My Favorite Wife (1940)


Image Source: Doctor Macro

Synopsis: After having himself legally declared a widower so that he can marry the uptight Bianca (Gail Patrick), the last person Nick Arden (Cary Grant) expects to turn up on his honeymoon is his first wife Ellen (Irene Dunne), who was lost at sea seven years ago and presumed dead. Turns out, she was just stranded on a deserted island with hunky Steven Burkett (Randolph Scott). Realizing that he still loves Ellen and wanting to keep her out of the brawny arms of Steven, Nick attempts to have his second marriage annulled. He just has to break the news to Bianca first — only Nick can’t quite get up the nerve to do it.

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!

I’ve already said my piece (albeit very ambiguously and diplomatically) about the relationship between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. Some of you probably wish that that was all I had to say on the matter, but unfortunately for you, it’s not. In fact, the Cary/Randy dynamic is one of my favorite topics in the whole wide world to harp on endlessly. Although it may seem like an obvious choice, I can no longer resist my unrelenting urge to analyze the 1940 Leo McCarey-produced, Garson Kanin-directed screwball comedy My Favorite Wife. It was one of the first classic films I saw and has been a favorite ever since. And although the queerness in it is so obvious even the most oblivious homophobe could pick up on it, my gosh, it’s so delicious I just can’t resist. There’s one scene in particular that really pushes the envelope insofar as “coded” depictions of homosexuality go in classic film, and seems to do so simply for the fun of riling people up.

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The Youngest Profession (1943)


Image Source: Greenman 2008

Synopsis: Plucky Joan Lyons (Virginia Weidler) is the president of the Guiding Stars Limited, her high school’s official Hollywood fan club. The girls of the GSL spend their extracurricular hours penning letters of admiration to stars like Lana Turner and Robert Taylor, yearning for recognition and an autograph in return. But fantasy turns to reality when Joan hears that Greer Garson is coming to town. Through her perseverance and cunning, Joan soon finds herself in the presence of Ms. Garson, along with Walter Pidgeon! However, Joan’s bliss is short-lived when she learns from her meddling housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead) that her parents’ marriage may be on the rocks. Can Joan’s club and her new Hollywood friends scheme a way to keep the family together?

I love seeing stars play themselves on screen, so I’m a real sucker for pictures that don’t pretend to be anything else but an excuse for cute cameos. I’m also slightly obsessed with teenage “fan culture” of the 1940s and ’50s, so naturally the premise of this film was enticing to me. Unfortunately, The Youngest Profession (directed by Edward Buzzell for MGM in 1943) makes the fatal mistake of trying to shoehorn a plot in between the genuinely-fun star appearances, and it’s this slapdash last-minute effort to create a credible story that sinks the whole ship. Virginia Weidler, who is known for her delightful appearances as the precocious kid in such memorable titles as The Philadelphia Story and The Women, is really just not convincing as a starstruck, movie-obsessed fangirl. All I kept thinking was, “You’ve worked with Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell – and you’re this excited over Walter Pidgeon?” Virginia herself doesn’t seem to want to be there, and all the “cutesy” little affectations she puts on that are supposed to make her character likeable and endearing fall extremely flat. All the other characters are nondescript time-wasters; not even Agnes Moorehead can fix this trainwreck. I wish I could say it’s worth it for the cameos, but it’s really not. Lana Turner, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and William Powell (who only shows up in lengthy clips from Crossroads and at the very end) can all be seen in much better films (understatement of the century). Unless you’re a completist, I would say don’t bother with The Youngest Profession.


The Youngest Profession (1943) – 1.5/5 stars

Gaslight (1944)


Image Source: Listal

Synopsis: Following in the footsteps of her murdered aunt, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) sets off to become a great opera singer — but falls in love with her accompanist along the way. Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) promises to whisk Paula away from her troubled past and show her true love and happiness. But right away, Paula’s nerves are tested when the couple moves into her aunt’s house and scene of her murder. Losing and misplacing things without remembering ever touching them, hearing strange noises in the house at night, and feeling seething resentment from their maid Nancy (Angela Lansbury), Paula’s life becomes dismal, and Gregory insists that her health is at stake. But is Paula really going crazy — or is that just what Gregory wants her to believe? Soon, a curious stranger (Joseph Cotten) pays Paula a visit and reveals that all may not be what it seems.

Well, it’s sure taken me long enough to get around to watching this one, especially given the fact that I own it. Directed by George Cukor for MGM in 1944, Gaslight is a remake of a British film of the same name released only four years prior, which itself is an adaptation of “Angel Street,” a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton. It was nominated in seven categories at that year’s Academy Awards, winning Ingrid Bergman her first Best Actress Oscar as well as taking home the award for Best Art Direction (Black and White). The term “gaslighting,” which means to abusively manipulate a victim into doubting her or his own sense of reality using emotional and physical tactics, originated with what Charles Boyer’s character does to his wife Bergman in this film. It has become a part of culture and a major part of feminist theory.

