Posts Tagged ‘Joan Crawford’

My Classic Movie Pick: A Woman’s Face, with Villainous Conrad Veidt

My post today is for the Great Villain Blogathon and it is hosted by 3 wonderful bloggers who also love, love, love classic movies: Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy.  Be sure to visit these blog sites to read about all of the great movie villains written about by other movie loving bloggers.

Great Villain Blogathon

A Woman’s Face, made by MGM in 1941, was not MGM head honcho Louis B. Mayer’s cup of tea.  Joan Crawford had learned of the Swedish movie version of the stage play.  The play had been written by Francis de Croisset and a screenplay for MGM’s version was to be written by Donald Ogden Stewart.  Ingrid Bergman had starred in the 1938  Swedish film and now Crawford wanted to star in an  American version.  Mayer didn’t like the fact that one of his beautiful stars would have to be “uglied” up for the role since the movie’s plot is about a disfigured woman who turns to a life of  crime since society has  rejected her because of  her deformity.   A Woman's Face movie poster 2 Anna Holm(Crawford) was burned on one side of her face when she was a child.  Her widowed, drunken father accidentally set the house on fire while Anna was asleep.  She was rescued but her father died in the flames.  Throughout her growing up years she felt rejected by society as people would stare at her face or try to avoid her altogether.  Upon reaching adulthood, Anna decides to make money off of the weak and foolish of the world so  she becomes a very good blackmailer. Simultaneously owning a tavern/restaurant in a secluded, wooded area outside of Stockholm proper, she draws in a rich clientele who like to meet at her business for rendezvous away from prying eyes.  It is to this clientele that she finds customers to blackmail.   She is aided by 3 con artists who are under her employ: Bernard Dalvik(Reginald Owen), his wife Christina Dalvik(Connie Gilchrist), and Herman Rundvik(Donald Meek).

Gilchrist as Mrs. Dalvik

Gilchrist as Mrs. Dalvik

Owens as

Owens as Dalvik

Donald Meek as Rundvik

Donald Meek as Rundvik

One evening as a loud party of 10 people are preparing to leave, the host of the party wants to put the bill on his tab.  He is told that he’ll have to discuss that with the proprietess.  When this fellow saunters into Anna’s office, he is polite, charming, and very suave.  It is this man, Torsten Barring(Conrad Veidt) who is the main villain of A Woman’s Face and his character will soon have the vulnerable Anna under his spell!  Through my reading about this movie, I came across a snippet that when Veidt was asked to describe his character, Torsten Barring, Veidt smiled and replied that he was  playing  Satan in a tuxedo!

Conrad Veidt as Torsten Barring

Conrad Veidt as Torsten Barring

In Torsten’s party is Vera Segert(Osa Massen), the  young and beautiful wife of Dr. Segert(Melvyn Douglas).  Dr. Segert wasn’t at Torsten’s party which is how Vera wanted it.  She used the party to flirt with another man the entire evening, and it is soon noticed by Torsten that Vera and this other man have a thing going on.  All of this potential for blackmail is on Torsten’s mind when he meets Anna in her office.  He surprises her as he doesn’t flinch in horror when he sees her face but treats her gallantly, kisses her hand, and her reaction is one of utter shock, that a man would treat her so kindly.

Anna soon agrees to work with Torsten and his schemes because she loves him

Anna soon agrees to work with Torsten and his schemes because she loves him

Seeing Anna's deformity and not shunning her.

Seeing Anna’s deformity and not shunning her.

Torsten soon has Anna working for him in the blackmailing game.  She goes to his lavish apartment at first just for business and assignments but soon Torsten pours on more charm and Anna finds herself falling in love with him.  Veidt, in real life, had piercing blue eyes and he used them to great effect in his acting.  Crawford was so impressed by his skills that she said in her later years that she had rarely met another actor who had shown such dramatic skills and depth as Veidt.     Torsten next tells Anna that a big prize awaits them.  He has the love letters that Vera Segert had foolishly sent to the man at the party Torsten hosted.  Torsten arranges for Vera Segert to go to Anna’s 3 con artist employees to beg for the letters and to get an idea of how much money it will cost her to get them back.  Anna then goes to Vera’s home at an agreed to time that evening with the letters.  Anna demands more money from Vera for the letters.  Vera hotly refuses and then cruelly shines a light on Anna’s face, exposing her deformity.  Anna then unloads a slapfest on Vera’s face and unexpectedly, Dr. Segert arrives home.   He thinks Anna is an intruder, intent on swiping his wife’s jewels and Vera begs him to just let Anna go.  He notices Anna’s scars and tells her that he is a skilled plastic surgeon and he thinks he could take her scars away.  He shows her books of successfully treated patients and Anna does agree to and does have the surgery.  It is a long, two year process but Anna and Dr. Segert persevere and develop an admiration for one another.  He for her survival skills in a cruel world and she for his compassion for his fellow man.

