This was the first talkie for Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor, who starred in numerous romantic silent films together. Sunnyside Up was also one of the first film musicals. The feather light story was meant to be a cheerful escape to audiences who were hoping to leave their troubles outside the theater doors. Janet Gaynor plays a young musical comedy actress living with her roommate above a grocery store in Brooklyn. She soon meets a wealthy Long Island playboy (Charles Farrell) who is having second thoughts about his flirtatious fianc?. After seeing Gaynor sing and dance at a local block party, he hatches a plan for her to come to Long Island and perform in a charity revue…and to make his fianc? jealous. Romantic complications ensue when she falls in love with him.
The film features charming and memorable songs by Broadway team of Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson including “Sunnyside Up”, “If I Had a Talking Picture of You,” and “(I’m a Dreamer) Aren’t We All.” There is also a fantastic dance sequence that can best be described as pre-code on crack. In the sequence a bunch of chorus girls perform a number called “Turn up the Heat”. They begin the number wearing winter parkas and dancing around tiny igloos. They soon strip off the parkas to reveal bikinis as the igloos melt into the stage. They start laying on the stage writhing around as large palm trees slowly rise up complete with inflating bananas. Nothing subtle there!! The number was deliciously fun and entertaining. Janet Gaynor doesn’t have a strong singing voice and can’t compare to say Judy Garland, but that hardly matters here. She still manages to do a great job and is super charming. She and Charles Farrell have fantastic screen chemistry.
Sunnyside Up brimmed with energy and if I had only one word to describe it, I would say “delightful”. To my knowledge, this film isn’t available on VHS or DVD, so I’m glad I got the chance to see it!
Out of Circulation Cartoons
I was so curious about this program, that my attendance felt mandatory. Several years ago a former theatre owner here in L.A. tried to screen The Birth of a Nation. He received death threats and bomb threats and cancelled the event. In my opinion, the problem was that he was simply planning to show the film—-and nothing more. That is not a wise approach. When showing material that is racist, offensive and upsetting the crucial thing is to put it into proper historical context. TCM asked African American historian Donald Bogle to host the evening. They screened about eight short films and Mr. Bogle gave a detailed talk and analysis before each set of shorts. He explained the reasons for the racial stereotypes, what they meant and how they were perceived. I found his presentation to be intelligent and enlightening. There were many African American attendees in the audience, so people obviously wanted to learn more about these films and their content. All of the shorts were pulled in 1968 and haven’t been seen since. They featured work by legendary animation directors including Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and Rudolf Isling. The cartoons included: Titles include: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943), Clean Pastures (1937), Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears (1944), Hittin’ the Trail to Hallelujah Land (1931); Isle of Pingo Pongo (1938); Sunday Go To Meetin’ Time (1936), Tin Pan Alley Cats (1943), and Uncle Tom’s Bungalow (1933).
These cartoons were an interesting glimpse into the past and an educational comparison at how far we have come ever since. Donald Bogle has written numerous books including “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films”, “Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood”, “Brown Sugar: Over 100 Years of America’s Black Female Superstars”, “Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television” and “Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography”. After hearing him speak, I am very eager to read his books and learn more about African Americans in film history.
The Story of Temple Drake
Based on the controversial novel “Sanctuary” by William Faulkner, Temple Drake has long been a notorious film that was nearly impossible to see. I have known a few people who owned really bad copies of it, but I couldn’t bring myself to see it that way. There are some glimpses of it in the documentary Girl 27, but they are brief. Released in 1933 shortly before the strict enforcement of the production code, Temple Drake was pulled and censor Joseph Breen said it would never be re-released. I’ve heard for years that the Miriam Hopkins is reported to be one of the greatest “lost” performances in Hollywood History. I was eager to see it and discover why.
In the film Temple Drake is a wealthy, wild southern society girl who is known for her promiscuity. A young lawyer (played by William Gargan) proposes to her, but she refuses. One night she is kidnapped by a group of bootleggers and raped by a gangster named “Trigger” (Jack La Rue). She runs away with him, leading to dire results. It is easy to see how this could have inflamed audiences at the time, but in my opinion they are missing the point entirely. The Story of Temple Drake is actually a very moral story, as in the end the heroine redeems herself at great personal cost. It is a story of redemption and self sacrifice that is emotionally resonant to this day. This is completely lost on the censors and objectors at the time. I’m very curious to read the book and find out how it differs.
The print of this film was stunning and I believe it was struck directly from the nitrate negative. Cinematographer Karl Struss did some fantastic work capturing a south filled with light, shadows and gothic desperation. I have only seen a few Miriam Hopkins films before and she is an incredible talent and it seems an underrated, underutilized one at that. She should have been a much bigger star. Her performance is spot on and never feels false. She has an electrifying energy that fills the screen and beautifully inhabits the role. Jack La Rue also turns in great work here as the violent gangster. The rape scene is frightening and the look on his face is a big reason why. He is menace personified. Overall the film is a powerful story and it is a terrible shame it has been kept locked away in a vault for decades. I’m hoping that it will eventually be out on DVD or screened more often at film festivals or repertory houses. This is lost gem deserves to be seen and appreciated!
The Turner Classic Movies Film Festival runs April 22nd - 25th and is a movie buff’s dream come true. The festival seems to be extremely well organized and convenient with all venues within a stone’s throw of each other in Hollywood utilizing the historic sites of the Chinese Theatre, the Egyptian Theatre and the Roosevelt Hotel.
