Pre Code Confidential #27: Mae West in SHE DONE HIM WRONG (Paramount 1933)


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Bawdy Mae West had scandalized Broadway with her risque humor, and struggling Paramount Pictures snapped her to a movie deal. Her first was a supporting part in 1932’s NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, where she was allowed to rewrite her own dialog, and stole the show by purring sexually charged lines like “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie”. Mae’s presence helped refill Paramount’s coffers, and raised the hackles of censorship boards across America. It wasn’t long until the Production Code became strictly enforced, thanks in large part to Mae, but before then, she was given the spotlight in 1933’s SHE DONE HIM WRONG, based somewhat on her stage success DIAMOND LIL.

Like the play, SHE DONE HIM WRONG is set in The Bowery during the 1890’s, but here Diamond Lil is called Lady Lou, because the censors wanted to whitewash all vestiges of the ribald play. Diamond Lil or Lady…

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Happy 100th Birthday Kirk Douglas: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (MGM 1952)


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Today is the 100th birthday of movie legend Kirk Douglas! Like Olivia de Havilland earlier this year, Kirk is one of the last living Golden Age greats. Bursting onto the screen in film noir classics like THE STRANGE LOVES OF MARTHA IVERS and OUT OF THE PAST , he first received top billing in the 1949 boxing noir CHAMPION, earning an Oscar nomination for his performance. Later, Kirk starred in some of the best films Hollywood has to offer: ACE IN THE HOLE, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA , LUST FOR LIFE (his second Oscar nom, though he never won the statue), PATHS OF GLORY, SPARTACUS, LONELY ARE THE BRAVE. One of my personal favorites is 1952’s THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

One of those Hollywood movies about making Hollywood movies, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is expertly directed by insider Vincent Minnelli, who knew this material like the back of his hand. Aided…

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Cleaning Out The DVR #5: Around The World In 80 Days (dir by Michael Anderson)


Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle.  Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne.  He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon.  Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag.  Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.

Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film.  In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot.  Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.

Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures.  If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch.  Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment.  When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting.  When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians.  When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed.  Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.

Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.  Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.

But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers.  Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity.  (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.)  I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos.  For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship.  But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake.  However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.

Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos.  But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie.  David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport.  Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.

Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:

Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time.  Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: She Done Him Wrong (dir by Lowell Sherman)


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When watching the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, it helps to know a little something about American history.

It helps to know that the film was made at the tail end of the failed progressive experiment known as prohibition, an attempt to ban liquor in the U.S. which only served to make people idolize criminals and feel nostalgic for the time when you could just safely hang out in a saloon and get drunk with bunch of shady characters.

It helps to know that this film was made at a time when America was struggling through the Great Depression and, more than ever, movies were seen as an escape from reality.  The Depression also created a situation where, much like today, most Americans felt as if they were on the outside of the good life and, as a result, the most successful films of the time deal with outsiders getting something over on the smug and judgmental insiders.

It also helps to know that She Done Him Wrong was one of the last of the pre-Code films.  Though, by modern standards, the film may seem outwardly tame, the innuendo and subtext is anything but.  In fact, She Done Him Wrong was considered to be so racy that some people were actually scandalized when it became the biggest box office success of 1933.  (These were largely the same people who, 13 years before, celebrated the passage of prohibition.)  The infamous production code was largely instituted to make sure that a film like She Done Him Wrong could never be given another chance to corrupt filmgoers.

What exactly made She Done Him Wrong so controversial?

Well, it took place in a saloon in 1890s.  The saloon is owned by Gus (Noah Beery), who uses it as a front for prostitution and counterfeiting.  This is a film that features a lot of people drinking a lot of alcohol and it’s also a film that goes so far as to suggest that having a drink or two is not necessarily the worst thing in the world.  Captain Cummings (Cary Grant) runs a city mission that has opened up next to the bar and the film devotes a lot of time to poking fun at Cummings’s upright morality.  (Of course, Cummings has a secret of his own, one which suggests that his crusading attitude is just a convenient disguise.)  Though it would be repealed by the end of the year, Prohibition was still the law of the land when She Done Him Wrong was released and it’s fun to see how much the film has at the law’s expense.  That’s the type of fun that would basically be banned by the Production Code.

The Production Code would also require that all criminals be punished for their crimes by the end of a film.  In She Done Him Wrong, singer Lady Lou (Mae West) stabs to death the viscous Russian Rita (Rafaela Ottiano) and basically gets away with it.  It’s true that Lou was acting in self-defense but what makes She Done Him Wrong unique (for its time) is that Lou shows no remorse and that the killing is handled rather flippantly.  When the police, who have been searching the saloon for another criminal, burst into the room after Rita has been stabbed, Lou fools them by placing Rita’s corpse in a chair and combing her hair.  (“Haven’t you ever seen anyone comb someone’s hair before?”)  After the police leave, Lou has her bodyguard dispose of the body and Rita is never mentioned again.  Again, this is something that would never be allowed happen under the Production Code.

