My Very Opinionated, Very Nitpicky, Very Detailed, and Very Long Review of “The Great Gatsby” (2013). Millions of Spoilers Abound…
Hello darlings! Long time, no see. I’ve had a pretty harrowing semester, but by the looks of the grades that I’ve gotten so far, it looks like all that hard work is going to pay off! On Sunday, my friends and I celebrated the end of the semester by going to see the new Gatsby film at a fancy theater in Union Square. We were all so pumped, but no one was as pumped as me. I’ve loved the book for many years and I’ve read it over and over and over again. To me, one of the most beautiful things about Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is how, almost a century later, it still resonates so strongly with young people like myself. I can’t fathom people who don’t like this book and don’t like anything Fitzgerald has written. If you are one of those people, you should just get out of here right now. You don’t deserve to read books. Or have opinions on them. Or live.
However, after the two and a half hour film came to an end, I was all torn up. I didn’t really know what to feel about this “Gatsby.” The rest of my friends either really hated it or felt ambivalent like I did. Out of four stars, I’d give this film two. So here’s my review detailing all the good, the bad, and the ugly about this film. It isn’t a classic film, but it is a classic story, so this counts for something, right? If you haven’t seen it yet and plan to soon or if you’re reading the book in preparation for seeing this film, then I advise you to stop right here, because I’m going to be throwing spoilers around like there’s no tomorrow.
Nick Carraway: Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Unless you live under a rock, you must know that The Great Gatsby (the book) is told from the point of view of Jay Gatsby’s average Joe neighbor, Nick Carraway. Nick has just moved from the Midwest to my glittery, glitzy city: New York. Nick’s not in Kansas anymore. When the film opens, we see our pal Nick in a sanitarium for alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. His doctor advises him to write, since “writing gives [him] solace,” as Nick himself says in the film. So, whaddaya know, Nick ends up writing the story of “The Great Gatsby.” As this plotline was unfolding in the film, I was like, “WHAT. IS. THIS.” In the book, there is no sanitarium, Nick goes back to the Midwest. In the book, it is very subtly implied that Nick is Fitzgerald’s alter ego, but not in the standpoint from writing the book. Rather, he is his alter ego in that he is a Midwesterner who is exposed to the different world full of glitter and flamboyance and money–the world of 1920s New York. Nick’s observations in the novel corroborate with Fitzgerald’s own opinions on 1920s materialism. This doesn’t mean that the film should’ve went so far as to completely REPLACE Fitzgerald with the Carraway character!
Anyway, let’s move on to Tobey Maguire’s interpretation of Nick Carraway. Maguire has never been a favorite actor of mine. I don’t really know how he made it in Hollywood. The only explanation I can think of is that he really worked that casting couch. For me, Tobey Maguire wins the “Most Painfully Awkward Actor to Ever Grace the Screen” award. Because of this strange plot point of Carraway actually writing the novel, we get a lot of Maguire reading famous lines from the book, including the opening line and the immortal closing line. I don’t know what’s wrong with Maguire, but he, like, couldn’t pronounce ANYTHING. The dude was blundering around with the gorgeous lines and making them sound clunky and awkward. Verdict: Tobey Maguire can’t read. At all. He’s illiterate.
Jay Gatsby: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby kinda fell in the middle for me. He is suave, debonair, and as fresh as a cool blast of air in a muggy July afternoon. Just look at that face, everyone. He is swoon-worthy, and did a pretty good job of capturing Gatsby’s all-consuming infatuation for Daisy. It shows in literally every facet of his personality. DiCaprio also captures that aura of frantic-ness that permeates Gatsby’s life (since he is obsessed with making up those lost five years with Daisy). However, what I really didn’t enjoy about DiCaprio’s performance was THAT. ACCENT. What was it even? Was Jay Gatsby supposed to have an accent in the novel!? HUH??? DiCaprio spoke in this mix of New York accent and British accent (at least that’s what I THINK it is…) and it made me realize just how disgusting those two accents sound blended together. British people pronounce every letter in their words and speak at a pretty moderate pace, for the most part. But us New Yorkers can’t really be bothered with speaking clearly and slowly. Or with pronouncing 75% of the letters in a word. THEY’RE OPPOSITE ACCENTS. If a mess could speak, it would sound like Leo’s Gatsby. Actually, if a mess could speak, it would sound like Tobey Maguire. If confusion could speak, it would sound like Leo’s Gatsby. It was so bad that my friend kept whispering “old spawt” in my ear the whole train ride home until I yelled at him to shut up. A scene that irritated me was the one in which Gatsby is shot to death in his swimming pool. Of course, I was tearing up and thinking “Noooo don’t die!” The irritating part was that of course he dies saying “Daisy,” while I’m thinking, “DON’T DIE WITH THAT BITCH’S NAME ON YOUR LIPS.” And how about his entrance in the film? I wish I could enter every social function with a come-hither smile on my face and a glass of champagne in my hand, while fireworks explode behind me and “Rhapsody in Blue” swells in the background.
Daisy Buchanan: Carey Mulligan’s Daisy just wasn’t careless enough for me. You get the whole “dumb blonde airhead money-obsessed nasty bitch” personality from her, but not as intense as it should’ve been. You still do hate her, you still get frustrated with her stupidity, but Mulligan made it very hard to make you really feel all those feels for her so much. She was meh. I don’t really know why. I guess I just don’t like Carey Mulligan.
Myrtle Wilson: I LOVED Isla Fisher’s Myrtle Wilson. She was absolutely perfect: a beautiful yet trashy and cheap-looking woman, which is exactly what Fitzgerald was going for in his novel. You can even hear it in her accent. While Daisy has a high-class, hoity-toity, put-on New York accent, Myrtle has a loud, common New York accent. The subtlety with which she did that was great. Her death scene (like everything else in this film) was really over the top and in your face, but that wasn’t her fault. She is one of the delights of this film. And is it just me, or does Fisher’s Myrtle Wilson bear an exact resemblance to Clara Bow?! I was blown away by it when I noticed it while watching the film!
I thought it was really clever that Myrtle seemed to have modeled herself after the most popular and desirable actress of her time. However, I’m not 100% on that feeling, because it might purport the image of Clara Bow as trashy and loose in her ways, an untrue rumor that ruined Bow’s life and reputation and still tarnishes her to this day.
Tom Buchanan: The second really great performance in this film was Joel Edgerton’s as Tom Buchanan. He was exactly how I imagined him when I read the book. Big, strong, brutal, cruel, controlling. and unfeeling. He was a cold bitch of a man. And that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. Edgerton makes you scared of him, scared that if one of the characters step just one toe out of line, he would lash out of nowhere and use that giant temper and giant body to destroy someone. By the end of the film, all that fear you have been feeling morphs into absolute disgust–which is perfect. Just. Perfect. Props to Joel Edgerton for his awesome performance.
Jordan Baker: Elizabeth Debicki’s Jordan Baker was another delight to watch on-screen. This long, lean lady didn’t give a crap about anyone but herself. Debicki gives Jordan that wonderfully sinister edge…she can be your best friend one second, but throw you under the bus in the next. Whether someone in the film loved Jordan or hated her, it was all the same to her. That is kinda admirable in a woman, in my opinion. I often found myself wishing that Debicki could’ve been cast as Daisy instead of Mulligan–her personality was on point.
The Music: Going into the film, I was scared shitless over the music. The soundtrack was being supervised by Jay-Z, for fuck’s sake. I knew it was going to stink to high heavens. I knew it was going to make me cry. I was right…to a certain extent. Some selections made me facepalm, such as Jay-Z’s “$100 Bill” and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” (shameless plugging of wifey dear’s music, obviously), and overall it was much too modern for my taste. Some selections cracked me up out loud, such as the Dracula-like organ music that played as Nick went to his first Gatsby party. Even though I felt that the music should’ve stuck strictly to 1920s jazz and dance music, some of the modern pieces had a heavy vintage influence, such as Will.I.Am’s “Bang Bang.” The one modern song that I was so in love with and DIDN’T have any vintage influence to it was Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful.” The song is so relatable and so haunting, clearly resonating with the message of the film perfectly. Of course, the 1920s jazz and swing was perfect and lovely, and save for “Young and Beautiful,” it should’ve been the entire soundtrack. I’m a sucker for old music.
The Visuals: I’m going to post some photos from the film and let them do the talking for a bit:
Needless to say, my jaw dropped about every five minutes over the breathtaking mise-en-scene in this film. It was so Twenties: big, loud, flamboyant, beautiful, colorful, wild, glamorous, vulgar…it was so ME. This is the stuff I love, the stuff I want in life. “The Great Gatsby” is perhaps the most aesthetically beautiful film I’ve ever seen. I’ve been obsessed with this time period for many years now, and seeing these images just intensified my desire to leave this ugly, broken time we live in now and instead go back to this gorgeous, infamous time in history. This is a Baz Luhrmann film, and love him or hate him, his works are immensely pleasing to the eye. The visuals were easily the best thing about this film, along with…
The Costumes: I would chop off my right arm for the clothes in this film. I would kill for the clothes in this film. I would die for the clothes in this film. A lot of these characters had the shittiest personalities ever conceived, but damn, they looked like heavenly angels of perfection. Designer Catherine Martin (who’s also Baz Luhrmann’s wife) did an incredible job of creating costumes that were historically correct yet desirable to the modern woman. And as you all know, I am a head-0ver-heels sucker for historical accuracy. Being a woman who takes pride in her wardrobe and who loves collecting vintage and vintage-style pieces, I applaud Martin’s work here. I’m also just as fascinated by men’s fashion as I am with women’s fashion, and after seeing the men’s costumes in this film, I vowed to myself to marry the first man I see who can wear a suit like Jay Gatsby. There’s NOTHING sexier than a man who takes care of his clothing and appearance. Let’s look at some of my wardrobe favorites:
My favorite costume in the whole film is a black robe and hair scarf that Daisy wears when she commences her affair with Gatsby. I can’t find any full-length shots of this costume, so I’ll post the best that I can find. This costume is so simple yet so glamorous and high fashion.
More gorgeous costumes:
The Symbols: Okay, now this is the thing I hated the most about this film. It automatically assumes that everyone in the audience is a bunch of dumb fucks who don’t read, and every single symbol and theme of The Great Gatsby is explained to you outright. This film was about as subtle as a freight train coming right for you. Fitzgerald’s novel was beautiful because even though it is about a lavish, loud time, it is so subtle and intimate. This wasn’t an intimate night at the movies. There was nothing for the audience to figure out, nothing for them to look for, which is the most fun thing about watching a movie (for me anyways). I love figuring out the little connections, the subliminal messages, the clever links. But here, I didn’t get that satisfaction at all. Even though I already know the meanings of the images in the story, it would’ve been so gratifying to see them play out in the film. But no, instead the audience is TOLD what the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg mean, why Nick Carraway becomes disgusted with 1920s New York (and in the novel, ultimately returns to the Midwest), why Daisy cried over the shirts, and what the green light means, among other things. We’re not dumb over here! The film could’ve been much better if it just employed some subtlety where it was needed. Some of the effects were kinda cheesy too, especially when seeing the film in 3D (which we did, unfortunately….3D gives me migraines).
WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT THESE SYMBOLS MEAN YOU DON’T NEED TO TELL US, BAZ LUHRMANN THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
So, that’s my review! Feel free to sound off on your opinion of the film, darlings!
Happy (half hour early) St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! In honor of this holiday, I’m going to repost the most Irish-related post I’ve ever published. It is (surprisingly to me), one of the most popular posts on this blog. It’s a post in which I poured my heart out, the post many of you have loved and read, and the post in which I famously lost my shit. I STILL can’t believe some of the things I wrote in this post. The post I’m talking about my dears, is, of course, the post in which I reviewed Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, the awful stinker of an authorized sequel to GWTW. So reread, relaugh, and enjoy!!
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a diehard “Windie” (Gone with the Wind fan). I’ve read the 1,037 page book (my second-favorite of all time, after Les Miserables), about six times, and I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve seen the film. I just know that it’s over 20. And if you’ve been looking at my sidebar, you might have noticed that I’ve been reading “Scarlett” a sequel to GWTW authorized by the Margaret Mitchell Estate and written by Southern romance author Alexandra Ripley. I’ve heard VERY mixed reviews on this book, so I thought that I had to read and judge it for myself. I don’t believe in any sequels unless they are written by the original author, so I read this for pure entertainment, and to see just how good it is. Well…I’m sorry to say that the negative hype that had always surrounded the book is 100% true in my opinion. The book gradually got harder and harder to read, there were weeklong periods where I would neglect it in favor of doing something else, and it became a serious drag by the end. When I finished it last night, I was so physically exhausted in such a bad way, as though I had been put through the wringer. Now I present to you my “list of grievances”, every single thing I found wrong with this travesty.
GWTW Became Commercialized: The Mitchell Estate made a BIG mistake when choosing Alexandra Ripley as author of their proposed GWTW sequel. Yes, she, like Mitchell, was a Southern writer. But she, unlike Mitchell, wrote fluffy romance novels. You know, the ones that your mother or other female family member enjoyed and that you liked to flip through when she wasn’t looking. This sequel was so…commercialized and mass-market. It was cheap. “Scarlett” is nothing but an overly-long “bodice ripper” romance or 1980s Harlequin romance with some of Mitchell’s characters thrown in, and Ripley’s illogical creations thrown in there as well. I’m sure you’ve come across fan fiction. This book is like a really REALLY bad, really REALLY long fan fiction.
Ripley is not Mitchell: As I’ve stated above, nothing really ties the two authors together. Why Ripley was chosen, I have no idea. As I plowed through the stupid book, I couldn’t help but question if Ripley actually read and studied Mitchell’s work before attempting to work with her material and characters. It was that ludicrous! Considering the thin storyline, the book was much too long–823 pages–and felt much longer than the four-figure page number of the original. That’s a problem. The “drama” was so forced, as though Ripley had a page requirement to fill. Did she think that writing a long book would make her novel as much of an epic as Mitchell’s? That’s the most laughable idea imaginable! But Ripley made no bones about it. She said herself that she took on the assignment only to bolster her own fame and so “everyone can listen to every damn thing she had to say”, to paraphrase a quote of hers. I have no clue how this hot mess made it past the publishers! These were my thoughts after reading about a quarter of the book, but I have an annoying habit of seeing every book I read till the end, and I secretly hoped to find something of merit in the novel, so I marched onward. To be completely honest, if you changed the names “Scarlett and Rhett” to something else and placed the book in cheap romance section of the bookstore, then this book would’ve been passable (a 2 out of 5) but since it is the sequel to the greatest American novel of all time, it’s simply horrible! Ms Mitchell does not deserve to have her work desecrated and cheapened in this way. The writing is nothing like hers, and the characters don’t retain their personalities. At. All. It’s unethical for someone else to take another author’s work and mess around with their plot, settings, and characters. However, this is not entirely Ripley’s fault. She was commissioned to write this (what happened in the book though, is her fault). As a reviewer on Amazon said, “There is no such thing as a sequel to a masterpiece”.
The Plot: In a nutshell, it is ludicrous, laughable, unbelievable, and downright boring and pointless. It gets rid of all the characters we know and love, gives us a bunch of stupid new ones, and takes the action from Georgia to Ireland. IRELAND?! Anyway, in GWTW all the actions and dialogue carried some weight or meaning and helped to propel the novel forward. In “Scarlett”, all the actions were absolutely meaningless, the dialogue was stupefyingly cliched and forced, and it combined to make a story more stagnant than an algae-infested swamp in the middle of July. Nothing leads to nothing (I never understood that line from King Lear until now) and the characters do not develop whatsoever. They’re still the same insipid things we started out with on page one. All 823 pages are filled with tea parties, balls, hunts, dances, musicales, and house parties that lead to scenic NOWHERE. All of it can be removed and there would be no difference in the action of the story. But the actions that do propel the story forward are so unbelievable and bizarre. There is no detail (save who wore what and who said what at whose party), and none of that sweeping, grand imagery in GWTW.
Scarlett Sells Tara: Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Sorry for the language, but there are some times in which it is needed. And this is one of those times. Tara was Scarlett’s lifeblood, her sanctuary, her place to go when she needed to get away from it all and find peace and renewed energy. She loved Tara more than she loved herself; it was a crucial theme of the original novel. She did anything for it, even marry men she didn’t love just to build it back to its former greatness. However, Ripley has Scarlett sell Tara without a second thought. In a heartbeat. In the blink of an eye. Suddenly, she feels that she “doesn’t belong” at Tara. THE FUCK?! And she doesn’t sell it to just anyone. She sells it to Suellen. The sister she always hated with all her heart. The sister who did not understand the value of Tara in GWTW. That is a shocking shame and insult to fans of the novel and the film.