Dr. Segert and Vera with Anna pre-surgery.

Dr. Segert and Vera with Anna pre-surgery.

Anna delights in showing Torsten her new face.  She feels like a brand new woman as she is now beautiful.  Torsten seems happy for her but then he tells her about his extended family.   His aged Uncle Magnus Barring(Albert Bassermann) is very wealthy and has sadly decided to leave all of his fortune to a 4 year old grandson, Lars-Erik(Richard Nichols).  It is at this point in the film where Veidt’s Torsten becomes truly mad, in a stealthily,  quiet  way.  No screaming or tantrums are thrown.  He just sidles up to Anna and quietly explains to her his plan.  He tells Anna that he will recommend her to his Uncle Magnus for a governess job for little Lars-Erik.  Then, after a time, Anna will kill Lars-Erik and he, Torsten, will be the only one to inherit his uncle’s fortune.  Anna is in shock over this information, but doesn’t react hastily.  She seems to know that her love for this man is now over, but that if she lets on that it is, he’ll probably try to kill her. too.  So, reluctantly, Anna agrees to being a new governess for Lars-Erik.

Torsten intoning to Anna  his evil plot to inherit the money.

Torsten intoning to Anna his evil plot to inherit the money.

After several months have gone by working in Uncle Magnus’s household, Anna has grown to be quite fond of the old man and her charge, Lars-Erik.  A birthday celebration has been planned for Uncle Magnus, a weekend-long event and to Anna’s dread, Torsten arrives at the party in time to scoop her into his arms on the dance floor, to kindly snarl in her ear his questions as to why Lars-Erik is still alive?  To add to the stress Anna is now under, Dr. Segert also arrives for the party.  He is delighted to see Anna again and they share a dance or two.  She discovers that he is in the process of divorcing his unfaithful wife, Vera.  Anna and the doctor have a growing attraction to one another which adds to the noirish aspects of this drama: does Anna tell the man she is falling in love with about her life as a blackmailer, about her relationship with Torsten, and also reveal the evil plan to kill a child in order to inherit a fortune?  Would that new man even want to be around her if he knew about anything from her past?  Will Torsten keep reminding Anna to kill the child and if she doesn’t, will he take the matter into his own hands?

I won’t reveal the answers to these questions as I want you, the readers of this blog, to seek this film out!  It has aired from time to time on TCM so keep your eyes alert to their monthly schedules to see if it will be airing sometime this year.  A Woman’s Face is availabe to buy at Amazon, but it is in a Joan Crawford 5-dvd set and it’s pricey.  It is available in a European dvd that is lower-priced and in VHS format, which is even lower in cost, but VHS?  I want to add that in the cast is the always awesome Marjorie Main as a grumpy housekeeper, so watch for her when you do see the movie.

The villain of the film, Conrad Veidt, had a successful and interesting acting career.  He died too young, at the age of 50, suffering a heart attack on a golf course in Los Angeles in 1943.  Born and raised in Germany, he served in the German Army in WWI, rising to the rank of NCO.  Becoming very ill during the war, he was sent to a war hospital on the Baltic coast and received a letter from a girlfriend, Lucie Mannheim.  She had just been hired to work with an acting company based in Libau, Latvia.  Intrigued, he put in for a transfer to Libau and the Army agreed, stipulating that he work to entertain the troops.  When the war ended, Veidt moved to Berlin to study acting in earnest.  His skills paid off as he became a popular and busy actor in the German silent movie industry.  Probably his most famous role at that time was as the sleepwalking Cesare in 1920′s  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  With his success in Germany, it was time to make a try in Hollywood, and he did, famously appearing in 1928′s The Man Who Laughs.  Some even believe that Veidt’s “look” for this film inspired the look for one of Batman’s villains, The Joker.

Veidt, possibly the face that inspired The Joker?

Veidt, possibly the face that inspired The Joker?

