Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)


Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Alcoholic ex-football player Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) and his sexually-frustrated wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) are in Mississippi to celebrate the 65th birthday of Brick’s father Big Daddy (Burl Ives), who’s dying of cancer. With Brick’s brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and mean-spirited sister-in-law Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) sucking up to Big Daddy and Big Momma (Judith Anderson) in order to inherit the wealthy cotton tycoon’s land, Maggie is desperate for Brick to do something to convince his father he’s worthy of taking over the family estate. However, Brick has more on his mind than his father’s will — mainly the recent suicide of his best friend, Skipper.

Say, folks! If you’re interested in the topic of queer images in film, have I got an event for YOU! From June 18-22, Garbo Laughs (that’s me) and Pussy Goes Grrr will be hosting the Queer Film Blogathon. Check it out now to find out how you can contribute and even win prizes. The party simply won’t be the same without you!

Directed by Richard Brooks for MGM in 1958, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was adapted from the 1955 Tennessee Williams play of the same name. Despite the film’s enormous commercial success and six Academy Award nominations, both Williams and its star Paul Newman expressed dissatisfaction with the play’s translation to the big screen. In fact, Williams actively encouraged people waiting in line for the film not to see the movie, because he was so personally offended at the film’s bowdlerized bastardization of his work.

Broadway has always given more leeway to “controversial” works and writers than Hollywood has, which is exactly the case with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Williams intended Cat to be his personal treatise on the destructive effects of internalized homophobia on the human psyche; but with such a taboo subject at the heart of the story, the Hays Office would only allow homosexuality to be subtextually hinted at in the screen version. Therefore, with its core principles remaining unspoken, the film does not have the same impact as the play, and the message is watered down. Brick is only allowed to hint at what the play frankly proclaims and discusses, mainly the possibility of a homosexual romance between Brick and his dead friend Skipper.

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For the Love of Film: The Farmer’s Wife (1928)


Image Source: Moovida DB

Synopsis: Following the death of his wife, Farmer Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) is convinced by his loyal housemaid Minta (Lillian Hall-Davis) that he ought to remarry. Making a list of all the eligible bachelorettes in town, Sweetland sets out to invite them one by one to be his bride; unfortunately, the women are not as flattered as he’d imagined they’d be. Will Sweetland ever be able to find a woman suitable enough — and agreeable enough! — to take the mistress’ place?

This is an official entry in the prestigious For the Love of Film preservation blogathon benefiting the National Film Preservation Foundation. Jointly hosted by Ferdy on Films, the Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod, this year’s goal is to raise enough money to provide a glorious new score and FREE online streaming for 1923’s The White Shadow, the first film Alfred Hitchcock had a major role in creating. To learn more, click the banner at left, and to donate to this worthy cause, kindly CLICK HERE or on the donation button below.

I very much enjoyed participating in last year’s For the Love of Film blogathon, so no matter the chosen topic, I knew I’d want to do it again this year. However, my discovery that the beneficiary of the proceeds from our fundraiser would be a silent film on which Alfred Hitchcock served as assistant director could not have come at a more convenient time. It just so happened that I had just purchased one of those cheapo four-disc, twenty-movie box sets that featured some of Hitchcock’s early works.

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Three Smart Girls (1936)


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Synopsis: When they see their divorced mother in tears over the impending nuptials of their wealthy father (Charles Winninger), three teenaged sisters – Joan (Nan Grey), Kay (Barbara Read), and precocious Penny (Deanna Durbin) – make it their duty to stop the wedding from happening. But with blonde bombshell Donna Lyons (Binnie Barnes) twirling dear old Dad around her little finger, and her conniving mother (Alice Brady) helping her do it, the girls worry that their father will never see the error of his ways. With handsome millionaire Lord Michael Stuart (Ray Milland) trying to woo Miss Lyons away and Dad’s accountant Bill Evans (John King) pulling the strings behind the scheme, can the girls prove to their father that Donna’s only in it for the money?

Directed by Henry Koster for Universal in 1936, this precursor to 1961’s The Parent Trap marks the feature film debut of songstress and sweetheart Deanna Durbin. Though billed last, she is touted in the opening credits as “Universal’s New Discovery” and gets plenty of opportunities in the movie to show off her dramatic singing voice, skilled comedic timing, and plucky personality. In fact, it is really Durbin who is the star of this picture, which is kind of sad for Nan Grey and Barbara Read. They give it their all, bless their souls, but it’s Durbin’s character Penny who gets all the best lines, to the point where the film drags a little whenever she’s off-screen. Unfortunately, much of this time is devoted to romantic subplots surrounding the two older girls, but the fact that these sections of the film are lackluster isn’t their fault. This is a star vehicle, and it’s simply the nature of the beast that the co-stars get the B-scenes.