And then there’s the naked painting of Lou that hangs in the saloon.  Whenever it’s shown a screen, a man in a hat happens to be standing in just the right position to block the viewer from seeing the entire portrait.  Again, this would never have been allowed to happen under the Production Code.

And perhaps the biggest indication that this is a Pre-Code film is Mae West herself.  Reportedly, She Done Him Wrong was an extremely toned down version of West’s stage act but what was heard on-screen would certainly be enough to throw the guardians of decent society into a panic.  Nearly every line that she utters in this film is a double entendre but it’s not only what Mae West says.  It’s the way that she says it.  West may not have been a great actress but she had enough attitude that she didn’t need to be.  With every line, with every glance, with every movement, Mae West announces that she not only has sex but she enjoys it too.  In the Pre-Code days, that was unusual.  Once the Production Code went into effect, such a portrayal would be impossible.

As for the film itself — well, it’s pretty much just an excuse for Mae to be Mae.  There’s a plot, of course.  Lady Lou has many suitors and they all converge on the saloon at the same time.  However, Lou’s got her eye on the upstanding Captain Cummings.  (He’s a man in uniform, after all.)  It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination but, if you’re into film history or if you’re curious to see how American social mores have changed (and occasionally, not changed) over the years, She Done Him Wrong is a must see.

She Done Him Wrong is only 66 minutes long and it’s the shortest film to ever receive an Oscar nomination for best picture.  It received no other nominations and lost to Cavalcade.

Lisa Marie Reviews The Oscar Winners: The Bad and the Beautiful (dir by Vincente Minnelli)


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What can I say about The Bad and the Beautiful?

Released in 1952 and directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is arguably one of the greatest films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite films.

Perhaps appropriately, The Bad and the Beautiful is a film about the movies.

Jonathan Shields (played in a truly amazing performance by Kirk Douglas) is a legendary film producer.  He’s won Oscars, he’s got a reputation for being a genius, and, as the film begins, he is one of the most hated men in Hollywood.  It’s been years since Shields made a succesful film but he thinks that he’s finally come up with a movie that can put him back on top.  His assistant, Harry Pebbel (played with a weary dignity by Walter Pidgeon), invites Hollywood’s best director, actress, and screenwriter to a meeting and he proceeds to spend the rest of the film trying to convince them to help Jonathan make his comeback.

The only problem is that all three of them hate Jonathan Shields and have sworn that they’ll never work with him again.  Through the use of flashbacks, we see how each of them first met Jonathan and how each eventually came to despise him.

Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) first met Jonathan when Jonathan hired him to pretend to be a mourner at his father’s funeral.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred moves up from directing B-movies to finally getting a chance to make his dream movie, an adaptation of a believably pretentious novel called The Far Off Mountain.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred even gets womanizing film star Gaucho Ribera (a hilariously vain Gilbert Roland) to agree to star in Fred’s movie.  Jonathan also introduces Fred to Georgia (Lana Turner), the alcoholic daughter of Jonathan’s mentor.

Jonathan eventually makes Georgia into a film star and Georgia falls in love with him.  Of all the major actresses of the 1950s, Lana Turner seems to get the least amount of respect from film historians.  She’s more remembered today as the epitome of glamour and scandal but, in The Bad and the Beautiful, Turner gives one of the best performances of her career.  In her best scene, Georgia has a nervous breakdown while driving in the rain and, for those few minutes, you forget that you’re watching an iconic film star.  Instead, you’re just amazed by the performance.

Finally, the screenwriter is James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), an intellectual novelist who is brought to Hollywood by Jonathan.  While the reluctant Bartlow finds himself being seduced by J0nathan, his flighty wife (Gloria Grahame) is seduced by Gaucho.

The Bad and the Beautiful is perhaps one of the few perfect movies ever made, a film that qualifies as both art and entertainment.  There are so many reasons why I love this film that its hard for me to describe them all.  The film snob in me loves the fact that Minnelli directed The Bad and the Beautiful as if it were a classic black-and-white film noir.  The entire film is lit and shot to emphasize shadows and moral ambiguity.  As played by Kirk Douglas, Jonathan Shields is as seductive and dangerous a figure as Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.  My inner film historian loves the fact that the film is full of barely disguised portraits of real life Hollywood figures like David O. Selznick, Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock, and Diane Barrymore.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my girly girl side loves that this film is basically a big melodramatic soap opera.  Lana Turner’s outfits are to die for and Jonathan Shields is the ultimate bad boy that we can’t help but love.

The Bad and the Beautiful received 6 Oscar nominations but it wasn’t nominated for best picture.  (This snub is all the more surprising when you consider what the Academy did name as the best picture of 1952 — Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth.)  Out of those six nominations, the Bad and the Beautiful won five Oscars.  (Of all the film’s nominees, only Kirk Douglas failed to win.)  As of this writing, The Bad and the Beautiful still holds the record for most Oscars won by a film that failed to be nominated for best picture.