The Characters: Ripley makes quick work of getting rid of Mitchell’s beloved, lively characters and stuffing in droves of her own boring, flat, two-dimensional ones instead. Not only are all the characters seriously under-developed and remain the same from beginning to end, but they have a really bad habit of coming in at random moments and disappearing suddenly, never to be heard from again. Not even like, five chapters into the book, Mammy is killed off (because she would just get in the way of Scarlett’s misadventures later on in the book). Ashley, Aunt Pitty, Wade, Ella, Will Benteen, Suellen…everyone is thrown away as soon as possible. Nor does Scarlett seem to care. I really would’ve liked to see how she keeps her promise to Melanie from the end of GWTW, but do you think that even crossed Ripley’s mind? No, sir. All of Mitchell’s marvelous characters are killed off or ignored. It’s so upsetting, and obviously reeks of cheap romance novel. All the characters are thrust into the most bizarre and unbelievable situations imagined, that it’s actually kind of funny that someone could’ve thought of this and write it on paper without thinking “this is stupid.” No one, absolutely no one, not even Scarlett and Rhett, are complex or compelling, and are more like weak, diluted shadows of their former selves or knockoff clones of Mitchell’s original characters. Anne Hampton (who Rhett MARRIES in the book!!!) is a bad Melanie clone, Luke Fenton is a bad clone of Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter by Rhett, Cat, is an even worse, freaky clone of Bonnie. It’s all such utter nonsense.
Scarlett: She is so stupid, whiny, irritating, and a poor, mere shadow of the strong spitfire we loved in GWTW. In a masquerade ball (one of the many), she is so stupid she doesn’t even recognize Rhett! She also suddenly renounces her genteel upbringing and ladylike veneer and becomes an Irish peasant who refuses to wear a corset or a fancy gown (instead she’s happy with tacky colored petticoats and striped stockings. Uhh, this isn’t Pippi Longstocking, Alexandra Ripley), receives guests barefoot, has no furniture in her house, dances jigs in the street, spits in her hands, and engages in extramarital sex. Yep, she’s turned into an animal. The Scarlett here is utterly mindless, and none of the growth and maturity from GWTW is present here. Scarlett, who was hard-headed, unimaginative, and full of common sense, suddenly takes an interest in superstition, magic and mysticism (which the book is rife with). In GWTW, Scarlett renounces religion and has trouble understanding the minds of the people around her. So now she blindly believes the fairy tales people tell her? This magic crap started when she went to Ireland (because the official religion of Ireland is magic, obviously), and shot through the roof after a creepy-ass witch lady gives her a caesarean with the kitchen knife on Halloween night. And the witch lady heals her with her magical spells. What the fuck is this? Harry Potter? And what is the wonderful name she gives her child? CAT. You know, after those things that meow. And then she suddenly becomes the world’s most loving, caring, and doting mother to Cat, after she practically alienated her other three children from her in GWTW and continues to abandon Wade and Ella in this sequel! Does Ripley think we’re stupid or something? Her own plot is so riddled with holes that it even contradicts itself! Also while in Ireland, she doesn’t realize that a civil war is brewing right under her nose, even though she’s already been through one! And suddenly, Scarlett is secretly supporting the Fenian Brotherhood and inviting Charles Parnell to her house (I don’t know if Ripley was trying to be all smartass on us and sneak in a Gable reference) when she would literally sleep with her eyes open every time politics was mentioned in the original. What’s even more annoying is that the Irish in the book are so fake and pagan that they worship Scarlett as some sort of savior or goddess, calling her “The O’Hara” (great title, huh?) and she becomes so…nice. Scarlett, that famously flawed, selfish, spoiled brat starts doing benevolent things for people without a greedy ulterior motive. This rebirth of Scarlett as this golden soul was a TOTAL FAIL and reflected no understanding at all of Mitchell’s work. The ending of the book is totally implausible and laughable, to say it nicely (I might as well reveal the end, no one deserves to go through the entire book to find out). The townspeople (yeah, Scarlett builds her own town on the O’Hara’s former land…Ballyhara. Can it get any dumber?) rebel against Scarlett, accusing her and her daughter of witchcraft (WTF?!) They burn her town down and go looking for her, pitchforks and torches in hand. Meanwhile, she reunites with Rhett (who just happens to randomly appear in Ireland) and escapes with him and Cat to hide from the dissenters in a creepy, old tower that’s apparently haunted by a ghost, where she wants to do nothing but have sex on the stone floor with Rhett, while her child sleeps like, a foot away from them, and her town is in flames around them. My mind cannot even begin to describe how stupid this ending was.
Rhett: No longer the witty, sarcastic scoundrel that captured the hearts and minds of women everywhere, Rhett loses all of his masculinity and becomes so attached to his mother that it’s unnatural. He becomes so serious and kind of a wimp, not the reckless dashing blackguard of GWTW. After living through a storm at sea while going on an innocent boating excursion with Scarlett in the beginning of the book, he has sex on the beach with her (WOW). Afterwards he tells her he only did it because they didn’t drown in the boating accident. Then he deserts her on the island. It’s so stupid! And my eyes were glazing over every time I read about how good Rhett looked in his apparently wrinkle-proof sweater. The reader also learns that Rhett goes back to Charleston not only to make amends with his family, but to rebuild his plantation (since when did he even care about his stupid plantation?) and indulge in his new favorite hobby of planting flowers. RHETT BUTLER PLANTING FLOWERS. You read right, unfortunately. And why, oh WHY did he marry that Melanie clone?!?!?!
The Traveling: Scarlett goes wherever she wants: from Tara to Charleston, Charleston to Savannah, America to Ireland, Ireland to America, across the entire country of Ireland…all in the blink of an eye. She instantly pops from place to place like some kind of magician, and the journey across the Atlantic from America to Ireland is of no consequence or importance to her! There was one part in which she journeys across Ireland, forward and back, in one day. By horse. What’s she got, Pegasus? Oh, and Ireland is not the size of your backyard, Alexandra Ripley.
Ireland: How could Scarlett abandon her beloved Tara for Ireland? Wasn’t this the great AMERICAN novel??? It’s absolutely INSULTING to GWTW fans, since Ripley messed around with a cornerstone of American culture and literature by ripping the story out and putting it in a different country. Georgia becomes a distant, painless memory to Scarlett. One of the greatest things about GWTW was the backdrop of the South, with its grandeur and uniquely American attitude. Moving the action to Ireland is ridiculous! Ripley obviously didn’t want to fool with postwar Georgia (because she knew nothing about it), but what she did was blasphemous, since the south was the essence of the novel. As soon as Scarlett met her Irish relations, I knew it going to go downhill from there. And boy, it went downhill like a monstrous avalanche. This book was not only insulting to GWTW fans, but it was insulting to the Irish. I’m not Irish, but I do know many people of Irish descent, and they aren’t superstitious, crazy alcoholics who believe in fairies and leprechauns! She makes it seem like Grimm’s Fairy Tales is the Irish Bible. It destroyed that sense of place and history so prevalent in Mitchell’s original.
The Sex: Being a cheap romance novelist, Ripley tried to add a sex element to her sequel, but failed embarrassingly. Scarlett is turned into an unnaturally beautiful, ageless seductress, even though she’s almost 40 by the time the novel ends. The drunken kiss/attack on Scarlett from Ross Butler (Rhett’s brother) was pointless and downright ridiculous. Scarlett, who famously loathed sex and found the act repulsive, suddenly lured men like a vamp and had extramarital sex with one that she barely knew. After a boating accident, she has sex on the beach with Rhett (which is the cheesiest thing in the entire world). And a scene in which she sensually fondles herself when thinking about Rhett STILL makes my skin crawl.
But I Learned Something From This Book: Now I know why the original story ended where it did. There was simply nothing more to write, no more story to tell. Mitchell took ten years to write GWTW, and she was very tired of it. In her will, she requested that all her notes and manuscripts dealing with GWTW be destroyed. This was faithfully carried out by her husband. We were clearly never meant to know what happens to Scarlett and Rhett. One of the beautiful things about GWTW was that the reader can create their own ending for Scarlett and Rhett. The magic of the novel lies in that cliffhanger, and cemented its timelessness in the hearts of millions.
After the Thin Man stars our two favorite detectives: the fast-talking, hard-drinking, sharp-tongued husband and wife duo Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy, an onscreen couple that never fails to make me get down on my knees and thank God for creating them). But this time, instead of running around New York, they are back home in San Francisco, where they can relax…or so they think. When the Charleses go to spend New Year’s Eve with Nora’s old, stuffy aunt and her aristocratic family, they find themselves entangled in yet another mystery when they find out that cousin Selma’s husband has been missing for three days and rumored to be running around with a club singer. After Nick and Nora find him, Robert is shot that same night, and Selma is accused of murder. As the case goes on, several other murders occur. But was it Selma? Or was it her kindhearted suitor, David (Jimmy Stewart)? Was it the skeevy club owners? The seedy torch singer? Her greedy blackmailing brother? The possibilities are endless, and it’s up to Nick and Nora to make sense of it all.
Often considered to be the best of The Thin Man sequels, After the Thin Man was the second of the six films in the series and the sixth out of the fourteenth pairing for Loy and Powell. Nowadays, fourteen pairings of the same actor and actress sounds repetitive and ridiculous. But not in Old Hollywood, which went by the rule of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and made you like it! No matter how many times you watch Powell and Loy on the screen, they just never get stale and old. Their chemistry is always top notch, they have spark and zap, and can make anything worth watching. Without a doubt, the antics and verbal banter that these two get into in this film provide almost all of the laughs.
The rest of the laughs in this come from…Asta. Yup. The Thin Man series was (and still is amongst the classic movie set) enormously popular, but I don’t think anyone has ever commented on how awesome that little dog is. Seriously. I’d go so far as to say that Asta is my favorite character in the whole series. This dog is freakin hilarious. One of the best parts of After the Thin Man is the cute little subplot with Asta and Mrs. Asta (and HOW ADORABLE ARE THEIR BABY PUPS?!) and my favorite scene in the film is when Asta accidentally eats a clue! Another thing that is special about After the Thin Man is that you can watch it, understand it, and enjoy it all without seeing the first film. Pretty neat, huh?
The ending of the film is pretty cute, too. Here’s a spoiler (without giving away the identity of the killer): after the case is over and done, Nora insinuates to Nick that they are going to have a baby. Of course, being a man, which means being a bit thickheaded when it comes to such matters (sorry, boys!) he didn’t get the hint, resulting in perhaps one of the most famous quotes from Nora in the whole series: “and you call yourself a detective!”
One of the most notable things about this film is the performance by a very very very early Jimmy Stewart. He will make your jaw drop. That’s all I’ll say here.
Overall, a very fun, yet lighthearted film with plenty of comic relief! One of the reasons why the Thin Man films are so enjoyable is that they take a serious topic like crime and make it somehow…fun? Geez that sounds terrible. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed!!!
Oftentimes we don’t get to see original pieces of art that are centered on classic Hollywood. Most classic Hollywood art that’s out there is drawings and paintings that are exact copies of glamour portraits of famous stars (and yours truly is guilty of this). But Brooklyn artist Jason Bryant breaks the mold by incorporating the Old Hollywood glamour portraits we know and love with his own unique twists.
Bryant, who has a solo exhibition at Porter Contemporary entitled “Smoke and Mirrors” (on until October 20th), combines startlingly realistic paintings of famous Old Hollywood images with comic/cartoon art. Here are some of his works:
This, as many of us know, is a glamour photo of Rita Hayworth from the 1946 film Gilda. At a quick glance, it doesn’t seem that the picture has been altered too much. But on a closer look, you can see that Rita’s eyes are pixellated, giving the effect that they are clouded over by the smoke from her cigarette. It’s interesting to consider, since the title of Bryant’s show is “Smoke and Mirrors.” Also, this painting is entitled “Facade.” With this painting, the message seems to be twofold…Rita’s eyes were clouded over because of the glitz and glamour that Hollywood had to offer…but can this painting mean that our eyes are clouded over for the same reason as well?
This is my personal favorite of Bryant’s works, entitled “A Crack in His Faux Finish.” Here we see the lovely Cary Grant, but his perfect visage is covered up by fireballs and a grim reaper. Looking at the title of this work, we can tell that these bright bursts of flame (and the giant crack in the lower right of the painting) are meant to display the vulnerability of these actors. Grant once famously said, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” These stars were given an image to live up to by their studios. However, these images tore some of these people apart. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to always be the perfect, glamorous, sexy star? In the end, it can drive someone crazy, and “cracks in the faux finish” will result.
This painting, entitled “Fabulously Flawed” stars Marlene Dietrich, one of the greatest sex symbols of the 1930s, along with Harlow and Garbo. Dietrich was considered by millions to be a divine, perfect flower. A goddess. But as we can see in this painting, maybe there were some thorns on this rose. Dietrich was a human being and had her flaws like all of us. But with the publicity from the studios painting her as “The Blue Angel,” you were never allowed to know that.
Here’s an interesting painting, entitled “Happiness.” The glamorous Carole Lombard is looking out into the distance, and there is a colorful rainbow and birds all around her. But then you see a sentence saying “Rainbows don’t mean shit” by her lips, as though she’s speaking it (which isn’t hard to imagine, considering Lombard’s famous potty mouth) and then you realize that this isn’t supposed to a happy painting at all, that it is all, going back to the Rita Hayworth painting, a facade.
Bryant’s artwork is unique in that it captures that lavish beauty and glamour of Old Hollywood, but it also shows that not all was perfect in the land of the movie stars. Behind the camera, these stars weren’t gods and goddesses. They were human beings just like you and me. They had their ups and downs. They had their struggles and their inner demons. Many of these stars struggled with their self-image, with love, with loss, with family, with addictions…and some were even plagued by scandal (just look at Fatty Arbuckle and Errol Flynn). To the outsider, Hollywood seemed like some celluloid fantasy playground where all was sunshine and rainbows. But reading biographies of these film stars, many faced serious problems in life, proving that even the rich and beautiful have their bad times. The ultimate message I got from Bryant’s paintings is that whether we are gods and goddesses adored by millions or just an average Joe, we all are on a quest for happiness. It’s something extremely thought-provoking, especially for admirers of Old Hollywood.
If you live in New York City, you’ve probably heard of the brand new Charlie Chaplin musical that opened on Broadway about two weeks ago. My best friend and I are big Chaplin fans, so of course we went exploring to see what it was all about!
Chaplin: The Musical is being played at the Barrymore Theatre, which is nice, small, and very fancy, reminiscent of the 1920s-1930s where the bulk of the action in the musical takes place. Also, if you plan to see this show and would like to buy tickets for an evening performance (like I did…I don’t like Broadway matinees, they just don’t seem right!) then DRESS UP! Girls, put on a nice evening dress and some fine jewelry and boys pull out those suits, because a night on Broadway is always a wonderful chance to sparkle! Also, the first thing my friend and I noticed upon entering the theatre was that everyone else except us was extremely…old. Like, age 70 up. I guess it was fun night out at the retirement homes last night because the ENTIRE THEATRE was full of people older than my grandparents! Either that or I’m an old geezer inside a 19 year-old girl’s body. Most likely the latter. Which is fine by me. I’d rather be an old bore than a shallow bimbo straight off Jersey Shore.
The musical got pretty fair reviews in the newspapers. Going in, I honestly had no idea what to expect: was this going to be musical about Chaplin’s life or a musical mashup of his most popular films? Will the actor be true to Chaplin’s character? Will Chaplin be portrayed in a favorable light? How accurate will the facts be? These were just some of the questions reeling through my mind in the days before the show. Then I found out that the musical is about Chaplin’s life; his biography on stage. In a musical. I was nervous as hell. This idea was so easy to mess up!
But then I found that I LOVED it from the very beginning! The story of Chaplin: The Musical covers Chaplin’s life from his troubled childhood in the slums of London to 1972, when Chaplin returned to the United States after two decades of exile to receive a lifetime achievement award. The way the musical weaves together the events of Chaplin’s life was irreproachable. It all flowed so well together, and even incorporated flashbacks perfectly. The musical focused much on Chaplin’s relationship with his mother, Hannah, who was an actress and eventually lost all her mental faculties, devastating the young Charlie. Hannah’s memory would go on to influence Charlie in almost all of his creative work, and indeed, many biographical elements of both Charlie and Hannah directly influence the films that Chaplin goes on to make. The musical also explores Charlie’s sometimes-testy relationship with his older brother/business manager Sidney, his tumultuous marriages until he finds the love of his life, Oona O’Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill), and of course, the Communist controversy so hatefully started by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, all because Chaplin declined to be interviewed on her radio show. Of course, I cried like a baby in the end, when Chaplin receives his lifetime award, Oona at his side, forgiving those who cast him off, and being forgiven in return.
Here are some elements of the show that I loved:
Rob McClure. Rob McClure makes his Broadway debut as a Little Tramp, and he does a wonderful job. McClure of course isn’t an exact replica of Chaplin (something impossible to do) but he is as close as you can get, both in his physical looks and his personality. The man sings his heart out, brings much emotion to his role, and even walks a tightrope. He is the best thing about the show and totally deserved the standing ovation he got in the curtain call.
Projections. A lot of projections were incorporated into the show, bringing the audience a taste of the actual Chaplin with little clips from his films. There were also projections of the first silent movies Chaplin saw as a teen in London and a clip of Hitler addressing the German people which Chaplin (in the most hilarious moment of the play) mocks as preparation for his role in The Great Dictator. I felt that the projections were a nice, unique touch that gave the stage show a very filmic quality.
