THE SILENT YEARS: When we started not giving a damn on screen!
In celebration of our upcoming Anti Damsel Blogathon on August 15 & 16, I had this idea to provide a list of bold, brilliant and beautiful women!
There was to be no indecent exposure of the ankles and no SCHWOOSHING! Not in this Blogathon baby!
From the heyday of Silent film and the advent of talking pictures, to the late ‘20s to 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, films were rife with provocative and suggestive images, where women were kicking up a storm on screen… The end of the code during the early 60s dared to offer social commentary about race, class, gender and sexuality! That’s our party!
In particular, these bold women and the screen roles they adopted have become legendary. They sparked catchy dialogue, inspired fashion trends, or just plain inspired us… All together there are 111 of SOME of the most determined, empowered and uniquely fortified femmes of classic film…!
First of course I consulted the maven of all things splendid, shimmery and SILENT for her take on silent film actresses and the parts that made them come alive on the immortal screen…. Fritzi at Movies Silently has summoned up thesefabulous femmes….
Now to unleash the gust of gals from my tornadic mind filled with favorite actresses and the characters that have retained an undying sacred vow to heroine worship… In their private lives, their public persona and the mythological stardom that has & still captivates generations of fans, the roles they brought to life and the lasting influence that refuses to go away…!
Because they have their own unique rhythm to the way they moved through the world… a certain kind of mesmerizing allure, and/or they just didn’t give a hoot, a damn… nor a flying fig!
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud”-Coco Chanel
Stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck , Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino managed to keep re-inventing themselves. They became spirited women with an inner reserve of strength and a passion for following their desires!
The following actresses and their immortal characters are in no particular order…!
Gloria’s little red sports car pulls up in front of a row of lovely houses. She gets out, Ligg tells her “that’s where I was born” There’s snow on the ground, you can hear the wind howling around them. Ligg tells her his father “was an inventor…can you think of anything more useless in a small town like this?”she says “not if he invented a way to get out”
“He was certain I’d go a long way in this world.” Gloria says”And you did, didn’t you?…the head of a big chemical company”
“I’m just another hired hand, the company belongs to my wife’s family…My wife is a fact that I can’t avoid…she’s the center of a huge spider web of family, money, country clubs and childish time killing employments, all into at once” Gloria touches his lips with her leather gloved hand to hush the words that are aching him and they embrace in front of an elderly couple walking by looking shocked.
Gloria’s mother and Francis are sitting at the table drinking coffee and playing cards. Annie seems distracted. She mixes up her cards, “what did I play” Francis says “your heart and I can hear yours pounding across the table”Annie apologizes and says she’ll pay better attention.
Fannie says “I’d rather you put your troubles out and put them on the table” “I don’t want to burden you with them” “so what am I your friend for…your money?…or maybe I wanna steal your husband” She continues “Look you think I don’t that you haven’t heard from your daughter in 6 days” Annie looks upset “she’s never done such a thing before without calling”
Annie slaps the cards down on the table and gets up.”Something terrible must have happened” Fannie says “now why does it have to be bad, there are good things that happen too ya know” “Francis look you’re my best friend but I can’t talk to you frankly” “why not?” “There are things you don’t know about and shouldn’t…nobody should”Francis says “yes they should” Annie tells her “No her father died when she was so little…I only wish she had a father who was wise enough and strong enough to keep her on the right path” (yet again an example of patriarchal rule giving governance) Annie looks out the window. “once there was a man I almost married…(she looks visibly shaken)
“The Major, Major Hartley” she starts to cry a little “Somehow or other Gloria didn’t like him” we see Annie’s profile, Francis listening “it might have been good if I had” Francis walks over and puts a comforting hand on her shoulder and in a stern voice says “Annie, Gloria’s a good girl, don’t worry about her”
Annie cries out “but you always say such impolite things to her” “I say the same thing to everybody, I’m a born critic…there’s bad in everything, but there’s good too…her good far out weighs the bad” Fannie is one person aside from Steve and Happy who sees the virtue and kindness in Gloria.
“Oh if she was as bad as she pretends, you wouldn’t have heard from her in 6 years.” Annie asks ” do you mind if I kiss you?”Fannie grabs her with a big wide hug “you do and I’ll spread a big ugly rumor all around the neighborhood.
While Gloria and Ligg are walking together on a pier Liggett uncovers his old rust bucket of a Yacht, and the two go inside the cabin to spend some romantic time together.
Emily Liggett is sitting in bed reading. Her mother Mrs Jescott played by the gritty Carmen Mathews enters the room. “You should be in bed. And you shouldn’t be in bed, alone” She sits down and says that she wants to tell Emily about the family. “We’ve had sacrifice and cowardice, honor and infidelity, courage, love, deception, confusion, brilliance, tragedy”
Now seated across from her mother as an equal, Emily being more assertive “Mother if there’s anything wrong with Wes we brought it about” she explains “instead of my living his life, we brought him here to ours, and we handed him a big gift wrapped package and said, here, here’s your life don’t bother to live it yourself…you even presented him with a meaningless job, all title and no work.”
“One day he woke up with energy to burn…and he started burning it, but in all the wrong directions…liquor, women,defiance and the more he did it the more he had to go on doing it to justify it.”
Emily’s mother says “but you’re not running a mission for lost egos” “Mother I’m running a marriage, not just through the good days but through the bad days too. Some day Wes is going to find himself.
(Gloria is also on a journey of self discovery yet still considered a tramp while Wes doing all the same things is going to find himself),and when he does his wife will be there waiting for him.Gloria only awaits loneliness and a terrible end.
