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Sunday, March 29, 2020

How Fragile Was a Romance Image?



Boyer Takes a Brave Gaslight Plunge


Laughs On The Set --- Not In The Movie!
Watching Gaslight and began to wonder if Charles Boyer took a penalty for being so awful to Ingrid Bergman. He’s a worse monster than even Rathbones and Vincent Prices you expect to victimize wives. Anyone would figure a woman assumes risk for marrying either of these, a Love From A Stranger or Dragonwyck good as announcing Ann Harding or Gene Tierney’s mis-move from moment they meet too-clearly bad men Rathbone/Price. Type-casting was Hollywood mantra, 1944 Boyer long settled as intense romantic. So far as I know, he had not so far abused his women on screen (exception: pushed to murder of shrew wife Barbara O’Neil in All This and Heaven Too). I bet Gaslight was a shock to Boyer’s following, for never had he, or any male star, whose image was based on femme appeal, been so icy cruel. “Gregory Anton” kills in Gaslight’s back story, then manipulates “Paula Alquist” (Bergman) toward bughouse confine so he can locate jewels hid since his murder of her aunt. I think Boyer was brave for taking this 100% unsympathetic part. Had others turned it down? He was freelance and so chose, was not coerced, into being Anton. Of Metro contract group, who could/would have done it? Close candidate might be Robert Montgomery, evil in Night Must Fall and A Rage In Heaven, but he was war serving when Gaslight was made. Did women trust Boyer again after seeing him as Anton? I say this because he is that good in Gaslight. A fun watch not only for Boyer, but Joseph Cotton, lethal himself in year before’s Shadow Of A Doubt. Did servicemen seeing Gaslight in jungles and 16mm field set-ups fear for girls back home with an Anton and Uncle Charlie loose to prey upon innocence?








Directing George Cukor Trimmer Than I Recall Seeing Him Elsewhere
I checked Boyer’s post-Gaslight filmography. He was 45 in 1944, not too old to go on being a love object, but in what? There was Confidential Agent, made, I assume, before Gaslight’s impact was felt (release was delayed), also Together Again, a comedy reunion with Irene Dunne, another likely overlap. After that, there are only three more 40's star parts for Boyer, one a disaster (w/Bergman again), Arch Of Triumph, before that A Woman’s Vengeance and Cluny Brown. Latter was fun, better thought of today than then. Vengeance was maybe what women, at least the one in this movie, wanted to see visited on Boyer after the way he Gaslight-comported. Boyer by the 50’s, and in his fifties, was a character actor, no shame there, and he was fine as always, but might the lover lead thing have prematurely quit for his being so disturbingly credible in Gaslight? One woman scorned was/is bad enough … consider millions of them done so by a dream man they had trusted so implicitly. And don’t ignore male angle for cooling toward screen women: Bette Davis striding cross screen and bang-banging for opening scene of The Letter, then killing again where it suited her in later vehicles (men always the target). Crawford and Stanwyck the same. Stanwyck shot guys like skeet. Most men shun the three … for good reason? I boy-remember watching Stanwyck push Anthony Quinn into pumping works of an oil derrick (Blowing Wild), and thinking, “Does she do this in all her pictures?” It needed age and maturity before I could enjoy her (the others too) unreservedly.






Laughs Precede Intense Tie-Up Scene as Supervised By Cukor


Most stars, those protective of benign images, figured they could get away with scary departure … once. Gene Tierney did Leave Her To Heaven, then put such conduct behind her. Ronald Colman said he wouldn’t do Rebecca because onscreen wife murder could never be his thing (this at undoubted point before story change took Maxim off the homicide hook). They say censors wouldn’t let Hitchcock have the Suspicion end he wanted (Cary Grant kills Joan Fontaine), but given the liberty, would Grant have been willing to play it? I bet not. Fred MacMurray did murder in Double Indemnity, but he was single and a “wolf” besides, so maybe deserved Stanwyck for the very bad influence she was. Bogart did in a wife for Conflict openers, but he was Bogart, so here was behavior not unexpected. Was Boyer as Anton the most seemingly ideal husband to turn out to be a cad and killer? If so, then I regard Gaslight as historic, Boyer perhaps paying dear for doing it. Being Metro means Gaslight looks like an overstocked furniture mart, even where it was the idea for Paula/Bergman to be suffocated by décor. There is Hitchcock influence. You could mistake this as one of his were Gaslight less contrived. Anton tips off his villainy (clumsily, I’d add) by steaming up over a letter Paula comes across, this early enough in the show for us to know he’s a threat. Sort of like Uncle Charlie making a fuss over torn newspaper and the inscribed ring. The lengths writers and directors had to go to for heroines, and us, to get suspicious.










