Thursday, June 30, 2022

Bette Davis Carries “The Corn is Green” 1945

Emlyn Williams' play, "The Corn is Green," is based on the Welsh writer's beginnings. Bette Davis is Miss Moffat, a teacher who mentors John Dall's miner, Morgan Evans.


Though old-fashioned and sentimental, the classic story of The Corn is Green is well-acted and heart-felt. What’s especially noteworthy is that it’s based upon playwright/actor Emlyn Williams own life.

Emlyn Williams' "The Corn is Green" was a stage success first.

The London version of the play starred Williams himself as the Welsh student who struggles to lift himself up from the coal mines. Dame Sybil Thorndike played his mentor, the strong-minded teacher, Miss Moffat. A hit, The Corn is Green then came to Broadway in 1940, with Ethel Barrymore a rousing success as the teacher, and Richard Waring as the miner/student, Morgan. When WB snapped up the rights, it was no surprise that their first lady of drama, Bette Davis, would play Miss Moffat. Ironically, Waring, who played Bette's brother in Mr. Skeffington, missed out on Morgan because he was serving in WWII.

Bette Davis is modern-thinking, practical Miss Moffat, who opens a school in a Welsh village.

It was noted that at 36, Bette was 15 to 20 years too young for the spinster teacher. But Davis had already played "older" a number of times, so audiences didn't mind. I recall James Agee's famous review, declaring that Bette had started acting "first lady-ish" in her roles, to which there was some truth. Still, given what was to come, Bette as Miss Moffat is one of her last restrained performances, which she brings her usual intelligence, empathy, plus brisk humor. Davis also chose some of her favorite crew to help her create Miss Moffat: Orry-Kelly for the padded costumes; Perc Westmore for the subtle “older” makeup; Sol Polito for cinematography; and one-time favorite director Irving Rapper, who Bette now clashed with. Bette was correct in one of her beefs: the Welsh lads and school kids sing like heavenly choirs, instead of small town folk.

Joan Lorring & John Dall in what looks to be the WB cafeteria.

It's ironic that the young stars, John Dall and Joan Lorring, received best supporting actor and actress Oscar nominations in the year Bette got shut out. Both praised Bette for helping them as newcomers with their roles. While they perform far better as their characters mature from flighty teens, Bette is the backbone of The Corn is Green. I can see why Dall never made the top tier in Hollywood. Now it's fashionable to say that’s because he was gay, but frankly, he just didn't have leading man looks or personality, and seemed more suited to villain roles. Joan Lorring's Bessie is such an insufferable ditz, and when she finally gets to show some bite in the last act, she’s tarted out like a Somerset Maugham slattern. 

Joan Lorring is a teen vixen who distracts John Dall's student in "The Corn is Green."

And why Bette wasn’t nominated for The Corn is Green? The prestige film got mostly good reviews and was a solid hit at the box office. Back then, the studios typically put their Oscar votes behind their “big” picture and its stars. For this year, WB’s money was on Joan Crawford’s colossal comeback in Mildred Pierce. And don’t think that Bette didn’t take notice!

WB always liked to blow its own horn, but while "Green" did bring in some green,
it wasn't the smash that "Mildred Pierce" was that same year.

Nigel Bruce does his usual blustering bit as the squire, and Mildred Dunnock seems impossibly young here. The supporting cast performs their roles well: Rhys Williams, Rosalind Ivan, Arthur Shields, and William Roy.

Not sure why some critics zero in on the sets of "The Corn is Green."
This was common during Hollywood's golden era, especially during the war years.

Often commented is how stage-bound The Corn is Green looks. Well, this was the '40s WWII era, so a trip to Wales was out of the question. Also, WB was one of the most frugal studios, so it was considered more economical to build a lavish set. Frankly, the story is so sentimental that the artifice fits right in.

Emlyn Williams as an actor.

Emlyn Williams paid it forward
as a mentor to Richard Burton later in life.

Just as Emlyn had his Miss Moffat, Williams was a mentor and life-long friend to fellow Welshman Richard Jenkins. Richard was actually adopted by his true mentor, teacher Philip Burton. When I watch The Corn is Green, I think of how such gestures of help amidst the poverty of Wales must have seemed miraculous. Watching this version of The Corn is Green is worthwhile for the story, Bette Davis, and WB’s skilled studio filmmaking.

