Divas and Goddesses: From Alla Nazimova & Greta Garbo to Joan Crawford & Barbara Stanwyck

by Andre Soares
Double Indemnity Billy Wilder
Double Indemnity 1944.

Double Indemnity (1944), Billy Wilder's quintessential film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray (right), and Edward G. Robinson, will be screened as the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' series “Oscar Noir: 1940s Writing Nominees from Hollywood's Dark Side” on Monday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Double Indemnity will be introduced by screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (Time after Time, The Human Stain).

Wilder and co-screenwriter Raymond Chandler adapted James M. Cain's novel about a housewife/femme fatale (Stanwyck) who gets her insurance salesman lover (MacMurray) to commit a cold-blooded murder. The victim, of course, is her husband.

Double Indemnity earned seven Academy Award nominations: Best Motion Picture (Paramount), Best Actress (Stanwyck), Black-and-White Cinematography (John Seitz), Directing (Wilder), Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Miklós Rózsa), Sound Recording (Paramount Studio Sound Department, Loren L. Ryder, sound director) and Writing (Wilder, Chandler).

At 7 p.m. the noir cartoon short Trouble Indemnity (1950), featuring Mr. Magoo, and the episode “Time Bomb” from the 1941 serial Adventures of Captain Marvel will be screened as part of the evening's pre-feature program.

“Oscar Noir” is a summer-long series featuring 15 film noir classics from the 1940s, all of which received Oscar nominations in writing categories.

Tickets to individual evenings, if still available, are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. They may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.

Photo: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library.

Joan Crawford Ann Blyth Mildred Pierce
Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Mildred Pierce

Joan Crawford 'Mildred Pierce' Academy Screening & Ann Blyth to Attend

Mildred Pierce, Michael Curtiz's film noir/family melodrama, earned Joan Crawford her only – and thoroughly deserved – Academy Award. The Oscar-nominated 1945 classic, which also features Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson, Eve Arden, and Bruce Bennett, will be the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' series “Oscar Noir: 1940s Writing Nominees from Hollywood's Dark Side” on Monday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Mildred Pierce will be introduced by screenwriter Callie Khouri of Thelma & Louise and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Ann Blyth, who plays Veda Pierce – Mildred's scheming, ambitious, psycho daughter in the film – will be in attendance. (Todd Haynes' remake starring Kate Winslet, Evan Rachel Wood, Guy Pearce, and Melissa Leo is scheduled to play on HBO later this year.)

Two of my favorite film noirs center on women. Mildred Pierce is one; John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven (actually shot in color; it's “noir” in spirit), starring Gene Tierney, is the other. Both were released in 1945, and both Crawford and Tierney were nominated for Best Actress Academy Awards. Crawford, as mentioned above, won for her comeback role – which also happened to be her first starring vehicle at Warner Bros., following a bitter departure from MGM after 17 years at the studio.

In Mildred Pierce, Crawford plays a housewife-turned-businesswoman at odds with her Glendale-hating daughter, flawlessly played by Ann Blyth. Eve Arden is the wisecracking pal; Zachary Scott the unfaithful lover.

This film adaptation of James M. Cain novel earned a total of six Academy Award nominations including Best Motion Picture (Warner Bros.), Actress (Joan Crawford), Actress in a Supporting Role (Eve Arden), Actress in a Supporting Role (Ann Blyth), Black-and-White Cinematography (Ernest Haller) and Writing (Ranald MacDougall).

At 7 p.m. the noir cartoon short The Super Snooper (1952), starring Daffy Duck, and the episode “Death Takes the Wheel” from the 1941 serial Adventures of Captain Marvel will be screened as part of the evening's pre-feature program.

Tickets to individual evenings are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. They may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.

Photo: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library.

Alla Nazimova, Salome

Alla Nazimova, Salome (top); Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, Mata Hari (bottom)

Greta Garbo & Claudette Colbert: Getty Museum Movies

Alla Nazimova's Salome, Claudette Colbert's Cleopatra, Hedy Lamarr's Delilah, and Greta Garbo's Mata Hari are the four temptresses featured in the “Ornament and the Enchantress” film series presented by Los Angeles' J. Paul Getty Museum.

Charles Bryant's Salome (1923); Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934), co-starring Warren William and Henry Wilcoxon; DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), co-starring Victor Mature; and George Fitzmaurice's Mata Hari (1931), co-starring Ramon Novarro, will be screened at the Harold M. Williams Auditorium at the Getty Center June 26-27.

“Ornament and the Enchantress” will serve as a complement to the exhibition “The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme,” on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from June 15 to September 12, 2010.

All four movies are well worth watching. Salome is slow-moving and has been badly chopped up, but Alla Nazimova was one of a kind and her Salome is one of her more unusual creations – Katy Perry would kill to wear Salome's wig.

