Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

THE LAND OF MORAL AMBIGUITY: HOLLYWOOD & THE HAYS CODE

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex Relationships are the accepted or common thing…”

Prior to the Production Code, LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. – Sophie Cleghorn

Pre-Code was a brief period in the American film industry between the dawn of talking pictures in 1929 and the formal enforcement in 1934 of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) familiarly known as the Hays Code. Pre-Code was a glorious time in the history of cinema. It was during the Depression Era, before the cultural politics of Clergy and reformer organizations came in and initiated the need for moral governance over the film industry. Their interference evolved into the Hays Code created to oversee silent and talking pictures.

In the late 1920s before the Hays Code, films began to speak becoming audible and more realistic as Hollywood recognized that many Americans knew all about sex. In the early era of talkies during the gutsy cinema of the Depression era, there was nothing stopping the studios from producing daring films. Hollywood movies weren’t afraid to show gay characters or reference their experiences. Ironically, queers were pretty visible onscreen at this time in American cinema. These characters left an impression on trade papers like Variety that called this phenomenon – “queer flashes.”

Also in the early twenties, there were notorious scandals on and off screen. Hollywood’s moral ambiguity was literally in the clutches of the Hays Code which the MPPDA used to wage a moral battle against Hollywood that they perceived would eventually lead to cultural ruination. The priggish William Hays was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a former chair of the Republican party, and post master general before he was picked to lead the war on decadence in the movie industry. William Hays was appointed chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) from the year it was established in 1922 to 1945, but the Hays Code was not overturned until 1968. Hays and his code regulated film content for nearly forty years. The little worm.

W.C.Fields and Franklin Pangborn- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

The Hays Code became a series of self-imposed, perceived-to-be-moral guidelines that told filmmakers and the major studios what was permissible to do in their movies. The Code was established in 1930, and the MPPC set forth censorship guidelines that weren’t yet strictly enforced. And states had their own censorship boards and so their individual standards varied. Hays tried to contain his guidelines without the intrusion of government censorship, so he created his own Production Code that was for all intents and purposes optional for studios.

They felt that the liberal themes of films in the 1920s were contributing to the supposed debauchery infiltrating society. They championed government censorship as the solution to return society to its traditional moral standards (Mondello).

In June 1927, Hays publicized a list of cautionary rules. A construct of ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’. The document and empowering legislation spelled out guidelines for propriety on screen in classic Hollywood that became known as the Production Code. It was co-authored in 1929 by Martin J. Quigley, prominent Catholic layman, editor of the journal Motion Picture Herald and Reverend Daniel A. Lord, a Jesuit Priest. Their collaboration reflected a ‘Victorianism’ that would tint the freedom of Hollywood’s creative license. “The Production Code was a template for a theological takeover of American cinema.” “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

“Just Ten of the Thous Shalt Nots”

Homosexuality

While the Code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the Code, the Code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. -Wikipedia

The convict

“The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust…”

Prostitution and fallen women

“Brothels and houses of ill-fame are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth…”

Bad girls

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…”

Musicals

“Dancing costumes cut to permit indecent actions or movements are wrong… Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden…”

Adultery and the sanctity of marriage

“Adultery as a subject should be avoided… It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.”

NOT TO MENTION: GOD COMPLEXES-

Boris Karloff as Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s creation. Make-up by Jack Pierce.

By the time the sequel Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, enforcement of the code was in full effect and the Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s overt God complex was forbidden. In the first picture however, when the creature was born, his mad scientist creator was free to proclaim “Now I know what it feels like to be a God.”

‘Don’ts’ included “profanity,” “sex hygiene,” “miscegenation,” and “ridicule of the clergy.” There was a much longer list of ‘Be carefuls’ which indicated it was offensive to “show sympathy for criminals,” “arson,” “surgical operations,” and “excessive or lustful kissing” and of course “HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Hays appointed Colonel Jason S. Joy to be in charge of the supervisory agency, the Studio Relations Committee. Once the first talky The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson was released a newly fired up rebel cry was heard from the hoity-toity do-gooders who raised objections against Hollywood’s immorality. What was once suggestive in silent pictures was now committed to sound, with all it’s risque humor and wicked context.

In 1934 censorship was tightening its strangle hold. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and other religious groups the Motion Picture Production Code made it so that any marginal gay characters became masked in innuendo, relying on queer symbolism instead. Several grassroots organizations were founded in order to pressure the film industry, the most influential of all was the Catholic Legion of Decency.

So, between the Code and state censorship boards, one might expect that films produced after 1930 would be exemplars of wholesomeness and purity. In practice, the men who enforced the Code on behalf of the MPPDA (Jason Joy and James Wingate) were wholly ineffectual, primarily due to the very small staffs they were allotted to keep up with the work of reviewing scripts, treatments and finished films while battling studios that weren’t especially thrilled by the bottleneck caused by the whole operation. The combination of bureaucratic sclerosis and the economic, political and cultural crisis brought about by the Great Depression ushered in a vibrant era of filmmaking and the introduction of many stars whose personas would forever be rooted in their pre-Code films.- Mike Mashon

The Code set in place since 1930 was a turning point in the history of self-regulation. With the strict enforcement of the Production Code, they attempted to influence the discourse in American film without coming out and definitively stating which contexts were strictly forbidden. Instead they issued phrases like “should be avoided” and “should not suggest.” Though a variety of controversial topics weren’t vigorously banned by the Production Code, gay characters WERE strictly prohibited. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Peter Lorre

When the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, they articulated that, “though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

When the MPPDA formally ratified The Code, they demanded that it be followed to the letter but it “lacked an effective enforcement mechanism” – and the studio heads openly defied it’s frame of mind and it’s puritanical spirit.

The movie studios had other pressing issues of concern. It was the Great Depression, and studios were barely making it, on the brink of ruin due to low ticket sales. They were quite ready to fight with states over censorship because sex and violence sells. They wanted to draw in audiences that would be titillated by gangsters, vamps, and racy subject matter. Popular musicals could entertain with disparaging racial clichés and glamorous, intoxicating imagery, with hints of queerness. You could also watch languid prostitutes on screen — everyone seems to long for Shanghai Lil, in the film that has it all, Footlight Parade (1933)

Filmmakers tried to switch around controversial subject matter that would not only push the boundaries but would promote ticket sales, with films that would attract a more sophisticated audience. Breen perceived these films to be less ‘dangerous’ a word he often used. They focused on the ‘gangster’ film with it’s violent content, and when they put their foot on that genre’s neck, Hollywood rolled out the ‘fallen woman‘ films. They tried very hard to get around the scrutiny and so they delved into making horror pictures, and racy comedies. These fare better as they fell under the heading of being ‘unrealistic’ which rendered them as innocuous material to the censors.

During the Great Depression, movies were an escape for audiences in dire need of distraction. The morally-charged stranglehold that was beginning to challenge filmmakers forced them to experiment with movies that were audacious and candid in different ways. Pre-Code actually challenged audiences to watch real life issues on screen. Pre-Code cinema offered some titillating truths coming out of the dream factory. Depression-era cinema exhibited gay characters, but generally in small parts and often used for comic purposes that managed to cue audiences in, with roles that were codified and readable as queer. ‘Queerness’ was railed against because it subverted traditional masculinity which was under attack by the new socioeconomic crisis in the country. Yet somehow, Hollywood found it to be a viable trigger for ideological gossip.

These films illustrated narratives that were thought provoking, worldly, and subversive. Movies dealt frankly or were suggestive of sexual innuendo, sexual relationships between races, mild profanity, drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and of course, homosexuality.

William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) starring Dorothy Mackaill as a call girl in hiding. Prostitution is a no no!

Filmmakers took risks delivering a portrait of America with a punishing realism, and a creative freedom to portray taboo themes like crime (gangs and guns, violence), social dilemma’s (drug abuse, poverty and political unrest). And sexual relationships (adultery, promiscuity, deviance = homosexuality). In the 1930s filmmakers also sought to stir up controversy by screening queer characters, in order to shock audiences and drive up their ticket sales. The result, movies became more lewd, ruthless and vicious between 1930 and 1934. And Hollywood was it’s MOST queer from 1932-1934.

Yet during the silent era to the mid thirties, gay characters were illustrated as stereotypes showcasing the popular tropes established by conventional hetero-normative gender bias. These archetypes were styled to be gender non-conformists. Queer men were fussy, effeminate and flamboyant. With high-pitched voices, the air under their feet and waving hands. Essentially, ‘fairies’ who were deployed as comic relief on the periphery of the drama. Real-life queers of the Depression era and later periods were exposed to cinematic images, the vast majority being caricatures in which gays and lesbians were often presented as targets of ridicule and contempt for their divine decadence. ‘Entertainers play with gender ambiguity in Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933).‘ (Lugowski)

Lesbians were at the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘masculine,’ demonstrating deep voices, cross-dressing in male attire, and were installed in male-dominated professions. They were often invalidated by the straight male characters, and were either played for the uncomfortable humor or shown as baffling to men. The PCA in it’s Hollywood’s Movie Commandments specified that there could be no comic characters “introduced into a screen play pantomiming a pervert.” (Lugowski)

Gender Reversals, Queerness, and a Nation in Crisis.–

In Michael Curtiz’s The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) Suddenly, queer imagery in film, typically in the form of comical representations of gay men, lesbians, and ambiguous sexuality, did not seem so funny any-more, least of all to those charged with applying Hollywood’s Production Code to film content. By “queer” imagery, I am focusing particularly on situations, lines of dialogue, and characters that represent behavior coded, according to widely accepted stereotypes, as cross-gendered in nature. As played by such prominent and well-established supporting comedy character actors as Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Grady Sutton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Ernest Truex, queer men tended to appear as one of two types.

The queer in his more subdued form appears as the dithering, asexual “sissy,” sometimes befuddled, incompetent,and, if married, very henpecked (Horton), and sometimes fussy and officious (Pangborn). Pangborn, however, was one of the actors who (along with the unsung likes of Tyrell Davis and Tyler Brooke) also played or suggested the other type, the more outrageous “pansy,” an extremely effeminate boulevardier-type sporting lip-stick, rouge, a trim mustache and hairstyle, and an equally trim suit, incomplete without a boutonniere. Although a number of actors played or were even typecast in such roles, one generally doesn’t find a circle of prominent supporting actresses whose personas seemed designed to connote lesbianism (the closest, perhaps, is Cecil Cunningham) lesbian representation occurs frequently as well, and in perhaps a greater range of gradations. At her most overt, the lesbian was clad in a mannishly tailored suit (often a tuxedo), her hair slicked back or cut in a short bob. She sometimes sported a monocle and cigarette holder (or cigar!) and invariably possessed a deep alto voice and a haughty, aggressive attitude toward men, work, or any business at hand. Objections arose because she seemed to usurp male privilege; perhaps the pansy seemed to give it up. -David M.Lugowski: Queering the (New) Deal-Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood’s Production Code

Filmmakers were encouraged not to promote lifestyles of a ‘morally questionable’ nature, so queers remained as humorous detours away from the central story. It was a subtle defiance that filmmakers were determined to feature queer characters in their films in spite of the ban. Because of the threat of boycotts, this created some maneuvering around the scrutiny. Queer identities were not portrayed with depth or realism, this marginalized group was relegated to one-dimensional stereotypes. They were never shown to be in romantic relationships and filmmakers relied on visual cues to signal the character’s identity.

Censors at the PCA, for example, were very worried about the three female characters in William Dieterle’s Dr. Monica (1934) starring Kay Francis. The film is the story of three women, an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac and a lesbian. In October 1935, Joseph Breen wrote a letter to RKO’s head B.B. Kahane concerned about Follow the Fleet (1936) starring Fred Astaire who gives a dance lesson to all male sailors. “We are assuming of course that you will exercise your usual good taste in this scene of the sailors learning to dance. There will be no attempt to inject any ‘pansy’ humor into the scene.”

Due to a new, stricter Motion Picture Production Code, gays were being swept under the rug in movies. In the late 1930s and 1940s the only way to circumvent the Code was by painting homosexuals as cold-hearted villains (The Celluloid Closet). Now it appeared that gays were committing terrible crimes because of their sexual orientation, implying that homosexuality leads to insanity. In a society where being homosexual was synonymous with being sinful, it is no surprise that Hollywood made the leap to correlating a homosexual orientation with malicious crimes and wicked urges (Weir).

Alfred Hitchcock is a visual magician who rolls out the answers gradually while deconstructing what is explicit to the narrative. He is one of the most measured auteurs, whose eye for detail links each scene together like a skillful puzzle. He has been studied, tributed, and –in my opinion–unsuccessfully imitated. Rigid to conform, he danced around the Hays Code like a cunning acrobat indulging his vision while deflecting the lax regulations. There are arguments that Hitchcock insinuated homophobic messages in some of his films. The queer characters were all deviants and psychopathic predators, who were the ones responsible for some of the most heinous murders on screen. For example, in his film Rope (1948) the two Nietzschian murderers are intellectual companions who get off on trying to perpetrate the perfect murder. They exhibit a romantic friendship with no sexual contact on screen. Yet there are cues that they are sexually aroused by each other’s mutual pleasure at killing a young boy. The Hays Code inhibited the depiction of a queer couple so Hitchcock had to subtly suggest their sexual relationship by dropping metaphors and visual clues. Though, it might be interpreted through a homophobic lens, and their homosexuality might be at the core of their cruel and immoral nature.

