“What Can I Bring?”

Now that America is opening up and we’re allowed to go outside and play, it might be time to brush up on some basic etiquette.  Things like small talk and dressing appropriately for work are skills that can atrophy without use.

Let’s start with a potential land mine:  the potluck dinner.

If a friend invites you to a party at their home, it is customary to ask if you can bring something.  If the host says no, then you’ve got it easy.  You should still bring something (of course!) but your options are endless…a bottle of wine, a pie, some flowers.

No need to sweat it.

The potluck is a is a different story.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, a potluck dinner is one in which the host provides the main dish and/or some beverages and sides, but does not prepare the entire meal.  Instead, each guest brings a part of the meal—drinks, side dishes, desserts, appetizers, cutlery.

In theory, the potluck takes the work and financial burden off the host, and allows each guest to bring their signature dish, and the guests have a variety of scrumptious dishes.

In reality, you end up with seven artichoke dips, six pies, and a bag of chips per person.

A well-executed potluck requires the diplomatic skills usually reserved for international hostage negotiations.  The host needs to ensure that a full spectrum of foods will be available, without putting too much pressure on the guests.

No one wants to be asked to bring their pulled pork recipe that takes multiple days to prepare when they were planning on grabbing a bag of pretzels on the way.

The expectations on what each guest should bring are heavily dependent on two seemingly unrelated things—marriage status and children status.

Married mothers, as always, are expected to bring the most critical dishes, because between taking care of their young children, running a household, driving kids around to soccer and t-ball games, and (potentially) working outside the home, they obviously have plenty of time to whip up a roasted turkey, stuffing, and a home-baked apple pie.  A mother wouldn’t dare try to get away with bringing plastic forks and napkins.

Single, childless men bring the beer. 

Married women without kids bring the slightly complicated, trendy dish that meets unusual dietary restrictions—think vegan burgers, gluten free cookies, or homemade sushi rolls.

Single, childless women?  We’ve got it easy.  Expectations are low, and we’re allowed to be unpredictable.  We can bring silverware and a bottle of wine to one potluck, and we’ve met our quota.  But if we bring the homemade pie or green bean casserole that is simply expected of the working mother, we’re praised like a baby who just took her first steps.

And what do the married men bring to the potluck?  Don’t make me laugh.

You may think in 2021, this is an outdated and sexist view.

Hey, I don’t make the rules, baby.  I just observe and report.

Hitch and Grace In Three Acts: Dial M For Murder (1954): Hitch Finds His Muse

Much ink has been spilled over Alfred Hitchcock’s complicated relationships with his leading ladies.  But it’s a topic of endless fascination, so let’s spill a little more, shall we?

There is speculation about the exact nature of the sex in Hitch’s long marriage to his wife Alma, but we can only say with certainty that theirs was not a passionate love.  Hitch was a lonely man, isolated by his intense desire for requited love and his inability to find someone to provide it.  (It’s doubtful he could have accepted it if anyone had ever offered it; alas, it seems no one ever did.)  

He loved Ingrid Bergman first, and through deft skill and an uncommon tenderness, she managed to reject his amorous overtures and shaped his schoolboy crush into a lifelong friendship.  In the case of Tippi Hedren, he developed a dangerous obsession that crossed a red line and marred his legacy.

Sandwiched between Ingrid and Tippi was Grace Kelly, the cool blonde that allowed Hitchcock to mold her into his image of the perfect woman.

Twenty-four year old Grace Kelly had made only three films when fifty-four year old Hitchcock saw her in Mogambo, John Ford’s film set in Africa that featured a love triangle between Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Kelly.  She hadn’t yet made much of an impression on audiences or critics (though after she caught Hitch’s eye she was a surprise nominee for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Mogambo), but Hitch was convinced she could be the star he’d been searching for ever since Ingrid Bergman left him in 1949 to make films in Italy with Roberto Rossellini.

Hitch felt Grace Kelly had a mix of elegance and sexuality that he could exploit with his camera.  While Marilyn Monroe embodied the blonde bombshell who put her sexuality right out there for anyone to see, Hitch called Grace Kelly a “snow-covered volcano,” a woman who kept such tight reign on herself that men went mad imagining what was beneath the white gloves, prim hats, and perfect dresses.

Hitch nurtured this image of Kelly through the three films they made together.  Though she occupied a singular place in his heart, there were never any romantic interludes between them.  Hitch satisfied his desires by taking extreme interest in the clothing she wore in his films, dressing her like a doll, and being infinitely patient with her on set, which was not his usual way with his actors.

After seeing her in Mogamo, he convinced MGM to loan her to Warner Brothers to star in his picture Dial M For Murder, based on the stage play of the same name.

