It’s The Pictures That Got Small

The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story has become one of my favorite movies. A great cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Roland Young, John Halliday and the impish Virginia Weidler. Socialite Tracy Lord has just unceremoniously split with her husband ship builder C. Dexter Haven over his drinking and her extremely high standards. The first scene alone is worth the entire movie-Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is obviously angry when she carries C. Dexter Haven’s (Cary Grant) golf clubs out to his car and throws them to the ground, but not before pulling one out and breaking it in half over her knee. Once she turns and stomps back in the front door, Haven follows behind her, and makes a move like he’s about to deck her, but instead takes his hand and shoves her face, which pushes her down to the floor. This sets up their relationship for the entire movie. Fast forward two years and Tracy is now engaged to George Kitteridge, a wealthy man who is aiming for a career in politics. Kitteridge is the complete opposite of Dexter-very proper, adheres to rules of polite society and is not a fan of C. Dexter Haven. It is the day before Tracy’s marriage to George and Dexter is hanging around the Lord mansion to the delight of Tracy’s younger sister Dinah. Dinah is team-Dexter all the way. She is not a fan of George and is determined to find a way, any way to stop the wedding even if it means finding a way to get small pox! Virginia Weidler as Dinah is a treasure in this film-from her entrance meeting James Stewart’s Macaulay Connor and Ruth Hussey’s Liz Imbrie in toe shoes, to her singing a delightfully off-color song called “Lydia the Tattoo’d Lady” while Stewart and Imbrie look at each other with “what is going on here?!” It is a 3-ring circus at the Lord’s to begin with! Dexter has plans of his own and the reason Connor and Imbrie are at the Lord’s for Tracy’s wedding is to spy on the proceedings for him. It is also a trade off so that the magazine doesn’t publish more scandalous details of Tracy’s fathers affair. Dexter’s wedding gift to Tracy is a model of the boat they once owned, the True Love. “She was yar.” Tracy is upset when Dex says he intends to sell the boat.

The performances of both Hepburn and Stewart really stand out to me. The role of Tracy Lord was written for Hepburn and she relishes this role with her choices as every phrase is carefully crafted with pauses, tones and a giggle that is fun to listen to. Written by Philip Barry for the stage and then the screen there are so many sides to the personality of Tracy Lord. She may get perturbed by Dexter, but she is not chasing him away from her home and marriage to Kitteridge. She seems to delight in the presence of Connor and Imbrie at her wedding. (Their cover story is they are friends with Tracy’s brother Junius.). She and Stewart get very drunk at the party the night before and find themselves very attracted to each other. When Stewart gets a ride over to C. Dexter Haven’s house and proceeds to calling his name over and and over again in a sing-songy voice is hilarious. On Tracy’s part, alcohol fuels her feelings, but Connor seems to be truly smitten. Unfortunately carrying Tracy back to the main house after a night of swimming is too much for George and he assumes an affair has taken place. To protect Tracy’s honor Connor proposes. Tracy is level-headed enough to say no, partly because she is very aware that Liz Imbrie is in love with Connor. Besides, she still loves Dex although she won’t admit it. Yet. At this point with the wedding to Kitteridge off and the house full of guests, Dexter suggests they carry through with the wedding ceremony they were supposed to have had when they eloped. There was never any doubt that Tracy would marry Dexter over Kitteridge. Tracy has too much passion, too much to explore than to not have any say so in her life. George wanted her to stay home and raise their children. There is definitely more adventure and a world to explore with Dex. It is truly a no-brainer.

Gilbert Roland as their Uncle Willie, the fiendish pincher, is a great character part and humorously assumes the role of Tracy’s father who was not invited to the wedding. He also hasn’t been living in the Lord Mansion. Tracy’s real father is played by John Halliday. His transgression: he is rumored to have been involved with a chorus girl. This is very scandalous and it is obvious that George has not met Seth Lord as he is not aware that Uncle Willie is Uncle Willie. Tracy has been especially hard on her father regarding this scandal and while her mother is willing to take him back and forgive, Tracy’s high standards won’t allow it. He comes to the house anyway and subjects himself to some insults before Tracy finally forgives him. John Halliday has been in some great pre-code films “Millie”, “Consolation Marriage” and “Age of Consent” to name a few.

This film is from 1940, made after Hepburn was labeled “Box Office Poison” by American Theater owners. “The Philadelphia Story” was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture (Joseph Mankiewicz), Best Director (George Cukor), Best Actor (James Stewart), Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Hussey), Best Screenplay (David Ogden Stewart). Stewart won Best Actor and David Ogden Stewart won for Best Screenplay. It is unfortunate that Hepburn lost to Ginger Rogers for “Kitty Foyle”. Hepburn’s range in this film is exceptional.

This is a must-see film!


It’s The Pictures That Got Small

“Romance” with Greta Garbo

This is another “pre-code” film from 1930. It’s the second talkie that Garbo made after “Anna Christie”. Directed by Clarence Brown, (the theater at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville is named after him), Lewis Stone of Andy Hardy fame plays Garbo’s “benefactor” and Clara Blandick from “The Wizard of Oz” plays one of the servants. Both Stone and Blandick made a lot of films in the 1930’s. This story is told in flashbacks by an elderly man to his son who is planning on marrying an actress. In the flashback the old man is in love with an Italian opera singer and he happens to be the rector. Marrying an actress or performer of any kind was frowned upon. What makes this pre-code? Garbo’s character is rumored to be living with a man who is not her husband. As the story moves along, she’s actually a “kept” woman of Van Tuyl, played by Stone. Van Tuyl states that he is 51 and Garbo was 25 when she made this film, so the age difference makes it all the more scandalous.

In more films than not, Garbo is a woman who either can’t love a man for some reason or she has ruined a man’s life someway. And they are always so smitten with her they tend to do stupid things to stay with her. She falls in love with the rector here, but she can’t tell him about her past or current situation, but she can’t stay away from him either. Of course she knows there is no way he will marry her after she reveals more of her back story: she was in love with a young man when she was 16, who then “sold her” to an Englishman. There is a moment when the rector says that he can forgive her because it was so long ago. However, she isn’t being completely honest; she is still with the said Englishman, Lewis Stone! They part and she is to perform in an opera that night. In true Garbo style, she can’t possibly go on! But she is convinced she must and in a pretty prominent spot in the theater sits the rector, who cringes in his seat as she sings. He comes to see her later, declaring that he can “save her”. Perhaps because she has been a kept woman he feels as though she will be willing to be sexual with him as he begins to force himself on her. Suddenly he feels remorse and leaves her. The final shot in this sequence is Garbo standing in front of the fireplace in a long gown with her head tilted back as the camera pans back away from her. Very dramatic! Fast forward to the present-the rector is now an old man (from the beginning of the film) and he shares that he never saw her again and read that she had died. He tells his son to follow his heart of all things. He doesn’t discourage him from marrying the actress. That is kind of a surprise ending to a film in 1930.

I love Garbo-she is enigmatic, exotic and wears designs by Adrian well. You just never see her happy in most of her films or if you do it is short-lived. She plays melodramatic well, excelling in the art of displaying agony on her face. It’s early Garbo, her English (and Italian) accents a little rough, but there is something about her when she’s on the screen. You can’t look away from her.

Yes, it was worth watching!

It’s The Pictures That Got Small

Pre-Code Films/Rockabye with Constance Bennett

February 7, 2023

I’ve truly expanded my film love into genres and time periods. This week TCM has been all about Pre-Code so far. Pre-code films are those from about 1930/31-1934 before the production code was enforced. You’ll see lots of eye-popping things in a pre-code; today’s film, “Rockabye” from 1932 with Constance Bennett and Joel McRae, involved unmarried women adopting children, pre-martial sex, drinking (this was prohibition) and very suggestive conversation. George Cukor directed this film, based on the play “Rockabye” by Lucia Bronder. Judy Carroll is an actress of the stage who has gotten herself involved with an embezzler and is seen at the beginning of the film testifying on behalf of her former lover. As Judy Carroll, Bennett is dressed in furs and long gowns, a real clothes horse. It doesn’t hurt that her figure is so thin that the furs envelope her frame. I especially like the fur coat and muff she is wearing in the opening scene. She comes across tough on the witness stand, but her mention of the orphanage where her about-to-be adopted daughter has come from, ensures that the adoption is doomed. Once she realizes that the orphanage is about to take her baby back because of the negative publicity, she has no choice but to turn the adorable tot over. Judy Carroll has several staff who help her take care of the little girl including Clara Blandick (Auntie ‘Em, Wizard of Oz) and Judy is both playful and affectionate with her but not truly maternal in my opinion. It isn’t known how long the girl has been in her care, as Lilybet refers to her as ‘“Judy”, not mommy. However, watching Lilybet bawling as she is being taken away screaming “I want to stay with Judy” is enough to rip your heart out.

An older woman who has been drinking out an hidden flask causing a stir in the courtroom scenes is revealed to be her mother “Snooks” and there are several scenes where she is snockered and hilarious. Jobyna Howland plays “Snooks”. Paul Lukas plays her agent Tony de Sola and Joel McRae plays Jacob Van Riker Pell, the screenwriter who has written a play that is a roman a clef of her life titled ‘Rockabye”. Pell is married, but about-to- be divorced when he is introduced to Judy. As Tony, Paul Lukas is not exactly subtle about how he feels about Judy and watches helplessly as Judy falls for the almost-divorced Jake. Judy and Jake fall for each other over the course of the first evening they are together as Judy sings, dances, and charms her way into his heart. It’s hard not to like Judy. He proposes marriage to her as soon as his divorce is final. Unfortunately, Jake never appears at the opening of “Rockabye” as his about-to-be ex is expecting a baby. Jakes mom convinces Judy to forget about him. When Jake gets to the theater he is still set on marrying her, but Judy insists he return to his wife and newborn baby. Losing Lilybet was a lesson to her that children are worth the sacrifice. Fortunately, Tony is waiting in the wings and he finally tells her how he feels about her.

It’s hard not to like Constance Bennett. In this film her personality is shown as fun-loving, extroverted and open. She really cares about Lilybet, but when she is taken back to the orphanage Judy and Snooks take a trip to Europe to forget about her loss. When she comes back she discovers that Lilybet has been adopted but Tony has seen to it that she can see Lilybet whenever she wants to. She doesn’t seem as distraught as you might think, but she is sad. The little girl is played by June Filmer. June was born in 1929, so in this film she is 3 years old. She was in several films during the 1930’s including Little Women (1933), One Man’s Journey (1933) and Honeymoon Unlimited (1935). She died in 2008. Joel McRae was married to Francis Dee from 1933 until his death in 1990. He shows up in a several pre-code films as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent in 1940. He continued to make films until 1976.

Constance Bennett is one of the famous Bennett acting family, which includes sisters Barbara and Joan and her father Richard. Interestingly enough, through Bennett’s sister Barbara, one of her nephews was Morton Downey Jr. Bennett married 5 times and died in 1965. Other Constance Bennett films to check out: The Common Law, What Price Hollywood? (This is probably the original story on which A Star Is Born was based), Lady With A Past, Our Betters (more about this interesting film at another point), After Office Hours, Topper and her last film was Madame X in 1966. In my opinion Constance is the more beautiful of the sisters and like Kay Francis, is considered a clothes horse in every film she appears in.