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Tag Archives: Eugene Pallette

Slightly Dangerous (1943)

220px-SlightlyDangerousPosterStarring Lana Turner and Robert Young, what actually makes Slightly Dangerous a fun film is the supporting cast, which is impressive: Walter Brennan, Dame May Whitty, Eugene Pallette, Ward Bond, Alan Mowbray, Millard Mitchell, Ray Collins. My only complaint is that most of these people only show up for a scene or two. Not that Lana Turner and Robert Young are bad…I just haven’t yet seen Lana Turner in a film where she carried it on her own. She needs supporting cast.

Peggy Evans (Lana Turner) works at a soda fountain and is having a quarter life crisis. She has arrived at work on time one thousand consecutive days (earning a gift of $2.50 of merchandise from the management) and is afraid that she’s going to waste the best part of her life behind a counter. Her job is so mindless, she says, she could do it blindfolded. Her friend doesn’t believe her, but Peggy proceeds to demonstrate by making a banana split with a towel tied over her eyes, until the new manager, Bob Stuart (Robert Young) catches her at it.

At this point, Peggy’s crisis is causing her to become a bit hysterical and she talks wildly about doing away with Peggy Evans. Stuart assumes she is talking about suicide, while she is merely talking about running away and starting a new life (under a new name). When she leaves a note and skips out of town, everyone is convinced that Stuart drove her to suicide.

Meanwhile, Peggy starts her new life by buying a new wardrobe and having her hair down. While still trying to decide on the perfect name for herself, she unfortunately gets knocked on the head by a falling bucket of paint in front of the office of a prominent newspaper. The owner, Durstin (Eugene Pallette), is afraid she might sue (it was his company’s bucket of paint) and when she exhibits fuzziness about her name (because she hasn’t come up with one yet and doesn’t want to give her real one) he believes she has amnesia and promises to take care of her while he puts her picture in the paper so her family can identify her. She can hardly believe her luck.

But while Stuart sees her picture in the paper and is determined to save his job and his sanity by locating her (he’s having trouble sleeping at night because of the guilt over her “death” and the owner plans to fire him because the employees refuse to work for Stuart anymore), Peggy has the idea of masquerading as a missing heiress. She picks the case of the missing Carol Burden, kidnapped as a child, who would be just about the right age for Peggy. She goes to work, with Durstin unwittingly helping because he senses a good story for his paper. But she doesn’t just have to convince Cornelius Burden (Walter Brennan) that she’s his daughter, she has to convince Baba, the missing child’s nurse (Dame May Whitty). And they’ve seen a lot of impostors. Meanwhile, Stuart is following her everywhere, trying to get a chance to speak to her.

3452The title of the film is actually rather appropriate. She is, indeed, slightly dangerous. Not willfully so, but she has a knack for getting Robert Young into all sorts of trouble and upending people’s lives. Because of him, she just can’t quite leave her life behind. She keeps hearing someone say “Peggy Evans” everywhere she goes. In some ways, her role is that of a soft femme fatale. She cons people, then actually comes to like them. It’s a problem (most femme fatales don’t have these qualms). She adopts all her victims as family – or they adopt her.

The last third does sag a little, mostly because the supporting cast is absent and it mostly follows the romance between her and Robert Young, which is amusing enough, but I kept wishing some of the other characters would come back. Peggy is certainly an emotional girl. She cries more than anyone I’ve seen, but one suspects that Baba will soon cure her of that.

Walter Brennan actually gets a fairly interesting role as the irascible softy who tragically lost his daughter seventeen years before. I’m trying to think if I’ve seen Brennan play such a wealthy character before. Dame May Whitty is always good, this time as the nurse who clearly is the one who rules the roost in the house. Ward Bond is the muscle who protects Mr. Burden. He never says much and usually just points to communicate anything.

My favorite scene in the film is at the concert hall, where Stuart is trying to speak to Peggy, now officially recognized as Carol Burden. She keeps hearing her name spoken, as if from nowhere and various mishaps occur, including Stuart almost falling over the side of the balcony. After the incident, he meets Alan Mowbray, a bored society man (he says he hates music, prefers acrobats) who is determined to stick with Stuart all evening to see what he will do or say next. He’s especially curious to know what it felt like to hang over the side of the balcony. I particularly wished we saw more of him.

Not a classic, but very cute. It’s fun mostly because of the cast.

Supposedly, the idea for this scene came from Buster Keaton.

Walter Brennan reacts to negative references to his face.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Lady Eve

1941 – Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, William Demarest, Eric Blore, Eugene Pallette – Directed by Preston Sturges – Screenplay by Preston Sturges

THE LADY EVE poster 2[1]

“You see, Hopsie, you don’t know very much about girls! The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad.”

The above quote could probably be the theme of this movie, though a screwball comedy hardly needs a theme or excuse for being. The Lady Eve is one of the funniest, zaniest and wittiest films I’ve seen. It is such a mixture of clever lines, genuine and sizzling romance, and physical comedy that I hardly knew what to make of it the first time I saw it. However, many reviewers (including Leonard Maltin) seem to agree that it is a film that gets better with each viewing and it is now my hands-down favorite comedy.

Preston Sturges was both the director and the writer of The Lady Eve and in all his films he likes to explore ironic paradoxes. In this film, the irony is in the above quote and Barbara Stanwyck manages to embody both the good girl and the bad girl in this film – thought not exactly how you’d expect.