Back in NYC Gloria and Liggett are walking arm and arm down the busy city sidewalk. Gloria sees a leather attache case, and stops in to buy it for Steve’s birthday.
Gloria calls over to “Liggett, I’m going to have to leave you today and go see Steve” he says “Now Look” she says “I know, you’re with me kid remember” Gloria asks the clerk if what she called in the other day was ready yet. The clerk goes and gets it. Gloria hands Liggett a small gift wrapped package. It’s a sterling silver lighter with the inscriptions BU8 on it.
He smiles and kisses her. “Gloria there’s something I have to tell you” she looks deeply into his eyes, “you act like a man who’s expecting his wife back in town.” ” how did you know?” she says “I always knew…someday” She says thank you for not calling me, honey and babe and doll face anymore” he says “I couldn’t I don’t think of you like that anymore”
The little Yorkie sitting atop a pillow like a princess on Annie’s couch. She comes into the apartment and calls out “Mama.” Seconds later her mother walks in puts the packages down and runs over to hug her daughter. “Mama I want to tell you what I’ve been doing” nervously “no dear, you don’t have to” “I’ve been with a man a whole week. Her mother gets up shaking her head disturbed “no”, Gloria says “let me tell you the truth for once in my life” her mother pleads ” no please, please, please”crying and turning away, Gloria goes after to her.
“Mama, we both know what kind of a girl I’ve been, we both know it” Her mother screams and covers her ears, shaking,”no I don’t want to hear about it”Gloria tries to grab her mothers hands away from her ears, so she has to listen. She shakes her “mama you have to!…unless I can be honest with you about yesterday, how can you believe me today?” “believe what?!”
“I am different, Mama I am different, yesterday it was men, a whole world full of men” her mother says”let me go you’re hurting me, you’re hurting me!” Gloria begs,shouts “Mama face it , I was the slut of all time!” Her mother slaps her in the face. There is a sudden silence. A moments pause in the midst of crisis. Gloria looking so much more authentic, “if only you’d done that before…long ago…every time I came home all soaked through with gin.” Annie is sobbing, turns and faces the wall “I’m sorry” she weakly speaks out.
Gloria touches her “it’s not your fault Mama, it never has been, it was in me…but it isn’t there anymore. It’s no longer just men for me, there’s only one man, one, just one…maybe it’s too late for marriage, but it’s not too late for love…now by some miracle I’m like everybody else.” Annie is facing her daughter now. “I’m in love…you can look at me mama, without wishing I’d never been born” they hug.
Mildred Dunnock is remarkable as Gloria’s fragile yet caring mother
Fade to black
Gloria shows up at her psychiatrist’s office.Dr Treadman says”don’t try to analyze me, you don’t have the training” she comes back cleverly “not in books perhaps”
“Dr Treadman are you hard of hearing?…I’ve been trying to tell you something…I don’t need you anymore!” he looks skeptical” I have no problems anymore…I’m in love, I am in love…I am really in love” He says that he’s delighted to hear it. Gloria gets up, shakes his hand and thanks him for everything.
He calls to her “Gloria, Gloria while it is possible that sometimes love can solve many things, love is not so simple that you can rely on it as a complete solution, so if it isn’t all that you hoped it would be…if it doesn’t work out, don’t hesitate to come back…quickly.”
She looks back at him confidently “but it will work out, I’m gonna make it work”he calls over to her again as she is walking out of his office. ” but if it doesn’t””but it will, it has to”
Gloria knocks on Steve’s door, he opens the door she kisses his cheek wishing him a happy birthday, holding flowers and his present. Norma’s on the phone. Gloria, is snuggling all over him, kisses him trying to get him in trouble while Norma’s on the phone.
“what are you trying to do to me?”he says laughing , she says “oh you drive me wild with desire” he asks “Gloria where’ve you been all this time?””I’ve been chained to the wall of a sanitarium trying to keep away from you”Steve has to leave to meet up with Norma.
Gloria follows him over to the closet. And sees the fur coat. Liggett’s wife is coming back to town today, “The coat, oh the coat,what am I going to do?” She runs out of Steve’s with the fur.
Just as Gloria is walking towards the doorman to Liggett’s apartment building with his wife’s fur, Emily Liggett gets out of a limo wearing another fur coat. The doorman greets Mrs Liggett, and Gloria is stopped in her tracks. She runs back to her little red sports car with the coat, gets in and starts crying.
Emily is sitting at her dressing table doing her nails. Wes gives her a kiss, welcomes her home. she thanks him, and acts surprised at the gesture.She tells him that “there’s a certain aliveness about you” She tells him her mink is missing. He says maybe she left it out on Long Island. But she’s checked it’s not there.
He tells her he’s been home the whole time and nobody else has been there. Then he looks down at the cigarette lighter. He leaves the room, and she runs after him caling Wes. She wants to call the police, but he grabs the phone from her. “the cheap publicity and all” they argue for a bit. “let me do it my way shall we, without your mother!”
