Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who's Cookin'?

Time to head into the kitchen and start supper...or see who's already started it for us.  Name the cook and the movie.  Answers on Monday.








(Just to be fair, this is the same lady as in G, but here's a better look at the cook.)

Set the table.  See you Monday.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Victor Jory - On Stage and Screen

In the summer of 1952 Victor Jory toured the eastern summer theatre circuit with Alexis Smith in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”. The sophisticate role was a natural for Miss Smith, who was typecast as such by Hollywood since her film career began some 12 years previously. But it was an even more natural fit for Victor Jory, who had a much longer film career, and a much, much longer stage career. Hollywood had already typecast Jory as a scruffy villain. On stage, he was urbane, witty, and devilishly charming. His second home on stage is proof that not all Hollywood character actors are what they seem.

This is my entry into the “What A Character” blogathon, sponsored by Outspoken and Freckled, Paula's Cinema Club, and Once Upon a Screen. Running from September 22nd through the 24th, favorite character actors take center stage.

From the Boston Daily Globe August 12, 1952: “The Boston Summer Theatre may be air-cooled but it sizzled last night with the heat engendered by Victor Jory kissing decorative Alexis Smith in that famous second act of “Private Lives”…I never saw…quite as much vigor and passion as Miss Smith and Mr. Jory, who seemed to enjoy every second of the sophisticated romp…The dialogue is light, witty and thoroughly naughty; the acting should be on the same order. And Miss Smith and Mr. Jory live up to audience expectations. It was a wonderful evening and the audience was capacity.”

Alexis Smith had minimal stage experience when she was in college, but Victor Jory had played stock theatre everywhere from his early apprenticeship at the Pasadena Playhouse to stages across the continent and as far as Australia. He played Shakespeare, Ibsen, Moliere, and Shaw. He wrote plays, and directed.

A year later, Miss Smith and Mr. Jory took another summer tour, this time with “Bell, Book and Candle.” From the Boston Daily Globe, June 28, 1953, Alexis credits Victor Jory, who directed, for teaching her stagecraft: “I can’t believe that anyone in the whole world could have taught me as much as Victor has about my job. Working with him is better than any training school of the theatre you ever heard of. Mr. Jory has a vast amount of experience and he is willing to share it. Some actors are reticent when it comes to giving newcomers tricks of the trade. Victor is generous and kind. He has taught me all I know about legitimate theatre.”

When she first met Jory, she had a different impression. This was on the set of her film “South of St. Louis” (1949), which we discussed here. Jory played a nasty villain. She thought him a “rather horrible person” who was, “dirty, bewhiskered and wearing baggy pants.”

This had become Jory’s fate by the 1940s. Syndicated Hollywood columnist Bob Thomas visited the set of “South of St. Louis”, as picked up by the St. Petersburg, Florida Evening Independent June 14, 1948:

“Victor Jory, the mug they love to slug, was being pummeled by Joel McCrea when I visited the “South of St. Louis” set. The poor guy was being bounced all over the barroom…”

In his acting career, Jory noted in that article he had broken his collarbone twice, five ribs, a thumb and a toe, received numerous cuts and bruises. In private life, he was much better able to handle Joel McCrea or anybody else. A champion amateur boxer, (and a champion wrestler as well as boxer while in the U.S. Coast Guard) he held his own both in the ring, and out of it when provoked.

It had been, first, a hardscrabble childhood. He was born in Alaska and spent his babyhood in the Yukon where his parents had attempted, unsuccessfully, to try their luck during the Gold Rush. They separated at his birth (though Jory’s birthday is always listed as November 1902, there is some information supplied by his daughter, Jean Jory Anderson on a website dedicated to Jory family genealogy that her father was actually born the following April 1903, with some speculation as to his natural father). His mother was a newspaperwoman, and she and her son scraped by financially for many years.

They came back to the US and he spent his childhood in Oregon and California, and then to Vancouver, where he juggled both acting and boxing.

In an article by Nancy Anderson in the Oxnard, California Press-Courier from March 13, 1977, Jory recalled, “I did both, because my mother and I were very poor and we needed all the money I could earn.”

The boxing matches started at 7:30 in the evening, and the theater curtain rose at 8:30. It was a tight squeeze.

