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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

RKO's Carefree

The 8th pairing of Fred and Ginger brings us RKO's Carefree co-starring Jack Carson and one of my favorite side players, Ralph Bellamy on loan from Columbia. Fred is Dr. Tony, a psychiatrist who is asked by Stephen (Bellamy) to analyze his fiancee Amanda (Rogers). 

The title intro to this film is extremely unique with finger painting to spell out the players and play makers.  

Amanda keeps putting off the wedding, so Tony agrees to analyze his pal's girl. Before he meets her, he takes down a few verbally recorded anecdotal notes predicting her behavior...they aren't nice.

Amanda is optimistic about her visit with the doctor until she is left alone in his office. There she  stumbles upon Tony's recordings and she is furious! Once Tony returns, the visit does not go well and Amanda now loathes him. After some persuading, Stephen convinces Tony to see Amanda again and he agrees. This time at the country club, where Amanda, who is still not over it, mocks Tony when she sees him play golf.

 Sport shooting is always better when you're dripping in jewels.

Dr. Tony tries some fancy golfing footwork to smooth things over with Amanda, still unaware what went wrong. Tony finally realizes why Amanda is so mean to him when they meet up for a bike ride. She tells him how she listened to his notes, and Tony apologizes. Then they become pals and Tony tries to find out why Amanda is hesitant to marry Stephen.

The patterned tie top, white shorts, and frayed sunhat, love the look Amanda!

After some analyzing and dancing (naturally), Amanda agrees to try a dream technique to dive into her subconscious and help her get to the root of her problems. 

Take a look at this room! This film was art directed by the great Van Nest Polglase (whom we will do a special write up later) and set decorated by Darrell Silvera. Hand painted murals over the fireplace, rounded puff couch, scone lighting.... and this set is in the film for less than 5 minutes.

The next scene takes us to the restaurant where Tony orders "dream inducing foods" which should help Amanda enter swiftly into dreamland so Dr. Tony can analyze away. I love this scene! They order lobster with "gobs" of mayonnaise, shrimp cocktail with whipped cream, and cucumbers in buttermilk! The waiter can't believe it. 

 Instead of hugging the toilet all night, Amanda goes to sleep and dreams...but of Tony! This fun dream sequence has them frolicking in a garden with a lovely painted backdrop.

When Amanda wakes up she very well can't tell Tony that she dreamed about him. Eventually she spills the beans to Tony that she is in love with him and he freaks out. He is trying to get her to marry Stephen! He talks her into letting him hypnotize her so that she will hate him and love Stephen and it works. Trouble is, she gets out while still "under" and goes to work doing a radio spot while under Tony's spell.  A hot mess for Amanda, but very amusing to us.

Just like the eyeball top Rosalind Russell wears in "The Women", I can't get over this heart and arrow sweater!

In the process, and while trying to figure our a way to get all involved out of this pickle, Tony has some self reflection and realizes that he loves Amanda too. What about his friendship with Stephen?  He has already convinced Amanda that she loves Stephen, is it too late?

Before the wedding, Tony must decide if he wants to set the record straight or let Amanda marry Stephen under the arranged spell.

Carefree was nominated for three Oscars for art direction, musical scoring, and original song - the now well known "Change Partners and Dance With Me". Alas it won none. This film was intended to have a Technicolor scene, the number called "I Used to Be Color Blind", but after testing the quality was not up to par and the idea was scrapped. This is the only Ginger and Fred film where Astaire's character is not in show business. I find this film to be cute and delightful as a Fred and Ginger show. A definite favorite in my book!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Art Directors Maurice Ransford and Lyle R. Wheeler: The Boys of Twentieth Century Fox

I've spoken about the great Cedric Gibbons and Edwin B. Willis here on The Affair, and although I am a huge fan of their work, I also cannot exclude the dream team over at Fox, Maurice Ransford and Lyle R. Wheeler.  

Some of my favorite films were art directed by these men, and separately and collaboratively they created some of the best and well known sets in Hollywood. Ransford joined Fox in 1940 and Wheeler came in 1944, both working together inclusively until Wheeler left Fox in the 1950s.  

Maurice Ransford was born in Indiana in 1896. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in architecture and worked as one for over 10 years. He joined Twentieth Century Fox in 1940 and quickly became art director. He worked at Fox for 21 years until his retirement in 1961. 

Ransford was an architect first and foremost, and used these skills in his time as art director using real blueprints, and constructing sets with detail and stability. He was nominated for three Academy Awards for Titanic, The Foxes and Harrow, and Leave Her To Heaven. He died in San Diego in 1968 at the age of 72.

Lyle R. Wheeler was born in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in architecture from USC. He worked as a magazine illustrator and industrial designer before joining MGM in 1931. Wheeler worked as a layout artist for Cedric Gibbons and was quickly promoted to assistant art director. In 1939 he worked on Gone With the Wind designing sets for Tara and suggesting they light the old sets from King Kong and King of Kings on fire for the film's burning of Atlanta scenes. 

He joined Fox in 1944 as supervising art director and became head of the department. There he worked until 1960 with his last film being the Marilyn Monroe picture, Let's Make Love. He was nominated for 29, yes 29 Oscars, and won 6 notably for Gone With the Wind and The King and I. 

Wheeler fell on hard times in his later years and had to sell his home and put his awards in a storage unit, which he then couldn't pay for and was auctioned off. The Oscars were lost. An empathetic stranger reached out and helped him retrieve at least one of them before his death in 1990 at the age of 84.

Personally my favorite work of these fellas is definitely Leave Her To Heaven. Five minutes into the film you know that their work is something special. The art deco train car in the opening scene, the three homes Gene Tierney's character Ellen inhabits are unique and grand in their own rights. 

I recall the first time I saw this film I quickly tried to research if the Back of the Moon Lodge was a real place and if that cabin was still standing. Nope, this amazing place was the handiwork of Ransford and Wheeler built on Bass Lake in Northern California, and it was, sadly, just a set. 

Another huge favorite is the set from 1957's Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Gig Young, and Joan Blondell. Taking place in New York City, these sets are stunning, mid century eye candy. Who wouldn't want to work in this environment? 

The King and I's grand exterior and interior sets:

1953's Titanic:

I'm thinking James Cameron dug up the old story boards for his 1997 version, they look so similar! 
With much effort I could not find any images of Maurice Ransford, which is a shame since he was so successful. Perhaps because Wheeler had such a long standing career there were more images available. There must have been more cameras around him at the time!