Tag Archives: Lana Turner

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.


Posted by on February 24, 2016 in Movies


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) – A Romantic Noir Melodrama

PostmanAlwaysPosterWhen I learned that The Postman Always Rings Twice was made at MGM, it explained a lot. MGM is known for gloss, musicals, glamour, lavishness and star-wattage. It is not known for film noirs and The Postman Always Rings Twice is an unusual film noir. It occurred to me while I was watching it this weekend that it was just as much a melodrama as a noir: heightened emotions, coincidences, rapid reversals of fortunes (and The Postman Always Rings Twice has more reversals of fortune than several Bette Davis films put together) and complicated and agonized inter-relational dynamics. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense; a good melodrama is an art form.

And for a film about murder, adultery, betrayal, lust and blackmail, it lacks the edge, shadows and sharp camera angles and bleak cynicism one would expect. By the last third, the film has left noir behind and lodges itself in romance territory, though a romance gone awry.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is an adaptation of James M. Cain’s short novel from 1934, one of three of his books to be turned into film noirs: Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. The movie follows the plot of the book quite closely, though the violent sexual charge is considerably toned down for the movie.

Lana Turner as Cora

Lana Turner as Cora – Frank’s first sight of her

Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a vagrant by choice, hitchhiking from odd job to odd job and staying until he gets the well-known itching in his feet and moves on. He stops at a gas station and diner by a rural highway in California and is hired by the owner, Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) to help out. Nick is a genial fellow, unless there is any money at stake and then Nick’s paranoia that people are trying to cheat him comes out. Nick has a wife, much younger than him, named Cora (Lana Turner). There is instant electricity when they meet and through a series of plot turns, they decide to run away together. But Cora ultimately can’t do it. She doesn’t want to be a tramp or have to go back to working at a hash house. She wants to make something of herself and she and Frank decide instead to kill her husband, which would allow her to take over his business and employ some of her ideas to make it more profitable.

The plot is a bit mind-bending. Most noirs plots follow the three part formula of seduction, crime and reckoning. This film goes from initial seduction, failed murder attempt, abandonment of murder attempt, renewed attempt and success, a trial, betrayal, getting off at the trial, hating each other after the trial, dealing with a blackmailer, paranoia, jealousy and thoughts of killing each other, genuine reconciliation and the final reckoning. It doesn’t feel convoluted when you watch it, though. It all seems like a natural development of the characters.

I was especially impressed by Lana Turner, an actress famous for being beautiful rather than talented. Admittedly, she does not have an expressive voice (Barbara Stanwyck can seduce partially with her voice and can convey so much with a word), but her performance as Cora was surprisingly subtle. Cora Smith is not a usual femme fatale. When we first meet her, she is in the role of siren. However, later she reveals ambivalence. She seems to be almost afraid of Frank and the feelings he will bring out in her, like she knows she has a dark side and is afraid to unleash it.

Cecil Kellaway, John Garfield and Lana Turner

Cecil Kellaway, John Garfield and Lana Turner

Several times when Frank is making advances, she tries to get her husband to pay attention to her as if she wants to remind herself that he loves her and she must remain loyal (Nick seems to suffer from a common noir and melodrama problem of remaining so blind to what is going on in his house that he even inadvertently encourages the affair).

There are moments when you can tell that she is manipulating Frank, but other times when she seems genuinely to want him. She gets to be the vulnerable and unhappy wife, the seductress, the manipulator, a vengeful woman (when Frank gets tricked into betraying her at her trial for her husband’s murder), unflinching, quick and surprisingly unfazed by Frank’s brutality in dealing with the blackmailer, ambitious, perpetually trying to start afresh and wipe the slate clean. She married Nick because it meant a new beginning; she tells Frank they must kill Nick so they can have a new beginning and she later believes that when she is pregnant the baby will provide yet another fresh beginning. But there is an imbalance in the force, so to speak, and she never can start afresh, but must pay for her actions and it is ironic that she finally does pay through a freak accident rather than human agency.

John Garfield, Hume Cronyn and Lana Turner - Cronyn is the shifty lawyer who manages to get Cora off

John Garfield, Hume Cronyn and Lana Turner – Cronyn is the shifty lawyer who manages to get Cora off

John Garfield is a natural fit for Frank Chambers as the drifter who knows better, but can’t help himself. Like most noirs, his motivations are simple: he wants her and that overwhelms everything else he knows and feels. His voice-over narration of the story is also unique. Most voice-overs are stoic or ironic, but not Garfield’s. His is desperate to be understood and to explain what happened and it is almost breathless.

