Tag Archives: Howard Hawks

Style on Film: The Big Sleep

This was the scene that made me sit up and start paying serious attention to the fashions of The Big Sleep, the classic 1946 film noir which is best remembered as the second movie to star the sizzling hot team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The lady in the chic, tiered black dress didn’t even get her name in the titles – despite being more prominently featured than some of the other character actors. Her name is Sonia Darrin and she played Agnes, the hard-hearted dame who worked for the blackmailer Geiger. The first sighting of the movie’s leading lady Lauren Bacall finds her lounging in a stylish jacket, black trousers and loafers, as her character Vivian has an informal chat with private eye Philip Marlowe (Bogie).

Vivian and Marlowe’s next meeting is even less formal: he brings home her kid sister, the troublesome Carmen, who has been found drunk in charge of the dead body of her father’s blackmailer.

The next morning, Vivian visits Marlowe in his downtown office. The checked suit and beret combo sported by Bacall here is the best known outfit from The Big Sleep, and the publicity shots featured Bacall working what had been christened “The Look” – her unique way of holding her chin down and casting her eyes up as she spoke.

Bacall later explained that “The Look” had been born out of necessity: when she made her first film, To Have and Have Not, she found that the only way she could disguise her nerves, stop herself shaking and her voice from trembling was to hold herself like that.

A rendez-vous at a bar provides Marlowe and Vivian with a chance of trading a little bit more banter – and affords us a glimpse of one of the most contemporary-looking outfits of the movie: the shiny jacket..

Later that evening, in Eddie Mars’ casino, Marlowe discovers that Vivian – like only a couple of other film noir femme fatales – fancies herself as a singer. Wearing good-girl white (well, she is one of the least dangerous of forties FFs), she is the centre of attention – and quickly captures Marlowe’s interest once more.

And to finish? Two dresses for the price of one as both Agnes and Vivian feature in the next scene – the point in any normal thriller when matters come to a head and the real goodies and baddies are exposed. But this being The Big Sleep, the film with the most convoluted and confusing plot of them all (so convoluted and confusing that even the writer of the original book, Raymond Chandler, couldn’t say who had committed one of the murders), that doesn’t quite happen. Better to revel in the performances, the chemistry and badinage between Bogie and Bacall and the fabulous clothes.

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My Week in Beauty

SUNDAY

Mm, after experimenting with Dior’s beautiful new colour collection, Dior Gris Montaigne, on Sunday, I came to a conclusion that I had suspected for some time: grey and I just don’t get along when it comes to eye make-up. While brown tones make dark blue eyes “pop” and help warm pale complexions, cool greys don’t seem to do anything for my colouring.

As gorgeous as the new Dior 5 Couleurs in Gris-Gris (£40; pictured below) is, with its spectrum of shimmering shades from pearly white to glittery black, it just doesn’t do it for me in the way that the gold tones from the Christmas collection did. Which is why I keep going back to them!

This new range is a homage to the colour that has long symbolised Dior elegance, the dove grey which adorns the walls at the original Dior boutique at 30 avenue Montaigne in Paris.

And, while I may not be able to pay tribute with the grey eyeshadows (or, for that matter, with the to-die-for Lady Dior bag in its grey incarnation -just a bit out of my current price range), I’ll be able to get in on the grey act thanks to  Dior Vernis Haute Couleur Extreme Wear Nail Lacquer in Gris Montaigne (£17.50), which looks set to take on Chanel’s Black Pearl as the nail colour for spring 2011.

MONDAY

Frasers department store in Glasgow was the venue for a buffet breakfast on Monday – but the local beauty press was far too busy learning about the new Apothecary, which we’d been invited to view, to bother about the bagels and other delights.

This new space – which is also to be found in several of the House of Fraser stores in England  – is home to various niche brands, many of which I’ve never come across before.  Per-fekt, Gentry Grooming and Body America are three of the names which were new to me, while Laura Mercier, Ojon and Crabtree & Evelyn are old favourites. There’s also Apothecary’s own name bath and body range, which was created with the renowned perfumer Francois Robert.

