Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where were they?

I like birthdays generally, but they're not a huge deal to me. I'm not a party person or a presents person, so there's little to do. I figure a year is a year.
This year, however, I turned twenty. Twenty is a big deal, right? Right! ANALYSIS TIME!
I sat down a few days in a row during my birthday week and tried to think seriously about this new development, but I couldn't come up with much. Yeah, a person's twenties are supposed to be exciting, but I feel like I've already gotten a lot of the exciting stuff under way -- leaving school, moving out, supporting myself in a new city. One is supposed to do a lot of growing and changing during their third decade, but that's hard to qualify and plan for until you've really gotten the ball rolling on something besides aaaahhh I'm not in college. What that ultimately means, then, at least for me, is that thinking hard about one's twenties is... hard.

So. With nothing much to go on, rather than dwell on the uninspiring blank slate of my own life, I've looked elsewhere for inspiration - to history! The ladies who had gone before me, ladies I love and admire. What were they doing at my stage of life? Where were they at age twenty? I've gone to them for advice and to learn from their experiences. I just want a jumping-off point, something to give me perspective.

(Spoiler alert:
Shouldn't have asked.)

Turns out,

Jean Seberg, with whom I have felt a kinship ever since she inspired my drastic sophomore year haircut, was making her first film (Bonjour Tristesse) and looked like this:

Lauren Bacall made To Have and Have Not AND hung out with Hoagy Carmichael AND fell in love with Humphrey Bogart - what a year. Bogey fell right back; maybe it had something to do with that line about whistling? Of course she also looked pretty good. She was twenty, I mean, everyone's done looking awkward and frumpy at twenty! We all look like this:

Deanna Durbin had her first grown-up movie role in her third decade. She made the switch from teen queen to full-grown woman at age twenty, probably much to her relief. A decidedly more grown-up movie to follow was Christmas Holiday with Gene Kelly, but the breakthrough that came first was It Started With Eve, co-starring the passably cute Robert Cummings:

Joan Crawford made her Hollywood debut and knocked out eight films at age twenty. She had nothing to recommend her but her Charleston and snagged mostly uncredited roles as a dancer or extra.

Myrna Loy got started at twenty, too. She made five films in her first year, also playing background characters. Myrna was typecast for a long time as a vamp or "exotic" woman - this was before she became instantly classy and amazing by playing Nora Charles in The Thin Man. That didn't come until age 29. In the meantime, she played lots of slave girls! Exotic indeed! Bee tee dubs I think my ovaries just gave up. They know I'm never going to be a real woman.

Leslie Caron was hand-picked by Gene Kelly for her first film role, Lise Bouvier in An American in Paris. Nothing fancy, really. Playing Gene Kelly's love interest in a Gershwin-scored, six-Oscar-winning musical epic and knocking out an iconic, genre-defining fifteen-minute ballet dream sequence is okay for some people, but I prefer a less ostentatious lifestyle. I like to roll dough for crap money and sit at my coffee table eating pistachios in my free time.

To continue with Gene Kelly's lucky proteges, Debbie Reynolds was just twenty when she made Singin' in the Rain. If I have to (sarcastically) impress upon you why that is a huge fucking deal, re-evaluate your life now please.

Jeanne Crain, perhaps best known for dancing with my grandfather that one time, got to mack with Dana Andrews in State Fair at twenty years old. I shit you not, when I discovered this one I almost cried. Real. Tears.

It was at about this point in my initial research (DANA ANDREWS) that I fled Hollywood and tried to find less depressing, more realistic examples from... the literary world! Where my ladies of the page at? Literary girls aren't super foxy and kissing your dead soulmates, right?

Right. Turns out that when literary girls turn twenty, they only publish career-making poems that later get carved into mountainsides in their memory. Ever heard of "Renascence"? No? Well, ever heard of EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY? She was nineteen when she wrote that shit. You know where you were at nineteen? Still figuring out your alcohol limit. At best.

Other literary girls are less intimidating - Emily Bronte, for example, worked as a teacher at age twenty but suffered a breakdown from stress and returned home to kill time teaching herself German and practicing the piano. That's about right, Emily - strike out on your own only to be crushed by psychological weakness and return, humiliated, to lonely self-improvement in the family home! This is okay. Until you start taking your claustrophobic, miserable life and turning it into shit like Wuthering Heights and making us all look so... unproductive. Couldn't you just journal it out? That's what normal people do. "Dear Diary, today my peers advanced another step beyond me in the journey toward functionality and self-actualization. I am going to take more naps."