Bergman was tall and more than robust, taller, in fact, than Boyer. He’s in man-heels on their honeymoon, and for all I know, stood on platforms later in close shots. Bette Davis spoke of shock seeing him as genuine article as opposed to idol image: hair gone, a paunch, the usual disillusionment where one expects a perfect man. Still, he could make the illusion work, and we can buy Bergman flipping for him. Still, she’s a more than physical match, so it’s good they don’t come to blows (I always wondered why Bergman needed a gun in Casablanca when she could as easily wrestle those letters-of-transit away from Bogie/Bogey). One thing Hitchcock had that Gaslight needed was humor. This one is cruel and takes forever getting Paula from harm’s way. I wanted Joseph Cotten to speed up his investigation and get there sooner. Cotten by the way is sole oasis for levity, if subdued, and is he welcome as 114 minutes crawls to close and belated rescue comes. Cukor drops nice suspense devices, holding us off less for if Anton did it (murder), than why he did it. Gaslight in the end is less a “fun” thriller than a mean one. In addition to Boyer, there is snide maid Angela Lansbury, them a tag team to torment Bergman. Let’s just say I’ll watch Shadow Of A Doubt five times for every once I’d see Gaslight. Still, it’s got pluses, and good news of late sees Warner Archive out with a Blu-Ray.




Thursday, March 26, 2020

Universal Winning The War


Follow The Boys (1944) Features Camp-Following Stars

As much a wartime revue for Charles K. Feldman's client list as for Universal stars doing their bit for servicemen. Feldman produced, independently as was case with prior successes for Universal (including The Spoilers), him in ripe position to deliver up names beyond a somewhat impoverished contract list at his releasing studio. Noted then and certainly now was fact that Universal did not put their biggest attractions, Abbott and Costello or Deanna Durbin, before cameras for Follow The Boys. We do glimpse Nigel Bruce among a crowd, but no Basil Rathbone (understandable as he was contracted to MGM, and did his Universal Holmes series as loan-outs). Stars like Gloria Jean, Maria Montez, and Evelyn Ankers are shown in pans across rows of silent onlookers at a pep meeting conducted by leading man George Raft. Lon Chaney, seated behind Sophie Tucker, says not one word and has but a couple shots to represent him for whole of the film. There is Orson Welles with a silent Noah Beery, Jr., Turhan Bey behind and mute as well. Welles is a more vocal participant, and gets in his magician act with Marlene Dietrich for assist. Interesting to see Orson comparatively thin and robust, a dashing figure in top hat and tails, his sleight-of-hand neutralized by clunky special effects revealing studio artifice behind his "magic."




Highlights like this are interspersed with humblest vaudeville. There’s even an extended dog act presided over by Charles Butterworth, this making sense for Follow The Boys being designed as much to salute vanished variety as wartime men at arms. The Andrews Sisters might be anticipated in any Universal show from this period, but again, their act is compromised by uneasy blend of actual performance and soundstage recreation --- same for Jeannette MacDonald, though she has a nice number in a hospital tent which at least suggests the emotional bond shared by these performers and the servicemen they entertained. We see Donald O’Connor and Peggy Ryan running out to greet what looks to be thousands of GI’s at an outdoor camp stage, only to find themselves cut away to a studio mock-up of the location for their number. What a disappointment Universal didn’t capture that act as it played to recruits, but Follow The Boys wasn't about documenting reality of camp shows. We're lucky, in fact, to have what few and sporadic shots there are of these mass gatherings. Near to the end W.C. Fields saunters into a post canteen to do his pool table routine for what would be a last time. It took Bill just two days to film, despite a schedule allowing for ten. Still, his pacing is slowed. Favored stooge Bill Wolfe walks through unmolested, as if The Great Man had simply forgotten he was there, while subdued laughter from the intercut "audience" is kept to a minimum, possibly on the theory that theatre-goers’ mirth would fill the void. One look at Fields' haggard appearance and you know why he couldn’t get insured for another feature. Still, his routine is what keeps Follow The Boys on radar for devoted fans today. There is a DVD available from Region Two, part of a UK Marlene Dietrich mega-box.




