Posts Tagged ‘Mary Astor’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Palm Beach Story

Today, my blog  is for the Funny Lady Blogathon, hosted by Movies,Silently which is a wonderful blog that I enjoy reading and it’s helped me learn a lot about the  silent films era.  If you visit that site,  you will  find  links to other bloggers’ works featuring funny ladies in the movies.

I decided to focus my blog entry on actress Claudette Colbert and the  delightful turn that she gave  in the Preston Sturges written and directed screwball comedy, The Palm Beach Story.   The Palm Beach StoryFunny Lady Blogtathon

Sturges’s film opens with a prologue of sorts: we see a lot of fast action happening set to the tune of Giacomo Rossini’s The William Tell Overture(The Lone Ranger theme song)-Joel McCrea rushing around an apartment, taking off his suit and putting on a tux and being hustled out of the building to get into a waiting car that hurriedly drives him across NYC to a church.  This is all interspersed with Claudette Colbert locked in a closet, wrists  bound and mouth gagged, dressed in a slip and  high heels and then another Claudette dressed in a wedding gown!  A maid sees one Claudette, shrieks and faints! The Claudette in the closet manages to kick her way through the door and get out, and the other has run down the aisle of the church and is marrying Joel.  We next see the years go by, 1937, 1938, 1939 and on until the present year, 1942.

After a rush, making it to the altar!

After a rush, making it to the altar!

Joel McCrea is Tom Jeffers, an inventor who hasn’t managed to make it big with any of his inventions yet.  Claudette Colbert is his wife, Geraldine, called Gerry for short.  She is tired of the bills not being paid and one morning  we find her running around their apartment  in her bathrobe looking for a place to hide as the landlord is going to be kicking them out and has a new couple coming to see the place.  Gerry decides to hide in the tub of the master bathroom, pulling the tub’s curtain around herself but she is found by the prospective new renter, The Wienie King!  The Wienie King(Robert Dudley), a funny, little bespectacled  man with lots of riches due to his popular hot dog business,  is impressed by Gerry’s good looks.   He pries into her financial troubles, tells her his opinion of her no-good husband, and then gives her enough money to pay off their debts and their rent.   The generosity of a rich, older man gets Gerry to think of how she could help her husband.  She’ll get Tom to divorce her, then she’ll find a rich, old man and get him to fall for her, give her money, and then she can give some of that money to Tom so he can get his latest invention, a suspended airport,  up and running!

The Wienie King talking to Gerry.

The Wienie King talking to Gerry.

It's The Wienie King!

It’s The Wienie King!

Gerry delightedly tells Tom about The Wienie King and the money but the news does nothing but make Tom grumpy and he gets even grumpier when Gerry tells him of her plan.  Tom loves Gerry and he refuses to listen to any talk of a divorce.  After an evening on the town Gerry has trouble with the zipper on her dress and asks Tom to help her unzip it, which leads to a major kiss and the safety of the marriage is ensured, or so we think!  In the morning as Tom is sleeping, Gerry has packed her suitcase and is trying to pin a “Goodbye Tom” note to the comforter and she accidentally stabs Tom!  He awakens and realizes what she is about to do and hilarity ensues as Tom stumbles and trips and falls down the stairs in his attempt to stop Gerry at the elevator of their apartment building.  Tom kept tripping on his pajama bottoms so we see him kick them off in disgust with an appropriately placed comforter wrapped around his person and then his running attempt to get to Gerry, but alas, he forgets to cover his backside and now we have a fainting neighbor lady in the hall and laughing elevator patrons!

Cover up your backside, Tom!

Cover up your backside, Tom!