Preston Sturges was originally a writer of screenplays; however, he was frustrated with how he felt the directors were ruining his work and the only way he could ensure that his screenplays were properly protected was to direct them himself. While he was still only a writer he met Barbara Stanwyck, who was starring in Remember the Night, which was written but not directed by him him. Up until Sturges knew her, Barbara Stanwyck had been largely known for her dramatic and suffering roles. She played self-sacrificial mothers, prostitutes, and often the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. However, she had begun to do several lighter films and Sturges thought she could be a wonderful comedian and promised that he would write a script for her. The result was The Lady Eve.

the-lady-eve[1]Charles Pike (Fonda) is the naïve heir of a brewing business, but he really loves snakes. Returning from an expedition “up the Amazon” he runs into Jean Harrington (Stanwyck) and her father Colonel Harrington (Coburn) on board ship. She and her father are card sharks whose specialty is fleecing rich men at cards, who Jean reels in for them to fleece.

In this case, she sticks out a leg, trips him and whisks him off to her cabin to get a new pair of shoes to replace the ones with the now broken heel.

In her cabin – and later – she completely overpowers him with her perfume, her bare knee and her general presence. Charles falls hard, literally falls (falling is another theme in this film – perhaps as an allusion to the original fall at Eden?) and he manages to take six pratfalls throughout the movie.

And as Charles is falling all over himself, she falls unexpected in love with him and accepts his marriage proposal, telling her father she is “going to be exactly the way he thinks I am.” However, Charles discovers that she really is a con artist and rejects her. This prompts her to embark on one of the most extraordinary and hilarious acts of revenge you’ll ever see, as she shows up in his life again, this time as the supposed Lady Eve Sidwich…one of those “best girls” who “aren’t as good” as he thinks.

And in any other hands but Barbara Stanwyck’s, I think I would have considered the revenge a trifle cruel. The reasons it’s not is owing partially to the inherent humor and brilliance of the writing and partially to how much she makes the audience believe that she loves him. The film critic, Roger Ebert notes that “what is surprising is how much genuine feeling she finds in the comedy” which is what gives the movie a stronger emotional/romantic tone (other screwball comedies are not as overtly romantic), because these two really do want each other.

The Lady Eve (1941)[1]And I think that’s one of the reasons why the first time I watched it, I wasn’t sure what to think. What I saw first was comedy, wit and sexiness; however it took a second viewing for me to truly appreciate how romantic it was.

The rest of the cast is likewise marvelous. It was my first Henry Fonda film and it went a long way towards helping me get over the conviction that he was only an earnest actor in earnest movies. In The Lady Eve he is innocent and handsome and completely enthralled by her and their chemistry is sparkling. It almost seems, in some places, that Sturges was deliberately thumbing his nose at the censors – it’s amazing the innuendo he puts in this film.

Charles Coburn is her father, a virtuosic card-shark (virtuosity was his word, not mine). William Demarest (who appears in many Preston Sturges films) is Pike’s valet and body guard who is convinced that Jean and her father are up to no good and spends much of the movie trying to dissuade Fonda from falling for Jean/Eve: “It’s the same dame.”

As the Lady Eve Sidwich

As the Lady Eve Sidwich

Fashion Notes: Barbara Stanwyck’s clothes were designed by Edith Head. It was really the movie that made Edith Head well known (she went on to design the personal and/or movie wardrobes of Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Dorothy Lamour, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford) and it was the first opportunity for Barbara Stanwyck to wear glamorous clothes. Edith Head said of the two persons Barbara Stanwyck impersonated in the film:

As Jean Harrington

As Jean Harrington

 

 

 

 

 

“It was a complete metamorphosis…It wasn’t merely a change of costume. The way she stood and walked was different, her makeup and hair became more elegant to suit her character.”

“For her gambler character, I had used sharp contrasts – black on white, all black, all white – to make her appear a tad coarse. Naturally I chose much richer, more luxurious fabrics when she was supposed to be of nobler birth. I also used different colorations that would show up more subtly in black and white. I left the sequins and glitter for the lady gambler in the beginning.” (quotes from the book Edith Head’s Hollywood, by Edith Head and Paddy Calistro)

Edith Head also said she used a lot of Latin American touches in her costumes for the movie, which then set off a wave of Latin American fashions in America. From then on, Barbara Stanwyck had it written into all her movie contracts that Edith Head would design her wardrobe. For a look at how Barbara Stanwyck went from chorus girl to glamorous star, see here on Movie Star Makeover. For pictures on her costumes in the movie, see The Criterion Collection’s article “Dressing the Lady Eve.”

Further Notes:

the_lady_eve[1]Preston Sturges was apparently quite nervous about the number of falls in the movie and he had been pressured to cut some of them out. He said, in his autobiography (quoted in this article from TCM):

“There are certain things that will convulse an audience, when it has been softened up by what has occurred previously, that seem very unfunny in cold print. Directing and acting have a lot to do with it, too. I had my fingers crossed when Henry Fonda went over the sofa. I held my left ear when he tore down the curtains and I held everything when the roast beef hit him. But it paid off.”

Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck did three movies together (The Mad Miss Manton (1938), The Lady Eve (1941) and You Belong to Me (1941)), although The Lady Eve is by far their best, and it was also the only film either of them did with Preston Sturges (I suppose, technically, she did two, since he wrote the script for one). I wish they’d done more.

Random Note:

In the movie, there is a lot of talk about how the boats (or luxury cruisers) are no longer running, which puzzled me for a few viewings, until I realized that it takes place in 1941, when Europe was at war, so although America had not yet entered the war, it would have still been unsafe to take a trip to England. The only boats that are running in the film go to South America.

Useful and Informative Links

TCM’s article on The Lady Eve

Film critic Roger Ebert’s review of The Lady Eve

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Movies

 

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