The plot for the film starts off rather simply and then becomes increasingly complicated in the second half.  Grace Kelly plays Margo Wendice, a woman having an affair with American writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).  Unbeknownst to her, her husband Tony (Ray Milland) has discovered the affair.  Worried that she will leave him (and take the money that he lives the high life on), Tony blackmails an old schoolmate to murder her.

I first saw this film nearly twenty years ago in college, and I remembered nearly every moment of the grisly attempted murder scence, still shocking despite the lack of gory effects that would be employed today.  The rest of the film I had utterly forgotten.

After watching it again, I am convinced that in twenty more years I will still remember the attempted murder scene, while having again forgotten the rest.

Swann (the killer) has entered the apartment while Margo (Kelly) is sleeping in her bedroom.  He hides behind the thick curtains just behind the desk.  When the telephone rings (her husband calling to lure his wife to her death), Margo staggers into the room half asleep in nothing but her nightgown.  As her husband listens on the other end of the line, Swann wraps a scarf around Margo’s neck and attempts to strangle her.

But Margo (who is often quite passive in the rest of the film) puts up unexpected resistance and fights Swann.  In the struggle, Swann throws her over the desk and bends over her as she moans and he pulls the scarf tighter.

The scene is quite clearly choreographed to mimic a rape, and we see shots of Kelly’s bare legs as she struggles.

In a moment of inspiration, Margo reaches behind her head, remembering the scissors from her mending basket she’d left on the desk.  She finds them and plunges them into the killer’s back.  He falls, taking her with him as the scarf is still wrapped around her neck, and as he hits the floor the scissor blades imbed themselves fatally into his back.

I challenge you to watch the scene without flinching.

After realizing she has killed her attacker, the gasping Margo staggers onto the back patio, drawing in large breaths of air and pulling the scarf from her neck.

The scene took over a week to shoot, and years later Grace Kelly spoke of the difficulties and awkwardness of doing take after take that left her exhausted and bruised at the end of each day.  But she wanted to please Hitchcock (and that desire alone pleased him immensely) and eventually the scene was shot to Hitchock’s satisfaction.

Watching the film today, it is noticeable how Kelly reaches behind her head for the scissors.  She lets her hand flail around for a long time, which strikes a bit of a wrong note as she should be rummaging on the surface of the desk for the scissors.  Before she takes the killing blow, she holds the scissors up for a moment so the audience can get a good look at them.

But Hitch, of course, had his reasons.  Dial M for Murder was shot in 3-D, a new special effect the movie industry was testing out to compete with television.  To audiences in 3-D glasses, it would appear that Kelly was reaching out of the screen to them, and that the deadly scissors were inches from their face.

Hitch hated the idea of 3-D, which he correctly predicted would be a short-lived gimmick, but Warner Brothers insisted he use the technology.  The 3-D cameras were large, slowed down filming, and prevented Hitch from doing certain shots.

In fact, the release of Dial M for Murder was delayed for nearly a year until the run of the play completed, and by the time audiences saw it the 3-D craze had already passed.  Most people saw it the way we do today, in two dimensions.

After the attempted murder, the film gets a little bogged down in plot.  Since his wife has survived, the husband shifts his plan to convincing the police that she deliberately killed the man because he was blackmailing her over her affair.  It nearly works, until her lover and a clever detective save her from death row with sleuthing that would make Sherlock Holmes—and Columbo—proud.

For Hitch, who was never all that interested in the storyline of Dial M and who hated the 3-D filming process, the main joy of the film was working with Kelly.  Throughout the process he had his mind on his next film, one that would rightly be regarded as a masterpiece by film scholars and audiences alike.

It was the story of the ultimate voyeur who has a beautiful woman do his bidding.

It was the story of movie making itself, spiced up with murder.

Kelly would star in it, of course, no matter what he had to do to once again pry her away from MGM.

Now all he needed was the right leading man.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.

Rolling Again

This is the story of my first fully vaccinated day.

Like Alice, I left a lonely world with only a cat as companion and stepped through the looking glass into a technicolor dream world.

(Or did I leave the not-so-Wonderland that we’ve all been living in for the past fourteen months and come back home?  This is pondering best left to Lewis Carroll, I think.)

I haven’t burned my mask collection just yet, and I remain a work-from-home warrior for the time being.

But I’m rolling again.

I awoke to the day I’d circled on my calendar thirty-five days ago when I received my first shot and felt like Cinderella, cleaning up the kitchen and drinking coffee while the birds sang and the sun streamed through the windows.

Vaccinated and caffeinated, I began the day with a haircut eighteen months in the making, shedding the weight of this long year.

