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LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL, DAY 3: Jane Fonda’s Handprint Ceremony, “On Golden Pond,” “The Lady Eve,” “Mildred Pierce”

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Day 3 started with a bang, as the first event of the day was a very special one. Jane Fonda was scheduled to have her hand and footprints put in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, right alongside those of her father, Henry Fonda. The event was very crowded, and the security tight and closely monitored. For obvious reasons, this is to be expected at an event for a major celebrity, especially one who is as politically controversial as Jane Fonda. Once all attendees successfully passed the security screenings, the event began. We saw a number of major celebrities in attendance, including Jim Carrey, friend and 9 to 5 costar Lily Tomlin, brother Peter Fonda, and longtime friend Maria Shriver. Jane Fonda’s son gave a keynote address, followed by warm words from Lily Tomlin and Maria Shriver. My friends and I happened to be in a spot where we could see Jane behind the scenes as the speeches were read, and she was clearly very emotionally moved. Because of the massive crowd, pictures were hard to get. Here are a few pictures from the official TCM collection of the event.

Jane and Peter Fonda sit next to their father's hand and foot prints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Jane and Peter Fonda sit next to their father’s hand and foot prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

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Putting her hands into the cement.

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Finishing the prints.

The ceremony slowly began to break up after Jane’s prints were sufficiently down in the cement, and we began to prepare for the next event–a screening of On Golden Pond (1981) introduced by Jane, clearly the woman of the day. She told some beautiful stories about the filming,  particularly relating to her relationship with Katharine Hepburn on set. Jane Fonda was the perfect person to introduce the film, as she had a position as actor and producer on the film as well as being Henry Fonda’s daughter. It was wonderful to hear her talk.

This widescreen print magnified the lush beauty of the photography, shot on location in New Hampshire with breathtaking shots of the fall leaves and loons. It is a simple story, taken from the stage play about Norman and Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda), an elderly couple dealing with the effects of age. Norman’s failing health and grumpy personality alienate everyone around him, but Ethel is devoted to him and loves him unconditionally and with all of her soul. Norman and their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) have a severely damaged relationship due to Norman’s inability to be a demonstrative father, and much of the movie deals with their healing process as Norman nears death. It is a beautiful movie on so many levels. The relationship between Norman and Ethel is one that I think everyone hopes they will have with their spouse as they age together, and watching Hepburn and Fonda together is so touching that the mere thought of it provokes tears.

Next up was the brilliant comedy The Lady Eve, another in the Fonda family pantheon. Henry Fonda plays Charles, the heir to a beer fortune who, unbeknownst to him, gets mixed up with a father and daughter pair of card sharps on a cruise ship. He ends up falling in love with the daughter Jean (played by Barbara Stanwyck), and when Charles finds out who she is, he breaks off the relationship. To get him back, Jean collaborates on an elaborate plan to pose as the Lady Eve Sidwich, fictional niece of wealthy Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith. “Lady Eve” and Charles fall in love all over again, and Charles is none the wiser that this is the same woman with whom he had broken up on the cruise ship.

This is a classic screwball comedy by the brilliant Preston Sturges, who has a unique and specific style that leaves its mark on any movie he makes. As film historian Carrie Beauchamp said at the beginning of the screening, Sturges’ films center on dialogue and a hand-picked, stellar cast. The supporting cast in The Lady Eve is especially good, with Sturges mainstay William Demarest, Eugene Pallette, and Charles Coburn playing small but significant roles.

Below is a scene which Roger Ebert called the sexiest scene ever on film. The Hays Code forced filmmakers to be cleverer with their depiction of sexual or steamy content, and this scene is a prime example of how a scene can be extremely charged without the two leads ever even hugging or kissing.

Next on the agenda was Mildred Pierce (1945) with special guest Ann Blyth, Veda in the film. By all accounts that I have heard, Ann Blyth is one of the nicest celebrities in Hollywood, and she certainly showed that tonight. Gentle and sweet, she is the complete polar opposite of her character in Mildred Pierce. Robert Osborne interviewed her about her time in the movies, and she spoke of nothing but good memories of Joan Crawford, a celebrity who often gets a bad rep in Hollywood gossip circles.

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Robert Osborne interviews Ann Blyth.

Mildred Pierce is another wonderful ensemble movie, though the plot centers around the relationship between Mildred (Joan Crawford) and her devotion to her daughter Veda, who proves to be a spoiled, ungrateful child with an evil streak. The supporting cast includes such character actors as Jack Carson and the witty and hilarious Eve Arden, who pops up and provides some oft-needed comic relief every now and then.

This was the third time that I had seen Mildred Pierce on the big screen, and it never fails to impress me. It is wonderful on the small screen, wonderful on any medium, but there is nothing like the big screen for this movie. Everything is accentuated and magnified, and Veda’s evil is all that more powerful.

For a previous post I have written about the costumes of Mildred Pierce, click here.

Stay tuned tomorrow as Backlots puts the blame on Mame, with a review of Gilda!

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The Dueling Divas of “The Women” (1939)

Some of the most entertaining duels ever depicted onscreen are concentrated in one single film. The Women (1939), directed by George Cukor and starring Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Joan Fontaine, and Paulette Goddard, is one of the most well-loved comedies of all time, and much of the acclaim it has received is due to the unique relationships the characters have with each other, and the complex web of competition that occurs among nearly every character with nearly every other.

