Revue: The Great Gatsby (1949)

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The year is 1949. Nine years prior, F. Scott Fitzgerald died at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Just under four miles away, Paramount Pictures began an adaptation of The Great Gatsby, the first since the 1926 silent film version (now lost).

It was only twenty years since the book’s publication, but even then, the Jazz Age was already being romanticized. You could see it in the opening scenes of the film. Macdonald Carey’s Nick Carraway talks about jazz, Prohibition, gangsters, and the stock market. The world had changed so much since then – there was a depression and a world war back-to-back. The Twenties must’ve seem eons ago by comparison.

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When Hubert Met Audrey

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It began on Roman Holiday. Audrey Hepburn was new to film and Edith Head was the de facto queen of costumes. She was not, as some would mistakingly call her, a fashion designer; Edith Head was a costumer. She made wardrobes that looked right on the big screen – that were framed right, shot right, lit right.

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Head’s dissatisfaction with Audrey Hepburn’s physique was immediate. She thought the starlet too gangly. That her shoulders were too narrow, neck too long, arms frail, legs knock-kneed, waist obscenely slim, teeth too big. She believed in the post-WWII return to sensual allure. It was the hourglass figure, ample bosoms, and provocative skin of Dior’s New Look that Head honed onscreen. Grace Kelly was Head’s idea of the nonpareil. In the costumes of Roman Holiday, all these “imperfections” were covered by jewels, scarves, and long skirts. Her costumes weren’t meant to be fashionable or trendy, they were meant to be timeless – timeless in an unremarkably un-couture way.

On Sabrina, director Billy Wilder decided that Sabrina Fairchild needed a true Parisian designer if her transformation was to seem realistic.

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The Two Faces of Cagney

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Despite having done an impression of James Cagney my entire life, I had never seen a single film of the famous gangster. Yankee Doodle Dandy may have been playing behind my back on TV at some point, but never did I ever sit down and watch an entire Cagney film the entire way through.

Boy, was that a mistake.

Cagney’s performances are something to behold. Not only did he epitomize the classic Hollywood gangster, but he managed to wriggle out of that archetype and dominate the old-fashioned song-and-dance hoofer too. His acting style was uniquely his own. A combination of energy and theatrical “back-of-the-room” projecting, but never ham-fisted or exaggerated. You couldn’t say that about any other actor. If they were theatrical, they were over-acting, and it showed. Cagney’s voice, his cadence, that devilish snarl, that wink of the eye as he dared to dazzle you – that was the great weapon of his acting methods.

For the 2nd Marathon Stars Blogathon, I split my viewings of five essential Jimmy Cagney pictures into those two faces of his performances: the gangster and the hoofer.

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History of the Kelly Bag

Grace Kelly – Hermes Kelly bag

Now an expensive status symbol, such was the popularity of Grace Kelly in the 1950s that the luxurious Hermès bag she carried with her everywhere became rechristened with her name, ensuring the late Hollywood actress-turned-princess a lasting legacy in the fashion world. It would make Grace Kelly, an actress of only seven professional years, a cultural icon.

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The Sac à dépêches bag, as it was then known, was created in 1935, eleven years after the invention of the first leather handbag. Its earlier incarnations included high handles and smaller designs than most handbags of the day. It wasn’t until Émile-Maurice Hermès’s son-in-law Robert Dumas redesigned the bag that it became the Sac à dépêches we know today. With a little more glamor, a memorable trapezium shape, and studs on the bottom allowing the bag to stand, the Sac à dépêches was born.

Its uniqueness laid in its craftsmanship. Each bag is hand-designed, quite literally, by a single artisan, requiring a total of 18 to 25 hours of over 2,500 hand-stitches. For that reason, the Kelly bag holds its high retail price.

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It was Alfred Hitchcock who introduced Grace Kelly to the Hermès bag. In the ’50s, she became his new muse – and he sought to use Kelly to bring elegance into his thrillers. With enough guidance from Edith Head, the Sac à dépêches bag became Kelly’s weapon of choice in To Catch a Thief, the picture that made Kelly fall in love with Europe. Her choice of preference was crocodile skin, either brown or navy blue, the two most popular colors to this day.