Liggett is at a bar, asking if the bartender knows Gloria. “you don’t have to describe her to me Mr Liggett, I’d know her with my eyes closed, on the bottom of a coal mine, during the eclipse of the sun” She hasn’t been in for over a week.”Without her this place is dead, she’s like cat nip to every cat in town”
He goes to the next bar. two men approach him and ask where he’s been. Then they say Gloria’s the kind of business they wouldn’t mind having again. One man puts him arm around Liggett, “Oh come on Liggett come on Gloria, ha sure, she’s she’s frantic isn’t she like a rocket right off the earth…mother I’d have left home for that…she’s got a traveling hitch,she’s like a flea hop hop hop from one dog to another, bites ya and she’s gone, she picks ya up and she drops you” Ligg looks worried,angry, the man raises a glass and says “well welcome to the fraternity we meet once a year at Yankee Stadium”
Ligg walks out and is on the phone now. “Now listen Butterfield 8 I’ve called her hundreds of times, (desperate) I’m her closest friend, you’ve got to tell me where she is, it’s a matter of life and death.(frustrated about to blow) you’re liars all of you liars fiends and liars now tell me!” he slams the phone down.
We see Gloria driving the red sports car being pulled over by flashing police lights. Tells her to take it easy, don’t drive away your troubles. Tomorrow the sun will come up again just like it did today. She’s at Happy’s now. Happy brings her a plate of cookies. She’s telling Gloria a story about an actress trying to get a part in the show.
Trying to get in solid with the director.”Two days later or should I say two nights later, she was in, but solid, yeah with the director with his cousin,She was so busy getting in solid with every Tom, Dick and Harry and his uncle George she wouldn’t recognize a producer if she found one right under her pillow…So time passes and our heroine is very big, yeah but not in the theater oh no, in all the wrong places…in 500 little black books…and 28 divorce cases, 2 police blotters and in one restraining sheet in the psychopathic ward in Bellevue. Yeah she hit it big, from a size 12 dress to a size 44. She went from looking like an Orchid, to a face like a pan of worms.and all because she said with only a rag a bone a hank of hair. I will move the world my way”
Happy sees that Gloria is sullen. She grabs her arm and tells her “hey you live it, you kick up your heels, you grab everything you can get, you light the candle from one end to the other as they say…and then one day, you too can be the proud proprietor of a very heavily mortgage rolled side brick brothel, you’ll wish you were dead.” Happy eats a cookie looking down and disgusted with her life.
Liggett is with his wife Emily sitting at the breakfast table. He gets up and pours vodka into his orange juice glass, “Don’t worry Emily it’s not alcoholism it’s just a kind of medicine”
He says he can’t he has to go out and look for her fur coat. She wonders why he feels so personally responsible for it. “Wes is there anything I can do?” he says ” When I come back with that coat which I will, I want you to throw me out” he takes his drink, the scene ends.
Gloria’s mother is needle pointing “sorry I didn’t come home last night I spent the night in a motel, Annie looks worried but Gloria laughs “alone” I had some thinking to do, then she passes a mirror and takes a hard look at her reflection. I saw a woman, utterly proper, utterly conventional,utterly beautiful.
Then she stares at herself in the mirror again. Annie says “you’re beautiful too dear”She says “I have a face, and that’s not the kind of beauty I mean” Her mother asks “what kind of beauty?” “The kind that comes from self respect I guess, it shines” Her mother answers “I’ve seen that kind…it takes a lifetime to find” Gloria says “I”m going to find it”mom says “I think you will”
“Butterfield 8 called. Mr Liggett says he has to see you, it’s a matter of life and death.” Now Liggett’s sitting at a bar table, he’s already drunk. Gloria walks in holding his wife’s coat. He sees her takes a long look. She looks back at him. He sees the coat. “so you did take it!”
“Yes and I’m sorry Liggett, may I sit down?” he says “that’s up to you Honey” the waiter comes by asking if she’d like to order, but Ligg says “no the lady’s not going to order” Gloria gives him the coat. “why did you bother to bring it back?” “because it isn’t mine” he throws it down and erupts quietly,”because you’re scared you mean…cause you know I’m not like one of those ordinary Joe’s you take for a sleigh ride…because you know while I’m might have given you the world, I’d tear your head off if you’ve stolen as much as a nickel from me, isn’t that it?” she quietly shakes her head and says “no”
He drunkenly says “so you pick up the man when you want, and drop him like a bomb,” he drops his glass. it breaks, “when you want…people don’t mean anything to you, do they?, the way they feel in here ( he points to his heart) not down where you live” she cries “I care about some people” he says “for an hour, or a day, or a week, til you’ve had your kicks, then you slither off to the next one.”
She is so visible struck silent “I’ll talk to you tomorrow” he grabs her arm very violently, “there isn’t going to be any tomorrow… and for once somebody’s going to drop you, and go ahead try that heel trick again the one you use that get’s the boys hot…I ought to break this arm right out of your shoulder” she says “May I say something to you” “sure honey, babe,doll face, kid…say something sexy, something that always got the boys straight for the hotel” He’s still gripping her wrist, imploding.
Gloria reasons”You can’t have everything in life, be grateful for the few things you do get, no matter where they come from.” she’s holding it together, he lets go of her arm “the pornographic philosopher….now you just sit there like a good tramp should until I get out of your sight….I can’t stomach being seen in public with you”
He’s creating a scene in the bar. Gloria picks up the coat and says “Liggett” he snaps “don’t you dare mention my name in public again…( he gets closer up to her face and yells ) you’re a joke, a dirty joke from one end of this town to the other”
A man comes over to try and quiet Liggett, Liggett gets violent and the man punches him til he staggers off. Gloria runs after him with the fur.
They’re sitting in her little red car now. She tries to help him out of the car, but he shoves her away.Emily looks out the window at just the right moment and sees him getting out of Gloria’s car. Gloria gets out of the car and hands him the fur. He says, “for something like this you want me to give this back to my wife after something like you has touched it”!
He throws it back at her. Emily tears up at the window. He walks into the building and tells Emily to leave him alone. “Do you want a doctor” Wes says “yes and tell him to bring me something to make me unconscious before I can think.”
