifully done … Cary had an almost perfect humor.” Just watch it for yourself, it’s a perfect moment on film. Now Stewart was being modest, by the way, he’s great in the film and would go on to win the Academy Award for his role. Something Cary Grant never did, which to me is the biggest sham over the years, maybe not for this film, but for any number of his other performances. Donald Ogden Stewart won an Academy Award as well for his wonderful script. Cary Grant was given the choice of which of the two male lead roles he wanted to play. Surprisingly, he chose the less showy part.

2.  His Girl Fridayhis girl friday 1

I mention this film in detail in the blog post for The Front Page.  It’s was a film directed masterfully by Howard Hawks. He switched what was originally 2 males in the play to a male and female and divorced at that for the movie and called it, His Girl Friday. It was stroke of pure genius. 1940 was the ultimate year for Cary Grant as he made 4 movies released that year and 3 of them make my top 15 list. My Favorite Wife and The Philadelphia Story being the other 2 and the one not in the list being The Howards of Virginia. The dialogue in this film is extremely fast, with most characters talking over each other. It is estimated that the normal rate of verbal dialogue in most films is around 90 words a minute. In His Girl Friday, the delivery has been clocked at 240 words a minute. Even so, there is still a lot of improvisation going on, and it’s a lot of fun.

And here’s my pick for #1:

1. People Will TalkPeople Will Talk

I have this lobby card in my home office, my wife gave it to me for Christmas one year, knowing it was my favorite film of all time, let alone, my favorite Cary Grant movie.  Joseph Mankiewicz wrote and directed this film from a play (Dr. med. Hiob Prätorius) by Curt Goetz.  Great cast includes Hume Cronyn, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, and Walter Slezak. This film never ceases to make me laugh and cry, it’s full of humor, suspense and drama. It also doesn’t shy away from some of the biggest social commentary that I’ve ever seen in any movie.  Dr. Praetorius as played by Cary Grant simply represents a better man that many of us rarely ever achieve. His motives pure, his intellect, compassion, wit and his viewpoint strong and true. In truth, I haven’t seen a film that was more thought-provoking than this one. It’s introspective and makes you examine the human spirit, social mores, science, etiquette and prejudice of community and medicine in such broad and entertaining ways. Maybe I’m looking into this way too much, but it sure is damn entertaining! I guess I like this film so much because at heart I am an emotional animal and this film is at it’s core, emotional. The plot may be muddled for some and it’s identity lost as some people can never define if it’s a comedy, drama, romance, detective story or what, but to me it’s all of those things and more.

Well, there you have it. Now you may want to go back and watch all of these, or I hope, re-watch most of these, but the most important thing is that you enjoy his body of work. You may end up with a list like mine or you can go back to the drawing board and include his other films like, Notorious, Suspicion, Arsenic and Old Lace, Night and Day, Bringing Up Baby, Topper, Once Upon a Honeymoon, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Indiscreet, That Touch of Mink or any other of his fantastic films. But that’s the fun…finding your own top 15!cary-grant1

The Thin Man and Dashiell Hammett

 

The Thin Man” was never meant to be a series of films, let’s get that straight right up front. The title doesn’t make reference to Nick or Nora Charles, the two main characters in the series, it makes reference to the murder victim in the first film.  The successful pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell and the incredible characters they play are what influenced the creation of a mystery series moving forward, with the Thin Man moniker connecting the films together, even though he never appears in the series again.

The Thin Man was originally the creation of author Dashiell Hammett, one of my all time favorites…so much so that I named one of my dogs after him. It was published first in the magazine Redbook in December 1933 and then came out in book form a month later. Now, he wrote just the one novel for the Thin Man, but submitted script drafts for 2 of the screenplays that followed for After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man and later in 2012 these two screenplays were turned into novellas for the book Return of the Thin Man. I thoroughly enjoyed his original 5 published novels, his screenplays as well as these later works published by his estate.Dashiell Hammett

MGM loved the writing of Dashiell Hammett as well and went instantly into production on the movie as soon as the book was released and hired W.S. Van Dyke to direct and William Powell and Myrna Loy as the married detectives Nick and Nora Charles. Now a lot of the popularity of the series has to do with the pairing of these two actors who went on to do 14 films together with the The Thin Man series being only 6 of them, but I would like to add that it was another real married couple that has a lot to do with the popularity of the series and they never get the credit that is due them.  It is the writers Albert Hackett and wife Francis Goodrich who would write and rewrite the first 3 movies and arguable the best of the series. They were wonderful writers in their own right and would go on to write the classics; It’s A Wonderful Life, the 2 Father Of The Bride movies, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and of course, won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Diary Of Anne Frank. The Hacketts were one of the most successful screenwriting partnerships in Hollywood history. From the time they got married in 1931, until their retirement in 1962, they turned out in excess of 30 scripts, mostly comedies and musicals.Hackett and Goodrich

