A Completely Fluffy Post About Oscar & Film Fashion

Posted in fashion, Joan Crawford, oscars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2012 by Beth Ann Gallagher

It’s time to dust off Spellbound with a completely fluffy post about Oscar and film fashion. Over the days in-depth posts will follow, but for now some simple visuals.

I’m another gown watcher of the Academy Awards. One of the reasons I love to go to a movie theatre for the broadcast is to see the outfits and their details on the large screen. Ever since Sunday’s broadcast, I’ve had Joan Crawford on my mind thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow and Jane Seymour. Here’s how I made that leap!

Paltrow’s Tom Ford brought the cape back to Hollywood fashion:



When I saw Seymour’s gown I mentally combined the two–



and what I got was pure Joan:


The above still is from The Bride Wore Red (1937). The dress was designed by Adrian, and it was supposed to show how utterly unsuitable Joan’s character Anni was to wed an ensnared blue blood. When contrasted against her love rival’s understated, tasteful fashions, she looked like a jezebel, but something remains undeniable. She looks fantastic for any era in an outfit few others could carry off.


Say It With Firecrackers

Posted in available on DVD, dance, Fred Astaire, holiday movies, tap with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2011 by Beth Ann Gallagher

Somehow it’s a little too dry and a little too chilly for fireworks in the Bay Area, but I’m going to wish you a happy Fourth of July and say it with fireworks anyway. From the original jukebox (movie) musical, here is Fred Astaire tapping out his tribute to tomorrow’s holiday:

This is one of my favorite Astaire solos. A little movie magic tricks the eye and the ear, but the moves are all his. I love how happy he looks when done. He’s probably imagining how the finished scene will look, and it is a stand-out in a film full of production numbers.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!


Name this Film? An Unidentified Silent Film Featuring Dorsey

Posted in archives, film preservation, identify this film, silent film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2011 by Beth Ann Gallagher

The Nitrate Film Interest Group has posted new stills from another unidentified film in its vaults. Can you help them solve the mystery? Here are your first clues. The film is a silent, and it features a lawyer, who may be named Dorsey. Here’s a still:

Unid. Dorsey Attorney Silent Film


If you would like to see more stills from this mystery film, you’ll find a set here.

For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon: The Bookseller Babe in The Big Sleep (1946)

Posted in available on DVD, blogathons, booksellers on film, Dorothy Malone, film noir, film noir on dvd, film preservation on February 19, 2011 by Beth Ann Gallagher

Big Sleep Alternate Poster
Perhaps because I’ve worked as a bookseller, I’ve always felt a special affinity for Dorothy Malone‘s bookstore proprietress in The Big Sleep. In the film private detective Philip Marlowe investigates an increasingly confusing case that centers around a dysfunctional family. Clues keep leading him back to one blond sister or the other. The younger has gotten herself mixed up with an organized crime racket and murder, while the older treats Marlowe like yesterday’s trash and may have a gambling problem. While following up a lead, Marlowe stumbles into Acme Book Shop, and we meet Malone.

Big Sleep (1946) Dorothy Malone's BookStore Proprietress

Dorothy’s role is small, but it’s a plum one. Despite being Plain Janed via glasses and pulled back brown hair, she looks gorgeous. Her thin-framed glasses make her look erudite, and they don’t hide a bit of that beautiful babyface. While her dress is conservative in neckline, sleeve length, and hemline, it’s mainly black, and as the widow’s color it hints at sexual knowledge. Dorothy’s dress’s overlay brings a modern, sharp, and narrow-waisted silhouette to the ensemble. It’s work wear, but executed in a femininely fashion-forward way. She’s the hipster book clerk predecessor to Funny Face and others. She’s the only female to interact with Marlowe as an equal in this film.

Big Sleep (1946) Dorothy Malone & Humphrey Bogart Toasting

She not only passes Marlowe’s book test, but she gives him enough information that he can move on with his case. He tells her she should have been a cop due to her memory and descriptive ability. It’s always in that moment, that I wish the film takes a different turn. Let Bogart have Bacall in real life, but let him have Malone in this reel life. Their characters could have joined forces and become an alternate detective team to Nick and Nora. She’d have her own set of smarts to compliment his, and they could have shown what another, straightforward, screen adult relationship could be.

