Oscar curse? Two-time Best Actress Luise Rainer remembers
In Mason Wiley and Damien Bona’s Inside Oscar, Luise Rainer is quoted as saying the following about winning back-to-back Best Actress Academy Awards for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937): “The industry seemed to feel that having an Academy Award winner on their hands was sufficient to overcome bad story material, which was often handed out afterwards to a star under long-term contract.”
Of course, “bad story material” was handed to contract players regardless of whether or not they had won Academy Awards. Just ask Ann Sheridan, Olivia de Havilland, Myrna Loy, and all those who went on suspension because they refused what they saw as subpar screenplays.
Also, Rainer herself didn’t fare too badly in 1938, the year she received her second Academy Award: her three releases that year were Robert B. Sinclair’s Dramatic School, with Alan Marshal and Paulette Goddard; Julien Duvivier’s The Great Waltz, with Fernand Gravey; and Richard Thorpe’s The Toy Wife, with Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young. The first Rainer vehicle was a small but quite enjoyable romantic drama; the latter two, especially The Great Waltz, were “prestige” productions.
According to Rainer’s version of events, after complaining about the scripts MGM was giving her, she was labeled “difficult” and “temperamental” by the studio and gossip columnists. In her view, her two Oscar victories had resulted in “a change of one’s image felt by others but not by oneself. One was acclaimed now; therefore one’s doings, one’s motives, one’s every utterance seemed to have greater dimension and therefore suddenly became suspect. It seemed harder to continue one’s work quietly.”
At that point, Rainer opted to leave Hollywood. “I couldn’t face the ‘star’ career and the devastation of a broken marriage [to playwright Clifford Odets],” she added, “because I was simply too young and unsophisticated to handle it.”
Hence all the nonsense about the “Oscar Curse.”
It’s also worth noting that in the early 1950s Luise Rainer reminisced about her departure from Hollywood without having to bring up her two Oscars:
I was very young. There were a lot of things I was unprepared for. I was too honest, I talked serious instead of with my eyelashes and Hollywood thought I was cuckoo. I worked in seven big pictures in three years. I have to be inspired to give a good performance. I complained to a studio executive that the source was dried up. The executive told me, ‘Why worry about the source. Let the director worry about that.’ I didn’t run away from anybody in Hollywood. I ran away from myself.
Pola Negri, The Spanish Dancer
Silent-film lovers in The Netherlands will be able to enjoy a new restoration of the 1923 Pola Negri period comedy The Spanish Dancer. Screening with live musical accompaniment, the film will be presented at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, April 6, and at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 8, 2012, at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands in Amsterdam.
On the Eye Film Institute website, The Spanish Dancer is described as a “comical costume drama.” Set in early 17th-century Spain, the story follows gypsy singer Maritana (Negri) and her lover, penniless nobleman Don César de Bazan (Antonio Moreno), as they become enmeshed in court intrigue. The screenplay is based on Adolphe d’Ennery and Philippe Dumanoir’s play Don César de Bazan, itself taken from a Victor Hugo novella. Beulah Marie Dix and powerhouse producer-screenwriter June Mathis adapted the tale.
Directed by future Academy Award nominee Herbert Brenon (Sorrell and Son in 1927-28, the awards’ first year), The Spanish Dancer also features future Oscar winner Wallace Beery (The Champ) as King Philip IV, former serial queen Kathlyn Williams as Queen Isabel of Bourbon, in addition to future Best Actor Academy Award nominee Adolphe Menjou (The Front Page) and Gareth Hughes (according to Metro star Viola Dana, a very sexually active gay man – one who would later in life leave acting behind to become a priest). I should add that as per the IMDb, future Oscar nominee Anne Shirley (Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter in Stella Dallas) is also in the film, billed as Dawn O’Day in the role of Don Balthazar Carlos. That may not sound quite right, though I’m assuming the five-year-old Shirley/O’Day’s Don Balthazar is a little (androgynous) boy.
A major star in post-World War I Germany, where she was featured in historical pageants directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the Polish-born Negri was lured to Hollywood by a lucrative offer from Paramount in 1923. In addition to The Spanish Dancer, that year she was also seen in Bella Donna and The Cheat. Though quite popular in her Hollywood movies, Negri was never able to maintain her superstar status on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. At Paramount, her much-publicized “rival” Gloria Swanson remained the Queen of the Lot.
