Judy Garland loves The Pirate (1948): A Garland Blogathon

Anyone who personally knows me will tell you that I am a sucker for pirate movies. Obviously, it is the “romantic notion” of a pirate that I enjoy and not the criminal element of real piracy that still exists today. The idea of a noble pirate like Sir Frances Drake, who historically was “the greatest sea dog” of all time, sailing around the world on The Golden Hind to escape capture by Phillip II of Spain is an exciting tale.  Just think of it, Drake was the first Englishman to circumvent the globe in order to keep the gold “booty” he stole from the Spanish king…classically, awesome. Drake aka el Draque (The Dragon) was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I and participated in the naval battle to stop the invasion of the Spanish Armada.  To the English he was a hero; to the Spanish he was a criminal. This is history; however, in the world of the arts our “Bad Boys” can do and be anything we so choose, even being chased by a crocodile with a clock in its belly.

Russell-Brand-Captain-Hook

Basically, the romanticized idea of a  pirate or privateer is a talented captain who is much like a “James Bond,” but sailing the seas and not driving an Aston Martin. In reality, some of them secretly worked for a government or group of investors.  The fantastical captains were strategically brilliant, expert sword fighters, charmingly witty, loved music and the spirits (Ho, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum), had a lusty libido, and were fearless in face of danger.

From movies of all genres (dramas, comedies, horror, and musicals…) and even in Disney theme parks, the pirate is a common sight. So, when I was invited to pay tribute to the beautiful and glamorous Judy Garland, I immediately chose her pirate movie.  This post is part of a Blogathon celebrating the work of Judy Garland.  It is graciously hosted by Crystal from In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/the-judy-garland-blogathon-has-now-arrived/

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Since, I admit to my pirate weaknesses, I should acknowledge that I am also a fan of television series Once Upon a Time.  Of course, I am happy Emma Snow (the savior) played beautifully by Jennifer Morrison fell in love with Captain Hook played by devilish handsome Colin O’Donoghue. Who could resist?

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Whatever the influence from history, movies, books, or location, pirates are part of the general population’s psyche.  Now, what does this have to do with a post about Judy Garland’s The Pirate?  Well it explains how I could fall (Hook, line and sinker) for the storyline of this MGM, 1948 musical. Although this film was a bust, it lost over two million dollars at the box office, I feel it had the potential to be a great movie.  Okay, given it is not a great movie, it is still enjoyable and has some of the greatest dance and song scenes ever recorded.

There is a myriad of reasons why movies fail.  For instance, a movie like Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971) is an example of a movie that failed at the box office: but, later not only becomes a children favorite, but a cult classic, and later a successful remake in 2005 with Johnny Depp.  Although the The Pirate (1948) is unforgivably underrated, it is enjoyable and  entertaining. This film not only stars the multi-talented actress and singing star, Judy Garland; but, also the versatile Gene Kelly. In addition, it showcases an energetic dance number by the amazing Nicholas Brothers; luscious music by the suave Cole Porter; and, all of this delivered under the artful direction of Vicente Minnelli (married to Garland at the time).

So, how did this movie become underrated?  

Part of the reason is because two dance and song scenes were cut from the movie for different reasons.  With these cuts, it left gaps that gave the audiences at the time a sense that something was missing.  Plus, this was released only three years after World War II.  Although Spain was a neutral country, it was still a fascist country under Franco.  The Cold War, and the House Committee of  Un-American Activities were beginning to rear their ugly heads.  Many American audiences were more than cautious about being influenced by what they perceived as propaganda. This is one explanation out of many that explains why this musical failed so miserly at the box office.

Another reason, some say it failed was a result of the music.  Some believe the Cole Porter Tunes didn’t match the story.  I personally do not feel that way.  It is true, there is not a heavy influence of Spanish rhythms or beats in the music to enhance the setting in the Spanish Caribbean Port of San Sebastian.  However, the emotional lyrics matched the story very well.  And, let’s face it, Garland could sing the words off a traffic ticket and people would swoon. There is one thing Cole Porter did that might have hurt this movie.  He agreed to write the music if he could name the pirate after a friend, Macoco. The name sounds like a special hot drink at Starbucks. Latte, anyone? You could find a better pirate name from the following list:

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If I could change anything, it would be the character development of the two main leads. Serafin’s character (Gene Kelly) trying to “sell the life of a traveling troupe” to Manuela’s character (Judy Garland) has an sound of untruthfulness or Con job. An actors life should have sounded as romantic as the life of a pirate. Plus, he speaks so quickly, he sounds too smug to be charming. Manuela is a nobleman’s daughter.  The romantic side of her character should have been developed more. Manuela’s final decision of what to do with the rest of her life should not have been so obvious.  The dilemma of choosing happiness over her family, reputation, duty and money is not an easy one to make. Yes, I did find the script to be lacking.  There were six writers involved in this project.  Only two of them were credited. So, another reason the movie might have failed could have been a simple matter of ” too many writers” spoiling the script.

Manuela Dreams of Life With The Black Macoco

Manuela (Judy Garland) is a young woman who has just come of age. Her aunt Inez (Gladys Cooper) has just told her that an arranged marriage has been negotiated on her behalf with the mayor of the city, Don Pedro Vargas (Walter Slezak).  Manuela learns of her newly betrothed just after she describes, (romantically sings “Mack The Black” to her lady friends.  When Judy Garland sings, you are in her world of possibilities.  No one interprets a song like she does.  She sings of “Mac’s” (Macoco) bravery; his heroic acts of fighting; and, his treasure and gold. She dreams of her pirate, the Black Macoco, falling desperately in love with her and sailing away with her to see the world.