Now here are some things that kinda ticked me off:
Mildred Harris. Sometimes, I found that the parts of Chaplin’s life that the show chose to focus on were quite strange. The fact that the show chose to focus a great deal on Mildred Harris, Chaplin’s first wife, and passed over Paulette Goddard, wasn’t a good decision in my opinion. Goddard was Chaplin’s high-profile marriage, and she worked on some of his most celebrated classics with him. For some strange reason, the show treated his short-lived marriage to Harris to be of much more importance.
Hedda Hopper. Don’t get me wrong here. Hedda Hopper was portrayed brilliantly in this musical. But Hopper’s revenge-seeking ways are what angered me. Starting the false rumors of Chaplin’s “Communist affiliations” only because he did not wish to be interviewed? Really? Because of Hopper’s dirty work, Chaplin would become the subject of a paternity suit and exiled from America in what would be the lowest point of his life and career. Hedda Hopper was The Biggest Bitch in Hollywood.
I would like to end my review on the best thing about the musical: the moral. Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character was and still is famous all over the world because he is an Everyman figure: he has some good moments, but he has some bad ones too. Sometimes he strikes it rich, sometimes he loses it all. He finds love, but sometimes it’s a struggle for him to do so. Although many wouldn’t guess it, Chaplin himself struggled with love. His mother had to leave him to stay in a mental institution, which devastated him. His first three wives turned out to be gold-diggers. He struggled with the fact that his millions of fans did not adore him so much as they adored The Little Tramp. There were many points in Chaplin’s life when he questioned if anybody out there really loved him, if anyone will ever see beyond this Little Tramp, beyond his fame, beyond his fortune. Of course, these negative feelings all escalated when he was exiled from the country on false charges of Communism. Was all of his art going to go down the drain after all these years of hard work? It seemed like the end for Chaplin. However, at age 54, Chaplin married the young Oona O’Neill, who was the love of his life, because she was one of the few who cared for the actual man behind the stage paint and the funny costume. And even though it took awhile, both Chaplin and the United States forgave each other for the past. Chaplin’s life story teaches us that love will find each and every one of us, maybe early, maybe later (like Charlie). We just have to find that one person who would care to look beyond the facade, beyond the superficial, and really care for who you are inside, flaws, insecurities, and all. Chaplin’s story also tells us to forgive. No matter how bad a problem may seem, there is always a solution for it.
Chaplin: The Musical had a very emotional ending for me. I’m gonna get a little personal here and say that Chaplin’s films have pulled me out of many a low point. Why? Because they are side-splittingly funny…yet they have the power to bring out the tears too. The background used for the finale of the show was the same one from Modern Times, the barren road leading to everywhere and nowhere. AKA the Greatest Movie Ending of All Time and also The Ending That Makes Me Cry Like A Baby (this ending and City Light’s get me sobbing). I mean, why WOULDN’T you cry? There’s the Tramp, with the girl he loves, both dirt broke with nothing between them, yet they stay positive and move on to life’s next chapter for them, confident that their love will see them through everything. Are you crying yet? Cuz I am. The ending of the musical was so adorable and so emotional and trust me it brought on the waterworks. There I was, sitting next to my friend, with two streams of tears flowing down my face. I’m so glad they didn’t play the song “Smile”…that would’ve turned me into a giant watery mess. I was embarrassed enough that I cried in front of her and I had to fan my eyes with my Playbill. Remember my lovelies, no matter how low things can seem sometimes, “Be Brave! Face life! Tomorrow the birds shall sing” and always keep a “Smile” on your beautiful faces <3
If you are interested in seeing Chaplin: The Musical you can order tickets at http://chaplinbroadway.com/. Also, don’t forget to bring some money to buy some Chaplin souvenirs!
Being Clark Gable’s #1 fan, you probably think that I can’t stand the sight of Gary Cooper, his “rival” (rivals in the box office, they were friends in real life). But Ball of Fire, a screwball comedy classic that Cooper made with my fellow Brooklynite Barbara Stanwyck, is what made me love him. I first saw this film about a year ago. I was home alone; my parents at work and my sister taking her geometry Regents (for all you non-New Yorkers, the Regents are the end-of-year state examinations) and I was having a grand ol’ time watching Stany make Coop all hot under the collar. I’ve seen it again recently as part of Gary Cooper’s SUTS day on TCM, and I adore it even more!
Ball of Fire has a great plot, often touted as a modern-day Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and rightly so: A group of seven old, geeky, bachelor professors (the “seven dwarves” here) are living together and working on an encyclopedia of all human knowledge. Each professor is covering a specific area, and Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) is an expert in English grammar and is researching contemporary American slang. Bertie goes to soda fountains and other popular hangouts to do research. One night, he wanders into the nightclub of beautiful burlesque stripper Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck. If that name doesn’t get you giggling uncontrollably, I don’t know what will.) and he becomes fascinated by her use of slang. Bertie asks Sugarpuss to help him with his research, and she reluctantly agrees only because she needs to hide from the police, who want to question her about her mobster boyfriend, Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews). Keep in mind that Bertie and the professors DO NOT know that she’s a wanted woman, and they kindly allow her to stay in their home and help them with their encyclopedia. The professors are enamored with her, and Bertie is absolutely crazy about her, and she in turn becomes fond of all of them. Sugarpuss teaches the professors many things, including how to conga dance, and when she discovers that she is attracted to Bertram, she teaches him the meaning of “yum yum.”
Bertram soon proposes marriage, but before their wedding, Sugarpuss is kidnapped by Joe so he can force her to marry him, and Joe’s henchmen hold Bertram and the professors hostage in their own home. Will a group of bumbling book nerds be able to escape and save Sugarpuss? Or will it be too late?
Everything about Ball of Fire is great. If you’re trying to get into the films of either Coop or Stany, this film is an excellent place to start. The script is snappy, witty, and hilarious, the actors play their parts perfectly, and the film combines funny moments and serious (but never too serious) moments very well. Coop and Stany are a dream team. Many might feel that someone as…simple-minded as Coop would’ve been horribly miscast as a professor, and a professor of grammar, of all things (we all know of Coop’s sparing use of words), but I think he was perfect! He played the naive, bumbling, adorably awkward guy amazingly well. Coop had a great gift for comedy, and I was hysterically laughing at him more than any other character. Coop seems to be funny without even realizing it. You can’t help but fall in love with Bertram Potts. The role of Sugarpuss O’Shea seemed to have been tailor-made for Barbara Stanwyck, even though she wasn’t originally the first choice for the role (that was Ginger Rogers, and when she declined, Carole Lombard and Lucille Ball were considered before the role was given to Barbara Stanwyck). Stany was snappy, sexy, and smart in this role. Sometimes I felt that Stany didn’t have to do much acting at all, she just had to be herself!
Even though “Potsie” (his nickname from Sugarpuss in the film) and Sugarpuss are complete opposites: quiet, studious, shy, awkward academician and street-wise, sexy, gritty, Brooklynite, they complement each other so well. You can see the sparks fly when Coop and Stany are together on-screen! Just look at those above photos!
Coop and Stany were perfect and excellent in Ball of Fire, but one actor who I feel doesn’t get enough credit in this film is Richard Haydn, who played Professor Oddly. Haydn is well-known as the voice behind the caterpillar in Disney’s animated classic Alice in Wonderland (which is one of my favorite Disney films, and the caterpillar is my favorite character!). His character in Ball of Fire is drop-dead hilarious. Pretty much every line he says had me in hysterics! He plays against both Coop and Stany very well, and is the most lovable professor along with Coop. And for those of you who only know him as Alice’s caterpillar, YES, he always speaks in that voice! It wasn’t his actual voice, but he always put on this famous nasal tone for all the characters he played. His performance is definitely up there with the two leads.
Ball of Fire is a perfect four-star film with a great plot and great performances. You can’t go wrong with it!
On the 23rd, we celebrated the centennial of the talented, funny, and handsome Gene Kelly. Apart from watching some of my Kelly favorites: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Anchors Aweigh, I watched a film that has been sitting in my DVR for a loooong time…The Pirate.
The Pirate takes place in the adventurous, heady atmosphere of the Caribbean. Manuela (Judy Garland) dreams of someday being spirited away by the legendary pirate, Mack the Black Macoco (this name had me laughing the entire film, by the way) for a life of swashbuckling adventure and passionate romance. But Manuela’s dreams are crushed when her aunt arranges for her to marry the town’s mayor, Don Pedro (Walter Slezak), who isn’t handsome or adventurous at all, a far cry from the romantic Macoco she envisions. The day before her wedding, an actor named Serafin (Gene Kelly) and his troupe come to town. Serafin is quite the ladies’ man, but when he first lays eyes on Manuela, he is smitten and has eyes only for her. He soon finds out of her obsession with the legendary Pirate, and poses as the Macoco to win her heart. Will Serafin’s scheme work? Will the REAL Macoco show up?
Before watching this film, I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, and I agree completely…I loved it! Is there such thing as a BAD Gene Kelly film? I think not. I even like Invitation to the Dance, which made my sister fall asleep within fifteen minutes -___-
I think The Pirate wins my award for sexiest Gene Kelly film ever. He had excellent chemistry with Judy Garland (which was no secret, they made three films together). They were HOT. So much so that I wish they got married in real life. Seriously. They’re amazing together! But alas, Garland was married to the film’s director, Vincente Minelli at this point, so it wasn’t going to happen. Another reason why this is the sexiest Gene Kelly film is because of the costume he gets to wear in the dream sequence:
Not the best view, but I tried my hardest to find a photo that exhibits both the tightness of that onesie-thingy he’s wearing and how great his butt looks in it. (by the way, Gene Kelly also had the greatest butt in Hollywood History, and it’s not just me saying this, millions of others agree) My jaw dropped to the floor and I had to fan my blushing cheeks. Gene Kelly was sexy and he knew it.
I also loved the music in the film, with my favorites being “Nina,” “Mack the Black,” and “Be A Clown.” And BY THE WAY, when Singin’ in the Rain rolled around four years later, the music from “Be A Clown” was taken, the lyrics changed, and “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Donald O’Connor’s solo in the film, was born! Total plagiarism, but since both The Pirate and Singin’ in the Rain were MGM films, it didn’t matter.
Production of the film was a very tense and difficult affair. Judy Garland was growing more and more dependent on prescription drugs, smoked about four packs of cigarettes a day during filming (how she still had a voice of an angel is a miracle), she fought often with director/husband Vincente Minelli (they would divorce several years later), and she missed 99 of the 135 shooting days (dear Lord!) due to illness. Gene Kelly also had to fight to get the African American Nicholas Brothers included in the film. However, their footage was cut in Southern cities -____- The film also BOMBED when it was released, and MGM lost $2 million as a result. Seriously!? I thought this film was great! However, critics of the time felt that the sophistication of the film was lost on the audience.
The woman to the left is Laura Ingalls Wilder, famous author of the Little House on the Prairie series. If you’ve read her books (which are the BEST by the way) you’ll know that she was also a schoolteacher. To the right is Gene Kelly with Judy looking on. Is there a difference in hairstyles? Nope.
One complaint that I have about the film: the costumes (with the exception of the above Gene Kelly costume). They were absolutely ridiculous! Gene Kelly’s hair was curly in the front like some 1800s schoolteacher’s (refer to the above photos), and the costume he wears in his first scene (which I couldn’t find a photo of, so I apologize) made him look like Pippi Longstocking gone hobo. However, THIS is the worst costume of the film:
Poor Judy Garland. Wearing a Mr. T-sized cross, a puke-yellow dress, and a plaid chef’s hat. I highly doubt that this is how they dressed in the Caribbean, but it did give me a good laugh after the initial horror.
Now, I’m curious about one thing…and you can probably guess what it is…the mysterious “Voodoo” number. “Voodoo” was a song and dance number that was supposed to be between Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, but apparently it was quite sexy. So sexy that it couldn’t make it past the censors and had to be cut out of the film and the footage DESTROYED. The number that replaces it is the “Mack the Black” number, and considering the circumstances surrounding that one, I can see “Voodoo” as being one hot number. This is a tough question, but does anyone know anything about “Voodoo”? I wish they didn’t destroy that footage!
All in all, The Pirate is a great, fun film!
WARNING: This post might have spoilers. I’m going to try my best not to spoil anything, but it’s difficult, so if you plan on seeing Sleep No More without knowing what to expect (which is definitely a good plan!) maybe you should skip this post.
It’s 9:00 in the morning on July 17th.
My feet are bruised and bloodied, my hair is in disarray, there’s a white mask in my room, a two of diamonds playing card on my desk, and a golden band on my finger.
You must be thinking, “What the fuck happened to her?”
Well, believe it or not, I went to see a play. But not just any play, my favorite play: the immersive, haunting, and unusual Sleep No More. I’ve been there twice, and trust me, I will be going again. For many, many times. It is addicting and revolutionary and just beautiful.
Sleep No More is unlike any other play in the WORLD, and I’m not exaggerating. You see, there is no stage or seats. The audience and the actors share the same space, and YOU have a role that’s as equally important as the actors. The show is the story of Macbeth with a dash of Rebecca and set in a film noir. The plot is notoriously complex and very difficult to follow, but my goodness, is it worth it. I got exposed to it this last school semester. My English teacher is a steward there (which mean she is a crew member/security guard for the show) and she took us to see it as a class on the day after my birthday! That was the best birthday present I ever got haha!
What does this have to do with classic movies, you may ask? Well, the story of the play may be about four centuries old, but it gets a new spin by being set in the 1930s, and takes lots of inspiration from the works of Alfred Hitchcock. The show even has some characters from Rebecca, such as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers. Cool, right? The show takes place inside the McKittrick Hotel (sound familiar, Vertigo fans?) which is actually a warehouse in Chelsea that has been converted into a six-floor 1930s style hotel with over a hundred rooms, including a maze, a graveyard, a nursery, an apothecary, a sweet shop, a banquet hall, an infirmary, a padded cell, a bathroom, a bedroom, a bar, a hotel lobby, a morgue, a detective’s office, a luggage room…you name, it, the McKittrick has it. It even has a Narnia closet, in which you enter, then exit into a different part of the hotel!
Some of the many lavishly detailed and decorated sets of the McKittrick.
The themes that Hitchcock explores in his films: voyeurism, psychoanalysis, superstition, character doubles, homosexuality, and religion, are all main themes in Sleep No More as well. I’ll get more in depth with this later in the post.
The show also has the most amazing music! It’s all vintage swing/big band music, my favorite! It also has snippets from the Vertigo theme and love song as well. You aren’t allowed to talk in the show, and it takes me all my strength not to sing along with the beautiful/eerie music!
Here are some things that set Sleep No More apart from your average theater production:
No stage, no seats. Both actors and audience share the same space within the McKittrick Hotel. If the character is writing something on a typewriter, you are encouraged to look over their shoulder and read it. You can sit at a table with a character, or stand next to them. If you wanna explore the McKittrick, go ahead. If you want to chase an actor and learn more about their character, go ahead. The show is meant to be interactive. There is no right or wrong way to go about the show. You choose your own path and do what you want to do. Similarity to Hitchcock #1: immersiveness. In his films, Hitchcock tries to stimulate all of the audience’s senses. Sleep No More does the same. A normal stage show only stimulates your sense of sight, but here your sense of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and even taste are stimulated! It’s truly a full-body experience.
You never see the same thing twice. Yes, the same things are performed at Sleep No More, but you never see the same thing twice, no matter how many times you see the show. Seriously. Because you are choosing your path through the McKittrick, everyone sees something different. There are no two similar Sleep No More experiences. And most of the scenes happen at the same time, so when you are watching something, there about 20 other things going on at the same time in different locations throughout the hotel. The show is three hours long (yes, standing, walking, and running on your feet for three hours, can’t ask for better exercise!) and each hour is a “loop,” so the action of the show repeats three times so you can have a chance to attack the show from a different angle each time. There is a finale at the end that everyone gets to see. So it’s actually not a waste of money to see this show more than once. My two visits to the McKittrick so far were COMPLETELY different.
The actors barely speak. You read that right. The story of Macbeth is told entirely through dance here. Yes, this is interpretive dance. No it isn’t boring. Yes, it is difficult to understand and is meant to make you think. The dancing is violent, passionate, and visceral. I admire these performers and the amount of physical work they do. It’s a lot harder than it looks. Can you imagine telling a story entirely through movement? That’s what these actors do. It isn’t about what the characters say, but it’s about what they feel, what’s going on in their minds. It’s about their psychological makeup. Like in Hitchcock’s films, psychology is an extremely important theme. The actors put a lot of improvisation into their roles, and even though they aren’t as famous as the shits we have in today’s films and television shows, they are easily the most talented performers I can think of today. Some actors get more vocal than others, but this would usually be through screams and other sounds to convey emotion. There is a scene in particular in which Lady Macbeth begins to see spirits around her (that’s the audience!) and she says that whole scene from Macbeth. I think that’s the most vocal a character will get. The audience is absolutely not allowed to speak either. In this show, silence speaks volumes
Bedroom dance between the Macbeths
You’re in a mask. The audience MUST wear the mask. This is the part of the show that I’m not too keen on, but it’s supremely important. The mask is big, white, scary, and has a duck bill. But the mask is used to create a sense of anonymity and to help you lose some of your restrictions and inhibitions. Because your face is covered, you can lose yourself and loosen up and be someone else. This is SNM’s (I’m using the acronym because it’s easy and I’m that obsessed) version of the Hitchcock voyeurism. Look at Rear Window, Hitchcock’s film that’s all about voyeurism. The mask is like Jimmy Stewart’s binoculars in the film: it allows us to look in on the lives of these people, and take interest in their affairs.