As Gerry tries to hail a cab in front of the apartment building, Tom has caught up to her, wearing a ridiculous get up of mis-matched clothes.  Gerry refuses to listen to his pleas of staying with him, and in a tug of war on the suitcase, it opens up and spills Gerry’s clothes and toiletries everywhere.  In exasperation, Gerry asks the taxi driver(Frank Faylen) where is a good place to get a quick divorce and he replies that Palm Beach is the place to go and he adds that it is full of rich people.  Gerry successfully gets to the train station and now has to find a way to get a ticket to Palm Beach.  She decides to plant herself next to the ticket agent for the Palm Beach-bound train and look sort of sad.  Presently, the Ale and Quail Club arrive with their tickets and as they check in with the ticket agent, this group of rich, older men all notice Gerry and soon take a vote to buy her a ticket to Palm Beach!  Watching this part of the film reminded me of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a group of backwards  men, helping out a pretty lady.  William Demarest(Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons fame) is  the “Grumpy” character in the club who doesn’t like the way his fellow club members are all going soft around Gerry, and when they  serenade her to sleep, he has an unusual way to break up that party!

William Demarest knows how to stop a serenade!

William Demarest knows how to stop a serenade!

Serenading Gerry to sleep!

Serenading Gerry to sleep!

Due to the Ale and Quail Club’s antics, Gerry decides to hide out in another part of the train and get some sleep.  She unknowingly meets John D. Hackensacker III( Rudy Vallee), one of the richest men in the world-this character was an obvious zing at John D. Rockefeller on writer/director Sturges’s part.   John D. helps Gerry attempt to get into an upper berth and each time the efforts are fraught with mishaps and broken eyewear, but John D. is ever the gentleman and Gerry does get some sleep.  While she’s asleep, the train’s porters have decided to unhitch the Ale and Quail Club’s private car because of their antics and as the train continues for Palm Beach, Gerry’s clothes and purse are left behind in the private train car.  For breakfast, Gerry comes up with an amusing outfit made from the train’s towel sets-the phrase Pullman across her rump catches the eye of traveling businessmen!  John D. gallantly takes her on a shopping spree and at the store Gerry realizes who this nice fellow train traveler really is.

Broken eyeglasses can happen when boosting a lady into an upper berth!

Broken eyeglasses can happen when boosting a lady into an upper berth!

Gerry's creative outfit made from pj's and Pullman towels!

Gerry’s creative outfit made from pj’s and Pullman towels!

John D. offers to take Gerry to his family’s Palm Beach estate via his yacht, The Erl King.  As the yacht pulls up to dock, we see Tom with a bunch of roses in his hand, waiting to meet Gerry.  Tom had also run into The Wienie King who had stopped by the apartment to tell Gerry that they were going to be neighbors and upon meeting Tom, The Wienie King scolds Tom for losing Gerry, and gives him money to get to Palm Beach and to get Gerry back.  En route by plane, Tom finds out upon landing that Gerry is with Tom D. and that they’re heading to the docks.  Also embarking is John D.’s man-hungry sister, Princess Centimilia(Mary Astor), and she speaks about 1000 words a minute!  She is  accompanied by her latest boyfriend, Toto(Sig Arno), who is a foreigner who’s accent no one understands except for Centimilia.  The Princess sees Tom and she dumps poor Toto on the spot, determined to win Tom for herself.  Gerry, not wanting John D. to know who Tom is, introduces him as her brother, Captain McGlue!

Princess Centimilia wants to snag Tom!

Princess Centimilia wants to snag Tom!

John D. falling for Gerry!

John D. falling for Gerry!

Off they go to the Hackensacker estate and out to dinner at a swanky restaurant.   With dancing as part of the evening, John D. realizes he loves Gerry and wants to marry her and Princess Centimilia has decided that Captain McGlue/Tom will be her newest husband.  Tom and Gerry do get to dance with each other but Gerry is still determined to go through with her crazy divorce plan to aid Tom’s invention.  Back at the estate, Gerry has zipper trouble with her dress again and asks Tom for help.  Once again, it leads to a major kiss and both decide that they love one another, neither wants a divorce, and that in the morning they’ll tell John D. and the Princess the truth about who they really are.

Stuck zippers can result in falling in love again!

Stuck zippers can result in falling in love again!

Tom helping Gerry with that darn zipper!

Tom helping Gerry with that darn zipper!

When the truth comes out, John D. is sad, but  he still wants to help Tom with his invention financially.  Another happy ending is going to happen, but I don’t want to reveal  it because it has Sturges’s trademark zany twist to get us there, and if you haven’t seen this funny movie, rush out and rent it or buy it or tivo it off of TCM the next time they air it!