I left Frasers with a bulging bag of samples from the numerous ranges represented in the Apothecary, and headed straight over to the Rogano bar to share my spoils with Margaret, my beauty therapist friend whose opinion is always worth seeking for skincare advice.

We’ll report our findings anon, but in the meantime we’re both checking out the Apothecary website – at www.houseoffraser.co.uk – to see which brands didn’t provide samples!

TUESDAY


On Tuesday, I couldn’t help thinking of Twiggy as she was in the 1960s as I dabbled with not one but two new mascaras – at the same time… On the upper lashes, I was trying out the latest wonder wand sent by the Boots Press Office. 17 Photo Flawless Lashes Mascara (£5.99; www.boots.com) has a curved brush which is perfect for bending the lashes out and up. Not only that, but it also comes in a trio of shades – Black/Blue, Black/Green and Black/Copper – created to complement the colour of the eyes.

While my upper lashes were coated courtesy of 17, the lower lashes were kitted out by Clinique, the brand new Clinique Bottom Lash Mascara (£10;
www.clinique.co.uk) to be precise. This is a first: a mascara with a dinky wand specifically designed for those pesky, short lower lashes. It certainly works wonders, transforming teeny lashes into luscious tendrils and even finding lashes which were invisible without mascara.  And if you want the Twiggy or Liza look, it’s an absolute must…

WEDNESDAY

My beauty highlight of the week was discovering a fantastic new cleanser which is really a pleasure to use.  Elemis Melting Cleansing Gel (£19.40; www.elemis.com) does exactly what it says on the label – but with an unusual degree of luxury and comfort.

It’s a rich gel, which smells lovely, and which you apply to dry skin before you begin massaging it in with damp fingers.  At that point, it begins to emulsify and dissolve the make-up and dirt on the face. Packed with anti-oxidants, it cleanses deeply while comforting and soothing the skin – so much so that even a confirmed water-avoider like myself is more than happy to use it…

THURSDAY

I had a real treat on Thursday – an afternoon in Edinburgh, culminating in a trip to The Filmhouse to see one of my movie heroines in her breakthrough film. Carole Lombard is the heroine – both in terms of her talent and her style – and the film was Twentieth Century (in which she’s pictured here), from 1934, one of the current season of Howard Hawks movies.

Lombard was an intelligent beauty, a sassy, sexy young woman who didn’t take herself too seriously, was a master of her craft,  liked to hang out with the boys, and knew how to use make-up and lighting to make the most of her looks which, despite the gorgeous photos from her brief run of success in Hollywood, were not perfect.

Any opportunity to see this luminous beauty on the big screen is worth taking – especially since she crammed a string of sensational screwball performances into her short life, among them Twentieth Century, My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred, True Confession, Mr and Mrs Smith and To Be or Not To Be.

Clark Gable lost the love of his life when she died in a plane crash at the age of 34; the world lost a great talent – and one of the most exquisite beauties ever to light up the screen.

FRIDAY

Beauty lifesaver of the week was undoubtedly Dior Crystal Nude (£26.50; www.boots.com), a mattifying and transparent foundation which can be used alone to enhance bare skin and make it look naturally smooth and clear, or which can be used for touch-ups to perfect the skin while you’re out and about.

I started using it on Monday at the Apothecary launch when the heat caused by so many bodies crammed into a small space at the back of the always overheated store triggered an outbreak of T-zone shine. And it worked. So much so that it didn’t leave my make-up bag all week…

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I was thrilled to discover that one of my favourite films from the 1950s, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), is getting a new lease of life in cinemas this month – and I’ve been polishing my tiara in readiness for a girls-only outing to see it at my local cinema.

There’s nothing like watching a brilliant old movie on the big screen, and in the company of others (as opposed to watching it alone, on TV, in your jammies).  I’m even hoping for a bit of a singalong as this is the film in which Marilyn Monroe performed her iconic Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend number (pictured above).

