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Classic Hollywood/Hollywood's Golden Age(Was: The Best Of Everything)


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#46 miliosr

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 09:08 AM

I like My Best Friend's Wedding more than most of the posters on this thread but I will admit that it has some problems.

Problem # 1 is the muddled tone of the movie. The Roberts character was very unsympathetic at times (she is, after all, trying to steal another woman's fiance) but, since this was a Julia Roberts movie and audiences were paying to see her as a romantic lead, the movie never lets her become too unsympathetic. The result is a very muddled tone.

Problem # 2 is Dermot Mulroney as the male lead. You know a romantic comedy has a problem when the female lead (Roberts) has more romantic chemistry with the gay supporting character (Rupert Everett) than she does with the ostensible straight male lead (Mulroney).

I actually think a more interesting movie would have had Roberts forced to choose between a boring -- but sexual -- relationship with Mulroney and a lively -- but platonic -- relationship with Everett. (Everett actually made a movie -- The Next Best Thing -- somewhat along these lines with Madonna.)

On another front, here's another name from the past who was big in her day but is virtually unknown today: Norma Shearer. Joan Crawford always complained that Shearer got the best parts when they were co-workers at M-G-M but Crawford ended up getting the better of Shearer in the long run. Crawford is talked about to this day but Shearer is all but forgotten.

#47 dirac

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 11:08 AM

That's kind of sad isn't it? It certainly makes the career choices of someone like Helen Mirren, who trained in theater and went back-and-forth between stage and screen, seem both self-preservatory and sensible.


Michelle Pfeiffer is 49 or 50 and shows no sign of literally slowing down, even if she went a couple of years without making a film. There are dozens more, help me remember them. Whether they really improve with age may be the more pertinent concern in this historic period. I think that the days when stars faded based on their beauty and glamour have pretty much passed. Any thoughts on that? this is pretty general and rough, I haven't thought it through that deeply.


Well, things are better than they used to be, in that the danger age for female stars is now 40 or so instead of 35 or so, as it was in the ‘golden era.’ It doesn’t really have that much to do with individual career choices; even if Meg Ryan’s work in drama, for example, had been more warmly received than it was, it wouldn’t necessarily have prolonged her stay at the top. Helen Mirren is over sixty – she’s passed through the stage where female stars have to do TV to stay visible (Close, Holly Hunter, Mirren herself) and entering Driving Miss Daisy/The Queen territory, where sometimes things actually start happening, as they did for Judi Dench.

This doesn’t mean that such women get no work at all; it means that their choices diminish much faster than those of their male counterparts – Streep now plays mainly big supporting roles, whereas for many years her male coevals, such as Pacino and De Niro, despite career ups and downs, continued to play major roles opposite much younger women. ( I remember Streep remarking in an interview a few years ago that the scripts sent to her usually involved playing witches.)

One thing that did interest me about 'My Best Friend's Wedding' was that Roberts already seemed an 'aging star' in it.


Problem # 1 is the muddled tone of the movie. The Roberts character was very unsympathetic at times (she is, after all, trying to steal another woman's fiance) but, since this was a Julia Roberts movie and audiences were paying to see her as a romantic lead, the movie never lets her become too unsympathetic. The result is a very muddled tone

.

You’re both right – she’s pitted against Cameron Diaz, a genuine threat and pretender to the throne, and the slight age difference between them is emphasized – Roberts is only about five years older, I think, but it’s made to feel like a lot more than that, as if they’re different generations.

Problem # 2 is Dermot Mulroney as the male lead. You know a romantic comedy has a problem when the female lead (Roberts) has more romantic chemistry with the gay supporting character (Rupert Everett) than she does with the ostensible straight male lead (Mulroney

).

Mulroney was certainly an unworthy bone of contention. I also had trouble believing in him as a writer – he could hardly string two sentences together.


On another front, here's another name from the past who was big in her day but is virtually unknown today: Norma Shearer. Joan Crawford always complained that Shearer got the best parts when they were co-workers at M-G-M but Crawford ended up getting the better of Shearer in the long run. Crawford is talked about to this day but Shearer is all but forgotten.


The difference, I think, is that Shearer made very few classic films – that is, movies still well known to non-buffs – and Crawford made a few, not to mention the Mommie Dearest book and movie, which kept her in posthumous public view. As you say, though, Shearer was indeed a huge, huge star. Being married to Irving Thalberg helped, of course, but she would have made it anyway. (In fact, she had to fight with Thalberg for one of her biggest roles, in ‘The Divorcee’; her loving hubby didn’t think she was hot enough for the part, and Shearer had George Hurrell take some sexy shots to convince him.)