Director W. S. Van Dyke (One-Take Woody) was given 3 weeks to shoot the film and he surprised everyone by bringing it in under budget and in only 12 days! It was a major hit at the box office and brought in 6 times it’s budget when it was released originally to theaters. I posted before about the film The Prizefighter and the Lady, which was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starred Myrna Loy. He also directed Loy and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama and because of the success of The Thin Man would direct them in 4 of the sequels. William Powell spoke of how much he loved working with Myrna Loy because of her naturalness, her professionalism, and her lack of any kind of “diva” temperament. “When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony,” he said. “Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best.” W.S. Van Dyke paid attention to William Powell and Myrna Loy’s easy banter between takes and their obvious enjoyment of each other’s company and worked it into the movie. The director often encouraged and incorporated improvisation and off-the-cuff details into the picture.Powell, William (After the Thin Man)

Although the “Thin Man” of the title was the murdered man, Clyde Wynant, fans of the picture and the subsequent series began to refer to the Nick Charles character as “The Thin Man,” and all subsequent films included “The Thin Man” in their titles.  After the Thin Man (1936) was the second film in the series and reunited the 2 leads with their director and added James Stewart to the cast. Though William Powell and Myrna Loy were very close friends off-screen, their only romantic moments together occurred on-screen. The public, however, was determined to have them married in private life as well. When the two stars showed up in San Francisco (where most of this film was shot) at the St. Francis, the hotel management proudly showed “Mr. and Mrs. Powell” to their deluxe suite. This was an especially uncomfortable moment as Jean Harlow, who was engaged to Powell, was with them, and the couple had not made a public statement about their relationship. Harlow saved the day by insisting on sharing the suite with Loy: “That mix-up brought me one of my most cherished friendships,” Loy said in “Being and Becoming”, her autobiography. “You would have thought Jean and I were in boarding school we had so much fun. We’d stay up half the night talking and sipping gin, sometimes laughing, sometimes discussing more serious things.” Meanwhile, Powell got the hotel’s one remaining room – a far humbler accommodation downstairs.after-the-thin-man-herald-02-large

The next film was Another Thin Man (1939), and again featured the same writers, director and lead actors Loy and Powell. Two tragedies befell William Powell before the making of this film: the unexpected death of his fiancé Jean Harlow, and a difficult battle with colon cancer that required colon bypass surgery and new radiation treatments. Production of this “Thin Man” movie was delayed as a result, but Powell and Loy were given a standing ovation when he finally returned to join her on the set for filming.  Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) followed a few years later without the writers Hammet, Hackett and Goodrich.   Living up to his nickname, One-Take Woody, W.S. Van Dyke filmed this one in just 2 weeks.shadow-of-the-thin-man-print-ad-03-large

The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) was next and absent was director W.S. Van Dyke.  A lot was changed due to the war, for example the heavy drinking in the film series was curtailed in this entry due to wartime liquor rationing and the film was delayed because Loy went to New York to marry car rental heir John Hertz Jr. and was busy working for the Red Cross war effort. 2 years after that came the last one in the series, The Song of the Thin Man (1947).  This one is fun due to the appearance of incredible character actor Keenan Wynn and little Dean Stockwell as Nick Charles Jr. Ten years later would come a delightful TV Show of The Thin Man (1957), starring Peter Lawford as Nick and Phyllis Kirk as Nora. I miss Powell and Loy to be sure, but the TV show is fun and has a great tone unique all to itself. I think it’s a worthy mention in the series. You also have to wonder if the series was an inspiration to Hart To Hart (1979) with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers that came later.  I loved that show as well.the-thin-man-Kirk-Lawford

Max Baer, Primo Carnera and The Prizefighter and the Lady

 

In the early days of film, fight scenes were “staged” but real. They didn’t learn to fake their punches for the camera until the early 30’s and even then used that type of filming trick sparingly. In this case, where real Boxers were used for the Prizefighter and the Lady, there was no doubt that these matches were going to be real but choreographed. The film climaxes with a heavily hyped fight between Max Baer and Primo Carnera. Primo was the real-life World Heavyweight Champion and Max (the star of the film) was in real-life, his main contender for the title. The shooting of this scene was a major event on the set. People came from far and wide to watch the thrilling fight being filmed. Former Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was an added treat playing the referee.The Prizefighter and the Lady Stunt

The fight scenes were so real, that Max knocked out 2 teeth during one of the “staged” fights in this film. Interestingly, Max Baer beat Primo Carnera in real-life the very next year for the World Heavyweight title, knocking him down a record 11 times in what was written about later as a major beating.  Myrna Loy also admitted in an interview later that Max studied Primo’s boxing techniques intently during the film and claimed that he used this “scouting” knowledge to beat him for the title. It’s also interesting to note that Max did not wear a robe with his name on it for the real title fight, he wore the robe he used in this film with his character Steve Morgan’s name on the back.  People said he did this to try and get in Primo’s head.  The Prizefighter and the Lady was Max Baer’s first acting role and he’s fantastic.  He goes on to act in over 20 more movies and TV shows over the years.prizefighter-lady The Prizefighter and the Lady was directed by W.S. Van Dyke for MGM.