Sunday, March 22, 2020

How Desperate Was Flynn's Journey


Behind-The-Eight Ball Errol Draws Patron and Schoolboy Cheers


Best finds in life are ones we stumble over. I read James Agee’s November 23, 1942 review of Desperate Journey --- was delighted he focused more on the audience at San Francisco’s Fox Theatre than the Flynn frolic many of us know by heart. Context: Errol lately arrested (October) for statutory rape of two underage girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee. He was in deep, and who could guess how this mess would resolve? Desperate Journey had come out in late September. Agee penned of travails shortly after (in a separate column), called them a “Cinemess,” him clearly having sport with Flynn in a jam. As things worked out, so would the Fox audience. “Errol Flynn’s wild oat may flower into a greater popularity than he has ever known,” said the critic, “ … the verdict of the cinemasses was warm, spontaneous, and ribald.” In fact, the Frisco crowd “had the time of its life” with Desperate Journey, wrote Agee, “Fans cheered and applauded Flynn’s first appearance on the screen. Later, when he murmured dreamily of the Girl Back Home, they gave the wolf cry --- a long drawn out wooooo-woooo-ooo!” Certain of Errol lines saw the house “broke into a dionysiad of whistles, wolf calls, boos, (and) belly laughter.” Agee reported such conduct widespread at theatres showing Desperate Journey.


Legal Eagle Jerry Giesler, At Left, Formulates Plan To Spring Errol


First goal of mine: Find out if “dionysiad” is really a word, or something Agee invented to get across verbal punch. Turns out it sort of is, as there is “Dionysian” on the books, inspired by a Greek god Dionysis, but Agee didn’t capitalize his word, and you’d think any derivation on a Greek god’s name would merit that. Not to mock, for we know I cook up screwy non-words here at Greenbriar, and will continue to, in the interest of showing off and appearing cleverer than I am, so am warm with kinship toward Agee, who was a great reviewer and left hundreds of deft columns to mark his way. Not content with mere like-or-not of movies, Agee often reviewed fellow onlookers, was sharply observant of their reaction to shows. That for me is priceless window to how Desperate Journey was received and enjoyed by a crowd hopped up on headlines detailing Errol’s own desperate plight. Would that he were stuck behind Berlin lines; there might be better chance of wriggling out of those. And what was it about “wolf calls” ripening with the war? Andy Hardy made woo-woo his signature. Soldiers and sailors had little vocabulary beyond them, or so it seemed (Anchors Aweigh awash with the gag). Try a wolf call now and you’d end up in civil court, or on a train to Atlanta. For that matter, imagine Errol Flynn standing latter-day trial. As it was, he had a fueled plane and pilot in readiness should evidence go south. Well, didn’t Robin Hood always have escape plans at the ready? I suspect adolescent boys took Errol’s part --- in fact, I’m told a young William F. Buckley organized a defense club for his hero. How far did youth support go? I called longtime friend Conrad Lane to get the lived-it truth.


Giesler Said a Mostly Femme Jury Would Acquit Errol --- and They Did 


Appreciative Handshakes For Each Juror from Flynn
Conrad, who has enlightened us previous, was twelve when cuffs were put on Flynn. From that moment, his schoolyard was Errol-central, a virtual wire service where no detail was overlooked or ignored. When had daily news been so titillating? And you didn’t have to buy it from under counters. This was on front pages at the breakfast table. I wonder how many boys got the full birds-bees curriculum from Flynn. He was known for arranging rites of passage to manhood (son Sean ushered by Dad to a brothel for his education). Conrad’s crew rooted for Errol start to finish, his forty-yard dash through halls of justice one they’d cheer to triumphant pay-off that was acquittal. Was there even a war on? May-be, but for this juve crowd, it was a Page Two event. The rush for fresh Flynn at theatres was profound. Yes, his career got a big spike. Conrad recalls going to see Edge Of Darkness and being turned away. The print had not arrived, said management (a previous booking that refused to give it up?), so Conrad was obliged to go up the block to The More The Merrier, which proved a pleasing alternative.