With the preliminaries out of the way, how does a girl spend her first vaccinated day?

For a Pennsylvania movie buff who’s spent the year blogging about classic films, there’s only one answer:  The Jimmy Stewart Museum

I picked up the parents and we hit the road.

Stewart, star of It’s A Wonderful Life, Rear Window, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (among many others) grew up in Indiana, Pennsylvania, a quaint town about an hour’s drive from my own.  The museum is across the street from what used to be his father’s hardware store, and is within sight of his childhood home.  Filled with movie posters, awards, and memorabilia from his childhood, film career, and military service, this little gem is a must-visit for Stewart fans. We chatted up the staff and they gave us great background on Stewart, his family, and the construction of their little museum.

I left with a new appreciation for Stewart, a list of films to watch, and a Jimmy Stewart lamp that now sits on my writing desk.

Then we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car.  A restaurant on the first vaccinated day?  Too much, too soon.  We can’t have all the thrills at once.

And how did I end this gloriously normal, perfect day?

With as much of the posse as we could scrape together, of course.

This isn’t over, folks.  We know that.  But here’s to the beginning of the end.  And the return of these perfectly normal days.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945): Tainted Love and Daddy Issues

“What’s wrong with Ellen?” her husband Dick, perhaps with a little buyer’s remorse, asks his mother-in-law.

“There’s nothing wrong with Ellen.  It’s just that she loves too much.”

Too much indeed.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Let’s rewind an hour or so, to the start of Leave Her to Heaven, when the opening scene’s picturesque technicolor setting on a lake is juxtaposed with Alfred Newman’s ominous opening score.

Something very bad has happened to Dick Harland.

The film then takes us to the first meeting between Dick Harland and Ellen Berent.  On a train to New Mexico, Dick finds himself staring at the beautiful woman sitting across from him and reading his new book.

When she notices, she stares right back.  The intensity and length of the stare is uncomfortable to both Dick and the audience.  Eventually, she breaks the stare and transforms into a charming and attractive woman, explaining that she was staring because Dick looks so much like her father.

It’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.

But it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is off with this woman.

By coincidence they are vacationing together in the same home, and he discovers that she is with her mother and adopted sister Ruth to spread her father’s ashes.

The warning signs continue flashing—it’s clear Ellen was unnaturally attached to her father.  She alone spreads the ashes with a possessiveness that should make Dick’s blood run cold.  Ruth mentions that her their mother adopted her because she was so lonely, despite having a husband and daugher.  Ellen stays out all night in the desert after spreading her father’s ashes and her family is unconcerned.  Her presence stifles the air in the room.

And she has her sights set on Dick.

If only he’d taken a second look at Ruth, who is not quite as pretty as Ellen but clearly the better choice.

But he doesn’t look, and he’s married to Ellen before he knows what hit him.

Though outwardly happy, Ellen has a sinister aura we can’t quite put our finger on.  She comes on strong, then backs away.  Though she grew up wealthy, she insists they hire no cook or maid because she wants to be the only one to take care of her new husband.

In another woman, it might be romantic.  With Ellen, it feels like a gathering storm.

She’s not calculating in the traditional sense.  Not at first, anyway. She hasn’t married him for his money (she clearly has more), doesn’t want him to commit a murder for her, or rob a bank, or any of the other dirty deeds that femme fatales of the 1940s lure their patsies into doing.

She isn’t a street-wise, cold-hearted dame.

She’s insane.  Truly, madly, deeply insane.

Why did she marry Dick?

Because he looked like her father.

Why doesn’t she want anyone else around?

Because she wants Dick all to herself.

Whoever said jealousy was a green-eyed monster had obviously met Ellen Berent Harland.

She’s jealous of Dick’s friends, of his work, and most of all, of his sweet-natured, disabled younger brother Danny.

In the film’s signature scene, Ellen is out in a boat on a lake following Danny while he swims.  He’s overtaken by a cramp and Ellen realizes this is her opportunity to eliminate her main rival for Dick’s affection.  Donned in a fabulous white coat, dark sunglasses, and blood-red lipstick (the impact maximized by glorious technicolor), Ellen calmly watches Danny drown, not moving an inch when he cries out again and again for her help.

Eat your heart out, Phyllis Dietrichson.

Gene Tierney sinks her teeth into the role, infusing Ellen with a malevolence that grows ever more malignant.  Murdering Danny unleashes a reign of terror that destroys her marriage, her sister Ruth, husband Dick, and ultimately, herself.

Her revenge against her husband for an imagined affair with her sister is pure madness.

And genius.