That being said, Durbin lives up to her hype and definitely makes this a film worth watching. Penny is petulant, bossy, spirited, and altogether irresistibly charming. She is helped immensely by a snappy script penned by Adele Comandini, who either was a bratty teenage tomboy or always wanted to be one. I made sure to note down some of my absolute favorite “Pennyisms” to share with the class:

  • “I’m not pig-headed, I’m strong-minded!”
  • “Muffins and milk? That’s no food for fighters!”
  • [when she is caught by her father making a racket upstairs] FATHER: “Do you realize that I have guests downstairs, that Miss Lyons is trying to sing? I thought the ceiling would come down!” PENNY: [innocently] “Oh! Why didn’t you stop her?”
  • “If this is what love does to people, I’m glad I’m an old maid!”

Durbin was of course known for her effortless soprano singing voice, and while Three Smart Girls isn’t a musical, she does manage to sneak three songs in. Only the last of these, “Il Bacio (The Kiss),” which she performs before a police sergeant trying to convince him that she’s actually a budding French opera star on her way to perform at the Met, feels forced and out of place. As for myself, I’m really not fond of opera, so I don’t get the appeal of a cute little girl with an enormous, overpowering voice, but I’ll reserve further comment as it’s really not my area of expertise. Fact is, if you like musicals, you’re probably already familiar with Deanna Durbin’s singing talents, so you don’t need my uninformed opinion cluttering things up.

As for the rest of the film, it’s got some beautiful 1930s Art Deco sets and fashions that I simply adored. Binnie Barnes and Alice Brady as the fierce and deadly Lyons are an old trope, but they skillfully do their part to make you dislike them. Sometimes I had trouble telling the difference between Ray Milland and John King, simply because their characters were not very interesting and were just added to give an extra romantic twist for the younger set. They’re okay, if you like that sort of thing.

Kay, Penny, and Joan — Three Smartly-Dressed Girls!

The plot as a whole is fairly ridiculous in some places, but what else would you expect from a 1936 family-friendly comedy of errors about three teenage girls trying to patch up their parents’ divorce? I usually try to avoid spoilers, but I can’t help but say a bit about the film’s predictable-but-enjoyable ending. After all their schemes have failed to produce any results, Penny, in an uncharacteristic turn, actually tries being honest with her father as to why she and her sisters don’t want him to marry Donna, and this proves to be the most effective tactic yet. Unfortunately the next morning she disappears, which, whether she intends it to be or not, is a tremendously selfish and manipulative way of getting her father to do what she wants. Teenagers – what are you gonna do! In the end the girls’ parents are reunited at last, and we see them gaze into each other’s eyes with nostalgic affection; but the film ends there, leaving it ambiguous as to whether their love is rekindled or not. After all, the movie’s not so preposterous as to suggest that merely seeing each other again would cure whatever conflict caused the parents to get divorced in the first place. I imagine they saved the real “happily ever after” for the sequel, 1939’s Three Smart Girls Grow Up.

A wonderfully watchable little movie that pops both visually and textually, Three Smart Girls is a smart debut for Deanna Durbin and a contagiously cute family film. It’s a great pick-me-up movie and cuts the sweetness with just enough sass to hopefully avoid any cavities.


Three Smart Girls (1936) – 4/5 stars

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: When wayward seafarer Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is picked up by a freighter after being stranded by a shipwreck, he and the frequently-soused captain don’t see eye to eye. Instead of transporting him to the Samoan capital of Apia, where his fiancée Ruth (Leila Hyams) is eagerly awaiting her beau, the nasty captain drops Parker onto the boat of manservant Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) and his mysterious boss Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton), who are receiving a large shipment of wild animals to take back to their private island. Parker is naturally upset, but Moreau promises to give him a ship to sail to Apia in the morning. When they arrive on the island, Parker is treated to dinner, drinks, and the delightful company of the exotic and friendly Lota (Kathleen Burke). She warms to Parker quickly, and soon informs him that the charming Dr. Moreau isn’t what he seems. In actuality, he’s a scientist on a devilish mission to control the process of evolution – transforming animals into men.