Dorothy Parker was orphaned and had to support herself playing piano at a dancing school. That sounds rough. It sounds character-building. It sounds depressing. Man, I sure am better off than she was at my age! Except for that little "dedicating her spare time to perfecting her craft" habit that scored her a job the next year at Vogue... Whatevs.

Zelda Sayre (fun fact: a writer in her own right!) married F. Scott and became Zelda Fitzgerald in her twentieth year. WHO ARE YOU DATING?? To be honest, from then on she wasn't much of a role model, but, for what it's worth, girlfriend made a fortunate alliance. Check it out.

I mean... She had a baby with the man who wrote the short story that inspired the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt The Great Gatsby.

Lastly, however, I can leave you with a doozy.
Drawn neither from the glittering firmament of Hollywood glamazons or the less-fancy writer ladies brain trust - from a land altogether different - I give you...
A literary heroine.

Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth fucking Bennet was twenty years old.

Forgive me....
I have to go be depressed.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

#36: The Maltese Falcon

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor
Dir: John Huston (1941)

I KNOW, I KNOW. In my defense I have technically seen this before, only it was when I was super little and really scared of movies where people hit each other so I barely let myself remember any of it. Just a fat man and a bird. Which, to be fair, is still pretty much what it's about.
The one thing I definitely did not notice as a wee one, however, was that The Maltese Falcon is CHOCK FULL O' SEX. Like, TONS. Sex is EVERYWHERE, and totally in the cool way.
Sorry, let me just reiterate --


Before I go on to the evidence, let me break it down for you real slow. The number one thing you need to know about Old Movie Sex is that it only gets to operate within a range of very subtle to barely subtle, and it NEVER happens in front of you. Kisses are the basic expression, although you must not forget that kisses are sometimes just kisses (like in Deanna Durbin movies. Deanna Durbin is a FOREVER VIRGIN and you are OKAY WITH IT!!!). The two primary ways that Real Live Sex takes place in old Code-era movies are:
1) Smoking cigarettes, and
2) Fading to black.

In The Maltese Falcon there are LOTS of cigarettes and LOTS of fade-to-blacks, so ta-da there you have it, newbies! As an added bonus there is also just plain ol' lots of Humphrey Bogart grabbing women exasperatedly by the shoulders and saying "Look, angel," which is Advanced Old Movie Scoundrel-Speak for "Look, girl I banged and no longer want to deal with." Nobody's an angel until after you've had sex with them. And in old movies, guys throwing around a word like "angel" are typically pretty tough.

TOUGH, you say??





Oops, I'm ahead of myself.
Now that you've completed your prerequisite course we can resume 101: Introduction to Girls Sam Spade is Banging in The Maltese Falcon.

#1: His secretary (Effie)
Evidence: SHE'S HIS SECRETARY. He calls her doll AND angel AND sweetheart AND darling. He puts his hand on her knee when they talk. And look, she rolls his cigarettes for him. Cigarettes!
I grant this scene a sexy status equal to the famous cigarette-lighting maneuver in Now, Voyager.
Effie is definitely my favorite Hit That Girl. She is the dependable secretary who is basically Sam's right hand and gets to know all his dirty secrets and help him out of scrapes. She is a dame, a little worldly-wise, not naive so you don't have to be romantic, a nice grown woman perfect for him... but still a bottle blonde, nothing classy. She's not glamorous or irresistible. She's not a vamp. She may be the girl he'll visit most nights a week, but he'll never marry her. Sorry, Eff!

#2: His partner's wife (Iva)
This is the kind of desperate you get when you think Humphrey Bogart might want to stop having sex with you.
Iva and Sam have an affair for quite a while before Miles gets bumped off at the start of the story. Iva assumes Sam has done it so that they can be together. Sam is like, "Um, no, no I didn't," and then gets Effie to take care of Iva and basically keep her away from him as much as possible. We assume that Sam is losing interest because Iva is kind of old and also kind of super definitely clingy. Also has wrong ideas about commitment. Also, VERY CLINGY. At one point in this story Iva sees Sam going into his apartment with #3 and ACTUALLY SENDS THE POLICE UP to disturb their rendezvous. She watches from a taxi cab in the street and looks like she's about to cry. Yes, Iva is very, very sad. And very, very jealous. We think we would never be as pathetic as her, but look - she is kinda old, her husband just got shot, and she might not be banging Humphrey Bogart anymore because of some fresh new ho on the block... you'd do it, too.