The DA prosecuting Cora and her defense attorney are real highlights in the film. Leon Ames is the DA who is not above a few tricks to make his case, though he does want to see justice done. Hume Cronyn is the slimy, but brilliant, defense attorney, a man with no interest in justice who seems to be a lawyer for the sheer kicks of it, testing his ability. He won’t even take a fee from Cora when he could have demanded a large one. Instead, he wins a bet with the DA and an improbable case.

The ending, oddly enough, is positively upbeat, all things considered. Frank is indicted for murdering Cora – though it really was an accident – but when he realizes that it was only justice for the murder of Nick he embraces his end. He and Cora pay for their crimes with their death, balance to the force is restored and he even seems in hopes of being reunited with Cora after his execution. This is a romantic spin on what has come before. It is not entirely out of the blue, since the film increasingly seems to take on a romantic hue. Murder didn’t bring them what they wanted and actually brought them fear and paranoia, but unlike Double Indemnity, where  lack of trust is the lovers’ downfall, they really do seem to love each other and perhaps do genuinely overcome their fear. Their ultimate demise has nothing to do with self-destruction but cosmic justice.

John Garfield, Lana Turner and blackmailer

John Garfield, Lana Turner and blackmailer

I can’t end without discussing Lana Turner’s costumes, designed by Irene. In almost the entire movie she wears white  – usually associated purity – and some sort of heard covering: turbans, swimming cap, hat, even a towel at one point. My theory is that Cora is a relatively self-aware femme fatale. She’s not entirely evil, she wants to be good, but knows what she is capable of and fears it. In self-defense from herself, she constantly wears white to reinforce who she wants to be. It’s the adage about dressing like the person you want to be…though there is a distinctly sexy edge to her wardrobe. The head coverings I find more puzzling. At one point, just before she dies and believing she finally has that fresh start, she has a towel draped over her head and it looks like a wimple like nuns wear. Head coverings have traditionally been associated with modesty, so perhaps it is all part of the general attempt at modest dressing, even if the affect is seldom modest.

She does wear black twice and it stands out when she does. The first time she is in a black dressing gown and is contemplating suicide (she says; not sure how far we can believe her) and then she and Frank plot the final murder of Nick that actually succeeds. The second time is when she returns from her mother’s funeral and is ready to tell Frank that she is pregnant and ready for another fresh start, though the fresh start is deferred by the appearance of a blackmailer, who through quick thinking on her part and violence on Frank’s, they manage to foil. But in that scene she reveals a tellingly ruthless streak in how she handles the situation and watches Frank beat the blackmailer. It is possible that the moments when she is in black are the moments when she is most herself…fundamentally despairing and cold inside, but grasping for a better future, to be a better person, and capable of doing anything to achieve it.


Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Film Noir


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on Film – 1920, 1931, 1941

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was looking at adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on Wikipedia and there are well over twenty movie and TV versions, in various languages. The first movie was made in 1908 and there are also numerous stage adaptations (and one Broadway musical). However, there are three main films that are best remembered – from 1920, 1931, and 1941 – and I’ve been gradually watching them in preparation for reading the book. Last night, I finished the 1941 version and have therefore completed my Jekyll and Hyde saga. I think I will have to embark on a slightly happier saga, next.

The most critically acclaimed and well thought of is the 1931 version, starring Fredric March, who won an Oscar for his performance. It’s 98 minutes, but it’s a potent little film, very sexually charged and as a result it was not the most enjoyable film for me to watch, even though it was extremely well done.

Annex%20-%20March,%20Fredric%20(Dr_%20Jekyll%20and%20Mr_%20Hyde)_NRFPT_03Dr. Henry Jekyll is a man who is very aware of his shortcomings. He gives much of his time to a free hospital and wants to be a good man and madly loves his fiancé, Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart), but also is keenly aware of how easily he can fall into temptation, such as when he meets Ivy (Miriam Hopkins), a prostitute who unclothes (off-screen) and hops into bed and offers to show her gratitude for his saving her from being molested in the street. He resists, however, but he urges Sir Danvers, his future father-in-law, to set an earlier date for his wedding to Muriel. Sir Danvers refuses and takes his daughter off on a vacation.

It is the inability to wait for his wedding that drives Jekyll into Hyde. Although he had posited at the beginning of the film his belief that man was two – good and evil – and had succeeded in creating Hyde, he seems to have been somewhat alarmed by the creature that came out. He only turns to Hyde again when he decides that the months of waiting for Muriel are too long, and he hasn’t forgotten Ivy.