#48 miliosr

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 05:51 PM

When M-G-M released Joan Crawford in the early 1940s and she moved over to Warner Brothers, most of Hollywood -- including Joan Crawford herself -- viewed the move as a real comedown. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to Joan Crawford because the films she made at Warner Brothers from the mid-to-late 1940s are the films (along with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Women) for which she is best remembered today.

#49 dirac

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Posted 06 October 2007 - 12:40 PM

When M-G-M released Joan Crawford in the early 1940s and she moved over to Warner Brothers, most of Hollywood -- including Joan Crawford herself -- viewed the move as a real comedown. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to Joan Crawford because the films she made at Warner Brothers from the mid-to-late 1940s are the films (along with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Women) for which she is best remembered today.


That's true. It is interesting that, for different reasons, the reigning queens of MGM in the 30s -- Garbo, Shearer, and Crawford -- were gone from the studio by the early 40s.

#50 miliosr

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Posted 06 October 2007 - 04:26 PM

Even though Crawford trailed behind Garbo and Shearer while all three were at M-G-M, she actually ended up being the most adaptable of the three to changing tastes and trends:

Late 1920s-early 1940s: Able to make the transition from silents to "talkies" and coasts along for quite some time on her "shopgirl" pictures.

Mid-1940s-mid 1950s: Plunges head long into film noir/suspense pictures, which sustain her for another decade.

Early 1960s-late 1960s: Makes Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? with Bette Davis and rides the 'Glamorous Ladies of the Silver Screen Reduced to Demented Hags Carrying Axes' genre for the rest of the decade.


Speaking of Garbo, has anyone ever seen Queen Christina? I've never seen it but it looks quite expressive in photos and I am wondering if it is worth viewing.

#51 papeetepatrick

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Posted 06 October 2007 - 04:45 PM

Speaking of Garbo, has anyone ever seen Queen Christina? I've never seen it but it looks quite expressive in photos and I am wondering if it is worth viewing.


Oh, this is merely one of the greatest films ever made--moments with John Gilbert unlike anything I've ever experienced on film. Is it worth viewing? Well, one oughtn't to go through life without viewing it. As well as 'Grand Hotel' and 'Anna Christie' and 'Camille.' I think she's the greatest actress in Hollywood history, in the sense that she's never bad no matter how poor the material; I don't think I can say that about another star. In any case, this film is not perfect in the 'All About Eve' sense of impeccable, no-hair-out-of-place perfection, but then what American film is? There are FACES in this film: Unfortunately for Norma Desmond (who had one) they sometimes continued in the talkies.

#52 bart

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Posted 06 October 2007 - 05:53 PM

There are indeed wonderful faces in this film. It's when they start moving, takling, and interacting that I begin to have problems. The big asset in this film is Mamoulian and his cinematographer. There are hypnotizingly beautiful shots in silver tone and dark grey. You might try, as I did, turning off the sound and enjoying it as a silent movie.

Garbo must be an acquired taste. I know that this is widely considered to be one of her best performances.

For contrast you might try the full-color, shot-on-location film The Abdication, with Liv Ullman and Peter Finch. It carries the story forward to cover Christina's reception in Rome, and her tortured, drawn-out relationship with a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.

#53 dirac

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 09:53 AM

miliosr, by all means you should see “Queen Christina.” You won’t be sorry. It wouldn’t necessarily be much to write home about without Garbo, but she is extraordinary and the rest of the movie is pretty good, although if you're looking for accurate history this isn't your film. Ben Hecht, S.N. Behrman, and Garbo’s good friend Salka Viertel, Peter’s mom, had a hand in the screenplay, not all of them credited, and it contains two great lines – Garbo announcing, “I shall die a bachelor,” and later on, before the magical bedroom love scene with John Gilbert, telling him, “I am memorizing this room.” (Gilbert, BTW, is not bad, although he’s not in the same league with his ex.)

.Although the love story at the center of the plot is the height of conventionality, the lesbian subtext is strikingly clear, with Garbo striding around in trousers and boots – she’s never looked happier -- and looking over her ladies in waiting with a speculative eye.

It would be more accurate to describe William Daniels as “Garbo’s cinematographer” – he was her favorite and shot many of her best films, along with many other important MGM movies of the era. (He was closely identified with one director, Erich von Stroheim.) Haven't seen the Ullmann picture - it sounds interesting.