The Palm Beach Story fits the definition of a Screwball Comedy to a T.  The dialogue is fast-paced, there is a lot of slapstick action, and the situations that the characters find themselves in happen at breakneck speed.  The two leads are at odds with each other, but do love each other immensely.  Claudette Colbert is a delight in this film.  With her expressive eyes she is adept at getting across to the audience her reactions to the ridiculous events that her character gets caught in.  She also has her own slapstick scenes, trying to run and hide on the train from the Ale and Quail Club with pajama pants tripping her up at every step, much like Joel McCrea’s earlier pajama tripping scenes.  The attempts to get into that upper berth are more slapstick moments that Colbert shines in.  She delivers her lines fast and doesn’t miss a beat when reacting to other characters lines when they are directed back at her.  In reading about Colbert’s long career, she could sing, she could dance, she could perform in comedies and dramas.  She once said,”I’m a very good comedienne, but I was always fighting that image, too.”  From that statement, I would assume that Colbert didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into only doing one kind of movie.  Looking at her body of work, it is evident that she was a very talented actress and she didn’t get pigeon-holed.  Please try and find The Palm Beach Story for a fast and funny romantic-comedy, done in the Screwball Style.  another TPBS

L. to R.: Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Preston Sturgis, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee.

L. to R.: Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Preston Sturgis, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee.

My Classic Movie Pick and for the Mary Astor Blogathon: The Hurricane

In 1936, writers Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall published their 7th adventure novel, The Hurricane.  Their 4th novel, Mutiny on the Bounty, published in 1932, had been  such a literary sensation that MGM turned it into a film in 1935 starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.   This time around, studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn wanted to make a movie based on a Nordhoff and Hall novel  and he hired John Ford to direct this tale of wrong-doing, injustice, and  love, amidst the onslaught of a South Pacific hurricane.book cover for The Hurricane

Goldwyn made a promise to Ford, that he could make the film in the actual South Pacific and even wait for a real hurricane to come along and use footage of it in the film!  With Ford’s love of the sea and his penchant for realism in his films, he jumped at this chance.  Unfortunately,  only a few weeks after agreeing to make the film, Goldwyn contacted Ford and said he’d changed his mind about filming on location.  He told Ford to just put wind machines on a back lot at the studio and film it there.  That  caused Ford to lose interest in the film but thanks to a strong cast, script improvements by Ben Hecht,  and outstanding special effects by James Basevi, The Hurricane was a hit  and it still holds up to today’s audiences.

The two main characters are Dorothy Lamour as Marama, this being only her second film, and Jon Hall as Terangi.  Coincidentally, Hall was the nephew of James Norman Hall, one of the novel’s authors.  Mary Astor is Madame De Laage, the govenor’s wife and Raymond Massey plays the govenor.  C. Aubrey Smith is Father Paul and Thomas Mitchell plays Dr. Kersaint.  John Carradine plays a sadistic jailer and Jerome Cowan plays Captain Nagle.The_Hurricane_Trailer_screenshot_Mary_Astor

