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Made For Each Other (1939)

downloadI can now be counted as an unabashed fan of Carole Lombard. The first movie I ever saw her in was My Man Godfrey and she was a bit much for me and I stayed away from her films for years. It was my loss, though. The more I see her films, the more brilliant she seems. She combines luminous beauty and depth of feeling with brilliant comic timing and energy.

Made For Each Other is an imperfect movie about the travails of a recently married couple, but allows Carole Lombard to showcase the range of her acting. She plays Jane Mason, the wife of John Mason (James Stewart), who is a lawyer and lives with his mother. The film begins with them just married, crazy in love, and planning to go on their honeymoon to Europe.

But life does not proceed exactly as planned. It’s the depression (the boss wants everyone to take a cut in salary), they live in a small apartment with his querulous and critical mother (Lucile Watson) and John is passed over as a partner by his boss, Judge Doolittle (Charles Coburn). Things become even more strained when they have a child.

Part of the trouble is that John is somewhat meek and disinclined to assert himself, something that Jane takes him to task on (she is definitely the bolder one). She wants him to appreciate his own worth. In some ways, the beginning of the film reminds me of Vivacious Lady, which James Stewart made the previous year with Ginger Rogers and Charles Coburn. In that film, James Stewart is a professor who meets, falls in love with, and marries Rogers all within the space of several hours (just like Made For Each Other), but is too timid to tell his father (Charles Coburn) and generally needs to have his spine stiffened. But Vivacious Lady is purely a comedy. Made For Each Other begins much like a comedy, but veers into melodrama territory by the end. The ending, in particular, is improbable.

But Carole Lombard is a delight as Jane. She absolutely adores John and a large part of the charm of the film is how invested Stewart and Lombard makes the audience in their story, despite its improbabilities. Lombard also demonstrates her excellent comic timing, especially in her interactions with her step-mother, who is never quite satisfied with anything Jane does. Her patience, but also her frustrations, all seemed very believable and it is an interesting look at people trying to get along in a small space. I would have enjoyed more of that and less of the ending race to fly some serum to New York to save their baby from pneumonia.

imagesOkay, apart from the ending, there is one thing I thought was distinctly odd. What is with the string of maids? How are they affording a string of maids (who all give notice for various reasons)? John laments at one point how their marriage is a mistake and how he’s turned Jane into a household drudge because she’s now having to take care of the apartment. My grandmother was married, had five children, took care of the house and frequently worked (at night, so she could be home with the kids). No maid. She never thought of herself as a drudge. She told me people simply did whatever they needed to do. And this was the ’50s, when there was no depression. Hollywood’s idea of how working people lived is certainly curious (my grandmother always gets a laugh whenever she sees a Hollywood “middle-class” family with a housekeeper).

I did find the relationship between Jane and Lily interesting (Lily is their last maid, played by Louise Beavers). In nearly all ways, it is a stereotypical role for Beavers. However, the dynamics stuck out to me. Jane has been looking for work and she and Lily sit down together on the bench and talk. Lily is given dialogue that is stereotyped in the extreme (using watermelons as a metaphor), but the body language and mutual friendship tells a different story. In many films, there can be a tone of condescension used when addressing a black character, but Lombard speaks to Lily just as she would a friend. Even the hug they share when Lily stops by their apartment on New Year’s Eve seems genuine and unforced, like they are really happy to see each other. Oddly enough, Jane’s struggles with poverty has give her common ground with Lily and made them equals in a certain way.

It’s something you see occasionally in depression era films (and WWII films). The sense that the national tragedy or struggle has equalized people to a certain extent. Everyone is fighting the same battle. True unity, the suggestion is, often comes from tragedy and shared struggle. Even the overwrought ending reinforces this. The struggle to save the baby at the end resolves all tensions and troubles, leading to reconciliation and prosperity.

This post is part of “Carole Lombard: The Profane Angel Blogathon.” Reportedly, Stewart and Lombard got on extremely well and Stewart said that Carole Lombard was the only person he knew who could make swearing ladylike. Thanks to In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies for hosting!

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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Movies

 

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes – by Anita Loos

GentlemenPreferBlondesAnita Loos is one of the most accomplished female American writers of the 1900s, author of novels, screenplays (for both silents and talkies), subtitles for silent movies, several memoirs, and Broadway plays. She also personified the flapper in the 1920s with her bobbed hair and wit and was just as much a prominent figure as a movie star, moving not only in Hollywood circles, but literary ones, as well. In fact, it was her friend, H.L. Mencken who inadvertently inspired her to write her most famous work, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Loos got the idea while traveling on a train with some friends, including Douglas Fairbanks, and she noticed that one woman, a blonde, was receiving all the attention. Men were practically bending over backwards to help her, whilst ignoring Loos, who felt she was just as attractive and youthful as the blonde, and a good deal more intelligent. Likewise, she noticed that her brilliant and satiric friend, H.L. Mencken, fell for a whole procession of low-intelligence blondes. In response, Loos wrote the novel that embodies the flapper era better than any novel I’ve ever read. As classic and iconic of the era as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a great deal more fun.