Tierney was often underrated as an actress as critics focused on her beauty, but she gave a performance worthy of an Academy Award in Leave Her to Heaven, and indeed, she was nominated.  But it was a year of stiff competition and she ultimately lost to Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce, an Academy decision I endorse.

Leave Her to Heaven is not the best movie I’ve ever seen, nor is it one of my personal favorites.  There is no doubt, however, that as Robert Osborne said while introducing it on Turner Classic Movies, it is, “One of those movies that, once seen, is almost impossible to forget.”

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.

The Diva of Electronics

A temperamental fiend…

Here’s something I don’t get:  technology has surpassed nearly everyone’s greatest dreams.

We have paper.  The steam engine.  The telephone, the television, the internet.

The toaster, the microwave, the smartphone, one-click ordering.

We put a man on the moon.

I can do my taxes online.

I can have groceries delivered to my door two hours after I order them.

So why can’t I get a printer that works?

I know, I know, I know.  Why am I printing?  Don’t I know I can do everything on my phone?

But surely even the most paperless among us sometimes requires a hard copy.

I currently own two printers, in the hopes that at least one will work at any given moment.

While laptops and phones can take a beating—they’re dropped, scuffed, banged and swiped on all day long and for the most part work without a hitch, a printer must always be treated with kid gloves.

One wrong look and it jams.  And jams again. 

And jams again until you’re ready to throw the thing out the window.  (But first checking to make sure your backup printer works, of course).

And the useless backup…..

My printers are always complaining.  They’re out of ink, they’re out of paper, the paper is too thick and jams, the paper is too thin and the rollers won’t pick it up.  I can’t do anything right.  My printer may be as close as I ever get to having a mother-in-law.

And my latest printer (bought because my oldest one nearly drove me to distraction) has the added degree of difficulty of being wireless.

Which seems great, except it never seems to recognize my laptop.  It’s got an ominous blue light of death that won’t turn off no matter how long I hold down the power button.  I usually have to unplug it, and even then, the light turns off so slowly that I fear it’s about to turn into a flesh-eating monster à la a Stephen King novel and devour me.

The root cause seems to be how long I leave it on without using it.  Under thirty minutes and it’s fine.  Over that, and the trouble starts.

This thing is a bigger diva than Mariah Carey.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Remake Rumble: Waterloo Bridge (1931) vs Waterloo Bridge (1940)

In the Remake Rumble, I’ll throw one (or more) versions of the same film into the ring and let them fight it out.  I’ll discuss the good and the bad, and end with the ultimate judgement of the best version.  Judgements can be appealed through well-reasoned arguments in the comments section.


In this inaugural edition of the Remake Rumble, Mae Clark and Vivian Leigh spar for the best portrayal of the doomed dancer-turned-prostitute Myra in their respective adaptations of Robert Sherwood’s World War I play Waterloo Bridge.

I first watched the original 1931 version nearly a year ago when I was writing about the pre-code films.  At the time, the story interested me, but I had my hands full writing about the deliciously remorseless up-to-no-good dames in Baby Face (1933) and Red-Headed Woman (1932).

But over the past eleven months, Waterloo Bridge stayed with me.  It’s the kind of movie Universal (and Warner Brothers) liked to make in the dawning days of sound—cheaply made films about the dregs of society who view the world with a jaundiced eye but somehow manage to hang onto their dignity in an indifferent world.

Such a person is Myra, the American chorus dancer in London who falls on hard times and resorts to prostitution to keep a little food on the table and a little gas in the lamps of her dirty flat.  Her quick fall from grace is symbolized when an admirer who sees her dancing in the chorus sends her a fresh, white mink that is the envy of the other dancers.  Only moments later, we flash forward to her fall from grace—the mink, now tattered and seedy, is her uniform when she walks the streets.

During an air raid on Waterloo Bridge (where Myra is trolling for a client), she meets Roy Cronin, an American soldier on leave.  In her flat after the raid, she and Roy share a loaf of bread.  Roy takes in the squalor of her flat and offers to help her by paying her rent.  He does not realize Myra’s profession despite all the obvious signs.  He’s earnest and naive, and his charity insults Myra.

She throws him out, then invites him back.  Like many soldiers of the time, Roy fears his life may be short and wants to live while he can.  For a man like Roy, that doesn’t mean a romp with a cheap London whore.  He wants to save Myra from her bad luck.

He wants to marry her the next day, before his leave is over and he has to head back to the front.

Much of the rest of the film is Roy’s almost pathetic insistence that Myra marry him.

Roy comes from a wealthy family.  He can take care of her financially, she can live with his family while he is at war.  Myra’s friend Kitty gleefully points out that if he dies in the war, she will receive his pension.

