Of Carole and Capra   Leave a comment

Posted by vp19 on 2013.05.06 at 19:51
Current mood: discontentdiscontent

carole lombard the swim princess 02e

Above is a publicity still from “The Swim Princess,” one of the two-reelers Carole Lombard made for Mack Sennett. What makes it distinctive is who wrote this silent’s story — a Sennett employee who, like Lombard, would go on to fame in the 1930s. His name? Frank Capra, who played a significant role in Harry Langdon’s rapid rise (and nearly as rapid fall) to silent comic stardom in 1926.

carole lombard clark gable claudette colbert frank capra 00a

Here’s a photo that’s said to be of Lombard with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert and Capra…though I’m not 100 percent sure it’s Carole. If it is her, when was this taken? Colbert’s in her Ellie Andrews dress from “It Happened One Night,” but Gable’s minus his mustache. Lombard might have dropped by the set in early 1934 as she was preparing to make her own film ac Columbia, “Twentieth Century,” as much a breakthrough for her as “It Happened One Night” was for Gable, Colbert and Capra (the difference being that Carole wasn’t rewarded with an Oscar, or even a nomination).

It begs the question: Why didn’t Lombard and Capra work together on a film? Well, it could have happened, as she supposedly was a contender for the female lead in “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town,” a part that ultimately went to Jean Arthur (who subsequently worked with Capra in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”). But would they have worked well as a team? At least one blogger has his doubts.

At the TCM-run blog “Movie Morlocks,” David Kalat recently wrote an entry, “Me Vs. Capra” (http://moviemorlocks.com/2013/05/04/me-vs-capra/): where he admits to having a “thorny” relationship with Capra in general and one of his films in particular — 1941’s “Meet John Doe,” in which Barbara Stanwyck is shown with husband Robert Taylor at its March 1941 premiere:

barbara stanwyck robert taylor meet john doe 031341 large

In general, Kalat objects to the heavy-handedness typifying Capra’s films after “It Happened One Night” (James Harvey issued a similar opinion in his fine book, “Romantic Comedy In Hollywood: From Lubitsch To Sturges”). He also is cool to how Capra utilizes actresses:

“Screwball comedy is laudable in large measure for what it did for actresses. During the ’30s and ’40s, the prospects for actresses exploded, and instead of being just love interests for the male comedians they became the main show. In many ways, Capra’s work on ‘It Happened One Night’ was key to making that new realm of possibility happen. But Capra then suddenly backpedaled from it. He was not comfortable writing for strong women, and his films seem almost designed to force the uppity female stars back into their places.”

Of course, “writing” isn’t the most appropriate word to use to describe Capra, not when he had Robert Riskin (a one-time Lombard lover) handling the scripts. (Had Carole done “Deeds,” Riskin’s screenplay might have worked more to her advantage than it did Arthur’s.) But Capra apparently didn’t want actresses with strong personalities interfering with his faux populism, and Stanwyck’s newspaper reporter character suffers as a result.

But here’s where Kalat takes a rather unusual twist — he compares “Meet John Doe” to another film from that era, and likes the other one better:

“If you come to ‘Meet John Doe’ sympathizing more with Barbara Stanwyck than Gary Cooper, Capra can’t do much for ya.

“And the thing of it is, just four years before ‘Meet John Doe’ there was a screwball comedy that dealt with the same premise and ideas and hit it out of the park. It mopped the floor with ‘Meet John Doe.’

“Here are some the reasons to like ‘Nothing Sacred’ better: it is a scant 77 minutes long compared to John Doe‘s patience-straining 2-plus-hours bloat. It is in color. It has Carole Lombard in it. It is actually funny. It is also romantic. But most of all–it lands its satiric jabs without being divisive.”

carole lombard nothing sacred 56a

Surprised? Well, of Lombard’s performance, Kalat says:

” Her internal contradictions are a delight to watch. She gets to be both the cause of the all the problems as well as the victim of those problems at once, and in that way allows us to sympathize with her no matter what happens.

“In the end, she and [Fredric] March carry the day because in a world full of liars and cheats, they are supremely better at it than anyone else -– it’s a victory for smart people (or smart alecks, take your pick).”

Kalat sums up his disdain for “Meet John Doe” this way:

“‘Meet John Doe’ spends over two hours wagging its finger in admonition at its audience, condemning them for being agents of their own economic victimization, for lacking integrity, for failing to appreciate the simple joys of a dirt floor and an empty pocket. It shames Barbara Stanwyck (creator of the John Doe hoax) for being clever and trying to keep her job. And then it whips itself up to a rousing finale to claim that somehow the mass of ‘people’ out there will be inspired by its message to make the world a better place, even though actually depicting what that might look like is beyond the film’s imagination.”

Incidentally, the “Nothing Sacred” screenshot is from a 16mm Fujicolor print that’s being auctioned at eBay. One bid, for $29, has been made as of this writing. If you collect 16mm film, you have until 2:21 p.m. (Eastern) Saturday to place the high bid. Learn more at http://www.ebay.com/itm/16mm-feature-film-NOTHING-SACRED-Carole-Lombard-FUJI-color-/290911070160?pt=US_Film&hash=item43bba6a7d0.

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Posted May 6, 2013 by vp19 in Uncategorized

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