Negri died at age 90 in San Antonio, Texas. For several decades, she shared her life with wealthy heiress Margaret West.
Now, the politically correct will quite likely bitch that The Spanish Dancer is proof of Hollywood’s long-standing “racism,” for the film stars a Slavic actress playing a “Latina.” Well, even without delving into the inanity of the “Latino/a” label or discussing the fact that both Spain and Poland have always been melting pots of various European (and non-European) ethnicities, to be outraged by Negri’s casting would be pure and simple ignorant bullshit.
If Spaniard Antonio Moreno and Mexicans Lupe Velez, Dolores Del Rio, and Ramon Novarro could (and did) play Germans and Americans and Frenchmen/women and Pacific Islanders and Arabs and Italians and you-name-it, surely Pola Negri was more than entitled to play a Spanish character. Or (at least) two: five years before The Spanish Dancer, Negri played Carmen in the Lubitsch-directed Carmen / Gypsy Blood.
The Spanish Dancer will be introduced by EYE silent film collection specialist Elif Rongen Kaynaçki and British film critic David Robinson. The live musical accompaniment will be provided by Sebastiaan van Delft (organ), Jacob Plooij (violin), Kay Sleking (guitar), Pien Straesser (soprano), and Martin de Ruiter (piano, composition and musical direction).
Also of note, premiering at the The Spanish Dancer EYE screening is the organ used to accompany silent films since 1929 at The Hague’s Passagebioscoop (Passage Cinema). The EYE website explains the organ “not only is … able to make music but also imitate sounds – of a bird, castanets or a siren – as well as conjure up special sound effects. It’s been fully restored to its former glory especially for the EYE.” Sounds like both a must-see and must-hear.
Pola Negri / The Spanish Dancer photo: EYE Film Institute
Tarzan & Ann Sothern + Ingrid Bergman: Warner Achive
John Carter, based on the John Carter of Mars series written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, was released last weekend with underwhelming box office results in North America. Expect a more enthusiastic reception for the Warner Archive‘s release of the late ’60s television series Tarzan (season one, in two parts) in celebration of the Lord of the Apes’ 100th anniversary. Ron Ely stars, while guests include former Tarzan Jock Mahoney, Academy Award nominee Julie Harris (The Member of the Wedding), Star Trek‘s Nichelle Nichols, Woody Strode, Russ Tamblyn, Maurice Evans, Jack Elam, and Chips Rafferty.
Also coming out via the Warner Archive Collection are several lesser-known titles that should definitely be worth a look, especially considering the talent involved.
Released in a newly remastered print, the 1941 drama Rage in Heaven was directed by W.S. Van Dyke (a.k.a. “One-Take Woody”), and stars Ingrid Bergman, Robert Montgomery, and George Sanders. Christopher Isherwood contributed to the screenplay.
The World War II drama Joan of Paris (1942), directed by a pre-Disney Studios Robert Stevenson, stars Casablanca‘s Paul Henreid and Michèle Morgan during her brief Hollywood foray in the early ’40s. Joan of Paris is also notable as the last film appearance of veteran May Robson (Academy Award-nominated for Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day) and as one of the first times audiences got to see (if they paid close attention) future Paramount star Alan Ladd.
Ann Sothern, a future Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987), can be seen in two releases: the Broadway-set musical comedy Hooray for Love (1935), with Sothern’s frequent RKO co-star Gene Raymond, and the Cole Porter musical Panama Hattie (1942), directed by Vincente Minnelli and co-starring Red Skelton.
An actress in Hollywood and, somewhat briefly, on Broadway since the late 1920s, Sothern became a star in 1939, courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Edwin L. Marin-directed low-budget comedy Maisie. That led to the first of two moderately sized peaks in Sothern’s career, when she was seen in A-grade musicals like Lady Be Good and Panama Hattie, and the all-star war drama Cry ‘Havoc’. Though less commercially successful, her second career peak took place at the end of the decade, when Ann Sothern, having left the Maisie series, was featured in another cluster of A productions, among them the MGM musicals Words and Music and Nancy Goes to Rio, and 20th Century Fox’s Oscar-winning drama A Letter to Three Wives.