According to David Greven, Hitchcock’s homophelia ‘was through a larger conflict that Hitchcock’s cinema that filmmakers conducted their investigation of American masculinity, one that focused on fissures and failures. Homosexuality emerged as representative of these and also as potential new direction for American masculinity to take, not without serious risk but also treated with surprising, fascinated interest… Hitchcock’s radical de-centering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at times depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions. Homophobia in both Hitchcock and the New Hollywood’s informed by an attendant fascination with the homoerotic that emerges from scenes of gender crisis and disorganization that are rife in both the Cold War and New Hollywood eras. 

Any illicit sexual behavior on screen considered as perverse would be demonized and exploited as immoral. Queers were shown as villainous, dangerous deviants who were fated for ruination and/or death.

There were several broad categories the Code was not vague about. Any movies depicting criminality had to essentially illustrate that there would be consequences. The message was clear, any flagrant criminal behavior is abhorrent and audiences should NOT feel sympathy, primarily through the implicit edict of “compensating moral values.”

Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.

Clearly there were some productive strategies of circumventing the Motion Picture Production Code. They enabled characters that performed behind the veil, under the radar of social acceptability, while dancing a step closer to the fringe. It allowed for ‘queering the screen’. I find it feasible to consider how Alexander Doty points out that ‘queering’ something implies that you are taking a thing that is straight and doing something to it. Rather it should be considered that it’s less about co-opting or subverting films – making things queer, and more about how something might be understood as queer.

It might be easy to read Zasu Pitt’s and Thelma Todd’s relationship, the brilliantly paired comedy twosome, as lovers. While they perform humorous heterosexual man hunting, they sure seem to be mostly interested in each other and sure look adorable in their pajamas! I wonder, as Big Daddy says, if there’s ‘something missing here’. Below, they are in the film short directed by Hal Roach – On The Loose 1931, with bobbed hair, leaning into each other in bed together, looking awfully intimate.

To be ‘queer’ is also to deconstruct existing norms and ‘destabilize’ them, making it harder to define, so that it is a clear picture of non-normative straight masculinity/femininity.

What was perceptible to those ‘in the life’ were expressions, gestures, of the term often used by the Hays Code, ‘deviancy.’ One of the things that the Code banned was in Clause 6 Section 2 on “Sex” was that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

Not that films during the reign of the Code were ripe with queer love stories, of course. There were none to be found beyond the foreign offerings of Oswald’s Different From the Others and Mädchen in Uniform. The most prevalent allusion to being gay was the flamboyant man who was the ambiguous bachelor or fussy asexual husband. If there was anything close to a butch woman, she could be an earthy farmer’s wife, a Marjorie Main or Patsy Kelly type (Both lesbians in real life). A tough as nails prison matron, a tyrannical madame or a risque night club owner. Perhaps shes an embittered heavy drinker or just one of the guys who is a faithful friend to the female lead. Maybe she never gets the guy or hasn’t met the right man. Perhaps she was married to a no good bum and is off men for good!.. And just sometimes, sometimes it’s because… well some of us would know why!

Thelma Todd joined up with Patsy Kelly in comedy series. Here’s a lobby card for their Babes in the Goods. The two became very good friends during their collaboration.

Patsy Kelly had started in Vaudeville and appeared in Wonder Bar 1931 centered around a Parisian club. Kelly played Elektra Pivonaka and sang two lively songs.

She is known for her ballsy, straight-forward, no nonsense persona, be it her tough as nails nurse Mac in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) or as Laura-Louise, attending to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Kelly played very non-feminine roles, injecting a bit of her ‘in the life’ energy into the characters in every one of her roles. More often that not she had an unglamorous reputation as a funny spunky, brassy, wise cracking gal who played a lot of maids. She was outspoken about being an uncloseted lesbian, which hurt her movie career in the 1940s. But she had been a very successful actress on Broadway, returning to the stage in 1971 winning a Tony Award for No, No Nanette and Irene.

In director/screenwriter Sam Fuller’s sensationalist The Naked Kiss (1964), Patsy Kelly plays Mac the nurse, a hard-edged pussy cat. A no nonsense nurse who lives for helping children with disabilities, but there is no visible sign that she has the slightest interest in men, aside from a smart alecky comment about Grant bringing her back a man from Europe. Kelly might have wanted her role as an independent woman with a more offbeat way of stating that she is a tough dyke and expected Fuller to write her into the script that way. Knowing Kelly that’s a good assumption. The film is audacious in it’s scope for dealing with more than one theme, as taboo as prostitution, abortion and pedophilia.

The Catholic Legion of Decency used their influence to label gays as ‘sexual deviants’, not be depicted on screen. ‘Deviancy’ was used to refer to any behavior deviating from what was perceived to be normal in terms of romance, sex, and gender. Hays even ordered all ‘nance’ characters to be removed from screenplays.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Hays Code tried to make symbolic gestures to maintain decency in films. The Legion of Decency were getting pressure from the Catholic Church. So in 1934 came up with A-acceptable B-Morally Objectionable and C-Condemned. Hollywood promised to observe the rules. Of the various subject matter that was restricted on screen-open mouth kissing, lustful embraces, sex-perversion, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution, white slavery, nudity, obscenity, profanity.

But all this unsolicited attention caused the studios to be watchful of their off-screen personnel, and they also had to be certain that the Los Angeles Police Department received payoffs to keep their mouths shut. Though lurid and shocking subject matter was no longer tolerated on screen, the studios tried to continue to release their films without the intrusion of the Hays Office, even though from a commercial standpoint, sex sells.

Warner Bros.’ lack of cooperation with the Code until the bitter end and how Paramount, which was cooperative under B. P. Schulberg, decided to be “as daring as possible” under Emmanuel Cohen in 1932 and 1933. At MGM, Irving Thalberg’s resistance only really ended with his heart attack and journey abroad to recover in 1933. As James Wingate, Breen’s SRC predecessor, put things that same year: (Lugowski)

In 1934 Jack Warner ignored Breen’s letter and phone calls about a scene in Wonder Bar (1934) that explicitly demonstrates homoerotic desire. In it, one man cuts in to dance with another man, interrupting a woman who is dancing with her male partner. “May I cut in?”  she responds, “Why certainly,” as the man suitor grabs her chaperone to dance instead. The films stars Al Jolson who exclaims, “Boys will be boys!” Breen would later write, “It is quite evident that the gentleman [Warner] is giving me the runaround. He evidently thinks that this is the smart thing to do.” Wonder Bar  may have added a flash of queer diversion as part of the entertainment, but it is an incredibly offensive and racist film using a cast who are in Black face.

During the ongoing Depression era, sissy and lesbian characters of the period continued to be screened as effeminate and mannish with one change. They became progressively sexualized between 1933-34. As the Depression moved forward, the Code needed to establish a “suitable” masculinity in film that would satisfy the morality police. They wanted this accepted masculinity to mirror the public art imagery that was now being federally funded by the New Deal in the mid-and late 1930s.

Before 1934 the studios were able to ignore the Code’s denouncement and endeavor to censor the movie industry but Hollywood filmmakers could no longer disregard the regulations issued by the Hays Code. The Legion of Decency forced the MPPDA to assert itself with the Production Code and formed a new agency , the Production Code Administration (PCA). The Hays Code was formed in 1930 but it only began to have a profound impact on Hollywood when the Production Code Administration (PCA) began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The crusade to save America’s purity and squash the filth mongers began a cultural war.

It was a system of moral oversight, conservatives lobbied to enforce, using the PCA to compel the industry to drastically adhere to it. PCA is strongest in explaining how the Code tried to at once repress and enable discourse to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers and to offend the fewest. (Lugowski)

And in 1937, the Production Code Administration (PCA), handed down Hollywood’s Movie Commandments that decried “No hint of sex perversion may be introduced into a screen story. The characterization of a man as effeminate, or a woman as grossly masculine would be absolutely forbidden for screen portrayal.”

The Code was detailed in two parts that reflected the foundation of Catholic principles. The moral vision and “particular applications a precise listing of forbidden material.”

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of “general principles” which prohibited a picture from “lowering the moral standards of those who see it”, so as not to wrongly influence a specific audience of views including, women, children, lower-class, and those of “susceptible” minds, called for depictions of the “correct standards of life”, and lastly forbade a picture to show any sort of ridicule towards a law or “creating sympathy for its violation.

The second part of the Code was a set of “particular applications”, which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Homosexuals were de facto included under the proscription of sex perversion.” — Wikipedia

The second part of the Code was a ban on homosexuality. Though it was not specifically spelled out, queers were the subject under review of ‘sex perversion.’ Though the Hays office would not stand for “more than a dash of lavender” as long as the representation (especially a non desirable depiction of homosexuality) was fleeting and incidental. Thus, “Pansy comedy” was tolerable in Pre-Code Hollywood. “Despite the watchful eyes of the Hays Office, the trade paper Variety remarked that Hollywood continued what were called “queer flashes” and “mauve characters” who sashayed through Cavalcade 1933, Our Betters 1932 and Sailor’s Luck 1932.

The industry moguls and business offices finally had to follow the rules, clean up the ‘sinful’ screen and adopt a symbol of moral righteousness, that came along with a seal. The Code would be certified by a Code Seal printed on the lobby cards of each Hollywood film. And the seal would be an emblem that would appear on the motion pictures themselves. Any film without a Code Seal would be fined $25,000.

After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. … negotiated cuts from films and there were definite—albeit loose—constraints, a significant … against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code.

Any sexual act considered perverted, including any suggestion of same sex relationships, sex, or romance, was ruled out.

Thus, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the PCA scrutinized and censored, everything coming out of Hollywood and put it’s seal on each movie released. The Hollywood executives preferred to call it “self-regulation” and feared that censorship by the PCA would be even worse if they tampered with the creative ‘source’ of their product. Because of the studios’ defiance, Roman Catholics formed the National Legion of Decency, which became an influential group who would put Hollywood’s transgressions through the ordeal, of boycotts, picketing theaters, urging Catholics not to patronize these immoral movies or fall “under the pain of sin”, being met by hoards of angry protestors at the gates of the studio. Now religious groups and other moral traditionalists began a warlike campaign for the government to regulate what was shown on the screen.

Mae West: She Done Him Wrong 1933

Also government officials were bent on making gay people invisible from cinematic narratives and the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling that filmmakers were not protected by the First Amendment in the matter of free speech. They considered Hollywood to be a powerful mechanism that to exploit ‘sinful’ behavior on the screen and influence American audiences. This laid the ground work for local governments that could weigh in and ban films from their theaters, if they considered them immoral. Hollywood could not afford to lose money at the box office from governmental authorities, by negative publicity, or from the threatening boycotts by rabid church groups.

Motion pictures could be regulated and run out of town by cities, states, and by ominous extension, the federal government.

“After all, censorship had been a fact of creative and commercial life for motion picture producers from the very birth of the medium, when even the modest osculations of the middle-aged lovebirds in Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896) scandalized cadres of (literally) Victorian ministers, matrons, and other variants of a sour-faced species known as the “bluenose.” By common consent, the artistically vital and culturally disruptive spectacle of the motion picture – an entertainment accessible to all levels of society and degrees of moral temperament, including unassimilated immigrants,impressionable juveniles, and other menacing types – required editorial supervision from more mature, pious, and usually Protestant sensibilities” -from Archives Unbound

Hollywood was in the grip of the Code that saw the ‘dream factory’ movie machine as a Hollywood Babylon. While the powers that be were busy policing the murmuration of taboos, Pre-Code was a brief moment in history, a fruitful period between 1929 to 1934. Hays then appointed someone who could intercede between studio moguls and anti-Hollywood groups, Joseph I. Breen. “The vulgar, the cheap, and the tawdry is out!”

The PCA had been known as the Hays Office but to those in Hollywood, once the oversight became an operation with teeth, it became known as the Breen Office. Breen came in to take over the weak Studio Relations Committee (SRC). The Code had consisted of thirty-six rules that informed Hollywood filmmakers to limit representation of, or normalization of subject matter considered by religious groups to be “unsavory or morally corrupt.” The SRC and the PCA were the inner mechanism within the film industry, shaping the content of the film and heading off any ethical problems the film might encounter before they reached the local censors.

Dorothy Mackaill Safe in Hell (1931)

Many scenarios disappeared from the movies by mid 1934: for example, audiences would no longer see women’s navels, couples laying in bed together, murderers going unpunished, any illustration of a bedroom that isn’t merely recognized as a bed chamber. The normalization of drug use, the glamourization of criminal behavior, or not following the law, and of course any overtly revealed gay or lesbian character. After 1934, women would not be sporting short haircuts and tailored suits, confidently smoking cigars. Men toned down the gushy gestures that would be interpreted as flamboyant. Gay men and women were transformed into dowdy spinsters and high-strung bachelors.