“I could get $7.50 a week fighting in Vancouver. Then I could run over to the theater and do my walk-on and get another $1.50 a night.”

It was with another stock company in Denver that he met his future wife, actress Jean Inness. They eloped and were married 50 years until her death in 1978. They appeared together on stage on many occasions.

His first crack at Hollywood came in 1930. In the early years he had a few opportunities to play the romantic lead, such as in “Party Wire” (1935) with Jean Arthur. Here is a smooth-faced, handsome Victor Jory saving the day when his lady friend is threatened by vicious gossip.

He played Lamont Cranston in “The Shadow” serial, but hero roles were for the most part denied him. We are fortunate to have “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1935), which we discussed here, as an example of Jory’s Shakespearean talents. He is the masterful Oberon, King of the Fairies in one of Hollywood’s unusual forays into an artistic film rather than a purely commercial one. His voice is perfect for Shakespeare, with precise intonation and resonant pitch such as actors develop only with stage experience.

Probably he is best remembered as Jonas Wilkerson, the smarmy overseer in “Gone With the Wind” (1939), a brief role that carried him into film villainy for at least a couple of decades.

A film he did later in his career, “The Miracle Worker” (1962) moves him from villain to just bombastic curmudgeon in the role of Captain Keller, the father of Helen Keller. He is marvelous in the role, and though a foil for the new teacher, Annie Sullivan, played by Anne Bancroft, we become sympathetic with this blustering, aging ex-Confederate officer largely through Jory’s heartfelt performance.

We see his difficult relationship with his grown son by a former marriage. His tenderness with his new young wife, played by Inga Swenson. In this screen cap, we see her horror and his intensity as they suddenly discover their infant daughter Helen can neither see, nor hear them. He shouts, shrieks into her face and claps his hands to make noise, but the baby does not respond.

Later in the movie, we see his weariness, his suspicion of Annie Sullivan’s methods, his disdain for her strong personality. Finally, we see his awe, his heartbreaking sense of wonder when the child Helen, played by Patty Duke, learns to communicate. He was not nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, but he should have been.

Reminiscing on his career with Gary Luhr of the Bowling Green, Kentucky Daily News, May 4, 1971, Jory recalled some 140 films under his belt, 480 stage shows at that time, 500 TV shows, and 200 radio programs. He also wrote a travel column. His passions were fishing, and collecting recipes. Jory was a gourmet cook. One wonders if Alexis Smith, who later became a gourmet cook and voracious collector of recipes herself, was as inspired by Victor Jory in cooking as she was in theatre.

At the time of that article, Jory and his wife were living in Louisville, Kentucky, where they performed in several shows at the Louisville Actors Theatre. Their son, Jon, was the producing director of that prestigious regional theater for over three decades. There are three performance spaces at the Louisville Actors Theatre. The smallest, opened in April 1973, is named the Victor Jory Theatre.

Though Alexis Smith’s first unpleasant memory of Victor Jory was as a filthy saddle tramp in “South of St. Louis”, they both did actually appear in “Lady with Red Hair” (1940) some nine years earlier. He had a small role in this Miriam Hopkins and Claude Rains feature, and Alexis had an uncredited walk-on as Girl at Wedding. It is possible they never met. Coincidentally, her future husband, Craig Stevens, also had an uncredited walk-on. Not so coincidentally, Bess Flowers showed up, too. What were you expecting?

After “South of St. Louis”, Alexis and Victor Jory worked on one more film together, “Cave of Outlaws” (1951). He’s still a villain here, but considerably cleaned up, a man of wealth and power.  He vies with Macdonald Carey for the love of the typically cool and aloof Alexis.  He gets beaten up again.

It was on the set of “Cave of Outlaws” where she and Victor got to know each other better. They talked of theatre, of his experience in it, and her desire to pursue it. They formed the plan of working together. In the following year, they found themselves in an unexpected hit in “Private Lives”.

The next year, they met with further success in “Bell, Book and Candle”. Their performances were sold out, largely on the strength of their previous hit.  From the Lewiston (Maine) Evening Journal, July 3, 1953. Smith and Jory “broke all attendance records at the same theater last year with their presentation of ‘Private Lives’.” They had opened their tour of “Bell, Book and Candle” in Ogunquit, Maine at the famed Ogunquit Playhouse “to the pleasure of all that saw them there.”

