Warner Archive Grab Bag #3: The Bette Davis Edition

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Parachute Jumper (1933) This is a film I first watched last summer, having discovered it on a disc a friend had sent me years and years ago when I originally announced my Bette Davis Project. And folks, if you ever need proof that the studios knew exactly what was considered salacious in the day and added it to their films to bring in the crowds, Parachute Jumper is the film for you. It’s all here, everything from toilet flushes to Frank McHugh flipping people off, and with a game but slightly lost Bette Davis in the middle of it, during her platinum blonde early days when she was still flashing glimpses of herself in nothing but a slip. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is Bill Keller, and he and his buddy Toodles Cooper (Frank McHugh; who else would play a guy named Toodles Cooper?) are former Marines out looking for work. They stumble across Patricia Brent (Bette Davis), also looking for work. She’s from a small town in Alabama, hence her nickname, and cute as a button, so Bill invites her to stay with them, to at least share the rent. She agrees, and wacky hijinks ensue. Eventually Bill makes some money as a demonstration parachutist, though the job scares Alabama — and given the state of aviation in 1933, her fear seems perfectly reasonable to me — so he tries to find less neck-breaking work. He ends up in the employ of a drug-dealing gangster’s moll, and does more than just … Continue reading

Revisit: Front Page Woman (1935) from Warner Archive

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Several years ago, when The SBBN Bette Davis Project was still in its infancy, I reviewed the early Bette programmer Front Page Woman (1935). In short, I didn’t like it. Filmed immediately after Bette’s The Girl From 10th Avenue, Warner Bros. saw fit to use six of the same cast members and at least two of the same sets, as well as a plot that was a slightly madcap version of the films Kay Francis was assigned that same year, up to and including the same male co-star. Bette is Ellen Garfield, reporter assigned to the execution of a singer convicted of murdering her lover. Ellen’s boyfriend Curt (George Brent), also a reporter, tries to talk her out of attending the execution. In fact, he wants her to stop working altogether and get married like a good woman should. She refuses, but faints dead away after the execution, so he writes her story for her as she recovers. A mix-up causes both his paper and hers to run the same story, nearly getting them both fired. Instead, it spurs an intense rivalry where Ellen promises to uncover the murderer in a high-society crime case, and Curt bets her that she can’t, and if he wins, she must quit her career and marry him. It’s all supposed to be a romantic comedy, but Michael Curtiz can’t help but inject some hard-boiled journalistic action into the film while at the same time allowing the most outrageous, unbelievable courtroom antics, and ultimately it … Continue reading

Winter Meeting (1948)

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The later films from Bette Davis’ studio years are always so interesting, because her real life had intruded so heavily into her working life and Hollywood image that she was forced into a sort of typecasting, being suited — at least according to studios and audiences — only for characters with a hard edge to them, women who had lived expansive and interesting lives. Hollywood has always been about physical appearance, and around 1941, Bette began to age quickly, as has been noted more times than anyone cares to count. Her voice deepened, her eyelids grew heavier, and her every movement conveyed a bitter East Coast weariness. And it all happened within just a few short years; a hairstyle that in 1941′s The Great Lie looked terrific on her was completely age inappropriate less than five years later. This was never more evident than in Mr. Skeffington (1944). Bette was a hard drinker and heavy smoker, and it showed to the extent that her earlier scenes as Fannie Skeffington were more than a little strained. Beyond that, her husband Arthur Farnsworth had died suddenly just prior to filming, which understandably aged her. His strange death after falling on a sidewalk on Hollywood Blvd. at such a young age caused a sensation. Rumors were rife that Bette and Arthur had a terrific public row which ended with her pushing him down a flight of stairs at their home. Those rumors turned into an inquest, and though Bette was cleared, to this … Continue reading

Bette’s Got It All

After browsing through a few hundred of saved pictures of Bette Davis, as one often does in the wee hours of the morning, I stumbled across this little number labeled “unidentified:” Unidentified? Hardly! It’s a promotional still (in color!) of Bette’s turn in a 1959 episode of “Wagon Train” entitled “The Elizabeth McQueeny Story,” where she grits her teeth, shows off her gams and sweeps the cleaned-up Robert Strauss off his smarmy feet. Now is a good time to mention that all the previous Bette Davis Project posts have been moved over here, for your convenience and enjoyment. More are coming, and soon.

Camp & Cult Blogathon: Where Love Has Gone (1964)

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Mild trigger warning for attempted rape/ravishment in the film which is discussed later in this summary. Also, spoilers for Where Love Has Gone. Big ones. *** It occurs that I never announced the winners of the Reader’s Poll: There was a tie between Where Love Has Gone and Lace, so I hope to do both. Lace will be a bit tricky since it’s a miniseries of approximately 93 hours in length, but Where Love Has Gone? That’s an easy one, or so I thought until I started writing this post. Of the plethora of 1960s mainstream soap-opera-esque campfests, Where Love Has Gone is one of my favorites, right up there with Susan Slade and Valley of the Dolls and, yes, even Peyton Place, which this film mimics in tone and subject matter. There is just so much to say about this film, so many really problematic things to unpack and trashy doin’s to make fun of, that one could go on all day. First, the cast of this film is Fab. U. Lous. Bette Davis, Mike Connors and Susan Hayward star, along with Joey Heatherton, Jane Greer, DeForest Kelley, George Macready, Anne Seymour, Whit Bissell, and others. Now, many of these actors are given thankless roles, but it’s great just to see Macready and Greer in any roles later in their careers. As you can see, this film counts as part of the Bette Davis Project, which I am still doing and will discuss in more detail in October when … Continue reading