One on Ones. With a show that forces you to share the same space with the actors, you’d think it can’t get any more intimate, right? But trust me, it does. The actors give one one ones, which is a special private performance for one audience member only. The actor gives them only once per loop, so only three audience members get a one one one with each character. The audience member chosen is entirely up to the performer, and each performer looks for different things in a prospective one on one participant. Like the rest of the show, they are EXTREMELY INTENSE. But don’t worry, you won’t get hurt or anything! It’s just intense to witness. Touch is also an important part of the one on ones, but it’s nothing inappropriate. You also get a little gift from the character after the one on one If you get lucky and are chosen, one on ones are really the highlight of the night!
Nicholas Bruder as Macbeth. He’s scary…a scary GOOD actor!
It’s not scary but…it’s extremely eerie and suspenseful, like a Hitchcock film! There are no monsters waiting for you and no creepies lurking behind corners or anything. Yet SNM is wonderfully sinister. The entire hotel is dimly lit (you actually need to walk through a pitch black labyrinth just to get into the hotel!), there is a lot of smoke effects, the music can be creepy at times, and the show places a lot of emphasis on the supernatural and superstitious. After all, Macbeth is the only Shakespeare play in which witchcraft and satanism play a central part! The McKittrick is chock-full of superstitious relics and religious icons to “ward off evil spirits” and the show is very much influenced by the Paisley witch trials, which occurred when Shakespeare was writing Macbeth. Also, if you look carefully, legend has it that every line from Shakespeare’s original play is written somewhere throughout the McKittrick. The backstories to these little things you see and experience in the show is absolutely fascinating to explore.
Now, if you plan on going sometime, here’s some SNM etiquette tips.
Be a courteous audience member. As much as you and I would like it to happen, we are not in the McKittrick alone. You have about 400 others trying to enjoy the show too. So no pushing, no shoving, and no crowding too close! I am not a big girl, and not all the other audience members are big either, but the ones that are jostle me and have almost trampled me! Luckily I’m on the slender side so I can snake through pushy crowds, but I can’t tell you how many audience members have been rude during my two visits.
MOVE PUH-LEEZ. During my second visit, I spent my first loop following Banquo. He’s a fascinating character, and I was hoping to get his one on one because I heard it is really scary. But guess what? The actors, who are professional dancers and extremely thin and limber, run on to their next scene faster than the blink of an eye. So of course, I’m running like crazy to keep up with Banquo, but because the AUDIENCE WOULDN’T EFFIN MOVE, I eventually lost the guy, and didn’t get his one on one! So audience members: learn to think fast and move even faster please!
Fortune favors the bold. That is the motto of the show. And you do want to follow it. Trust me, good things happen to those who remain fearless and calm throughout the show. My first time, I was a little timid because the show was just so unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. But I was bold my second time, and I had the time of my life! You want to get the best out this experience, so do explore and interact! Remember, it’s a play. No one will hurt you! Have fun!
Do it alone. SNM is meant to be something you experience by yourself, and trsut me, it’s so much better that way. You get to do whatever you want, you won’t be tied down to the wishes of someone else, and you’ll be more likely to get chosen for a one on one! You will have a much richer experience when you do it alone. And there is no reason to be scared. Being alone is empowering, actually!
But if you’re a big fat chicken…and want to go through the show with someone you know, just remember not to be in the way all the time. And if you’re a couple, FOR FUCK’S SAKE DON’T HOLD HANDS. AND GIRLS DON’T CUDDLE YOUR FUCKING BOYFRIEND HE IS NOT GOING TO HELP YOU EVER.
TALL PEOPLE MOVE TO THE BACK. I’ve always considered myself tall: 5’5″. But SNM taught me that I’m actually really…short. And since some audience members never seem to see me and push past me, it must be true. I don’t know what happened, but on my Monday night visit, it seemed that everyone in the audience was over six feet tall! And of course, all the human elevators had to push to the FRONT to watch the action, while 5’5″ 120 pound me is stuck hopelessly trying to crane my neck over the towering heads! My friend is 5’2″ so she had an even more difficult time. SO IF YOU ARE HOPELESSLY TALL, MOVE TO THE BACK SO THE SHORTIES CAN SEE WHAT’S GOING ON TOO. YOU WILL STILL BE ABLE TO SEE FROM THE BACK. SO STAY THERE.
Respect the actors. The great thing about SNM is that you’re able to get near the actors. But that doesn’t mean people should behave however they please with them. Don’t touch them unless they invite you to or get all in their faces. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people disrespecting and deliberately trying to disorient the actors, and it’s horrible to do. If someone pays $90 for the ticket, why would they even try to ruin the show for themselves? The actors are people too, and have feelings! They work their butts off every night, so they deserve respect.
Dress comfortably. There are always shits who think it’s cool to come to SNM in a cocktail dress and heels, and they end up leaving early because they can’t enjoy themselves. How do you expect to wear six inch heels for three hours straight and live? You are going to be standing the whole time, and doing lots of running, so wear comfortable shoes. Dress in light, cool clothing because some parts of the McKittrick have no air-conditioning and are therefore INCREDIBLY hot and stuffy. I know it’s tempting to dress up for this show, especially with a cast dressed in 1930s costumes, but you need to resist that temptation. One of the few times that comfort goes first for me.
This show is NOT for the faint of heart. Now this is IMPORTANT. You have to be at LEAST 16 to see this show. But having a 16 year-old sister, I think 18 would be a better age. The show is VIOLENT (it’s Macbeth, so that’s a given). My friend actually got bloodstains on her mask! The show also has NUDITY. Yep. The actors do get naked. Both male and female nudity. So if you’re an immature baby who can’t look at a naked body without saying “ew” or laughing, then don’t bother seeing this show. And more than anything else, the show is extremely INTENSE. You are going to see a lot of disturbing behavior, violent scenes, and spaces that are meant to make you feel certain things (the graveyard is meant to give you the chills, etc.) In my first visit, I actually walked into a padded cell! Some rooms are small and claustrophobic, while others are large and spacious. But there is a lot of intense, disturbing psychological situations. Actually, they are at every turn. So if you feel that you are not up to seeing such things, don’t go. It’s not an easy show to watch, and it really drains your emotions, but in the best way. It is totally worth it.
Now I want to talk about my SNM crushes. The entire cast is absolutely beautiful. And it makes life so difficult for a girl like me. I have two crushes:
Nick Atkinson as Maximilian Martell, the Man in the Bar. When you enter the McKittrick, you enter into the Manderley Bar, and from there you get into the actual show. It’s nice to sit in the 1920s speakeasy-style bar to get int the mood before the performance. In the bar, you will see two characters, Maximilian and his sweetheart, Violet. Max is my first-ever SNM crush. He is played by Australian actor and singer Nick Atkinson (so yes, he does have the adorable accent). On my first visit there, we shared a conversation filled with banter and flirtation, and he asked me my name and lovingly kissed my hand. I was hooked since then. I even added him as a friend on Facebook soon afterwards. But now I’m too busy/lead too much of an awesome, exciting life to ever go on Facebook anymore, so that doesn’t matter. On my second visit, he gives me my mask (instead of Violet who usually gives out the masks) and calls me “his love” siiiiighhh. Then when explaining the rules to the audience, he lightly traced his fingers along my shoulders (which were bare) and whispered the last sentence of the rules right in my ear. My heart was thumping like A FREAKIN RABBIT ON THE RUN. It was on overdrive. How he didn’t hear it, I have no idea. Or maybe he did hear it. Then when the show was over and I went back into the bar to unwind and talk to my friends about what I saw, he comes up to me saying, “My darling! You’ve made it one piece, I see!” Then I explained to him that it isn’t my first time here and he just smiles at me. Does he remember me from three months ago? And just look at how effing handsome he is! Jesus Christ, what perfection.
In the second picture, Paul’s the handsome perfect ginger on the far left. You can’t see it in these pictures, but his eyes are the most lovely bright blue.
Paul Zivkovich as the Porter. On my first visit to SNM, I saw Paul as Macbeth, and he was EXCELLENT! But when I saw him as the Porter on my second visit, that’s when I fell in love with him. Paul is also Australian (what’s with that place!?) and he is an extremely gifted actor and one HELL OF A PERFECT DANCER. I stuck with Porter Paul for my entire third loop. I saw him laugh, cry, dance, everything. I followed Porter’s story from beginning to end. There is a scene in which the Boy Witch lip-syncs to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” (a beautiful scene) and while everyone moved forward to watch the Boy Witch sing, I stuck around and watched it from afar with Paul at his concierge desk. He put so much emotion and heart into his reactions to the song that I was on the verge of tears for his character. We made so much eye contact, and during the song he shone his lamp on my hand so he can watch my fingers tap along to the rhythm of the song. It also helped that I had sparkling nail polish on, and men are attracted to anything that shines. he then made eye contact with me again, and shone the lamp on my face. I then proceeded to follow his character around, but then this BITCH came out of nowhere and tried to block me from getting close to Paul and therefore getting his one on one! After one particularly violent dance, he falls by my feet and that girl’s. She then holds out her hand to him so she can help him up, but you know what? In one fluid motion, he gets up, grabs my hand, and whisks me away, hand-in-hand, down a hallway and through many doors until we reached a room the size of a closet. He locked the door, AND I GOT THE ONE ON ONE!!!! I GOT THE ONE ON ONE!!! WOOOOO! I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll say that it was intense, intimate, and heartbreaking. It was just..amazing! I also got a ring from Paul at the end of the one on one, a plain golden band. I STILL haven’t taken it off since Monday night! And after the one on one was over and he was back in the performance space, he catches my eye and puts a finger to his lips, telling me to always keep his secret. So you see guys, I made a promise to Paul and I can’t spoil anything! But now I’m in love with him and his gorgeous gingerness.
In conclusion, SNM is the best show in the world ever. It’s unlike anything you’ll ever see. It’s better than a Broadway show, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. If anyone plans to go and wants to discuss any questions/concerns with me, feel free to comment or drop me an email! The best way I can describe the experience is that it’s like stepping into a dream, with all the beauty and horror that comes in the realm of fantasy.
Here’s something many of you don’t know about me: I love “guy’s” films. Films that are more likely to capture the fancy of a guy rather than a girl. I don’t know any girls who would watch and enjoy a swashbuckling Errol Flynn film, immerse themselves in the exciting naval history of Mutiny on the Bounty, get excited over a Western, or get emotional over a war film. They’d most likely fall asleep within the first fifteen minutes. Recently, I’ve added another guy’s film on the list: The Three Musketeers.
I’ve always loved the book by Alexandre Dumas, so seeing this film was a must for me. At first, I was apprehensive about it because seeing Gene Kelly as top billed automatically made me assume this was going to be a musical version of this beloved story (can you imagine? Dear God…) but thankfully it wasn’t. Gene Kelly didn’t even dance in this film, unless you consider his fancy footwork while swordfighting as dancing.
AND SPEAKING OF GENE KELLY…I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to see the theatrical re-release of Singin’ in the Rain on Thursday!!! And I CRIED. Cried tears of joy! It was absolutely beautiful to see a classic film on the big screen, like the way it was seen back in 1952! The feeling was indescribable, and I had goosebumps all up my arms the entire time. The only other time I’ve seen a classic film in the movie theater was The Wizard of Oz when I was six years old. It was my all-time favorite film growing up, and I still treasure it! But I digress…
I’m sure many of you already know the plot of The Three Musketeers: d’Artagnan (Kelly) is a provincial man who travels to Paris to join the king’s guards, the Musketeers. He befriends lovable yet mischievous Musketeers Porthos (Gig Young), Aramis (Robert Coote), and Athos (Van Heflin). Together the inseparable friends go on an adventure to thwart Cardinal Richelieu’s (Vincent Price) plans to usurp the king’s power. On the way, d’Artagnan finds love with Constance (June Allyson) the goddaughter of his landlord, and he has to deal with evil femme fatale Milady deWinter (Lana Turner).
Gene Kelly often said he liked himself in this film and that d’Artagnan was his favorite non-musical role. However, he was a little…meh for me in this film. He was athletic and funny, but at some points I felt that he overdid it and he annoyed me at those times (like when he first sees June Allyson’s character…puh-leez). I also wasn’t fond of his little mustache. It looked like a smudge of dirt on his face rather than facial hair.
See what I mean about the weird mustache? At least the other musketeers have slightly better ones…
The Three Musketeers is notable for being Lana Turner’s first color film. Now, I’m not a really big fan of Lana Turner at all. I never saw anything special in her and I think that her acting is mediocre at best. But she really outdid herself here! The Technicolor suited her beautifully, and she was pure evil as Milady. The only thing tht bothered me about her character was that her stupid fake mole kept changing places throughout the film, but that’s the makeup department’s fault. Props to Lana!
Even though Milady is the bad gal of this film, I liked her way more than I liked June Allyson’s character, Constance. She was so…sweet. TOO sweet. Sickly, sugary, almost fake sweet. Actually, not sugary, but substitute sugary. Like Splenda or Sweet N’ Low. How did d’Artagnan love her!? A fun fact: in the original novel, Constance was the landlord’s wife, not his goddaughter. But of course, the Legion of Decency would’ve never allowed a married woman to be in cahoots with another man. Shame really, I probably would’ve found her more interesting, or at least more human, if they kept the original storyline. And June Allyson’s face bothers me a lot. It’s like it’s missing something. Eyelashes, perhaps. Or eyebrows.
Now onto my favorite performances. I already spoke about Lana Turner’s, so I’ll talk about my other two favorite characters here. My favorite Musketeer was definitely Van Heflin’s Aramis. He was funny yet he tugged at your heartstrings as well. Heflin gave a great, unfairly overlooked dramatic performance here. I found myself tearing up from him at some points, and I found a lot of truth in the things he said. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but he is the most developed characterwise of the Musketeers and has the most poignant story in the film.
Another favorite character of mine is the villain, Cardinal Richelieu. Because he was played by the King of Cool, Vincent Price. And everytime Vincent Price is in a film, you automatically love him, no matter how evil his character is.
All in all, this is an okay film. It’s a fun take on Dumas’ novel and there are great performances, but by the supporting characters rather than the main ones. And Vincent Price and his cat are definitely worth it.
Many people would list Red Dust as their favorite Gable/Harlow pairing, but I have a special fondness for Hold Your Man, perhaps their least-known, most serious, and most scandalous pairing. It’s a great, dramatic Pre-Code through and through, and one of those films I watch again and again and again.
Gable is a con man named Eddie Hall. While running away from the cops (just another day in the life I suppose!) Gable barges into the apartment of a nineteen year-old Brooklyn dame (hey, sound familiar?) named Ruby Adams (Harlow). She helps him hide from the cops and covers up for him. Ruby is an expert manipulator of men, and Eddie is a hit-and-run guy, but sparks fly between them, they realize their love is real, and soon they are sleeping together (the film makes this blatantly obvious…gotta love the Pre-Codes!). When one of Ruby’s admirers writes her a letter, Eddie and his cronies quickly hatch a plan to con him out of money, and much to her chagrin, Ruby is forced to participate in the plan. However, it doesn’t work out when Gable gets jealous and accidentally kills the man. When the cops get to the apartment, Ruby and Eddie are on their way back from getting a marriage license, and Ruby is wrongfully arrested for the murder and sent to two years in a women’s penitentiary. While there, she discovers she’s pregnant, and she and her inmates map out a secret plan to get Eddie and marry them. Will it work or will Ruby get caught by the matrons and Eddie arrested by the cops?
Although this film deals with a lot of serious topics (murder, imprisonment, illegitimate pregnancy, abandonment) it does have its comedic moments. There is a cute running gag in the film about Gable’s crooked smile, which Harlow imitates to a T. In return, Gable imitates her famous hip-swaying walk. The script is excellent, with lots of acidic, witty one-liners, with which Harlow practically steals the picture from Gable. This film also reprises the famous bathtub scene from Red Dust (MGM as we all know, was never ashamed of repeating its successes). Not only does Gable walk in on Harlow bathing, he gets some tub time too–with a face full of soap, hiding from the cops!
I also love the scenes with Harlow in the women’s penitentiary. She has some crazy inmates there: a Socialist, a daughter of a preacher, a girl who’s obsessed with sailors, and one of Eddie’s ex-girlfriends, Gypsy Angikon. Funny moments include: a scene in which the Socialist girl rips a missal in half during a church service, a scene where Eddie has to pretend to be one of the girl’s brother and kisses her, and the whole “sneak Eddie into the penitentiary chapel for the secret wedding” part is quite funny. Another great thing about the film is that it takes place in Brooklyn! (Flatbush to be exact) We all know that the film was shot on the MGM lot and not really in Brooklyn, but I think they did a really good job portraying Old New York: organ grinders, children playing on the sidewalks, mothers popping out of windows to tell their kids that dinner is ready…it’s so cute!