This scifi/horror gem by director Erle C. Kenton was the first in a long line of cinematic adaptations of H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Its status as a pre-Code talky is evidenced by the repeated references to rape and bestiality, as well as Moreau’s own explicit blasphemy. The film was banned in the United Kingdom for over twenty-five years – though interestingly it was the scenes of vivisection, prohibited by the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act of the 1930s, which kept it under wraps for so long. Furthermore, H.G. Wells himself was outspoken in his dislike of the way the movie overshadowed his more serious philosophical ponderings with overt horror elements. I must admit that I haven’t yet read Dr. Moreau, although Wells is one of my favorite authors. I hope his spirit won’t be too angry at me for saying this – who knows, he could be out and about, what with it being Halloween season and all – but I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed this film.

“This is Ms. Panther; she’ll be cleaning your teeth this morning.”

The picture features some striking cinematography and an excellent use of shadows, as well as employing its tropical jungle setting (which was really just Catalina Island) to appropriately spooky effect. The story itself is intriguing, but it’s the performance of Charles Laughton as Moreau which really makes this movie worth seeing. Laughton is at once smooth, calm, and dangerous; he wields terrifying power over his subjects and all that goes on on his island. Perhaps I’m reading too much into his portrayal, but I found something slightly sissified about Moreau, imbuing him with a “menacing queerness” that adds a whole new dimension to his obsession with creating life in a non-procreative manner. In the same way that critics have read homosexual undertones into the mad scientist character of Dr. Pretorius in 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, I feel there’s definitely a little more lurking beneath the surface of Dr. Moreau than what we’re explicitly told. Whether this was an intentional move by the filmmakers or by Laughton (who himself was homosexual), or whether it’s just me choosing to see what I want to see, I don’t know, but I stand by my hypothesis.

Another performance I enjoyed was that by Kathleen Burke as Lota the Panther Woman, who I think portrayed a perfect blend of naïvete, awkwardness, and sexual curiosity in her film debut. A dental assistant working in Chicago, Burke began acting after winning a beauty contest sponsored by Paramount Studios; she went on to appear in over twenty films before retiring from the profession in 1938 at the age of 25. However, besides Laughton and Burke, there’s not really much worth noting about the other actors, with leading man Richard Arlen being particularly hammy and terrible. Bela Lugosi also has a very very small role as the Sayer of the Law, the animal-human hybrid who recites the rules as dictated by Moreau. I found it to be a pretty big waste of Lugosi’s talent – but then again, Lugosi specialized in that. Overall this is a truly creepy yet beautiful film with a completely stellar performance by Laughton that really brings the whole thing up a notch from B-grade scifi/horror to a Grade-A classic. Definitely perfect for Halloween, or, hell, any time of the year – you never need an excuse to watch a movie as neat as this one.


Island of Lost Souls (1932) – 4/5 stars

Diabolique (1955)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Christina Delassalle (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) used to have the same problem: they were in love with the same man. Now they have a different problem: they both loathe the same man. With Christina as his sickly wife and Nicole as his strong-willed mistress, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) uses physical force to keep both women under his thumb. Finally, Nicole proposes the only remaining solution to Christina: they should murder Delassalle. Christina reluctantly and fearfully goes through with the plan, and they dump the body in the swimming pool. But when the pool is drained the next day, the body is nowhere to be found. Soon, eerie signs of Delassalle start popping up everywhere, from the suit he died in coming back from the cleaners to a foggy visage of his face appearing in the background of a photograph. Could the evil man possibly have survived their foolproof plan – or is he tormenting them from beyond the grave?

I went into this film knowing only two things about it: 1. It starred Simone Signoret, who I’ve wanted to see more of ever since her captivating performance in Ship of Fools (1965). 2. It was part of the Criterion Collection expiring from Netflix Instant on July 22, presumably to move over to Hulu Plus, where Criterion is cloistering away all its best films, never again to be seen by me (in streaming form, anyway). I’m so glad I got to see this film before it escaped my grasp. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1955 under the original French title Les diaboliques (The Devils), something about Diabolique makes it feel older than its 56 years. In its use of black and white, its noirish nuances, it definitely feels more ’40s than ’50s, especially when you compare it to the sprawling Cinemascope epics being produced in the United States around the same time. This is, of course, in no way a jab at the film, merely an observation. Who needs blaring Technicolor and sweeping landscapes when you’ve got a perfectly spooky little French ghost story to draw you in? (more…)

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