And she genuinely cares for Roy.

It’s her way out.

And yet Myra refuses.

Again and again she refuses, quite violently.  

I will admit, I didn’t quite understand why the first time I watched the film.  It struck me that she hated him, that she wanted him to leave her alone.  But this time, it sunk in.

It’s not pride:  Myra despises herself.  

If a good man like Roy married a soiled woman, it would humiliate him and his family.  Even if he can’t see it, Myra can.

I also think—though it’s not directly spelled out in the film—that Myra can see that in the long run, they would never work.  He would grow to hate her.

She’s a fallen woman, lower than dirt.  But to trap Roy into a marriage?

That’s a line of self-respect she cannot cross.  And she cannot bear to tell him the truth about her, to lose the love she sees in his eyes.

If he was a mark, she would take him for all she could.

She can’t marry him because she loves him.

And turning down her own happiness, her own salvation, is a kind of torture.

Marrying Roy is the ultimate poisoned apple, and Myra, already fallen, refuses to take the bite.

The last twenty minutes of the film is brisk and searing.

Roy has taken Myra to visit his family, and to press his marriage suit.  Roy’s mother is kind to Myra, but makes it clear that she does not approve of the marriage.  In the middle of the night, Myra goes to see his mother and admits to her what she cannot admit to Roy:  she is a prostitute.

The mother is kind but in full agreement that Myra must leave immediately.  

Before she goes, she tells his mother, not in defiance, but as a way of making his mother bear witness to her sacrifice, “I could marry him, if I wanted to.”

“I know, my dear.”

“I just wanted you to know that.”

“Yes, I know , Myra.  You see I happen to know you’re rather a fine girl.”

“Fine?  I’m not.”

Roy tracks her down one last time, and having promised both herself and his mother to push him away, she tells him she hates him, that she is laughing at him.  At this, she throws her head back, anchors her joined hands on her forehead, and lets out a maniacal laugh.

The first time I watched, I thought it was a bit ridiculous, overacting on Clark’s part.  But I see it differently now—as a primal scream of agony, a plea to god to quit tempting her.

She ultimately agrees to marry Roy before she sends him back to war—a promise I don’t believe she ever intended to keep.

But we will never know, as Myra is killed in an air raid on Waterloo Bridge, a crowd surrounding her unseen body and the mink sprawled across the ground.

A scant nine years later, MGM remade the film with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, perhaps the hottest stars in Hollywood in 1940.

Though key aspects of the story remain the same, MGM and the strictly enforced production code wash away much of the grime of Myra’s tale.  

Universal and Warner Brothers were the studios that made cheap films showcasing society’s underbelly, but MGM was filled with big budgets, glamour, and fairy tales.

Waterloo Bridge (1940) spends nearly three-quarters of the film laying the groundwork to make sure Myra doesn’t lose our sympathy when she descends into prostitution. 

Vivien Leigh’s Myra is a ballerina, not a chorus girl.  She meets and falls in love with Robert Taylor’s significantly more dashing and charismatic Roy Cronin.  

Taylor’s Cronin takes her out to a romantic dinner, where the orchestra plays with candles burning.  They dance to Auld Lang Syne, and as each section of the orchestra drops out, they extinguish their candles until Taylor and Leigh are waltzing in the dark.

It’s an enchanting scene, establishing the love between them in a way the original film never does.  The two have a chemistry that Clark and Douglass simply lack.

Taylor’s Cronin comes across as romantic and in charge.  His marriage proposal is one from a man who knows what he wants and is confident he will get it, where the original Cronin often comes across as desperate.

Because the MGM version insists that Taylor and Leigh fell in love before her fall into prostitution, the plot then has several contrivances as to why they cannot marry before he must go back to the front—first, the reverend tells him there can be no marriages after 3 pm, and then the next day Taylor is called unexpectedly—and immediately—back to the front before the wedding.

Thus, when Taylor’s Cronin is killed in the war, there’s no pension for poor Myra, who was fired from her job as a ballerina for missing a performance to be with Cronin.

The film documents Myra’s descent—she and roommate Kitty grow hungry, then Myra grows sick when she learns of Cronin’s death.  Unbeknownst to Myra, Kitty begins hitting the streets.  

When she learns the truth, Myra is aghast:

Myra:  “You did it for me.”

Kitty:  “No, I didn’t.  I’d have done it anyhow.  No jobs.  No boys who want to marry you.  Only men who want to kill a few hours because they know it may be their last.”

Myra:  “Kitty, you did it for me to buy me food and medicine.  I’d sooner have died.”