As talking movies came into the forefront and silents went away, Veidt had trouble learning to speak English and his accent was deemed too heavy so it was time to return to Germany.  Veidt’s career continued there until he and his second wife, Illona Prager, a Jewish woman, moved to England to avoid the grasp of the rising Nazis.   In England, Veidt continued his acting career and improved his ability to speak the  English language.  I have seen some of the films he made in England and he got to play the heroes, which was a refreshing view of Veidt.  He played a Jewish man in 1934′s Power, playing Josef Oppenheimer,  who in 1730′s Germany,  helped a  duke rise in power, and in the process made a way for himself to leave the Jewish ghetto behind.  Then, when the duke tries to harm a member of Oppenheimer’s family, it’s revenge time.   In 1935 he starred in Passing of the Third Floor Back, which some kind soul has put on Youtube!  Veidt plays a mysterious and yet kind man, almost a messianic figure, who only wants to help the fellow boarders at a rooming  house he has moved to.  In 1939, he was the lead in The Spy in Black.  It was called U-Boat 29 for U.S. audiences.  Veidt plays U-Boat Captain Hardt , WWI is the time frame.  He is to meet a spy on the Orkney Islands, who turns out not to be what she seems.  Veidt is a conflicted man in this piece, not an out and out villain, falling in love with the spy who isn’t who she is pretending to be.  Valerie Hobson plays the spy and this was an early Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger creation.  It was back to playing a villain in 1940′s The Thief of Bagdad.  A technicolor masterpiece from the Korda brothers.   Veidt plays the evil Jafar and I really think the Disney animators used his image in creating the Jafar for their version of the story.  Veidt was very tall and slendor which seems to be the inspiration for the animated  Jafar.

Veidt as Jafar, probably casting a spell on someone!

Veidt as Jafar, probably casting a spell on someone!

After this film, Veidt tried Hollywood again.  With WWII raging, he stipulated that if he played Nazis, that he play baddies, no conflicted Nazis with a hint of goodness.  His most  famous Hollywood film is 1942′s Casablanca, where he plays with great relish the villainous Major Strasser, out to catch any freedom fighters trying to leave Casablanca.

Veidt, as Major Strasser, messing with Victor Laszlo, aka Paul Henreid.

Veidt, as Major Strasser, messing with Victor Laszlo, aka Paul Henreid.

It has been quite fun for me to read about Conrad Veidt for this blogathon.  He was a very skilled actor who could play the villain with the best of them, using his piercing gaze and his voice to smoothly convey his manipulative form of evil that his characters just seemed to wear like an aura around them.  In closing, I’ll post this neat video tribute to Veidt as Torsten Barring in A Woman’s Face, found on Youtube.   In fact, there are a ton of clips of Veidt’s work over the years, both silent movie scenes as well as talkies, so plan on putting your feet up and getting comfortable if you decided to view all that Youtube has for viewing Veidt’s scenes.

Studio publicity shot for A Woman's Face

Studio publicity shot for A Woman’s Face

When Rosalind was Robbed!

                                                                                                                             

Instead of my usual Friday Classic Movie Pick I am submitting my blog post for the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon which is being hosted by 3 wonderful classic film fans.  You can visit their blogs via wordpress: Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club.  At these blogs you will find interesting and fun articles about the Academy Awards through the years, from 1928 to the present.   Read about the backstage stuff, who won, who was snubbed, Oscar fashions of the past, it is all there.

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon  My post for the blogathon  is  about  the 1948 Academy Awards and  the shock that awaited actress Rosalind Russell.    She was the hands-down expected winner for Best Actress that year and she didn’t win!  How did this happen?  Several theories are out there, but I will be focusing on only one as the most likely reason for her to have  lost the coveted Oscar statuette.

Joan Crawford 1948 Susan Hayward 1948 OscarsDorothy McGuire 1948Rosalind Russell 1948Loretta Young 1948

Variety, the entertainment newspaper, decided to publish a poll, showing who most people thought would win the awards in the major categories at the Academy Awards that year.  The nominees for Best Actress were: Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward, Dorothy McGuire, Rosalind Russell, and Loretta Young. Crawford was nominated for the film Possessed, playing a woman driven to madness over an unrequited love for a man.  Susan Hayward was nominated for the film Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, playing a woman who turns to alchohol to solve her problems.  Dorothy McGuire was nominated for the film Gentleman’s Agreement, playing a woman who has to confront her bigoted attitude towards those of the Jewish religion.  Rosalind Russell was nominated for the film Mourning becomes Electra, playing a woman who discovers shocking family secrets and decides to rain down justice and revenge on her mother.  Loretta Young was nominated for the film The Farmer’s Daughter, playing a nursing student who  takes a job as a maid for a political powerhouse family and changes their attitudes for the better.  Variety began to trumpet the poll’s picks and Rosalind Russell was their announced winner for best actress for 1948.