Manuela is well aware that her aunt and uncle took her in as an orphan with no diary of her own to attract husbands. The mayor is a self made man who is at least 20 some years her senior.  She feels beholden to their care in taking care of her.  Plus, it isn’t so so bad since the Mayor is rich and is a world traveler.  Angela’s dream of seeing the world could come true.  During a meeting is set up between her and the mayor, he assures her that although he is not cultured, he has seen the world and will tell her all about it.  He has no wish to travel again because he  cannot bear the sea.  Instead, he enjoys just staying home since it is quite, peaceful and safe. Then, Manuela is told the mayor is paying for her new wardrobe.  To seal the deal, he gives her a beautiful bejeweled extremely expensive engagement ring.

Crushed, Manuela begs her aunt to allow her to take 30 minutes by herself to look at the sea wall.  They are in town to meet with the dressmaker who is making alterations to her new wardrobe from a famous Paris fashion House, Maison Worth.  Just one last  trip to the sea by herself, she begs.  At least then she could see some corner of their world on an adventure. The aunt nervously grants her that wish.  It is near the sea wall that she meets a touring actor, Serafin (Gene Kelly).  He falls instantly in love with Manuela.  How do we know? Because, he calls every woman he meets “Nina.”  It saves him the trouble of remembering their names.

There is a great song and dance that Kelly does as he sings about all the town Ninas. During his dance routine he uses carnival poles. This might be the first pole dancing performed on screen.  After a brief meeting with Manuela, he begs her to give him her name. She informs him that she will soon be married; and, he tells her that she must not marry a “pumpkin.”  Before, she leaves, he invites her to his performance later that evening.  Before the show begins,  Sarafin sees her in the audience and decides to hypothesize her as part of his act.  But, what he really wants to do is plant the idea that she might love him.

While under hypnoses and  to his surprise, she reveals her infatuation with the notorious pirate. She sings about the Black Macoco.  This is one of the song and dance routines taken out of the picture.  It is known as the Voodoo scene.  When Louis B. Meyer saw the clip of this song and dance, he became enraged and demanded all the negatives of it be destroyed. The recording of the song survived. Someone took some movie clips and pictures of the revised scene with Judy singing Mack the Black again but at a much faster tempo.   This video is on YouTube; but,  I added that link below.  The beginning of this song is kind of creepy.

https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=WKhytfI1UKg

The Tale of Two Scenes (Dance and Song) Cuts: Too Much Sex or Too Much Diversity

Eventually, Serafin borrows Macoco’s identity in his pursuit of Menuela. There is a lot of fun here before Manuela has her revenge for his deception.  Serafin is so convincing in his act, the mayor has him arrested as Macoco. It is during his trial that one of the best dance scenes in the history of film was cut out of the movie, Be A Clown. Gene Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers are incredible in this unbelievable routine. It was cut out of the film before it could be showed in Southern cities.  This was a time of law enforced segregation.  It was the first time a white and black men were filmed dancing together. Eerily, there is a part of the routine where they dance to close to the gallows and see three nooses hanging.  All three of them cringe and quickly dance away as part of a joke.  Unfortunately,  after the Northern cities saw the film, the Nicholas Brothers were blackballed and could not find work in Hollywood. So, they left the continent to find work in Europe.  They would return in 1964 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. This great dance routine can be seen in the DVD version.  Hereit is to view it now.  It is not to be missed.

Not to spoil the surprise ending, Garland and Kelly will sing and dance this song again, dressed as clowns. Four years later, the song Be a Clown will be plagiarized by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed for another Kelly film, Singing In The Rain. They changed the title to Make em Laugh. Kelly did not sing the song in that movie, Donald O’Connor did. Cole Porter did not legally make a claim that the  song was used without his permission.

https://www.bing.com/search?q=be+a+clown+garland&form=EDGTCT&qs=PF&cvid=7f80993c1d3c4473a334e8398af45e26&cc=US&setlang=en-US

Final Thought

Despite the problems with the script and the cut and piece editing of the dance scenes, I still enjoyed this Garland movie. Personally, I am happy that she had the opportunity to share her romanticized pirate in one of her  movies.  Honestly, regardless of the movie, Garland and Kelly are simply a joy to watch and listen to.  This was the second of four projects planned for Garland and Kelly.  The first was For Me and My Gal (1942), The Pirate (1948), Easter Parade (1948) and Summer Stock (1950).  Kelly broke his ankle during the filming of Easter Parade and was replaced by Fred Astaire.     

What is truly amazing is that Garland, the consummate performer, could make this look and sound so good, especially  when you learn that she smoked four packs of cigarettes a day during the filming of this movie; and, she was also not at her best mentally or physically.  She missed 99 days out of the 135 filming days for illnesses.  It was during the filming of this movie that she received psychiatric treatment that was paid for by the studio. This was a first for any studio because they usually dock expenses out of their actors’ pay.

Like all Garland fans, I wish her life could have been better because she really deserved it. Who knows what may have happened if she went to nursing school and had a different life. What I do know is that she was so amazingly talented that even today, when we  hear her sing, watch one of her movies or listen to her interviews, we feel warm inside because she has made a special place in our hearts. With that said, here is a clip gym from the film, For Me And My Gal.  Garland and Kelly are shinning bright and at the top of their game as they “Show ’em.”