While I knew from feminist theory that this was an important film with an all-too-relevant story to tell, I have to admit that I started off disappointed. There isn’t much mystery here, unlike in 1955’s Diabolique which uses superficially-similar themes, as to what Gregory is doing to Paula. We get the sense very early on in their relationship that he is slimy, untrustworthy, manipulative and abusive. We can see it, so why can’t Paula? Albeit, she is young and recovering from major emotional trauma, looking to her new husband to distract her and spirit her away from her turbulent past; but one doesn’t want to see a “weak” female lead character when dissecting a film for its feminist leanings. At some point it just becomes a waiting game for when Joseph Cotten’s character will nonchalantly decide to probe deeper into what’s going on and save Paula from the terrifying prison her husband has created for her.

YEAH DO IT, INGY! CUT OFF HIS EARS!

Paula’s lack of agency and role as a pawn for the two men in her life, while distressing, is wholeheartedly redeemed in the film’s climactic confrontation between Paula and Gregory in the attic. While the viewer is relieved that Brian Cameron has finally swooped in to rescue the damsel in distress, it is just such a wonderful breath of fresh air to see her shove him aside and confront her abuser head-on. I was definitely cheering! Indeed, in running away from her intended career to be with the man she loves, in agreeing to move into her aunt’s house despite it holding so many haunting memories for her, we see that Paula has been a strong-willed, heroic character all along – it is simply her slimeball of a husband who has broken her into this weak, scared little thing incapable of speaking up for herself. Sure, it takes another man to point it out to her, but Paula gets her comeuppance in the end, on her terms.

There are other female characters I found interesting in this film. Angela Lansbury as the petulant maid Nancy is smokin’ an interesting one to examine. Much like Bette Davis’ Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage, Nancy has no use for other women and only speaks to men in order to further her own prospects. It is implied from her introduction that she is in collusion with Gregory, if not actively participating in the process of gaslighting Paula. She doesn’t need to show sympathy for Paula out of any sort of “sisterly” connection, because she is only interested in getting what she wants and playing by her rules. Wouldn’t you feel the same if you’d grown up a poor working-class Cockney girl, likely having watched both your parents work themselves to the bone making the lives of rich people more comfortable? (Or am I reading way too much into this minor character?) I was also intrigued by the “comic relief” neighborhood busybody played by Dame May Whitty. I wonder about her place as an oblivious, murder-obsessed matron in an otherwise serious dramatic thriller. Is she perhaps intended as a stand-in for the audience? For, in sitting here for nearly two hours seeking to be “entertained” by watching this poor woman be tortured and imprisoned in her own home, aren’t we sort of “Bloodthirsty Bessies” ourselves?

“My husband’s going to methodically convince me that my sense of reality is incorrect when he finds out about this!”

Overall what sells this film is Cukor’s magnificent directing. The sets, the lighting, the music are all pitch-perfect and help the film to achieve the necessary Gothic, noir-ish atmosphere it needs to triumph. The scene I found most chilling is the part where Gregory and Paula go on a cheery little date to the Tower of London, and in the torture chamber (who chose this frighteningly-romantic location, anyway?!?), with the shadows of the devices intended to inflict pain and death swooping in around her, Paula discovers that the brooch Gregory has entrusted her with has gone missing. I found it a very foreboding hint of what Paula believes might happen to her when Gregory finds out about the brooch. And of course, when he does find out, he plays it off like he doesn’t care, for the sake of her feelings, because he’s just such a sweet and sympathetic guy. (Slimeball!)

Gaslight is a magnificent film by a magnificent director with a magnificent cast. You shouldn’t need me to recommend it, but I wholeheartedly do. A film with many layers and textures of meaning and symbolism, this one has major replay value and definitely lives up to its well-deserved hype.


Gaslight (1944) – 4.5/5 stars

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)

Synopsis: There’s conflict afoot in the house of pianist Francis Ingram (Victor Francen). His dedicated nursemaid Julie (Andrea King) has taken a shine to his dishonest cohort Bruce (Robert Alda), and his secretary Hilary (Peter Lorre) refuses to tear himself away from his astrological “research.” So when Ingram takes a spill down the stairs and dies late one night, nobody is really bothered. That is, until more people start to mysteriously expire, with suspicious black and blue fingerprints around their throats. Ingram’s piano music is heard playing throughout the house, and Hilary swears a part of the angry musician has returned from beyond the grave: his disembodied hand, ready to take vengeance on those who wronged him in life and continue to dishonor him after death. Are these the ravings of an antisocial lunatic, or is Ingram’s hand really running amok and killing off his enemies?