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It was the birth of paparazzi. Elio Sorci was photographing Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Years later, Marlon Brando would punch Ron Galella in the jaw. Grace Kelly was no exception to high-profile scrutiny. Her engagement to Prince Rainier III was the talk of the town. She would be the first American princess – famous in her own right. She used her handbag to shield her pregnant belly from the paparazzi. In 1956, Life magazine featured such a photograph of her bag, and so iconic was that image that the public began referring to it as the “Kelly” bag.

And the name stuck.


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To read the other blogposts celebrating Grace Kelly please click here and follow The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon co-hosts The Wonderful World of Cinema & The Flapper Dame!

 

 

Citizen Slapstick and the Debut of Joseph Cotten

It was to be the first of many cinematic collaborations together, but at the time, Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten had already worked together for three years in the theatre. With three successful plays that catapulted the young Welles into superstardom as the 22-year-old “boy wonder” of Broadway, Welles was thirsting to play with different modes of storytelling.

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Revue: The Brides of Dracula (1960)

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The decay rate of Hammer films was such that by the time a picture was successful enough to warrant sequels, the quality would drop so low that the actors would refuse to speak. Such was the case for Christopher Lee, who despised the writing in subsequent Dracula pictures to the point where he spoke not a single line in Dracula: Prince of Darkness

So you’d expect a sequel without Christopher Lee in it at all to be the lowest of lows for Hammer’s reputation. Then again, you’d be surprised by the thrilling and sometimes haunting nature of The Brides of Dracula which, outside of title and a reference, contains no direct connection to Dracula nor his brides.

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Top Hats & Twirls: An Ode to Astaire/Rogers

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They’re considered the most iconic dance partners on film. Their classiness transcended their films and their romantic lullabies created a space for elegance to thrive in a world depressed by war. We are talking, of course, of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, whose multiple film collaborations made them the most iconic male-female musical duo of their time, my pick for this month’s Dynamic Duo in Classic Film Blogathon.

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Revue: An American in Paris (1951) 🇫🇷

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Often overlooked and often compared to its more iconic counterpart, Singin’ in the Rain, is one of my favorite pictures to watch on days when there’s nothing to do or when there’s too much to do. If Singin’ in the Rain is that classic Hollywood romp you watch late at night until 1:30am in the morning (and what a lovely morning!), then An American in Paris is its daytime Parisian companion piece.

The charm and positive attitude of An American in Paris is what always gets to me. Hollywood will always be Hollywood with its sawdust soundstages and thin wooden sets, but the old-world charm of the Paris setting completely transports you to a land of culture where everyone is either in the arts or sipping espressos in the Latin Quarter.

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He Wants Me to Like Him: Chaplin the People-Pleaser

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“He was someone – more than anyone, more than any artist I know – he loved people. He was such a generous man, and he loved people. That’s what his films are about. They’re about people and a love for humanity, and an optimism for humanity!”
— Geraldine Chaplin

One of my favorite podcasts is Maltin on Movies, a discussion of movies by film critic Leonard Maltin and his daughter Jessie. I was happening upon one of their latest episodes in which they interviewed comedian Bill Hader at SXSW when their conversation turned towards the eternal Chaplin vs. Keaton debate. This succinct conversation seemed, in my mind, to have encapsulated the hundreds of books and articles written comparing the two titans of silent film comedy, exploring their craft, sense of humor, and styles of performances.

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Footlights: In the Shoes of the Tramp 👣

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Having lived in Los Angeles for a while and being always humbled that I get to walk through Hollywood history on a daily basis, I sometimes forget that the most average streets may hold some kind of connection to yesterday’s Golden Age.

As a history buff, my love of classic movies runs deeper than just the content of the pictures and the people involved – I love the vintage culture of L.A. back in those days and the early history of Hollywood, when Echo Park was Edendale and Tudor Revival was all the rage with the movie stars.

For this month’s Charlie Chaplin Blogathon, I decided to do a semi-exhaustive location scout of some of the more prominent houses and studios Charlie Chaplin reigned over – and see what they look like now. I wanted to limit my adventure to Los Angeles itself, and the important locations he lived and worked at.

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