March 24, 2020


photographer: Vivian Maier (Chicago)


--Sometimes the women are just the emptiest version of a male fantasy gal pal toy. But you can tell that even the men are frustrated by this reductive unreality and not having an "equal."
--In other films, much importance is laid on a woman standing by her man no matter what (it's almost the measure of the worth of a woman, not only to her man, but to herself).
--Other films have whip-smart, fully-developed characters where it isn't even a question whether or not woman is man's equal. These are the best films where there's equal spunk on both sides--but not identically expressed. (Toward the end of WW2, the silver screen is enjoying the novelty of women capably driving cars. Men are their passengers.)
--So often, when a woman enters the scene, the music goes soft with violins and sweetness, almost as though men are grateful for something soft and sweet in life (even if she's a grifter).

--Other films sport a beautiful, romantic, complementary relationship of husband and wife (kids are ALWAYS part of the picture, a given) who support each other through thick and thin, who are aware of each other's individuality, needs, strengths and weaknesses.
--Male/female differences are usually (but not always) commented on from the male perspective. But they are definitely commented on, frequently. Often good-naturedly and accurately, and not always a put-down. Sometimes it's nasty and angry and accusatory (90% from the male side and only 10% from the female side).
--Just like guys call each other "bro" today, WOMEN USED TO CALL EACH OTHER "SISTER," AND SO DID MEN. A kind of kinship. That we've lost. (The only time I've heard "Sister" in a modern film: Jim Carrey in "Dumb and Dumber": "Move it or lose it, Sister!" on his way to the jetway. :)
--Sometimes men remind other men to treat women better, treat a woman like a "lady."
--Men often put their hands all over women's bodies, overpowering women (women they know OR even strangers).
--There seems to be animal magnetism just driving men and women into each other's arms, even when they barely know each other, or one just tried to kill the other one. This happens quite frequently and makes no sense. A real lack of female writing here. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to many intimate relationships. Often times one or both of the lovers are absolutely horrible people.

An * means worth seeing. ** means VERY worth seeing.


Wicked As They Come (1956)--A femme fatale goes from man to man, exploiting them (after being sexually abused as a child). Psychology was beginning to delve into these things. And the MEN in the film understand this about her "why she is the way she is"! One man sees through her and wants to love her. Will she give in? The woman winds up in prison (female prison guards=nuns). The ending is UNRESOLVED. 

*Turn the Key Softly (1940's?, British)--3 women released from prison are looking for love. Very unusual topic! Main character is doublecrossed (again) by her lover who landed her in prison in the first place. Anecdotal, not much of an Act 3. The ending unravels. But a window on the times.

*City That Never Sleeps (1953)--Chicago! A depressed cop (played with incredible gravitas by Gig Young--Google his life/death!) is tempted to switch sides and engage in crime (dirty cops are a theme in film noir).

*Manhandled (1949)--(Dorothy Lamour) A sweet young thing is set up by her lover. Will the cops figure it out and save her?

Whiplash (1948)--A boxer-artist is in love with a conflicted woman. 

*Phone Call from a Stranger (1940's?)--(Bette Davis) A plan crashes and a surviving passenger seeks out the loved ones of those who didn't survive.

*Wicked Woman (1953)--A female drifter-grifter-homewrecker moves in on a bar-owner (and his unaware alcoholic wife). But missy should have been nice to ALL the men in her life.... Karma is a witch. :)

The Price of Fear (1956)--Convoluted story full of plot holes and gaps. An unconscionable man falls in love with an unconscionable woman. No chemistry. Who cares.

*The Pushover (1954)--This noir film is a big deal. Fred MacMurray established himself as a serious actor (not just an light comedy actor) and this is Kim Novak's debut. Kim Novak was a big, big deal. Men really like Kim Novak. Stay for the TCM channel commentary at beginning and end. MacMurray plays a cop tempted to turn to the dark side.

*My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)--A woman is gaslit. Good fun.

*Inside Job (1946)--A young, enterprising couple get in way over their head in a bank heist.

I've Lived Before (1956)--A snail-paced Twilight Zone about reincarnation. Is this the beginning of a kind of jettisoning of the Judaeo-Christian imagination? After WWI and WWII is "anything possible"? Are we looking for another meta-narrative?

Breakaway (1956)--No.

British Crime Thriller--No.

Madison Avenue (1961)--Lord, no. Tedious, technical. All boring business-speak. Men and women in the workplace. Hard as nails chick vs. soft, sentimental chick. How could there ever be romance here? A pathetic view of women (and men).

Whispering Footsteps (1943)--Rumors and suspicions swirl as to who the mysterious serial killer really is. But it's hard to know who to trust when everything points to....

Woman on the Run (1950)--The shrew wife. Anne Sheridan is a terrible actress.