Fredric March as Hyde and Miriam Hopkins as Ivy

Fredric March as Hyde and Miriam Hopkins as Ivy

This is where the movie gets too much for me. Hyde locates Ivy and then keeps an apartment for her where he can visit, keeping her there through sheer terror and brutality. Miriam Hopkins plays the role excellently, but her terror is so well played and Hyde’s lustful evil is so well played that it is deeply disturbing to watch. March’s Hyde is one of the scariest characters I have ever seen; he plays him like an animal. As Jenny Davidson pointed out in her notes to my Barnes & Noble edition of the book, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came out the same year as the famous Universal monster and horror movies (Frankenstein, Dracula) but is far more frightening than either, which I have to agree with.

When my sister and I first saw Hyde, she remarked that he looked like the missing link. They were, apparently, going for the ape look and March said that he played Hyde as a separate entity, a monster, who takes over Jekyll. He also makes Hyde a highly athletic character, jumping over railings and down stairs. His Hyde has a frenetic energy and will for living. His Jekyll, on the other hand, strikes just the right balance between showing his capacity for genuine goodness, nobility and concern for others, his genuine loathing of what he’s done, his passion for Muriel, but also the desires that lurk inside him. His Jekyll has just as much zest for living as Hyde, only expressed in different ways.

10030576_2The 1941 version is a fairly close remake of the ’31 version: the sequence of events are the same, certain lines are the same, but somehow it lacks the tension, urgency and emotion of the other. It was made during the code, which means it is far less explicit, but I am not sure that alone accounts for the disengaging quality of the film.

Spencer Tracy seems miscast as Jekyll/Hyde. He doesn’t really look like he belongs in the period; he’s too reserved as Jekyll and does not really project embodied evil as Hyde. Tracy reportedly agreed that he was not suited for the role and tried to get out of it.

The film also stars Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner and as soon as I saw that I said to my sister “and you can guess who plays which role,” but I was wrong. Ingrid Bergman was tired of playing saintly women and requested the role of the prostitute (who has been transformed into a barmaid in this version), but she still makes for a pretty refined barmaid with a cockney/Swedish accent. Lana Turner, on the other hand, seems woefully inadequate and young for the role of refined fiancé.

Tracy as Jekyll and Bergman as Ivy

Tracy as Jekyll and Bergman as Ivy

Tracy’s Hyde does not look as different from Jekyll and at one point Ivy (Bergman) almost thinks she recognizes Hyde when she sees Jekyll. It is an intriguing idea, but is never really followed up or explored. Perhaps another part of the problem is that in this version, Jekyll considers madness to be a result of the imbalance of the good and evil in man; madness is when good is absent and there is only evil. It is in his attempts to find a means to cure madness that he first creates Hyde. The problem is that his Hyde seems more unhinged than truly evil and the affect is diluted.

Where the ’31 and ’41 versions are about sexual repression, the 1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is all about John Barrymore. Although he’d made a few movies before 1920, none of them were especially well received and it wasn’t until his much praised work in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that he made his successful transition from stage to screen. It’s a silent film, only 67 minutes, but actually quite good.

thO5HJ3I2JBarrymore’s Dr. Jekyll is a saintly doctor, so saintly that his friends wonder at the man. No man can be that good, they say. One friend (what friends!) suggests that in serving others, he is neglecting his own development as a person. Jekyll and his friends all agree that man has two selves, but Jekyll begins to wonder if there is a way for him to participate in the pleasures described, but without fear for his immortal soul. In this version, then, he is not necessarily trying to make Jekyll good and separate out the good and evil; he is just trying to create an outlet for his evil without it affecting him (a concept found in the original book).

What most people talk about in this movie is the transformation scene where Barrymore initially demonstrates the change from Jekyll to Hyde without makeup and solely through the changing of his expression. What is also different about his Hyde is that he is old, decrepit and hideous.

John Barrymore as Hyde

John Barrymore as Hyde

Another difference is that the highlight, the moment when Hyde commits his ultimate act of murder, is when he kills his fiancé’s father, whereas in the other versions it is when Hyde kills Ivy. But that illustrates the difference in focus between the movies. The others are about evil specifically in regards to lust and this one is more concerned with evil overall, in all areas of life.

Poor John Utterson (who narrates the story in the novel) fares rather poorly in all three movies, which is understandable. In 1920, he is a good, stalwart friend (rather younger than in the book) who also seems to be in love with Jekyll’s fiancé. In 1931, he is reduced to being just a random houseguest and in 1941 he is eliminated altogether and emerges in the character of Dr. Lanyon, who is a composite of Utterson and Lanyon.


Posted by on October 22, 2014 in Horror, Silent Films


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: