Stars of the month Kay Francis & Miriam Hopkins

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Mike Gebert
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Stars of the month Kay Francis & Miriam Hopkins

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Mar 31, 2008 6:34 pm

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Second-tier stars of the 30s, between them they had fewer Oscar nominations in their lives than Bette Davis had wins by 1938. (Hopkins was nominated for Becky Sharp, Francis never.) Yet one cannot live on legends alone, and it is often the more recognizably human stars who earn our love-- or at least, who give us a reason to keep watching old movies after we've seen all the capital-C classics.

To be honest, Francis was not the actress Davis was, by a long ways. She basically had one expression-- a sort of rueful, yet hopeful, worldly resignation. But Hollywood saw two things in her-- one, that that mood could go a long way in the right kind of story, hinting at all sorts of feminine knowledge of what goes on between two people, how men have delighted and disappointed her. Been there, done that, yet willing to try one more time for the romance that will sweep her away, because what else is there to do in this world? She made a great movie about lovers with only a short time to live, One-Way Passage, but all that means is that it's exactly the same plot as all her movies, a little more condensed. I described a quintessential Francis scene in William Wellman's Man Wanted here:"There's a terrific scene, probably the sexiest separate-beds scene until North by Northwest, where Francis is waiting in bed, slinkily attired and positively purring for her hubby, he delays a little in joining her, then she discovers evidence of his adultery-- and sadder but wiser, she leaves it on his pillow and turns to sleep facing the other way."

The other thing Hollywood saw was that she was just about the best thing a designer dress could hope to be hung on. She raises wearing Hollywood costumes to an art form. A greater, more soul-searing performance would get in the way of the couture, make it seem trivial. Her acting was at the level of great costuming, at a moment of particularly glorious geometric Deco stylishness; the architectural compositions Fritz Lang needed an army of extras to produce, Francis could achieve by walking across the room in a floor-length gown. If wearing clothes with grace and style on screen seems like a small thing next to playing Medea, well, it's not so small when we praise Cary Grant for it.

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In my book I prefaced praise for Miriam Hopkins in King Vidor's The Stranger's Return with the words "Ordinarily a brittle and bitchy actress..." The problem is, I no longer know what role of hers I was thinking of when I said that. It fits Becky Sharp, certainly, but I don't think I had seen that then. It's hard to see that it would have fit Dr. Jekyll (in which she's at her pre-Code slinkiest as a whore wriggling her way into bed), or either Trouble in Paradise or Design For Living. Maybe I thought that of These Three then, though I really don't remember anything about it at all now. Or maybe I just held it against her that her near double in looks and Southern voice, Helen Chandler, never really managed to have a career (and came to a very sad end) after very affecting turns in The Last Flight and Outward Bound, no doubt in part because with Hopkins so active, she seemed a bit redundant.

In any case, Hopkins stands out in my memory for two performances in particular. One is the criminally unknown The Stranger's Return, in which she's the Depression-whipped city girl who returns to the family farm and gradually becomes grounded again. It's a beautiful tale of spiritual regeneration and maturation, far superior to Vidor's other back-to-the-land movie Our Daily Bread, and Hopkins completely convinces you that a city gal with good clothes could find deeper satisfaction working the farm than in a married man's arms. If Vidor had directed The Awful Truth, Irene Dunne would have ended up in Oklahoma City with Ralph Bellamy, and liked it.

The other is a lesser Lubitsch than the ones named above, The Smiling Lieutenant. I described the key scene in an AMS post (reposted and amplified here) about Lubitsch's German films, such as The Oyster Princess:
This use of consummation as the motor of a movie's climax recurs in Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant-- Chevalier, whose princess bride (Miriam Hopkins) has been a cold fish, has turned his interest elsewhere; while the frigid princess has finally warmed up (in fact she's rarin' to go) but can't seem to make him realize the fact. There the dramatic climax comes out of marital miscommunication, shyness versus worldliness, distinctly human emotions-- and it's one of the most touching examples of the Lubitsch Touch in action.
Two bed scenes, a year apart-- Hopkins' erotically yowsa turn as the whore in Dr. Jekyll, and this shy, tender, delicate moment-- two of the greatest moments of erotic desire, frank but not tawdry, ever put on screen.
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Unread post by gjohnson » Mon Mar 31, 2008 10:08 pm

I never considered Miriam Hopkins 'bitchy' period to begin until she joined Warners in the late 30's. Her work before that consisted of some aggressive and hard-edged charactors but when you're appearing opposite the likes of Gary Cooper or Bing Crosby how mean can you truly get?
That all changed when she signed with Warners as she became downright catty - which probably had something to do with having to play opposite the Lot's Queen Bee, Ms. Davis.
Heck, even when she was cast as the love interest against Errol Flynn in "Virginia City" - (1940) she plays a Civi War spy so she has to act duplicitous and deceitful to our hero. Olivia De Havilland never had to traverse such treacherous waters.

Gary J.

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Unread post by Frederica » Tue Apr 01, 2008 9:30 am

gjohnson wrote:I never considered Miriam Hopkins 'bitchy' period to begin until she joined Warners in the late 30's. Her work before that consisted of some aggressive and hard-edged charactors but when you're appearing opposite the likes of Gary Cooper or Bing Crosby how mean can you truly get?

Gary J.
Love the new masthead, and I'm happy to announce that there is a biography of Hopkins in the works, so stay tuned.

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Unread post by Cherry Malotte » Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:00 pm

While I'm more a Kay fan, I'd love to see The Story of Temple Drake.
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Unread post by dr.giraud » Sat Apr 26, 2008 5:30 pm

Cherry Malotte wrote:While I'm more a Kay fan, I'd love to see The Story of Temple Drake.
My favorite lines in TEMPLE DRAKE are between Hopkins and Florence Eldridge:

"Why do keep the baby in the wood box?"

