Easy Living (1937) with Jean Arthur

Edward Arnold  is yelling again. This time the big teddy bear is angry with his wife (Mary Nash) for having too much stuff. Since the missus cannot sustain her style in last year’s ermine, she tells hubby to take a flying leap. He flings her fur coat off the roof instead.

Enjoying the fresh air of Manhattan, working girl Jean Arthur is conveniently sitting below where the plummeting pelt hits her. Arnold insists  that Arthur  keep the coat and buys her even more couture, which leads to scandal. So far, the moral of the story - and you know there is one since this little tale is spelled with a capital  S-T-U-R-G-E-S - is that giving away lots of stuff is fine, as long as it’s not to your wife.

Searching for pennies

But the plot doesn’t matter. The audience knows the destination (a happy ending) and is more interested in who makes them laugh or cry during the journey. Hence this film gives us wonderfully tried and true traveling companions:

  • Down-on-her-luck Cinderella potentially makes good. Check.
  • Dominant, middle-aged guy becomes a mentor of sorts. Check.
  • A litany of colorful supporting players fills the screen with their quirks. Double Check.
  • A smart-aleck love interest comes along for the ride. Indeed.
In the tub

Fresh-faced Ray Milland is the man who makes the moves on Ms. Arthur this time around. And move they do. They do not know each other ten minutes and yet they have dinner together...in her apartment...alone...undressed. Well, he’s in an ascot and bathrobe that reads, “Stolen from Hotel Louis,” which he dons after flopping around, fully clothed, in Arthur’s bathtub. The light touch to this first-date-that-isn’t-really-a-first-date date guides the film away from a tone that could be quite crude  into a most adorable little evening.

It is also in this after-dinner moment that we get some of the film’s most memorable shots. The inevitable kiss is coming, but director Mitchell Leisen makes them dance. Not literally, since the characters can barely move after a sumptuous meal.

No, the director’s camera  and the editor’s cuts swirl around the two leads while they make small talk and restlessly try to find a comfortable lounging spot on a large settee.  Considering the inane conversation during this scene, we are supposed to notice the movement which gets us to The  Big Moment of their relationship.

Bantering, they find themselves lying down, feet in opposite directions, eyelids heavy with the sleep of the satisfied. It’s only then that Milland notices he has her in a compromising position. He takes advantage of the moment and lightly locks lips sort of sideways and upside down. Leisen, et. al. get major kudos for giving us an interesting journey to an obligatory kiss.

Easy Living is a lively, entertaining romp that's equal parts pratfall and tender moments.  By the end, everyone's all warm and fuzzy, even Mr. & Mrs. Fur Flinger.

Lady On A Train (1945): A Leslie Charteris Premise with a Lucille Ball Twist

Schism:His uncle was brutally slain; she wears a silly hat for detective work
A review of Lady On A Train (1945) is my newest contribution at The Amazing Deanna Durbin blog.

Deanna Durbin witnesses a murder from her train window and quickly becomes an amateur sleuth. Although the author of the adventure-mystery novel series, Saint, created the idea for the film, his  influence stops there. The script is taken over by a couple of comedy writers who had worked and would continue to work with comedienne Lucille Ball, among others. It shows.

Train tries to blend a serious murder mystery and a wacky comedy, but the two styles interrupt each other, resulting in a film with severe mood swings -a phenomenon that was not uncommon in Ms. Durbin's films at the time. Indeed, 

Deanna Durbin’s film career can be divided into three overlapping eras - the adolescent years,  from which comes the perky (and profitable) Durbin formula of youthful tenacity and pluck; the post-adolescence/struggle era, where the now-grownup star fights for mature material and sometimes wins; and the resignation years, when Universal’s movie veteran - weary over the struggle for challenging scripts - essentially gives in to whatever work  is offered.

Lady On A Train comes near the end of the post-adolescence/struggle era. During this time, there is a definite schism within some of Ms. Durbin’s films, trying ever to balance maturity and childlike vivacity, drama and screwball.

Read More at The Amazing Deanna Durbin Blog

The Heiress (1949): Her Mother's Presence

The memory of a brilliant but deceased mother impedes a timid young lady’s social progress in this William Wyler film.

The Heiress is a 19th century drama adapted from a Henry James novel and  a Ruth and Augustus Goetz play. The plot hinges on whether penniless Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) is offering affection and devotion to shy Catherine Sloper (Olivia DeHavilland) or, as the wealthy lady’s father  and prominent surgeon (Ralph Richardson) argues, is merely prospecting for a fortune.

Dr. Sloper‘s sister warns that Catherine cannot “compete with this image you have of her mother. You‘ve idealized that poor dead woman beyond all human recognition.” Still, the doctor takes no heed.