Gloria shows up at Steve’s. They’re in totally darkness at first. Then Steve thrusts the room into light. She’s wearing the fur “ask me about the coat Steve, ask me”
“I see you still have it” “Because it’s mine..every skin…every thread…every hair…is mine….(she gasps for air) and you know why?…because I earned it, pretty good pay for one week…a thousand dollars in fur a day” She yanks it off her body.
Steve says “I take it Liggett couldn’t make it?” She says that’s not the import thing, the important thing is “I took money…you know what that makes me” she breaks down and sobs and hugs Steve. She says “let me cry ,let me cry like all the times I should have and never could”
She throws herself face down sobbing on Steve’s bed. He pats her back and she says Steve I have to tell you something” he says I know about you Gloria” she says “you don’t know this…nobody knows this, except a certain man somewhere who I’d like to think of as standing in the middle of a lake filled with burning gasoline…she pauses and cries please listen…”
“I was 13, my father was dead, all older men seemed like fathers to me, but I wanted one of my own…to sit in his lap…and to hug him…and have him say I was beautiful.” She turns to Steve and asks “do you remember Major Hartley?Steve remembers. “Major Hartley my mother’s friend, he came down to Grand Central Station one day to pick me up from summer camp, mother was away visiting. He took me home…he let me sit on his lap. he let me hug him…he told me I was beautiful.”
“He stayed in that house for one week, and taught me more about evil than any 13 year old girl in the world knew” Steve quietly says don’t don’t. She turns to him viciously asserting “you haven’t heard the worst of it yet” She says with a smile and a defiant yet self deprecating tone, “I loved it!!!!!…every awful moment of it, I loved…” screeching out the words”that’s your Gloria Steve, that’s your darling Gloria…I made a way of life out of it,,,the deep shame of it didn’t hit me til it was too late. I couldn’t go back to 13 again.”
She looks up a bare trace of light on her face, “I had one chance to stop it, one last chance, and I threw it all away for 32 animals sewn together in a coat.” She’s crying into her hands. Steve goes to her, “it’s not all over…you have another chance. She says it doesn’t matter where she goes. But steve tells her it matters a great deal what she does. “You got to decide what you’re going to do next, I do too, stay here tonight” She sadly kisses his cheek “thank you Steve”
Liggett’s in bed smoking, Emily asks “anything you need Wes” He says “a divorce” he’s a failure as a husband and a failure as a man. She doesn’t want the divorce “Wes I love you”
“I know you do and that makes the divorce all the more necessary…because I can’t go on disappointing you.” She asks “Do you love her, that woman you were with?” “I seem to” “but you fought with her and sent her away in a rage” “yes I did, I was sick because I was afraid I was going to lose her…and I hated her unreasonably because I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her…just as you hate me now. Emily runs out of the room crying.
Gloria is back with her mother holding the dog, “I just called Butterfield 8 and told them to shut off the service and to send me a bill as soon as I have an address in Boston will you forward it to me?”
Fannie is there Gloria’s mother says “yes dear I will” “take care of mama Mrs Thurber “Oh I got plans for her, my cousin Harry” “Oh Francis” “I’m a born match maker” Gloria pipes in ” at 10 percent of course” Fannie say “naturally…look I don’t want to be a nosy neighbor but why Boston?” “well that’s where the pilgrims made a fresh start, if it’s good enough for them I guess I can take it”Fannie replies “can Boston take you?”
Mother asks ‘what will you do in Boston dear?” “well, i’ll buy a paper, look up the want ads, same as any girl without a job” Fannie says wearing Emily’s fur coat, “look before we start crying let’s get the luggage into the car…looking in the mirror, ah this is as close as I’ll ever get to heaven”Gloria asks “Do you like it Mrs Thurber?” “Course not I’m only faint from not eating in three days” “it’s yours”
Fannie looks shocked”no”Annie is smiling, Gloria says “wear it in good health” “oh no you can’t bribe me with this…I could never say a mean word about you as long as I live, I’d die of boredom ” “Well then just keep it warm for me”she turns to her mother “goodbye mama” they hug very preciously and Annie says “I don’t want you to go, I have a feeling you’ll never come back” “I never will come back Mama, but I’ll send for you as soon as I can” she kisses her on the cheek, then kisses the little dog on the head.
Now Liggett is on the phone, “did she leave any forwarding address?…Now look this is the most important telephone call of my life…you must tell me please…Boston?you’re certain…thank you Butterfield 8, thanks”
Joe’s Barber Shop, a gulf gas station, cars speeding fast on the road, he’s driving to find her. He stops the car, he sees the little red sports car outside a brick diner. She’s sitting at a table. She looks stunned. He says “don’t be frightened Gloria, please…I can only think of one apology…will you marry me?…I’ve arranged for a divorce, wait for me and in time, I’ll make you forget every word I uttered last night” “You can’t….I’m left with those words…I’m branded with them, but thank you for asking me to marry you…if only you’d done it yesterday it might have meant something, but not today.
“I only did what I did last night, because you were so much in my blood that I exploded” “But you were right last night, no man could marry me and not keep remembering,,,you, you’d have to explode at my life..past and present, you couldn’t help but explode””Oh Gloria I can think of a dozen apologies””Oh I know, and I accept, but then look at all the thousand of explosions ahead and the thousand apologies and a thousand acceptances until we” he grabs her hand and kisses it, crying holding it his mouth. “til we both get so disgusted” he whispers “I love you I love you””And I love you…it’s no use it’s no damn use”
He wants to go over to Happy’s to be alone and talk ” if I get in a room with you, together, alone, I know what’ll happen, it’ll be the same thing all over again”look Gloria, we started this whole thing together, we’re obligated to solve it together, please” She tilts her head she’s weakening.