#3: The femme fatale (Brigid)
Brigid is the lying scheming manipulative ho-bag that works her fatale-y magic on Sam throughout this entire movie and ALMOST gets him to let her off for murder. Brigid and Sam have lots of sex and they want you to know it. Probably two fade-out's and one kiss's plus one cigarette's-worth, and maybe a "sweetheart" thrown in, and what the what they think they're in love?!? WHY this happens I do not know. Brigid is kind of mysterious and plays the distressed-dame card pretty craftily, but she is also a total beezy! Plus Sam already has Effie who is obviously better. WHY does it even take place, then? Because men are pigs. Or something. Whatever the cause, they do have an affair and it almost leads Sam to his death...


Sam Spade is a detective at Spade & Archer in San Francisco. When the film opens he is approached by the lovely Ruth Waverly (real name: Brigid O'Shaughnessy/HO!) who asks for a tail to be put on a very dangerous man called Thursby. Sam's partner takes the assignment and is shot to death that night, supposedly by Thursby. Thursby himself shows up dead elsewhere. Sam is approached by police hours later and treated as a suspect (it is common knowledge that he has an affair with Miles' wife and may want Miles out of the way), so to clear himself of the double-murder, Sam finds Ruth/Brigid the next day and forces her to spill the truth, or at least part of the truth - her real name and her real relationship to Thursby. She admits Thursby probably shot Miles Archer and she knowingly placed him in danger, but she claims to have no idea who shot Thursby afterwards. Sam senses she isn't being truthful about everything yet he decides to keep investigating the murders. Brigid is kind of a shifty little ho but he obviously thinks she's hot. (We'll go with it for now.)

Later that day, a man called Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) enters Sam's office and offers him $5,000 to bring him a black bird. Joel has reason to believe that Sam already knows where it is. (BRIGID!)
In this scene, Joel sits down and immediately begins playing with his cane, even putting it in his mouth. This is kind of awkward to see. Simultaneously, Sam begins smoking a cigarette. Now while I strongly doubt that Sam and Joel have sex in this story (though Lorre's character is gay), the tension is obviously meant to be there... I mean, Peter Lorre puts a CANE. In his MOUTH. And Humphrey Bogart makes that FACE.
I told you this movie was about sex.

Moving on, speeding up, etc: Sam establishes that Joel and Brigid are connected, the three meet in Sam's apartment and Brigid attacks Joel with a pistol... they know each other and are both trying to recover the black bird, which is apparently quite valuable. Also apparently there is a "Fat Man" involved too, whom they are both very afraid of. He is coming to San Francisco.

Sam and Brigid spend some nice alone time together as Sam tries to get Brigid to be honest, giving him anything to help them both track down the falcon. The tension builds because (again, lost on me) Brigid is apparently some kind of sexpot and Sam basically kills time sitting around looking at her like this:
Number One sign you are about to have sex with Humphrey Bogart = this face.
In spite of the inducement, Brigid remains secretive while insisting on Sam's loyalty. Finally, he gets fired up: "What have you ever given me besides money? Have you ever given me any of your confidence, any of the truth? Haven't you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else?"
To which Brigid replies,
"What else is there I could buy you with?"
Then this happens.
Answer: SEX.