Offending "Attack" Line Renders Useless This Intended Herald From The Pressbook


Again from Agee’s column, he mentions Desperate Journey’s theatrical trailer and Warners’ “already famed deletion,” from that preview, “of one line about Flynn and his RAFish companions: They know but one command: Attack.” I wondered about that famed deletion, and whether evidence of the cut might survive. Turns out it does, and plainly obvious it is, the trailer narration ID’ing Flynn as “a fighter who knew but one command …,” the word “ … Attack” having been dropped, with an audio gap as result. What we have of the Desperate Journey trailer lacks graphics, but scenes and the spiel are there, accessible at You Tube and TCM’s site. We may assume that initial audiences were sufficiently regaled by the “Attack” reference that it had to be removed. The line was expunged from print ads, as indicated by the pressbook, latter published and distributed before the Flynn arrest, and having to be cleaned up in an aftermath. Note the printed “VOID” beneath the offending promo, exhibitors advised not to use the blurb. Ads that featured in newspapers went with alternative come-ons, “Five Fighting Furies on a Mission of Reckless Peril,” and the like. Desperate Journey saw successful dates, the more so for its now-notorious star. We’ll never enjoy it through eyes of 1942-43 thrill-seekers, but Desperate Journey delivers action goods, Flynn his customary compelling self, under vigorous direction by Raoul Walsh. TCM has played Desperate Journey in HD, a viewing must for the welcome upgrade.




Thursday, March 19, 2020

Widening Screens Come In


Universal Pretends Thunder Bay Is Things It Is Not


Forget Thunder Bay --- Les Paul and Mary Ford!
What a fleece Universal put across with Thunder Bay. It was a Jim Stewart vehicle directed by Anthony Mann that was shot on conventional frame of 1.37. U was meantime sniffing bloomed rose that was Cinerama and hearing word of 20th Fox at fast development of their own wide process. Suddenly, it became a question of who’d get a competing process out first. If U didn’t have a genuine expand to put on screens, they’d fake one. Paramount had done as much with their April 23, 1953 open of Shane at Radio City Music Hall. Stretch of image for that was strictly ersatz, in fact did damage to director George Stevens’ compositions, but how to deny a public hot for embrace if not engulf by screens now wider than high? Universal would do a top and bottom trim of Thunder Bay and put leavings on Loew’s State (NYC) display, their May 20 premiere hyped by trade ads to imply wrap-round image you’d need a swivel head to experience. To that was added “Directional Stereophonic Sound,” which was fresh meat for novelty-seeker appetites, the rich tracks being so far used on 3-D features making round of theatres during spring ’53.




Three Times Regular Size? Must Have Looked Pretty Fuzzy


The imposed-upon width seems to have stuck, as Universal kept Thunder Bay like that for DVD, then more recently leased a fresh HD transfer to TCM for fall 2017, again 1.85. I watched on expectation that action would be cramped, as in foreheads and feet gone, but Thunder Bay actually looked pretty good. I wonder if Anthony Mann and camera crew got notice that this one might emerge wide. Change was applied at fast clip during 1952-53 gold rush days (first 3-D feature Bwana Devil a November ’52 release), and for all we know, Mann sensed trends ahead and made allowance for them. Sure looked that way to me from evidence of Thunder Bay. The film otherwise ranks among bottom-half of Stewart-Mann teamings. It is contempo-set, is straightforward as to action narrative and predictable bumps. Stewart and Dan Duryea are vagabonding wildcatters, Jim more than a mere soldier-of-fortune thanks to visionary scheme for ocean drilling. Jim’s age by this time (mid-forties) would have made it unseemly to present him in dollars-and-dames mode, his project here a fulfillment of  lifelong dream and thrust toward oil to supply the multitudes. Fact JS chews up shrimp harvest (basis of contretemps with Gilbert Roland) and befouls blue water is not for airing on Thunder Bay’s get-it-done terms, but conservationists and pollutant foes could sure do a dance on this one. The 1953 message was simpler: If Jim wants it done, it must be right.




Sunday, March 15, 2020

Footnotes To Recent Posts ...