Hollywood was entering a precarious period in the early 1950s. Between the studios cutting back on productions, the court-mandated breaking up of movie theater properties, the competition from television, and the Communist witch hunts going on in the industry, actors were being booted out from the system or else voluntarily fleeing for work on the stage or television. It was, not so coincidentally, one of the most celebrated periods of summer theatre, a time when great names and great plays were brought together, and the stage flourished.

Hollywood columnist Bob Thomas noted the loss of acting jobs in the film industry, syndicated in the Waycross (Georgia) Journal-Herald, September 18, 1953. The article’s ominous headline:

Situation Looks

Grim for Persons

Seeking Film Jobs

He interviewed actor William Holden, who at that time was Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild. Mr. Holden noted that MGM was planning to produce 18 films that year, compared to 40 or 50 films per year done in the past. Paramount was slotted to make 12 movies, and Fox was also slated to make only 12. TV became a haven for struggling actors, not just new actors, but the old character actors who could comfortably fit into several movies a year, even if they grumbled about being typecast as the maid or the heavy. At least they had work. Now, there was little to go around.

Victor Jory already had that problem licked. He was a working actor. The stage was his second home.

Holden noted, “The stage offers a lot more work, particularly in summer theatre. Alexis Smith and Victor Jory just came back from a long tour and made a lot of money.”

To moviegoers, Jory may have been the smarmy Jonas Wilkerson, or the grimy saddle tramp, but to stage audiences he was the witty and urbane sophisticate. The playboy. He was Henry VIII. He was a character actor in that he could play anybody.  Tennessee Williams' "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof".  Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman".  Roles of depth and substance, and fine writing that was worthy of his talent.  On stage, he was the star.

Please have a look at the other blogs participating in the What A Character blogathon.

Stop by my New England Travels blog tomorrow for a bit more on Victor Jory’s and Alexis Smith’s New England summer theatre tours.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chuck Jones 100th Anniversary

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the birth of animator Chuck Jones.  Below, some snippets of his looniest tunes.  Enjoy.

Monday, September 17, 2012

One Romantic Night (The Swan) - 1930

“One Romantic Night” (1930), AKA “The Swan” shows a world, and a medium, in transition. The world is one in which fairly tales about princesses are out of step with the Jazz Age just passed. The decade ahead will bring plenty of fairly tales, but they will be about shop girls instead. The medium was the dawn of talking pictures, which had not yet delivered a freedom of expression they’d promised; instead the actors and crew were shackled to the demanding and unforgiving microphones.

“The Swan” was remade in 1956 with Grace Kelly in the lead, with Alec Guinness as the Prince she pursues, and Louis Jourdan as the lovelorn tutor who pursues her. We discussed “The Swan” here. Comparisons are inevitable and must make up the bulk of this post. I won’t go too deeply into the plot, as we’ve covered that in the previous post.

Most glaringly different is the absence of the sad and lovely speech the Prince makes comparing the Princess to a swan and reminding her, and us, of her responsibility to remain true to her birthright. Here, the Prince tricks the Princess into becoming his bride. She slaps on a cloche hat and they run off together in an automobile. An attempt to modernize the piece?

Lillian Gish, in her talkie debut, was in her middle 30s at the time of this film, but with her grace and beauty, this is not necessarily a detriment to playing a much younger character with regal poise. She looks every inch the princess. Her princess, however, is a warmer, more confident young woman than Grace Kelly’s princess, who was tortured by her own diffident angst. Interestingly, there are moments when Miss Gish actually sounds a great deal like Grace Kelly in her careful intonations of Ferenc Molnár’s lines (Maxwell Anderson adapted the script). Their voices sound quite similar.

Rod La Rocque plays Prince Albert, who here is a much more caddish fellow than the Prince appeared in the 1956 remake. We meet him at a debauched soiree saying farewell to a line of girlfriends. Alec Guinness’s prince was reserved, a muddled fellow bumbling about in his own vague self-involvement. Both are struck with bouts of jealously and resentment, but La Rocque has less humor, less depth. At times he has more spark. He is a playboy. He also has one of the most grotesquely toothy grins one will ever find on film.

Conrad Nagel is very appealing as the love struck tutor who is wounded by the Prince’s sarcasm and the Princess’s pity. His deeper, modulated voice carries better than the other actors, and he seems to easily leave behind the silent film mannerisms that many carried into the sound age.

