Monday, June 21, 2010

The Silver Cord

publicity for "The Silver Cord"

Release date 05.05.1933

“Then I can't hope for much, can I? …Hester escaped, but I'm caught! I'm going to have a baby by a man who belongs to another woman!!”

On their way from Europe, where they met and married, to New York the newlywed couple Christina (Irene) and David Phelps (Joel McCrea) visit David's mother (Laura Hope Crews). Christina and David have definite plans for their marriage hoping to combine family and careers: Christina is a research biologist, David works as an architect. Interesting jobs are already waiting for them in New York but there is still some time for Christina's first visit with her mother-in-law. Also present and thus making the family reunion complete is David's younger brother Robert (Eric Linden) and his fiancée Hester (Frances Dee).

family reunion part 1

Soon it's obvious that Mrs. Phelps is an over-protective and possessive mother whose plans for David - which are mainly based on her wish to keep him nearby and under her influence - clash with Christina's ideas for her future with her husband. Maybe Mrs. Phelps has lost some influence on her eldest son, but there is still Robert whom she - afraid of getting lonely when he leaves too - manipulatively talks out of his engagement with Hester.

mother and son part 1

Not even the fact that David and Christina are expecting their first child changes Mrs. Phelps' attitude towards her daughter-in-law - all evening long Christina is the aim of verbal attacks.
After dinner, Robert breaks the news of the end of their engagement to Hester who reacts with a fit of hysteria only calmed down and comforted by Christina. David's neutral reaction to the situation, his by- standing and compliant behavior with his mother, makes Christina fear the worst for her own marriage. At last she issues an ultimatum to David…

family reunion part 2

This is a wonderful ensemble piece of a film with Laura Hope Crews, who recreates her stage role, heading the troupe. This was the main problem Irene had with this film being aware that the stellar part was the one of the mother. This is partly true, but nevertheless Irene's role offers - and she certainly utilized them - scenes of enormous intensity. Surrounded by a cast which holds his own against her - and this time all of them - this is so impressive to watch that I ended up glued to the TV screen - re-watching it at least the fourth time!

mother and son part 2

From Laura Hope Crews' performance as "loving" mother manipulatively creeping in her sons like a slow-acting poison, to Joel McCrea who turns from a man very much in love to a lame imitation of a husband with an almost blank face, from Frances Dee's natural handling of young Hester to Eric Linden's weak young brother feeling overshadowed by his older brother, this is more than well done by the whole cast.

Hester and Robert - the end of a relationship

This is the first of a total of four films Irene made with director John Cromwell. Three of them are in this early stage of Irene's career and they are all on my list of “Dunne favorites”. In general, Cromwell's rather sober directing style mixes perfectly with Irene's touching, minimalist acting. Letting loose in comedies came natural to her but she never was an actress of grand, dramatic gestures but of impressive, well-thought-out details. Cromwell directs “The Silver Cord” as that what it is - a film that at no point denies its origins from the stage.

mother and sons part 3

To see the story line only as another tale about a mother-son relationship, which is such a rewarding, artistic topic in the range from drama to comedy, would be a little bit too narrowly considered. There are creepy, almost incestuous moments but it's also a story about the difficulty to transform family ties, not to drop back to patterns we developed as kids, it's about loneliness and that clinging is probably the sure way to get lonely, about substituting one feeling by another…and in the last analysis didn't Mrs. Phelps bring up a son who is worthwhile Christina's love - something which this young woman knows very well she just can't afford to throw away on a nobody?

David, whom do you love?

The fact that Irene's character is a scientist is perfectly selected and makes Christina very interesting under different aspects. She not only stands for the “modern” career woman, earning approval in a field normally occupied by men, but as a scientist she is analytic enough to see through the whole situation and to act accordingly: there is no time for wishy-washy reactions, this is indeed a test for her marriage.

the opponents

The switch from Sally in “The Secret Of Madame Blanche” - singing, glamorous Sally - to Christina - sober, though with a warm personality, good-looking, though glamour isn't her first name - proves why the name “Irene Dunne” and the word “versatility“ are so often combined. Another thing that makes watching Irene's films in chronological order so interesting.
The only thing to add now is a some nice trivia: Joel McCrea and Frances Dee met on the set of The Silver Cord, which resulted in the rarity of a till-death-do-us-part Hollywood marriage. Obviously, no nasty mother-in-law came between them…

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Detour - not really, just more Irene!


About ten weeks ago I started this blog - and I´m only in the early thirties with a lot of films still lying ahead of me...BUT it was already time for another project - an enlargement of and addition to this one:
an Irene Dunne website

September the 4th 2010 will mark the 20th anniversay of Irene´s death-day and I decided that  it´s about time that something happens for her in the web - not that you can´t find information about her at all, but all spread around. What I`ll try to do now, is to offer a site, a place for this Irene Dunne material. Both projects are in progress, take up a lot of time and are a lot of fun. It´s a pleasure to do this for this great lady!