This was one of Marilyn’s breakthrough films – and her performance as dopey, and utterly transparent (except to men), gold-digger Lorelei Lee is hilarious – and beautifully complemented by Jane Russell’s priceless turn as Lorelei’s wise-cracking, worldly-wise best pal, Dorothy Shaw.

The pair set sail for Paris in the hope that Lorelei’s wealthy fiance will shake off his disapproving father and follow her there for their wedding. But en route, Dorothy, the supposed chaperone, is distracted by the Olympic team while Lorelei is distracted by the diamond tiara owned by the wife of English aristocrat Sir Francis Beakman (played by veteran character actor Charles Coburn, pictured below).

Not only is the film sparklingly funny (it was directed by the great Howard Hawks and based on Anita Loos’s dryly witty book), and glorious to look at, but it also boasts some terrific songs – including the Hoagy Carmichael/Harold Adamson number When Love Goes Wrong (above), which our heroines sing at a pavement cafe in Paris, accompanied by an accordionist. Marilyn was really a very good singer and this movie – along with Some Like It Hot – showcased her oft-unsung vocal talents.

Ironically, Marilyn was not intended to be the star of the film – she actually gets second billing after Jane in the credits, and her salary was considerably lower. But her response to being told that she wasn’t the star was: “Well, whatever I am, I’m still the blonde.”

Despite the potential for rivalry, the two stars got on famously, and 20th Century Fox sought out other projects for them to work on together – but, sadly, that onscreen reunion never happened.

*The new print of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is showing  at selected cinemas now.

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Happy Birthday Ms Bacall

Today is the 85th birthday of one of the last great movie stars of the golden era: Lauren Bacall. She may have been among the sexiest screen goddesses, but she was born plain-old Betty Joan Perske in New York City in 1924. Her mother was Romanian-German and her father was Polish. Bacall’s parents divorced when she was six years old, and she was brought up by her mother and grandmother.

When she left school she won a place at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in her home city. However, lack of funds and the refusal of the academy to grant scholarships to women meant that she had to abandon her studies at the end of the first year. Desperate to get an acting job, Bacall frequented theatrical hang-outs and earned her crust by working as a model in the bustling “garment center”, where girls were hired to model gowns for buyers. Her first modelling job ended when her boss found out that she was Jewish.

After months of pavement-pounding, Bacall made a breakthrough of sorts into Broadway when she landed the job of usher in a chain of theatres. She made her Broadway debut – as Lauren Bacall (Bacal had been half of her mother’s maiden name) in March 1942, in a tiny role in an ill-fated production entitled Johnny 2×4. Later that year, Bacall modelled for a fashion shoot for Harper’s Bazaar. When the magazine came out, it changed her life.

Slim Hawks, Mrs Howard Hawks, saw the cover photograph of this sexy and sullen-looking newcomer and brought it to the attention of her director-producer husband who immediately arranged for Bacall to have a screen test. The result was a role in Hawks’s To Have and Have Not (1944), an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s book, with the action transferred from Cuba to French Martinique and cracking dialogue by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman.

As Marie, nicknamed Slim, the girl who suggestively teaches Humphrey Bogart’s bemused but beguiled character how to whistle, Bacall was an instant hit – a new kind of tough femme fatale, with a deep, manly voice and a masculine way of pursuing her romantic quarry. She smouldered as, with a knowing smile, she traded suggestive dialogue with Bogart. And her habit, which he taught her as a way to stop her nerves from showing, of keeping her chin down when she was on camera was a crucial part of what became known as “The Look”.

Their chemistry was immediate – and very obvious. Bacall and Bogart, who was 45 to her 19, fell in love and began an affair – he was married at the time – which led to their marriage in 1945.

Bogie and “Baby” went on to work together in several of what were the best films of both their careers – notably Hawks’s archetypal film noir The Big Sleep (1946), in which she exuded even more cynicism than in her first film. Other Bogie-Bacall collaborations include the thriller Dark Passage (1947) and the atmospheric melodrama Key Largo (1948).