 

This post is part of a Blogathon celebrating the work of Judy Garland.  It is graciously hosted by Krystal from In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  To read more posts on the work of Judy Garland, please use the link below.

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/the-judy-garland-blogathon-has-now-arrived/

 

SOURCES:

http://www.notablebiographies.com/Fi-Gi/Garland-Judy.html

Link list of historical Pirates:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pirates

 

 

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Breaking The Mold: Bette Davis

Bette Davis is America’s greatest actress. Although, if you were to have said this to her, she would have probably told you it is Katherine Hepburn.  This could have been a typical Davis response.  There is no humble attempt to say thank you or to say there are many great actresses.  No, the irony is in the subtle acknowledgement of the term “greatest” and with that, her honest opinion. Fans of Davis expected no less of her. She possessed a cutting wit and remarkable intelligence. No one knew what she would say; but, what they did know is that their reaction to it would be either laughter or complete awe. Bette Davis was a lot of things to a lot of people, good and bad.  However, she was constantly true in her performances and strived for perfection, in every role.  She understood that if the public accepted her, everything else concerning her work was trivial.

What is not trivial is that I able to pay homage to such an Icon of the Silver Screen through the Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by Crystal from In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Please check out more blogs written about Davis and her work from other bloggers paying her tribute too by using the link below:

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/the-second-annual-bette-davis-blogathon-has-now-arrived/

During the span of her career (1929 – 1989), she starred in 124 movies. She was  nominated 11 times for an Oscar and won 2 for Jezebel (1939) and Dangerous (1936).  Davis was always proud of the fact that her work as an actress was a priority. It was only seconded by her first priority, her audience.  She presented each character she played with realistic honesty.  It did not matter if that honesty or realism left her looking less than stellar or glamorous.  She put it this way: It was all just a matter of learning not to subdue or conceal the person who was really me.   Honesty in her work by bearing a part of her soul on screen makes her work an authentic Art form. Bette Davis is the definition of a true artist. There was no one like her then; and, there is no one like her since.  She courageously accepted unlikable roles that other actresses turned down and refused to do.  They believed portraying such unpleasant characters would typecast them and limit future roles.

Presently, I can think of only two other actresses who had the similar chutzpah and impact to that of a Davis performance: Charlize Theron’s portrayal of serial killer, Aileen Wu0rnos, in Monster (2003), and Meryl Streep’s portrayal of manipulative and mean Violet Weston in August Osage County(2013).  One of the main differences between their superb characterizations and that of Davis’ portrayal of Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage (1934) is that Davis’s portrayal is more powerful and a “hell’va” lot more chilling.  Davis devoured her roles of an evil shrew and bought the idea of a powerful women to new heights. To most audiences of the 30s and 40s, this was shocking.  All this happened at a time when most people still seen women as powerless beings in need of a strong man to make their decisions and protect them.

It All Began With “Of Human Bondage” (1934)

In 1929, the studio bosses didn’t know what to do with Davis.  She didn’t fit the beautiful, silver screen actress mold.  This small-framed, shy, attractive (not beautiful) blonde, with pop eyes came to Hollywood from the New York stage at age 22.  Sexy is not an adjective they used to describe her. What they did describe was her distinctive New England accent. Remember, in 1929, talkies were new to the movie industry.

So, they put her in movies, that did not distinguish her or utilized her talents.  She went from Universal Studios to Warners Brothers in the space of two years.  Davis described her early work as “Dumb Dame” roles.  Months before RKO considered borrowing her from Warners to play Mildred, Davis walked off a Warners set in protest of being assigned a secretary role with 12 lines.

RKO Studios was looking for an actress for the movie adaption of a novel by British author, W. Somerset Maugham, Of a Human Bondage. The male lead in the project was British actor Leslie Howard.  Many actresses turned down the female leading part because the character, Mildred Rogers, was so loathsome that they were afraid it would destroy their careers.  Since Davis felt her own talents were wasted at Warners, she felt she needed the part and hassled lamented campaigned Jack Warner for it.  Luckily, Warners wanted one of RKO’s actresses, Irene Dunne, for their movie, Sweet Adeline (1934); so, they loaned Davis to RKO in order to get Dunne for their movie.  Warners also made Davis a promise: After she completed Of Human Bondage, she would to do a movie, Housewife (1934) for Warners.  They promised to give her better parts in quality movies once she finished filming in Housewife. However, while Davis was making Housewife, Warners also refused to loan her to Columbia Pictures for the lead in the Academy Award winning film, It Happened One Night (1934) with Clark Gable.

*Davis learned quickly: it doesn’t matter how well you are liked.  What is most important is to be memorable.

Bette Davis Breaks the Hollywood Mold in “Of Human Bondage”

Davis gave a tour de force performance in Of Human Bondage.  She tackled that role of Mildred Rogers with unrelenting raw emotion.  Pretty Mildred became the best “Bitch” the silver screen has ever seen. She was as mean and cruel as any powerful, cruel man ever dared to be. She was not the child like Victorian lady before World War I; indeed, Mildred was a by product of that war.  She was a women of the Jazz Age with the mindset of a flapper, a vamp, a gold-digger, a Tomato, and  an “It Girl.” She was obsessed with wealth and all that it could give her.  She symbolized the times with her outward beauty; but, inwardly she was ugly and shallow with a complete lack of compassion (psychopath or sociopath, maybe?).