Not Quite Done With These Topics

LEON ERROL: This follows up on Leon Errol shorts I mentioned for the Technicolor post a few weeks ago, where he was more noticeable than the color. What any of us finds funny is obviously going to differ, as in one man’s meat, so on, and yes, certain comics are poison for some if not many who view. Rather than cite those who repel, here are ones, usually playing in support, that I treasure: Bert Lahr, Ted Healy, Cliff Edwards, Jack Oakie (especially Jack Oakie), plus one more lately realized for a favorite … Leon Errol. That was years coming, partly cause we never had his RKO shorts on television (nearly a hundred!), and 16mm seldom coughed them up. Ever run across a lifelong familiar face that suddenly becomes a heart’s delight? That’s me and Leon. Like with Preston Sturges, I think I’ve grown into him. One night saw three of his shorts along with Mexican Spitfire Out West. Earlier in the week came What A Blonde (from Warner Archive). I laughed at these till I cried, with nary audience to encourage it. Loving Leon may be a personal bent, which would apply to any comedian we’d choose for companion, so let's ignore fightin’ words Esquire published in a 1947 profile: “As comics go, Leon Errol was never really one of the greats. If you were ranking the funnymen of his time, you would put him toward the middle, perhaps a shade this side of mediocrity … he is a man making his living trying to be funny, the way some men make their living behind a counter in a bank or counting oranges in a grocery store.” Now how is that for snideness? I only regret Leon having to read this for himself at the time (he died in 1951).


Leon Errol and Bill Fields --- Friends Since Shared Days Of Vaudeville


Found an interview from The American Magazine dated January 1922. This was height of Leon Errol’s Broadway career, him co-starring with Marilyn Miller in Sally. He was forty at the time, and recalled childhood perhaps clearer than might be the case in the two-reel era decades later. Little Leon and his friends enjoyed swimming on native Australian shores. One of the boys jumped off a rock and into the mouth of a shark, which ate him. Errol told the story to 1922 reportage almost in his stride, said he and pals would continue their swims, only further down the beach. Another time Leon was in the water and was pulled down by what turned out to be an octopus. A passer-by beat it off and saved him. The offhand way Errol told these anecdotes satisfies me that they were true. Like many an entertainer from that past century, he had a Mark Twain boyhood, even if it happened halfway around the world, and with sharks/octopi. As the star he’d become in vaudeville and legit, Errol knew every device for clocking reaction and would each night spot an audience member and use that person as barometer for how the whole crowd would jump. By the time he did comedies for RKO, Leon Errol was beyond seasoned. You see consummate skill in all of his two-reelers, every response honed to maximum laugh effect. The plots are plywood, hauled up, knocked down for a next, all an essential same, as in Leon the erring husband snuck off to a stag convention, or hiding blondes under his bed. He was never really innocent; we could wonder what his characters are up to offscreen, considering jams they’re already heir to when the shorts begin. Titles are fun in themselves: Too Many Wives, Sweet Cheat, He Forgot To Remember, It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dog, a peck of these and most unseen for years. VCI has a DVD of some. Alpha, of course, offers multiple volumes, should you venture into that cave. Suffice to say, I am a total Leon Errol convert.




The recent James Bond discussion led me to a local friend who did not see Goldfinger when it came to the Liberty in March, 1965. In fact, he never saw 007 on a theatre screen until Diamonds Are Forever in 1971-72, reason being that Tony lived in my immediate neighboring small town (Wilkesboro as opposed to North Wilkesboro), borders of which abut, are identical in many ways, except that Wilkesboro had no theatre and North Wilkesboro had the Liberty (our Allen Theatre having burned in 1962). I could foot it to the Liberty where necessary, home being a mile from its door, but Tony lived further, in fact, too far, to get there other than a parent or friend’s parent hauling him (no driving age sibling, which I did have, thus further advantage of getting to the Starlight Drive-In where essential). Had our positions been reversed, it is doubtful you’d be reading Greenbriar now, as I would probably be moonshining, growing hemp, whatever else folks from my section are popularly assumed to do. I inquired of Tony how Wilkesboro peers bore non-access to James Bond at a peak of pop-cultural domination, his answer that they seemed barely aware of 007 one way or the other, parents not likely to let them go even if someone volunteered to drive them. James Bond was off-bounds to nine-eleven year olds. Tony surprised me, however, by mention of one secret agent that did capture a following of Wilkesboro boys, him accessible each week, and for free besides. Where Bond could not be had, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would more than do.