Alas, this was not to be. This was an instance where the film sticks closer to the book and doesn’t go off in a new direction. Instead we have these few memorable scenes of banter ladened with chemistry:

For those that like to read the subtext, then there’s an interlude that implies much that the Hays Code was against.

In the above scenes time has passed. People have tidied themselves, and the bookshop has re-opened. Marlowe goes back into the rain and on the hunt, but not before our bookseller tempts him to return and buy a book. She wants to see him again. Unfortunately for her and for us, he leaves with a so long and a pat on the arm. He’s not coming back. With that he leaves her and me wondering what if?

If you’ve enjoyed reading my flight of fancy, please consider giving to a great cause, the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films, which benefits the Film Noir Foundation. Your contribution will help restore another great film noir. Click on the Bogey-related icon below to make a donation.

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For the Love of Film (Noir): The Mechanical Man of The City That Never Sleeps (1953)

Posted in blogathons, film noir, film preservation, out-of-print-in-the-US, unreleased to dvd with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by Beth Ann Gallagher

City That Never Sleeps (1953) Poster

John H. Auer‘s The City That Never Sleeps is an odd hodgepodge of a film. It crosses noir with docudrama with the guardian angel film. Its villains, Hayes StewartLydia Biddel, and Penrod Biddel, are far more compelling than the lead Johnny Kelly. He’s a cop dissatisfied with his life. His hardworking wife Kathy Kelly fears he’s distant due to her higher earning potential, and that may be, but there’s a burlesque dancer Sally “Angel Face” Connors who’s stolen his attention with her shimmies, and she’s tired of sharing him. Johnny hatches a mad plan to pull one shady deal and bring in enough tainted money to run away with his honey. One side character gets drawn into all their stories, and he’s the mechanical man. He’s a great example of how a city can tear down a man, make him lose his humanity, yet offer redemption.

City That Never Sleeps (1953): Mala Powers

There’s a lot of frustration in this film. Everyone wants more than “what they got.” Sally seems like a harlot for stealing another woman’s man, but she’s not satisfied with her life, and she knows her situation isn’t right. She wants to get out of the club and be a decent girl. She once had dreams. She went to the big city to become a ballerina. She ended up a stripper. Johnny, representing law and order, must be a break from all the jerks that ogle and hassle her, but her time with him and whatever respite it offers are brief. He has to go home at some point to Kathy. She couldn’t get the career she wanted, and she doesn’t even own her own man, and she needs something to change.

City That Never Sleeps (1953): Mala Powers & Gig Young

Johnny doesn’t seem to realize that no good comes to men that romance women named Angel Face, and he can’t keep away from her, so Sally finally issues her ultimatum. He has to choose between her or Kathy. Johnny’s dissatisfied enough with his life to hatch his crazy scheme. He’s second generation cop, and he’s watched his father work hard for little payoff. Johnny’s wife works, and she likes it, but Johnny seems a traditionalist. He fantasizes about running off with his doll and being the one to save them from the city. Life elsewhere will be better despite how it’s earned or started.

City That Never Sleeps (1953): Mala Powers & Wally Cassell

Gregg Warren pines for Sally. He’s a failed actor turned mechanical man. He performs nightly and repeatedly in the club’s front window. Instead of portraying great or funny characters, he’s reduced to imitating an animated mannequin. The less human he seems the more successful he is at his job. He wants more than that. He dreams of stepping out of his glass coffin and onto the stage with Sally. He’ll save her from bumping and grinding by putting her in his comedy act, and she’ll save him. He doesn’t seem to have enough confidence or desire to do it solo, so he’ll hitch his star to Sally to get the gig. While she provides the pulchritude and presence, he’ll provide the brains behind the routine. Sally repeatedly turns him down. She prefers Johnny.

Warren doesn’t realize it, but a third triangle will affect him. Penrod Biddel is a corrupt lawyer, and he’s getting antsy about his number two, Hayes Stewart. Penrod thinks Hayes is getting too big for his britches, so he wants him out of town. Penrod hires Johnny to take care of his problem. Hayes can cool his heels in jail in another state where there’s a warrant out for his arrest. Penrod doesn’t realize his wife Lydia’s been romanced and won by Hayes. Mirroring Johnny and Sally, the two of them are planning their own new life also funded by Penrod’s money. Then their plans go awry.