A Summary

A timid and shy, young British artist, Philip Carey, (Leslie Howard), has been painting in Paris for four years when he finally asks his art teacher to honestly tell him if he is wasting his time in becoming successful artist. His instructor honestly answers him: His paintings are nice but quite mediocre. Disheartened, he returns to London to begin studies in medicine.  His father was a doctor; so, he could carry on with a family tradition and could be in service to help people.

Although, he is ultra sensitive and painfully self conscious of his deformed club foot, he makes some friends with the other medical students.  Boys being boys, they particularly enjoy looking at his nude paintings of  Paris models.  One of his friends, impressed with Philip’s experience with the ladies, persuades him to speak for him to a pretty teahouse waitress that he is infatuated with but too nervous to talk too.

Philip first sees Mildred Rodgers (Bette Davis) laughing and flirting with an older patron, Emil Miller (Alan Hale)  at his table. His friend asks him if he thought she was marvelous.  Philip said no.  She is anemic. Then he asks Philip if he thought she might be in love with the gentleman.  Philip replies, “of course she is.” This is the “thinking” Philip’s reaction.

When she comes to wait on their table, Philip teases her to try to get her to smile and laugh with them.  Instead of being charmed, she takes offense and rudely turns her back on them.  Philip does not leave with his insulted friend; instead, he stays and tries once more to charm the abrasive cockney speaking waitress. He stays until Mildred reluctantly returns to wait on his table again.  He tries to be polite, charming, and complimentary.  He asks her for another chance to make her smile.  Her reply: Maybe I will or maybe I won’t. Then, she turns her back on him again.  Since she seems unattainable, and at least two men want her, how could Philip possibly refuse the challenge. You can see that he is enamored with her.  As he gets up from the table to leave, he passes in front of Mildred. She notices his limp. She makes a distasteful sound and looks away with disgust.

When he returns the following day, he sees her flirting with Miller again.  He decides to sketch her face while he waits. When he is through with the drawing, he taps on his glass to get her attention.  She reluctantly  leaves Miller’s table.  Philip flips the drawing over to get her attention.  She smiles and leans over him to get a better look. She asks if that is her face.  Teasingly, Philip relies,  it looks like you, doesn’t?  She becomes offended again. And Philip is even more intrigued by her response.   He asks if she would dine with him and go to the theater. She agrees to meet him at Victoria station. After their strange, mixed signals, first date, Philip literally dreams the impossible: As they are elegantly dancing, she looks into his eyes; and, he sees in her eyes her love for him. Once awake and back in medical school, he struggles through his studies. While in class, he begins to daydream of her too. Then, he skips his studies to go  see her.

When Mildred breaks a later date with him, she lies and tells him she has to go stay with an ill aunt. He must have sensed that she was lying because he becomes frustrated and tears up the recently purchased theater tickets.  He decides to meet up with her after her shift to try once more to get her to go out with him.  She coldly rejects him.  He confronts her and asks if she is going out with Miller. She doesn’t deny it.  Philip finally realizes that she is waiting for Miller in the same manner he is waiting for her.  He tells her if she doesn’t go out with him that night, she will never see him again.   Mildred relies, Good riddance to bad rubbish.

As Philip sadly goes back to his flat, he runs into his partying friend, Henry Griffith,(Reginald Denny) with a lovely young woman on his arm, Nora Nesbitt, (Kay Frances).  Philip eyes light up at seeing the lovely young woman.  His friend invites him for a drink.  Philip refuses. Harry then, looks at Nora, and suggests to Philip if not a drink, maybe “desire?”   Again, Philip refuses and goes into his room.  He can hear the lively party through his flat’s walls which makes it even more difficult for him to study.  His mind wanders; and, again he begins to daydreams of Mildred.

Once back at school, we find Philip daydreaming of Mildred while taking his midterm exams.  Not surprisingly, he fails his exams.  When his friends try to persuade him to go out drinking in order to cheer him up, he refuses. When Harry asks him what would help,  Philip can only think of seeing Mildred again. So, we next see them both together on another date.  Before their following date, Philip decides to ask Mildred to be his wife. Instead, of accepting, she lets him know she is engage to marry someone else, with money.  She also informs him that she hates to eat and run; but, she must meet her fiancé at the theater. Later that evening, he sees her leaving the theater with Miller.

Henry seeing Philip so brokenhearted advises him that the cure for getting over one woman is to find another one. So, a rebound relationship with Nora Nesbitt is exactly what the doctor ordered.   Happily for Philip his love life changes for the better; but, like most rebound relationships someone is going to get short changed and hurt.   As Nora’s lover, he learns that she is a romance writer who writes under a male pseudonym. She is kind and supportive of him in everyway, lovely girl, Nora Nesbitt (Kay Johnson). This was the lady on Henry’s arm the night of the party. She falls in love with Philip and encourages him to focus on his studies.  With Nora, Philip is moving on with his life in the right direction.

Then, it all falls apart when Mildred shows up in his apartment: penniless, distraught, and pregnant.  She tells him that her husband deserted her. Compassionate Philip sees her in such dire straits that he cannot stop himself from helping her. He gives her money and confronts Miller.  Miller refuses to help Mildred because he is already married with children.  Philip asks her why she didn’t tell him the truth about not marrying Miller. All she would say is that she couldn’t tell him.