What we started to see was an ambiguity, a narrative uncertainty that took the burden of responsibility off of the filmmakers and dropped the perception of the content into the laps of the audience. Since the Code asserted that no picture should lower the moral standards of those who saw it, it was a law that bound Hollywood’s accountability for their plots. Ruth Vasey calls the antithesis of this “the principle of deniability” which refers to the ambiguity of the textual vaguery that shifted the message to the individual spectator. Lugowski cites Lea Jacobs, “under the Code ‘offensive ideas could survive at the price of an instability of meaning… There was constant negotiation about how explicit films could be and by what means (through the image, sound, language) offensive ideas could find representation.” The studios would have to come up with a structure of ‘representational conventions’, that could be understood by a more sophisticated audience yet would fly over the heads of more inexperienced spectatorship. Though producers felt the sharp sting of the Code as a mechanism of restraint, in terms of ‘queerness’ on screen, film studios could use the leverage of deniability to argue about the interpretation of certain scenes.

Once the limits of explicit “sophistication” had been established, the production industry had to find ways of appealing to both “innocent” and “sophisticated” sensibilities in the same object without transgressing the boundaries of public acceptability. This involved devising systems and codes of representation in which “innocence” was inscribed into the text while “sophisticated” viewers were able to “read into” movies whatever meanings they were pleased to find, so long as producers could use the Production Code to deny that they had put them there. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one.-(Documents from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., 1922 – 1939)

… by assuming that the social crisis over cinematic representation in the early 1930s was caused by the content of motion pictures. The institution of censorship in Hollywood was not primarily about controlling the content of movies at the level of forbidden words or actions or inhibiting the freedom of expression of individual producers. Rather, it was about the cultural function of entertainment and the possession of cultural power. (Tino Balio: Grand Design Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930-1939)

Geoff Shurlock was appointed as acting director of the Production Code in the 1940s and as permanent director in 1954. Over the years, Shurlock would straddle the conflict, appeasing both movie producers, and morality mongers trying to persuade the Association Board that introducing more liberal thinking could protect the PCA from fading away. There were attempts to ease up on the Code, in 1954 he introduced an amendment that would eliminate various taboos, for instance, miscegenation, liquor, and some profane words, but producers felt that there weren’t enough considerations to the amendment and the Catholic Legion of Decency felt that even that much went too far. Shurlock had a tough time making everyone happy.

The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the Production Code to restrict specific representations such as adultery, prostitution, and miscegenation. By the beginning of the 1960s, the only specific restriction left was homosexuality = “sex perversion.”

In the 1960s, filmmakers pressured the Production Code Administration. In the fall of 1961, two films went into production that would deal with homosexual subject matter. William Wyler, who had initially directed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon in These Three (1936), revealed that he was working on a more faithful treatment of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour; that dealt overtly with the love that dare not speak it’s name. Around the same time director Otto Preminger began to adapt Allen Drury’s political novel Advise and Consent 1962, which delves into the lives of Senatorial candidates that uncovers controversial secret, including Don Murray’s homosexual encounter.

Throughout Preminger’s career he challenged the restrictions of the Code, and eventually influenced their decision to allow homosexuality to be shown on screen. Also fighting to change the stifling rules was Arthur Krim, president of United Artists, who threatened to ignore the Code and release the film without the mandatory “seal of approval” forcing them to amended its ideological strangle hold.

On October 3, 1961, the Production Code Administration backed off: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion and restraint.”

In order to maintain control of the Administration’s power at least in terms of how homosexual’s were portrayed on film, they insisted that the subject be infused with medical overtones, to show it as an ‘illness’. Sympathy or illness in psychological terms, were two key factors. The Code’s changed the use of the word “sex perversion” and replaced it with “homosexuality.”

Don Murray –gay bar scene in Advise and Consent 1962

Another interesting shift was that they owned up to the fact that “mores and values of our time” were changing whether they liked it or not, people were become more in touch with the freedom to express their sexuality, society was becoming more permissive, the love generation was upon them and sexual representation was a fearless exploration reflected by a new generation of film goers.

Otto Preminger was the only major producer able to successfully release films without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval. He defied the Code (Hadleigh) with movies like Advise and Consent (1961) The Man with Golden Arm (1955) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Wendell Mayes said “Look at the record–you’ll discover that many of the changes in the Code were a result of Otto Preminger breaking the rules”

Though the Code had been revised in 1961 to open up the door for portrayals of gays on screen, the sissy effete and predatory dyke took on a more sinister role. Because they had been hidden in plain sight using symbology that hinted at either failed masculinity or women performing masculinity. When the MPPA ratings system was established in 1968 gays on screen were starting to kick the doors open but what was awaiting them was an even crueler denouement than during the reign of the Code. Queers were now portrayed as suicidal, predatory or homicidal maniacs. And much like the coded gay characters under the Production Code, things moved very slowly in terms of progress for positive representations of being ‘queer.’

DIrk Bogarde and Dennis Price in Basil Dearden’s brave film Victim (1961)

Between January and June 1962, five films were released that dealt with homosexuality, almost as many as in the previous three decades. One did not receive a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration, but was released nonetheless. Even without the seal of approval, British director, Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) was reviewed in all the publications being considered. The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal even disagreed with the Production Code Administration’s claim that the film made pleas ‘for social acceptance of the homosexual.’ “63 Still, the consensus among reviewers was that of the Production Code Administration and society at large: films should not and, for the most part, did not condone homosexuality. (Noriega)

This ban applied to all characters attracted to the same gender or characters who differed in their gender presentation or identity. While nudity and violence were quickly reintegrated into film canon following the abandonment of the Production Code, LGBT characters remained taboo. For decades after LGBT characters were allowed to appear in films, their sexuality and gender was shrouded in thinly-veiled innuendos and visual cues. If a character was to be openly same-gender attracted or transgender, they would be gruesomely killed or presented as morally corrupted. (Cleghorn)

Like the Code’s authors, film critics tend to examine the film itself, and not the discursive acts that surround a film and play a sometimes central role shaping its meaning(s). Contemporary gay and lesbian film criticism of Production Code era films operates on the same principle, with the added limitations that historical evidence and homosexual “images” censored. Thus, in order to ensure “the survival of subcultural identity within an oppressive society,” gay and lesbian film critics have employed a wide range of interpretive strategies to recuperate a history of homosexual images from the censored screen. The emphasis, therefore, has been on “subtexting” censored films from a singular presentist perspective. (Sophie Cleghorn)

Sources:

*Mike Mashon & James Bell for Pre-Code Hollywood Before the Censors-BFI  Sight & Sound Magazine (April 2019)

*Archives Unbound (1http://gdc.gale.com/archivesunbound/)

*Sophie Cleghorn: The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters.

*Wikipedia-Pre-Code

*David Lugowski-Queering the (New) Deal)

*Chon Noriega

During the period of Pre-Code, queer humor appeared in films such as Just Imagine (1930) and the The Warrior’s Husband (1933). The male characters were feminized because of their affinity for writing poetry. This asserted that they must be queer.

The Warrior’s Husband directed by Walter Lang, is a film primarily cast with women. Yet the air of queerness permeates throughout because the women, featuring a butch Queen, are Amazons. Gender is inverted and several other female rulers cross-dress and exude a lesbian vibe. It is inhabited by independent women and swishy men who camped it up as ‘queens’ amusing themselves by flirting with all the good-looking men.

The Warrior’s Husband image courtesy Peplums Blogspot.com

Like so much self deemed culturally aberrant, the homosexual appears with greater frequency and readier acceptance in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema “The thirties was surprisingly full of fruity character comedians and gravel-voice bulldyke character comediennes” film critic Andrew Sarris observed in his touchstone study The American Cinema “but it was always played so straight that when ((character actors) Franklin Pangborn or Cecil Cunningham went into their routines, it was possible to laugh without being too sophisticated.” Maybe in the later thirties the homosexual was played straight but in the Pre-Code era, he and she was playing queer. No sophistication was needed to read the same sex orientations as gender disorientations.- Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Miriam Hopkins got the part of free-spirited Gilda in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living 1933. This original Noël Coward play actually featured a Ménage à Trois between the three Bohemian lovebirds in Paris of the decadent thirties. The film also starred Gary Cooper as artist George Cooper, and Fredric March as playwright Tom Chambers. The liberated Gilda becomes the girl both men fall in love with. They three make a pact to keep their mutual attractions platonic, but that doesn’t last too long, and they each begin a sexual relationship. When George comes back from a trip to Nice, he finds that Tom has taken up with Gilda. “I can’t believe I loved you both.”

Ben Hecht’s screenplay didn’t have a trace of any Coward’s romantic relationship between George and Tom. Ernst Lubitsch, known for his sophisticated style, directed memorable witty interactions between all four players. Edward Everett Horton as Max Plunkett plays Miriam’s bland suitor. Horton is, as usual, a whimsical idiosyncratic delight to watch. And Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas, Theatrical Producer is a perfect theatrical queen who is thoroughly annoyed when Gilda approaches him in the restaurant about Tom’s (Fredric March) play “Good Night Bassington”, as she leaves him with this thought, “There, read it, I’m sure you’ll adore it, it’s a woman’s play…”

Al Jolson “Boys will be boys” Wonder Bar (1934)

Any portrayal of on-screen “sex perversion” or homosexuality, even those connected with various tropes of ‘deviant’ sexual behavior were restricted after the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

Lending the Code moral authority even within the limits of pure love, asserted the Code delicately certain facts have been universally regarded by lawmakers as outside the limits of safe presentation Father Lord and Mr. Quigley saw no need to defile the document by typesetting long lists of “pointed profanity” or “vulgar expressions” Likewise, the prohibition against homosexuality dared not speak the name, but it didn’t need to spell it out. “Impure Love” the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been named by divine law… must not be presented as attractive or beautiful.”-Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Different From the Others (1919) Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz two musicians in love — during the period of Pre-Code.

But, outside of the United States, films were a little more adventurous. Austrian director Richard Oswald’s film bravely shows two men in love. The “third sex” was eventually mocked. One of the earliest films to feature two men in love was the 1919 silent film from Germany,  Different From the Others. Director Richard Oswald’s story of two male musicians in love had a typical unhappy ending, but it depicted gay people in a positive light. The film condemned the German law known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed gay behavior. Different Than the Others was censored soon after it was released. Starring Conrad Veidt it is considered the first pro-gay film.

Joseph Breen viewed any meaningful treatment of queer cinema as perverted. Conrad Veidt also gave an emotionally evocative role in The Man Who Laughs 1928, playing a violinist who falls for his student and is then blackmailed for it. The risking Nazi party in Germany attempted to erase these films from the screen, and this made Oswald to flee to the America.

But, the Hays Code made certain that no films of this type would be seen in the United States. Even books and plays with gay, lesbian or bisexual narratives were reworked and any content related to the subject was erased in order to meet the social code of the time.

Other non-American films included Dreyer’s Michael (1924) and Mädchen in Uniform (1931) directed by Leontine Sagan and again in (1958) with Lilli Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela von Meinhardis. And Viktor Und Viktoria (1933) directed by Reinhold Schünzel.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) was directed by Leotine Sagan, and starred Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele.

William Dieterle’s Pre-Code German film Sex in Chains (1928) stars the director as Franz Sommer a man sent to prison for manslaughter who, though longing for his wife, develops a close relationship with his cell mate. A fellow inmate informs Franz that he’s “lived to see someone unman himself, just so he could finally sleep.”

In 1927, during the Pre-Code period, director William Wellman’s Wings won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and it also depicted the first gay kiss between two men in American cinema.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Dave (Richard Arlen) who at first rivals for the affections of the beautiful Mary (Clara Bow) before they discover the underlying love they begin to feel for each other. During a boxing match at training camp gets to rough and Jack knocks Dave bloody and silly. Dave gazes up at Jack with an epiphany and the two walk off arm and arm as close ‘buddies’. The relationship is referred to as friendship, but the film paints a picture of two men falling in love.

Dave is mortally wounded in combat at the end of the picture, Jack embraces his dying ‘friend’ with a tender yet impassioned kiss while Mary looks on, framed with her on the outside looking in. Wellman humanizes the men’s close relationship in this scene when Jack leans into Dave to embrace him as he dies. He lets him know that nothing has meant more to him than their relationship. The moment feels sympathetic instead of exploitative, yet as he mourns Dave’s death. And though it is tinged with homoerotic elements, the case can always be made that it is a story about war, which brought two men closer together.

The Knocking Knees dance. Horton’s homosexuality – comedic, subtle and acceptable in The Gay Divorcee (1934)

In The Gay Divorcee (1934) crossing the threshold is the archetypal ‘Sissy’, Edward Everett Horton. Marginalized audiences were looking to the movies for any indication of the familiar, any little crumbs left as a trail to be picked up. For instance there is a moment in Johnny Guitar, the fiercely burning with sensual brawn, Joan Crawford. Bigger than life up on that screen, androgynous in her black cowboy shirt, strides down the stairs, gun in her holster waiting to confront coded dyke, Mercedes McCambridge. Many women’s chests, mine included, heaved a little with delight. That flutter of excitement hit us again when Doris Day sings the sentimental “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane (1953).

In Myrt and Marge (1934) Ray Hedges plays the flaming stage hand Clarence Tiffingtuffer he’s told “Here put this in the trunk and don’t wear it” speaking about one of the show girls costumes. In his boldly effete manner “If we got the runs on the show, the way the girls got in their stockings, I could put the 2nd down payment on my Kimono.”