Kitty:  “No, no you wouldn’t.  You think you would, but you wouldn’t.  I thought of that…but I wasn’t brave enough.  I wanted to go on living.  Heaven knows why, but I did, and so would you.  We’re young and it’s good to live.  Even the life I’m leading, though, God knows it–I’ve heard them call it the easiest way.  I wonder who ever thought up that little phrase.  I know one thing–it couldn’t have been a woman.  I suppose you think…I’m dirt.”

And Kitty is right, at first.  Myra does turn to prostitution.  

Until Cronin shows up alive, after a year in a German prison camp.

And thus Leigh’s Myra is finally at the predicament that Clark’s Myra faced almost immediately—should she marry a man knowing what she is?

Like Clark, Leigh tells Roy’s mother the truth.  This mother is more shocked than the original mother and wants to take the night to think things over.

Leigh cuts right to the heart of things when she says, “I could make you understand.  But it wouldn’t help me.”

And in the end, she too dies on Waterloo Bridge, but this time she isn’t a casualty of fate.  She could pursue a life of prostitution when she thought Roy was dead, but now that he’s alive she can’t live with or without him.

She steps deliberately in front of a convoy of Red Cross trucks and lets them run her down.  Instead of the mink, we see her good luck charm on the street beyond the crowd surrounding her unseen body.

So which version wins the rumble?

In many ways, these two films can be seen as a study in pre and post code film, similar to Red Dust (1932) and Mogambo (1953).  

The 1940 version seems like it should be the better film.  It has bigger stars with better chemistry.  Leigh’s greatest accomplishment is that while this film was made only a year after Gone With the Wind, she doesn’t once make you think of Scarlett O’Hara in her portrayal of Myra, a feat I would’ve believed impossible.

There’s no doubt it’s the better romance.

And yet….

Waterloo Bridge is a gritty story, and the 1931 version allows more of the grime to show.  You can practically feel how dirty Myra’s flat is, how desperate and low class she is as she strikes matches across the wall to light her cigarette and pinches money from Roy to run the gas lamps for a few more minutes.

She’s a desperate, cynical girl.  She’s a prostitute through and through, and her selfless moment with Roy is her salvation.

In the 1940 version, Vivien Leigh’s Myra is never allowed to become a prostitute, not in her bones.  She’s a woman who works as a prostitute, but the script keeps reminding us that she’s “not really” this woman.  They’re so worried about keeping the censors off the case and the audience’s sympathy with Myra that the plot is filled with contrivances.  Her suicide at the end is as much about herself as it is her love for Roy.

Through no fault of Leigh, her Myra is just not allowed to be as interesting as Mae Clark’s version.

In the 1940 version, we never see Leigh engaging in acts of prostitution.  In her first time, we see only the back of her head, and hear the man’s voice without seeing him at all.  

In the freewheeling 1931 version, when a john asks Clark’s Myra what she’s doing, she gets right to business and says, “Oh, just looking for a good time and wondering where the rent’s coming from.”

You could never get away with a line like that in 1940.

The 1931 story is briskly paced, jaded, and rough around the edges.

Just like the heroine of its story.

And so to my surprise, and perhaps yours, I am awarding the 1931 Waterloo Bridge the victor over its better remembered (and more beloved) 1940 remake.

Also, Robert Taylor broke Barbara Stawnyck’s heart when he cheated on her with a younger woman and is thus dead to me.

Not that I would let a thing like that cloud my judgement.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.

Brief Programming Note

Just a brief note that Wednesday’s Golden Age of Hollywood blog will be delayed until Thursday. I’m working on something a bit different, and I’ll do my best to make it worth the wait.

Next week we’ll be back on schedule.

Happy watching…

The Posse Turns 40

The Posse, New Year’s Eve, 1999

This week my friend Ginger had a birthday.  Four down, four to go.

The Posse is turning the big 4-0.

What is the Posse?

I’m glad you asked.

Like everyone, I had a group of friends in high school.

Unlike everyone, we gave ourselves a name:  The Posse. 

I don’t remember how or why we came up with this name, but it stuck.  There were eight of us and we were a clique, though without the exclusivity and mean girl undertones.  There was no Regina George among us.

At the end of the film Stand By Me, in which a writer mourns the loss of a friend he hasn’t seen in a decade, he ends his story by typing, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

We were older than twelve but the sentiment rings true.

I’ve made some great friends since, many of whom I see more often and are more a part of my day-to-day life than some of the Posse.  I relate to them adult-to-adult, fully cooked.   They see me as I am in the corporate office, or rowing on the river.  They see me as I am now.

But with the Posse, well, we have x-ray vision with one another.  We see each other as we are now, but more importantly, we see each other as we were then.