Philip decides to marry her once the baby is born.  And the story continues, with Mildred increasingly being ungrateful, unfaithful, manipulative and controlling.  Mildred Rogers is the demonic harpy that haunts every person’s dreaded fear of being in the worst type of toxic relationship.   However, don’t lose all hope for sensitive, kind Philip because this is after all, a Hollywood movie. But, to learn how it ends for Philip and Mildred, I encourage you to see this unforgettable  movie.

A Link to yet another break up between Philip and Mildred.  And a peek at Davis and Howard brilliant performances.

https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=8g-w5cuWI5o

Difficulties on Set

Like every beloved novel, adapting it to screen can be a bit tricky.  And, like most adaptations, it is the fans of the books who are its most supportive and  critical, especially when it comes to casting. When British actress, Vivian Leigh, was cast to play the part of Scarlett O’Hara in American movie, Gone With The Wind (1939), fans of the book began a protest.  Same thing happened when American Actress, Renee Zellweger, played Bridget Jones, in British made movie, Bridget Jones Dairy (1998).  So, it goes without saying, many people were not happy with the news that American Actress, Bette Davis, is going to play Cockney speaking Mildred.  Even British gentleman actor, Leslie Howard, was very upset that she was chosen.

 

In the beginning, Howard shut down.  He refused to interact with Davis during the down time between scenes while they prepared sets.  He went off to himself, with book in hand, and ignored his surroundings while he read and escaped.  In her close up shots, he refused to act his lines.  He just “threw them at her” while she was being filmed. According to Davis, one of the cameramen she befriended told her that he informed Howard that ” the kid, was running away with the film.”  Howard’s attitude soon changed; and, he began to respect Davis’s performance and professionalism.

During filming, both Howard and Davis became very sick.  Howard became sick  ironically with toxic poisoning.  It became a life or death situation. His doctor did emergency surgery to remove his tonsils.  With both stars in such a weaken state, the studio decided on a tactic to save on filming time and money. They build six small sets on a revolving stage. This had never been done before.  This saved on the wait time between the set changes.  Eventually, the film finished by deadline and within budget constraints.

A few Examples of Davis’s Professionalism

To prepare for the role, Davis needed to speak with a realistic and natural Cockney accent. Davis hired a British maid.  She never told the maid the real reason she hired her because she wanted to hear and emulate her natural Cockney accent without the maid unconsciously dressing it up.

As Mildred’s atrocious lifestyle catches up with her, she becomes a shell of the healthy and beautiful woman she was.  Davis wanted to make sure that she looked as realistic as she could.  She did not want to look like a glamorous beauty playing a part. So, Davis did her own make up for those later scenes. As Davis described it: consumption, poverty, and depression doesn’t look pretty, as you can see for yourself in the photos below. The top picture is of course when Mildred is very sick.  You can compare the differences in her appearance from the last two pictures.  I think Davis created an extremely convincing look.

What is Human Bondage?

I admit that I did not read W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece; so, when I first saw the title, Of Human Bondage (1915), I thought it was about slavery or some sort of burden forced upon a person.  After, I saw the movie, I thought it was about toxic relationships and obsession. Even Nora Nesbitt says this to Philip when he breaks off their relationship: I love you, you love her, and she loves Miller. All three of them are victims of unrequited love bondages. And, I would have been quite happy to leave it at that; but, the purpose of this blog is to find life lessons with their universal connections through the arts.

So, I did a little research and found that Maugham took his title from a philosophy book, Ethics (1883) written by Baruch Spinoza.  In the foreword of  his novel, there is a definition of Human Bondage which is a quote from Ethics:

The importance of man to govern or restrain the emotions I call bondage,  for a man who is under their control is not his own master…so that he is often forced to follow the worst, although he sees the better before him.

Human Bondage is not really about a relationship with another person.  Instead, it about how you make decisions and the way you, yourself, reacts to them.  Perhaps knowing the full title or titles of this section may help: Of Human Bondage OR Strength of Emotions.

Men are prey to their emotions, according to Spinoza. He explains that men are conscious of their actions and desires but are ignorant to their causes.  Making the best choices should be based on the final end or an actual goal. If every decision you make is based on how you feel, you are setting yourself up for a potential fall.  You are not really in control of your life because you relinquished that control to your emotions (feelings).

This kind of bondage is generally how most people operate their lives, unless you are Mr Spock.  So, in the movie, Philip Carey is enslaved to his emotions about Mildred; and, Mildred is enslaved to her uncontrollable lust for wealth. Personally, I think you need a little of both in your life: we should have thoroughly “thought out” strategies or goals;  and, you should have moments of just letting it go, and embrace the moment.  A little of both is the key….moderation between the two.

I believe Bette Davis did both too. In her work and career, she was in control; but, in her personal life, her emotions became her master. Davis had four marriages. When it came to love, she gave up control to her emotions just like Philip Carey and Mildred Rogers.

According to Davis, the love in her life:

I have loved people who cared little or nothing for me and when people have loved me, I have been embarrassed…in order not to hurt their feelings, I have often acted a passion I didn’t feel. 

So, was she only attracted to people she knew didn’t love her?  If someone loved her, did she get embarrassed because she felt she didn’t deserve their love?  Love at best, is a slippery slope for most of us; but, knowing what qualities you want to see in your partner is at least a start to finding someone you think is good for you. If you put no thought into what your want, you could easily end up in a very toxic relationship. The continuous ups and downs of an overly emotional relationship can be very addictive; but, it seldom leads to long lasting happiness.