This would include Marie Dressler, who is the most animated of the group and raises the level of the ambitious mother to broad comedy.

O.P. Heggie rounds out the principle cast as the friar uncle, confidant of many, and voice of reason.

Reportedly there was creative conflict on the set between director Paul Stein and Miss Gish.  Some of the film's unevenness may be due to that.  Still, there are a few lovely framed shots of the rose garden, and a dramatic tracking shot while La Rocque and Lillian Gish are dancing. The camera watches Conrad Nagel, his beautiful dark eyes with their pained expression, watching them.

Overall, the film misses the wry, gentle humor of the 1956 version. Most of us might prefer the 1956 remake, which, far removed from both the Jazz Age and the transition into talkies, is free to indulge in a long-ago fairy tale world about a princess, ironically starring an actress who became a real princess as that film was released.

But the 1930 version was, itself, a remake. “The Swan” was first made as a silent movie in 1925 featuring Frances Howard as the Princess, Adolphe Menjou as the Prince, and Ricardo Cortez as the tutor.

The obligatory stiffness of scenes in the first sound remake is likely less due to this being adapted from a stage play than it is due to the modern sound equipment. Mary Astor makes her typically astute observation on those transitional years of early sound when actors were made awkward. From Mary Astor - A Life on Film (NY: Delacorte Press, 1971):

“At that point in technical development, talkies were nothing but a poor imitation of theater itself. Silents were an entirely different medium. It was a way of telling a story -- images created the emotion -- a direct appeal…"

Talkies required more rigid camera setups: "Everything would have to be straight cuts, no fade-ins or fade-outs, no dissolves. All the fluid movement of the camera would be lost. It would be static, dull, tied to a microphone. You couldn’t go outdoors…

“Even in more intimate scenes, you could never speak while moving around. Of course, you could hide a microphone in things. It was only slightly smaller than a breadbox, but it could be done.” (pp 73-74).

I think this passage can help us appreciate the stylistic choices of this film and give us a bit more understanding when it comes to appreciating what at times seems a very static movie.  The fairy tale was hobbled by the reality of the new technology.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Odds and Ends

A few things to catch up with today:

First, many thanks to Stephen Reginald at Classic Movie Man for passing along the 7 x 7 Award to me.  As I've received this prize in the past, I'll just forego participating this time.  You can see Stephen's seven responses and his picks for the award here.

Second, I've recently celebrated my fifth anniversary at my other blog, New England Travels.  Later this fall I'll be releasing a book of essays taken from this blog on various events and personalities of the 19th and 20th centuries in New England.  It will be published both in ebook and in paperback.  More on that to come.

Third, a preview of coming attractions of sorts, with much anticipation to the What A Character blogathon sponsored by Outspoken and Freckled, Paula's Cinema Club, and Once Upon a Screen.   Held from September 22nd through the 24th, favorite character actors are to be feted at this extravaganza.  My pick is Victor Jory, and my post on him will go up Monday, September 24th.  More details here on the blogathon and who's participating.

In the meantime, I'll see you next Monday with a post on "One Romantic Night" (1930) with Lillian Gish. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Warner Theatre - Torrington, Connecticut

JT Lynch photo

Northwestern Connecticut is mostly rural farmland dotted by small factory villages on narrow rivers, but the glamour of Hollywood found its way here on Main Street in 1931 when the Warner Bros. Studios expanded their chain of theaters. A typically beautiful movie palace of its day, the Warner was sold by the studio in the 1950s when all the studios were forced to divest themselves of their theater circuts.

Then the 1955 Flood wreaked havoc in the area, including much damage to the theater (see this previous post on Rosalind Russell’s precarious hometown visit in Waterbury during the 1955 Flood).

The theater continued operating through its years of decline in the 1960s and 1970s, and was due for foreclosure in 1981, demolition in 1982.

JT Lynch photo

But the Northwest Connecticut Association for the Arts, Inc. was formed by citizens to save this theatre.