For Wilkesboro, U.N.C.L.E. was talk of the school, not Bond. Maybe isolation from the Liberty explains it. There were a couple of 007 specials broadcast on NBC during the 60’s, lots on LIFE covers and media otherwise (the Goldfinger theme via radio Hit Parades), but for outliers like Wilkesboro, Bond stayed an unknown quantity. U.N.C.L.E., and later Batman, were heroes to a rescue of those too young or immobilized by distance from theatres. I’ve no doubt the problem existed elsewhere than small towns in North Carolina. If U.N.C.L.E. was all you had, where was basis to compare?, which was why Napoleon Solo and Illya laid siege to at least Wilkesboro’s Elementary class, while more fortunate of us waited for Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and reissue double features with 007. We knew U.N.C.L.E. was no match for Bond, but watched anyway, because it was convenient, and free. Some of us went for the Aurora models, one of Napoleon, a next of Illya, each for a dollar. I’ve tried watching U.N.C.L.E.’s from half-century hindsight, and boy, do they drag, usually ten or so minutes for curiosity to be satisfied, then the off switch. What I don’t overlook are people, many people, to whom television meant far more than features ever would. They connected readily, and forever, with personalities and programs discovered early, and beloved since. For these, a Man From U.N.C.L.E. stands tall over whatever the Bond series achieved, loyalties formed at home being for them the strongest.




To further Hammer ramblings, spun off recent X--- The Unknown and Quatermass musings, I’ll add meditation on why theirs was the most successful ongoing series of British films distributed in the United States. Who had cracked that code before? Brit pics in the 50's struggled outside art houses, and even in these, you needed Alec Guinness being drolly humorous to pull in patrons who’d forgive accents otherwise. And yes, those accents were a deal-breaker for most US patrons, and further yes, I've found them occasionally tough to penetrate, despite Anglo-sympathy since youth. Last week’s view of Storm In A Teacup (1937) was seeming proof such things were made purely for a home market. Provided they speak slow, you might get by, but sped up, it’s a race I lose, especially where barmen or chimney sweeps horn in. An interview with Vivien Leigh from 1960 made clear what she and others of British origin recognized as a problem: “I think, on the whole, one has to speak much more slowly for an American audience. Of course, it’s because of our English accent. That again --- that you have to speak more slowly and make it much clearer for them than you do for an English audience --- that is a very good thing, a very good challenge.” Leigh qualifies her position somewhat as she didn’t want to seem a snob, or patronizing toward us, but fact was fact, we did need proper English to be spoon-fed us. I’d add that Hammer was perhaps a first UK concern that consistently, and successfully, did just that.




Proof of pudding is any Hammer screened, at least those square-aimed at US markets. X---The Unknown is as good an exhibit as any. American lead Dean Jagger carries bulk of narrative, but support cast is native, all understandable for applying lessons learned by staff eager to be understood by Yank patronage. I’ve read how Hammer was sensitive to communication gaps from their start at scaling export walls, the firm intent on not repeating mistakes of others. I think a lot of us benefited from exposure to Brit idiom from early age. Thank Hammer horrors for adjusting several generations to a culture other than our own, making their approach to language a familiar, and eventually, welcome, one. British players had been popular before, all the way to talkie beginnings, but here was entire output of a UK shop that we never questioned as to speech and manner. I clearly recall Hammers as intelligent in all aspects because, let’s face it, theirs seemed a more civilized culture. I surely envied the crisp diction that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee displayed. Market barriers Hammer overcame have not to this day been properly recognized. Theirs should rank high among achievement of British filmmakers.




Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Censors Scrub Warner Battlefields


Part Two of The White Angel (1936) 

Censorship tamped down explicit aspects of patient suffering, leaving Florence/Kay to combat unsanitary conditions rather than doctors too handy with hacksaws. Gone With The Wind of a few years later would be a lot more blunt where gangrene and amputations were applied. Was the PCA an easier crowd to deal with by then, or did Warners lack Selznick's heft in negotiating with them? A boldest stroke for this White Angel was denying her romance of any sort. No man would touch the hem of Florence's nurse uniform. It was bad enough that Kay Francis had to go nearly a feature's length without a costume change, and now was further edict that she, and her audience, had no man or men to fuss over. Warner merchandising, NY based, must have got apoplexy when they screened this. Slippery selling had before, and would this time, intervene where product veered off formula path.