What a wholesale disappointment. The plot of this Robert Florey film sounded awesome, and it put the movie on my must-see list for a long time. But sadly, aside from an adorable severed hand which does crawl around and play the piano and do menacing things as promised, there’s nothing to it. The story starts with potential, and a mystery is anticipated, but instead of going that route it just completely gives you what you see and makes no effort to be surprising or suspenseful. The plot twist is that there is no plot twist; the person flashing the giant proverbial I AM THE MURDERER, I AM CRAZY, LOOK OUT FOR ME sign above his head from the very start turns out to be, surprise, the culprit. Sorry if I spoiled it for you, but really. Lorre is effective as always, but it’s a character you expect him to play, so while he’s good at it, it’s nothing really novel. According to screenwriter Curt Siodmak, the story was originally penned with Paul Henreid in mind, under the belief that a more handsome leading man would garner more sympathy from the audience, therefore making it harder to believe that he was crazy. While on a personal taste level I disagree on the issue of Henreid being more handsome than Lorre, I think he might be right. Having someone less suspicious in the role of the crazy person might’ve added at least a hint of mystery. But if the rest of the plot had been kept exactly the same, the film would’ve ended up losing a lot, as Peter Lorre is basically the best thing it’s got going for it. As for the rest of the cast, they fit the bill well enough, except for Robert Alda who is awful. Imagine Rod Sterling’s voice coming out of Robert Donat’s body. He’s supposed to be the smarmy-charmy crook who’s got everything figured out from a mile away and just sits back making sarcastic comments, but it’s his delivery that’s laughable. The atmosphere is nicely creepy at times but mostly the soundtrack and the acting make everything seem way too overblown and melodramatic. The ending – as in literally the last thirty seconds or so – will make you go, “Huh?!?” in a bad way, and might even make you wanna punch the screen. I know I did. I’ll give it points for the always-watchable Lorre and the fun special effects, but really, I expected a whole lot more out of this movie than what I got. Skip it.


The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) – 2.5/5 stars

Loving Lucy Blogathon: The Big Street (1942)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Hopelessly romantic busboy Augustus “Little Pinks” Pinkerton (Henry Fonda) is head-over-heels for Gloria Lyons (Lucille Ball), a gruff-and-glamorous NYC nightclub singer with big dreams and an even bigger ego. Despite how well-connected Gloria believes herself to be, when her jealous boyfriend Case Ables (Barton MacLane) pushes her down a flight of stairs, Little Pinks is the only one who comes to her rescue. Gloria’s fall leaves her partially paralyzed, and Pinks allows her to believe that her recovery is being funded by millionaire playboy Decatur Reed (William T. Orr) when in actuality the bill is being paid out of Pinks’ own shallow pocket. When there’s no money left to give and no hope left for Gloria to regain the use of her legs, Pinks moves Gloria into his meager basement apartment, despite her ungrateful protestations. Upon hearing that Pinks’ neighbor Violette (Agnes Moorehead) and her beau, competitive eater Nicely Nicely (Eugene Pallette), are moving away from the frigid winters of New York to the sunny coast of Florida, Gloria begs Pinks to take her there, despite their lack of money. Seeing no other alternative and desperate for Gloria’s approval, Pinks pushes Gloria in her wheelchair through the Holland Tunnel, and the unlikely pair alternately walks and hitchhikes their way down to Miami. Upon hearing that Decatur Reed is in town, Gloria is desperate to catch up with her old flame, but terrified that he will find out about her condition. How far is Little Pinks willing to go for the woman he loves – and who hates his guts?

This is an official entry in the Loving Lucy Blogathon, True Classics’ marvelous celebration of the incomparable Lucille Ball on this, the 100th anniversary of her birth. Click the banner to read a slew of entries on everyone’s favorite redhead, covering her work in film, television, and radio.

Yes, I know, I’m late to the party as usual, but let’s skip the excuses and get straight to the point, also as usual. Directed by Irving Reis for RKO Pictures in 1942, The Big Street was scripted by Leonard Spigelgass from a short story by Damon Runyon. Despite some tension on the set – husband Desi Arnaz was concerned about Lucy starting up again with ex-boyfriend Henry Fonda, so he spent a lot of time prowling around during filming – Lucy would later name The Big Street as her favorite of her film performances. Given this fact and given what a unique – and good! – movie it is, I’m consistently surprised that The Big Street isn’t more well known or remembered. It’s definitely my favorite of Lucy’s films, as well, which is why I jumped at the chance to review it for this blogathon celebrating the Queen of Comedy’s 100th birthday. (more…)