A couple of decades of fundraising and restoration, and today the Warner Theatre continues to grace Torrington as part of a performing arts center. Have a look here for a roster of events, and for more on the history of this historic theater.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Golden Age Perspectives on Film Sex and Violence

In a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter (August 3, 2012), director Peter Bogdanovich is interviewed (as told to Gregg Kilday) on movie violence and the horrific movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado this past July. Mr. Bogdanovich’s directorial debut in 1968 was, coincidentally, “Targets”, which concludes with a sniper shooting the audience at a drive-in movie.  He also wrote the screenplay.

Bogdanovich responds, “Violence on the screen has increased tenfold. It's almost pornographic. In fact, it is pornographic. Video games are violent, too. It's all out of control. I can see where it would drive somebody crazy.”

Mr. Bogdanovich’s remark may be refreshing to many of us classic film fans, whose preference for older films may indicate a preference for less film violence and the opinion that film violence can inspire a more violent society (obviously not necessarily the opinion of all of us). I wonder if his opinion is based only on his being a veteran filmmaker questioning the course younger filmmakers are taking? His “Targets” was shocking for its day and meant to be. But then, he was a much younger man.

Does his moral outrage simply stem from getting older?

Emotional and mental maturity are worthy of respect. Often it seems our present day mores are rife with ignorance and immaturity.

How much movies play into making our society more violent or sexually promiscuous one could discuss forever and never reach agreement. What I find interesting, and quite poignant, are the first calls against film violence and graphic sexual situations from those classic film actors who found themselves, like Peter Bogdanovich, getting older in an industry so drastically changed that they no longer recognized it.  How bewildering that must have seemed.

How much more shocking would the films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, perhaps films like “Target” been to a Golden Age studio contract player now middle aged or older and still looking for work?

Mary Astor: “I admire nudity and I like sex, and so did a lot of people in the Thirties. But, to me, overexposure blunts the fun…Sex as something beautiful may soon disappear. Once it was a knife so finely honed the edge was invisible until it was touched and then it cut deep. Now it is so blunt that it merely bruises and leaves ugly marks. Nudity is fine in the privacy of my own bedroom with the appropriate partner. Or for a model in life class at art school. Or as portrayed in stone and paint. But I don’t like it used as a joke or to titillate. Or be so bloody frank about.” (Mary Astor- A Life on Film, NY: Delacorte Press, 1971, pp 90-91).

Audrey Hepburn: “It’s all sex and violence. I don’t like guns, and I can’t strip because I don’t have the body for it. I’m too scrawny. So I don’t know what the future holds…But, whatever happens, the most important thing is growing old gracefully.” (Rex Reed, Valentines & Vitriol, NY: Delacorte Press, 1977, p.59)

Victor Jory: “I don’t know if it’s a moral thing or not…but over the years—and I started acting when I was 16—you develop certain standards. I don’t want to be photographed with naked ladies and I don’t want to say certain words in films. In private conversation, I use four-letter words, but I don’t want to use them in front of an audience” (Syndicated, NEA, Williamson (West Virginia) Daily News, May 23, 1977, p. 8)

Ginger Rogers: “I enjoyed a happy image in films. Why should I become a destructive force in the minds of the young people in this country who grew to love Fred and Ginger on the Late Show? No, thank you. I can do creative things elsewhere. I don’t want to stoop to horror films.” (Reed, p. 158)

Mary Astor: “I don’t think Garbo with her clothes off, panting in a brass bed, would have been more sexy than she was.” (Astor,p. 92)

Dana Andrews, during his tenure as President of the Screen Actors Guild denounced nude scenes as demeaning for actresses (New York Times, December 23, 1963).

William Holden accepted both his age and the state of the movies, even welcomed it, on his return in “Network” (1976): “What am I? A craggy-faced, middle-aged man. I can’t grow younger. People seeing “Network” say, ‘God! He’s getting old.’ Fortunately, they don’t have reruns of their past on TV…at least I no longer have to sit on the edge of Gloria Swanson’s bed with one foot on the floor and my overcoat on. The movies have grown up and so have I.” (Reed, p. 189).

Holden was one of the few Golden Age stars who, if they wished, could find work in starring roles in the 1970s, not just cameo roles.   We might compare him to Meryl Streep or Clint Eastwood, who both are commanding fabulous salaries and are as much in demand as they were, say, 30 years ago in the early 1980s. They are older--elderly--but their stature as stars has only grown and not diminished with age.