Happy greets Liggett and says “Oh you brought another weary traveler. Hi Honey, welcome home”. Happy keeps talking, Liggett gets impatient The key Happy give me a key” Gloria is gripping the steering wheel of the car, hesitating to go into the motel room. Suddenly Gloria speeds away, Liggett goes after her.
She’s racing the engine as fast as it will go.She gets onto the thruway, he’s in pursuit. She goes faster, looks behind her to see him following and realizes too late that she’s hit a detour.Gloria skids off the road, we see and hear scream in the little red car as it goes off the cliff and smashes down into rocks. The horn stuck blaring. Liggett looks over at the wreck then the police show up, they are putting a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. Liggett is just standing there. A cop comes over “you saw the accident?” “Yes” Your name please” “Weston Liggett 10 -38 10th avenue NYC
The cop says “I stopped that same girl 2 nights ago for speeding, I wish I had put her in jail” then another cop comes over “I haven’t made her name yet chief” “Her name is Gloria Wandrous” “You knew her?”the cops look at each other baffled
Liggett returns home,”You’re going to read about it in the newspapers tomorrow Emily, the family name your picture, my picture, everything, I’m sorry”
“Wes I don’t understand what’s happened tell me” “she’s dead…she lived for an hour unconscious but she’s dead” Emily asks “who that girl?” “yes, terrible, automobile accident, she was trying to get away from me, I’m sorry, so sorry”
He says solemnly “I don’t suppose that anybody would think that she was a good person but strangely enough she was. On the surface she was all sex and devil may care yet everything in her was struggling toward respectability , and she never gave up trying”.
He jerks forward in a gust of anguish then turns to Emily,”I’m going out looking for my pride, alone, when I find it, if you’re here, I’ll come back and we’ll see if it still has any value to either of us” he walks out the door. The strings start dramatically, we are left with Emily standing in the apartment for a second before the screen goes black.
Liz rightfully won an academy award for this role ~and somehow I find myself yet again doing another womanhood in peril film
A woman cannot afford to be an individual who is sexually adventurous otherwise she is labeled a whore. Thus she is reviled by the very men who are themselves sexually active.
Gloria is also under a doctor’s care for this.Another factor in a woman having a strong sexual identity is that it is associated with a mentally ill pathology. Francis Farmer was labotomized for this. Not many decades ago women were thrown into jail or Psych wards for this.
While men are heralded as being part of a Fraternity, a brotherhood of users, exploiters and objectifiers. They are viewed as heroic and successful. They affirm their masculinity. While women, lose their self worth and become dehumanized and shunned.
Gloria’s downward spiral was inevitable because she needed the outside agency of other sympathetic characters finding the good that is buried deep within her,when in fact it was obvious that she was a good person.
She is already a very dynamic, delightful, loving and free spirited individual, something to be honored and not reviled.
As in The Naked Kiss (1964)we see a double standard of what male /female expectations are.
Woman’s sexuality as something to be feared, judged and also used as a weapon as it applies to the undoing of male power over logic. The theme of Madonna vs Whore syndrome, where she can’t be both, not able to exist in this world with this dual role she must be destroyed in order to be set free from the stain of her sexual nature. Kelly had to leave Grantville, Gloria had to die horribly in a car crash, in order to destroy the sexual desire she both embodied and projected.
From “The Dread of Difference:Gender and the Horror Film” edited by Barry Keith Grant
Page 35 “Horror and the Monstrous -Feminine An Imaginary Abjection” by Barbara Creed
“All human societies have a conception of the monstrous-feminine, of what it is about woman that is shocking, terrifying, horrific, abject.Classical mythology also was populated with gendered monsters, many of which were female. The Medusa with her “evil eyes” head of writhing serpents” -Barbara Creed
page 36 “It is not by accident that Freud linked the sight of Medusa’s to the equally horrifying sight of the mother’s genitals, for the concept of the monstrous- feminine, as constructed within and by a partiarchal and phallocentric ideology, is related intimately to the problem of sexual difference and castration.” In 1922 Freud argued that the “Medusa’s head takes the place of the female’s genitals.If we accept Freud’s interpretation we can see that the Perseus myth is mediated by a narrative about the difference of female sexuality as a difference which is grounded in monstrousness and which invokes castration anxiety in the male spectator.” -Barbara Creed
Remember when Liggett tells Gloria that she should go slither away, making a reference to her as serpent. Liggett is also emotionally castrated by his relationship with wife and mother in law.
Spoiler Alert: I do discuss the film through to the end. So if you haven’t seen it yet skip the review!
Butterfield 8– Directed by Daniel Mannand scripted from the John O’Hara novel. One of his early works which garnered a lot of attention, primarily because O’Hara dealt bluntly with matters of social class, sex, and ambition that other novelists didn’t write about during the 50’s and 60’s.He acquired a grasp of social stratification that is pervasive in his writing.
The melodramatic score by Bronislau Kaper is as beautifully dramatic as it is as trashy like a Harold Robbinsnovel.
Butterfield 8 Stars the great lilac eyed beauty of the golden age of cinema,when the big studio empires ruled over their actors.One of my favorites, Elizabeth Taylor.