Movie Impact

Unbelievably, the Academy of Motion Pictures, snubbed Davis’s performance.  Many actors and actresses wrote in her name as a nominee on their ballots and then voted for her.  This is a first. So, the Academy allowed the “written in nominee” for that year only. The following year, they hired an accounting firm, Price Waterhouse, to take over the security of the ballots and the counting of the votes.  It still continues today and has worked out very well…except for the 2017 scandal of giving out the wrong envelope for Best Picture. We all remember, “it is not La La Land;” but, can most people honesty remember which movie did win?

One reason why the Academy snubbed Davis could be due to Warners Brothers Studio. Warners was a bit embarrassed by Davis’s performance in Of Human Bondage.  Here was their contract player delivering such a magnificent performance in another studio’s movie.  They tried to bury the publicity about the movie involving her name.  To say Warners might have influenced the Academy in not nominating her would not be a stretch of imagination.

Two years later in 1936, Davis wins her first Oscar for Dangerous. Davis claimed it was a “Consolation Prize” for not winning for Of Human Bondage. She also claims that she named the statuette, Oscar. She says the backside of the Statuette’s “posterior” resembled her husband’s squared one. His middle name was Oscar.

Davis set the bar high for future actresses in her breakout role as Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage. Bette Davis considered herself to be a actress first and  movie star second.  To  rest of the world and of course her fans, she is Bette Davis…Hollywood legend.

Don’t forget to check out the other posts about Davis during this special Blogathon.

Second Annual Bette Davis Blogthon

Click on the following link…

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/the-second-annual-bette-davis-blogathon-has-now-arrived/

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References

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Human_Bondage_(1934_film)

Great Blog on Leslie Howard with many primary sources and documents about Howard’s work:

https://lesliehowardsteiner.blogspot.com/p/of-human-bondage.html

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/07/classic-hollywood-abortion

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=August+Osage+County+Dinner+Scene&&view=detail&mid=1C1585C9DFC072FE36921C1585C9DFC072FE3692&FORM=VRDGAR

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=monster+trailer+charlize+theron&view=detail&mid=D2079DF6CE02069E24E7D2079DF6CE02069E24E7&FORM=VIRE

Swing High, Swing Low With Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray

 

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I love these Blogathons.  It gives me an opportunity to view a Hollywood classic that I might have missed. Swing High, Swing Low (1937) is an example of a delightful Lombard movie that I missed. Since, Carole Lombard’s work is always a joy to view, I really need to thank Laura from Phyllis Loves Classic Movies http://phyllislovesclassicmovies.blogspot.com/  and Crystal from In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/for hosting this blogathon which is a tribute to one of my favorite actresses, the Profane Carole Lombard.

This particular Lombard movie, Swing High, Swing Low (1937), is the third of four movies she made with another charming actor, Fred MacMurray.  Not only do these two incredible actors have superb screen presence and are very easy on the eye, they share that rare quality of lovely chemistry to boot.  This is a cinematic treat.

For me, Swing High, Swing Low is not your typical “screwball romantic comedy” where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy finds girl again. This movie has some buried treasures in it that makes it even more fun to watch. One treasure is near the end. It has a darker twist that you would not expect in a movie of its genre.

The film begins with some terrific footage and set designs of the Panama Canal. Maggie King (Lombard) is excitedly looking out the port hole of a cruise ship that is going through the locks. This is impressive probably because director, Mitchell Liesen (Death Takes A Holiday, 1934) was a costume designer and set designer before becoming a director. When learning about Mr. Leisen as a director, two words come to mind, underrated and meticulous. His work was sadly ignored until the 70s which is why this film went into Public Domain in 1965. It astounds me that this director could be ignored who claims everything he knows about directing came from working with Cecil B. DeMille. Oh well, Hollywood politics.

Maggie encourages a customer, whose head is under a hair dryer, to join her while looking at the workings of the locks. The lady patron, with mud on her face, assures Maggie she has seen it all before. Maggie’s friend, Ella (Jean Dixon) comes in and reminds her to check the customer’s hair when the timer goes off. They both rush over to the Mrs Mudface and find a catastrophe. Her hair looks more like burnt spaghetti.  As a matter of fact, Maggie lifts one of the hair spirals cleanly off the patron’s head. When the manager comes in and sees the hair fiasco, he tells them that after they clean up their mess to see him, immediately.

This situation is what is referred to as a “screwball comedy.” As a matter of fact, Lombard worn the crown of Queen of Screwball Comedy with as much pride as Clark Gable did the title of King of  Hollywood. To be honest, I do not think this title does Lombard justice.  Screwball has a bit of negative to it. It says, it is funny because it so stupid…Lombard was many things but dumb was not one of them.  Her delivery of comical lines reminds people of classic Hollywood actresses like Jean Harlow and Mae West. For me, she is the female version of a Ryan Reynolds (Dead Pool, 2016).  They sarcastically deliver their lines in such a way that the other person is the butt of the joke. We, as an audience, laugh with them, not at them.