The only conflict I have here is which film to see since there are usually 4 events going on at the same time. I wish I could clone myself!! Due to work, I am not able to attend as much as I’d like to—but I’m trying to catch the rare films that are harder to find elsewhere!
On Saturday, I attended “A Conversation with Norman Lloyd” hosted by Bruce Goldstein, who runs the NY Film Forum This event took place at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel. TCM transformed the ballroom (site of the 1st Academy Awards ceremony by the way) into a lavish nightclub resembling Rick’s in Casablanca. There were lavish drapes, mood lighting, velvet couches, large black and white photos, movie posters and an open bar.
Norman Lloyd took center stage and all eyes were on him as the conversation began. He has lived an extraordinary life, to put it mildly. He began on the New York stage in the 1930s and played “Cinna the Poet” in the legendary Orson Welles production of Julius Cesar in 1938. After arriving in Hollywood, he landed a plum part in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942). He went on to star in for Hitchcock again in Spellbound (1945). He was directed by his friend and frequent tennis partner Charlie Chaplin in Limelight (1952) and by Jean Renior in The Southerner (1945). He also worked with directors Joseph Losey (M, 1951), Jacques Tourneur (The Flame and the Arrow, 1950), Anthony Mann (Reign of Terror, 1949) and Lewis Milestone (No Minor Vices, 1948). After being blacklisted in the 1950s, he made a comeback and managed to regain his footing in Hollywood. This was orchestrated by Hitchcock, who told the studio he wanted Mr. Lloyd to work with him on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. He has also worked with an impressive list of contemporary directors including Peter Weir (Dead Poet’s Society, 1989), Martin Scorsese (The Age of Innocence, 1993) and Curtis Hanson (In Her Shoes, 2005).
Mr. Lloyd has also worked extensively in television as a producer and actor. His resume is really incredible. So is his voice. While sitting in the audience, I found myself captivated by his every word. He could read the phone book and find a way to make it riveting!!! It is also very impressive that he is 95 years old and plays tennis twice weekly. He shows no signs of slowing down. It was a great pleasure to listen to him talk about Hollywood, Broadway and his life in general. He seems to have such a positive attitude and an incredible passion for life—I couldn’t help but be inspired.
This is the 12th year of the NOIR CITY series at the Egyptian Theatre. I am thrilled to report that opening night was a huge hit! There were long lines and a packed house. I wish it could be like this at the Egyptian every night!!! Noir experts Eddie Muller, Alan K. Rhode and Kim Morgan were all on hand. The first film shown was CRY DANGER (1951) starring Dick Powell as an ex-con seeking to find the men who framed him and put him in prison. In the process, he encounters gun shots, shady ladies and the usual double cross. It was a very well written and tightly wound script by Bill Bowers, whose surviving relatives were in the audience. Co-stars Rhonda Fleming and Richard Erdman were both on hand for a discussion with Eddie Muller after the film. They were both very coherent and had high praise for both Powell and first time director Robert Parrish. My most favorite quote of the night was when Rhonda Fleming said, “I didn’t know much about ‘film noir’ at the time, but now, looking back… these films were HOT!” She looked and sounded great.
In my opinion Richard Erdman really stole the film as the sarcastic, alcoholic sidekick to Powell. I was also thrilled to see the scenes of Bunker Hill and City Hall in the film! A majority of the film took place on location at the “Clover Trailer Park” filled with mostly run down airstream trailers at what appeared to be the very top of Bunker Hill. Some of the views from there were fantastic! I love how films can provide a view into worlds that no longer exist. This film was recently restored by the UCLA Film Archive and the print was beautiful. To me, the preservationists are the real unsung heroes of the film world. Saving films doesn’t come cheap so Rhonda Fleming actually put up some of the money to fund the lab work. I really encourage everyone to support the Film Noir Foundation. They are on a mission to save these films and to keep them from being forgotten. If you can, please join and support their efforts.
Alas some of my friends were turned away as the event was sold out. I really hope the UCLA Film & TV Archive screens this at the Billy Wilder Theatre soon.
The second film of the night was TIGHT SPOT also written by Bill Bowers. It starred Ginger Rogers as a tough as nails dame asked to testify against the mob by an attorney played by Edward G. Robinson. The dialogue and action was excellent and the film once again had great pacing. As petty as this may sound, the problem I had with this film was really all in Ginger’s haircut. It looked like something a little boy would wear. Her hair fathered in the back and had super short bangs in the front. It made her look horrible, which is hard to do since she is a beautiful woman. My friend pointed out that she plays a hardened prisoner in the film and the haircut made sense for her character. This may be true, but we’re talking about the Golden Age of Hollywood here. This is an era where a snowbound, frostbitten Loretta Young looked like she had just walked off the fashion runway. This is an era of extreme glamor regardless of the circumstances. I wanted to see Ginger looking glamorous in spite of being a prisoner. At the very least I wanted to see her have a decent haircut!!!! Edward G. Robinson was great (as always) as the crusading D.A. who gets her to testify. He has one of the greatest voices that I’ve ever heard. Most of the stars of this era did.
Eddie Muller mentioned that he is on a crusade to get recognition for screenwriter Bill Bowers. I’d say by the reaction to this double feature, he is off to an excellent start!