*Victim (1961)--8 years before the Stonewall Riots and 1 years before the first Gay Pride Parade (NYC), this British film takes on (in a sophisticated story) why homosexual acts (buggery) shouldn't be illegal. The lives of several "gay" men of varying ages and social status are portrayed, most of them "respectable" members of society. Each makes the case for "no harm is done" by their "natural" acts, finding "love the only way they're able." The wife of one these men--who knew about his proclivities before they got married--stands by him when he (and the other men) are blackmailed for hiddenly breaking the law (photos). The arguments are similar and not similar to today's. "Nature played a cruel joke." But one judge talks about the "corruption" that allowing this behavior to be legalized and spread will bring. One woman blackmailer is a Christian who is "disgusted" by the "blasphemy." The film is, of course, sympathetic propaganda. A "message" film.

*It Happens Every Thursday (1953)--A deeply optimistic and light-hearted film of a young family (the fast-talking, spunky Loretta Young is wife/mom who can do anything) trying to make a go of the American Dream.

*Craig's Wife (1936)--A very young, very serious Rosalind Russell (like you've never seen her before!) is an ice-in-her-veins, controlling, emasculating wife who loves only her well-appointed home and nothing else. A kind of morality play. "Those who keep to themselves are often left to themselves."

**The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940)--A splendidly-executed, mile-a-minute-paced screwball comedy that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that women and men ARE equal. Loretta Young and Ray Milland at their finest (full of palpable disdain for each other) are forced to work a deceit for each other's benefit and in order to benefit themselves at the same time. A truly excellent specimen of the madcap genre.

*Call of the Wild (1935)--Loretta Young & Clark Gable. Based on the Jack London story. Lots of canines. Lots. Not much of a story-line, but Loretta and Clark!

*Portrait of Jennie (1948)--Joseph Cotten & Jennifer Jones  Uber-sentimental, dreamy love story with time travel and yearning for the eternal. Starts off kind of creepy: a young girl and an older man who must wait for her to grow up before they can be together. Lots of nuns!

*The Strange Woman (1946)--Heddy Lamar. Set in early 1800's New England. Come for the costumes, stay to observe the beautiful, brainy Lamar at her craft. "Unjust" ending (weird male logic: beauty and passion trumps promises/fidelity). Creepy robbing the cradle, murderous/gold-digging predatory female wiles, incest-y.

*A Night To Remember (1942)--Loretta Young & Brian Aherne. Truly hilarious murder-mystery-comedy. Young and Aherne are well-matched equals as a young married couple, both writers, who get entangled in a real-live murder. Funny lines and predicaments. Holds up today. Aherne is a hoot.

*The Man I Married (40's/50/s)--An American woman marries a German-American and they take a trip to pre-WWII Germany where Hitler is on the rise. A must-watch for the sake of "how could this have happened"?

*Molly and Me (1945)--A troupe of musical theater stage actors are recruited to pose as a rich man's household staff to save the day.

*Dishonored Woman (1947)--Poor Hedy Lamarr (who was a scientific inventor in real life) has to play a floozy being courted by an upstanding scientist who knows nothing of her past.

The Intruder (1933)--An almost plotless, ridiculous "talkie."

Johnny Allegro (1949)--Just a fun criminals vs. cops movie. A woman seems to be in charge at first, but her backstory is that she attached herself to a rich man. But she proves herself to have spunk and guts.

*Together Again (1944)--(Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer) A widow lady mayor lives with her father and precocious daughter. Watch this ONLY for the daughter and her boyfriend: two hilarious young adult actors.

*Shield for Murder (1954)--a solid, tough-talking, hardboiled tale about a dirty cop (with great sympathy toward the underpaid, overworked, cynical flatfoots), great side characters, great plotlines. The cop's girlfriend is controlled by her man--they love each other, but she doesn't like his violent side. Women are only about the feelz and don't like to have to "think." But she's not dumb and wants to help him along with his cop friend--neither of whom know he's dirty, but they're getting suspicious. Suspenseful entertainment that has held up for 70 years. Oscar-winner Edmond O'Briend is the main actor (and a writer). Superb. (Except for the sardonic statement of one cop to another cop getting off duty: "Go home and beat your wife." Nice.)

The Black Doll (1930's)--Murder and voodoo? Or is it voodoo at all. Big body count.

*My Cousin Rachel (1952)--Richard Burton. Wow. Olivia de Havilland. Meh.

*He Walks At Night (1948)--Film noir about a cop-killer. Cops are definitely the good guys. The actor who plays the murderer eerily conveys the coldest-blooded evil. Watch it for him.

*Detour (1945)--True noir with cheesy narration throughout. Our main character is a bad luck Brian to the max! Get a load of the tough-as-nails blackmailing hitchhiker dame.

*Hitchhiker (1953)--Directed by a woman, the great Ida Lupino! Edmond O'Brien isn't so great in this one (chews scenery), but everyone else is mighty fine. Mexicans are portrayed as full, able characters, not chumpy sidekicks or inferiors. Aside from this lovely subjective feminine sensitivity, the rest of the film is like a gritty guy's Western.

*Pick Up On South Street (1953)--I'm ashamed to say I never even heard of Jean Peters. JP is a revelation. As soon as her plucky streetwalker character sears onto the screen, it's impossible to take your eyes off this Juliette Lewis lookalike (or rather, the other way around) as she convinces you are watching a real person. But, if you ever wondered about women's status in 1953 (incidentally, the year "Playboy" was born), watch if you can (I had to look away) as Peters' character is brutally beaten and brutalized more than once by either of her two criminal element boyfriends in this otherwise "actors film." In what universe was it acceptable to show this????? Peters herself is an enigma:

*Killer Bait (1949)--Film noir. Ridiculous fun, more like a morality play. The evils of greed.