Clara Bow, Willard Robertson and Estelle Taylor in Call Her Savage (1932)

From Call Her Savage 1932 purportedly the first on screen gay bar.

In director William Wyler’s These Three (1936) the relationship between Miriam Hopkin’s Martha and Merle Oberon’s Karen was delicately subtle and though to mainstream audiences might be seemingly obvious to interpret as two women attracted to the male lead, Joel McCrea. It revised Hellman’s play that centered around Martha’s love that dare not speak it’s name, for Karen. Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, a story depicting the supposed ‘carryings-on’ of two female teachers at a private school for girls. Though, These Three on it’s face is the story of a love triangle between two women and a man, it could read as Martha being more uncomfortable with the presence of Dr. Cardin (McCrea) because he is intruding on her closed relationship with Karen. The later screenplay adapted to film, The Children’s Hour (1961) directed by William Wyler, was boldly more explicit and revealed the true nature of Martha’s predicament and her struggling with her love for Karen.

These Three (1936) Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins

The Children’s Hour (1961) Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn

Coded characters in film were on the screen relaying messages and signaling to those of us who understand and who are “in the life: that movies can reflect the existence of a queer reality. These representations were not necessarily a positive, but films showed evidence that we exist. You would see it in a revealing gesture, or an air of difference about them, though it would be inconspicuous to audiences that were unaware of the cues.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Enduring Empowerment : Women Who didn’t Give a Damn! …in Silent & Classic film!

THE SILENT YEARS: When we started not giving a damn on screen!

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THE GODLESS GIRL (1929) CHAIR SMASH courtesy of our favorite genius gif generator- Fritzi of Movies Silently

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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 these fabulous femmes….

Rischka Wildcat
1) Rischka (Pola Negri) in The Wildcat (1921) Ernst Lubitsch’s hyperactive Dr. Seussian comedy is worth seeing for the sets alone but the best part is Pola Negri’s Rischka, a young bandit queen who is terrorizing the mountains. She meets the local Lothario during a robbery and by the end of the scene she has stolen his heart. And his pants.
Countess A Woman of the World
2) The Countess (Pola Negri) in A Woman of the World (1925) Anyone who thought going to Hollywood would tame Pola Negri’s wild side had another thing coming. In this film, she plays a countess whose skull tattoo causes an uproar in Anytown, USA. The film also features a romance between Negri and the stuffy local prosecutor, who soon finds himself on the receiving end of her bullwhip. Not a metaphor.
Miss Lulu Bett
3) Lulu (Lois Wilson) in Miss Lulu Bett (1921) Independent women weren’t always given to violence and thievery. In the case of Lulu, she is a single woman trapped in two Victorian social conventions: spinster and poor relation. During the course of the film, she rejects both titles, learns her own self-worth and empowers herself to enter into a healthy relationship with the local schoolmaster. Tasty feminism!
She's-a-Sheik
4) Zaida (Bebe Daniels) in She’s a Sheik (1927) Silent movie audiences enjoyed reversals of gender tropes. The Rudolph Valentino vehicle The Sheik (1921) had been a smash hit and had spawned many rip-offs and parodies. (kidnapping = love = box office!) In this case, a warrior princess falls for a French officer and decides the most sensible course of action is to abduct him for the purpose of marriage. Sadly, this comedy seems to be one of many silent films that is missing and presumed lost.
Eves Leaves
5) Eve (Leatrice Joy) in Eve’s Leaves (1926) Another gender reversal comedy, Eve’s Leaves features twenties fashion icon Leatrice Joy as a tomboy sailor who finds the perfect man while ashore on business. She ends up saving the day– and her favorite dude in distress– through quick thinking, a knowledge of knots and a mean right hook.
Ossi The Doll
6) Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) in The Doll (1919) Ernst Lubitsch featured another feisty heroine in this surreal comedy. Our hero wishes to dodge marriage but cannot gain his inheritance without a bride. A plan! He will buy a lifelike doll from a famous toymaker and marry that. What he doesn’t know is that the doll was broken, the toymaker’s daughter has taken its place and she means to teach the reluctant bridegroom a lesson. Oswalda’s mischievous antics are a delight.
Molly Sparrows
7) Molly (Mary Pickford) in Sparrows (1926) Mary Pickford was America’s Sweetheart during the silent era and audiences adored her fearless heroines. Molly is one of her boldest. She’s an orphan raised in a Southern swamp who must rescue a kidnapped infant. The epic final race across the swamps– complete with alligators– is still harrowing to behold.
Helen Lass of the Lumberlands
8) Helen (Helen Holmes) in A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916) Helen Holmes was an action star who specialized in train-related stunts and adventure. In this 1916 serial, she saves the day on numerous occasions and even saves her love interest from peril on the train tracks. (It should be mentioned that the Victorian “woman tied to the train tracks” cliche was incredibly rare and usually treated with ridicule in silent films.) This is another movie that is missing and presumed lost.
Musidora Judex
9) Diana Monti (Musidora) in Judex (1916) Not all the empowered women in classic film were heroines. In the case of Musidora, her most famous roles were as criminals. She was the deadly thief/hit-woman Irma Vep in Les Vampires and then took on the titular caped crusader in Judex. Smart, stealthy and likely to slip a stiletto between the ribs… in short, a woman not to be trifled with.
Ambassador's-Daughter
10) Helen (Miriam Nesbitt) in The Ambassador’s Daughter (1913) This short film from Thomas Edison’s motion picture studio features espionage and a quick-thinking heroine. She tracks down spies at the embassy, follows her suspect and manages to steal back the documents that he purloined from her father. Not at all bad for a film made seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
Cornelia The Bat
11) Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy) in The Bat (1926) It’s a dark and stormy night and a murderous costumed villain means to recover stolen loot in an isolated mansion. What is an elderly woman to do? Take up her trusty pistol and investigate, of course! She also wields a dry wit and keeps cool under pressure. The Bat doesn’t stand a chance
Catherine The Eagle
12) Catherine the Great (Louise Dresser) in The Eagle (1925) As mentioned above, Rudolph Valentino specialized in aggressive wooing but he finds the shoe on the other foot in this Russian romance. Louise Dresser is a kick as the assertive czarina who knows what she likes and goes for it.

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!

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“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!

Stanny
Barbara Stanwyck posing with boxing gloves!

The following actresses and their immortal characters are in no particular order…!