How did that happen?  Well, Henry Rogers, a publicist who had helped Joan Crawford and Olivia de Havilland win their best actress Oscars two years prior, contacted Russell’s husband to inform him that he could help put Russell out there into the public eye, and that that would help her to win the Oscar.  Russell and her husband agreed to Roger’s plans.  First, he got a casino in Las Vegas to post their betting odds on the Academy Awards, showing that Rosalind Russell had 6-5 odds .  Second, he had local Los Angeles groups give out their own “awards” or endorsements to Russell:  Los Angeles PTA said she was the Actress of the Year, a UCLA sorority said Russell was Hollywood’s Best Actress, and a USC fraternity hailed Russell the Outstanding Actress of the 20th Century!  Third, Russell did win the Golden Globe for best actress and Rogers made sure that was announced a lot, and fourth, Rogers made sure that newspapers printed remarks by movie critics across the country hailing Russell’s performance in Mourning becomes Electra .                                                                                                                              

                                                     mourningbecomeselectra (1)

The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles  was the site that  evening of March 20th for the Academy Awards.   The show was to begin at 8:15 p.m.,  and the fans had lined up for hours before to see their favorite stars emerge from their limousines and take their walk on the red carpet.  It was a cold night that March, with high winds and a temperature of 30 degrees.  The actresses appeared, many in strapless gowns and fur wraps, smiling and seeming unaffected by the cold.  Joan Crawford wore a white crepe dress covered in silver bugle beads.  Susan Hayward was wearing a very expensive dress with a long train that her husband had to protect all evening from others shoes!  I couldn’t find out what Dorothy McGuire wore, but Loretta Young chose an emerald green silk taffeta dress.  Rosalind Russell had hired Paramount Pictures Studio Costume Designer Travis Banton to make her gown of white with shocking pink highlights.  ABC  broadcast the show via radio, with an estimated audience of  45 million listeners.

The order of the awards was mixed-up from their usual order on purpose to make each award seem more  special.  Variety wrote that this was done “so that there won’t be a rush for the exits when the big awards are made.”  The last award of the night was finally  presented and it was for Best Actress.  So far, Variety’s polls had been dead-on, with all of their projected predictions coming true.  Many in the audience decided that Russell was probably the winner and some began to vacate their seats in order to head to their limos and get a head start on all of the after parties.  Actor Fredric March approached the microphone, envelope in hand, to make the big announcement.   As he began to read the name on the card, Russell began to get up from her seat.  March suddenly did a double-take and announced in a surprised voice that the winner was Loretta Young for The Farmer’s Daughter!  There was an audible gasp in the auditorium and Young went on stage, in shock herself, to accept her Oscar.   As Variety wrote,”…the gasp that arose from the audience when Miss Young’s name was read by Fredric March just about matched the heaviest gust whipping around the Shrine Auditorium!”

Loretta Young with her OscarFor Oscar Blogathon

Rosalind put on a good face about it all, telling her husband that they would indeed hit all of the after parties.  She spent quite a bit of time consoling her dress designer, Travis Banton, who was crushed that she didn’t win and that the dress wouldn’t be getting as much publicity.  Russell and her husband went to the party that Darryl Zanuck, studio head at 20th Century Fox was hosting at Mocambo and there the press had a field day with photographing Russell hugging Young for her win.  The next morning, Young spoke to the press about her win and she added in her statement,” My only regret is Rosalind Russell.  And don’t say ‘poor Roz’ because she will go on to win an Academy Award and then some.  But it was cruel for the polls to come out and say that she was going to win.”   No hard feelings between the two actresses existed and later when Young had her popular television show airing in the 1950s,  she twice needed a guest host and she chose Rosalind Russell, who agreed to do so both times.

Rosalind hugging Loretta at the Oscars, 1948

I have seen both movies, The Farmer’s Daughter and Mourning becomes Electra.  Both Young and Russell gave outstanding perfomances in their roles.  I think that the reason Young won over Russell was due to the content of the films.  The Farmer’s Daugther is a charming little movie, about a Swedish-American young lady, on her way to the Capital City to enroll at a college for nurses.  Her name is Katrin Holstrom and she is the only girl in a family of boys.  She  is a hard worker and despite being robbed of her savings enroute to the college, she diligently finds another job as a maid for a family whose  matriarch is a political boss of sorts, and whose  son is a  congressman.  Katrin is smart, full of common sense, good will, and very pretty to boot, which doesn’t escape the congressman.  It is a drama, comedy and a romance all rolled up into one movie and audiences loved it.   Mourning becomes Electra was a play  penned by Eugene O’Neill,  and it appeared on Broadway in 1931.  O’Neill took the Greek tragedy of Orestes and set it in Post-Civil War New England.  Russell played Lavinia Mannon, who adores her father and brother, who are both now home after fighting in the war.  She tolerates her mother who dotes on her son, Orin(Michael Redgrave in another outstanding performance and he was nominated for Best Actor that same year), to the point of smothering him with her mother- love.  Since it is a Greek tragedy, there is murder, adultery, that mother-son complex, and revenge.  It is a serious drama, nothing light, funny or bright.  I think that audiences appreciated the lighter fare of The Farmer’s Daughter and that that is why Young ultimately won the award and not the expected Rosalind Russell.

For further reading about all of the Academy Awards, from the beginning up to the mid-80′s, check out the book Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, published by Ballentine Books, 1986.  I found it a fascinating read and it was wonderful for the research of this blog post.

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