*Eyes in the Night (1942)--A blind cop and his trusty pooch is a formidable (and physical) crime solver--and Edward Arnold a formidable actor.

*Spellbound (1945)--(Hitchcock) Ingrid Bergman and a very young Gregory Peck play psycho-analyst and patient with a mysterious guilt complex. (The whole film is very Freudian!) Doctor (Bergman) not only falls in love with patient (Peck)--she's determined to cure him and save him from the police who want to pin the very murder on him that he (mistakenly?) thinks he committed. Although Bergman is alternately treated like the accomplished scientist she is (by both her all-male colleagues and the filmmakers), she is also the hopelessly emotional female. However, if you really watch/listen to what's being conveyed, it's seen as a strength, as something essentially human, as something men don't have and are missing, and, SPOILER ALERT: She is right and does save the day! A woman saves a man! Quite extraordinary.

The Scar (1948)--Horrible, amoral love story that makes no sense.

*Whispering City (1947)--A French guy in Montreal is being gaslit. Pretty good stuff.

*Big Town After Dark (1947)--If you like nasty, old-timey gangsters, this is your film.

*The Accused (1948)--A real psycho-thriller about a real psycho student who obsesses over his teacher (Loretta Young). However, "Fainting Spells Loretta" plays her increasingly annoying "type": a weak, delicate, high-strung, silly, frilly, frivolous, confused dame.

**Roses Are Red (1947)--Guys and dolls--with that "war effort" spirit--working together to solve crimes. Good fun. Incidentally, competent, intrepid women journalists were a fav character of the time.

*Finger Man (1955)--Ruthless crime boss will stop at nothing to maintain and expand his power. Women are expendable and sources of income. Brutal treatment of women shown. (See: "Pick Up on South Street.") Interesting. Women treated with deference in the 40's. Suddenly, with post-war prosperity, Kinsey and Playboy (1953), women are some kind of fair game/blood sport.

**Wiretapper (1955) Billed as "true crime," this film is actually a well-disguised early BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADE FILM. (BG made films all his life which always included an actual rally of his where the main character gets saved, breaking through the 4th wall, sort of.) This is very good filmmaking for its time with a very broad secular appeal. Will a ne'er-do-well finally break free of his life of crime (now that he's a family man)?

*The Inner Circle (1946)--More gaslighting and whodunnit entertainment. Wonderfully developed, homey, fun characters.

*Heroes in Blue (1939)--"Blue Bloods" of the 1930's! An Irish-American family of cops has one son who strays. A rich ethical dilemma. Cops are good guys.

*Her Favorite Patient (1945)--(rom com) A wise-cracking lady doctor must deal with a patient who just won't leave...because he's in love with her.

**Meet the Boyfriend (1937)--A super fun almost-musical. Just grand. Bouyant characters, tremendous sense of humor. Equality and complementarity of the sexes. I could watch this over and over. Well-preserved, clear black and white.

*The Hatbox Mystery (1947)--Great, great fun. A struggling detective agency gets mixed up in "murder" they are duped into committing. Also, hamburgers. Lots of hamburgers.The guys' long-suffering, hard-working girlfriends are hardly acknowledged by their mooch boyfriends.

*The Madonna's Secret (1946)--Exploitative (of women), creepy thriller with a twist ending.

**Ladies in Retirement (1941)--The versatile Ida Lupino (unrecognizable 7 years later in "Road House") glowers in this dark, moor-swept British delight.

The Big Bluff (1955)--(Noir) Amateurish  acting, directing, dialogue and everything else, but a fantastically twisty, just ending.

*Not Wanted (1949)--This incredible film directed by the incredible Ida Lupino (who also makes a cameo!) is about a young woman pregnant out of wedlock. But exactly who's unwanted? A great look into the attitudes of the much more noble and pro-life than our own. Lupino's camerawork is progressive and her subject gritty, as always.

Sanctuary (1961)--Based on a novel by William Faulkner, this dark, decadent story contradicts its plot and logic all over the place with huge plot holes. A young woman falls into a brothel almost by mistake...and loves it! Horrible notion of "quality of life" (a child is better off dead than with a poor quality of life, a great argument for abortion). Lee Remick is a great actress in this sad, what people would call "brave" film today. Only one high note: a black actress is the wisdom figure that the Southern white woman must listen to (with lots of lines)! This was hugely avant-garde. For all its bizarre "morality," the language used is a vestige of Christianity (because there was no other lexicon): "den of sin," "illicit sex." With male attitudes (or unhealthy male fantasies) like this shown in mainstream media, no wonder the Women's Movement was begun!
--Women are ditzes who can be "bought" with a bunch of pretty clothes (and you can smack them around)
--Um, was she raped or not? She was!
--(In other news, Ava Gardner was smacked around in real life by George C. Scott, and almost killed by him.)

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