Double Indemnity
13. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) Double Indemnity (1944) set fire to the screen as one of the most seductive femme fatales— a dame who made sunglasses and ankle bracelets a provocative weapon. She had murder on her mind and was just brazen enough to concoct an insurance scam that will pay off on her husbands murder in Double Indemnity (1944). Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is the insurance guy who comes around and winds up falling under her dangerous spell… Walter Neff: ”You’ll be here too?” Phyllis: “ I guess so, I usually am.” Neff: “Same chair, same perfume, same ankle?” Phyllis:  “I wonder if I know what you mean?” Neff: “I wonder if you wonder?”
Bacall Slim To Have and Have not
14. Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944) Lauren Bacall walked into our cinematic consciousness at age 19 when Howard Hawks cast her as Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944). A night club singer, (who does a smoking rendition of Hogie Carmichael’s ‘How little We Know”) She’s got a smooth talking deep voiced sultry beauty, possesses a razor sharp wit to crack wise with, telling it like it is and the sexiest brand of confidence and cool. Slim has the allure of a femme fatale, the depth of a soul mate and the reliability of a confidant and a fearless sense of adventure. Playing across Bogart as the jaded Captain Harry Morgan who with alcoholic shipmate Eddie (Walter Brennan ) run a boating operation on the island of Martinique. Broke they take a job transporting a fugitive running from the Nazis. Though Morgan doesn’t want to get involved, Slim is a sympathizer for the resistance, and he falls in love with her, while she makes no bones about wanting him too with all the sexual innuendo to heat things up! Slim: “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.”
Bette as Margo Channing in All About Eve
15. Margo Channing (Bette Davis) All About Eve (1950) In all Bette Davis’ films like (Jezebel (1938) Dark Victory (1939) The Letter (1940) Now, Voyager (1942)), she shattered the stereotypes of the helpless female woman in peril. Davis had an unwavering strength, fearlessly taking on the Hollywood system and embracing fully the moody roles that weren’t always ‘attractive.’  Davis made her comeback in 1950, perhaps melding a bit of her own story as an aging star in All About Eve. Margo must fend off a predatory aspiring actress (Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington) who insinuates herself into Margo’s territory. Davis’ manifests the persona of ambition and betrayal which have become epic… “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” 
a dead ringer bette david Paul Henreid
16. Margaret DeLorca / Edith Phillips (Bette Davis) plays the good twin/bad twin paradigm in Dead Ringer (1964). Edith, is struggling working class gal who owns a nightclub, and Margaret is her vein and opportunistic twin who stole her beau Frank away and married into a wealthy lifestyle. On the night of his funeral, Edith shoots Margaret in a fit of vengeful pique, then assumes her identity with ironic results. Davis again proves even though she commits murder, she can manifest a pathos like no one else… Margaret DeLorca: You really hate me, don’t you? You’ve never forgiven me in all these years.”  Edith Phillips: “Why should I? Tell me why I should.”  Margaret DeLorca: “Well, we’re sisters!”  Edith Phillips: “So we are… and to hell with you!”
bette
17. Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) is a forgotten alcoholic former child star living in a faded Hollywood mansion with her invalid sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), herself an aging Hollywood star. They punish each other with vicious mind games, temper tantrums and repressed feelings of revenge and jealousy.  Jane is a tragic tortured soul who’s life becomes ‘ugly’ because she’s been shunned and imprisoned by a fatal secret in which sister Blanche holds the key. What makes Jane such an empowered figure are the very things that have driven her mad. Jane’s itching for a comeback and is ready to dance and sing her way back into everyone’s heart! Jane has a child-like innocence that gives her that ambition and pure drive to see herself back on the stage. She believes it. While other people might laugh at her behind her back, Jane’s repressed rage also leaves room for joy. She’s an empowered aging actress who refuses to give up the spot light… Good for you Jane, now put down that hammer and feed Blanche something edible… Davis delivering yet another legendary line… Blanche: “You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair.” Jane: But you *are*, Blanche! You *are* in that chair!”
Neal and Newman
18. Alma Brown (Patricia Neal), in Hud (1963): Playing against the unashamed bad boy Hud Bannon (Paul Newman), Alma is a world-weary housekeeper who drips with a quiet stoic sensuality and a slow wandering voice that speaks of her rugged womanly charm. The philandering Hud is drawn to Alma, but she’s too much woman for him in the end… Hud Bannon: “I’ll do anything to make you trade him.” Alma Brown: “No thanks. I’ve done my time with one cold-blooded bastard, I’m not looking for another.”
Ball of Fire (1941) Directed by Howard Hawks Shown: Henry Travers, Oscar Homolka, Gary Cooper, Leonid Kinskey, Aubrey Mather, S.Z. Sakall, Richard Haydn, Tully Marshall, Barbara Stanwyck
19. Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanny) in Ball of Fire (1941) she is just that, a sexy ball of fire and a wise-cracking night club singer who has to hide out from the mob because her testimony could put her mobster boyfriend Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews) away for murder! Some nerdy professors (including Gary Cooper) want to exploit her to study slang and learn what it’s like to speak like real folk and does she turn their world upside down. Sugarpuss O’Shea: [needing help with a stubborn zipper] “You know, I had this happen one night in the middle of my act. I couldn’t get a thing off. Was I embarrassed!“
Killer Jo Walk on the Wild Side
20. Jo Courtney (Barbara Stanwyck) in Walk on The Wild Side (1962). Jo runs the New Orleans bordello called The Doll House with an iron hand— when anyone steps out of line she knows how to handle them. Stanwyck had the guts to play a lesbian in 1962, madly in love with Hallie Gerard (Capucine). Stanwyck’s Jo Courtney is elegant, self-restrained and as imposing as Hera in tailored suits. Having to be strong in a man’s world, her strong instinct for survival and the audacious will to hold onto Hallie brings her world to a violent conclusion…  “Oh you know me better than that Hallie. Sometimes I’ve waited years for what I wanted.”    
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21. Marie Garson (Ida Lupino) in High Sierra (1941) Roy “Mad Dog” Earle has been pardoned from a long prison term. Marie, a rough around the edges taxi dancer, finds herself resisting her attraction to this brutal gangster, forming a very complicated dynamic with a second mobster who wants to pull off a high stakes robbery. Marie is a force of nature that bristles from every nerve she purely musters in this tale of doom-fated bad boys, but more importantly here… A woman can raise a rifle with the best of them! Marie Garson “Yeah, I get it. Ya always sort hope ya can get out, it keeps ya going.”
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22. Lilli Marlowe (Ida Lupino) in Private Hell 36 (1954) This rare noir gem is written by the versatile powerhouse Ida Lupino who also plays Lilli Marlowe. Lilli has expensive tastes. After getting caught up in an investigation of a bank heist, she falls in love with the blue collar cop Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran). Cal has secretly stashed away the missing money from that bank heist, and then begins to suffer from a guilty conscience.  Lilli’s slick repartee is marvelous as Cal and his reluctant partner Jack Farnham (then husband Howard Duff) focus on her, hoping she’ll help them in their investigation. Lilli’s tough, she’s made it on her own and isn’t about to compromise now… Cal may be falling apart but Lilli knows what she wants and she always seems to keep it together! Lilli Marlowe: “Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed I’d meet a drunken slob in a bar who’d give me fifty bucks and we’d live happily ever after.”
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23. Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) in Lifeboat 1944. It’s WWII and Connie is a smart-talking international journalist who’s stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean with an ensemble of paranoid and desperate survivors. Eventually her fur coat comes off, her diamond bracelet and expensive camera gets tossed in the sea. But she doesn’t give a damn, she can take the punishment and still attract the hunky and shirtless (yum) John Kodiak… survival’s just a state of mind… and she does it with vigor and class and a cool calm! Connie Porter: “Dying together’s even more personal than living together.” 
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24. Berenice Sadie Brown (Ethel Waters) The Member of the Wedding 1952. Berenice doesn’t take any crap. She’s in charge of the brooding, temperamental tomboy Franky Addams (Julie Harris) who feels like an outsider. Berenice’s kitchen is a place of wisdom as she tries to bestow some life lessons, to a child who is a wild and longing little soul… Berenice is the only steady source of nurturing and a strong pair of shoulders to lean on… Thank god Franky/Harris didn’t start having her droning inner monologues until The Haunting (1963). Frances ‘Frankie’ Addams: [throws the knife into the kitchen door] “I’m the world’s greatest knife thrower.”  Berenice Sadie Brown: [when Frankie threatens her with a knife] “Lay it down, Satan!” 
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25. The Bride (Elsa Lanchester) Bride of Frankenstein (1935) The Bride might be one of the first screen woman to rabidly defy an arranged/deranged marriage. She’s iconic,  memorable and filled with glorious hiss!.. because The Bride may have come into this world in an unorthodox way, but she’ll be damned if any man is going to tell her who to love! James Whale isn’t the only one who brought about life in this campy horror masterpiece… Elsa Lanchester manifested The Bride with a keen sense of fearsome independence. No matter whether the Monster demands a Mate, The Bride isn’t ready and willing. Lanchester always took daring roles that were larger than life because she had a way of dancing around the edges of Hollywood convention. Charming, hilarious and downright adorable even with the wicked lightning struck hair and stitches and deathly pale skin! the bride-“Hiss…Scream….”
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26. Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Gal Friday (1940) Hildy is a hard-bitten reporter for New York City’s The Morning Post. She’s just gotten back from Reno to a get a divorce from her louse of a husband who happens to also be her boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hildy’s anxious to break ties with her manipulative ex-husband who just isn’t ready to let her leave the job or their marriage so she can marry straight-laced Bruce (Ralph Bellamy)… and he’ll do so by any means. But she’s nobody’s fool… and if she stays it’s because she’s made up her mind to embrace Walter’s crazy antics… Hildy Johnson: [to Walter on the phone] “Now, get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee: There ain’t going to be any interview and there ain’t going to be any story. And that certified check of yours is leaving with me in twenty minutes. I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up. If I ever lay my two eyes on you again, I’m gonna walk right up to you and hammer on that monkeyed skull of yours ’til it rings like a Chinese gong!” 
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27. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard (1950) There’s just no one quite like Norma Desmond. It’s 1950’s decadent Hollywood, the heyday of the Silent Era long gone… and a true screen icon, a sympathetic soul, fights her way to a comeback. brought to life by Gloria Swanson. Swanson, who knew very well what it was like to be a screen goddess railing against fading away, creates an atmosphere of fevered madness. She’s a woman whose desires are punished by an industry and the men who hold the reigns. But Norma doesn’t give a damn she’ll always be ready for that eternal close-up… Yet another memorable phrase is turned and a legend both on and off screen is reborn. Joe Gillis: “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”  Norma Desmond: “I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.” 
Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone
28. Karen Stone -(Vivien Leigh) in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) Karen Stone has the misfortune of being a 50 year old actress. There’s no place in theatre for an old woman of 50. On the way to Italy with her husband who is much older than she, he dies of a heart attack on the plane. Karen decides to settle in Rome and live a quiet life of solitude in her magnificent villa. Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya) is an opportunistic Madame who employs charming young gigolos to wine, dine, and bleed dry wealthy older women. She introduces Paolo di Leo (Warren Beatty) to Karen in hopes that it will bring about a showering of riches from this great American lady. Karen has no use for her old theatre friends, the status, and the game of staying on top. She enjoys the serenity of her life at the villa. Yet she is shadowed by a young Italian street hustler’s mysterious gaze. At first Karen is reserved and cautious but soon she allows Paolo to court her, and the two eventually begin an affair. Karen is aware Paolo is using her for her money, but her passion has been released. She is using him as well. But when his mood begins to sour and he turns away, Karen finds him with a younger wealthy upcoming starlet that he is already sizing up as his next meal ticket… The fling ends but Karen has taken back the power of attraction and sexual desire, and turns the usual stigmatizing dichotomy on it’s head, for while it was okay when she was a younger woman married to a much older man,  she takes a younger male lover Karen Stone: “You see… I don’t leave my diamonds in the soap dish… and when the time comes when nobody desires me… for myself… I’d rather not be… desired… at all.” 
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29. Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner) in Night of the Iguana (1964). Maxine is a the personification of the loner. She is sexually, morally and socially independent from opinion. When Ava was cast as the “earthy widow” the director said her “feline sexuality” was perfect for one of Tennessee Williams’ “hot-blooded ladies.” Maxine runs a quiet out-of-the-way tourist oasis in Mexico. When a bus load of provincial middle aged ladies break down, Maxine has to host Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) a repressed lesbian, her gaggle of ladies who lunch, and Sue Lyon, a Lolita who is chasing Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) a defrocked alcoholic priest, that Maxine would like to become better acquainted with. Once Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather arrive, the atmosphere seems to shift and Shannon is confronted with questions of life and love. Everyone at the hotel has demons and the rich and languid air seems to effect everyone… Maxine waits patiently for Lawrence to realize that they could have a passionate life together if he’d stop torturing himself… Gardner’s scene dancing in the ocean with the two young men is daring and provocative and purely Ava Garnder- Judith Fellowes: [Yelling at Shannon] “You thought you outwitted me, didn’t you, having your paramour here cancel my call.”  Maxine Faulk: “Miss Fellowes, honey, if paramour means what I think it does you’re gambling with your front teeth.”
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 Ava Gardner | Maxine Faulk in Night of the Iguana 1964
HAROLD AND MAUDE, Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, 1971
30. Maude (Ruth Gordon) in Harold and Maude (1971) There is no one quite like Ruth Gordon. She’s a sage, a pixie filled with a dreamy light that shines so bright from within. You can’t help but believe that she was as effervescent off screen as she was on screen.  Maude has a transcendent world view and a personal dogma to live life to the fullest and not waste time with extraneous matters. She believes everyone should be themselves and never mind what other people think… What else can you say about a character that vocalizes as much wisdom as any of the great and insightful spiritual leaders? Maude and Ruth both have a tenacity, vivacity and perspicacity…  Maude: “Harold, *everyone* has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”  — Maude: “I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”  Harold: “I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”  Maude: “Why do you say that?”  Harold: “Because they’re all alike.”  Maude: “Oooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are *this*”