But, despite the fantastic technological developments--computers, cell phones, etc.--in our everyday lives, the movies have not changed as drastically in the 30-year period between 1982 and 2012, as they did between, say 1940 and 1970. Our social standards, for want of a better term, are not that different today from the early ‘80s. Television has changed; the language and subject matter of network “family” shows today are equal to (or surpass) what was shown on late-night TV in the early ‘80s, and cable television surpasses everything.

The movies have plateaued to a level of public taste being irrelevant, or, judging from the box office take of many films, non-existent. It has become, using the terminology of the stock market for a moment--“what the market will bear.”

In the early 1970s the Golden Age stars observed the first experimentations with pushing the boundaries, and they must have felt like dinosaurs.

Mary Astor: “I admire the young film-makers for trying new things, new concepts, but I think they are just as much in danger of getting trapped in clichés as at any time in film-making history. Audiences will get just as tire of people wrestling in bed as they did of Tom Mix kissing his horse.” (Astor, pp. 186-187)

Pearl Bailey: “Why do all the movies have to be pornographic? Ten minutes after the picture starts, before I get the popcorn open, they’re in bed. For every ten minutes in the bed, I’d like to see fifteen minutes in the shower gettin’ clean again. Equal time for hygiene, that’s all. The courts let the criminals go free, nobody controls the guns the maniacs are carrying around—there are a thousand things we gotta change instead of worryin’ about who’s got the oil and who’s got the wheat.” (Reed, p. 83)

Mary Astor again, perhaps most eloquent on the impact of film: “We need identification that can purge but not lower one’s spirit…This is not accomplished by shotgun stimulation. Multiple action, strobe lighting, flashing, psychedelic color, split second subliminal cuts. It’s exciting, yes, but very tiring.” (Astor, p. 92)

“…To ‘tell it like it is’ is an impertinence, because it just isn’t, not everywhere. Therefore, it becomes propagandizing.” (Astor, p. 93)

Peter Bogdanovich, from the article noted above: “Today, there's a general numbing of the audience. There's too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it's not so terrible. Back in the '70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, 'We're brutalizing the audience. We're going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum.' The respect for human life seems to be eroding.”

Perhaps modern filmmakers, and their younger audiences, would benefit from a greater familiarity with the heritage of classic film. It tends to lend perspective. Perspective lends maturity.  Personally, I am more offended by childishness and stupidity than I am by scenes of sex or violence (though I find heavily resorting to using sex and violence to tell a story both immature and stupid).

Don Ameche, though not risen to the level of superstar like Meryl Streep or Clint Eastwood, nevertheless was one Golden Age star who enjoyed a brief movie “comeback” in 1983 with a supporting role in “Trading Places.” He was required to use profanity, and though it made him uncomfortable, he compromised. He would perform only one take.

And he apologized to everyone on set before he cussed.

Mary Astor: “…I watch the new ones, the new breed, and when they do something great and fine, I’m proud. And when they do things that are blatantly bad, I am ashamed. But I don’t disinherit them, for no matter how much they may feel that it is a whole new thing, it isn’t really. It is a continuation. For what they have today was built upon the great and find and the blatantly bad jobs we did—we old movie-makers.” (Astor, p.219)

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Can Get it For You Wholesale - 1951

“I Can Get It For You Wholesale” (1951) provides stellar performances, crackling dialogue, and a smattering of New York City shooting locations to set us right down in the vibrant pace of post-war business. What it does not give us, or at least some of us, is a satisfactory ending. That, of course, will depend entirely upon your point of view, but for my money, the leads play their roles so well that I believe them. Most of their time together is spent at variance. To tack on a reconciliation and promise of future happiness together seems nice—for other people. For them, it is the only unnatural aspect to this terrific movie.

We celebrate Labor Day today, just as we did last year, in New York’s 7th Avenue “Garment District” as it was when most of the clothing we wore in the US was actually made here.

The leads are Susan Hayward and Dan Dailey. Mr. Dailey, who we noted when we last discussed him here in “It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955), was a performer, often a song-and-dance man in musicals, who achieved greater depth in his acting than fellow, more famous, song-and-dance-men. As a dramatic actor, he is a natural, as he is here in the role of a charming, fast-talking salesman for a dress manufacturer.

Note plaid drapes.   It disappoints me not to find a matching plaid couch in the scene.