Now thoroughly invested in the booty case, Sam goes to the Fat Man for info and is offered a ton of money to deliver the falcon to HIM (again, everyone seems to think he has access to it already. He doesn't. He is going to figure it out, though. He is HUMPHREY BOGART). Fat Man is kind of a dick, unfortunately, so Sam gets really mad at his condescending attitude and does this:
He storms out, but Fat Man's hired goon brings him back the next day at gunpoint. They spike Sam's drink and once Sam passes out Fat Man leaves with Goon. They are going to meet a ship that may be bringing the falcon to New York. When they search it, the falcon is nowhere to be found. By this time Sam is conscious again and (blah blah finds clues blah blah) races to the dock, but when he arrives the ship has already been set on fire by Fatty Vindictive-Pants. Sam goes back to his office to flirt with his secretary for lack of anything better to do at that point.
A dying man stumbles in the door moments after he arrives, bearing the falcon wrapped in newspaper! He drops it at Sam's feet and then dies. The man was the ship's captain.
O'Shaughnessy dials Sam's office with a (fake!) distress call! Apparently they are in love now, so he cares about this. (Old movie sex - immoral, yet still inseparable from love! The  confused standards are fantastic.) He puts the falcon in a safe place and goes to meet her, but he is cornered by Goon and taken to his apartment where Fat Man and Joel are waiting. Brigid comes with because the ho was in on it.

Fat Man offers Spade big money for the falcon again, this time in front of everybody. Sam says okay, I can get it to you in the morning, but we need someone to take the fall for the murders if this is going to shake out. The Goon is nominated as fall guy and Fat Man agrees. Sam knocks Goon out to simplify things. Then he makes everyone tell him what really happened murder-wise so he can formulate a believable story for the police. OMG!! BRIGID SHOT EVERYBODY! (Except for the captain, Goon shot the captain.) WE HATE HER!!!
Sam is obviously pissed but he controls himself. Brigid plays it up like she had no choice... she was just SO emotional... she felt threatened... you know. Sam is like "UGH" but since they are all going to be there for a while he goes along with it and sneaks a quickie with Brigid in the other room.

In the morning Effie brings the falcon to Sam's apartment, but it turns out to be a fake. Gutman and Joel abandon the apartment and Sam sends the police after them. Then he chews out the scheming ho he just had sex with (sheesh! men!) and is like I MAY HAVE BEEN HAVING AN AFFAIR WITH MY PARTNER'S WIFE BUT GOD DAMMIT NOBODY KILLS MY PARTNER BUT ME GOD DAMMIT. Brigid tries the womanly wiles again and is like "Noooooo, you looooooove me, you'll never turn me in" but he's like "ACTUALLY I WILL. ALSO YOU LIED TO THAT NICE CAPTAIN MAN WHO DIED IN MY OFFICE AND THAT TOO IS UNFORGIVABLE."
(More specifically, he says "I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck" and does this:
which also means sex.)
And then the police show up and then she DOES have to take the fall! Hooray!!
Elevator doors = cell bars, oooohhhh imagery!

And that's the end!

Can you tell I liked it?

Stars: 4.5 of 5

Friday, January 27, 2012

#35: First Love

Starring: Deanna Durbin, Robert Stack
Dir: Henry Koster (1939)

**First in a series of DOUBLE-DUTY BLOG POSTINGS 
done by me and my associate Lexie A.!! She has a blog too. It's called "Muir, Muir on the Wall
and it isn't about movies, it's about John Muir 
(dude? outdoorsy dude? I know very little about him... big beard... Sierra Club. Yup). 
Check it out. 
BUT then come back here because along with John Muir she definitely loves Deanna Durbin, 

Joey: Yay, DD! In First Love my beloved starlet braves the awkward terrain between adorable child star image and glamorous grown-up lady, and does so charmingly (minus an ill-advised hairdo and boobs that are too big for her body).
Deanna plays Connie Harding, an orphan who has been sponsored her whole life by a wealthy uncle from New York. When the story begins she is graduating from an all-girls high school and preparing to join her uncle's family in the city.

Lexie: BIG-O suuuurprise Uncle Rich-Man's family is SUPER lame and rude and horrible. LIKE THE EVIL SOCIALITE SUPER PRETTY LADY COUSIN/COCK BLOCK and her Mr. Cousin (WALTER) is KIND OF HILARIOUS because he is ridiculously tall and lazy. And always lays all stretched out on a chair getting in erryones way being a sassy (funny) JERK.

Joey: We kind of like Walter except for the part where he's not THIS GUY,
whom you are about to meet.
Well in a little bit because there is legwork inbetween. But now you have an INCENTIVE to keep paying attention. Let me just dangle him like a little carrot in front of you again.
Now follow me.