Her Heart Was Too Big For One Man To Possess was typical of ad copy, implication being that it took many men to satisfy Florence Nightingale's hungry heart. What wasn't revealed was Florence's yearn for men laid prostrate or shot full of holes. Yes, Kay had never spent so much footage tending men in bed, but this wasn't exactly what her followers had in mind. One World Was Too Small To Share All Her Love again implied romance where The White Angel offered none, other than what Florence Nightingale denies herself, and it's to Warner's credit that changes weren't made to accommodate fan expectation. Comparisons with The Story of Louis Pasteur accompanied most ads, a device Warners put blunt to showmen: “This picture was filmed because of the tremendous success and acclaim accorded The Story Of Louis Pasteur.” Besides that came “a lot of” prestige, or so they promised, and what’s more, Florence Nightingale was “an even better known central character than … Louis Pasteur,” which set me to recalling which name I heard first from history, and yes, it was Florence, if not Kay as Florence.




By all means “re-use your Pasteur contacts,” advised WB, “this show will appeal to the same people.” Still there was lack in “essential sex clash,” as Variety noted. Conceded was fact that women who accomplished great things, like Florence Nightingale, forfeited a love life, since being a Great Woman left no time to moon over men (certainly not an antiseptic Donald Woods, would-be love interest of The White Angel). MGM would be among few to successfully hit all bases with later Madame Curie, wherein Greer Garson had romance cake of Walter Pidgeon and ate it too (radium discovery). Trade reviews often pointed out what seemed obvious to all but studio handlers, in this case potential re-brand for Kay Francis that she, and now we, knew would be ignored. Again from Variety, re Kay: “Her fine, sensitive, and altogether impressive performance opens up (a) new screen cycle for a personality already high in public esteem, and (it) is for Warners and exhibitors probably the outstanding significance of the picture.” Had but WB acted on such trade perception.




Not that I propose The White Angel as paragon among bios, for it was compromised by Code ninnies (nix the gore, and don’t reflect badly on Brit medical procedures, although degree of that could hardly be helped if you were going to tell this story). Florence/Kay gets in licks at women of the era denied opportunity to serve like men, per speech right to camera, and us: “How I envy the Queen, the only woman in England who is allowed to do a man’s work, to have a man’s point of view.” Did such declarative stir stenos and Automat table wipers denied opportunity elsewhere? --- and they didn’t even have a Queen to model after. Maybe it’s better distaff fans didn’t see raw deals handed Kay by WB overseers, The White Angel a fantasy in so many more ways than one. Narrative is broken by chapters led into by text titling, as if Griffith were aboard to evoke good old talk-less days. Florence visits a stage-built graveyard that looks like happy revisit to Bride of Frankenstein, only missing a Dr. Pretorious to offer her a gin break. Tale was backstage told that Kay mimicked Florence by demanding blankets and hot refreshment to shivered extras after a downpour scene. She’s walk off lest they were fed and warmed! A real happening, or dreamed by publicity eager to link the actress with the martyr she played? However way, I’ll buy it, just for liking Kay and wanting her to have been a stand-up gal (also love those Francis diary entries --- makes Mary Astor look like a convent dweller).

Graves Look But Recently Vacated by Henry F. and Fritz

It's Cooled Air They're Selling in Buffalo
The White Angel has Florence at one point sitting stoic in snow after entrance forbade to a field hospital, her adversary a stern-visaged Donald Crisp, a sort of all-purpose barrier to medical progress. For Hollywood artificiality writ large, there is no delight like Kay/Florence under faked winter onslaught, the downpour like soothing oatmeal and nothing to approach genuine cold (at least they could have shot at the Ambersons ice house --- would it have been available in 1936?). Release year’s Warner Blooper reel has fun footage of Ian Hunter trying to emote with faux flakes forever getting in his mouth, Ian spitting furious to keep it out and say his words. To theme of cold, note from ads that The White Angel played summer ’36 when weather was hot. Shea’s Air-Conditioned Buffalo (did we say Air-Conditioned?) promised a “Glorious” July 4 with The White Angel, seen “The Healthy Way” in cool clime with Mickey Mouse besides. Three dimes for this till 2:30? I’m in. The White Angel can be had from Warner Archive, has played TCM in HD. Would The White Angel be Muniificent if he were in it? I say it’s Kay-lossal without him, if a bittersweet record of a 30’s star fave stepped upon the sled that would eventually see her out at Warners, all for handing them a hit this certainly was.
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