When Maggie was hanging out the edge of the ship’s port window and before Ella walks in, she hears someone calling out to her from the docks.  It is a patrolling American solider, Skid Johnson (Fred MacMurray).  Maggie says to the soldier: I hope you are not talking to me perchance? A very brass Johnson replies: No, on purpose! Maggie reminds him that he is on duty and not suppose to be talking to her.  He asks if the rest of her is as pretty as her face. She replies that she weighs 200 pounds and is barefoot. He laughs and tells her this is his last day in the Army. He wants her to celebrate with him and he begs her to meet him on the dock under the moon at Balboa.  He claims that he would be in his civvies and wearing a gardenia in his shirt pocket; so, she would know him. Maggie replies: Mister, I wouldn’t know you if you had a rose behind your ear!

During the meeting with the manager of the ship’s beauty salon, we learn Maggie is a hairdresser imposter, who is helped by her friend Ella. Why? She did not have enough money to buy a ticket to California.  Maggie worked at a night club, not as a singer, and did not make much money.  I keep thinking she might have been a cigarette girl who walks around trying to sell club patrons cigars or cigarettes. Maggie needed to go to California to do a background check on a wealthy cattle rancher who proposed to her.  She knew him for over three years; but, now he wants to marry her.  Perhaps, Maggie has been burned before or just a cynic or both, either way that is her reason for her deception.  Yes, the reason sounds a bit screwball.

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Next we see Ella and Maggie trying to find a taxi.  Ella says cabbies want $3.00 but if either one of them can find a cabbie for $2.00, “holler.” Yes, times has changed, one of the joys of watching classic Hollywood movies.  Ella is approached by Skid Johnson with a fake Spanish accent, he tells her: $1.00. Ella hollers for Maggie. Then, we see the girls sight seeing in the backseat of a convertible Rolls-Royce with Skid as their driver. He is pretending to be their guide.  The girls should have known something wasn’t right just from the expensive car being a cab. This is before, Uber.

Skid reads aloud from a guide-book hidden on the front seat. As Skid reads the wrong description to one of their stops which is a 15th century Cathedral, Maggie realizes he is actually reading the description of the President’s palace. She readily tells him, he is a liar and not a real guide. Skid readily tells her she is a liar for she does not weigh 200 pounds; and, she is wearing shoes. Besides, he tells her, he wore the rose behind his ear.

Charmer that he is, he tries to  convince the ladies to celebrate his last day in the Army. Skid explains that his friend Harry (Charles Butterworth) can join them as Ella’s date. He then hypes the advantages of Harry being a date. He tells them that they are riding in Harry’s car; he lives with Harry, and Harry is the hottest piano player, ever. Maggie tries to slow down Skid’s rhetoric when she asks: Hey, you talk awful fast. Have you ever tried to sell anything? Skid relies: Sure! me! Maggie replies: Well, if you had something good to sell, you would be really wonderful at it.  Ella tells Maggie that they are going to this celebration.

When Harry meets Ella, he is wearing a trench coat and suffering from a sickness. He then offers Ella a quinine pill. Ella asks him why he was offering her a quinine pill. Harry clumsily replies: you know, we are in the topics?  Ella, who is annoyed with Harry, says: N0, thanks. If you are my date, I already have my pill. I just have to say, I love Charles Butterworth’s laid back characterization of Harry. His performance reminds me of another Harry (Adrian Scarborough) on HBO’s Blunt Talk.  Both Harrys are very easy-going and extremely loyal to their friends. They are always supportive no matter how crazy the scheme. Both performers are incredible and wonderful to watch.

The first stop of their the date is for a bite to eat before they celebrate at a local club. While eating fresh seafood cooked on a dock near an open market, Harry discovers his oysters do not agree with him.  Even though this is a black and white film, I swear Harry looked green. Unfortunately, Ella and Harry have to leave Maggie and Skid on their own.

So Maggie and Skid end up at a swinging Jazz/Latino nightclub.  Maggie was not in a great mood.  She and Skid argue over the notion that a trumpet could sound romantic. Maggie argues she loves music; but, not impressed with the trumpet. So, Skid goes over to the band and picks up a trumpret. He masterfully plays the sweetest sounds  which wooes our cynical Maggie. This is a great scene and perfectly directed. However, I wondered why it was decided that Fred MacMurray should play a trumpet in the movie instead of a saxophone?  I mean MacMurray started in the business as a vocalist and saxophone player.  Why not the sax?  Hands down, the saxophone is dead to rights, sexy. MacMurray could have played the saxophone himself. Instead, two other musicians dubbed his playing the trumpet in this film. Then, I found another  treasure.

There are two playwrights for this movie: Virginia Vann Upp (Cover Girl, Gilda, Affair in Trinidad, Here Comes the Groom…)  and Oscar Hammerstein II (The King and I, South Pacific, Oklahoma, State Fair, Carmen Jones…) Well, if Hammerstein thought the trumpet is a sexy instrument for wooing a person’s heart, who am I to argue or disagree?  Having Hammerstein II working on this film might explain why the music is so good in this movie. For the sake of an argument, I wanted to see if I could find  another trumpet player who could play as sexy as I heard in this movie. It didn’t take me long to find one.  If you have the time or just curious, you can hear for yourself that the trumpet is definitely a sexy instrument. Check out  Chris Botti playing My Funny Valentine in the link under references at the end of the post. He is playing To Trudie Styler  (aka Mrs. Sting).  No question to the validity of a trumpet’s romantic sounds.  As they say, I stand corrected.