Bacall had her first child, Stephen (“Steve” was the nickname Slim gives to Harry Morgan, Bogie’s To Have or Have Not character), in January 1949, but was back at work soon afterwards – in the 1950 melodrama Young Man With a Horn, opposite her teenage beau Kirk Douglas. Other notable 1950s films included the colourful comedy How To Marry a Millionaire (1953), in which, as the brains behind an apparently fool-proof gold-digging operation, she has to babysit dumb blondes Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and the all-star soap opera Written on the Wind (1956). However, Bacall – who gave birth to a daughter, Leslie, in 1952 – spent much of that decade caring for Bogart, who had lung cancer.

Shortly after Bogart’s death in 1957, Bacall moved to New York and the stage, and was absent from the screen for five years. In 1961, she married Jason Robards Jr and during their eight-year marriage, she had another son. She then divided her time between Broadway and Hollywod, winning a Tony award for her performance in the show Applause in 1970 and, in 1996, an Oscar nomination for her role as Barbra Streisand’s mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces.

Bacall, who has emerged as a feisty, no-nonsense grande dame of the showbiz world, continues to work – she has three films in post-production at the time of writing – and to terrify interviewers with her frankly expressed opinions on everything from ageing (“Your whole life shows in your face – and you should be proud of that”) to being a “legend”. Her two volumes of autobiography are among the best published by anyone in the movie business. A striking woman, even in her mid-80s, she stands for an era in which stars had personalities and principles – they certainly don’t make them like her anymore. Her forthcoming Honorary Academy Award is well-deserved and long-overdue..

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Chandler On Screen

It’s Film Noir weekend on BBC4, so it seems like a good time to talk about Raymond Chandler – especially since the 50th anniversary of his death earlier this year only seems to have been commemorated by the literary world.
 
More than any single director and more than most stars, the name Raymond Chandler is synonymous with film noir. It appears on the credits of three of the handful of movies which gave birth to the genre: Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep and Murder, My Sweet (AKA Farewell My Lovely, its British title). These masterworks – directed by Billy Wilder, Edward Dmytryk and Howard Hawks respectively – are the grandparents of such diverse modern-day classics as the The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and LA Confidential.
 
 Chandler, an American educated in upper middle-class England, brought style and panache to the detective thriller. His laconic yet poetic descriptions and the wisecracking, cynical observations made by his alter ego, the “shamus” Philip Marlowe, set him apart from other crime writers.

His stories were more than merely whodunits – which is just as well, given that plotting wasn’t his forte at all. Indeed, so complex and confusing was the plot of his 1939 novel The Big Sleep that when Howard Hawks was in the middle of filming it, he had to wire Chandler to ask him who had committed one of the peripheral murders. After re-reading his own book, Chandler replied that he had no idea.

What distinguished Chandler’s stories and books was that they were rich in atmosphere and packed with quotable passages. The language was authentically slangy, and the banter between the sexes crackled with playful and witty eroticism.

So, in 1943, when Paramount Studios bought the rights to former journalist James L Cain’s taut novelette Double Indemnity, Chandler was hired to collaborate on the screenplay with the director Billy Wilder. The Austrian emigre director had decided that Chandler was the man for the job after reading The Big Sleep and being impressed with what Chandler biographer Al Clark called the “poetic toughness” of the writing. He also appreciated Chandler’s knowledge of Los Angeles and his instincts about the kind of duplicitous seductress they would be portraying in their script.

Despite this, working together turned out to be an ordeal for both men. Wilder later recalled that “there was a lot of Hitler in Chandler” while Chandler wrote to his publisher saying: “Working with Billy Wilder on Double Indemnity was an agonising experience and has probably shortened my life”. Nevertheless, the tense collaboration produced a seminal film noir.