Taylor won an academy award for her role as Gloria Wandrous and Laurence Harvey plays Weston Liggett(without his groovy sideburns that he sported in the early 70s. Harvey who’s speaking voice is like silk to my ears.)Both actors had played husband and wife in the psychological thriller Night Watch (1973) which I plan on reviewing down the road.
First some blurbs about O’Hara’s novel:
“Gloria Wandrous is New York’s ultimate playgirl–a professional escort in the down and out days of the Depression. O’Hara bitingly paints a portrait of despair in Gloria’s life–from the minute she wakes up in a strange bed, to the moment her life ends. Based on a true story, men flock to Gloria–raped by her father figure as a child, her security with love is thin, though she continues to seek support from her friend Eddie, and her seducer Liggett. In the speakeasy culture of New York, sex and booze is all the rage, and yet Gloria’s one real desire, love, only leads her to her death.”
Angela Allan, Resident Scholar
“Gloria Wandrous is a golddigger extraordinaire in New York City during the depths of the Depression, circa 1931. She escaped a molesting uncle in the sticks and has made her own way in the big city ever since. When she tangles with prosperous businessman and Yale grad Weston Liggett, it’s hard to tell who’s leading whom.
David Loftus, Resident Scholar
The film unlike the novel is set in 60’s era style and not the depression era 30’s.It is a story not just about Gloria Wandrous a tragic figure, at the mercy of her past and present demons that haunt her, the film is about male ego, male control and male pride. In order for Taylor’s character to be redeemed in the end as a good person, she must be obliterated by the plot. Similar to the way Kelly had to leave the clean town of Grantville In The Naked Kiss, Gloria must die in order for her existence to be redeemed.
This is what happens to girls who are either hyper sexual, sexually independent or perceived as wild and immoral. It’s a tragedy of moralizing. For me Butterfield 8 is a story about society’s fear as well as male fear of the female body, when neither are in control of it.
Gloria is portrayed as an amoral sex addict who’s trajectory was formed at age 13 when a man her mother was engaged to marry rapes her over the course of a week.Now her only goal in life is to obtain wealth and power through her body.The abuse is alluded to early on, we catch wind of Gloria’s mother Annie saying that Gloria didn’t like her fiance the Major.
The fact that her self-worth and promiscuity might stem from early child hood sexual abuse,and that Gloria is a victim condemned to repeat the abuse with each man she flagrantly sleeps with isn’t really part of the narrative until much later in the film during a very powerful confession to her dearest friend Steve.Yet another male who needs to look after Gloria, and act as brotherly protector for her.
Not having read OHara’s book I am not sure if he wrote Gloria’s character as sympathetic. Taylor does her best to show us a compassionate woman in turmoil regardless of the moralizing in the film.
Dina Merrill plays Liggett’s wife Emily a “decent” respectable woman of breeding who is also portrayed as having stripped Weston Liggett of his manhood by foisting a life upon him that wasn’t of his own choosing, thus giving him an excuse for why he seeks the comfort of other woman,and the excesses of booze. He too is self deprecating and self destructive like Gloria, but unlike Gloria, he gets the opportunity to find himself in the end, where Gloria had to literally crash and burn.
And yet we don’t see Liggett’s actions as being amoral. He gets a small lecture from an associate Bing who while on a train bound for Long Island, tells him he’s making a mess of his life, but people make excuses for Liggett all the way through. Liggett’s own wife, recognizes her part of the blame in infantilizing her husband therefor taking the burden of blame off of him.
However, Gloria is a walking sexual plague, a virtual epidemic capable of taking men and marriages down with one phone call to Butterfield 8.. She is a rolling one woman demolition team, smashing through sexual encounters like a bulldozer. Until she meets the one man she actually falls in love with, Wes Liggett. Only with this one man can she find self worth and become redeemed. Finally she starts to shed her life and aspire for more than taking from men, by giving over her body. Women are not allowed to be sexual beings, not in the way that men are expected to be.
The wonderful Mildred Dunnock ( she was in one of my favorite episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Cheaters) plays Gloria’s fragile and inhibited mother Annie and Annie’s neighbor and best friend Fannie Thurber is played byBetty Fieldwho adds some comic relief to the tension at times. She’s a constant in Annies troubled life, worrying about her daughter and her reputation.
Gloria Wandrous high priced call girl just dial Butterfield 8, wakes up in Wes Liggett’s bed in his lavish apartment. She starts calling for Liggett (Laurence Harvey) who we see stepping into an elevator. The vintage baby blue Crosley phone is off the hook. The oboe is ominous and alienating. She picks up a pack of crumpled cigarettes and flings it when she discovers it’s empty.
She keeps picking at the ashtray looking for the remnant of a cigarette butt that she can smoke.She finds a pack of Liggett’s cigars and lights up, inhales and starts choking on it. Pours herself a glass of scotch. Walks around the swanky apartment in the bed sheets, kicks a silk salmon dress she wore the night before lying on the floor next to her pumps. Picks up the dress and holds it to herself.Remembering last night she crumples it up and throws it back on the floor.Puts her slip on and saunters off to find Liggett calling his name. She steps into an ultra ornate bathroom splattered with flecked pink and gold.
Her curves are accented by the silk slip. She drips sex. Looking in the mirror she wipes the night before out of her eyes. Rinses her toothbrush in the glass of scotch and brushes her teeth, gargles with the scotch and spits into the sink.Sitting at Emily Liggett’s dressing table deciding on which perfume to douse herself with.
The film is photographed in washes of that fabulous vintage muted pink, blue and gold tones fashionable for the 60s style. Gloria goes to the closet and fondles a brown mink coat, holds it close to her body like a lover. Sets it back in the closet and picks the other white fox lined coat, wearing it over her slip. Goes into the bedroom and hangs up the phone.