One of Bette Davis' pet peeves was when WB would try
to sex up her costume movies by selling it as a hot romance.

FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Check it out & join!

As Miss Moffat, Bette Davis offers one of her best sympathetic performances.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Holden & Hepburn: ‘Paris When It Sizzles” 1964

Audrey Hepburn & William Holden teamed a second time for "Paris When it Sizzles."

Here's the link!

I’ve avoided the ‘60s rom-com Paris When It Sizzles because of its rotten reputation. Until recently, I wrote it off as just another lame sex comedy, a campy spoof from the ‘60s. Bedroom farces are one of my least favorite film genres. In this era, it was mostly talk about sex, with much winking and nudging. These movies are usually loud and frantic, with lavish visuals and slim plots—not to mention a dated mentality. Think That Touch of Mink, A New Kind of Love, What a Way to Go!, and What’s New, Pussycat? These films are just a few of many titles.

Audrey Hepburn brings her usual class and comedic style to "Paris When it Sizzles."

What sets Paris When it Sizzles apart is that it spoofs sex farces and the film industry. Richard Quine deftly directed this comedy and screenwriter/playwright George Axelrod supplied the zingers. The shaggy dog style of storytelling perplexed critics and audiences alike when Paris was released. More than a few critics pointed out that William Holden wasn’t Cary Grant. Hey, Cary Grant himself once said, “Even I want to be Cary Grant!”

William Holden as a hard-drinking screenwriter wasn't exactly a stretch, but Bill
gives a solid comedy performance in "Paris When it Sizzles."

Holden’s subtle comedic skills are one of the saving graces of Paris When It Sizzles. William Holden seemed to be playing Norman Maine of A Star is Born off-camera; Audrey Hepburn, his once co-star in Sabrina, was now a superstar. And Audrey chose not to be his Vicki Lester. The stars apparently had an affair during Sabrina. But his bad marriage, drinking, and vasectomy put an end to any thoughts of Audrey marrying Bill. While she remained most fond of Holden, Hepburn was now married to Mel Ferrer and starting a family. This disappointed Holden and furthered his drinking despair. Still, the two got on well during the shoot, despite Bill’s angst and antics. Holden and Hepburn displayed a warm chemistry on film, if not sizzling.

I love this shot of Bill & Audrey, on location for "Paris When it Sizzles."

As Richard, the screenwriter who drinks more than he writes, Holden has most of the dialogue, with the showbiz veteran sharing his font of knowledge to Hepburn’s newbie secretary. The writer with the gift of gab also narrates the film. This seemed to be a Holden hat trick, especially with his Hollywood-set films: Sunset Blvd., Paris When It Sizzles, and Fedora. That’s just fine, because Bill had a warm, distinctive speaking voice.

Audrey Hepburn is a secretary sent to Bill Holden's screenwriter to get the script done!

Yes, William Holden looks prematurely aged in Paris When It Sizzles. But his weathered looks had been noticed for a decade, as when Bill’s hair was dyed blonde in Sabrina as the carefree playboy. It was again noted a year later, when Holden played 20-something Hal in Picnic, at age 37. Even on Sunset Blvd., when clean-living Gloria Swanson refused to wear old-age make up at 50, they gave Bill a college boy haircut and plenty of pancake makeup.

Bill Holden in "Sunset Blvd.," a dozen years before filming "Paris When it Sizzles."

Now William Holden was 44, and people were really startled by his fading good looks. This was a bit of karmic irony, since back on Sabrina, the main criticism was that Humphrey Bogart was too old to play Bill’s brother and Audrey’s suitor—and rightfully so. Perhaps Holden should have played the older brother and a younger star should have played the young playboy, like Tab Hunter or Robert Wagner. Or John Kerr, who looked like Holden.

Just four years after "Sunset Blvd.," Bill at 36, with Audrey Hepburn in "Sabrina."

Despite Bill’s face, he’s in fine form. Holden is semi-shirtless for the first segment of the film and he doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. At one point, Audrey’s character even finds him doing a headstand! Bill’s quite graceful in his extended comic moments, literally laying out the empty script pages as he moves about the apartment, spouting non-stop dialogue all the while. And he’s relaxed and loose in the dance scene that spoofs Funny Face.

