Monday, June 26, 2023

From 1943, The Gang's All Here

If technicolor and over sized fruit are your thing, then 1943's The Gang's All Here is for you. Part of Twentieth Century Fox's Latin phase with Busby Berkeley at the helm, The Gang's All Here is a showcase of over the top musical numbers, colorful wardrobes thanks to Yvonne Wood, and plenty of drama. Our players are Alice Faye and James Ellison with the always entertaining Charlotte Greenwood and Carmen Miranda. This film follows your typical love story with entertaining dance numbers pieced in between. While entertaining, this film starts to become a contest to see how many crazy outfits Carmen Miranda can wear in one film. But let's take a closer look...

Andy (Ellison) is a solider and has a long time honey, Vivian(Sheila Ryan). Before shipping out, Andy meets Edie (Faye) while she is working her gig at the night club. We see the first of many shows starring Carmen Miranda as she parades around with bananas and Brazilian men. Andy follows Edie around and won't leave her alone after she tells him she isn't interested. After a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, she gives in and changes her mind.

"I have two girlfriends now!"

"You don't say!"

After a few hours of romance, Edie falls hard. Andy forgets to tell his girlfriend about his new love and ships off to war. Edie is devastated, but the show must go on.

Is that a hat or a scarf?

 Andy is coming home after winning some medals, and his rich father wants to throw a war bond fundraiser when he finds out. He hires the club to come stay at his partner Potter's estate while they iron out the fundraiser details.  Potter (played by Edward Everett Horton whom I always enjoy) only drinks lemonade and is a bit of a square. He objects to this swinging party but is talked into it. Potter's daughter also happens to be Andy's girlfriend Vivan. Following along?

I'm wearing more color! No, I am!

Vivian rocking the two belt look.

The show finally gets underway and Edie finds out that her man is also Vivian's man. She is upset but doesn't tell sweet Vivian. Dorita (Carmen Miranda) does her best to keep this a secret. Vivian is excited because she gets to be in the show after mother blackmails her hubby into allowing it.

Andy returns home and the evening gets started. Busby Berkeley does his magic and puts on quite a show. 

Before the end, Edie learns her fate. A definite bonus is that of Benny Goodman and his orchestra playing themselves. Berkeley was on loan from MGM to make this film, and the first for him using the three strip technicolor process. He does not hold back. The colors in this film are fantastic, whether it be the many gowns, sets by Thomas Little, who did one of my favorite film sets, Leave Her To Heaven

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Roman Holiday, By All Means, Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday holds a special place in my heart. I was nine years old visiting my grandparents in Arizona where after days of swimming I announced I was bored. My grandmother, Olive, said she would put on a movie. I was excited until - ugg - a black and white movie. Boring. Nine year old me had no interest. Fifteen minutes later however I was hooked and I wanted to see more of this Audrey Hepburn. The trajectory for my love of old Hollywood had begun. I went on to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's and Sabrina. My grandmother must have had the box set. The rest is history. 

This was Audrey's first major role. The entire cast and crew halted production until Audrey's gig playing Gigi on Broadway was over. She had made a commitment, and Paramount really wanted this star in the making, so production started once she was available.

 This film is the classic story of a princess who escapes the castle to find love. Audrey plays Princess Ann on tour in Rome and is tired of her royal duties. She wants to dance and enjoy life like a commoner, and during an episode is given some sleeping pills from the royal doctor. Once alone, Princess Ann escapes the Colosseum and sets out to have some fun. Problem is, her meds are kicking in, and she finds herself asleep on a city bench.

 Enter Gregory Peck. He plays Joe Bradley, an American news reporter who after losing what was left of his money, stumbles upon Ann. He thinks she is drunk and tries to send her on he way, but ends up taking her home (pretty risque for 1953) out of pity. She takes the couch and he takes the bed. The next day Joe learns of her identity and does what he can to get a news story out of her while going along with her story about being a student playing hooky. The holiday begins.

When I ever get to Rome I will be doing my best to copy this outfit Audrey wears right down to the sandals. So chic.

While Gregory tries to get the story of a lifetime and boost his post at the newspaper, he (gasp!) falls in love with Ann. They drink champagne, get into a bar fight, tour the city, and are even arrested by the police for speeding in a Vespa. With help from photog Eddie Albert, the men capture a princess living her life like she always dreamed. They have their story, and with pictures too. But should Joe publish them? It's clear that Ann is in love with Joe, but what about her people that depend on her as their leader?

In the end, they fall in love and get married. Just kidding, not in this movie. There is a somber and unexpected ending to Roman Holiday, but it makes the movie even more splendid because it is real.

 Audrey and Gregory began a strong friendship after this film that lasted until her untimely death. He knew she was going to be a huge star after the release of this film, and once principle production completed he insisted Audrey share top billing with him, even though he was a well known and established actor. His agent thought he was crazy, but he insisted. 