The setting is the beautiful island of Manakoora.  Terangi is first mate on Captain Nagle’s trading ship.  Terangi also marries Marama, the daughter of Mankoora’s chief.  There is an elaborate and beautiful wedding ceremony and feast sequence where Governor and Mrs. De Laage are honored guests, and lovely leis are placed upon Mary Astor.  Father Paul is there to pray a blessing of thanks for the trading ship’s safe arrival and to perform the wedding.   The newlyweds happiness is short-lived.  While on a trading ship excursion to Tahiti,  a white man who is bullying Terangi gets a deserved punch in the jaw.  Unfortunately, the bully is a man with influence and he gets a Tahitian official to sentence Terangi to 6 months in prison.  Terangi’s friends go to Governor De Laage, the French Governor of Mankoora.  He is a hard-nosed, no nonsense, follow the letter of the law kind of guy.  He refuses to have Terangi brought back to Mankoora to be pardoned.  Even when Madame De Laage pleads with him to relent and bring Terangi back because his wife is expecting a baby, the Governor won’t listen.  After many escape attempts, Terangi manages to do so, but accidentally kills a guard in the process. He arrives back in Mankoora as a terrible hurricane is heading towards the island and in a selfless act, he ties his wife and daughter to a tree, then he ties a rope from that tree to the church, where  Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and Father Paul are sheltering, along with a large group of islanders.  Governor De Laage is out on the ocean on a schooner, hunting for the escaped Terangi.  Dr. Kersaint manages to head out to a canoe where a woman is in labor and he delivers that baby during the hurricane!  Terangi leads Mrs.  De Laage to the tree and ties her to its upper branches as he has done for his wife and daughter.  Father Paul won’t leave the church behind and tells all of them not to worry about him.  After the hurricane has blown through and utterly destroyed the island, we learn that Terangi and his family have survived, as well as Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and his tiny patient and the mother.  Governor De Laage can see with binoculars that Terangi is still alive, and that he has also saved Mrs. De Laage.  She, in turn, urges Terangi to grab a canoe and sail away with his wife and daughter.  When the Governor arrives at his wife’s side, he sees the canoe in the distance and she tells him it is just a log.  He knows it is Terangi, but embraces his wife and agrees that it is just a log.

In reading about Mary Astor and her career, I learned that she began acting in silent films in the 1920s.  She easily made the transition to talkies and was adept at playing in comedies or dramas.  Her role in The Hurricane was not that of the lead, but one of the co-starring parts.  With her elegance, and calm demeanor, she was the perfect choice to play the warm-hearted wife to a hard-hearted governor, such as the one Raymond Massey portrayed.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Director John Ford was known to choose one actor or actress to be the one that got “picked” on during the entire production run of a movie.  For whatever reason, Mary “won” that title during the filming of The Hurricane.  She reportedly took his jabs and comments with good humor and later said, “I think ‘laconic’ is a good word for John Ford and for his technique of direction”,…”No big deal about communication with John.  Terse, pithy, to the point.  Very Irish, a dark personality, a sensitivity which he did everything to conceal.”1

For the actual hurricane scene, Special Effects director James Basevi was given a $400,000 budget.  He spent $150,000 to build a native village on a back lot and then spent $250,000 to destroy it! The planning of the scene, the production of it, and the filming took 4 months.   Usually Basevi didn’t like to discuss how he made his special effects magic on any film, but The Hurricane was one film where he was quite open as to how he got that great scene completed.  His village set was 600 feet long with wharves, huts, a church, and palm trees.  The beach ran into a lagoon, which was actually a 200 yard-long tank. Across this tank were put up airplane propellors, mounted on towers to create the fierce winds.  Water from 12 fire hoses streamed in front of the propellors’ blades to send water and spray over the actors and the set.  Wave machines churned up the waters of the lagoon.  To show a tidal wave, Basevi let loose 2000 gallons of water down chutes topped by big tanks.2

A very kind soul has put the hurricane scene up on Youtube and  I have watched it over and over.  Those are really all of the main actors in that scene.  Mary Astor is soaking wet and trying to grasp that rope to safely get from the church to that giant tree, with Terangi leading her to safety.  It is a very impressive scene, and I am delighted to report that Turner Classic Movies will be showing The Hurricane on Wednesday, May 29th, at 11:00 p.m. CST.

To see an exciting film directed by John Ford and one of Mary Astor’s subtle and warm-hearted performances, set your dvrs and  don’t miss The Hurricane!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby!  Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby! Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

The De Laage's elegant dining room.The De Laage’s elegant dining room.

This blog was written in conjunction with The Mary Astor Blogathon, hosted by two great classic movie bloggers: Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings.  If you visit their sites, you will read other wonderful blogs all about the wonderful Mary Astor.

Sources sited for this blog: 1 Davis, Ronald L., John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1995. Page 88.

2Zinman, David, 50 Classic Motion Pictures:The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Vintage Films From Hollywood’s Golden Age, Limelight Editions, New York, 1992.  Pages 112-113.

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Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

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