The Posse knew me when I was still baking.  They were one of the raw ingredients in the cake I would become.

If they were different then, I’d be different now.

They’re not fooled when I use my “professional” voice, or order a fancy drink in a restaurant, or the million other ways we try to impress one another with our adultness.  These are the kids that saw me roll up my pants and walk through the slimy moat in a miniature golf course to retrieve my wayward ball.

They are not impressed when I put on airs, as we all do from time to time.

They know that I once used rubber bands to wrap peanut butter and jelly sandwiches around my waist to smuggle them into a concert.

Classy.

And I know them the same way.

During our senior year of high school, I wrote a 30,000 word memoir of our adventures and called it “Tales of the Posse.”  Yesterday I dug it out of the trunk in my basement. 

In the epilogue, I wrote:

“I would like to say that we lived happily ever after together and always remained as close as we were the night the preceding stories were told.  I would like, more than anything, that our kids played together and started a Posse II generation.  However, I can’t see into the future and I haven’t even lived very much of it to get a good idea of how it turned out.”

With two members of Posse II

Are we as close as we were at seventeen? 

Of course not.  That would be a case of arrested development.  We have our own lives—careers, a few husbands, and the Posse II generation currently stands at 8 members.

And now, we’re turning forty.  Since September, half of us have had the big birthday.  The rest are coming, mine in June.  Thus far, we haven’t been able to celebrate together because of covid, but when it’s safe we’ll celebrate the beginning of this next decade together.

Getting eight women with busy lives together is nearly impossible, especially when we don’t all live in the same town anymore.

But we manage it about once a year around Christmas, and if we get six of eight, we call it a win. 

We’ve had our scuffles over the years, but I’m in touch and on good terms with all of them.

My seventeen-year-old self would be appalled at this level of contact.

My thirty-nine-about-to-be-forty-year-old self recognizes it for the rare gift that it is.

Happy Birthday, Posse.

Christmas 2019 – The last time we were all together

Indiscreet (1958): Ingrid’s Triumphant Return

Despite delighting audiences with her work in such classics as Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941), Casablaca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), and Notorious (1946), Ingrid Bergman was banished from Hollywood when her extramarital affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini became public.  

Because of the pure and innocent characters she played onscreen, the public felt betrayed.  Becoming pregnant with Rossellini’s child added fuel to the fire.  In a fit of manufactured hysteria that would be right at home in today’s political climate, democratic Senator Edwin C. Johnson denounced her on the senate floor as “a powerful influence for evil”, and that she had “perpetrated an assault upon the institution of marriage.”

“People saw me in Joan of Arc and declared me a saint,” Bergman said later.  “I’m not.  I’m just a woman, another human being.”*

She ran off to Italy and spent the next seven years making Italian films in between marrying and divorcing Rossellini.  (And having three children with him, including actress Isabella Rossellini.)

In 1956, she filmed Anastasia in Europe for Twentieth Century Fox to test the waters.  Her Academy Award win for the film paved the way for her return to Hollywood.

Though Anastaisa revived her career, it was her next film, Indiscreet, that endeared her once again to American audiences.

Off-screen friends Bergman and Grant

She paired up for the second and final time with her Notorious co-star and good friend, Cary Grant.

Notorious is the better film, of course, but it has more tools in its arsenal—an inherently tense premise, life and death stakes, and the master of suspense in Alfred Hitchock behind the camera.  

Indiscreet, by contrast, lives or dies solely on the chemistry of Bergman and Grant.  Not their individual talents, which are unquestioned, but how much the audience believes they are besotted with one another.

The film more than lives.  It thrives.

The premise of this romantic comedy is simple—Bergman plays Anna Kalman, an actress in her early forties (as Bergman herself was) who has given up on love meets Cary Grant’s diplomat Philip Adams and finds the man she has been missing.

Philip is handsome, considerate, and fun.  The rub?

He’s married, of course, and he can’t divorce his wife.

He tells Anna this right off the top, and so she goes into their relationship with her eyes wide open.

When a romantic comedy falls flat, it’s nearly always because the filmmaker is in such a hurry to get to the relationship’s roadblock that he neglects to show us what the two leads see in one another and why their relationship is worth saving in the face of that inevitable roadblock.

Indiscreet doesn’t make that mistake.  It strolls along at a pleasant pace, letting us see how and why Anna and Philip fall in love.  There is a cozy conversation at a restaurant table that goes on so long they miss the ballet.  There are late night conversations, and a great split screen showing them saying goodnight over the telephone in their respective beds.  Eventually, we see her cooking breakfast for him, the first nod that their relationship has reached sleepover status.