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While Skid is playing his heart out, and Maggie is getting all toasty warm, she removes her hat.  This catches the eye of a very handsome and suave looking Latino. His smooth Spanish voice is inebriating to Maggie; until, he tries to guide her away from the bar. She refuses to go; and, he becomes very angry.  Skid jumps in to her rescue.  Apparently, the misunderstanding  has something to do with local custom.  A lady who removes her hat at the bar means she is available.  A fight issues; police are called, and Maggie and Skid spend the night in jail while her ship sails away.

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Here is another treasure. That suave Latino is no other than a very young Anthony Quinn.  I don’t believe he spoke a word of English in this movie. Even though this was a very small part, you had to notice him.  He had worked on other Lombard films, so; Lombard even considered him a friend. There is a Hollywood story that Lombard needed an escort to a Hollywood event; and, she asked him to take her.  He never showed up.  Can you believe it? He stood up the most glamorous woman in Hollywood at the time.  When she ran into him later, she really let him have it, vagaries and all. He explained that he was very poor; and, he was too ashamed to tell her.  By the time, he finished his story, Lombard was in tears.  She made sure he had a raise from the studio and a tailored suit.

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So, here is Maggie with no money, no job, and no place to live. Skid has a solution. She could live with Harry and him.  She would possess the only key to her bedroom.  They would help her get a job at the club; until, she could save the money to buy a ticket to go home. This sounds so familiar. Maggie eventually convinces the club owner that Skid, Harry and she wrote a  great song.  It was so good that it should performed at her club. The owner agrees.

Another treasure, Carole Lombard debuts her singing voice in this movie.  She can really sing too.  Her voice sounds similar to Marlene Dietrich, especially on certain low notes.  Oddly enough, I found this old advertisement with Carole Lombard selling Lucky Stripe cigarettes.  Cigarettes do alter the voice into a raspy, lower octave. While singing at the nightclub, Maggie meets another singing act, Anita Alvarez (Dorothy Lamour). Another treasure,  this was only  Lamour’s second movie. She played the home wrecker type since she was Skid’s past lover.  Her motto might have been “if I can’t have him, neither can you!” There’s another Hollywood story about Lombard and Lamour. When Lamour showered up on set, Lombard marched her to a make up artist to fix those eyebrows.

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While living with the boys, Maggie discovers Skid’s more serious character defects like gambling, drinking, fighting, and lack of self-esteem. Despite this, she and he fall madly in love. Of course, this love must be tested. Skid asks her to marry him.  And on the day of their nuptials, her ex friend/fiance shows up.  He apologizes for taking so long to find her; but, he just found out a few days ago where she was. As soon as Ella got back, she told him everything.  Before Maggie can tell this poor fella that she is getting married to another guy, Skid happily waltzes in and invites Maggie’s guy friend to their wedding.  How do you spell, awkward? This sad cattle baron  actually goes to their wedding.

Eventually, a New York City agent catches their act and offers Skid a job in a Night Club in New York.  He only wanted Skid because female singers were “a dime a dozen.” After all, this was during the Great Depression. Many people were out of work and would do anything for a job. Skid with his low self-esteem, must be convinced by Maggie that this is his chance to make it big, be famous, get rich, and make his mark on the world.  Once he settled in, he would send for Maggie to be at his side.  That was the plan…

Remember that home wrecker, Anita Alvarez? She is now Skid’s singer in the New York night club.  Remember, his character defects, gambling, drinking, fighting, and low self-esteem? Well, all of this keeps him from communicating with Maggie. Meanwhile,the club owner in Panama, feels sorry for her and gives her the money to go find Skid.

She telegrams him to meet her at the docks.  He never received the message from her, thanks to the home wrecker, Anita. Maggie waits hours at the docks. Finally, she gives up and gets a room. She tries to get a hold of Skid. He is not in his room because he passed out in Anita’s room.  Frustrated, Maggie finally calls Anita to try to find her husband.  Hungover, Skid answers the phone.

This is where the film begin to have a very dark twist.  Lombard is so desolated by hearing Skid voice over the phone, she is speechless and hangs up. Her performance is so intense in this scene, you feel that your heart is ripped out with hers.  Maggie sends Skid a message that she was the voice over the phone. She wished him well and said good-bye.  She gets a divorce and marries again,and moves out of the country.  Skid completely falls apart.  He literally drinks away his life and career.

But, remember this is a movie made during the hardest economic times in United States history.  People paid good money, they don’t have, to feel good again.  So, the ending of this “screwball comedy”  will have the typical happy ending that they expect. But, it conveys a serious warning about what is truly valuable in life.

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A biblical reference sums it up nicely: What do you gain, if you have all the treasures in the world, but lose your soul?” Skid lost his soul when he had it all because he forgot what was truly valuable. The message is clear: no matter what hard times come your way, always remember to treasure those who truly love you, friend or family. See, I told you there was treasures to be found in this movie.

References:

Chris Botti: My Funny Valentine link

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=chris+botti+videos&&view=detail&mid=2AAFEB47ED8936247C1A2AAFEB47ED8936247C1A&rvsmid=70C0C46E76606742580A70C0C46E76606742580A&fsscr=-3809&FORM=VDFSRV

 

The whole movie Link

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=swing+high+swing+low+movie&view=detail&mid=5649B4326187F2E91FD65649B4326187F2E91FD6&FORM=VIRE

Some links used for reference

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001479/

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/115700%7C27807/Carole-Lombard/

Book:

Harris, Warren G. Gable and Lombard. Published by Greymalkin Media Las Angeles and New York, 1974