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31. Ma Kate Barker (Shelley Winters) in Bloody Mama 1970: You know that Roger Corman was going to get the BEST woman who didn’t give a damn to play Ma Barker, the machine gun wielding matriarch of a notorious gang of bank robbers. She’ll do anything for her boys… Four boys only a mother could love. She’d kill for them! Ma Barker was irreverent and as mean as a bear backed into a beehive. A bold and brazen nature that delves into a whole other level of ‘no fucks given.’  Holding up a bank with her machine gun in hand “Alright everybody now reach for the nightgown of the lord, REACH!” 
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32. Pepe (Grayson Hall) in Satan in High Heels (1962). Pepe is the owner of a posh burlesque house in mod-yet-gritty 60s New York City. Pepe is an incessant smoker and savvy, domineering woman who brings the story about a new ‘singer’ Stacey Kane (Meg Myles) who joins the club, to a boil— even as she stays as cool as the center seed of a cucumber. Pepe tilts her head sizing up all the various patrons who inhabit her club with just the right mix of aloof and self-possession as she puffs on her cigarette. She’s always ready with the quick lash of her tongue like a world-weary drag queen.  “Bear up, darling, I love your eyelashes.” — “You’ll EAT and DRINK what I SAY until you lose five pounds IN THE PLACES WHERE!”
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33. Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne), The Awful Truth (1937) Before the ink on the divorce papers is dry Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) torture each other and sabotage any chances of either of them getting re-married. Both Lucy and Jerry carry on monologues to themselves throwing out quick witted repartee, so that we can see both sides of the story. One evening, when Jerry is flirting with the idea of marrying into a high society family, Lucy impersonates his sister, playing at it like a cheap bimbo. At one point she does a fabulous drunken Hoochie dance, wiggling around with a provocative sway falling into her ex-husbands arms in a way that should definitely put a dent in Jerry’s plans. Lucy is hell bent on driving Jerry crazy, yet becomes flustered herself when the tables are turned on her as she tries to carry on with her new fiancé (Ralph Bellamy). Jerry Warriner: “In a half an hour, we’ll no longer be Mr. and Mrs. Funny, isn’t it.”  Lucy Warriner: “Yes, it’s funny that everything’s the way it is on account of the way you feel.”  Jerry Warriner: “Huh?”  Lucy Warriner: “Well, I mean, if you didn’t feel that way you do, things wouldn’t be the way they are, would they? I mean, things could be the same if things were different.”  Jerry Warriner: “But things are the way you made them.”  Lucy Warriner: “Oh, no. No, things are the way you think I made them. I didn’t make them that way at all. Things are just the same as they always were, only, you’re the same as you were, too, so I guess things will never be the same again.”
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34. Catherine ‘Cay’ Higgins (Ruth Roman) in Tomorrow is Another Day (1951). Catherine is a tough dance hall girl who isn’t afraid to get herself dirty. She goes on the lam for the sake of self preservation when her new love interest Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) is wrongfully accused of killing her abusive pimp… and geez he’s just gotten out of prison after a long stretch. Cay is ballsy, extremely earthy, and exudes an inner strength that is so authentic it’s hard not to believe she could take one on the chin and still keep going. She embodies an indestructible sort of sex appeal, powerfully passionate and self-assertive woman you’d want to be with you if you’re ever on the lam… Catherine ‘Cay’ Higgins: “You worked a whole day just to dance a minute at Dream Land?  Bill Clark: It was worth it.”
Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr in Pitfall 1948
35. Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott) Pitfall (1948) Mona is a sultry dewy blonde fashion model with a low simmering voice in the greatest tradition of the noir femme fatale. Forbes falls for her, and they begin to see each other, though she unwittingly starts the affair without knowing he’s married. It’s a recipe for disaster because ex-cop turned private dick J B MacDonald (Raymond Burr) is psychotically obsessed with Mona and will set things up so Forbes goes down. Mona is a tough cookie, who unfortunately keeps attracting the wrong men. But she can take on any challenge because she’s got that noir frame of mind. She’s a doll who can make up her own mind and can hold a gun in her hand as easily as if it were a cigarette. Mona “You’re a little man with a briefcase. You go to work every morning and you do as you’re told.”
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36. Lady Torrence (Anna Magnani ) in The Fugitive Kind (1960) Lady is an earthy woman who’s passions run like a raging river & her emotions and truths flow freely on the surface clear and forceful. She is a shop owner in Louisiana who is stoically existing in a brutal marriage to her cruel and vindictive husband Jabe (Victor Jory) who’s bed-ridden and dying of cancer. Lady dreams of building a confectionary in the back of the store. Along comes Marlon Brando as Valentine “Snakeskin’ Xavier, a guitar playing roamer who takes a job in the shop. Lady’s jaded loneliness and Valentine’s raw animal magnetism combust and the two begin a love affair. And Lady suddenly sees possibility again and her re-awakened passion empowers her to live her dreams. Lady-“Let’s get this straight, you don’t interest me no more than the air you stand in.”
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37.  Egle (Anna Magnani) … And the Wild Wild Women (1959) Egle is the toughest inmate at this Italian prison for women. When Lina (Giulietta Masina) is convicted on a wrong felony charge, Egle takes her under her hardened wing and tutors her in the ways of crime. Egle is an instigator, she’s volatile and inflammatory and stirs up quite a riot at times. She’s got no fear. She is a tougher-than-nails, armpit-washing dame who just could care less about anyone else’s comfort or freedom. She’s a woman who has built up a tough exterior long enough that she truly is made of steel. The only thing that may betray that strength is at times the past sorrow or suffering that swims in her deep dark eyes.
The Rose Tattoo
38. Serafina Delle Rose (Anna Magnani) in The Rose Tattoo (1955) As the tagline states ‘Seething with realism and frankness!” You can’t get any other kind of performance from Magnani, her passionate soul is right up front, on her face and in her movements like a wild animal she moves so freely. Serafina is perpetual grieving widow filled with fire, playing against another actor (Burt Lancaster) whose bigger-than-life presence comes her way to bring about a lighthearted romance… Serafina is a seamstress in a small New Orleans town. She lives with the memory of her dead husband as if he were a saint. She mourns and wears black to show she is still committed to her man, even after he’s been killed by police while smuggling drugs for the mafia hidden in the bananas in his truck. With the presence of the local Strega or witch (Serafina gives deference to these things illustrating that she is of an older world of ancient feminine magic and empowerment), and her wandering goat, the town of fish wives & gossips who point, stare, judge, wail and cackle with their unkind insults put Serafina it forces her to fight for every last bit of dignity. Serafina gives deference to these things illustrating that she is of an older world of ancient feminine magic and empowerment. Once she learns her dead husband Rosario Delle Rose (who had a rose tattoo on his chest) was having an affair, the spell that leaves her imprisoned by mourning, breaks and awakens her will to celebrate life once again. She is stubborn, & passionate, and she has a strength that commands the birds out of the trees.  Serafina “We are Sicilians. We don’t leave girls with the boys they’re not engaged to!” Jack “Mrs Delle Rose this is the United States.” Serafina “But we are Sicilians, and we are not cold-blooded!”
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39. Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) Martha who is the archetypal Xanthippe and George (Richard Burton) are a middle-aged couple marinated in alcohol, using verbal assaults, brutal tirades, and orgies of humiliation as a form of connecting to one and other. All the characters spew biting blasphemous satire and are each neurotic in their own ways. But Martha is a woman who spits out exactly what she wants to say and doesn’t hold back. It’s an experiment in at home couple’s therapy served with cocktails, as they invite Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) to join the  humiliating emotional release. In the opening of the film Martha arrives home and does a nod to Bette Davis while also condemning her own personal space and the state of her marriage, as she says “What a dump.” “I swear to GOD George, if you even existed I’d divorce you.”– Martha: “You’re all flops. I’m the Earth Mother, and you are all flops.”
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40. Gloria Wandrous  (Elizabeth Taylor) in Butterfield 8 (1960) Gloria is a fashionable Manhattan beauty who’s part model, part call-girl–and all man-trap. She grew up during the Depression and couldn’t escape the sexual advances of her uncle. New York City was for her a great escape. Gloria becomes an independent, sexually free woman who wants to get paid for her time. She hits the bottle a lot, because she has those dark troubling memories from her past that make her want to drown her thoughts. She winds up meeting a wealthy business executive who’s married, Weston Liggett, (Laurence Harvey) instantly he becomes entranced by her. She’s thrown off course and headed toward a fateful end, because she sees a kindred soul in the disillusioned Liggett who isn’t happy in his marriage. Their passion breathes new life into both lonely people. Though we can admire her sexual liberation, in cinema, women in the 60s ultimately had to be punished for their willful freedom, though it’s a double standard of course. Liz Taylor is another screen goddess who never shied away from bold & provocative roles. Gloria Wandrous: “Command performances leave me quite cold. I’ve had more fun in the back seat of a ’39 Ford than I could ever have in the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank.”
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41. Severine Sevigny (Catherine Deneuve) in Belle du Jour (1967) A whole new world opens up to Severine, a repressed housewife married to a doctor, when she decides to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute. While she can not seem to find any pleasure or intimacy with her husband, she blossoms in the brothel run by Madame Anais (Geneviève Page) and adopts a persona that can experiment with her secret desires of being dominated, her sexual appetites flourish during the day, when often she runs into more rough clients. But, sexual freedom has a price and ultimately, a relationship with a volatile and possessive john (Pierre Clémenti) could prove to be dangerous. Severine breaks free of the confines of convention, like marriage, and explores a provocative even deviant kind of sexual behavior. She allows herself to go further and explore the most secret desires by indulging them, it is quite adventurous and risky and Deneuve masters it with a transcendent elegance. Madame Anais: “I have an idea. Would you like to be called “Belle de Jour?”  Séverine Serizy: “Belle de Jour?”  Madame Anais: “Since you only come in the afternoons.”  Séverine Serizy: “If you wish.” 
Moreau Bride Wore Black
42. Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) in The Bride Wore Black (1968) Julie Kohler is on a mission of revenge for the men who accidentally shot her husband on their wedding day outside the church. It was a short marriage… Julie finds a maniacal almost macabre sort of presentation to her theater of revenge, she moves through the film with the ease of a scorpion. But there’s dark humor and irony  (in François Truffaut’s homage to Hitchcock) running through the narrative. Like a good mystery thriller it utilizes very classic iconographic motifs. Julie is a captivating figure of sadness and passion put out at the height of it’s flame. Once passion for her late husband, and now passion for revenge. It’s playful and sexy and Moreau is utterly brilliant as the resourceful Julie Kolher who creates a satirically dire & elaborate, slightly Grande Guignol adventure of a vengeful woman on a crusade to exact poetic justice where the system has failed. Coral: “Permit me to make an impossible wish?” Julie Kohler: “Why impossible?” Coral: “Because I’m a rather pessimist.” Julie Kohler: “I’ve heard it said: “There are no optimists or pessimists. There are only happy idiots or unhappy ones”. .Julie-“It’s not a mission. It’s work. It’s something I must do” Priest–“Give it up”
 Julie–“That’s impossible, I must continue til it’s over”
Priest–“Have you have no remorse in your heart?… don’t you fear for your soul?”
Julie-“NO… no remorse, nor fear.”
Priest-“you know you’ll be caught in the end”
Julie-“The justice of men is powerless to punish, I’m already dead. I stopped living the moment David died. I’ll join David after I’ve had my revenge.”
Brigitte Helm Alraune
43. Alraune ten Brink -Brigitte Helm as Alraune 1928. A daughter of destiny! Created by Professor Jakob ten Brinken (Paul Wegener) Alraune is a variation on the Shelley story about man and his womb envy- which impels him to create a human-oid figure from unorthodox methods. A creation who does not possess a soul. He dared to violate nature when he experiments with the seed (sperm) of a hanged man and the egg of a prostitute. Much like James Whale’s Frankenstein who sought the secrets of life, Alraune is essentially a dangerous female who’s origin is seeded from this socially constructed ‘deviance’ of the hanged criminal and the whore (the film proposes that a whore is evil- I do not) Mixing the essence of sin with the magical mandrake root by alchemist ten Brinken he is seeking the answer to the question of an individual’s humanity and whether it be a product of nature or nurture. Alraune stumbles onto the truth about her origin when she reads the scientist’s diary… What could be more powerful than a woman who isn’t born with the sense of socially ordered morality imposed or innate. Is she not the perfect femme fatale without a conscience, yet… A woman who knows she is doomed to a life without a soul, she runs away with her creators love-sick nephew, leaving Professor ten Brinken, father figure and keeper- alone.
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44. Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) in Night of the Hunter (1955) “I’ve never been in style, so I can never go out of style.” Lillian Gish. There are certain images that will remain with you long after seeing masterpieces like Night of the Hunter. Aside from Harry Powell and Mitchum’s frightening portrayal of an opportunistic sociopath, beyond the horror of what he is, the film is like a childhood fairy tale. It’s a cautionary tale about the boogeyman but it’s also a story about the resilient spirit and far reaching imagination of children. And those who are the guardian angels of the world. One of the most calming and fortifying images- is that of Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) protecting the children from harm, holding the rifle and keeping watch like a wonderful fairy god mother elected by fate to guard those little ones with her powerful brand of love… There’s just something about Gish’s graceful light that emanates from within and the character she manifests in the righteous Rachel Cooper…. Rachel Cooper: “It’s a hard world for little things.”
Lucille Ball in The Dark Corner
45. Kathleen Stewart- (Lucille Ball) in The Dark Corner (1956) Kathleen Stewart is the always faithful and trustworthy secretary of private investigator Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) She’s the right amount of snarky and just a sexy bundle of smarts… Bradford Galt: “You know, I think I’ll fire you and get me a Tahitian secretary.”  Kathleen Stewart: “You won’t like them; those grass skirts are a fire hazard.”  Kathleen just won’t quit her boss. She knows he’s in trouble and wants to help him face it head on. She keeps pushing Galt to open up that steel safe “heart”, of his and let her help. Once she’s in on the intrigue, she’s right there with him, putting her secretarial skills aside and getting into the fray with her love interest/boss. She shows no fear or hesitation, doesn’t look down on Galt’s past, and is quite a versatile sidekick who really helps him out of a dangerous set up! She’s that other sort of  film noir heroine Not quite the ‘good girl’ nor a femme fatale. A strong sassy woman who doesn’t shy away from danger and when she’s in… She’s in it ‘for keeps.’ And say… isn’t that empowering!. Kathleen tells it like it is, sure she dotes on the down and out guy and is the strong shoulder to lean on, whenever things get frenzied or rough. Doesn’t make her a sap, it makes her a good friend and companion! Kathleen: “I haven’t worked for you very long, Mr. Galt, but I know when you’re pitching a curve at me, and I always carry a catcher’s mitt.”  Bradford Galt: “No offense. A guy’s got to score, doesn’t he?”  Kathleen: “Not in my league. I don’t play for score, I play for keeps “
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46. Lady Lu (Mae West) in She Done Him Wrong (1933) In the Gay Nineties, Lady Lu is a voluptuous nightclub owner/singer (she sings-A Guy What Takes His Time) who has men falling all over themselves. One is her ex lover who just escaped from prison, and a few waiting in the wings. Lu is interested in the handsome Captain Cummings (Cary Grant) who runs the temperance league across the way. Lady Lu loves to be bathed in and dazzled by diamonds, lots of diamonds. But Lu is also determined to seduce missionary Cary Grant… who is more interested in her soul than in her body-Marvelous Mae tells him- “Maybe I ain’t got no soul.” Mae had a hand in creating the woman who didn’t give a damn! She gave us the immortal line… “Come up’n see me sometime. I’m home every evenin’–“Lady Lou: “Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them.”  Captain Cummings: “Well, surely you don’t mind my holding your hand?”  Lady Lou: “It ain’t heavy – I can hold it myself.” 
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47.  Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) in Diabolique (1955) Simone Signoret is a torrent of sensuality (Room at the Top 1959, Ship of Fools 1965) Christina Delassalle (Véra Clouzot) plays the wife of a sadistic husband Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) the controlling headmaster at their boarding school for boys. Nicole is the mistress of the cruel Michel, who has formed a special bond with Christina. Nicole incites the timid and weakly woman to kill the bastard by drowning him in a bathtub and then dumping his body in the school’s unused and mucky swimming pool. Nicole is determined and forceful in her mission to rid Christine of this abusive beast and the two women go through with the plan.  Nicole Horner: [to Christina] “I won’t have any regrets.”  In short, the pool is drained, the body isn’t there. And then there are numerous eerie sightings of the dead man which eventually drives the murderesses into a panic…  Is Nicole in on an even more nefarious scheme to drive Christina crazy? For now, the main focus is how Nicole summons a thuggish type of power that is riveting.  What’s remarkable about the film, aside from Clouzot’s incredible construction of a perfectly unwinding suspense tale, Signoret’s performance exudes grit and an unrelenting audaciousness. Nicole.  Christina Delassalle: “Don’t you believe in Hell?”  Nicole Horner: “Not since I was seven.” 
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48 Mia Farrow is Rosemary Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby 1968
Ruth and Mia
48. Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Rosemary has a fearless defiance in an ordinary world that becomes an unsafe space and a deep well of paranoia. Beyond guarding her body and motherhood against all intruders, Rosemary has an open mind, a delicate brand of kindness although troubled by a catholic upbringing that haunts her, she is still ‘too good’ and too independent to taint. And she winds up taking life and the life of her baby on her own terms. No one could have manifested the spirit of Rosemary Woodhouse like Mia Farrow. It’s an indomitable image of striking resiliency. A heroine who braves an entire secretive cult of devil worshipers entrenched in the high society of NYC. That takes a lot of guts people!… Ruth Gordon as well personifies a meddling old New York busybody who just happens to be a modern day witch. Minnie Castavet also does what she wants -as she is empowered with her quirky style and her beliefs, as wicked as they may be…And her wardrobe is bold, kitschy and fabulous! Rosemary Woodhouse: “Pain, begone, I will have no more of thee!”
Geraldine Page
49. Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page) in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) Alexandra Del Lago is a decadent, soaked in boozed, and fading film star who is picked up by drifter by Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) for a tumble in the sheets. He’s been trying to break into the film biz for years, and hoping that Alexandra can help him get a screen test. He also wants to be reunited with his old flame Heavenly Finley (Shirley Knight). Chance Wayne: “I had my picture on the cover of Life magazine!… And at the same time I was… employing my other talent, lovemaking.”  Alexandra Del Lago: “That may be the only talent you were ever truly meant for.” The roles that Geraldine Page would often take were filled with an intellect that transcends the strong female archetype. As Alexandra, she has a unique sort of cynical romanticism that exudes, a bit of alienation, a touch of longing and a penetrating intensity. She might be a washed up film star but she’s also a philosopher with a grasp of vocalizing the ironies and tragedies of life. She wants to drown her sorrows in liquor so she can escape from the pain of her life, and the uncertainty the future holds. But within that internal tumult is the soul of a great lady. Narcissistic, world-weary and a spirit stoked by those heart-aches.
Anna Lucasta (1958) | Pers: Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr | Dir: Arnold Laven | Ref: ANN040AE | Photo Credit: [ United Artists / The Kobal Collection ] | Editorial use only related to cinema, television and personalities. Not for cover use, advertising or fictional works without specific prior agreement
50. Anna Lucasta (Eartha Kitt) (1958) Young Anna is rejected by her sanctimonious father Joe played to the hilt by Rex Ingram. While the rest of the family wants Anna to come home, her self-righteous father can’t resist demonizing his daughter, with an underlying incestuous desire that he is battling.  Anna takes the cliched road of the fallen woman and becomes a good time gal who meets Danny (Sammy Davis Jr.) a cab driving sailor who is as smooth as silk and as fiery as molten lead. Though there is an underlying sadness because of the estrangement with her father, Anna possesses a strong sense of self, and exudes a fiery passion that cannot be denied… She isn’t a bad girl, she had to find her own way and again, it often leads to taking control of who you love and how you love. She and Sammy have a smoking hot chemistry on screen, and Kitt is just powerful as a woman who made that road her own…  Danny- “Tell her who Papa is” (speaking about the little carved wooden Haitian idol he’s given her) Lester – “That’s the model of Agwé the Haitian god of the sea. Seems he’s good to sailors” Anna- “Looks like Papa and me’s got something in common…”
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51. Carol Richman (Ella Raines) in Phantom Lady 1944 Carol Richman risks her life to try to find the elusive woman who can prove her boss (Alan Curtis) didn’t murder his wife. The unhappy guy spends a fateful evening with a woman he has picked up in a bar. He doesn’t know her name but she wears an unusual hat, which might be a clue for Carol to try and track down. Carol’s got so much guts, she puts herself in harms way so many times but she’s fearless just the same. Even when she meets the super creepy jazz drummer Cliff Milburn, who obviously is manic and might just be a sadist in bed, (if his drumming is any indication.) Plus there’s always the deranged sculptor Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone) who seems to be a menacing force.  Cliff Milburn (Elisha Cook Jr) “You Like Jive?” Carol ‘Kansas’ Richman “You bet, I’m a hep kitten” 
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52. Pam Grier is Coffy 1973  Okay okay tho I’m sneaking in past the 1970 cut off… I’m a woman who doesn’t give a damn and nodding to one of the greatest 70’s icon… Pam Grier set the pace for strong female heroines that laid the groundwork for all the others to follow… so she gets a nod from me! She plays a nurse who becomes a vigilante in order to get justice against the inner-city drug dealers who are responsible for her sister’s overdose… Coffy sets the bar high for strong female characters who wouldn’t back down, and who possessed a strength that is meteoric and a force to be reckoned with. Beautiful, resourceful, intelligent -a strikingly irrepressible image that will remain in the cultural consciousness for an eternity. Arturo Vitroni: “Crawl, n*gger!” Coffy: [pulls out gun] “You want me to crawl, white mother fucker?” Arturo Vitroni: “What’re you doing? Put that down.” Coffy: “You want to spit on me and make me crawl? I’m gonna piss on your grave tomorrow.”
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53. Charlie (Teresa Wright), in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Charlie is tired of small-town life with her parents and annoying younger sister. She’s a girl starved for new adventures, longing for something exciting to happen, to stir up her life. Careful what you wish for… She’s overwhelmed with joy when her beloved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) decides to pay the family a visit. But something isn’t quite right with her idol, he begins to exhibit a strange sort of underlying hostility and troubling secret nature… Her mother’s (Patricia Collinge) younger brother is actually a sadistic serial killer who preys on rich widows by marrying them, then strangling them! He’s so charming and charismatic that women can’t help being drawn to him. But young Charlie begins to see through his facade. Why would he cut out the news headline in the paper about a murderer who kills rich women? It all begins to take shape, and unfortunately Uncle Charlie can’t afford to have his favorite niece spill the beans.  What’s remarkable about young Charlie is that for a girl who fantasizes and indulges herself in things of a more romantic nature, she’s pretty darn brave in the self preservation department since no one else in the family believes her suspicions that he’s The Merry Widow killer. And she might just have to go rogue and wind up killing him in self-defense… Young Charlie: “Go away, I’m warning you. Go away or I’ll kill you myself. See… that’s the way I feel about you.”
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Constance Towers & Virginia Gray
Constance Towers The Naked Kiss
54. Kelly (Constance Towers) in The Naked Kiss (1964) The opening of the film is one of the most audacious entrances in early exploitation cinema,as Kelly confronts her pimp who has shaved off her hair and stolen her money. Kelly brutally pummels the rat with her handbag. Stripped of her hair she looks like a mannequin signifying her as the ‘object’ She is introduced to us from the opening of the narrative as a fighter. Kelly manages to fit in to the quaint new town of Granville she’s made her home until the perverse true nature of Granville’s benefactor is exposed. Grant (Michael Dante) possesses a dark secret that Kelly stumbles onto and ultimately explodes in scandal. The story is a mine field of social criticisms and hypocrisy that allow Kelly to rise above her persecution by the local cop Griff (Anthony Eisley) who isn’t adverse to taking Kelly to bed himself or frequenting Madame Candy’s (Virginia Gray) high class “cat house’ yet he’s above reproach. Griff tells Kelly it’s a clean town and he doesn’t want her operating there. But Kelly wants out of the business. She’s great with disabled children at the hospital and just wants a fresh start. Until she exposes the truly deviant secret about Grant and winds up accused of his murder. Kelly initially walks the fine line of being the ‘whore’ of the story, the one who needs redemption only to have the narrative flip it around and more importantly it’s the town that must be redeemed because of it is jaundiced complacency from the long kept secrets of the wealthy Patriarchal family that own and run it. Kelly is a powerful protagonist, because she kicks down the door of hypocrisy and judgement. Kelly also shatters the limitations that are placed on women. There’s exists a displaced female rage that started to become articulated later on with ‘f’eminist parable’ films during the late 60s and 70s. In the end she no longer is labeled or objectified or persecuted. She is embraced as a savior. Kelly’s got a reserve of strength and a great sense of self. To me she ends up being a heroine who rather than redeems herself becomes the catalyst for cleansing the ‘white middle-class’ town of it’s hypocrisy… Kelly (talking to Capt. Griff Anthony Eisley)“I washed my face clean the morning I woke up in your bedroom!”
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55. Velma (Agnes Moorehead) in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) Velma is Charlotte’s trusted companion. She shows a lot of gumption when Cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) shows up trying to gaslight poor Charlotte who’s suffered enough at the grotesque and tawdry way she lost her fiancee, and how she lived under the oppressive thumb of her father (Victor Buono). Velma wasn’t nary shy a bit to face off with Cousin Miriam, that intimidating gold-digging she-devil in Park Avenue clothes. (From de Havilland’s own wardrobe) Velma always says it like it is, and tries to be a trusted friend to Charlotte even when the whole town shuns her as a crazy axe murderess. We all need friends who would either help you hide the body, or at least defend you against an accusing mob… either way. I’m pretty sure Velma could have taken Miriam if she didn’t have Joseph Cotton’s help on her side… And we can’t forget Mary Astor’s firebrand performance as Jewel Mayhew… Jewel Mayhew: “Well, right here on the public street, in the light of day, let me tell you, Miriam Deering, that murder starts in the heart, and its first weapon is a vicious tongue.”– Velma Cruther talking to Cousin Miriam: “O you’re finally showin’ the right side of your face. Well, I seen it all along. That’s some kinda drug you been givin’ her. Isn’t it? It’s what’s been making her act like she’s been. Well, Ah’m goin’ into town and Ah’m tellin them what you been up to.”