We know why Anna loves Philip—he’s charming, discrete, considerate, and so obviously her perfect match.  We know why Philip loves Anna—she’s beautiful, beloved by her fans, confident but not clingy, and has a great sense of humor.  She takes what Philip can offer but doesn’t ask for more.

When Philip is ordered to New York for five months for his work with the United Nations but Anna must stay in London to star in a play, she shows the first signs of strain.  In a heartbreaking scene, Anna beseeches Philip to leave his wife and marry her.  She apologizes, but it’s too late—she’s shown Philip that no matter how perfect their relationship seems, it is humiliating to be a mistress and not a wife.

And now, finally, when we’re fully invested and having a ball watching Cary and Ingrid flirt and play, the bomb is dropped.

On-screen magic

Philip isn’t—and never has been—married.  It’s a lie he tells his prospective lovers because he believes he’s not the marrying kind and doesn’t want to give them false hope.

The reveal of this fact to Anna—by her sister, and not Philip himself—has her shouting, “How dare he make love to me and not be married!”

The film’s comedy comes in the second half, when Anna pretends not to know of Philip’s deception and plans his comeuppance.  Watching Anna secretly seethe behind Philip’s back at a party while he dances and drinks and generally has a grand old time is the highlight of the film.

Her plan goes badly, of course—she convinces him she’s been seeing another man just as he decides he’s the marrying kind after all—but it all turns out right in the end.

It’s the type of romantic comedy that Hollywood has given up on—it doesn’t have two leads who are constantly bickering until the final reel, doesn’t substitute sex for romance, and doesn’t have to cut down a strong woman by making her a klutz. 

It’s a love story of two mature adults—Ingrid with the first hint of lines on her face, Cary with silver in his hair—but youth doesn’t hold a candle to the charm these legends exude with every breath.

And even at forty-three and fifty-seven, Ingrid and Cary look damn good in technicolor.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.

*Quote from Notorious:  The Life of Ingrid Bergman, by Donald Spoto

The Fine Art of Buying Shark Tank Products

There’s an art to watching Shark Tank.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy the show, but in today’s blog, I’d like to impart some hard-earned wisdom about how to make sure you are getting the most out of your Friday night viewing experience.

As they say on podcasts, this isn’t a paid advertisement.

The first product featured on Shark Tank that I bought while watching the show was called Knife Aid.  This was back in February, when I was watching reruns to get me through the worst of the pandemic winter.

Knife Aid is brilliant in its simplicity.  The owners pitched to the sharks a service in which customers send their own knives in through the mail (via a provided shipping box) and Knife Aid sharpens and returns them within a week.

This idea was such a moneymaker that the sharks got into a huge fight vying for the deal, even to the point of following the entrepreneurs out into the hallway when they stepped out to make their decision.

I love a shark frenzy and had a drawer full of dull knives.  I had to try it out.

It worked exactly as advertised—simple, fast, and effective.  I was slicing through fruit and vegetables the next week like I was working at a Japanese steak house.

But reader, I made the cardinal mistake of beginners:  overconfidence.

Watching an old rerun of Shark Tank is like playing minor league baseball.

With Pan’s Mushroom Jerky, I made the big leagues and came up against a major curve ball.

I wrote about the jerky before, how it seemed odd but the sharks loved it so I wanted to give it a try.  A few days later, I went on Amazon to buy some and it was sold out. 

This was in November.  As of this morning, it’s still sold out.

That’s when I learned that a Shark Tank episode drives a spike in demand that normally drains the fledgling company’s inventory.

So when the Souper Cubes came around, I was ready.  Souper Cubes are basically giant silicone ice trays that you use to freeze leftovers in single portion sizes.  The ones I had my eye on were trays with four two-cup portions.

I cook huge vats of food and eat it for days, freezing the rest.  This was right up my alley.

I didn’t just want them.  I practically lusted for them.

Shark Lori Greiner liked it so much that she awarded it the Golden Ticket, her prize for the best product of the season.

That meant I had very little time, perhaps minutes only.

I didn’t even wait for a commercial break.  I jumped up from my chair and ran to my computer, knocking over anything that got in my way.

I was getting those Souper Cubes.

I fired up Amazon and clicked away, quickly finding what I was looking for.  Not even stopping to wipe the sweat off my brow, I ordered two trays.

Success!  I made it in under the wire and ran back in to watch the rest of the show.

I didn’t know how much I paid, or when they were coming.  But I didn’t care.

I had won the Shark Tank lottery!

Because sure enough, the size I wanted was sold out by the end of the show, and most of the other sizes were sold out by the morning.

Fool me once….

This, my friends, is how it’s done.

Victory goes to the swift.

And I have really, really got to get out of the house.