Although there are portraits of her around the house, Mrs. Sloper is, wisely, never clearly shown to the audience. We, like Catherine -who never knew her mother- must rely on the embellished memories of an angry man in perpetual mourning for his wife. Catherine‘s father has effectively made the late woman a shadowy interloper in her own daughter’s  future.
One scene in particular shores up the idea of mother inadvertently creating an abbreviated future for Catherine. When Morris’ sister, Mrs. Montgomery (Betty Linley) calls on Dr. Sloper on the latter’s invitation, the literal image of Mrs. Sloper is a point of conversation. Mrs. Montgomery  eagerly anticipates meeting her prospective sister-in-law, but before she does,  the woman notices a framed portrait of a lady on the table. She picks it up and asks if this is the doctor’s daughter . The woman seems visibly deflated when he assures her that the beauty in the frame is not Catherine but her mother. 

After the two agree on the deceased woman’s loveliness, plain-featured Catherine enters. It’s too late. Mrs. Montgomery’s mind is a blank slate which has become filled with the family’s old habit of making Mrs. Sloper the standard. Catherine has little chance of creating a good first impression here, as is her lot in life. Mrs. Montgomery’s paradigm shift  is emphasized in how she interacts with the portrait once Catherine enters. The film version boosts the presence of the mother more in this scene than does the play.

Onstage, Mrs. Montgomery is directed to pick up the miniature as Dr. Sloper calls for his daughter, then replace it on the table when Catherine enters. With this gesture thoughts of the mother gently waft  in and out of the audience’s mind during Mrs. Montgomery’s visit and through to the end of  the scene when Morris himself comes to call and sits at the center table. However, the movie is more relentless in driving home the point.

In the film, when Catherine enters, Wyler directs  Mrs. Montgomery  to stand up with the small portrait in her hand, where it remains during the entire conversation with Catherine. When Mrs. Montgomery stands with portrait, her hand and the picture are directly in the center of the movie screen. Catherine is on one side of the frame while most of Mrs. Montgomery’s body and Dr. Sloper stand on the other.  Morris’ sister effectively uses the literal image of the mother to cut off Catherine from everything on the other side of the room - the approval of her father to marry, having a chance to make a decent first impression  on a prospective sister-in-law and everything that goes with these concepts.

The cinema’s peculiar properties  and the placement of characters allow Mrs. Montgomery to hold Catherine’s past in her hands in a way  which - almost like a knife-  truncates the young lady’s future. This could not have been done as effectively in the play since  audience members have different vantage points. Plus the Goetzes do not allow for this kind of positioning.

After a few painfully awkward exchanges between the two ladies, Mrs. Montgomery exits the house, never to be seen onscreen again. The lady figuratively takes with her not only the image of  Mrs. Sloper in mind, but also Catherine’s and Morris’ plans for marriage. The downward spiral of an already tenuous courtship begins  in earnest once  the entrenched familial image contaminates the thoughts of even this open-minded visitor to the Sloper residence.

Debbie Reynolds: The Auction

Bittersweet. When Debbie Reynolds announced that she was selling off her enormous collection of Hollywood memorabilia this coming summer, I grew at once ecstatic at the idea of the biggest such auction since MGM's rummage sale in the '70s and also terribly saddened at the idea that Ms. Reynolds' museum project would never see the light of day.
“I heard the news that MGM was going to sell their inventory of costumes and props,” says Reynolds on how she started collecting, “I went everyday for weeks and focused on purchasing the costumes and props of Academy Award winning films. It soon turned into an obsession. Until now!  I've concluded that my dream of having a museum cannot be fulfilled, so I have decided to share my fabulous collection with other collectors.” - Profiles in History

Her hopes are dashed. What can I say?

Well, let's concentrate on the sweet side of the equation. 
  • They've finally settled on the auction site. According to the email sent to me today [sign up for auction updates], Debbie Reynolds: The Auction Part 1 will be held at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills on June 18, 2011. The Auction Part II will be held in December 2011.
  • Debbie Reynolds has recorded a 1 minute commercial for the event, and has been giving lots of interviews, including this one where she laments The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' lack of interest in a Hollywood Museum.
  • Profiles in History, the company that's handling the whole shebang, has taken photos of some of the costumes. [See below]

For Java's critique of Maria's (Julie Andrews) wardrobe and character development in The Sound of Music, click here.

Looks like it's going to be big.

Update October 2011: The 2nd auction will be held December 3, 2011. Click here for information on the auction and ordering the 2nd catalog.

Amazing Deanna Durbin Blog: First Engagement

On December 16, 1940, Life Magazine announced Deanna Durbin's 1st engagement.

"While her producers were still trembling like a nervous bride at the thought of screen marriage for their No.1 star, Deanna last week announced her real-life engagement to Vaughn Paul..."

Read more at The Amazing Deanna Durbin blog.
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