She then goes over to her gold purse and pulls out a note written on an envelope”Gloria-$250 enough? Will phone you later. L” Lingering on the note a bit, she is visibly upset, this is not something she’s expected
The brash horns underscore her fervor when she grabs her lips stick and writes on the mirror in big red letters “NO SALE” and places the money on an ornate clock atop the mantle. She rips up the note and goes back to the closet to hang up the white fox coat, grabs the more expensive brown mink instead.
Gloria picks up the phone and says “Butterfield 8, it’s Gloria any messages for me…mhm, Charlie, yeah George, yeah, listen a Mr Liggett will try to call sometime today, He might use Mr L…find me where ever I am…this is one call I want to take personally…and immediately” she hangs up. She picks up a bottle of scotch, and then pulls out money for it and places it on the bar and walks out into the gray New York City day. Hails a yellow cab and says she’ll double her tip for a cigarette. As is the assumption of the brash New Yorker attitude, the taxi nearly runs into an older couple crossing the street and yelling ensues.Gloria tells him that he’s in good voice this morning.
This is how Butterfield 8 opens. We see a woman who is insulted that she has been paid for sex by the one man she thought was different.She arrives at her friends apartment, knocks on the door, and finds Steve Carpenter (Eddie Fisher),obviously a poor struggling composer, trying to work on tomorrow’s arrangements on the piano. She hands him the bottle of liquor and says “tribute” for his “faith, hope and charity” and kisses him on the cheek. He says she’s got scotch on her breath, but she says it’s good scotch 20 years old. He says “and the cigar smoke?””I always said I’d try anything once” Steve says”you ever try common sense?” and she answers “Only in desperation”
She tells him that she stole the fur coat, not for real, just long enough to get even with somebody. He made her so damned mad, he left her money,”he actually left me money!”
Steve tells her that his work is designed to get paid. She says it wasn’t work. Besides, her dress was torn so she borrowed something “spiteful and elegant”She utters his name Weston Liggett, Steve’s heard of him,very social. She says and “very Yale” “what’s with you an Yale?, always Yale” she tells him it’s the last college left, she started with Amherst and worked her way through the alphabet to Yale” and puffs on her cigarette “I’m stuck there…of course I could work backwards again”
Steve and Gloria are childhood friends, and he is very protective of her. Steve tells her to put the coat back on”Half dressed women make it difficult to concentrate” She tells him “don’t think of me as a woman, after all we’re just like brother and sister, remember” He gets agitated tells her to put the coat back on.
He tells her. I’m sick of opening up that door every other day and finding you boozed up, burned out and ugly”
She says “sick for me or sick for you?”he comes back “For you, for everything you’re wasting…why do you come here like this?”he asks. She tells him that she always comes to him, because at least she can be honest with him. He tells her to start being honest with herself.”You’re making a mess out of your life and you’re forcing me to watch it.”
Gloria says ” It’s terrible Steve, I say yes too much, when I shouldn’t and you say no too much when you shouldn’t”
She wonders how she’s gonna get home dressed in only a slip and fur coat what will her mother think. Steve says that her mother knows everything about her. She agrees but says she’d never admit it. “I’m still her innocent little girl…and she’s my dear sweet cookie baking mother””So go home, give her an innocent smile and have a cookie”
Gloria asks to borrow one of Steve’s girlfriends dresses. Steve’s girlfriend Norma played by the lovely Susan Oliver feels threatened by the friendship between Gloria and Steve. Gloria gives Steve a little of her philosophy on woman. “The more you ask her to sacrifice, the more she knows you love her…honestly”
On the LIRR heading to Long Island Liggett is smoking a cigar and lost in deep thought.On the train sitting next him is a colleague Bing who asks “problems Ligg?”he tells him “do you know 3 of the most over rated things in this world, home loving, home cooking and security”
Ligg’s got everything, lots of people would envy him, but he wonders “But am I happy?”Bing says “obviously not” “ever wonder why?” “I have…can you take it from an old fraternity brother…you’re a heel…a low down rotten heel…anything that doesn’t go your way, anything that you can’t have you destroy” This is the one enlightened moment of the film where there is insight into Liggett’s pathology and the narrative holds him accountable for his behavior.Bing tells him he could still come back and be a law partner with him any time.
Now on Long Island Ligg is skeet shooting with his wife Emily. He asks when she’s coming back to town(NYC).But the question is more of curiosity than passion. There is an obvious strain in the marriage. They are shooting at targets instead of engaging in a real conversation.
We’re back with Gloria, who’s borrowing a suit dress from Steve’s girlfriend Norma. She tells Gloria, “just remember that suit has lived a sheltered life…it shocks easily” “well then, it’s time it had a little adventure” a sarcastic banter ensues and Norma asks what happened to Gloria’s dress “It’s a funny thing, one minute it was there, and the next minute it wasn’t” Norma lilts her voice “much like your virtue I presume”
Gloria shows up at home in her little red sports car.Her mother says “Here’s Gloria now” her friend Fannie says”From where girl scout camp?” Mother Annie is holding a little Yorkshire Terrier, and asks her skeptical friend Mrs Francis Thurber who is drinking coffee. “Do I look alright?”setting the little dog down on Fannie’s lap. Fannie wriggles with displeasure, shooing it away. Gloria comes in and hugs her mother. Mrs Thurber asks “how’s church?”Gloria snaps back “why don’t you go sometime and find out”
Her mother remarks about the nice suit, Gloria tells her that she picked it up at the designers last week. Mrs Thurber gives a dig by saying” it must be hard changing dresses in one of those sport car trunks” Gloria shoots daggers back at her.