The Bette Davis Project #16: Wagon Train, “The Elizabeth McQueeny Story”

Bette Davis guest starred in three episodes of “Wagon Train,” and BBFF Ivan tipped me off to a rerun of her second appearance in “The Elizabeth McQueeny Story”. This 1959 episode featured Ward Bond in the lead as wagon master Seth Adams leading a wagon train to, er, somewhere in the west. I don’t really know. Bette looks like she’s going to laugh when she makes her appearance as the fabulous Madame Elizabeth McQueeny, matron to 10 lovely girls who are going west to establish a finishing school. They come with high recommendations and are to accompany the train as it heads west. It takes a few days but Adams, being the smartest of the bunch, figures out that the Madame is actually planning on setting up a dance hall. Those aren’t students, they’re dancing goils! Acting, theater, and dance halls seem to be used as euphemisms for cat houses and prostitutes, but sometimes when the show says “dancer,” it really means “dancer.” Made for kind of an uneven episode, but there was some fun dialogue: ADAMS: “You’ll be entertaining a lot of men.” ELIZABETH: “I am a lot of woman.” Soon after setting out, the train runs into a group of native peoples who turn over a bedraggled and soused man who claims to be one Count Roberto de Falconi, played by Robert Strauss, who is epically hot in this episode. He’s no Animal Kasava here, is what I’m sayin’. Bette looks pretty damn great herself, although I notice … Continue reading

The Bette Davis Project #15: The Star (1952)

The Star tries so hard to be the All About Eve of film, to mix real life with cinematic license, but it never quite succeeds at its lofty intentions. It’s possible The Star was conceived as pastiche, but I truly doubt it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile film, because it is campy and fun and sometimes ridiculous, with one incredible scene that makes the boring worth trudging through. Bette plays aging film actress Margaret Elliot (sheesh, just call her Margo already). We see her as she stands sadly outside an auction house as her belongings are sold to pay her numerous debts. She catches her own agent leaving the auction with some of her stuff, which is hilarious in the same way Bette waiting for Anita Louise to die in That Certain Woman is. Margaret wants the lead in the upcoming film The Fatal Winter and insists her agent works on it for her, but you get the feeling he won’t. Afterward, she heads to her ex-husband’s house to visit her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood). Gretchen wants to go back to living with her mother, but because of financial concerns she can’t. Gretchen also insists that the kids at school bully her because Margaret isn’t really a star, which doesn’t seem particularly likely, but Gretchen has to be put-upon and that’s her particular cross to bear, apparently. Before Margaret leaves, her ex’s new wife accosts her with the “I didn’t steal your husband, you totally lost him on … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #13: That Certain Woman (1937)

“That Certain Woman” (1937) was the 3rd of a group of Bette movies I watched all in one night and was, by far, my favorite. Sadly, my copy of the film is poor, which you’ll confirm by looking at my screencaps. It’s available on DVD now but at a hefty price, so I won’t be getting a good copy of this any time soon. But if you get a chance to see this film, do! “That Certain Woman” is one of the few 1930s Bette melodramas that distinguishes itself from the others that so often feel like Kay Francis’ castoffs. For some reason, the copy TCM has covers the edges of the title screen with a grey border so you can’t see the usual “First National Picture” credit on the bottom. No idea why. I assume it’s a re-release print with some copyright issue. The plot of “That Certain Woman” is compelling in a way that your usual WB programmer isn’t. Bette is Mary Donnell, who we first see going to the cemetery on a cold, rainy evening in 1933. She’s followed there by a reporter who confronts her: She’s the former Mrs. Al Haines, widowed exactly 4 years earlier when her gangster husband was killed in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. The reporter is doing a “where are they now” series on people involved in the massacre, but Mary won’t have anything to do with it. She’s got a job as a secretary now, a new life, and is … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #12: Front Page Woman (1935)

“Front Page Woman” was released a mere six weeks after “The Girl from 10th Avenue”, and it shows. These two programmers share 6 cast members and even some of the same sets. Long-time readers will remember how tired I have become of George Brent playing the guy trying to keep a woman in the home where she belongs. Well, folks, “Front Page Woman” is by far the worst offender in that category… thus far. Ellen (Bette Davis) is a young reporter assigned to cover the execution of a murderer at midnight. Boyfriend and fellow reporter Curt (Brent) doesn’t think a woman should be reporting on such a thing and, true to 1935, Ellen faints to prove how right he was. I’m surprised she didn’t lose a heel while running or fend off the bad guy by hitting him with her purse. Maybe I should mention that Curt and the other reporters deliberately set out to upset her with graphic talk about the execution. Curt writes two news stories, one for his paper and one for Ellen’s to cover for her womanly inability to report the news, but a screw-up causes the exact story to go into both papers. Ellen thinks he deliberately sabotaged her, and he might as well have: At a 3-alarm fire, Ellen is not allowed in to the area to report on the news because she’s a woman. Curt adds to this problem by lying to the police officers that she’s not even a reporter in the … Continue reading