Thursday, 14 January 2016

Alan Rickman (1946-2016)

I saw him on stage as Elyot in "Private Lives" almost 15 years ago, but it'll be his cinematic roles, mostly his villains and his role in "Galaxy Quest" that I'll remember him for.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Women (1939)

In 1939, MGM arranged to have two of their biggest female starts, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford together in George Cukor’s “The Women”. The film was shot with an all-female cast (animals included) and has remained famous for that, for it’s one liners (Crawford’s final line is priceless as is daring for Hays era Hollywood) and for the backstories of egos and rivalries between the two leading actresses and Rosalind Russell. 

The film’s admirable idea of an all-female cast, something which was probably not ever done to this extent before or since, disappoints quickly once the film starts. The reality is that it’s treated as a gimmick; as the posters say, “it’s all about men”. In reality it is all about promoting obedient and complacent wives who get rewarded (Shearer, Joan Fontaine) against disagreeable wives (Russell) or gold diggers (Crawford). Despite being written by women, at times it feels incredible misogynist (starting with the credits) with women being reduced to one dimensional figures – or animal like behaviours, and the men implied to be simple things which are played by them. 

Yet, the film has several good moments. There are wonderful lines (the film was co-scripted by Anita Loos) – my favourites are the aforementioned Crawford’s final line and one involving a mention to a swastika (the actual shape) meaning it has being tainted by history – I most recently watched the film at the BFI and the audience laughed at the line and then immediately felt like they shouldn’t have. There are also good scenes, brilliantly directed: Crawford and Shearer’s first confrontation; all the scenes with Olga the manicurist; the exercise sequence for Russell.

And there a lot of famous names in the film (the cast is absolutely massive): Shearer, Crawford, Russell in career changing role, Paulette Godard, Marjorie Main and Joan Fontaine are probably those better remembered today. But they aren’t evenly matched. Fontaine is painful to watch, and Russell is the main reason I can’t love the film as much as others do. She overacts to a degree that’s antagonises me and makes me wonder why she felt she needed to do it like that. On the other hand, both Goddard and Shearer are good; with Shearer giving one of her best latter career performances (I prefer her performance in “Escape” but alas the film is much worse, courtesy of Robert Taylor). Of the lesser known names, Lucile Watson as Shearer's mother is great, as is Hedda Hopper as the gossip columnist, antecipating real life.

But the best performance is undoubtedly Crawford’s. In a clearly supporting part (I think she might even appear less than Russell onscreen), she steals every scene she is in; if the film has passed the test of time is in no small to her efforts.

Finally, Adrian's clothes. I think that too often Adrian created gowns that no sensible woman would ever wear but here, the clothes he designed for Russell's character are so excessive, so much more than required, that it helps tremendously put me off her character - too cartoonish for the rest of the film. Oh, and then there's the pointless Technicolor fashion show...