Double Indemnity, like a typical Chandler novel, was told in flashback with its central character, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), narrating his story into a dictaphone as he lies dying. It featured a classic Chandler-esque “big-league blonde”, the femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) who entices the hapless hero into a web of murder and deceit. With its night shots, and shadowy sequences, it, to use the slang of the day, reeked from atmosphere; Wilder’s arresting images the visual equivalent of Chandler’s evocative descriptions.

Billy Wilder, whose great run of success really began with Double Indemnity, later said of his grumpy, alcoholic, middle-aged writing partner: “He was a mess, but he could write a beautiful sentence.” He also admitted that he learned from Chandler “what real dialogue is”.

None of Chandler’s other forays into screenwriting in the 1940s were as successful – not even his excellent original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia, the 1946 thriller which starred the popular team of Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd and lent part of its title to the sensational, real-life “Black Dahlia” murder story that broke shortly after it opened in cinemas.

Of course, Chandler’s most easily recognisable gift to cinema is one of the most iconic screen personalities in movie history – of his private “dick”, Philip Marlowe. He made his movie debut under another name when the 1940 book Farewell My Lovely was used as the plot of one of the “Falcon” series of films about a gentleman sleuth played by debonair George Sanders.

Chandler’s Marlowe was no gentleman sleuth; he was very much a working, streetwise detective, available to hire for $25 a day (“plus expenses”). A loner with morals and a soft spot for the little guys whose inevitable deaths nobody else in the story cares about, Marlowe armed himself with a wry sense of humour despite being routinely “slugged” by brainless henchmen, and double-crossed by vampy blondes.

He has been portrayed numerous times on screen: Robert Altman’s spoofy The Long Goodbye (1973), has Elliott Gould portraying him as a pot-smoking slob in 1970s LA, while the reverential reworkings of Farewell My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep (1978) cast Robert Mitchum as a crumpled, middle-aged Marlowe. James Garner had a crack at the character in the 1969 Marlowe, while back in 1947, the actor Robert Montgomery made an admirable attempt at recreating for the cinema the first person viewpoint of The Lady in the Lake by having the camera/viewer as detective.

By far the best adaptations of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, however, are The Big Sleep 1946) and Murder, My Sweet (1944), based on the book Farewell My Lovely. Both films met with Chandler’s approval, even though huge chunks of plot were lost as the stories were condensed for cinema audiences’ consumption.

The Big Sleep was rejigged at director Howard Hawks’s insistence so that the burgeoning romance between Marlowe and Mrs Rutledge onscreen – and Bogie and Bacall off it – was the main thread. But Chandler, who was the first to describe it as “a detective yarn that happens to be more interested in people than plot”, didn’t mind and actually felt that Humphrey Bogart was the ideal Marlowe. “Bogart can be tough without a gun,” he said. “Also, he has a sense of humour that contains that grating undertone of contempt.”

However, Dick Powell’s Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet is pretty impressive too – especially when you consider that instead of being established as a tough guy, Powell had to shake off his image as the crooning, goody-two-shoes hero of a string of 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals. In addition to its stylish direction – by the about-to-be blacklisted Edward Dmytryk – it boasts a terrific script which was able to utilise excerpts of Chandler’s brilliant prose by retaining Marlowe as its narrator.

And it doesn’t get much better than this: “‘OK, Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm till you’re as crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now, let’s see you do something really tough – like putting your pants on.'”

 
CHANDLER TRIVIA
* Walter Neff, the character played by Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, was also the name of the local newspaper editor in The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
* Fred MacMurray only got the part of Neff after Wilder had been round the houses trying to find an actor willing to play the sap of an insurance salesman. Among those who turned it down were George Raft. As MacMurray later said: “If he’d got Bogart or somebody like that, the audience would have known instantly that the couple were going to knock off the husband.”
* Billy Wilder wasn’t the only director to have a hellish time working with Chandler. Alfred Hitchcock binned the screenplay that Chandler wrote for Strangers on a Train (1951) after the pair failed to see eye to eye.

* Two less well-known 1940s films were based on the Philip Marlowe story The High Window: Time to Kill (1942) – which starred Lloyd Nolan (best remembered now as the father in the 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters) and was one of the Michael Shayne series of movies – and The Brasher Doubloon (1947), which starred George Montgomery as Philip Marlowe.