Looking forward to sharing a lot of Irene Dunne with you!


Monday, June 7, 2010

The Secret Of Madame Blanche

publicity for "The Secret Of Madame Blanche"

Release date 02.03.1933

“You won´t let me see you again?”
“What´s the use? You are only wasting your time…”
“Alright, that´s to be on my terms this time!”
“I know, a ham sandwich!”

American chorus girl Sally Saunders (Irene) on tour in Europe meets English aristocrat Leonard St. John (Philips Holmes) who at first tries to practice his common routine on her, which means to install her as his mistress in a nice apartment. However, of course Sally is the most decent of girls and they end up being married. Turns up the nasty father-in-law (Lionel Atwill), who not only having educated his offspring as a good-for-nothing fellow fiercely objects to the marriage now. Though his son hasn’t done much more in his life than spending money, gambling and chasing women, his father has great plans for the lad including an adequate marriage and going into politics - the only fitting profession for that kind of education. Sweet Sally has spoiled all those plans and the result is the cut off of Leonard’s monthly cheque.

Leonard twisted between his father and Sally...

For some time Leonard succeeds in making a living with gambling but soon the couple is broke. Not able to take pressure of any kind Leonard decides to turn back to his father and leaves for London before Sally gets the chance to tell him that she is pregnant. If Leonard had the hope for a reconciliation with his father, this hope is soon shattered by his father’s callousness. He forces his son to write a farewell letter to Sally, thus making him betray the only truthful emotion in his life - his love for Sally - and consequently driving him to suicide. After the birth of her son, the only available job for Sally is one as a singer in a rather dubious “café” - a fact that her father-in-law utilizes to get custody of his grandson Leonard Jr.. Without any mercy for Sally, he takes the baby away without even allowing her to see her son for the last time.The years go by - Leonard Jr. is a grown-up man now and as soldier in WW1 stationed in France. One evening he takes his girl-friend Eloise (Jean Parker) - a nice, slightly naïve French girl - to a café and bordello run by Madame Blanche who is no one else but Sally. Furious because his plans with Eloise don’t develop how he has been hoping, Leonard gets involved in a drunken brawl. Sally recognizes her son and tries to calm down the situation without identifying herself. She almost succeeds but then Eloise’s father turns up and Leonard shoots him in self-defense. Sally gives him an alibi and is determined to protect her son no matter what it takes…

Madame Blanche and her son...

Does this story sound familiar? Something you have already seen or read? Something like “Madame X” for instance? Yes, of course, we know those kind of stories about sacrificing mothers, decent chorus girls getting pregnant by playboys, vicious fathers or mothers-in-law spoiling their children’s happiness and not recognizing a heart of gold when they see one …but sometimes it’s pleasant to watch a well-known story especially if it offers so many "Dunnish" pleasures like this one.

...ain´t she beautiful?

This movie really grew on me by rewatching it, because watching Irene’s films in chronologically order and being at that point of her career, I appreciate more things about “The Secret Of Madame Blanche” than I did when I first had a look on it. And this film really has some assets which make it worthwhile watching: it’s a lush MGM production with a beautifully in Adrian creations dressed and well photographed Irene - something we haven´t had the chance to see too such extent till now.The folks at MGM certainly knew how to present female stars!

at last - singing again!

Once again - like in “The Great Lover” - it took a loan-out to MGM to take advantage of Irene’s abilities as a singer - and she really gets the chance to show her voice. There are three numbers: a grand finale with chorus - makes you a little wonder about her status in the company, but I won’t be too petty-minded when I get such a treat - a song with piano solo, and a wonderful, ambiguous number for young Sally working at the café. The score is by Dr. William Axt, a name I´d never heard before, but he has written quite an amount of scores for well-known MGM films and I certainly love that following number called "Jimmy":

This trio presents Irene’s singing voice in a nice range - and me like that!
Well, that’s Irene as singer and Irene the actress gets a show too. She liked playing characters who aged and that’s no wonder looking at how good she was at that. Madame Blanche´s voice, her body language, which tells a lot about Sally’s fate without saying a word, that´s perfectly done. Moreover, out of young Sally Irene creates some moments that are really touching …once again Miss Dunne refines a film with her presence.

Madame Blanche

What about her peers? There is not much to tell - I’m still waiting for a leading man who is the same league as Irene, but I know he will come!Certainly not in the person of Philip Holms who gives a wooden performance but at least, he and Irene make a handsome couple. Lionel Atwill is a sure bet in one of his  performances as villain and proves why he had to play such characters so often. If there is anybody who leaves an impression in this Irene centered film, it’s Douglas Walton as Leonard Jr..
Okay, that’s not a great, high quality film and don’t ask me about that corny end…but “The Secret Of Madame Blanche” definitely grew on me.