He has favors in every pocket, a ready smile, and a joke appropriate to any kind of well-heeled buyer, from the genteel and savvy Vicki Cummings who plays Hermione, to the smarmy Harry von Zell, who likes to finger the female models in the dresses.

Dailey is more than hail-fellow-well-met, however. We see he has his serious and sensitive side, particularly when it comes to Susan Hayward.

We first meet Miss Hayward as one of those models, or mannequins, that Harry von Zell likes to paw when he examines the merchandise. Susan Hayward is splendid in this movie, playing a woman with ambition, intelligence, shrewdness, and often with very little heart. She is quite commanding in her role, and assumes the mantle of a strong woman without ever appearing as if she is posturing, as we sometimes see in films of this era. It’s a perfect fit.

Hayward has been studying design on the side, and wants to open up her own dress manufacturing company with Sam Jaffe, who plays a production manager in the firm. He is really more a glorified tailor, walking about with a long pair of shears protruding from the side pocket of his apron like a sabre, and a measuring tape always draped around his neck. He is there to work, and probably works harder than anyone.

What they need to open up their own business is a crackerjack salesman, and that’s where Dan Dailey comes in. He’s been chasing Hayward on every return from his road trips, and she takes advantage of this to make her sales pitch.

He joins the team, and they begin a curious relationship. He is taken aback by her blunt avarice and unladylike drive to get ahead, and yet he is also attracted by it, or by something about her. I’m not sure what. In an interesting scene that seems to symbolize their partnership, she taunts him for being afraid to take a chance on starting a new business. She tucks a bill into his breast pocket to pay for their cab, part challenge and part insult. When, in his own attempt at a power play, he kisses her, he pulls back and reaches for his handkerchief from that pocket to wipe her lipstick off his mouth—but pulls out the bill instead. He looks at it, smirks, and wipes her lipstick off his mouth with her money.

Their business is the backdrop to their relationship. He wants a personal relationship, to the point of asking her to marry him more than once; she wants only a business partnership. In business, she has experienced firsthand the disadvantage to women when men assume a business relationship should be personal.

“I’ve fought my way out of cabs, bars and hotel rooms, but I’ve learned this business. It took a strong stomach, but I learned it.”

Even Dan Dailey, who joins forces with her in a huge leap of faith to conquer the garment industry, imparts this double standard when she takes Harry von Zell out for drinks. Dailey barges in on them, this man who has just scored a date for von Zell like a pimp, belts von Zell for cozying up to his lady partner.

Hayward retorts, “Don’t you take your buyers out, wine them and dine them, and amuse them?”

“That’s different.”


“Because I’m a man and you’re supposed to be a lady.”

Mr. Dailey isn’t the only one appalled by her nerve. Miss Hayward’s mother, played by Mary Philips, with whom she appears to have a cool relationship, offers, “You’re a throwback to an Irish bandit in the hills of Kilarney.”

This just because Hayward will get the money to put up for her share of the business by duping out her sister of her inheritance from their father’s insurance policy. All in a day’s work.

Hayward is really a pleasure to watch because her acting is so intense and yet so natural. She is at times an unlikable character, but we understand who and why she is what she is, and though her personality is strong, the only time she appears histrionic is when she’s obviously faking it to hatch a plot. Her only tender relationship appears to be with Sam Jaffe.

Jaffe, a likeable, gentle character, is unfortunately given short shrift in the film because he is subordinate to his two younger, more dynamic partners. However, since he is middle-aged, with all his life working in the cutting room for other bosses, it must have required extreme courage to leave a comfortable position and start over, with two young hotheads as partners, and risk everything. I’d like to know more about him, and see his own worries expressed, but he is allowed only to be a mild-mannered fairy godfather to Dailey and Hayward.

That handsome matinee idol, Charles Lane plays the boss of the company, and he and his two partners, like Jaffe, immigrants to this country who worked their way up in the “rag trade”, warn the trio not to quit, not to be so foolish as to think they can start their own company. For every successful business, they are told, a dozen fail.

Lane tells Jaffe, “You want to take your wife to Jones Beach? Take my Buick!”

His partner offer, “Take my Cadillac!”

His other partner chimes in, “Take my wife!”

In the end, they generously give them a month’s severance and their best wishes. There is as much camaraderie in the garment district as competition.