It's true, offhand I can't think of a bad Garbo performance. There were times when she was not ideally cast or off form.

#54 papeetepatrick

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 02:44 PM

It's true, offhand I can't think of a bad Garbo performance. There were times when she was not ideally cast or off form.


I think that's exactly right, and of course, she didn't have the range of Katharine Hepburn that would extend to something like 'Long Day's Journey Into Night.' (the reverse, of course, is true. Garbo, though tough, does not seem bossy; what could have bombed more fully than Katharine Hepburn as 'Camille'???). But Ms. Hepburn I have seen a number of times and thought she was just as bad as her material, I like her before she got so pushy: She's exquisite in 'Morning Glory' and 'Alice Adams.'

#55 sidwich

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 03:08 PM

On another front, here's another name from the past who was big in her day but is virtually unknown today: Norma Shearer. Joan Crawford always complained that Shearer got the best parts when they were co-workers at M-G-M but Crawford ended up getting the better of Shearer in the long run. Crawford is talked about to this day but Shearer is all but forgotten.


I think at least some of that is due to the fact that so many of Shearer's films were silent or very early talkie, and so relatively unlikely to be screened casually today. Unlike Crawford or Davis, Shearer really retired from films by 1940.

Generally, I agree that she's a less memorable on-screen presence than either Crawford or Davis, though.

#56 miliosr

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 04:49 PM

Thanks for the advice about Queen Christina (and The Abdication -- I'd never heard of that until bart mentioned it.)

Garbo and Shearer were both fairly clever in realizing that the times (the 1940s) wouldn't be particularly hospitable to them and so it was better to go out on their own terms rather than the industry's. In Garbo's case, leaving only added to her legend. Alas, the same can't be said for Shearer.

#57 dirac

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 05:52 PM

Well, both of them had been stars for a long time and were reaching That Certain Age. However, they might have continued on for a bit longer if circumstances had been different. Shearer turned down a Big One, Mrs. Miniver, that might have rejuvenated her career, choosing a couple of weak comedies instead. Garbo was by that time more popular overseas than she was in the U.S. She made up in prestige value what she didn’t generate in homegrown box office, but once the war had cut off the European market she was no longer affordable. She may in fact have intended her retirement to be only temporary, but as it turned out it was permanent.

#58 dirac

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 02:16 PM

I think at least some of that is due to the fact that so many of Shearer's films were silent or very early talkie, and so relatively unlikely to be screened casually today. Unlike Crawford or Davis, Shearer really retired from films by 1940.


That's true. (Of course, it's also true of Garbo, if you think about it - by the middle-late thirties both Shearer and Garbo were appearing only every other year or so, far less frequently than other stars. But Garbo, too, was a much stronger personality and just, well, better.)

#59 miliosr

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Posted 15 October 2007 - 08:42 AM

Getting back to Julia Roberts for a moment, USA Today has a small feature in today's Entertainment section in which 11 of her contemporaries (mostly fellow actors) relate their favorite Julia Roberts "moment".

8 of the 11 respondents pick a moment from one of her films -- 3 for Pretty Woman and 1 each for Ocean's Twelve, Notting Hill, My Best Friend's Wedding, Steel Magnolias and Runaway Bride. Some telling film choices as they pretty much embody the Julia Roberts "canon". (I would replace Ocean's Twelve with Erin Brokovitch, though.)

Interestingly, Roberts herself is quoted in the article as saying she only plans to work, "from time to time."

#60 dirac

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Posted 15 October 2007 - 10:54 AM

Getting back to Julia Roberts for a moment, USA Today has a small feature in today's Entertainment section in which 11 of her contemporaries (mostly fellow actors) relate their favorite Julia Roberts "moment".

8 of the 11 respondents pick a moment from one of her films -- 3 for Pretty Woman and 1 each for Ocean's Twelve, Notting Hill, My Best Friend's Wedding, Steel Magnolias and Runaway Bride. Some telling film choices as they pretty much embody the Julia Roberts "canon". (I would replace Ocean's Twelve with Erin Brokovitch, though.)

Interestingly, Roberts herself is quoted in the article as saying she only plans to work, "from time to time."


Well, she has three very young children, a big job even with ample professional help, and also she’s not getting first pick of the best scripts any more – it happens to everyone, even Julia. (She does have a new picture coming out, Charlie Wilson’s War, but it sounds as if it’s chiefly a vehicle for Tom Hanks.)


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