Continue reading “Enduring Empowerment : Women Who didn’t Give a Damn! …in Silent & Classic film!”

The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon! The Doomsday Bride & Bitter Blood of Lily Mortar

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Thanks to Silver ScreeningsA Small Press Life and Font & Frock–we’re celebrating the work of Miriam Hopkins!

Miriam Hopkins

Miriam Hopkins has a luminous, quiet dreamy beauty.

Born in Savannah Georgia Oct. 18th 1902 she died Oct 9, 1972-a chorus girl in New York city at the age of 20 she made her first motion picture after signing with Paramount Pictures called Fast and Loose (1930).

In 1931, she raised some eyebrows in 1931’s horror thriller Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Rouben Mamoulian’s.

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Miriam Hopkins portrayed the character Ivy Pearson, a prostitute who becomes mesmerized by Jekyll and Hyde a tale of sexuality in revolt. Though many of her scenes were cut from the film she still managed to get rave reviews for the mere 5 minutes she spent on the screen.

Frederick March & Miriam Hopikns

Frederick March walked away with the Oscar for Best Leading Man in that horror gem. Miriam Hopkins had been up for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind being that she was an authentic Southern lady, but the part… of course went to Vivien Leigh… “As God as my witness they’re not going to lick me”

Miriam would make three pictures with  Ernst Lubitsch, The Smiling Lieutenant 1931, Trouble in Paradise 1932, and Design for Living 1933. Design for Living being my favorite!

From Wikipedia-Nevertheless her career ascended swiftly thereafter and in 1932 she scored her breakthrough in Ernst Lubitsch‘s Trouble in Paradise, where she proved her charm and wit as a beautiful and jealous pickpocket. During the pre-code Hollywood of the early 1930s, she appeared in The Smiling Lieutenant, The Story of Temple Drake and Design for Living, all of which were box office successes and critically acclaimed.[4] Her pre-code films were also considered risqué for their time, with The Story of Temple Drake depicting a rape scene and Design for Living featuring a ménage à trois with Fredric March and Gary Cooper.

William Wyler revising the film release of The Children’s Hour 1961, had been based on his original theatrical presentation with Hopkin’s in what was called These Three (1936). In the remake, she plays Aunt Lily Mortar to Shirley MacLaine’s troubled Martha, stepping into the role that Hopkins once portrayed.

Joel McCrea, Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins These Three
These Three (1936) starring Joel McCrea, Merle Oberon and our Miriam Hopkins as Martha Dobie in William Wyler’s toned down version of the Lillian Hellman play

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THE CHILDREN’S HOUR 1961

IMDb trivia: William Wyler cut several scenes hinting at Martha’s homosexuality for fear of not receiving the seal of approval from the Motion Picture Production Code. At the time, any story about homosexuality was forbidden by the production code.  

Directed by William Wyler, cinematography by Franz Planer (Criss Cross 1949,Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961) working with Wyler they used effective mood changes with his lighting, creating an often provocative atmosphere. The film showcases some truly great performances by the entire cast, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner (who sadly passed away on July 19th of this year.) Including Veronica Cartwright and Fay Bainter. Miriam Hopkins mixes a sad yet infuriating empathy toward her flighty judgmental and often elusive tie to the theatre she harkens back to. She is incapable of being there for her tormented niece.

The story concerns the struggle of two young and independent women trying to make a go of it by running a private boarding school for adolescent girls. The intrusion of a lie, ultimately founded on a malicious rumor concocted by the spoiled young niece Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) begins to spread like deadly poison that Karen (Hepburn) and Martha (Maclean) are having a lesbian relationship. And the lie proceeds to ruin Karen’s engagement to Joe, worried parents flood to the school to pull out their children at risk of being exposed to that ‘love that dare not speak it’s name!’ and basically causes the ruination of Karen and Martha’s dream.

Whether the idea be true or not, the wake of the devastation of all the lives involved lead to poetic & unfortunate tragedy.

Martha and Karen’s quite independent business relationship and personal friendship seemed to challenge very conventional standards of a woman’s role, creating an uncomfortable pall over the town, the school and the women involved in the scandal, and we sense this dis-ease on film. This all seems to feed the accessibility of suspicion when Mary makes her accusation, fueled by things she’s overheard Aunt Lily recklessly say about Martha.

Aunt Lili

Mrs. Lily Mortar“Friendship between women, yes. But not this insane devotion! Why, it’s unnatural. Just as unnatural as can be.”

Mrs. Lily Mortar: Any day that he’s in the house is a bad day. You can’t stand them being together and you’re taking out on me. You’ve always had a jealous, possessive nature even as a child. If you had a friend, you’d be upset if she liked anybody else. And that’s what’s happening now. And it’s unnatural. It’s just as unnatural as it can be.

Mrs. Lily Mortar: God will punish you.

Martha: He‘s doing all right.

Miriam Hopkins, is an added unpleasant moral eccentric and parasite who feeds off Karen and her niece Martha who have always had an apparently strained relationship because she’s money-grubbing, spineless and a user right from the beginning.

Miriam Hopkin’s Aunt Lily glides through the film like narcissus’ secretary waiting for that great part that is never coming. Supposedly on tour with a drama company, or just avoiding the scandal, when she could have cleared the women’s reputations and saved the school from being shut down.

At time’s she histrionic, over-theatrical, melodramatic and a relic of bygone days. Like an obsolete thespian Harpy who lingers around the house, tormenting poor Martha who is struggling with her own inner demons that Aunt Lily seems all too well to recognize.