For you Pre-Code fans out there (and who isn’t?) Hold Your Man is chock full of racy-for-the-1930s dialogue and scenes. There’s a great bit in which Gable tries to lure Harlow into his bedroom, and a not-so-subtle scene with Gable and Harlow the next morning after their first night together. As the film goes on, it becomes obvious that Harlow is living with Gable. But most scandalous of all is Harlow’s–GASP!–unplanned pregnancy. Of course, the poor girl becomes the talk of the women’s jail. This is why I like Pre-Codes: they are a lot more realistic and they aren’t afraid to show the more difficult, and in some other Pre-Codes, the more ugly side of things (remember Three on a Match?). And from what I understand, this film was supposed to be even racier, and suffered some cuts from the Legion of Decency.
Hold Your Man also gave us the rare opportunity to see Harlow as a dramatic actress. In the beginning of the film she is all sass and dry humor, but the second half of the film allows her to show emotions such us love, hate, angst, and sadness. The scene in which she sings the title song, “Hold Your Man” on the piano is poignant because it shows the confusion over her feelings for Eddie, her worry over her own situation, and the angst that comes with difficulties in love. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s a real terjerker, and Harlow does a great job of breaking your heart with her performance. I wish she got to act in more dramatic films like this one.
I hope you see why Hold Your Man is my favorite Gable/Harlow pairing. It has it all: great acting, snappy script, comedy, drama, murder, romance, scandal, and a very strong message. It also proves that Harlow isn’t just some dumb blonde like so many idiots out there think; she was a smart, intelligent woman with great talent. The film isn’t on DVD, sadly, and it’s so rare to come across, but it’s worth the trouble trying to find it. You’ll thank me later!
The Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Murder Case is not only the last book in George Baxt’s celebrity series, but it is also the last book he wrote before his death in 2003 (I have been reviewing these books in chronological order). And of course, Baxt goes out with a bang…this is perhaps the worst book in his entire series!
Before I begin my review, here’s an excellent, original review written by Vincent, who runs the site Carole & Co. (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/50359.html). The review not only points out some of the many things wrong with this book, but it is also a good example of how to write PROPER celebrity fiction! I’ll be referring to it throughout my own review.
Here’s the plot of this hot mess: It’s December of 1939. Gone with the Wind has finished filming and the Atlanta premiere is drawing near (saaay, that rhymes!). However, all of Hollywood, including Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, is suffering from paranoia due to a series of kidnappings. Amongst those who were kidnapped is a promising young protegee of Carole’s named Lydia Austin. But when no leads turn up about Lydia and the body of her ex-boyfriend washes up on the shore during Miriam Hopkins’ beach party, it becomes obvious that there is more to this case than meets the eye. Detective Herb Villon and his sidekick Jim Mallory team up with Gable and Lombard to crack this case.
First of all, the plot was extremely sloppy. It went absolutely NOWHERE for a good three-quarters of the book, and I think it was at that point when Baxt remembered that there has to be some solution to this absolutely boring mystery so he brought the book to a very speedy and unsatisfying conclusion. Here’s the breakdown of the book: 75% was “witty banter” terrible enough that, had they read it, would’ve made Gable and Lombard vomit uncontrollably, and 25% was actually solving the mystery.
And ya know what? The characters who went missing were so unlikable that I didn’t give a fuck about them whatsoever. They were three Nazi spies, seven Japanese spies (remember we’re starting WWII here folks) Carole’s protegee, who was a worse character than the spies!!! The girl apparently had a lot of “talent”…and how Baxt expects us to believe this I have no idea, since all this girl ever seemed to do was sleep with anything that had a penis. She literally has had a roll in the hay with every male character in the book (except the detective) at some point, from Gable to Groucho Marx. Why? Looking for a sugar daddy of course! Whadda bitch. I found myself so glad this little idiot was missing and I never wanted them to find her again. And as the story goes on and we learn more about her character, it becomes obvious that she’s a dim bulb too. WHY Carole Lombard would ever take a person like that under her wing is beyond me. Thankfully, this Lydia character is kidnapped before the action of the book takes place, so all we know about her comes from what we’re told by other characters.
In the book, Carole has three other protegees, but the most ah-nnoying one is the Eskimo, Mala Anouk. The other two are Nell Corday and Nana Lewis (dude, come up with a better name. Nana is what I call my grandma). But Mala takes the cake for being the most disgusting book character ever. Even more disgusting than Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter series. The girl lives entirely on BLUBBER. BUH-LUBBER. WHALE FAT. This is a girl who wants to be a HOLLYWOOD ACTRESS and she eats PURE FAT three times a day!!! How do you even eat squares of cold fat!? And by “how” I mean, “how can you live with yourself, do you have no shame?” or “how are you even alive right now, shouldn’t you have died from atherosclerosis a long time ago?” or “how are you not 6000 pounds?” or “how does Baxt expect us to believe that Lombard would’ve ever groomed a fat-eating actress?” In one part, the fat-eater even serves Lombard and Gable BLUBBER COOKIES. How the hell do you make cookies out of FAT!? What kind of shitty cookies are these? I was an avid eater of blubber (I’d eat a raw horseflesh before doing that, ugh!), the earth would not be able to accommodate my weight, lose all gravitational force, and end up spinning away somewhere in the cold, vast universe. Actress on the make eating blubber YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!?!?
This book also features the most random cast of characters ever. We have Gable and Lombard, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot, Groucho Marx, and W.C. Fields, who is completely wasted in this book and completely unnecessary to the story. And so were Bogie and Methot, for that matter. They just came for a couple of pages and left. Absolutely none of these characters were developed, with Baxt instead drawing upon film characters that these actors played. I HIGHLY doubt that Groucho Marx walked around in half crouch with an unlit cigar dangling from his mouth in real life! I seriously think Baxt put a bunch of names is a hat, closed his eyes, picked out these names, and forced them into a story. I’m quite surprised Dorothy Parker didn’t make a cameo appearance in this book like she did in all the rest. She would’ve been the icing on the cake.
Now, onto the characterizations of Gable and Lombard. I don’t even know where to begin here. Well, in his review, Vincent addresses the annoying giggle that Baxt gives Lombard in this book. A giggle that made my eyes twitch. A giggle that almost made me explode in a rage. A giggle that made my heart turn cold and had me wondering if there is a God in this world. “Hee hee hee.” WHEN, In the name of God, did she EVER laugh like that? And this “hee hee hee” is there every single time Lombard opens her mouth in this book! I dunno if this “hee hee hee” after every statement is supposed to make Lombard sound sly and crafty but it only ended up making her sound like she’s lost all her brain cells in an alcoholic fog. Only three types of people say “hee hee hee”:
1) Evil Disney villains.
2) Evil wicked witches.
3) The senile grandmother I mentioned earlier.
Is Carole Lombard one of those three? I don’t think so! Besides the “hee hee hee,” Lombard also spends most of the time screeching and yelling at Gable for everything. EVERY SOURCE I’ve read about Gable and Lombard’s relationship said that it was a relationship based on love and laughter. Sure, they had rough patches like any other couple, but the book makes it seem like their relationship was tense and stressful 24/7. There was also none of that trademark Lombard charm, humor, and generosity. She instead screeches and throws tantrums like a petulant child or my menopausal high school math teacher. The real Lombard would’ve looked down on such behavior! Carole also spends time making obscene pictures out of cheese and crackers in this book (insert facepalm here). This book did one of my favorite actresses NO justice. Baxt did not even try to understand her at all. And why he dedicated the Astaire and Rogers book to her is beyond me. Like she would want any of these books dedicated to her!
Now Gable. Poor, poor Gable. If Baxt was trying to make the readers hate Gable by portraying him the way he did in this book, it didn’t work. I think this book made me love him even more, because it made me realize what a smart, lively, vibrant personality he had. Baxt portrays Gable as a big, lumbering idiot who barely says anything except an occasional “sure, sweetheart, sure” to calm Lombard down. Other than that, he just stands there and watches on as everything takes place around him, like some kind of shadow. And many times in this book, Baxt states outright that Gable is “dumb” and “not good enough” for Carole. First of all, Gable wasn’t dumb, and anyone who cares to learn about him can see that indeed, Gable was quick-witted and very intelligent. He loved to read, and there are plenty of photos out there that prove it. He never finished high school, so educating himself was a matter of great importance to him, and his widow Kay Gable said that he would read a book a day. He read books on all topics, from mysteries to histories (rhyme #2). And I’m sure Lombard knew what she wanted in a man, so saying he’s “not good enough for her” without any proof to back himself up is just plain wrong. Baxt did not do his homework on Gable or any other star he wrote about, and instead poorly portrayed the images the studio system gave these actors. Gable was a very quiet man, never one to brag about himself or make a big deal out of things. There is a difference between being HUMBLE and being STUPID, Mr. Baxt!
As usual, Baxt got a lot of facts wrong in this book. Big, big facts. Once again, the timing is all wrong. The story takes place in December 1939, before the Atlanta premiere of GWTW. In the beginning of the book, Lombard is getting ready to film Made for Each Other with Jimmy Stewart, but as Vincent pointed out, the film was released in February 1939, way before the action of the story and even before Clark and Carole were married! But at the end of the book, Carole was scheduled to begin filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith which wasn’t released until the end of January, 1941! And unlike today, you did not need a year to make a good film. I highly doubt this film would’ve taken more than several weeks to shoot! And whatever happened to In Name Only, Vigil in the Night, and They Knew What They Wanted, the three films that she made in between Made for Each Other and Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Did they just disappear into the mist or something?
At one point, Baxt makes up an entirely new movie for Gable. Apparently he made a World War I film called Hell Below. What the fuck is Hell Below!?!? I am proud to say that I’ve seen Gable’s entire filmography, and he never made a film by that name. I’m thinking that he might’ve mixed up with Hell Divers. But that film isn’t about World War I…rather, it is about naval aviation. Can Baxt get ANYTHING right???
Baxt also makes an outrageous claim that Harlow died from syphilis that William Powell gave her. How low can this author go? But thankfully, anyone who knows even basic facts about the Golden Age knows that Harlow died of kidney failure. Baxt’s low, cruel statement only succeeded in making him look retarded. He also claims that this syphilis is what kept Powell off the screen for two years. HE HAD CANCER. God, who would ever make something like that up!? Who in their right mind would lie about having such a disease? It’s like Baxt had something personal agaisnt these stars! He also claims that Russ Columbo’s death wasn’t an accident, and that Lansing Brown shot Columbo out of jealousy because the two were lovers and he heard Columbo wanted to marry Lombard. It was true that Columbo wanted to marry Carole, they were so very much in love. But the death was indeed an accident, with Brown feeling the guilt for the rest of his life, and THEY WERE NOT LOVERS. I hate it when an author says that every actor in Hollywood was gay! Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, but it’s very unrealistic to claim that ALL OF THEM were homosexual.
And please, don’t even get me started on the claims of Gable abusing Ida Lupino and sleeping with Judy Garland. HE NEVER DATED LUPINO AND JUDY GARLAND WAS ONLY FIFTEEN YEARS OLD! How DISGUSTING. This book and all its ridiculous claims are pure fiction. And horrible fiction at that.
So here’s what I learned from rereading and reviewing this series: the cover is the best part of any Baxt book. Just check out that artwork! I hope you guys enjoyed these reviews, and I hope I did a good job giving you a thorough idea of these books!
And perhaps the most boring. Just look at the gap between this review and the last one. Gee whizz, it took me ages to read!
The Plot: Hollywood, 1953. Impresario Sol Hurok has brought the legendary Baronovitch ballet company to the United States and is planning to feature them along with everyone’s favorite dance team–Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers–on a groundbreaking television special. Since this story takes place during the height of the Cold War, everyone is considered a spy, the KGB and the CIA are constantly watching each other, and no one is to be trusted. At the gala honoring the stars of the ballet tv special, Ginger’s psychitrist, Igor Romanov, collapses dead from poison. Now everyone is suspect, from the ballet company to the doctor’s hired help and it’s up to Fred, Ginger, and detective Herb Villon to catch the killer.
Redeeming qualities of this book:
1) The end was actually quite good! The identity of the killer was a total surprise. George Baxt actually created a plot twist! Gooooood job!
2) It made a good flyswatter. You need one of those during these hot summer days.
However, as I said before, this book was so BORING. It took me ages to get through it! I think even Baxt was bored writing this one. I adore Fred and Ginger (who doesn’t?) but man, were they unlovable and very forgettable in this book. The characters were incredibly flat. Ginger was nothing but an annoying prick who complained about her age and the sweet, charming Fred was a dead beat. Honestly, he could’ve been a life-size cardboard cutout and I doubt anyone would’ve noticed the difference. On a side note, I’ve never understood the point of life-size cardboard cutouts. Who would actually spend hard-earned cash ON A HUNK OF CARDBOARD!?!? Maybe people who have cardboard for brains. Seriously, use that money to buy a book or a good classic film instead of spending it on a 2D, breakable replica of Justin Beaver or whatever the hell his name is or Harry Potter! But I digress.
Not only was the book boring, but it was CONFUSING. Now, I’m a very smart cat. I got photographic memory. I remember every face I see and every name I hear. But there were SO MANY RUSSIANS in this book with CONFUSING RUSSIAN NAMES that I mixed them all up! I forgot who was who, who did what, who I just read about…it was just terrible. They all have similar names, too, which made the problem even worse! There were at LEAST two characters named Mikhail, there was a Theodore and a Feodor, a Vanoff and a Romanov, and a Nikolai and Mordecai, amongst a ton of other Russians that I really can’t remember. There were a lot of moments in which I closed the book and stared into space, not knowing who the hell I just read about. I never thought that “too many Russians” can be a problem in a book, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. I also hated how all the Russians knew each other from before. Um, Russia is almost the size of my old fourth grade teacher’s butt, NOT the size of your backyard, George Baxt! How could they all be so chummy like that?
I also didn’t like the performance that Fred and Ginger were going to do with the ballet company. It was to be a ballet of the story of Rasputin. Yes. Rasputin, in ballet form. And Ginger and Fred, not being ballerinas, were going to tap dance. So you have ballet and tap dancing going on at the same time. You have Fred Astaire as Rasputin with a dirty fake beard pressed to his face. You have Ginger as the czarina, always clicking castanets together (??? THIS IS RUSSIA NOT SPAIN). And you have two different dances that tell a story in two different ways combined in one big tv special. That, my dears, is what I call a recipe for disaster. WHO TOLD BAXT THAT A RASPUTIN BALLET WITH TAP DANCING WAS A GOOD IDEA??? Where the fuck does he get these ideas from? And I hate how everyone in the book thinks it’s a brilliant idea too. Uh, if the real Fred Astaire was asked to perform in a Rasputin ballet, I think he would’ve relinquished his Hollywood life, run all the way to Timbuktu, and become one with the people there.
I also caught something quite interesting about this book. I’ve read the reviews on the back of the jacket about 38627864-34827 times, and I noticed that ONE OF THE REVIEWS WERE CHANGED. When reviewing The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case, Booklist stated: “This is an utterly unbelievable but thoroughly entertaining romp through a Hollywood that never really existed, except perhaps in its own mind.” However, on the back of my book, the review was changed to: “This is an utterly believable but thoroughly entertaining romp through a Hollywood that never really existed, except perhaps in its own mind.” Now, really, the changed review doesn’t even make sense! “But” is used when you have two contradicting statements, but here the two statements agree with each other…talk about obvious. Never trust a book that needs to change its reviews to garner praise.
**An addition: Baxt dedicated this book to Carole Lombard. Now why would he do that???
Like The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case before it, The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case is just another cheap knockoff of a novel-turned-movie, this time The Thin Man. It’s not the plot that’s a copy of The Thin Man, but the characters. My my, Dashiell Hammett must be turning in his grave.
The plot: Basking in the success of The Thin Man series, best friends and costars William Powell and Myrna Loy are suddenly thrown into real detective work when Claire Young, madam to the stars, is diagnosed with an inoperable cancer and threatens to reveal the contents of her little black book in order to get some money from her famous patrons so she provide for her secret son after she’s dead. This blatant blackmail leads to the murders of Claire’s best friend Fern Arnold, and her secretary, Amelia Hubbard (to whom Claire was dictating her memoirs). Of course, there’s your usual cast of weirdos, including a Hungarian prostitute who works for Claire, her violinist, a young naive prostitute, and a notable doctor. It’s up to detective Herb Villon, along with Nick and Nora…I mean Powell and Loy…to figure out who would be desperate enough to kill for this little black book.
Many things about this book both shocked and disgusted me. First was the characterization of the celebrities. Baxt doesn’t understand that Powell and Loy have personalities of their own. Instead we get a very poor rendition of Nick and Nora Charles, their characters from The Thin Man. The two of them speak purely in quips and are never found without a martini in hand. They also never show any emotion towards the murders, instead making sarcastic jokes about them. This appalled me more than anything else in this book, especially when it comes to Myrna Loy, who was one of the most compassionate, kindhearted Hollywood figures. If someone she knew got murdered, she never would sat there, said “the poor bastard” or something to that effect, and take a swig from her martini. But that’s precisely the Myrna Loy we are presented with here. I find it so sad that Baxt obviously knew nothing about the actors he was using in his books, and instead resorts to bad imitations of their famous film characters. Actors are not always like the characters they portray! There’s also Louis B. Mayer, who does nothing but bang his fists on his desk and pass out in a dead faint (was Mayer always this prone to fainting? He faints at least three times in the book) and Jean Harlow, who does nothing but pout at William Powell and sashay down the MGM in a sheer swimsuit. Again, Harlow wasn’t a loose woman like those she played on-screen!
