Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wife vs. Secretary or Harlow vs. Loy

What a pleasure it was to see Wife vs. Secretary (1936) on my DVR.  Once again, THANK YOU to Turner Classic Movies for a great March full of Jean Harlow (1911 - 1937) movies, during Jean's 100th birthday month.

I must admit, up until this month, I had only seen her in the two Laurel and Hardy films she made in 1929, Double Whoopee and Bacon Grabbers.  She was also in City Lights (1931) the Chaplin classic, but was only an extra so I didn't notice her.

We started out by watching Bombshell (1933), an early starring feature with a very platinum blonde Harlow.  I believe it was typical of some early talkies to have too much dialog in a movie populated by a cast of former stage actors who project all the way to the back row of the theater.  Someone needed to tell them that the microphone was closer.  As a result, the movie is difficult to watch.  The talking is too fast, and combined with the colloquial way of speaking in the thirties, I couldn't easily follow the story.  To really understand this movie would take three viewings.

Then we watched Reckless (1935).  I figured two more years of sound experience, plus William Powell (1892 - 1984) would make this a better experience.  Harlow and Powell were lovers and I hoped there would be on screen chemistry.  It was another disappointment.  The script was beneath them both, and it became boring, but Harlow was beautiful and quite accomplished for only 24 years old.

We struck cinematic gold with Wife vs. Secretary.  The pairing of good friends Myrna Loy (1905 - 1993) and Jean Harlow (now with toned down, more natural blonde color), was perfect.  Clark Gable (1901 - 1960) got top billing because he was the King of the Movies, but his part could have been played by any leading man of the time.  All eyes were on Harlow and Loy.

In a Bit Part, we have James Stewart (1908 - 1997) as Harlow's boyfriend.  This was only Stewart's fifth film, but you could see his bright future in every scene he had.

I can't say enough about this film.  The story took you through all the emotions of the head of a publishing empire and his desire to succeed, his secretary who knows her help is needed by him, and his wife who only wants to give her love as he gives his to her.  Plus, the frustration of Harlow's boyfriend who thinks he may be losing her.  The fact is, everybody loves everybody else, but is Harlow just too much of a temptation for Gable?

There is no sex, because this was after the Hays Code.  Loy and Gable even have separate bedrooms.  But listen closely and you can hear the innuendos.  These were all sexy stars and they could deliver the message in body language plus a few words.

I was going to commit Wife vs. Secretary to VHS tape, but I think I'll order the DVD set instead.  (I really need to get that home theater PC I've been thinking about!)  Harlow was a star for a very short time.  I wonder what her future would have brought.  Would it have been filled with success in a long life like Bette Davis, or end in tragedy like Marilyn Monroe?  Kidney disease took Jean Harlow at just age 26, so we'll never know.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Last Elizabeth Taylor Post

Since yesterday's news of the passing of screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, there is little left to be said about her.  Here is my take, which tends to be quirky at times. 

She was amazing in her early career, establishing herself as an actress who would become a shining star.  Right from the start in Lassie Come Home (1943) she was noticed as having something that made her special on the screen.  The next year she starred in National Velvet at age 12 and never looked back.

Not all of her work was magic, though.  After the big hits, Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), BUtterfield 8 (1960), and Cleopatra (1963), she made the stinker, The V.I.P.s (1963).  Then back to the hits with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and The Taming of the Shrew (1967).

By now Taylor had a loyal fan base and they would watch anything with her in it.  But the mid 1960s were the start of her decline, if you can call it that.  There was a younger audience going to a new kind of movie, like The Graduate (1967), and they looked at Taylor as being one of the old stars.  She was 35 you know, and Dustin Hoffman was five years younger.

In 1973 she did a TV movie called "Divorce His - Divorce Hers."  I had the misfortune to buy this movie for $1 at Walmart.  My wife and I tried to watch it, but decided it would be better if we just put it in the box of stuff we take to the charity thrift shop. 

Taylor can be difficult to watch during this period.  She was obviously trying, but perhaps trying too hard and coming off as melodramatic.  Richard Burton in this was the opposite.  He seemed to be bored with the whole production, not just his wife, who he divorced (the second time) the next year.

I think the toll of her lifestyle and her health problems added to her later acting problems.  Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for her and you'll see what I mean.  She was a chain smoker from an early age and that led to lung cancer.  It also didn't help her heart, as she died from congestive heart failure.  And that's just the start. 

The fact remains that she was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  She was beautiful in her early years, and glamorous as she aged.  I never liked the big hair years in the 1980s, but it showed that she was bigger than life.  She also did a lot of good for many charities.  You have to like her simply because she showed what can be done in America.

Being a star is never easy.  It is easier to be a Bit Actor, as I've said before.  I am sure that Liz handled it as best she could.  She has also ensured her place as an immortal star, who will live on the screen forever.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An O and a G, Where are They Now?

When it first came out, I would shorten An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) to An O and a G.  Sorry.  I guess I have to explain myself sometimes.

More in the way of explanation, my wife and I currently working our way through the "Ugly Betty" TV series, as a diversion to life.  It works...sometimes.  I noticed Tony Plana (b. 1952) as Betty's father, and wondered what else he was in.  That started me thinking about a blog topic.

Tony Plana has 151 titles on IMDb, a good mix of movies and TV.  In An O and a G he was the Hispanic officer candidate, Emiliano Della Serra.  It was his sixth movie, and he had also appeared in quite a few TV shows by then.

Plana, born in Havana, Cuba, tends to play Hispanic parts, and he appears in quite a few of the better detective shows on television in the 1980s.  "Cagney and Lacey," "Remington Steele," "Hill Street Blues," "Miami Vice," and "L.A. Law" to name a few.

His choice of roles in movies seems to be less fortunate, and I think that keeps his name from becoming a household word.  He was in the Raul Julia (1940 - 1994) biopic, Romero in 1989, and he had small parts in The Rookie and Havana in 1990.  His career continues with a good amount of work, but few starring roles outside of TV.

Lisa Blount (1957 - 2010) had a larger part in An O and a G than Plana, and that role is what she is remembered for.  She had only 47 titles in her career.  She was known as a 'scream queen' for her parts in some horror flix in the 1980s.  I have often wondered why talented actors take those roles.  That kind of movie would have been a B-picture 40 years before that decade.

Blount's last movie was Randy and the Mob (2007) starring Ray McKinnon (b. 1957) who also wrote and directed, and his production company partner Walter Goggins (b. 1971).  Sorry, I am unfamiliar with that movie and the stars.  Choices like that can hold you back.

One more, just for comparison.  David Caruso (b. 1956) also had a very small part as an officer candidate, who drops out before graduation.  Caruso only has 46 titles, and An O and a G was his fourth film, but his name is much better known that Blount or Plana.

Caruso's first big TV break was a regular role on "Hill Street Blues" and I think he found a home on television. In addition to his movie work, he was a star on "NYPD Blue," and played the same detective role on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "CSI: New York," and "CSI: Miami."  He is still the star in CSI, of one of the best detective shows on TV.

Is the talent of these three so different?  Sadly, Lisa Blount had health problems and passed away at age 53.  Her career might have improved.  Tony Plana is versatile, talented, and working regularly...but he is not a big star.  He has made four times the number of production as the others.  Is David Caruso so different?