Queer Films Blogathon: GLBT Characters in Early Hollywood, Part 2

This part two of my entry for the Queer Films Blogathon held by Garbo Laughs. Part one is here if you didn’t catch it yesterday. Check out all the entries, as they are listed beginning about 10 AM Eastern time this morning. ***  Earlier I listed a few examples of pre-code gay characters, ending with two horror villains who weren’t just evil, they were gay! (“My goodness, Agnes, can it get any worse than that?!”) However, pre-Code horror films weren’t the only ones that used homosexuality to add more sinister layers to the bad guys, to make silly characters more ridiculous. While some pre-Code films might be so blatant in their portrayals they could be called queer films, after the Code, everything was hidden under a few layers of audience-protecting subtext. The first of the three versions of The Maltese Falcon (1931) used the same technique, this time borrowed from the source material. In this 1931 version of the classic crime film, Ricardo Cortez plays detective Sam Spade as a woman-hungry cad who leers when he’s horny and grins when he’s threatening, with hardly any difference between his two expressions.  As the film opens, Spade has just finished boffing one woman in his office. When he sees her off, he turns to kiss his secretary Effie, then walks back into his office to look at the “artistic” female nudes that adorn the walls as another lover, Iva, phones him. His apartment is nearly wallpapered with pictures of women in various … Continue reading

Queer Film Blogathon: Pictures

While you’re waiting for more posts in the Queer Film Blogathon, enjoy these fine photos and links, won’t you? Harvey Fierstein circa 1971. Photographed by Gilles Larrain. Courtesy the now-defunct Chateau Thombeau.   Farley Granger, Jane Powell and Roddy McDowall courtesy The Film Experience: Sal Mineo and Gay Hollywood.   Janet Gaynor and Margaret Lindsay on vacation in Hawaii. Snapshot courtesy Louie at Give Me the Good Old Days.   My favorite of the “Bachelor Hall” photos with Randolph Scott and Cary Grant, courtesy Garbo Laughs: The Curious Case of Cary and Randy.   Lizabeth Scott. More photos at Garbo Laughs.   Dirk Bogarde. See all Dirk all the time at Kate Gabrielle’s Dirk-Bogarde.com.

Queer Films Blogathon: GLBT Characters in Classic Hollywood

This entry is for Garbo Laughs’ Queer Films Blogathon, held June 27. Because my post ran long, I put this part up early and posted the second half Monday, which you can find here.   ***Despite what you may have heard, portrayals of GLBT characters in early and classic Hollywood were not particularly rare, and they were often a lot less hidden or coded than you’ve likely been lead to believe.  Positive portrayals were very rare, of course, but GLBT charcaters have a long and complex history in U.S. films.  There are plenty of examples, and I’m going to give you about two decade’s worth of them; these examples will probably raise questions for which I’m not sure there are any solid answers. The Clara Bow talkie Call Her Savage (1932) is less a movie than a checklist of sexual situations designed to attract viewers to the most sordid spectacle Fox Film Corporation could commit to film without being hauled in front of a panel of angry U.S. senators. After a series of events that include Clara wrestling with an enormous mastiff determined to rip her already barely-there blouse off and a breast-grabbing catfight with Thelma Todd, the appearance of the gay singers at a rough nightclub is no more than another implied perversion to add to the list of Clara’s “throbbing adventures.” The prevailing modern opinion is that this is a gay bar, but that’s (probably) incorrect. The floor show is actually a pansy act, popular entertainment during the … Continue reading

Hotel Monterey (1972)

New York City’s Hotel Monterey was apparently built around 1909, and by the time of Chantal Akerman’s 1972 silent experimental film that features the building as the movie’s sole character, the motel had been turned into lower-rent apartments in the midst of a somewhat run-down neighborhood. Akerman’s stationary cameras capture movement, stillness, patterns, light and shadow with unblinking eyes. From inside one of the Monterey’s art deco elevators, we see the lobby and its original art deco designs, shabby but still fascinating. The camera lingers for many minutes on a single room. We first see the color and composition, but slowly start to identify details: The chipped baseboard, the stain on the curtain, the sloppy paint job. Hotel Monterey in its way is a Warholian screen test for a building, and it seems likely that the film’s overall aesthetic informed later films, such as Kubrick’s The Shining. The building is still there at 94th and Broadway in New York, and is a Duane Reade on the 1st floor with a Days Hotel above. According to reviews, the elevators are the originals, so I hope they kept those art deco designs. Chantal Akerman considers people who define her work as “lesbian film” to be “ghettoizing” her art, and she once declared she would never allow a gay film festival to show her work. However, this was apparently a temporary edict, as her film Les rendez-vous d’Anna was shown at the Third Annual Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival in 1992, but … Continue reading

Ann Pennington, Oscar Levant, and Carole Lombard

Apparently, back in December of 2009, I was completely high. I watched Night Parade (1929) and blogged about it without once realizing that my best sarcastic boyfriend Oscar Levant was in the film. Again, I must assume I was high for days on end to not realize that. The worst part is that I distinctly remember seeing the pianist with Ann Pennington and thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t that be neat if it was Oscar Levant?” Yeah. And I think it would be fun to run a newspaper. Sheesh. The scene from Night Parade in question:   Ann Pennington is the sexy little number dancing her skirt off to the tune… also composed by Oscar. To assuage my embarrassment, I did find a very old photo of Oscar online that shows him somewhere near the year this film was made: Oscar Levant babies! He looks 12! I never would have believed he was ever this young.   Oh and also? The bartender in Night Parade was Heinie Conklin. Also also, I deleted my copy of the movie months ago. Drugs! Drugs are the only explanation I have for these unforgivable oversights. I don’t remember taking drugs, but I must have. Ann Pennington was easily the best human part of this dud of a film — the best part being the fucking amazing art deco, by the way — and her hiked-over-the-hips ostrich feather skirt was stunning. Here is Ann in a costume very similar to what she wore in Night Parade, if … Continue reading