Then her mother tells her that the modeling agency sent some dresses, one of them they want her to wear to 3 different places tonight, but Mrs Thurber interjects again with yet another dig “the Salvation Army, The Public Library and The PTA in Brownsville” Gloria lets out a fake laugh for Mrs Thurbers benefit.
Gloria’s mother is the only one who doesn’t openly acknowledge Gloria’s lifestyle “Francis don’t joke about Gloria’s work it’s very important to her…she’s one of the few girls of her kind in the city” Gloria asks if Butterfield 8 called?Her mother tells her she’s 2 weeks late on her car payment and Gloria asks to borrow some money.
Ligg is back at his apartment in NYC. He sees the lipstick writing on the mirror NO SALE and picks up the dress from the floor. He calls Gloria, they arrange to meet that night. She shows up at the bar wearing a stunning black dress, black gloves and pearls. “He apologizes about the money. He tells her she’s with him tonight, and she comes back with “by choice, only”
Liggett says “women are all alike, play tough” Gloria says “I’m not like anyone, I’m me!” “That’s right I shouldn’t knock it should I?”He says she’s something different, she says “sure I’ve got the world by the tail” He calls her doll face.
She gets up and says goodnight but he grabs her arm. “You’ve got a great act” She digs the heel of her pump into his shoe. He grabs tighter, holding onto her wrist.It’s a battle of the wills. Neither one winces or cries out in pain.Ligg says “go ahead rub your wrist”, she says “not if it killed me” then Ligg says “I want to carry you out of here.” But Gloria slams him back “that was a lesson pal, not a treatment”
He says he won’t talk about money again, but offers her an apartment as big as she’d like, and charge accounts. “Mr Liggett put your assets away…you don’t have enough” he says to try him, but she tells him about offers she’s turned down “You couldn’t match what I’ve already turned down”, Yachts in the riviera, genuine Van Goghs in every room, paid for by men with “pocket money” annuities for life, jewelry.”
She turned them down flatly, she earned her money modeling clothes. He remarks”now I get it…you pick the man…he doesn’t pick you” “Finally, why I’m not teaching logic at Columbia I’ll never know” ” You also drop the man when you want to” and she snickers ”and without a parachute”
He’s driving her little red sports car but he purposely misses her stop.He says he’s tired of looking and listening. He says nobody treats him that way. She says “oh Weston Liggett the wealthy” he says “no Weston Liggett the man” I wasn’t cut out to be a chauffeur, an escort or a straight man for your nightclub repertoire”
Gloria says “The next time you get angry just remember you sent for me, I didn’t send for you”. She puts a cigar in his mouth and lights it for him. He blows the smoke in her face, and looks at her seductively, then he says “Like hell you didn’t send for me” ” and now what you’re going to drag me up to your cave?”
He says his apartment is close. She tells him “oh no not again.” He says it was alright last night. But she says “last night my sense of direction was slightly impaired by gin” he tells her “That’s okay I’ve got caves all the place” She rests her head on his shoulders. He says “hello” she answers softly “hello”the battle is over,they are seeing each other for the first time.
They Arrive at Happy’s Motel. Happy played by Kay Medford runs this out of the way motel.Liggett calls out for Happy. She looks into the car, and says “oh we always have room for 2 weary travelers” Happy wants to tell him a joke about 2 old maids but he says later. She says “A man’s gotta get his “rest” he’s gotta get it regular”(rest is code for sex of course)
Happy was in Vaudeville once. Looks at Gloria, they enter the motel room. A Saxophone is playing sultry music and the neon lights are flashing red and green in and out invading the darkness every time they blink. We know what’s next as they embrace in the doorway of the room and as the screen darkens they shut door number 9. End scene.
Next morning in a diner, juke box playing torchy music, “You know you’re liable to wind up psychologically famous, a case history in a medical book” He asks “You writing it?” “No, but I have to tell my psychiatrist everything that happens to me” (psychoanalysis was becoming the trend for the bored disillusioned angst of the middle class.)…”even down to the smallest deepest, darkest detail” Ligg says earnestly “That’s a set of notes I’d like to read”
He asks why she needs a psychiatrist. “I’ve never met anyone direct and uninhibited as you” she smiles, “Wild is the word” He says “First genuine wildness I’ve ever come across in a woman”
Steve and Norma always fight about Gloria so he explains “Gloria and I grew up in the same neighborhood. I’ve known her all my life, we went to the same school together. Her father died when she was very little, her mother went to work, so I sort of became her family”He gets in closer to Norma,”somebody’s got to look after her…I”m gonna do it for as long as it takes, now will you try to understand?”
she says “I understand, I understand that it’s worse than I thought, much worse, you are actually in love with her and you don’t even know it”
“Steve is she or is she not a tramp?” he says” I never liked that word” “Is she not the biggest tramp in this whole city?” Steve says “I especially don’t like to hear you use it”
Norma starts to suppose about marriage and children, Steve is plunking out indescriminate chords on the piano.She asks “do you want her hanging around us all the time, babysitting…nipping brandy out of a hand bag at 8 in the morning and telling them the story of little red riding hood and the 3 lecherous bears. Do we keep a spare room where she can sleep off her hangovers?”
Steve answers “All I know is I worry about her” “but does she worry about you?”now Steve gets up and yells in Norma’s face ” I don’t know and I don’t care, this is something I’m gonna do whether you like it or not Norma”