The City That Never Sleeps (1953): Wally Cassell Performing Mechanically

Gregg is completely oblivious to their drama until he gets to view the second act. He witnesses a murder from his window box. All he can do is be as robotic as possible to save his own life. He needs to keep the murderer thinking that Gregg’s not a real man. The aspect of his job that has dehumanized him the most is what saves his life temporarily. He keeps performing until he can take a break. Meanwhile the murderer isn’t one hundred percent convinced that a dummy was in the window, and he’s going to hang around until he finds out.

City That Never Sleeps (1953): Gig Young & Wally Cassell

The murderer causes more trouble in the club, and this act hits close to home for Johnny. He’s angry, and he needs to catch the criminal now. Gregg isn’t willing to help until Sally explains what has happened. Then Gregg, who’s been the chump of the film until now, commits his act of heroism. He will resume his performance in the window and become live bait for the killer. Gregg needs to commit the best performance of his life in order to keep his own.

Sally finally realizes that Gregg is a good man, and her feelings for him surface. She freaks out about Gregg risking his life. She begs him to stop, to get out of the window, and to save himself. She offers to join his act. Gregg wavers between exhaustion and exhilaration. Sally cares for him! He’s overwhelmed, and he breaks character in one small, but important way. He lets tears fall down his face. His tears are noticed by a couple, and when they comment on them, the murderer overhears. He has to get rid of this witness.

You’ll have to watch the film to learn whether Gregg survives, but if you’ve enjoyed reading my piece, please consider giving to a great cause, the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films, which benefits the Film Noir Foundation. Your contribution will help restore another great film noir. Please click on the Maltese Falcon below to make a donation.

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For the Love of Film (Noir): Christmas Holiday (1944)

Posted in blogathons, film noir, out-of-print-in-the-US with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2011 by Beth Ann Gallagher

Any holiday can bring out the worst in people, but Christmas Holiday really isn’t about the supposedly joyous season. It’s a noir, so how can it be? A soldier’s Christmas leave provides the frame for the story. He”s just been jilted by his sweetheart, and he’s angry, so angry that he has to call upon her and her new husband across the country despite his friend’s warnings to stay away and cool down. Winter weather isn’t very kind to this hothead or his plans and strands him in New Orleans. He’s an easy target for a newspaper reporter who makes extra money leading men astray to the local brothel. There he meets a dark lady. First she fascinates him, and then she serves as his warning sign. She shows him what happens to those who cling to failed love affairs when they should have let go long ago.

Christmas Holiday (1944): Dean Harens, Richard Whorf, & Gladys George

Deanna Durbin can’t escape her singing career in this film. She plays Jackie Lamont the mysterious chanteuse-and-maybe-more of the brothel. In a gown slit to there, she looks grown-up, moody, and hard, yet our hero Lieutenant Charlie Mason (Dean Harens) is still drawn to her. Other men want to meet her, but they’re handed over to other girls working the club. Maybe she’s part of a bait-and-switch ploy, or maybe only the big spenders get her, or maybe what turns out to be another kindly screen madame (Gladys George as Valerie de Merode) protects Jackie. Mason must impress her as being different because she introduces him to Jackie, who’s none too thrilled.

After some dancing and barely chatting, Jackie must decide that Charlie is okay, too. He doesn’t know who she is. He’s some troubled guy on leave. That may make her trust him. She makes him attend midnight mass with her. During the service in the cathedral, she makes the second worst move of any pseudo-date. She breaks down bawling. Charlie does not flee like most strangers would from such a hot mess. He stays and makes sure that she’s alright as someone like her can be.  Since he’s gained her trust, she tells him her real name, Abigail Martin. He has no idea who she is, so she tells him her story.

Her husband Robert Manette (Gene Kelly) is infamous, but she takes Mason and us back to when she first met him. They chance to meet at a musical performance. Nick Hornby was right when he wrote of how anyone who’s passionate about music has known what it is to be lonely. They needed that time alone to develop their bond with and their taste for music. Abigail is a single girl attending a concert by herself. Robert seems to be there half for the music and half for the macking. He’s got a city guy feel that contrasts with her more suburban one. He wears down her defenses with his manic charm, and they become a couple. She has no idea how troubled he is.