The friendship that Powell and Loy have with the madam, Claire Young, also confuses me. Each MGM contract player had a morality clause in their contract, correct? Now, I know that many of them had extramarital love affairs and in fact did visit prostitutes, but all this was done in secret and I’m not so sure but I guess it was considered okay as long as it wasn’t publicized and as long as the movie-going public didn’t get wind of it. At that time, stars could get fired for breaking this clause. So why was it okay for Bill and Myrna to publicly visit a whorehouse, get their picture taken by every camera in Hollywood, and get interviewed by reporters!?!? They literally just barge in on this mystery! They had NO point being there. They just walked right into this whorehouse and said they were “researching for their next Thin Man film.” The hell?? THEY HAVE A MORALITY CLAUSE, REMEMBER? And what does Mayer do? Faint in his office. I think the real L.B. would’ve wiped them off the face of the earth!
The way the dialogue in the book is written is dizzying. It’s very dialogue-driven (which in itself gets annoying after awhile. Sometimes you need a break from all that talking and need to read a description or something) so it should always be clear exactly who is speaking. But Baxt rarely ever mentions the speakers. He does only once in the beginning of the conversation and then you have to follow for a good couple of pages. It gets so confusing, and sometimes you have to start again from the beginning to figure out exactly who is doing the talking by the bottom of the page. Talk about frustrating.
I also hated how everyone was an alcoholic in this book. Loy and Powell never stop drinking martinis (God knows how they were still sober enough to do detective work) and you also have drinkers in Hazel Dickson (Herb Villon’s girlfriend) and in Hellman and Hammett. Just because it’s Hollywood doesn’t mean everyone lives solely for their next drink! Honestly, I was waiting for Powell and Loy to die from liver failure by the end of the book.
Another shocking plot point was, believe it or not, Paul Bern’s death. Firstly, Baxt states that Bern was the one who got Claire Young her start in the prostitution business, but then he goes so far to say that Bern was involved with silent film actress Barbara LaMarr and provided her with the drugs that would end up killing her. I don’t know much about LaMarr, let alone her relationship with Bern, so if someone knows anything about this and can tell me, I’d appreciate it! He’s also definite that Bern’s death was not a suicide but a murder. It is a possibility, and there’s evidence that can point that way, but it’s also equally possible that it could’ve indeed been suicide. How can Baxt be so sure? And in this book, the person who murders Claire’s friend and her secretary also murdered Bern, since he was in a way connected with Claire as well. In my opinion, fooling around with an actual murder mystery in a fake murder mystery is playing with fire!
If you want a real murder mystery, read The Thin Man instead.
First of all, I apologize for taking some time off. I’ve just been feeling tired and stressed lately, and when one feels that way, writing hardly ever turns out good. But on the plus side, I was able to finish up this book and The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case so I hope to get two reviews out today!
The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case was one of the most uninspired books in Baxt’s series. Even though The Mae West Murder Case was ridiculous with its vampires and witches, but at least it was something that came out of Baxt’s brain. The title of The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case should be changed to The Really Bad Maltese Falcon Knockoff Murder Case. Because that’s precisely what this book is.
The plot: It’s 1941. Humphrey Bogart is married to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot, and is starting work on his new film, The Maltese Falcon. Meanwhile, a contessa from Italy comes to Hollywood, along with her entourage, to find a Chinese cornucopia full of priceless gems dating back to the time of Marco Polo. The cornucopia was apparently entrusted to her father by Mayo’s father, who was a sea captain (the contessa’s father was part of Capt. Methot’s crew). Suddenly, Mayo’s mother’s apartment is ransacked, and a day later the Bogarts’ home is ransacked and their housekeeper is found dead. Of course, there is more murder, more incessant name-dropping, and more weird characters than in Alice in Wonderland. Except they’re not lovably weird, they’re keep-away-from-my-house weird.
Before I begin tearing this book apart, I have to point out that all my copies of these books are used. They’re out of print (and rightly so), so I had no choice when ordering them. Therefore, they aren’t in the most pristine condition, which bothers me, but a dame’s gotta do what a dame’s gotta do. Rips, scuffs, and yellowing pages are expected. However, my copy of this book was covered in what appeared to be BLOODSTAINS. Almost every other page had something reddish brown smeared on it! It smelled funny to boot. None of the other books had this funky odor wafting from it, but this one did. I read it wearing latex gloves so I don’t touch the blood and holding it at arm’s length so I don’t smell the smell. Did the previous owner commit suicide while reading this book? If they did, I certainly don’t blame them. It was a stinker, literally and figuratively.
Of course, the plot is a blatant ripoff of the far superior Maltese Falcon. Instead of a falcon, you got a cornucopia. Instead of Sam Spade, you got Humphrey Bogart and that dumb detective Herb Villon, who isn’t anything special. Instead of fat Casper Gutmann, you got fat Contessa di Marcopolo. And instead of Joel Cairo, you got Marco Amati, the Contessa’s hot Italian boyfriend with an even hotter temper. Instead of femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, you got a femme fatale wannabe named Nell Dickens, who owns a junk shop with her “father” on Venice beach called the Old Curiosity Shop and of course claims to be directly descended from Charles Dickens, just like the way the contessa claims to be descended from the explorer Marco Polo. And if Baxt’s made-up characters are lackluster and flat, you can expect even worse from the real celebrities he integrates into the book. Mayo Methot does nothing but attempt to kill Bogart, Lillian Hellman does nothing but drink and behave boorishly, Dashiell Hammett does nothing but follow Hellman around like a ghost, Theda Bara (yes, Theda Bara of all people is in this book) does nothing but sit around and be exotic, and of course, Baxt fails to understand that Humphrey Bogart and Sam Spade are two different people and fails to give Bogart a personality of his own. Also, Dorothy Parker is in this book, but only to drink and hang around Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. She perhaps appears and disappears in every Baxt book I’ve read thus far. She’s like the Baxt version of the Alfred Hitchcock cameo appearance.
Just like in The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case, you have A LOT of characters in this book with the same or similar name. There’s a lot of talk about Marco Polo, since he found the cornucopia to begin with, then there’s the contessa di Marcopolo, then there’s Marco Amati. I hope Baxt knows there are other Italian men’s names besides “Marco.” Now there’s nothing wrong with the name Marco, it’s quite a romantic name, but you know what they say: it was too much of a good thing.
I also hate how dumb Baxt thinks Hollywood was. Almost every celebrity in the book had to stupidly ask “What’s a cornucopia?” before having it explained to them by Herb Villon. The only foreigners in the book were the contessa and her crew. The other celebrities in the book: Bogart, Methot, Bara, Hellman, Hammett, etc. are AMERICANS. And any American KINDERGARTENER can tell you what a cornucopia is because every AMERICAN knows the story of the first Thanksgiving! Gee whizz, if Baxt thought Old Hollywood was dumb, he would probably find new Hollywood to pretty much be subhuman one-celled critters with the mental capacity of a headless Barbie doll. I have absolutely no idea what I just said, but it sounds interesting so I’ll leave it there for you to figure out.
Of course, this book was also rife with grammatical errors and such. No commas where you need them and commas where you don’t, failing to capitalize the beginning of a sentence, saying “him” when it should say “her,” using an exclamation point instead of a question mark and a question mark instead of a period…your usual never-ending list of grammatical errors in these books. But what really surprised me here was the constant mix-up between Herb’s girlfriend, gossipmonger Hazel Dickson and creepy Nell Dickens. Baxt mixes up their names more than once, getting only the “dick” part right, which, considering how trashy these books are, isn’t surprising at all.
Another thing that irked me about this book was that all the action took place in ONE STINKIN DAY. The entire book went a little like this: Herb Villon and Humphrey Bogart think that X has the cornucopia. They go to visit X. X says that they lent it to Y. They go to Y. Y is broke so they sold the cornucopia to Z for thirty bucks. They go to Z, etc. etc. It was one never-ending chain of people playing hot potato with this priceless cornucopia. WHO WOULD EVEN SELL SOMETHING THEY BORROWED ANYWAY!? Every time Bogie and Villon had to visit yet another eccentric to find this dingus (anyone get my reference?) I rolled my eyes to the heavens and crossed myself because it wasn’t so much a mystery as it was a wild goose chase. They were literally driving from Venice Beach to Hollywood and back and forth and back and forth all in one day! How they did that, I have no idea. Vintage cars aren’t exactly speed demons. Then again, I think you have to suspend your disbelief if you want to enjoy these Baxt books, something I clearly have trouble doing, since this book is supposed to deal with facts. In the end, I was expecting them to find the thing in a random dumpster in some deserted alleyway. But here’s a hint as to how it ends: this book was ripped off The Maltese Falcon, remember?
As you know, I’ve been quite busy reading and reviewing the (bad) George Baxt Hollywood series. But when I’m done with that, I’ve got a lot of great posts lined up, and I’d like to take an opportunity to tell you what I’ve got in store:
- Hidden Talents of the Stars. This is gonna be really fun! Many of our favorite classic stars weren’t just gifted actors, they had plenty of other talents! So, if they didn’t make it in Hollywood, what would they have been? For starters, Marlene Dietrich probably would’ve been a chef and Joan Fontaine probably would’ve been a pilot!
- Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. I’ve tried doing this post before, but WordPress so lovingly deleted all my work on it. So I gotta get around to doing this one sometime soon, much to my chagrin.
- Sleep No More. Many of you might not be familiar with this unusual play, but it has taken the New York art scene by storm. Maybe if you’re a Gossip Girl fan, you would’ve seen an episode that featured it (“The Big Sleep No More.” Of course these Gossip Girl brats basically broke every SNM rule!!!). It doesn’t have anything to do with classic movies directly, but it has a lot of classic movie influences. It’s the story of Macbeth taking place in the 1930s, with heavy influences from Hitchcock and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. For one thing, the show plays in a building called “The McKittrick Hotel” (sound familiar, Vertigo fans?) and the bar in the hotel is called The Manderley Bar. I went in April on the day after my birthday, and I’m going again July 16th, so after my second trip to the McKittrick, I will review this great play! If you are 18 or over (WARNING: the show is VERY intense and not for the faint of heart) and will be in NYC until July 21st, you MUST see this haunting play! But for those of you who can’t, I will review it, trying my best not to spoil it!
Another post that I’m thinking of doing is a finger wave tutorial. I get asked how to do a wave A LOT, so I think it might be something useful to do. I know I’ve made a post about it before, but I do my hair in a different way that works better now, and I’m thinking of doing it with pictures or in a video so the instructions are easier to follow (I’m gonna apologize in advance for the icky ugliness that is my face). So, if you think it will be useful for me to put up a new and improved finger wave tut, then please tell me in the comments! <3
This next installment in my Baxt Hollywood murder mystery reviews wins for most hilariously ridiculous plot. Ever. Just warning you right now, there may be some spoilers. Because if I did my usual and tried not to spoil this for you guys, then you wouldn’t be able to get the scope of the laughable stupidity of this plot. So if you’re planning to read this book for yourself, then I advise you skip this one out.
The plot: It’s 1936, and Mae West is one of Paramount’s top stars. Four Mae West impersonators (one of whom is a woman) are murdered by a VAMPIRE. Yep, you read right. A vampire. All the stiffs are found with fang marks by the jugular and a stab wound to the heart. Obviously, the vamp’s killing these impersonators as a warm-up before killing the real deal. But there’s more than just a vampire behind these murders. There are witches, warlocks, and horny club owners doing some dirty work too. In order to stay safe, Mae surrounds herself with musclemen bodyguards and teams up with our favorite dim bulbs, detective Herb Villon and his assistant Jim Mallory, to catch that vampire.
Witches? Warlocks? Vampires? Drag queens? If Harry Potter, Dracula, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show got into a really bad car crash, this book would be the result. And as I discuss the plot in more detail now, you’ll see that I just scratched the surface of the ridiculousness.
When I first got this book, I was quite excited to read it because Mae West is pure awesomeness. She’s a fellow Brooklyn girl, and like all Brooklyn girls, she’s larger-than-life, multi-dimensioned, extremely smart, and one of a kind. But this book did absolutely no justice to her. She was so…flat. Mae wrote all her material herself, and the things that Baxt makes her say are just cringe-worthy. In one scene, a rabbi gives Mae a mezuzah as a token of gratitude for donating money to his synagogue. In the next scene, Mae goes to the gym to hire some Arnold Schwarzenegger (probably spelled his name wrong, don’t fucking care) -type bodyguards. The gym is run by one of her ex-lovers, who was once so handsome, but fifteen years and many boxing matches later, he’s old, toothless, and wears an eyepatch. Yet she STILL hits on him! Mae West hitting on an old geezer? I think not! And HOW does she hit on him? “Why don’tcha come up and kiss my mezuzah?” Don’t lie and tell me your eyes didn’t twitch.
Another thing I don’t get is exactly how…afraid Mae is that she’s a killer’s target? First, she hires four muscular bodyguards to protect her 24/7, and three doormen to guard her home. Then at the end, she goes to the club where all her impersonators used to work, on Halloween night, practically throwing herself into the killer’s arms!!! Does this make any sense?? Her character in this book is extremely inconsistent.
There’s also lots of probably false info about Mae West’s younger sister, Beverley, who has a small role here. In the book, Beverley comes in from Brooklyn to perform at the Tailspin club (the club where all the dead Mae West impersonators used to perform) as–whaddaya guess?—a Mae West impersonator! From research I’ve done on the sisters’ relationship, it was quite a testy one. Beverley was an alcoholic, could never get out from under Mae’s shadow, and hated Mae for it. She would always look away from Mae in their pictures together, and would try to be as different from her famous sister as possible. But in this book, Baxt makes a double mistake by making Beverley willingly accept being in her sister’s shadow and stupidly setting herself up as a target for the vampire killer. Stupid, stupid, STUPID!
The vampire killer in this book is also pretty preposterous. I mean COME AHN, have you ever seen a killer who would go through all this hullabaloo just to get the thing done? If I were a killer, I’d just kill ‘em the fastest way possible and get the hell out of the crime scene! And of course, since vampires ain’t real, the killer needs to use something to simulate vampire bites on his victims. And what does he use? A metal vampire ring. With fangs. Would the little itty bitty fangs on a ring be enough to puncture holes in someone’s neck!? How big are the fangs on this ring supposed to be? If they were so big, they would be much too cumbersome to wear as a ring. And if any of this killer ring stuff is true, then I guess Claire’s in October is every murderer’s paradise.
The freakish unrealistic monster business doesn’t stop at vampires, it extends to witches and warlocks too. Mae’s BEST FRIEND in the book is a witch named Agnes! Who, since the 1600s, would be fully convinced that they’re a witch!? Would Mae really befriend such bullshit?? And a warlock owns some creepy apothecary-like store called the Witches’ Brew. Of course, he’s old and wizened with a white beard. (insert face palm here).
The big resolution happens, as I mentioned above, at the Tailspin club’s big Halloween party. Mae, Beverley, Herb Villon and Jim Mallory, Agnes the witch, the killer, and a sea of Mae West impersonators are of course there. Here’s something: IF THERE’S A MAE WEST IMPERSONATOR KILLER OUT THERE WHY WOULD 3474337986484714782650 OF THE CLUB’S PATRONS DRESS LIKE MAE WEST!?!? Not everyone in Hollywood had a death wish! Of course one of the fake Wests gets killed at the party. Well DUH. And apparently the club was already being guarded by plainclothes policemen. Why didn’t they do anything when the girl gets murdered??? And of course, bumblefucks Herb Villon and Jim Mallory act, and they….herd all the Mae West impersonators and corral them using the plainclothes policemen. The killer turns out to be a guy in a Superman costume (THREE YEARS BEFORE SUPERMAN IS EVEN INVENTED!!!!!) and when Mae, Herb, and Jim unmask the killer, who does it turn out to be? A PRIEST. A KILLER VAMPIRE PRIEST. What the HELL was I reading? Why was a priest the killer? Because his brother was one of the impersonators who got killed, and he feels it’s all Mae West’s fault. I guess the moral of the story is that the ones who always say that they’re holy and pious are the world’s biggest hypocrites.
And don’t trust George Baxt.
These Baxt books just keep getting stranger and stranger. The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case has an interesting plot and does a great job characterizing Miss Dietrich and her other Hollywood pals, but that does not mean that the book is without its faults. What it has in storyline, it doesn’t have in basic editing skills. -_____-
The plot: It’s New Year’s Eve 1931, and the place to be is at Marlene Dietrich’s lavish party, where literally hundreds of film stars are drinking, mingling, and toasting the new year. The main attraction of the evening is a prominent astrologer/seer named Mai Mai Chu, who predicts the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the outbreak of World War II. In the middle of her presentation at Marlene’s party, she sees a group of seven suspicious characters watching her and suddenly dies, having been poisoned by a strychnine pill in her glass of champagne. Obviously, Mai Mai knew a deadly secret (no pun intended) and had to be silenced. Of course, this triggers a string of murders, and soon Marlene discovers a plot for world domination by a group called “The Devil’s Syndicate.” It’s up to Marlene, Anna May Wong (who was close friends with Mai Mai Chu), and detective Herb Villon to sort through this seemingly motley crew of seven suspects (a French actor, a munitions king, a violinist, a socialite, a failed producer, and a boorish Communist couple) and find out who is the murderer.
