I want to talk about Sochi. Before I can, I need to establish some things so we all know what I’m really talking about.
Scapegoats are a powerful political tool, and a favourite tool of extremists. If you want to make people act against their own interests, you present them with a bogeyman and…
If you’re interested in these two lovely people, their individual/collaborative careers, and 1920s-30s MGM in general, please consider giving my Shearer/Thalberg Facebook group a like!
Norma and Irving would appreciate it!
John Gilbert and Irving Thalberg in a home video made at Hearst Castle in 1926 - hilarious. “The Unchaste Chased Woman”, with Irving as “Irvina” and John Gilbert as the passionate lover who saves her from a fate worse than death. No wonder Norma Shearer married Irving him a year later, right?
femme fatale: prohibition in curls | listen
“this is a bad town for such a pretty face.” for the anti-heroines of an era of bathtub gin, organized crime, and jazz, clouded in the smoke of fired guns and cigarettes.
(partially inspired by this)
kill of the night — gin wigmore | good intent — kimbra | lover undercover — melody gardot | bedroom hymns — florence + the machine | black sheep — gin wigmore | quiet fire — melody gardot | black widow — suzanne sundfor | minnie the moocher — cab calloway + swagger jax | me and my gin — bessie smith | roxie’s suite — danny elfman
The Divorcee (Leonard, 1930), starring Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Robert Montgomery, Conrad Nagel et al.
What to say about this delicious film? I don’t even know where to start, except by saying that this is a truly interesting example of pre-Code cinema and that I think anyone interested in the era should watch it. At its very base, it deals with sexual freedom and especially with the idea of the “single standard” that came about particularly in the flapper age. The main character of this movie does not want to avoid the institution of marriage; she wants to remake it from the inside out. When she finds out that her husband’s infidelity “doesn’t mean a thing” but hers most certainly does, she walks out. This is, I think, crucial. She doesn’t leave because her husband cheated; that, she could forgive. She leaves because he advocates a certain attitude toward infidelity that he refuses to put into practice once it’s her in the guilty seat. I think that is what makes this film so interesting, and so modern. It is at its very heart about equality.
It is also interesting because it was the start of a completely different phase in Norma Shearer’s career. Though she wasn’t originally shortlisted for the lead role in this film, she campaigned for the role (against the wishes of her own producer husband, who didn’t think she was glamorous enough) and eventually won it. It would prove defining for her star persona and pre-Code career, and she would reprise similar roles in Let Us Be Gay, Strangers May Kiss and A Free Soul.
In terms of Shearer’s career, this film is also interesting in comparison to The Women, which she would make in 1939. The plots are so similar, and yet so very different. I think perhaps the main characters’ names illustrate this difference nicely; in The Divorcee, Shearer is named Jerry, a man’s name and certainly modern - in The Women, she’s called Mary, the most feminine, classic, old-fashioned name in existence. The movies’ plots mirror this contrast.
Penthouse (Van Dyke, 1933), starring Warner Baxter, Myrna Loy, Mae Clarke et al.
I really loved this film. I am unsure why, since it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill pre-Code gangster movie, but it’s just a very enjoyable watch. Good acting, good, fast story, interesting characters - and Myrna Loy as a crime-solving, high-class call girl named Gertie, what’s not to love? I love Myrna - she was always a slightly upper-class Rosalind Russell, classy and clever and up for anything.
Some great lines, too -
“I’m afraid you think I’m taking advantage of you!”
“I’m afraid you won’t!”
Our Dancing Daughters (Beaumont, 1928), starring Joan Crawford, John Mack Brown, Anita Page, Dorothy Sebastian et al.
This is a fascinating late silent movie which I watched mainly because it was featured quite heavily in the Payne Fund Studies, a series of 1930s sociological works on the cinema which I am currently reading. It is perhaps the quintessential flapper film, showing the young “modern” in all her glory. Diana (Joan Crawford) is independent, individualistic and an avid dancer, but she’s essentially honest and virtuous, and as such stands in sharp contrast with Ann (Anita Page), who is deceitful and a gold-digger, though she pretends to innocence to capture the man they both - for different reasons - want to marry.
I loved the outrageous dancing scene near the beginning, where Joan dances in her underpants on a table in a ballroom filled with balloons. Crawford was a very good dancer, which few of her later films really highlight - plus what scene could illustrate “flaming youth” more clearly?
I thought it was interesting how the parents of the three very different girls were depicted and what the film indirectly says about parenting and its effects. Diana is wild, but virtuous, and she has a pair of modern, understanding, and trusting parents, who are really practically her friends. Beatrice is kind and basically decent, but she’s Had Some Lovers (this is never really explained further) - her parents are extremely strict. Ann, who is a mean-spirited, ruthless gold-digger, has a mother who is at times silly and overly doting, yet at others as coolly calculating as she is.
SO PATTY ANDREWS DIED.