Later on, when most of her contemporaries – especially the women – were no longer around, Ann Sothern remained a relatively active film actress. During the 1960s and 1970s, she was seen in nine releases, notably Franklin J. Schaffner’s political drama The Best Man, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination; the thrillers Lady in a Cage and The Killing Kind (in the latter, she has the female lead); the actioners Golden Needles and Crazy Mama; and the horror drama The Manitou.
From the mid-1970s on, Ann Sothern’s cinematic output had to be curtailed following an accident while performing on stage in Florida, but there would still be one noteworthy entry in the 1980s: Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August, for which she scored her one and only Oscar nomination, in the Best Supporting Actress category.
And finally, two unusual entries: Stuart Hagmann’s The Strawberry Statement (1970), about the then-timely university student protests, and featuring Willard‘s Bruce Davison, True Grit‘s Kim Darby, and Harold and Maude‘s Bud Cort, and Peter Collinson’s The Spiral Staircase (1975), a (generally panned) remake of Robert Siodmak’s 1946 classic starring Jacqueline Bisset in the old Dorothy McGuire role. Bisset’s co-stars are Barbarella‘s John Phillip Law and the Globe Theatre’s Sam Wanamaker.
Irene Dunne + Lucille Ball + General Patton color photographs
Irene Dunne, Lucille Ball, Orson Welles and nearly two dozen other celebrities of the mid-20th century are to be found in Washington’s National Portrait Gallery exhibition “In Vibrant Color: Vintage Celebrity Portraits From the Harry Warnecke Studio.”
In the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger explains that Harry Warnecke was a photographer for New York’s The Daily News who “understood early — in the 1930s — that a newspaper with a color photograph in it would have an edge over the competition.” During his years as a news photographer, Warnecke shot movie stars and other celebrities in show business, sports, and the military. As can be attested by the “In Vibrant Color” images, those ranged from Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and General George S. Patton and future U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Of the “In Vibrant Color” images I’ve seen, the one that most impressed me was Irene Dunne’s. The reason for that is simple: Dunne’s fifty or so films were almost all in black and white – the one exception that I can think of was Michael Curtiz’ period comedy Life with Father. I really don’t recall having ever seen the five-time Oscar-nominated actress in both modern dress and in color – unlike someone such as Lucille Ball, who starred in several color productions of the ’40s and ’50s (e.g., Dubarry Was a Lady, The Long, Long Trailer).
The “In Vibrant Color” exhibition continues through September 9, 2012.
Irene Dunne color photo: Harry Warnecke Studio for The Daily News/National Portrait Gallery
Who says silent movies don’t make money?
Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist has grossed more than $100 million worldwide, in addition to winning a total of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).
Posters from this all-time classic science-fiction film are the rarest of the rare and this, the most famous image ever associated with the film is no exception. Created by art deco artist Heinz Schulz-Neudamm, this poster depicts the classic image of the automation Maria and the fantastic cityscape of Metropolis itself.
There are four copies of this poster known to exist. Two of them are in permanent museum collections (Museum of Modern Art and the Austrian National Library Museum) while the other is in a long-term private collection. [According to bleedingcool.com, that’s rumored to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s.] This is a unique opportunity to acquire what is without question one of the finest and most recognizable posters in the entire hobby.
The condition of this masterpiece is fantastic, a very strong Very Fine+. It has been backed for preservation/presentation and very minimal color work has been performed to the fold lines. There were no missing pieces or major problems with this poster prior to restoration, just slight fold line separation from years of storage.
Well, got $850,000?
Metropolis, which has survived in various versions, premiered in Berlin in 1927. The film lost about one-quarter of its length after Paramount acquired the film for U.S. distribution. The film’s long-lost scenes were found at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires in 2008. At the time, ZEITmagazin heralded that “the most important silent film in German history can, from this day forward, be considered rediscovered.”
Metropolis features Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Rudolf-Klein-Rogge, Fritz Ras, Theodore Loos, Erwin Biswanger, and Heinrich George.