This film won Audrey her first and last Academy Award for Best Actress. Roman Holiday also won for best costumes (Edith Head) and screenplay. Dalton Trumbo wrote Roman Holiday, but was not allowed to take credit due to being blacklisted for not cooperating with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ian McLellan Hunter fronted for Trumbo and accepted the award. Forty some years later Trumbo was honorably credited as the writer and Oscar winner. 

Audrey temporarily lost her Oscar after winning and after some fretful minutes, the award was found in the ladies room and returned to the proud Hollywood newcomer. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Red Dust: Southeast Asia and Slinky Gowns

Currently fixated on the film Red Dust, MGM's hit from 1932 starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Mary Astor. Lots of drama occurred during the production of this film (which we will talk about later on),  but what always astounds me is the setting and the costumes from this film and how they juxtapose each other so well, and so...weirdly. 

This film takes place in Southeast Asia during the early 30's, with Gable being the head honcho at a rubber making plant. He has many native workers and shacks up in a pretty nice place considering he is in the middle of nowhere. The house has Swiss Family Robinson vibes, with wood paneled walls, awning windows, and rolling doors. The decor is simple but quaint with basic furniture, simple curtains, and comfy small beds. Yes beds, as in plural, for this rubber plant has many visitors. 

Two of these visitors are Jean Harlow and Mary Astor. Harlow is on her way to Singapore where she gets dropped at the plant and has to stick around until the next ride comes. Astor is an unexpected tag-a-long with her hubby who is there to do some work with Gable. Both of them packed for a pleasure cruise. 

The costumes for this film where done by Adrian, which as the chief costumer at MGM makes sense, but in this film, he goes full force with the actress's wardrobe and forgets completely that this is not your average song and dance picture. All outfits worn by Harlow and Astor are to the nines, with satin biased cut nighties, lace and feather trim robes, and well constructed dresses with all the accessories to go with it. Perfect for the jungle. Harlow's character is supposedly a prostitute, but it is very subtly explained. She has a bubbly personality and a temper to match. Her costumes for her character fit the part, with 30's floral dresses and satin lounge wear. 

Astor's character is high strung and a bit stuffy, and her outfits are expensive, clean, and simple. Adrian really understood the personalities of these women when he dressed them, hence why he is the master. Maybe he had some left over pieces from filming Grand Hotel, which was made the same year.

What really seems a bit odd though, is these women are outfitted for life in the city. Both characters knew they would be in the middle of nowhere where it rains profusely and is humid for days when they packed. The men in this film are always sweaty and wiping their faces throughout the film, yet Harlow and Astor look dry as can be! Imagine Katharine Hepburn on the African Queen wearing a frilly biased cut dress with a hat and belt, chugging down the river in Africa. In this film, it is a similar setting but with a high class suitcase.  In 1953's Mogambo, which was basically a remake of Red Dust, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner are feminine and colorful, yet their outfits are a bit more appropriate for the surroundings, but alas, another film, another decade, another vision.

"How do these women stay so fresh?"

Red Dust looks exotic with tigers, unexpected rainstorms, and plants everywhere. This film was actually done at the studio. Unlike it's counterpart Mogambo, which was filmed in Kenya and had tons of exterior B-roll of native tribes, jungle animals, and Kenya's beautiful scenery, Red Dust used what it had to make this film come alive. Cedric Gibbons did a great job disguising the set to match the film, and dressing the sets. 

This was the second of six films that Gable and Harlow would work on during her short career, their first being The Secret Six a year before. This filming for this picture proved to be one to remember. Harlow's husband Paul Bern committed suicide (as they say) during the filming of Red Dust, which not only made shooting for Harlow difficult but put pressure on the studio. She took ten days off and they shot around her to finish the film. Louis B. Mayer wanted to remove Harlow from the film, as he knew rumors about her husband's death would become an issue. He tried very hard but in the end was supportive of her once he learned that fans felt sympathy for Harlow and were encouraged to see her on screen. Mayer told director Victor Fleming to hurry and finish the film so they could profit off of the public's interest. Not very sympathetic, but he was running a studio. 

This film was made pre-code and it is apparent. The love triangle between the characters is very sexy for the time. There are several make out scenes where Harlow is horizontal on a bed while she is being kissed - the audacity! A famous scene that proves there were no rules at this point is when Harlow is bathing in a barrel and Gable pushes her underwater. Harlow is topless, and even though you see nothing, it is very suggestive for the time. Allegedly Jean stood up bare chested right before a cut and shouted, "Here's one for the boys in the lab!" This was referring to the men who were editing the film. Fleming removed the film from the camera before any chance of it getting out to the public could happen. 



Donald Crisp, Jean, Clark, and Mary double checking that script.