Aunt Lily trying to stir up dramaturgical dust while teaching her pupils elocution, she shows herself to be out of fashion, a bit of an outcast, and as dried up as the dead flowers, the young conniving and at times socio-pathic Mary steals from the garbage to give to Lily as a ruse for being late to class.

Aunt Lily is needful, maneuvering and scheming as she insinuates herself into the lives of Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and her niece Martha (Shirley MacLaine) A non stop know it all… with a showy flare for dramatics.

At the school, Aunt Lily teaches the girl elocution lessons, music and theatre which is perfect for her narcissistic compulsion to inflate her own ego while pushing her highfalutin ideas of breeding “breeding is everything”. Lily is materialistic, money hungry and will use Martha for whatever she can get out of her.

After Lily accuses Martha’s relationship with Karen as being ‘unnatural’ And how her mood changes when ever Joe, Karen’s fiance (James Garner) is in the house. Martha throws her out. Paying her off so she’ll stay away. Hopkins does a truly perfect job of being the parasitic opportunist who offers nothing but grief.

I loved Miriam Hopkins  as the gutsy Mrs. Shipton -‘The Duchess’ in The Outcasts of Poker Flats 1952.

Until 1970 when like most great screen sirens, who seemed to inevitably get handed that part of Grande Dame Guignol caricature of the fading Hollywood star. Hopkin’s last film was the brutally disturbing Strange Intruder in 1970. She playing the recluse Katharine Parker, who is befriended by a psychopathic woman hater, then terrorized by him- John David Garfield (Yes son of the great John Garfield). Gale Sondergaard plays her companion Leslie who staunchly remains at her side to no avail.

While Miriam Hopkins who played Martha in the original film These Three (1936) agreed to play the part of Martha’s Aunt Lily,  Merle Oberon, who played Karen in the original film, turned down the part of Mrs. Tilford.

Mr. Happy… Bosley Crowther once again fangs the performances of The Children’s Hour with his serpentine wit. Published in The New York Times review March 15th 1962

“But here it is, fidgeting and fuming, like some dotty old doll in bombazine with her mouth sagging open in shocked amazement at the batedly whispered hint that a couple of female schoolteachers could be attached to each other by an “unnatural” love.

If you remember the stage play, that was its delicate point, and it was handled even then with a degree of reticence that was a little behind the sophistication of the times. (Of course, the film made from the stage play in 1936 and called “These Three” avoided that dark hint altogether; it went for scandal down a commoner avenue.)

But here in this new film version, directed and produced by the same William Wyler who directed the precautionary “These Three,” the hint is intruded with such astonishment and it is made to seem such a shattering thing (even without evidence to support it) that it becomes socially absurd. It is incredable that educated people living in an urban American community today would react as violently and cruelly to a questionable innuendo as they are made to do in this film.

And that is not the only incredible thing in it. More incredible is its assumption of human credulity. It asks us to believe that the parents of all twenty pupils in a private school for girls would yank them out in a matter of hours on the slanderously spread advice of the grandmother of one of the pupils that two young teachers in the school were “unnatural.”

It asks us to believe the grandmother would have been convinced of this by what she hears from her 12-year-old granddaughter, who is a dubious little darling at best. And, most provokingly, it asks us to imagine that an American court of law would not protect the innocent victims of such a slander when all the evidence it had to go upon was the word of two children and the failure of a key witness to appear.

In short, there are several glaring holes in the fabric of the plot, and obviously Miss Hellman, who did the adaptation, and John Michael Hayes, who wrote the script, knew they were there, for they have plainly sidestepped the biggest of them. They have not let us know what the youngster whispered to the grandmother that made her hoot with startled indignation and go rushing to the telephone. Was it something that a 12-year-old girl could have conceivably made up out of her imagination (which is what she was doing in this scene)?

And they have not let us into the courtroom where the critical suit for slander was tried. They have only reported the trial and the verdict in one quickly tossed off line.

So this drama that was supposed to be so novel and daring because of its muted theme is really quite unrealistic and scandalous in a prim and priggish way. What’s more, it is not too well acted, except by Audrey Hepburn in the role of the younger of the school teachers. She gives the impression of being sensitive and pure.

Shirley MacLaine as the older school teacher, the one who eventually admits in a final scene with her companion that she did have a yen for her, inclines to be too kittenish in some scenes and do too much vocal hand-wringing toward the end.

Fay Bainter is fairly grim as the grandmother but little Karen Balkin as the mendacious child is simply not sufficiently tidy as a holy terror to make her seem formidable. James Garner as the fiancé of Miss Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins as the aunt of Miss MacLaine give performances of such artificial laboring that Mr. Wyler should hang his head in shame.”

 

Continue reading “The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon! The Doomsday Bride & Bitter Blood of Lily Mortar”

Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.

“I was born a character actor. I was never really a leading man type.” –Burgess Meredith

Burgess Meredith
Oliver Burgess Meredith

WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2014

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It’s here again! The most fabulous blogathon honoring those unsung stars that add that certain singular glimmer to either the cinematic sphere or the small screen sky–The character actors we’ve grown to love and follow adoringly. Thanks so much to Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club  for hosting such a marvelous tribute once again!

This post’s title comes from the opening narrative for Rod Serling’s favorite Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last.”  ‘Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers’ From Season 1 episode 8 which aired on November 20th 1959.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE “TIME ENOUGH AT LAST”

Directed by John Brahm, “Time Enough At Last” tells the story of a little bespectacled bibliophile bank teller named Henry Bemis ,a bookworm, a slave to the iron fisted hand of time and all it’s dreary inescapable obligatory scars and yearnings.

Burgess Meredith Twilight Zone still

Browbeaten by his wife, boss and even the public at large who see him as an outcast because of his ravenous appetite to read books! Henry can’t even sneak away to read a newspaper during work hours. He’s forced to resort to studying the labels on condiment bottles. She won’t even let him read the ketchup. His harpy of a wife Helen ( Jacqueline deWit) even blackens in the lines of his books at home, calling it “doggerel“– One day as fate would have it, he steals away to the basement vault of the bank to catch up on his beloved preoccupation, when –as many Twilight Zone episodes had been infused with a dose of Rod Serling’s nihilism (as much as there is his hopeful message), the feared 50’s bomb annihilates our vision of the world that was swarming just a few moments before. Suddenly poor Henry seems to be the last man on earth. But wait… perhaps not poor Henry.

Henry Bemis still

As he stumbles through the debris and carefully placed set pieces– the remnants of man’s destructive force, Henry comes upon the city’s public library filled with BOOKS!!! Glorious books…

While he must struggle against the approaching loneliness of the bleak future ahead, he begins to see the possibility of a new world where he could dream, and wander through so many scrawled worlds. Already an outsider he could finally live a life free to be as his boss rebuked him, a “reader.’

Henry starts to amass various piles of selected readings. There was time now. Time enough at last to read every word on the written page without interruption, interference or judgement.

Yet…fate once again waves her fickle finger via The Twilight Zone and leaves bewildered Henry without his much needed glasses, now they have fallen on the great stone steps, crushed by Henry’s own feet. As with every role Meredith brings to life the character of Henry Bemis with so much mirth and pathos.

He’s always just a bit peculiar, idiosyncratic, eccentric, lyrical, salty, sometimes irascible, but always captivating and distinctive, His voice, his persona, his look, his style… Burgess Meredith could always play the Henry Bemises of the world and grab our hearts because he has that rare quality of being so damn genuine.

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Let’s face it even when the prolific Burgess Meredith is playing a cackling penguin– nemesis to the caped crusader Batman or the devil himself (alias the dapper and eccentric Charles Chazen with Mortimer the canary and his black and white cat Jezebel in tow) in The Sentinel 1977 based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and directed by Michael Winner–he’s lovable!

Burgess as Charles Chazin

He always manages to just light me up. Ebullient, mischievous  and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. (I smile even at the simplest nostalgic memory like his work on television commercials , as a kid growing up in the 60s and early 70s I fondly remember his voice for Skippy Peanut Butter. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner. Here’s a clip from a precious vintage commercial showcasing Meredith’s delightfully fleecy voice.

And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone and Torture Garden! While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s gem as the spiffy Charles Chazin.

Torture Garden 1967
Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diabolo in Torture Garden 1967

And while I resist even the notion of redoing Ira Levin/William Castle and Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby if, and I’m only saying if… I could envision anyone else playing along side Ruth Gordon as the quirky and roguish Roman Castevet it could only be Burgess Meredith who could pull that off!

burgess & ruth

Also being a HUGE fan of Peter Falk’s inimitable Columbo– I ask why why WHY?! was Burgess Meredith never cast as a sympathetic murderer for that relentless and lovable detective in the rumpled rain coat to pursue! Could you imagine the chemistry between these two marvelous actors!

columbo & burgess

Burgess Meredith all of 5′ 5″ tall was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1907. His father was a doctor, his mother a Methodist revivalist. We lost him in 1997 at the age of 89. That’s when he took his “dirt nap…” the line and that memorable scene from Grumpier Old Men 1993 that still makes me burst out laughing from the outlandish joy of it all!… because as Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) tells John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) about how he’s managed to live so long eating bacon, smoking and drinking his dinner–what’s the point…? “I just like that story!”

Meredith, Burgess Street of Chance 1942
Leading man material… Street of Chance 1942

Burgess Meredith said himself, that he wasn’t born to be a leading man, yet somehow he always managed to create a magnetic draw toward any performance of his. As if where ever his presence in the story was, it had the same effect as looking in a side view mirror of the car “Objects are closer than they appear”–What I mean by that is how I relate his contribution becoming larger than the part might have been, had it been a different actor. Like the illusion of the mirrored reflection , he always grew larger in significance within the story–because his charisma can’t help but consume the space.

He took over the landscape and planted himself there like a little metaphysical essence, animating the narrative to a higher level of reality.

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Meredith started out working with the wonderful Eva Le Gallienne joining her stage company in New York City in 1933. His first film role was that of Mio Romagna in playwright Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset 1936 where Meredith plays the son of an immigrant wrongfully executed for a crime he did not commit. He also joined the ranks of those in Hollywood who were named as “unfriendly witnesses’ by the House Un-American Activities Committee finding no work, being blacklisted in the 1950s.  

During the 1960s Meredith found his way back in various television roles that gave us all a chance to see and hear his incredible spectrum of performances. One of my personal favorites, dramatically potent and vigorously absorbing was his portrayal of Duncan Kleist in  Naked City television series episode directed by Walter Grauman (Lady in A Cage 1964Hold For Gloria Christmas

The groundbreaking crime and human interest series NAKED CITY– cast Meredith as a 60s beat poet & derelict Dunan Kleist who is literally dying to leave the legacy of his words to a kindred spirit.

A powerful performance told through flashback sequences that recollect his murder as he storms through the gritty streets and alley ways of New York City  a volatile alcoholic Greenwich Village poet trying to get back his precious manuscript of poems that were stolen as he bartered them away bit by bit for booze -he has bequeathed his work to the anonymous Gloria Christmas. The chemistry between Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart who plays his estranged wife is magnificent exuding years of anguish and disappointment. Heckart is another character actor who deserves a spotlight.

 

BURNT OFFERINGS 1976Dan Curtis’ priceless treasure of creepy camp featuring Karen Black, Oliver Reed and once again uniting the incredible Eileen Heckart with our beloved Burgess Meredith as the ominous Roz and Arnold Allardyce.

Eileen Heckart and Burgess in Burnt Offerings-Dan Curtis
Roz & Arnold… charming… creepy!

Another memorable role for me, is his spirited performance as Charles Chazin alias The Devil in one of my all time favorite horror classics The Sentinel. “Friendships often blossom into bliss.” – Charles Chazin. Ooh that line still gives me chills…

Many people will probably love him for his iconic character study of a crusty cantankerous washed up boxing trainer named Mickey in the Rocky series of films. Or perhaps, for his colorful cackling or should I say quacking villain in the television series Batman -his iconic malefactor — The Penguin!

IMDb fact-His character, the Penguin, was so popular as a villain on the television series Batman (1966), the producers always had a Penguin script ready in case Meredith wanted to appear as a guest star.

Burgess Meredith will always remain one of the greatest, most versatile & prolific actors, character in fact… beloved and eternal…

BURGESS MEREDITH TELEVISION & FILMOGRAPHY ON IMBD HERE

BURGESS MEREDITH

 

“Like the seasons of the year, life changes frequently and drastically. You enjoy it or endure it as it comes and goes, as it ebbs and flows.”- Burgess Meredith

“I’ll just take amusement at being a paradox.”- Burgess Meredith

[on his childhood] “All my life, to this day, the memory of my childhood remains grim and incoherent. If I close my eyes and think back, I see little except violence and fear. In those early years, I somehow came to understand I would have to draw from within myself whatever emotional resources I needed to go wherever I was headed. As a result, for years, I became a boy who lived almost totally within himself.”- Burgess Meredith

 

Continue reading “Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.”

Thursday morning film score: Wuthering Heights 1939 & Jo Gabriel’s Of Love and Ether

Here’s to those immortal lovers Cathy and Heathcliff.

Wuthering-Heights

Of Love and Ether appears on my album Fools and Orphans

Wuthering Heights 1939

Starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier

MonsterGirl (Jo Gabriel)