Abigail Martin (Deanna Durbin) & Her Mother-in-Law (Gale Sondergaard)

His mother Mrs. Manette (Gale Sondergaard) does, but she never directly tells Martin. She’s so naïve that she misses all the hints, like being told she’ll be good for him, that they will take care of him together. She never onces wonders why these members of a once illustrious family live isolated in their grand old house. Manette is a little man, a momma’s boy who makes messes that his mother cleans up, and Abigail becomes the third wheel to that couple. Robert murders a bookie and finally gets himself into trouble that his mother can’t cover up, and she blames herself and Abigail for failing him.

Deanna Durbin & Gene Kelly Noir Lighting

Formerly lonely Abigail becomes lonely again. With too much time on her hands, she obsesses over her romance and pines for her husband. She becomes a celebrity by her association with him, yet she’s an outcast because she cannot stop loving him. His mother’s words haunt her, and she believes them. She thinks she failed her husband, and she punishes herself by falling lower in society and taking her singing job. It’s as if the contagion of his mother’s pathology has been passed on to her. As the new Mrs. Manette she’s taken over the old sick role.

Deanna Durbin Singing in Christmas Holiday

Charlie has met someone worse off than himself, and his thoughts of Abigail that prevent him from leaving. Momentarily it seems that a romance might brew between the two–if she can get over her husband, but he can’t stay in jail. He’ll never get out for good behavior, so he breaks out, and he’s very mad that his wife has been spending time with another, and he’s not believing they’re platonic friends.

I’ve shared a lot of the plot, so I don’t want to spoil the film’s conclusion, but I do not get the people who think it has a hopeful ending. Look at Dean Harens’s expression at the end. He shows that Charlie is horrified. Sometimes people cannot overcome their obsessions. Sometimes their obsessions do break them. Love transforms, but not everyone is made better by that transformation, especially in the noir world, and I fear Abigail is too far gone.

Deanna Durbin Crying in Christmas Holiday

This post was written as part of the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films. If you’ve enjoyed reading it, please consider giving to a great cause, the Film Noir Foundation. Your contribution will help restore another great film noir. Please click on the Maltese Falcon below to make a donation.

SF Silent Film Festival 6th Annual Winter Event

Posted in film festivals, silent film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by Beth Ann Gallagher

This weekend a friend and I are off to the picture show! We’re attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival‘s 6th Annual Winter Event. I’ve been to all of their summer festivals save one since moving to California, but this will be my first time going to one of their winter events, and this will be my friend’s first time attending as a published author. She’ll be signing copies of her book in between screenings.

On Saturday’s program:

The Rink (Mutual short 1916) Directed by Charles Chaplin Shown: Charles Chaplin

Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin

These three shorts from Chaplin’s brilliant stint at the Mutual Film Corporation are a glimpse into a master perfecting his craft. Some of the most hilarious moments on film by a genius whose physical wit and grace spoke louder than words.  Co-presented by Niles Essanay Film Museum.

L’Argent (1928) at 3:30 PM
Accompanied By: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Directed By: Marcel L’Herbier
Cast: Pierre Alcover, Brigitte Helm, Marie Glory, Yvette Guilbert, Alfred Abel, Henry Victor, Pierre Juvenet, Antonin Artaud

Greed and sex drive Marcel L’Herbier’s adaptation of Emile Zola’s celebrated novel about financial speculation. The excess of the story is mirrored in the filmmaking—opulent sets, breathtaking camerawork, and a rhythm that conveys glamour and modernity. Magnificently restored, this film is a true revelation! Accompanied by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Titles in French with live reading of English translation by Stephen Salmons. Generous support provided by the French Consulate of San Francisco.

La Boheme: Gish & Gilbert Close-up

La Bohème (1926) at 8:00 PM
Accompanied By: Dennis James
Directed By: King Vidor

This eternal romance set in bohemian Paris of the 1830s has been filmed many times, but King Vidor’s classic starring Lillian Gish as Mimi and John Gilbert as Rodolphe is the definitive version. New 35mm print courtesy of Stanford Theatre Foundation and UCLA Film and Television Archive. This is perfect Valentine Day fare for the romantic soul. Co-presented by San Francisco Opera.