Things to look up (go to IMDB ):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by the book, “FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY” by John Kreng:

Exchange – A series of techniques thrown between combatants without an extended break or pause. A fight scene is usually made up of several exchanges between opponents.

Fight Scene – A fight scene is much like dialogue in the script—it needs to progress at a steady pace. Much like in real life, dialogue can get very tedious and cover the same issue over and over, not really leading anywhere specific. A fight can easily be the same way if you are not aware of the different types of repetition. Also, each successive fight in an action film should be more difficult and exciting than most of the ones that came before, otherwise the overall progression of the film’s intensity will likewise be flat and repetitive.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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Musidora and Les Vampires

 

I’d have to say upfront that the female stunt performers at the very start of the film industry were very impressive. They were always expected to do things that even men wouldn’t do. I’m sure that hasn’t changed over the years because just a few years ago, acclaimed stuntman and Arnold Schwarzegenner Stunt Double, Peter Kent, said of female stunt performers, “A lot of times the guys are wearing pads and stuff under their pants. But then you’ll get a woman in a skimpy dress doing a stair fall, and you can’t hide anything under that. I give kudos to a lot of the stunt-women out there because many times they take way more of a beating than the men do. ‘We want you to do this in a frigging negligee. Okay.'”

Musidora gets my nod for 1915 due to sheer style. Her mystique was accentuated by large, dark eyes and a habit of wearing a black leotard, hood and tights while on the set. Born Jeanne Roques, she used Musidora as a stage name. She started out as an acrobat and did all her own stunts in this film serial. It’s also interesting to note, her character’s name in the film, Irma Vep, is an anagram for Vampire. Vamp is a colloquial term applied to describe a particular type of femme fatale, popular in silent films. The term is a shortening of the word vampire, and is used to describe a woman who is glamorous in an exotic, stylized and usually overstated manner. She is usually noted for her striking features, dark clothing and hair, and cosmetics which darken and accentuate the eyes and lips. Her character is a heartless seductress, and the men she seduces are usually shown as helpless victims unable to resist her. From the perspective of American film audiences, she is often seen as foreign, usually of undetermined Eastern European or Asian ancestry. She was designed as the sexual counterpoint of the wholesome actresses such as Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford. Among the notable vamps of the silent screen were Theda Bara, Louise Glaum, Musidora, Nita Naldi, Pola Negri, and in her earliest film appearances, Myrna Loy.Les Vampires Stunt

The Gaumont film, Les Vampires, directed by French film Director, Louis Feuillade, is a 10-part serial, and is about gangsters and secret societies inspired by the exploits of the real-life Bonnot Gang, rather than what the title suggests, Vampires. It’s a very good film serial and is very popular for it’s many twists throughout the film. It’s considered one of the first action crime thrillers. Though not intended to be “avant-garde,” Les Vampires has been lauded by critics as the birth of avant-garde cinema and cited by such renowned filmmakers as Fritz Lang and Luis Buñuel as being extremely influential in their desire to become directors. It’s listed in “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” edited by Steven Jay Schneider.

Things to look up (go to IMDB):

Musidora

Les Vampires

Louis Feuillade

Peter Kent

Fritz Lang

Luis Bunuel

Lillian Gish

Mary Pickford

Theda Bara

Louise Glaum

Nita Naldi

Pola Negri

Myrna Loy

Glossary of film terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1.  Femme-Fatale – The phrase is  French for “deadly woman”,  a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations. She is an archetype of literature and art. Her ability to entrance and hypnotize her victim with a spell was in the earliest stories seen as being literally supernatural; the femme fatale today is still often described as having a power akin to an enchantress, seductress, vampire, witch, or demon, having some power over men.

A femme fatale tries to achieve her hidden purpose by using feminine wiles such as beauty, charm, and sexual allure. In some situations, she uses lying or coercion rather than charm.

Although typically villainous, if not morally ambiguous, and always associated with a sense of mystification and unease, femmes fatales have also appeared as antiheroines in some stories, and some even repent and become true heroines by the end of the tale.

  1.  Avant-Garde – Avant-garde(from French, “advance guard” or “vanguard”) is a French term used in English as a noun or adjective to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art,culture, and politics.

Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. The notion of the existence of the avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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