This plot is a lot more fun than the plots of the last two books I reviewed. For once, I was actually interested in figuring out who the killer was, and the big reveal wasn’t as boring as it was in the other two books. Baxt actually put in an effort into creating a slightly complex, thrilling plot! Good job! I bet it took his brain a while to recover after all that thinking.
I also liked Baxt’s characterization of Dietrich. He got a lot of things about her right, including her boundless love for her daughter Maria and how she refused to listen to the studios when they told her that publicly acknowledging her child would endanger her sexy screen image. He also mentions her love for cooking, her refusal to return to Germany, and her self-assured, diva-like attitude. The confidence that Dietrich exuded and the power she had over her image and sexuality are quite apparent in this book. Truly a woman that I would look up to, and Baxt deserves kudos for hitting it right on the nose when it came to her personality.
There was also a wonderfully entertaining cameo appearance by Tallulah Bankhead, whom Baxt actually knew. She offers to coach one of the suspects (the French actor) for his screentest. But of course, “coaching” in Tallulah’s book means sleeping with the guy (who wouldn’t let her near him until she forces him to snort some cocaine). Bankhead is always fun to read about, and whaddaya know, she helps Marlene and Co. solve the murder without even trying!
However, there were some issues with the book:
1) Anna May Wong: In the book, Anna May Wong helps Marlene and detective Herb Villon crack the murder case, since she personally knew Mai Mai Chu and was fluent in Chinese, making her the only person in the group who was able to translate Mai Mai’s astrological charts for clues. Anna May and Dietrich were quite close friends in the book, but I don’t think that was the case in real life. It’s been said that Dietrich’s only true friend in Hollywood was Mae West, and even they didn’t see each other outside the Paramount lot. Everyone else was pretty much just a passing acquaintance. So it wasn’t quite accurate for Baxt to pair Dietrich and Wong as such close friends, but I guess he had to do so for the story’s purposes. Another thing that bothered me was the similarity between Anna May and Mai Mai’s names. Reading the book went a little like this: “Anna May Mai Mai Chu Anna May Mai Mai May Mai Mai May Mai May Mai May Mai May Mai May Mai DAMN IT ALL TO HELL.”
2) The Detectives: In all the Baxt books so far, I really hate the detective, Herb Villon, and his bumbling assistant (who changes with each book). This book was no exception. A lot is said about Villon being the best detective in Hollywood, but you don’t really see any of his process. Rather, the movie stars themselves seem to be better detectives! But you know what, showing Villon’s thought process as he solves the case will make for longer books, so maybe it’s better that Baxt finds it too boring to talk about. Villon is a dud of a character anyway. Never seems to have a real personality. His assistant in this book is named Jim Mallory, and he annoyed the bejeezus out of me, mainly because he did NUH-THING to help in the case whatsoever and instead spent his time drooling and fawning over Dietrich! And in the last book I read, The Greta Garbo Murder Case, Villon himself falls in love with Garbo and spends much of his time gawking over her. How he solved the case in that stinker of a book I’ll never know. Why must the detective fall in love with the actress all the time? They’re really damn dumb when they’re in love. For goodness’ sake, they GURGLE when they get happy! Why in God’s name would they gurgle? Guess we got the Rugrats on the case, folks!
3) Dorothy di Frasso: In Baxt’s books, the stiffs and suspects are always characters he created. You can’t take an actual person and kill them off or make them a murderer at your own whim, because that’s wrong on every level. But in this book, Baxt did something that got me really angry and made an actual, real person a murder suspect! This unfortunate was Hollywood socialite Countess Dorothy di Frasso (who is perhaps most famous for putting Gary Cooper on the rise to stardom). HOW CAN HE DO THAT!? It’s WRONG to take an actual person and frame them up as a potential killer! What’s even the point anyway? Of course she wasn’t going to be the actual killer, since that would be taking things TOO far. How badly can this guy ruin a person’s image? Baxt is nothing more than a sensationalist author on the same level with wumbos like Jane Ellen Wayne, David Bret, and Kenneth Anger. Just a shout-out to all you lovely bullshit biographers out there: Even though a movie star is dead, YOU STILL CAN’T MESS AROUND WITH THE FACTS. You can still be sued by their families and they can destroy your careers. So use your colorful imaginations to write an overly dramatic romance novel that only my aunt Judy will enjoy or become a scriptwriter for a daytime soap opera that only my aunt Judy will enjoy, thankyouverymuch.
4) WHO EDITED THIS SHIT??: Rather, the question is did ANYONE edit this shit?? Here’s something you guys don’t know about me: I went to an elementary school that was built in 1920. And not only was it built then, the ninety-something year-old principal (may God rest her soul) insisted that we be taught the same way too. I dunno what convoluted ways they teach kids these days, but I learned to spell with phonics, had an hour out of each day dedicated to learning cursive (we even had little exercise books in which we would have to copy the alphabet and various lines over and over and over and over), had to memorize the Constitution, the names of the Presidents, and the catechism (Catholic school) and disgustingly enough, I learned to solve math problems in my head. But most importantly, every day for eight years I had classes in ENGLISH GRAMMAR, a concept that is dying out faster than an endangered animal these days! Unlike other schools, mine separated “English” into two classes: grammar and literature. Other schools concentrated solely on literature, but mine built me up to be the biggest grammar Nazi there is! And being a grammar Nazi, I spotted AT LEAST one grammatical error on each page! It was horrifying! You name it, it happened: names spelled wrong, using “to” instead of “too,” necessary words omitted from sentences, neglecting to state who is speaking a line of dialogue, wrong use of quotation marks, not capitalizing the first word of a sentence, wrong usage of punctuation marks, and much, much more! I almost had a heart attack. I was so close to writing up my will, since I was positive I was going to explode before I finished the book. I had nightmares every time I closed my eyes to go to sleep. This wasn’t an issue with the other two books I’ve read this far, so I was quite surprised. What could’ve happened?
a) Baxt was drunk while writing this.
b) Baxt was asleep while writing this.
c) Baxt was high while writing this.
d) Baxt’s editor couldn’t stand his job anymore and escaped to an uninhabited island paradise.
e) Baxt’s editor got struck by lightning.
f) Baxt’s editor died.
This, my dears, is the true mystery of this book. Next up is The Mae West Murder Case. I’ll tell you right now that a Brooklyn girl always gets what she’s after!
Sounds like pretty exciting stuff, right?
But The Greta Garbo Murder Case wins the award for making a thriller about busting a Nazi spy ring the most boring thing I’ve ever read.
The plot: It’s 1942. World War II is completely changing Hollywood: many stars are off fighting, audience tastes are changing, films become heavier in tone and subject matter, and stars that were once popular are now known as Hollywood has-beens. Greta Garbo, who had a large European fanbase that has now been cut off because of the war, accepts a role in an epic film entitled Joan the Magnificent in order to avoid joining the has-been club. Garbo soon discovers that there is a Nazi plot revolving around the film’s producer, mysterious billionaire Albert Guiss, and that the cast and crew of the film is made up of both Nazis wanting to figure out U.S. secrets and G-men wanting to bust the Nazis. Soon enough, people begin to drop like flies, having died from thallium nitrate poisoning. Detective Herb Villon, along with G-man Arnold Lake and Garbo herself, are out to crack the case, bust the Nazis, and catch the poisoner.
The book was extremely BORING. It was not even 200 pages long, but it felt larger than the 1463 page Les Miserables (my most favorite book in the whole world). I’ve read Hugo’s brilliant classic over eight times, yet I could barely make it through this little Garbo book for the second time! Something is definitely wrong there.
First of all, this is a MURDER case, correct? In a 197-page book, I find it pretty bad that the first murder (out of FIVE) doesn’t take place until page 105 or thereabouts! In a book that short, Baxt should not have taken up that much paper to “build up” to these murders (I use quotations because most of this build up was boring, useless, predictable, and extremely repetitive). Actually, he shouldn’t have used 197 pages of paper. Period.
Second of all, it was so…so…SENSELESS. Goddammit, the plot of that insipid film Napoleon Dynamite made more sense than this book! It was almost as senseless as SCARLETT (by the way guys, I don’t where my copy of that book went. I hid it on purpose so I never have to look at it again and get deadly ideas like reading it a second time. But I might be going on vacation to the Bahamas in August, and I want to find it again because hey, you never know when you’ll need some emergency toilet paper.) There were easily a thousand things wrong with it. Here are some of the mistakes my little eye caught:
1) AGAIN with the Friends: Like in the Tallulah Bankhead book, Baxt has Garbo’s pals (in here, he chooses screenwriter Salka Viertel and playwright Mercedes de Acosta) practically living off of her! They never seem to leave her house! I’m not sure if Baxt understands that the supporting characters in his books have HOMES OF THEIR OWN. In one part he has Viertel write a script in Garbo’s home, at like, midnight. Now WHY in God’s can’t a highly successful screenwriter have her OWN HOME to do her work? Another thing is that Baxt says that de Acosta and Garbo had a sexual relationship early in Garbo’s career. However, it’s been proven that the two were only friends. It’s a minor point, but it bothers me so much!
2) Unnecassary Characters: Baxt is extremely obnoxious with the name-dropping in his books. Another thing I don’t think he understood is that if he is writing a book involving classic Hollywood, it can be automatically assumed that he knows a thing or two on the subject. But because he DOESN’T, I think he felt the need to name-drop to prove that he “does.” In the book, Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst live next door to Garbo (in their famed Santa Monica beach house, now the Annenberg Community Beach House, where Marion held many of her famous parties) so of course he has to include the both of them n the book every once in a while, even though they had absolutely NOTHING to do with the plot! Davies was there only to comment on everything in her snarky, bold Brooklyn way (Brooklyn pride! I also learned recently that Lauren Bacall is from Brooklyn too! Honestly, I grow more proud of my amazing city and its amazing people each and every day, but I am going off-topic here.) and Hearst seems to exist solely to be bulied around by Davies. They honestly had NO point in the book. Just a waste of trees. There was another part that REALLY ticked me off, in which the detectives Herb Villon and Arnold Lake are hanging around in the Garden of Allah bar. Here is a summary of what happened in that part: the detectives walk into the Garden of Allah. They look at all the movie stars who are hanging out there (cue Baxt name-dropping like a Nazi dropping bombs over London during the Blitz). One of them says to the other: “It’s too noisy here. Let’s go talk in the office.” The other agrees. They leave. The end. WHY!? I mean, how POINTLESS was that? Just another opportunity for Baxt to write a bunch of names. But at least Baxt didn’t make himself a character in this book, and we should all get down on our knees and thank God for that!
3) “Joan the Magnificent”: this is the fictitious film that Garbo is acting in during the story (as Joan of Arc obviously). Now, films about the Maid of Lorraine are very good, and have been very successful (look at Maria Falconetti and Ingrid Bergman’s portrayals of her) but of course, Baxt messed up with Joan’s story badly, badly, badly. In Joan the Magnificent, Joan is made out as a symbol of anti-Nazism, which is interesting I guess, but in the film, she is also supposed to be sarcastic and funny. She cracks jokes with the boys and plays cards with her jailers. THE FUCK!? There was nothing FUNNY about Joan of Arc!!! And only Rhett Butler can play cards with the jailers and get away with it! What really bothered me was that this film was supposed to be a huge box office success in the book. Everyone thought it was gonna succeed. In this book, Baxt has Sam Goldwyn and Erich von Stroheim think that this mess is GOOD. Who in their right mind would ever call this good film material?? Why would the great Garbo ever agree to do a film like this? And you’ll never guess who Baxt chooses to cast as the Dauphin. PETER LORRE. As soon as I read this casting decision, I got this image of Lorre in a white curly powdered wig, silk breeches with a matching vest, and those little heeled shoes that French royalty loved to wear long ago. Then I died laughing for a good fifteen minutes.
4) Peter Lorre: Speaking of Lorre, Baxt does this terrific actor absolutely no justice. Nothing at all is mentioned about his wonderful talent. Instead he is made to look like an old, disgusting pervert who is always high on cocaine. In the epilogue of the book, Baxt states that Lorre’s cocaine addiction kills him. Um. NO. Firstly, it isn’t even known whether Lorre dabbled in crack or not. Secondly, Lorre had gallbladder problems later on in his life, and was prescribed morphine by his doctors, which inevitably led to addiction. THIS addiction, not cocaine, is what kills him in the end.
5) Greta Garbo: I don’t think Baxt knew anything about Garbo besides her name, her nationality, and her famous line: “I want to be alone” (he even plays around with it. She tells Louis B. Mayer “I don’t want to be a loan.” Get it? Hardy har har har har har…) Because other than that, her characterization was completely wrong. Garbo highly treasured her privacy. She was NOT a recluse, but she did like to take time for herself. She never married, and I suspect it is because she so loved her individuality, her independence as a single woman, and it was something she would never have again if she had gotten married. She HATED publicity (never giving autographs or interviews and never going to premieres or answering her fanmail for the vast majority of her career). She tried as much as she can to live like an average person. So why, in God’s name, would Baxt get her involved in a Hollywood murder case!? I can’t think of anything else that is MORE publicized!!! The interviews and reporters and photographers that come with something like that would’ve pretty much been Garbo’s idea of hell. How could the Garbo who loved to be alone go out there and play detective and willingly endanger her life? Ya know what, forget about Garbo for a sec. What kind of Hollywood star in general would willingly involve themselves in a murder case!? Um, shouldn’t they be keeping themselves away from something like that as much as possible? I can see that bringing a lot of NEGATIVE publicity! It would be extremely detrimental to their careers. So actually, this whole series shouldn’t exist.
6) Carole Lombard: No, Lombard wasn’t a character in this book (she gets a whole book for herself). But she was mentioned once, and of course, it was wrong. In the book, it is quite clear that the story takes place several months into 1942. It had to be, because the story takes place right after the release of Two Faced Woman, which was at the end of 1941. At the beginning of 1942 Garbo was to make another film, The Girl from Leningrad, but the project dissolved soon after. Keep this in mind. In the story (and in real life) Garbo gets a lot of flak for not participating in the war effort (she did, she just never publicized it…another mistake on Baxt’s part). and she says, “I can’t do bond tours the way Carole Lombard and Dorothy Lamour do because I’m terrified of crowds.” Key word here is “do,” it’s in the present tense. So it would seem from that sentence alone that Lombard is still alive and selling bonds. Lombard died on January 16, 1942, only sixteen days into the new year. So of this story took place several months into 1942, she should’ve already been dead! Sloppy work, Baxt. Unless he wants us to believe that Two Faced Woman was released, a new idea for a Garbo film was created, the film was casted, then scrapped, and then Garbo is once again looking for work in only sixteen days into 1942. The time was all wrong!
7) Albert Guiss: In the book, the Joan of Arc film is being produced by a wealthy German named Albert Guiss, who is secretly a Nazi (trust me, I ain’t spoiling anything by telling you this. The book is so predictable and anyone with an ounce of brains can deduce this plot point from the very beginning). The film was only a front for Guiss and his cronies to feed information back to the big Fuhrer back home. But in the beginning of the book, Guiss is made out to be some big producer. Even Peter Lorre says, “No one says no to Guiss.” Obviously, if experienced, independent, famous actors can’t say no to him, he had to have had a pretty excellent body of work, no? BUT, Guiss never produced a film before! He’s no producer, he’s a Nazi! So why COULDN’T they say no to him? None of the stars in the book were under contract to any studio, so they had full say in all their projects. Why would Garbo and Lorre ever accept a film offer from a mysterious nobody, especially when they’re looking to revive their careers? Nothing makes sense. Nothing.
Next up is The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case. It’s over 200 pages. God help me.
The Tallulah Bankhead Murder Case was perhaps the best of the Baxt celebrity mysteries that I’ve read. And that ain’t saying much…more like the best of the worst.
The plot: The story takes place in New York City in 1952, during the infamous McCarthy HUAC hearings that were not only destroying careers, but destroying friendships and lives. Tallulah is the star of a successful radio show, The Big Show, and is living it up with her pals Dorothy Parker, Patsy Kelly, and Estelle Winwood. However, plenty of Tallulah Bankhead’s friends get blacklisted, thanks to so-called “friends” who were too cowardly to give up their prolific careers. Friendships are destroyed, marriages are torn apart, and families are broken. All are devastated, but some are driven to rage…and murder. Soon, four betrayers are murdered in quick succession, and Tallulah Bankhead finds herself in the center of it all, helping NYPD Detective Jacob Singer crack the case, spewing her trademark witticisms all the while. Will they capture the murderous avenger? Or will they end up as targets on his/her list?