Basically we can skip a lot of the backstory if you understand that this movie is just "Cinderella 1939," and all the characters are pretty much what you expect. Servants are adorable little fat mice inexplicably devoted to only one person in the entire household -- the new girl they don't know at all! -- and stepsister is evil cockblocking bitch only kind of hot and you're a little bit jealous of her because she wakes up in the morning looking like this

 Lexie: ... BUT the little girl that they don't know at all SINGS LIKE AN ANGEL and you can't help but to LOVE HER. Especially when she is ridiculously nice even to her evil cousin woman. "OH HEY DEANNA. I woke up late now go to the stables and stop this dude I want to bang from going riding with my STUPID FRIENDS who I feel are competition. ALSO I DO ALWAYS WAKE UP LOOKING THIS GOOD." Deanna: "OOKAY COUSIN ANYTHING YOU SAY!!" scuttle scuttle scuttle....

Joey: Deanna gets to the country club and does some really resourceful and adorable rascally things to distract Hot Guy and lure Hot Guy's Horse off to one side so that Hot Guy can't join the riding party (so that Evil Cousin can finish powdering her nose and putting on her tragically unflattering jodhpurs and get her flat ass over there to do her own work or something for a change) which results in her falling around in the dirt and getting all messy -- which sucks because if there's one thing worse than, I don't know, peeing your pants, it's having dirt on your face IN FRONT OF A GUY -- but he's really nice about it and helps her get up and is like "Why are you luring my horse?" (inexplicable trust and forgiveness in spite of equine theft, this guy is totally lovable) and she is like "Oh... you're so nice... of course there is nothing self-interested about my detaining you for my horrible cousin but now that we're at it I can't help but notice YOUR ASS LOOKS GOOD IN HORSE PANTS."

 "And now I'm crying because I've never seen a bottom that beautiful before." (cries)

Lexie: Sooooo a little bit jump forwardy but hey y'all have seen Cinderella before so Miss D-Durby will narrate briefly what happens:
"OH hey there is a ball hosted by Mr. Hotty-Pants (not to be mistaken with hot pants) and BOO I can't go cause my cousin is STRAIGHT UP MEAN and OH HEY the servants have HELLA CONNECTIONS with the police --

"Six White Bikes" -- get it? Wah waaahhh.

and buy me a dress and NOW I CAN GO TO THE BALL and NO ONE WILL KNOW! But before that I am going to talk to myself in the mirror and try to buck up but Mirror Deanna is also KIND OF TERRIFYING and I may or may not be but am actually definitely not schizophrenic I swear..."

AND TADA SHE IS AT THE BALL and then does something REALLY REALLY AWKWARD... Like thinks that Hotty-Pant's dad is talking about her when he announces some countess opera singer who is at the party and did I mention that D-Durby SINGS LIKE A Gangster? Because she does...

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME (or not in front of uber hot man meat stud men) because, on average, 100% of guys will NOT give you this face
when you sing a shrill Strauss waltz in a gaudy dress that is bad for your boobs and on top of everything else you have bangs in a little meringue-type foofy mound on top of your face.

Or maybe, you know, DO follow your heart and sing that song to that wealthy super-stud totally-not-a-virgin blonde hunk of a New York socialite because he might really turn out to have a heart of gold after all and prefer you to your spider-skank cousin and in the end he might just smile at you like a kind of dopey adorable Ken doll and you can be with him FOREVER doing this.
love connection
Lexie: So after this UBER HAPPINESS... Some other shit goes down... LIKE her evil Cousin suspects that  D-Durby made it to the ball and then rushes home and goes to confront her and then Deanna almost gets away with it but then gets found out... And so Evil Cousin tells her some lie about how the Ken Doll was lying to her and secretly making fun of her behind her back (SO SAD). So she runs away back to her old school and gets a job teaching people to sing like ANGELS and then gives a concert to a bunch of old maids to get ANOTHER BETTER job? Right Jo? Maybe I wrong... BUT her crazy "fairy godmother" headmistress woman PULLS SOME STRINGS and while she is singing at the concert she looks at the crazy old dame and OH EM GEE CRAZY LADY HAS BOTH OF THE SHOES of the pair that she LEFT AT THE BALL (WTF?!?! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?!?)  And then she looks towards the door AND GUESS WHO IS THERE. I know... You don't even need to guess... BECAUSE YOU KNEW IN YOUR HEART LIKE I DID. AND THEN guess what happens...

Joey: They don't even kiss. The movie just fucking ends.

Stars: 4 of 5