"So the rats don't get it."
dr. giraud

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Sep 01, 2008 10:17 pm

Just a reminder, Kay Francis gets a half day on TCM on Thursday, 9/4, including Man Wanted (discussed here), the delightful Jewel Robbery, and the lovely One Way Passage. Also on early that day, for the first time in a long time if ever, is Dark Horse with Warren William.
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Unread post by Harlett O'Dowd » Tue Sep 02, 2008 6:42 am

Mike Gebert wrote:Just a reminder, Kay Francis gets a half day on TCM on Thursday, 9/4, including Man Wanted (discussed here), the delightful Jewel Robbery, and the lovely One Way Passage. Also on early that day, for the first time in a long time if ever, is Dark Horse with Warren William.
Actually, TCM *does* run DARK HORSE occasionally, but it's one of those titles I always intend to DVD-R but for one reason or another don't get to, so I'm *very* anxious to get it this time.

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Unread post by Cherry Malotte » Tue Sep 02, 2008 9:02 am

I fully expect my dvd recorder to burst into flames after this month and next month with Carole Lombard.

Thanks for the heads up on Dark Horse! I usually list out what I want but had missed that one.
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Tue Sep 02, 2008 9:09 am

They're also showing Comet Over Broadway, which gets uniformly lousy reviews but which my wife watched once (I think insomnia-related) and found quite enjoyable. We'll see who was right, but it wouldn't be the first time "everybody knew" that something was no good and in fact it turned out to be all right once people actually saw it.
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Unread post by boblipton » Tue Sep 02, 2008 10:15 am

COMET OVER BROADWAY is what my cousin calls a refrigerator movie. You see it, you go home, you go to the kitchen for a glass of milk, you open the refrigerator and then it hits you: What a stupid movie that was!

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Unread post by Lokke Heiss » Mon Sep 08, 2008 3:11 pm

The Stranger's Return has never been available on DVD, and as far as I know, never been shown on TCM.

Can someone explain why this is hung up in copyright limbo hell?

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Sep 08, 2008 6:56 pm

I have it on Beta from TNT... :roll:

But so far as I know (and I've checked for it religiously for years) it has never been on TCM. I've requested it a zillion times, I've emailed asking what the deal is, I have no idea what the problem is. I suppose it's possible some rights issue could have appeared out of nowhere, a la Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, though of course there's been no remake.

If anyone has any better ability to shake the TCM tree for an answer than I ever have, I'd love to hear the explanation. It's one of the best films of the 1930s, as far as I'm concerned, and certainly the best Vidor talkie in my book.
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Unread post by Lokke Heiss » Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:27 pm

If we know why Robinson Crusoe on Mars took so long for DVD, if we know why Jack the Giant Killer took so long, how is it that NO ONE really knows what's going on with Stranger's Return, what everybody says is one of the best films of that decade?

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Unread post by radiotelefonia » Wed Sep 24, 2008 6:30 am

Lokke Heiss wrote:The Stranger's Return has never been available on DVD, and as far as I know, never been shown on TCM.

Can someone explain why this is hung up in copyright limbo hell?
It has surfaced on the internet...

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Unread post by Harlett O'Dowd » Wed Sep 24, 2008 7:07 am

BTW, which of the dueling Kay bios would you Nitratevillains reccommend?

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Unread post by rudyfan » Wed Sep 24, 2008 9:09 am

Harlett O'Dowd wrote:BTW, which of the dueling Kay bios would you Nitratevillains reccommend?
I found Scott O'Brien's book dishy enough, but far too much of it was taken up with plot of movie rehashings. Needed some editing. Worth a read, though.

I have not read the McFarland, so I cannot comment.
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Unread post by Frederica » Wed Sep 24, 2008 11:48 am

rudyfan wrote:
Harlett O'Dowd wrote:BTW, which of the dueling Kay bios would you Nitratevillains reccommend?
I found Scott O'Brien's book dishy enough, but far too much of it was taken up with plot of movie rehashings. Needed some editing. Worth a read, though.

I have not read the McFarland, so I cannot comment.
The McFarland is a little more on the scholarly side. You might want to read both, frankly, they both have their strengths.

Fred

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Unread post by Harlett O'Dowd » Fri Sep 26, 2008 7:37 am

Once again I am my own worse en enemy. I managed to destroy my DVD-R of MANDALAY and DR. MONICA.

GRRRRRR!!!!!

Did anyone manage to capture these?

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Unread post by Vanwall » Fri Sep 26, 2008 9:17 am

I'll now when I get home from work, it was still recording the end of this weeks Kay films when I left this morning. I'll keep you posted.

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Unread post by Vanwall » Fri Sep 26, 2008 9:29 am

And Miss O'Dowd, don't feel alone - I lost the whole first week's worth.

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Unread post by radiotelefonia » Fri Sep 26, 2008 4:40 pm

Some of those films are already on the Internet. Some of them, where mostly lifted from France's TCM, with a permanent watermark and French subtitles.

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Unread post by Vanwall » Fri Sep 26, 2008 6:54 pm

Mamselle O'Dowd - I have successfully captured these two, and all of the last three Thursdays for that matter, so let me know if you need any of them.

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Unread post by Jenny Paxson » Thu Oct 02, 2008 3:21 pm

I found Scott O'Brien's book dishy enough, but far too much of it was taken up with plot of movie rehashings. Needed some editing. Worth a read, though.
Personally, I loved the movie descriptions and reviews. When I started the book, I had only seen a couple of Kay's films - by the time I finished I had seen at least 3/4 of them because of the intriguing descriptions. (And even more now, thank to Kay Francis month on TCM!) I read both books - prefer O'Brien's.

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