Greta Garbo shines in Mata Hari, but Ramon Novarro – a huge star in his day – is basically an appendage to the story. Hedy Lamarr is excellent as Delilah, one of DeMille's funniest (unintentionally so) Biblical epics. Claudette Colbert is a hoot as Cleopatra, much sexier and alluring than Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 version.

According to the Getty's press release, “Ornament and the Enchantress” was inspired by “the sensual, implicitly eroticized women in Gérôme's work, in which luxuriant odalisques are placed in opulently decorated interiors.” The release adds that Gérôme's paintings “inspired Hollywood directors from D.W. Griffith to Steven Spielberg.”

Admission is free for the “Ornament and the Enchantress,” but reservations for each film are required. To make reservations, call (310) 440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu/visit.

Schedule and synopses from the Getty press release:

June 26, 3pm

SALOME

(1922) Directed by Charles Bryant

Prod.: Nazimova. Scr.: Peter Winters. Based on Oscar Wilde's play. Cinematographer: Charles Van Enger. Art Dir.: Natacha Rambova. With: Nazimova, Rose Dione, Mitchell Lewis, Nigel de Brulier. 35mm, tinted, silent, 75 min. Live piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Preservation funded by George Eastman House.

A fascinating early art film, SALOME is part Aubrey Beardsley's Art Nouveau illustrations and part narcotic-induced, decadent '20s Hollywood.

Stage actress and screen star Alla Nazimova is Salome, the biblical seductress who, bored by her uncle Herod's lewd attraction to her, turns her interest to the jailed John the Baptist who, of course, only has eyes for God. Played here as the ultimate femme fatale, Salome agrees to dance for Herod under one condition: that he bring her the head of the pious prisoner.

June 26, 7pm

CLEOPATRA

(1934) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Prod.: C.B. DeMille. With: Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon, Gertrude Michael. 35mm, 102 min. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Laying the groundwork for the epic opulence and style of the type of film that would be categorized simply as DeMillion, the great producer/director here forgoes Shakespearian inclination for his preferred flavor of history: sin and sex with a moral chaser.

Cleopatra (Colbert) is seen kidnapped by her brother Ptolemy's minions and dumped in the desert warned never to return to Alexandria. Cleo has other ideas and knowing that Julius Caesar is to arrive to annex Egypt, she has herself transported home to be thrown at his feet. Caesar falls hard and fast and takes her back to Rome with the intent to wed. His speech doesn't go over well however, and now it's Antony who Cleopatra must seduce and does so in the film's greatest set piece: The Royal Barge. Here art direction, costuming and spectacle converge in an intoxicating cabaret. Cue the chiseled oarsmen, the garlanded ox, the slave girls, some dressed in leopard, some clad only in seaweed as they wriggle on the deck to offer seashells full of jewels. Antony is hooked (who wouldn't be?) and remains with Cleopatra until fate intervenes.

June 27, Noon

SAMSON AND DELILAH

(1949) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Prod.: Cecil B. DeMille. Scr.: Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Frederic M. Franc. Cinematographer: George Barnes. Editor: Anne Bauchens. With: Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, Olive Dearing. 35mm, 120 min.

Long before there were STAR WARS, E.T, or IRON MAN, before there was the “wide release” in the 16-theater Multiplex, there was Cecil B. DeMille and in every major city there was the grand movie palace. DeMille's films were cinematic events, the original blockbusters. He has been heralded as the first filmmaker to “give the public what it wanted,” and what it wanted was over-the-top costumes and sets, and epic storylines of love and vengeance, wrapped in a neat package of forbidden sins and piety. Muscular biblical kitsch, they don't make 'em like they used to.

June 27, 3pm

MATA HARI

(1932) Directed by George Fitzmaurice

Prod.: Irving Thalberg (uncredited). Scr.: Benjamin Glazer, Leo Birinski. Cinematographer: William Daniels. Editor: Frank Sullivan. With: Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, C. Henry Gordon. 35mm, 90 min.

As a young woman, Dutch-born Margaretha Gertrud Zelle studied dance in Indonesia while stationed there with her husband in the late 1800s. At 27 she left her family, took the stage name of Mata Hari, and scandalized polite Parisian society with her semi-erotic dance shows. Her act was very popular, but even more were her provocative photos wherein she wore nothing but a bejeweled bra and headdress. By the time World War I hit, she was close to 40 and less in demand as a dancer. She was, however, a popular courtesan with high-ranking officers and politicians. Her promiscuity and lifestyle gave rise to the notion that she was a spy, potentially a double agent, and she was eventually put on trial and executed.

Here Mata is a dedicated German spy with her eye on both an elder Russian General (Barrymore) and the young, goo-goo-eyed Russian flyer Rosanoff (Novarro). Shown to have all Paris at her fingertips, she hastens her decline in falling for Rosanoff. Blinded (literally) by love, Rosanoff visits the jailed Mata who is doomed, as a classic femme fatale, to a short but glamorous life.

Photo: Mata Hari (Matias Bombal Collection); Cleopatra, Samson and Delilah (Getty Museum / Paramount Pictures / Photofest)

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