Published in 1926, the book is constructed as a diary, written by Lorelei Lee, who was told by a gentlemen friend that “if I took a pencil and a paper and put down all of my thoughts it would make a book.” The diary lasts from that point until she marries, a period of several months. It’s a satire. Loos skewers everyone in sight. Lorelei Lee is the blonde who is astonishingly ignorant, though with impressive street smarts. Practically every man she encounters is predatory, though their street-smartness is never up to Lorelei’s. Dorothy Shaw is Lorelei’s irrepressible friend, who never does learn how to be refined (Lorelei is striving for refinement, though her notions of what is refined is rather shaky) and constantly dismays her friend by falling in love with poor men. Lorelei would never allow herself to do anything so ill-advised as to fall in love at all, let alone with a man who had no money.

In New York, everybody parties, everybody drinks though it is the height of prohibition (Lorelei is filled with wonder, when she travels to Europe, at how people can go to hotel and order a drink). There are actors, musicians, intellectual gentlemen, movie producers, reformers, rich business men, old money, new money. But all the men seem curiously the same. They all profess to be interested in Lorelei’s brains and they all talk a great deal. One of Lorelei’s greatest assets is not only that she an irresistible blonde, but that she is an excellent listener.

Jean Harlow and Anita Loos - Loos wrote the screenplay for Harlow's hit movie, Red-Headed Woman

Jean Harlow and Anita Loos – Loos wrote the screenplay for Harlow’s hit movie, Red-Headed Woman

When the story begins, Lorlei is being ‘educated’ by Mr. Eisman, the button king. He is always sending her books and allows her to rack up a truly impressive array of bills. Lorelei chiefly likes him because he knows how to treat ‘we girls,” which is to say, he knows to shower them with presents and jewelry. However, being educated by Mr. Eisman does not prevent her from seeing other gentlemen friends, who all profess to be fascinated by her mind and long to educated her. And when Mr. Eisman sends Lorelei and Dorothy to Europe for more education, she meets Mr. Henry Spofford, whose business is censorship and who goes completely nuts over Lorelei. The question for Lorelei is, can she stand him enough to marry him?

Meanwhile, Lorelei and Dorothy travel through Europe: London and Paris, Central Europe, Germany, Austria. What is so funny is that they are on the trip to broaden their horizons, but Lorelei never ceases to look at the world with her unshakably unique, American perspective. She has little use for London gentlemen since they don’t buy presents. She comes to the conclusion that only American men are worthwhile, since only American men spend so liberally. She does, however, manage to wangle a diamond tiara out of a Sir Francis Beekman, but she has to work at it.

She is unimpressed with Central Europe because all she sees are farms where the women work and the men seem to take it easy, which is an experience that has no bearing on her life. In Germany, all the men eat sausages. She is not so much interested in landmarks as she is in shopping. New York, she decides, is really the place to be. In Vienna she meets Dr. Freud (she spells it Froyd), whose theory that inhibitions are the root cause of neuroses is somewhat upset when he discovers that Lorelei has no inhibitions. She even once acted violently, shooting a man who was two-timing her.

Loos prose is clever and absolutely a hoot. Lorelei cannot spell to save her life. ‘Subject’ becomes subjeck, intrigued is intreeged, negligee is negligay Most hysterically is how the Eiffel Tower is spelled the Eyefull Tower and the Hofbrau becomes the Half Brow. A Frenchman, who’s name I assume is Robert (pronounced ro-bair in French), is spelled Robber. Ironically, he is trying to rob Lorelei.

Movie adaption of Broadway play adaption of Loos' novel - 1953

Movie adaption of Broadway play adaption of Loos’ novel – 1953

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was extremely successful when it was published, so Anita Loos wrote a sequel in 1927 called But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. The book is still written from the perspective of Lorelei, who is now married and crashing the social register, but she now has literary ambitions and wants to write the life story of her friend, Dorothy Shaw, who grew up on a Carnival, upgraded to working in Ziegfeld’s Follies and still has the unfortunately tendency to fall in love with penniless men.

But Gentlemen Marry Brunette‘s is still fun, but it lacks the irrepressible sparkle of the first novel. Loos is still taking aim at hypocritical, reforming morals, middle class morals, upper class decadence, artistic pretense, etc. However, because Lorelei is no longer recounting her own story, complete with her unintentionally funny and revealing comments, the prose suffers a bit and has a less spontaneous, stream of conscience feel and is more straightforward.

Edith Wharton called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes the “great American novel.” It’s certainly one of the most entertaining. But it is also a fantastic examination of an era with cultural references, real people, attitudes, prohibition. I would recommend it over The Great Gatsby any day.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Fiction

 

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Love, But Not As We Know It

Love, But Not As We Know It

Andrea Lundgren and I have come to the end of our blog debate and I want to thank her for participating! I had a wonderful time writing and reading and found her thoughts extremely thought provoking. In closing the debate, she has written a post summing up her conclusions, both on Jo’s choice of husband and on the nature of marriage and love.

Andrea Lundgren

I’ve been thinking about Little Women and Jo March’s romance all weekend, and I think the difference of reader opinion about who she should’ve married–Laurie Laurence or Professor Bhaer–is rooted in our own perspectives on love and marriage. The two men represent very different kinds of relationships, and our response to them is largely determined, I think, by which sort of marriage we like, want, or have.

Laurie’s Kind of Marriage

Being married to a person like Laurie would be an adventure. He’d want you along for all his schemes, helping him get in and out of trouble. You’d be his best friend, and, for it to work well, he’d have to be yours. He’d share everything with you: his worries, frustrations, struggles, successes, striving for your approval, looking to you for comfort. You would be everything to him, and for the marriage to work, he’d have to be everything…

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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in Fiction, Literary Thoughts

 

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