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Unsung Marilyn

Some Like It Hot, the riotous Billy Wilder masterpiece which the American Film Institute named the best comedy Hollywood ever made, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. I’ve been writing about it for The Herald and, re-watching it for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the fact that not only does it boast Marilyn Monroe’s greatest comic performance (and she really was a genius at comedy), but it also highlights what a talented singer she was.

Monroe may have sung in more than a quarter of her films – including some of her best-loved ones – but her singing is rarely mentioned in any of the potted biogs written about her. And yet, her sultry, soulful and sumptuous vocals contributed enormously to her overall sex appeal (witness the fact that songs were shoehorned even into the western River of No Return) – it’s just that everyone has been distracted by her visual voluptuousness..

Nevertheless, her singing abilities were recognised by her employers almost from the word go. She sang various numbers in her first notable role – in Ladies of the Chorus, in 1949, and memorably crooned along to a record of Kiss in the thriller Niagara (1953).

Thereafter, Monroe gave a string of iconic musical performances. As Lorelei Lee, the archetypal gold-digging blonde, in the sparkling Howard Hawks comedy-musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), she guaranteed herself a place in the pantheon of great Hollywood musical moments when she sang Diamonds Are  Girl’s Best Friend.

While Marilyn got to prance around in Schiaparelli-pink satin as debonair dancers draped diamonds on her, poor old Jane Russell (as her best pal, Dorothy) had as her featured number Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love. The song was okay, though hardly Hoagy Carmichael’s finest, but Russell had to perform it with a particularly camp-looking crew of scrawny, knobbly-kneed dancers who did not look in the slightest bit interested in her or her impressively upholstered chest.

Monroe and Russell actually made a pretty good team, both comically and musically: they duetted memorably on Hoagy Carmichael’s When Love Goes Wrong (Nothing Goes Right), and Jule Styne and Leo Robin’s Bye Bye Baby and A Little Girl From Little Rock.

There’s No Business Like Showbusiness (1954) also made good use of Monroe’s singing skills – notably on the sizzling Heat Wave. But easily the most sexually charged of her musical performances were to be found in Some Like It Hot.

As Sugar Kane, the emotionally fragile yet effervescent singer with Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters, Monroe only sang a trio of songs (Runnin’ Wild, I Wanna Be Loved By You and I’m Through With Love) but they make an indelible impression: indeed, she pretty much ruined them for anyone else. Even those who had sung them first..

I Wanna Be Loved By You may have been associated with another Kane – Helen, the original boop-boop-a-doop girl from the 1920s (and many a Betty Boop cartoon), but from 1959 onwards, it was Marilyn’s grown-up, sensual version that first sprang to minds, and poor old Helen’s girlish boop-boop-a-doops were forgotten.

The piece de la resistance was Monroe’s I’m Through With Love, the perfect song choice for a character who’s been bruised by bad love affairs before (and now thinks she’s in love with an impotent and somewhat camp millionaire with a Cary Grant voice). It’s difficult to conceive of a more exquisite reading of that song (though Goldie Hawn’s in Everyone Says I Love You comes a very close second): Monroe was never more vulnerable or more exposed. And I’m not just talking about the fact that she’s dressed and lit so that she looks naked.

Only one more musical outing remained for the doomed star: the pretty awful Let’s Make Love (1960) which has as its redeeming factor Monroe’s often-forgotten, but utterly fab, version of Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs to Daddy.

Sadly, there’s not a lot of Marilyn Monroe on compact disc  – just the afore-mentioned songs, plus a few other goodies (including a dreamy take on the Gershwins’ Do It Again which seems to have been recorded independently of any film), which are available on any number of cheap compilations. Still, they’re cheap compilations worth having.

* Some Like It Hot is showing at the GFT, Glasgow from June 19-21; my piece on the film runs in Saturday’s Herald (May 23).

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