The Roger Corman Blogathon: The Day the World Ended (1955)

This post is for Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear‘s Roger Corman Blogathon. This promises to be a great ‘thon with lots of terrific bloggers contributing. Check it out!   ***Science fiction was firmly entrenched as a popular film genre by the mid 1950s, but Roger Corman was still pretty new at the biz. Angry that he had not gotten credit for story ideas used in The Gunfighter while working at Fox, Corman decided to make movies for himself. In 1954, he began producing his own films, and a year later was directing them. The Day the World Ended was not Corman’s first film. It was not even Corman’s first sci-fi film — that credit goes to The Beast With a Million Eyes. (Golly, that’s a lot of eyes.) But it is arguably the first film were one can see the trademark Corman B-movie approach in full force, less defined but still polished and unmistakeable. One of the facets that makes B-grade 1950s sci-fi efforts so endearing in a campy, eye-rollingly kind of way is the desperate adherence to strict, so-called traditional gender roles. Corman embraces these roles in TDtWE, somewhat surprisingly, as not more than a year later he was upending traditional gender roles in Swamp Women, a movie that both celebrated and objectified women like a G-rated Russ Meyer film. Corman in TDtWE, though, does not stray an inch from conventional gender biases. The characters in this film are defined almost entirely by their gender, with the men taking charge, … Continue reading

The Beautiful and the Bored: Penelope (1966) and Petulia (1968)

  Penelope (Natalie Wood) is a bored housewife who steals things for fun. Her inattentive husband runs a bank, which goes a long way toward explaining her kooky scheme to rob her husband’s bank of $60,000. She confesses this to her psychiatrist (Dick Shawn) and attracts the attention of a police officer (Peter Falk), and they of course both fall in love with this pretty, wacky free spirit. Penelope goes through a series of allegedly funny hijinks and flashbacks and ultimately decides to change her ways. She tries to tell her husband she’s the thief but he won’t believe her, so she plans to return the jewelry she stole from her society friends over the past months, thinking this will prove that she is a thief, but none of them even acknowledge it was theirs in the first place. Her condescending husband is convinced she was lying for attention, the psychiatrist and police officer both know she’s guilty but won’t turn her in, she returns the bank’s money, happy ending, whee. Penelope, like many wacky 1960s comedies, suffers from predictability. The wackiness was forced, Ian Bannen was Mr. Snoozeorama, Natalie Wood didn’t seem to want to be there, etc. etc. etc. However, I had a personal aversion to the film, one I can’t explain all that clearly but which began early on when the psychiatrist (Dick Shawn) says something to the effect of “Depression is a vacation most of us can’t afford to take.” Such sloppy writing. This is a … Continue reading

Already Missing the Daily Mirror

Larry in 2010, recipient of the Courageous Citizens Award. I am heartbroken by this news: The LA Times has put the axe to The Daily Mirror blog. For those who never went, The Daily Mirror was a massive daily blog featuring articles scanned from the archives of the Los Angeles Times newspaper. Every day you could read several entries spanning over 100 years of articles from the Times for that date. Every day would feature columnists, photos, comic strips, history, lost LA buildings, mysteries, advertisements, anything that appeared on the printed page would and could be posted. Larry Harnisch began blogging for the Mirror in April of 2007, but I didn’t find the blog until a couple of years later. And that’s a shame, too, because the first page of Larry’s entries shows so much passion for LA’s history. That passion would continue, of course, but it’s undeniable that the blog became a huge time sink. Yet Larry went out of his way, unasked, to provide me with copies of hundreds (possibly thousands) of LA Times archived articles about Marie Prevost. I could never possibly repay that kindness, or even begin to measure the amount I learned about Hollywood through the Movieland Mystery Photos and all the other articles over the years. It never occurred to me that such a huge blog with so many fans would be turned off because it wasn’t popular enough, yet here we are. It’s an amazing resource, always interesting, and one of the few … Continue reading

SLatIFR’s Summer Quiz

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule is famous for many things: The reviews, the insight, the super spicy nachos, and of course the movie quizzes. I’ve been wanting to do one of these for a long while, but was always stymied on or before question #20 on the list, because I know a lot less about movies than I let on. (Shh!  Don’t tell anyone!)  This time, I am doing the dang quiz, and I will rally on whether I know what I’m talking about or not! Also, please note that the occasional “fuck yous” are not directed toward anyone specific, but are simply used to indicate the general fervor with which I express my opinion. And now, SBBN’s official answers to Professor Ed Avery’s Cortisone-Fueled, Bigger-Than-Life, Super Big Gulp-Sized Summer Movie Quiz! (in 3D where applicable). *** 1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché The gratuitous wedding ring shot irritates the hell outta me. Very big in 1950s and 1960s U.S. cinema, this is the shot where the audience is sure to notice a wedding ring on the hands of the lovers onscreen. It’s somewhat subtle, usually on a hand that is caressing a cheek or sliding along a neck, but its intent is clear: To assure all good Christian Americans that the two liplocked lovebirds are married in the eyes of God and man. You can still catch it on TV commercials nowadays, especially the ones for erectile dysfunction drugs. Edward Everett Horton, … Continue reading

No More Ladies (1935) redux

Somehow, I ended up with a pile of great promotional photos for No More Ladies, so here they are. How’s that for an introduction? “I gots some pictures. Look at them, dammit!” This collar haunts me in my nightmares. Personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead near food in that gown. Or inks or liquids or excitable schoolboys, for that matter. By George Hurrell.