The reason I say this is the “best” of the Baxt books is because Baxt personally knew Bankhead, and presents her realistically, in all her glory. He holds nothing back, exactly painting her as the zany, witty, wild character she was known to be. He gets the facts on her right, from her constant smoking (she smoked 150 ciggies a day) to her inability to remember anyone’s name (hence why she called everyone “dahling”). Her sarcasm and witty quips are an absolute treat to read and they were what kept me going in this otherwise blah book. I also somewhat enjoyed Dorothy Parker’s character here, but everyone pales in comparison to Baxt’s characterization of Tallulah, since she was the only one he actually knew. Parker had some good lines, but sometimes she loses her mojo, which is so not what would’ve happened to the real Parker.
Everything else in this book was damn annoying. It was about 230 pages and took me four days to read, which shows how bad it actually was (I’m a very fast reader). Now…drumroll please…here comes the rant.
Tallulah’s Friends: In the book, Tallu hangs out with Estelle Winwood, Patsy Kelly, and Dorothy Parker. Lucky Parker actually gets to go home at night, but Winwood and Kelly NEVER seem to leave Bankhead’s suite at the Elysee hotel. Whenever she walks into her room, no matter what time, day or night, they’re ALWAYS there. Uh, Mr. Baxt, Winwood and Kelly’s careers may have been on the wane by the 1950s, but that did not mean they were completely homeless! AND Tallulah seems to use Winwood and Kelly as her maids, constantly telling them to do this and that for her! Bankhead had a lot of issues (she was a fascinating woman), but she would NEVER have treated her friends as slaves! She was known to be quite generous. Patsy Kelly was also quite annoying, constantly bitching about how broke she was. Give me a break. What kind of Hollywood star would beg and cry and whine about money issues? That’s just having no dignity.
The Facts: Baxt may have done well with his Tallu facts, but he bungled up everything else. First of all, he has Tallulah call Fredric March a pedophile (!!!) always pinching little girls’ behinds. EXCUSE ME!? He was NAWT an old creep! Poor Baxt. He thought that by depicting an accomplished actor as a pedophile, it could justify his own gross behavior. That really makes me mad, because even though this book is a work of fiction, Baxt is dealing with real people, so he should get the facts on them straight, instead of tarnishing their personalities! Obviously, Baxt is one of those sensationalist celebrity authors. Another thing he gets wrong is the year in which Red Dust was released. In the story, Tallu holds a big party in which the murderer is revealed (Thin Man knockoff much?) and Grace Kelly, who was a guest at the party, says that she was going to travel to Africa to film Mogambo with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. She then says that the film is a remake of a picture Gable made TEN YEARS EARLIER with Jean Harlow called Red Dust. The story takes place in NINETEEN FIFTY FUCKING TWO. Red Dust was released in NINETEEN THIRTY FUCKING TWO. Either Baxt totally flunked kindergarten math and couldn’t figure out that 1952 minus 1932 equals twenty and nawt ten, or he knows absolutely NUH-THING about classic Hollywood. This is basic information! If this guy couldn’t get this right, then one must take every single thing he writes with a grain of salt. THIS IS ELEMENTARY CLASSIC MOVIE KNOWLEDGE. Jesus…and people wonder why I have severe trust issues.
And This One Character…: There was one character that really bothered me in this book. Bothered me so badly that my eyes twitched and I thought that I was about to suffer a brain hemorrhage. Bothered me so badly, that I’ve had to put the book down several times and ask the Lord to take my soul and spare me from my sufferings. This character was…George Baxt. Yeah, you read right. Baxt is not only the author of this stinker, he’s also a character in this stinker. And OF COURSE, he paints himself as the greatest, most noble character in the book. Baxt was still a Hollywood agent at the time the story took place, and of course he has to be the best goddamn agent on the face of the earth, representing talentless nobodies and getting them parts as extras at the Kraft Television Theatre. BIG WOOP. Ain’t he the best agent ever? He gets one of the desperate, abusive, filthy cretins in the novel a part that has fifty lines and the guy then practically treats him like God! Well gee whiz, I guess Baxt must be the next candidate for the sainthood, giving all his clients walk-on roles! Cross yourselves and genuflect before this one, folks. I’ve never even heard of Baxt as a Hollywood agent, only in connection with his books and through doing some research on him. But I’ve never read about him in celebrity biographies, or heard about him in Hollywood documentaries. Nothing. Nada. Zip. What a success he was. And of course, Baxt gets lines that are as witty as Bankhead’s, a privilege given to no other character in the book, not even Dorothy Parker. He wins over the hearts of everyone in the book immediately, and is even smart enough to lend a tip to detective Singer. Puh-leez, this dude is obviously living a fantasy dream world where everyone thinks he’s cool and not some slanderous vulgarian mystery writer.
And another thing: I really could’ve lived without that scene in which one of the characters masturbates in his bath. I almost lost my lunch.
If you like to read and research absolutely everything on classic Hollywood like me, you’ve probably heard of George Baxt’s fictional classic Hollywood murder mysteries. I’ve certainly came across them a great deal when educating myself about classic Hollywood, and I thought it was a fun idea to take our beloved stars and put them in a thrilling murder mystery, a work of fiction. So I decided to order a bunch of them two years ago, for my seventeenth birthday. To my chagrin, I found out that the books are extremely rare and out of print, and I ended up having to order them from some bookshop in London! Some books in the series, such as the Dorothy Parker Murder Case and the Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case were either too expensive or too rare, so alas, I don’t have them.
I was beyond excited to read them, but…I am sorry to say, they were an absolute disappointment, especially since Baxt himself was a former Hollywood agent, who was supposed to have known most of these stars. I was expecting an insightful look into the lives of these Hollywood stars, but instead I got a shallow story with a stupid plot and even stupider characterizations each and every time! I have no idea what Baxt meant by writing these books…did he mean to slander the names of the stars of classic Hollywood? Or was all of this meant to be taken as a joke, a lighthearted work of fiction? But when you’re dealing with the personalities of real people, how are you NOT supposed to take what is said seriously?
Anyway, over the summer I will be reviewing what I have from this series for two reasons:
1) The books are rare, so it may be difficult for some to access them and read them for themselves.
2) I don’t think anyone on here deserves to plow through such drivel anyway.
The titles I’ll be reviewing are:
1) The Tallulah Bankhead Murder Case
2) The Greta Garbo Murder Case
3) The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case
4) The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case
5) The Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Murder Case
6) The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case
7) The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Murder Case
I’ll discuss what worked and didn’t work for me, and I’ll also put up some of the “facts” that Baxt had in books, just to show how outrageous they sometimes are! This means that I’ll have to re-read them (oy…but at least they’re small, easy reads). So stay tuned!
Lone Star (1952) is about a cattle rancher named Deveraux Burke (Clark Gable) who is sent on a missi0n by former president Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore) to convince Texas to join the United States. During his Texas adventures, he meets Senator Tom Craden (Broderick Crawford) and his girlfriend, newspaper woman Martha Ronda (Ava Gardner). Both of them want Texas to remain as the Lone Star Republic, separate from the United States. Despite their clashing opinions, Dev and Martha (of course) fall in love. And who will win the big final showdown between Dev and Tom?
I’m really sorry to say this, but i found this historical western/romance mashup to be quite…awful Getting a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the annexation of Texas made me feel like I was a junior in high school and sitting in AP American History class all over again. According to director Vincent Sherman, even the cast realized just how lame the film was shortly after shooting began. Broderick Crawford was intoxicated throughout the filming (which is something admirable to me…how can an actor be so dead drunk yet still remember all their lines?), and Gable and Gardner were just “showing up, reading lines, and going home.” It was just…nothing was really that exciting during the film. It was really quite predictable.
I also hated the Gardner character. She was such a bitch! First of all, she was dating the Broderick Crawford character, so she shouldn’t have been seducing Gable to begin with! Then she sings “Moonlight is Made for Lovers” to Gable, and when he goes in for the kiss, she pushes him away! Um, if you sing that kind of song to a man, WHAT ELSE is he supposed to do!? She also spends most of the movie flirting with him, then slandering him in her newspaper. Whadda bitch, toying with the man’s affections like that!
There were, however, two high points in the film. the first is Lionel Barrymore, in the small role of ex-Prez Andrew Jackson. This was Barrymore’s last film, and he was wheelchair-bound at this point. Barrymore is always a joy to watch and gives everything to his role, no matter how small.
The other high point is my man Gabe. Because no matter how awful the film, he provides plenty of eye candy, which makes up for everything in the end. He also has curly hair in this movie, and that combined with his blue eyes and rough-and-tough manliness turns me into a pool of melted Jell-o every time <3
I hope everyone had a great start to their New Year! Since yesterday was Marion Davies’ birthday, I am going to review one of my favorite films of hers: “Cain and Mabel.”
Here’s the story: Mabel O’Dare is a waitress-turned-Broadway star and Larry Cain is a mechanic-turned-prizefighter. Both hate each other with a burning passion, but their press agents cook up a love affair between them so they can gain more publicity. However, the publicity stunt slowly turns into the real thing, and Cain and Mabel secretly plan to quit their high-paying jobs in favor of eloping and becoming a mechanic and a housewife, respectively. When Cain’s press agent, Reilly (the always-hilarious Roscoe Karns) overhears their secret plans, he is determined to break them up. Will Cain and Mabel’s dreams come true?
This film was basically a vehicle for Marion Davies, who was losing box office appeal at the time, and it was produced by William Randolph Hearst’s production company, Cosmopolitan. Hearst pulled all the stops in order to show his mistress at her most beautiful–Davies had plenty of close-up shots in the film, and also got to show off her talents as a comedienne and as a dancer in lavish numbers such as “Coney Island” and “I’ll Sing You A Thousand Love Songs.” However, the film flopped at the box office, and Gable seemed a bit out of his comfort zone as a boxer.
Despite the fact that it flopped, I really love this film and find it quite enjoyable. It is cute, lighthearted, and incredibly funny. I thought the casting was great, the script was snappy, and the music was good. I’ll admit that the story is a bit predictable, but I still saw no reason for it to flop.
Even though this sweet little film doesn’t have the most complex plot or characters, it is well-known for one thing–its music. The big dance number of the film, “I’ll Sing You A Thousand Love Songs,” was actually nominated for an Academy Award in Best Dance Direction. It took two weeks to film and cost Hearst over $400,000. The result was a lavish, spectacular showstopper that clocked in at about ten minutes long. The other memorable number from this film is “Coney Island.” The carousel from the number cost $35,000 alone, and later became a fixture in the backyard of Davies’ Santa Monica home, along with her pools, tennis courts, etc. This was also the closest that Gable got to being in a musical.
Filming “I’ll Sing You A Thousand Love Songs.” The roof of the soundstage literally had to be raised in order to film it! Marion Davies is all the way up top, standing in the oval.
Overall, “Cain and Mabel” is a fluffy romantic comedy that is easy to love and enjoy. Oh, and there’s also the weirdest costume in film history in it:
I’m off for an entire month, which means that it’s time for me to take a much-needed overdose on classics! “Dames” has been sitting around on my DVR for ages, and being a fan of Busby Berkeley’s musicals, I looked forward to seeing this one.
Millionaire Ezra Ounce (an entertaining Hugh Herbert) is obsessed with the upkeep of American morals, and starts a campaign to eradicate institutions he deems as “immoral.” However, he wants to be assured that his vast fortune will be passed on to like-minded members of his family so he pays a call to his cousin Horace (Guy Kibbee) and his wife Matilda (ZaSu Pitts). Ounce believes New York to be the center of all immorality in America and hates the Broadway shows and musicals most of all. But to the family’s horror, Horace and Matilda’s daughter, Barbara (Ruby Keeler) is in love with the “black sheep” of the family, show producer Jimmy Higgins (Dick Powell). On top of that, she is the lead in his new musical, “Sweet and Hot,” which Horace was blackmailed into financing by a conniving yet charming showgirl named Mabel (Joan Blondell). Will the show go on, or will Ounce and his morality brigade take it down?
The film was lighthearted and entertaining, despite all its talk of morality and family differences. After all, it’s a Busby Berkeley musical, designed to be cheerful and escapist. I found the characters of Ounce, Horace, and Matilda to be highly amusing, much more so than Keeler and Powell’s characters, who got more screen-time. Because for all their talk, they aren’t actually as moral as they say. Wait til you se what’s in Doctor Silver’s Golden Elixir, Ezra Ounce’s trusted cure for his chronic hiccups. But I found the fact that Ruby Keeler’s character Barbara is in love with Dick Powell’s character Jimmy, who is her thirteenth cousin, quite creepy. They aren’t immediately related, but still…geez…they are still related, and they know it! If this film took place in the 1800s, I’d let it pass, but in 1934?! Really? That’s disgusting! I also found it a tad ironic that a Hollywood film declared New York City as the center of immorality, when many Americans at that time probably saw Hollywood itself as the center of immorality. But maybe I’m just biased.
Of course, the best feature of these films is the musical numbers, and this film doesn’t disappoint. I’ll talk about the three major musical numbers of the film here: “The Girl at the Ironing Board,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and of course, “Dames.”
“The Girl at the Ironing Board” was a cute little number, partly because Joan Blondell is a very lovable actress. Even though she can’t really sing. But you forget about that when she smiles her pretty smile. Throughout the number, and throughout the film in general, Blondell took great pains to hide her belly–because she was seven months pregnant during filming. It was quite obvious, since the usually slender Blondell was a bit plump in this film. This number had a lot of men’s long johns doing things on their own, like hugging Blondell is the above photo, which was really creepy. But this is not as creepy as what happens in the next number…
“I Only Have Eyes for You” is a sweet little love song about Dick Powell’s undying love for Ruby Keeler. It makes anyone’s heart melt. It will get stuck in your head for at least twenty four hours. But the effects in this dance number border on the nightmarish for me.
You see, if Dick Powell only has eyes for Ruby Keeler, then EVERYONE looks like Ruby Keeler. The entire dance number is composed of floating Ruby Keeler heads and Ruby Keeler lookalikes. She’s cute and all, but that much of anyone’s face is enough to give me the creeps. However, it was well done. Besides, the dress Keeler and her lookalikes got to wear is drop-dead gorgeous:
The last number, “Dames” was definitely my favorite. Being a self-proclaimed dame, I’d like to think of it as my own little theme song. It’s basically a praise of the beauty of dames, and that they–not the music, dancing, or acting–make the show. It definitely had the best set, dancing, costumes, and synchronization.
This number had some of the best examples of Busby Berkeley’s famed aerial synchronization. Of course, guys would love this musical number too since it starts hundreds and hundreds of young pretty chorus girls–not a male in sight.
A dame is never a dame without her morning primping!
Dames being cheeky
For some reason, I love these costumes from the number. I would not mind going out looking like that. I guess it’s no wonder I attract a lot of stares on the street…
“Dames” is a fun and cute film, but in the end, it is pretty much like a lot of other Busby Berkeley musicals.
“Manhattan Melodrama” is one of my all-time Gable favorites. It’s fast-paced. exciting, and yes, heavy on the drama! But it’s all good fun, and every time that I recommended this film to someone, they ended up enjoying it. The people don’t lie!
The film revolves around orphans Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable) and Jim Wade (William Powell). Although they were raised together, they take completely opposite paths in life. Mischievous Blackie becomes a gangster and professional gambler, and studious Jim becomes district attorney, vying for the position of governor. Blackie’s girlfriend Eleanor (Myrna Loy) becomes tired of the wild life with Blackie, and instead settles down and marries Jim. Despite this, the two men remain friends. But when Blackie kills a man, their friendship becomes tested as Wade’s morals and job as D.A. tell him to send his best friend to the electric chair. Does Wade do what he feels is right, or does he save Blackie?
Obviously, the cast is terrific, and the three leads all play off each other wonderfully. Gable was, and always will be, great in the gangster role. This was also the first of fourteen pairings between Powell and Loy. Seeing their chemistry here, it is no surprise why they would make thirteen more films together (three of them being in 1934). Supporting actors like Leo Carrillo, Nat Pendleton, and George Sidney lend plenty of personality and likability to their characters, and Mickey Rooney as young Blackie in the beginning of the film is adorably and touching. (Fun fact: Rooney idolized Gable quite a bit on set, and would dress like him, act like him, and even drive a little replica of Gable’s car, much to Gable’s chagrin).
The Biograph Theater less than an hour after Dillinger’s death.
In recent years, this film has become quite famous due to the Johnny Depp film “Public Enemies,” which was a biopic of 1930s gangster and Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger. Dillinger, a big Myrna Loy fan, was infamously shot to death by FBI agent Melvin Purvis outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago right after watching this film. Apparently, the news was used to publicize the film, much to the shock and horror of Loy. No blog post on this film would be complete without mentioning John Dillinger!
“Manhattan Melodrama” is also famous for the debut of a popular jazz standard, “Blue Moon.” However, in this movie we hear the song in its original title and lyrics, “The Bad in Every Man” by Rodgers and Hart. I must say, as much as I love “Blue Moon,” “The Bad in Every Man” is just so much more better. I can’t help but sing along to it every time I watch the film. The music in general is quite good in this film. It gets stuck in my head FOREVER.
But best of all, “Manhattan Melodrama” is an incredibly New York-ish film. Of course, being a New Yorker, I love that. It’s fast, glitzy, dramatic, complex, and just captures life in this city so well. It always gives me the shivers because it feels like I’m in a time machine, going back to that time and place that I love so much. That is the best feeling in the world, and the mark of an excellent film.