William Holden's drinking was taking it's toll on his face, but his body was still fit.

While the movie genres spoofed are more silly than smart, Holden and Hepburn are most game. What really provides most of the genuine laughs are the asides that the duo delivers on the sex comedy genre and movie industry. The plot revolves around a weekend where the screenwriter must finish a long delayed project, “The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower.” The producer has sent a charming typist with a background in film to help him finish. Holden and Hepburn’s characters strike me as equals: Holden isn’t a wolf looking to seduce a helpless woman; Hepburn isn’t a desperate female looking for a hapless male.

A nifty scene when Bill Holden's erratic screenwriter decides not to quit writing.

None of the nonstop banter and flirting is the heavy-handed double entendres that were typical of the era. It’s true that Paris When It Sizzles doesn’t have the snap of Billy Wilder’s best films. Yet, the type of ironic banter reminds me of later TV shows like Friends or Seinfeld. Apparently ‘60s audiences or critics didn’t appreciate subtlety in their sex comedies.

The scenes where Bill and Audrey’s characters are holed up in his lavish apartment, feverishly working on his script, are the most charming. I especially love where the script’s sophisticated lead characters order a sumptuous lunch which dissolves to the scriptwriter and secretary ravenously ordering lavish room service. And when Bill puts on those glasses like he did in Born Yesterday, they are framed by his warm blue eyes and wry smile.

Occasional scenes like this show Holden's premature aging in "Paris When it Sizzles."

The only cringe-worthy moments are during a horror movie spoof , where Holden is supposed to be Dracula and the Wolf Man, with colored lights shining up his face to make him look scary—but just makes 40-something Bill look 60!

Audrey has some good lines, too. Unlike most of the ‘60s sex comedies, Hepburn is no unwilling participant, defending her honor. At one point, Gabrielle says, “I’m not that kind of girl.” Then she looks toward the camera and says, “I hate girls that say things like that!”

Audrey Hepburn lets her hair down as a "seductive spy" in "Paris When it Sizzles." 

Hepburn uses her lanky physicality well, when getting chased by Bill in his various movie spoof guises. Audrey’s charmingly flirtatious in her understated way and of course looks like a million in her Givenchy wardrobe. In several scenes, Hepburn’s lovely frocks and Holden’s classy casual wear would make Mad Men’s Don and Betty Draper green with envy.

Holden & Hepburn make a stylish couple as they work on his film script!

George Axelrod’s script doesn’t feel dated like some of his previous work, since the leading lady’s not the butt of his jokes, as in The Seven Year Itch. He also wrote the script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and must have had a crush on Audrey. Because while Holden gets much of the dialogue, Hepburn gets so much homage from her previous films it’s like Audrey’s greatest hits. Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and My Fair Lady all get a nod here.

Tony Curtis is a riot as a vain, clueless actor in "Paris When it Sizzles." 

There are a few star cameos: Noel Coward is his usual latter day precious self as the crass producer; Marlene Dietrich looks divine for the hot minute she’s on screen; Tony Curtis, not a favorite, is hysterical as the ham actor. Curtis is at the absolute peak of his great looks here—and knows it! First, he’s the actor pretending to be a method actor, through Holden’s eyes. Tony is utterly daft in his delivery, but also quite funny in his mannerisms and catchphrases of the hip serious actor. Later, Curtis shows up again, this time as a different version of the character, playing a preening movie star who was impersonating a method actor. Curtis’ clueless actor is just as funny and Tony steals the show. Lucky, Bill was delivering his performance or Curtis might have replaced Holden!

When I was a wee child of the '60s, I used to get
Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy mixed up!

Two great stars in lovely Paris, lovely clothes and sets, tossing some clever lines—a classic it ain’t—but Paris When It Sizzles is pretty breezy fun.

William Holden & Audrey Hepburn in a close-up clinch for "Paris When it Sizzles."

Bonus!Here's my look at Bill Holden's breakout year!

Director Richard Quine, Bill Holden, & Audrey Hepburn in "Paris When it Sizzles."