We hear nothing of unions in the movie, though like “Middle of the Night” (1959) which we covered last Labor Day, we do see a lot of the cutting rooms and workers in different departments, the diverse army that makes up a company. The receptionist, who is the boss’s daughter just out of business college. The office boy, played by adenoidal Marvin Kaplan, whose comical deadpan whine brings gossip and complaints.

There are the models and the sewers, and the executives who do not barricade themselves in inner corner offices, but are always on the floor, vests unbuttoned, pencil behind the ear, and barking a hundred reminders. We know Charles Lane is a hands-on boss because he has an ulcer. Just as we saw in “Middle of the Night”, this movie is really about the workplace as another kind of home, where we have purpose, achievement, a sense of belonging, a taste of competition. There is energy and a sense of urgency. Nobody is just waiting around for it to be Friday.

But counteracting that, and not always in a good way, this movie is a kind of fable—not about labor, but about boy meets girl. And then girl meets George Sanders.

In one of the more lush and elegant scenes away from the cluttered workroom of bolts of cloth and patterns, and steam hanging over all from the mangles pressing the dress pieces, is the annual buyers ball. A ballroom where a lot of formally dressed extras got work that day, and the huge windows along the wall show the city skyline in the twilight. George Sanders is on the dais, and delivers a speech saluting the heritage of the garment district on 7th Avenue. Somewhere in the room, Bess Flowers enjoys the evening. Big surprise.

I wonder if she finished her fruit cup before Mr. Sanders began his speech.

The on again/off again relationship between Mr. Dailey and Miss Hayward hits an iceberg in the form of one the screen’s most elegant cads. Except George Sanders is not really a cad here. He’s more direct and honest than Hayward is, and just as sure of what he wants. He lures Susan Hayward with the promise of letting her design gowns for his firm—she wants to break away from the $10.95 dress line—and it is made clear to us that he enjoys many relationships with strong, business-minded women in exchange for helping them in business. Not marrying them.

Which is fine for Susan Hayward, because she regards marriage as a trap and seems well suited to George Sander’s arrangement.

Which is why the ending (careening into spoiler here, close your eyes), seems to fall so flat with Dailey and Hayward making up one more time for what we are assured with be permanent. They will likely marry because they are both in love with each other and Susan has discovered that a promising career cannot match the fulfillment of True Love.

Fine, for another characters, but not these. Hayward is so riveting in her performance we have no reason not to believe her when we see her greatest happiness coming from her business success and not from cuddling with Dan Dailey. She is willing to destroy their business just to get out of her contract so she can work with Sanders.

For his part, Dailey is genuine in his agony about being in love, against his better judgment, with Hayward, who is so hard and determined to shut him out romantically. When he finally becomes so disgusted with her that he’d rather scuttle their business than take whatever crumbs she may throw their way from her new partnership with Sanders—we have no reason to believe he’ll ever want her back as a business partner or anything else.

He swallows, upset, choked up with anger when she returns to the work room where he and Jaffe are tabulating how deeply in debt they’re going to be. We don’t know if he’s going to yell, cry, or kill her with his bare hands.

We expect anything but for her to look contrite at this stage.

The two leads have done such a good job convincing us of their opposing feelings and motives, that it seems a jolt at the end to find the traditional love-conquers-all ending tacked on in the last few minutes.  Forsaking ambition for the love of a good man is not something she ever indicates to us she wants.

Other incidentals: Some great outdoor location shots in the city and Central Park.

Some topical references to Dailey’s expense account being as large as the budget for the Marshall Plan.

Instead of selling “like hotcakes” a dress is said to be selling “like uranium”.

Hayward’s savvy appraisal of a gown, “The only place a woman can wear a gown like that is in a perfume ad.”

Another observation by a model, “The men like it, but the women know you can’t sit down in it.”

George Sanders remarks on a particularly provocative gown, “I thought it had a certain flare.”

Hayward replies, “But it wouldn’t on a hanger. The model brought her flare with her.”

We are accustomed to seeing much smoking in classic films, but it cracked me up to see a model smoking while being pinned into a dress by Susan Hayward.

Have a look here at Farran Nehme’s swell post on "I Can Get it For You Wholesale" from a few months ago over at Self-Styled Siren.

And Happy Labor Day.

Related Products