The Women presents an unprecedented experiment with regard to casting a film, and in regard to the relationships between the characters. Based on the Broadway hit by Clare Boothe Luce, the tagline reads “The Women: It’s all about the men!” Indeed, the women in the film talk so much about their husbands, it may take a while for the viewer to recognize that something is missing. The husbands, when they are heard from, are always either spoken to over the phone or send their communication through letters. True to the Broadway show, the MGM casting department went to great lengths to ensure that every member of the cast was female. From the extras to the photographs to even the animals, there is not one male in the cast of 130 that makes up The Women.

Though a completely feminine picture, and very progressive in its treatment of divorce and extramarital affairs, The Women is still very much a movie made under the code. All divorces are eventually dissolved, and the “wayward” women are punished. Nonetheless, the code strangely holds this film together, leading to a tight finish and no problem unresolved. When the movie was remade in 2008, the filmmakers made an effort to make it more politically correct, liberated, and feminist, which ruined the story and led the film to be universally panned by critics. There is truly nothing like this original version of The Women, a hilarious story of friendship, competition, and gossip among society women.

There is a tightly woven network of duels in this movie, and the plot comes together through exploration of who is dueling with whom! I will list all the main characters here, and then delve into the duels.

  • Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) wife of Stephen Haines
  • Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell), wife of Howard Fowler, cousin of Mary Haines
  • Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford), perfume counter saleswoman, mistress of Stephen Haines and Buck Winston
  • Edith Potter, wife of Phelps Potter
  • Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard), mistress of Howard Fowler
  • Peggy Day (Joan Fontaine), wife of John Day
  • The Countess de Lave (Mary Boland), married multiple times, currently involved with Buck Winston
  • Little Mary (Virginia Weidler), Mary and Stephen’s daughter

MARY HAINES vs. CRYSTAL ALLEN

While having her nails done, Mary’s cousin Sylvia Fowler learns of the infidelity of Mary’s husband. The mistress is a perfume counter saleswoman named Crystal Allen, and Sylvia immediately takes action by telling Mary to get her nails done with the same woman, so she can hear the story for herself. Mary does that, and upon learning the story, she decides to largely ignore it. Sylvia, however, will do nothing of the kind. Due to her meddling, Mary and Crystal square off when they meet at the fashion show in the middle of the film. Pay special attention to the racy and clever dialogue.

It finally becomes clear that Mary is going to need to get a divorce from Stephen, as Crystal will not give him up.

PEGGY DAY vs. SYLVIA FOWLER

The sweet and shy Peggy Day finally gets fed up with Sylvia’s meddling in Mary Haines’ business, and after a scene at the gym with Edith and Sylvia in which the women gossip about the situation, Peggy complains to Edith that Sylvia is a “dreadful woman” and vows to tell her so. Edith convinces her not to, because it’s just Sylvia’s bad luck that Sylvia ” wasn’t born deaf and dumb.” The clash between Peggy and Sylvia continues through the rest of the movie, though Peggy’s shy demeanor prevents her from making it into an issue.

Peggy’s personality is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, she is very shy and unassuming, but on the other hand, she resents her husband for not letting her spend her own money. Eventually this becomes too much, and she ends up in Reno with Mary.

MIRIAM AARONS vs. SYLVIA FOWLER

On the train to Reno for her divorce, Mary Haines meets two women going to Reno for the same reason. One of them is the Countess de Lave, an exuberant multiple-time divorcee who nonetheless claims to believe in love by proclaiming “L’amour!” after nearly every sentence. She is intent on marrying Buck Winston, a singing cowboy and radio star with a popular show. The other woman is Miriam Aarons, a former chorus girl going to Reno for her first divorce.

Meanwhile, Sylvia finally gets a taste of her own medicine when she finds out about her own husband’s infidelity. She surprises Mary and Peggy with her own arrival to Reno. Shortly before Sylvia’s arrival, Miriam shared a secret with the Countess–she has been having an affair with Howard Fowler. Miriam does not know Sylvia, and it is a major surprise when Sylvia arrives and they are introduced.

Sylvia gets an article in the mail that shows with whom Howard has been having an affair, recognizes the name of Miriam Aarons. An all-out catfight ensues.

LITTLE MARY vs. CRYSTAL ALLEN

While in Reno, Mary finds out that Stephen has married Crystal. Little Mary, Mary’s daughter, does not like Crystal, but is civil to her because Mary has told her to be kind to Crystal. Crystal clearly is not the mothering type, and barely tolerates Little Mary. There is a confrontation between them where Crystal is on the phone in the bathtub with a mysterious man, and Little Mary becomes suspicious and eventually tells her mother.

SYLVIA FOWLER vs. CRYSTAL ALLEN

Sylvia and Crystal, who have become chummy, meet minutes after Crystal’s confrontation with Little Mary in the bathtub. Sylvia answers the phone when it rings, and it turns out to be the cowboy radio star Buck Winston. Crystal has been having an affair with the fiancé of the Countess de Lave.

By now, Little Mary has told her mother about the mysterious man, and with this newly found information about Crystal’s affair, Mary decides to take the initiative in getting Stephen back. She dresses for a party occurring that evening that Stephen and all the rest of the ladies are attending, and begins her recapture of her husband.

At the party, Mary tricks Sylvia into spilling the beans that Crystal is having an affair with Buck Winston, and thereby sets the ball rolling toward the end.

THE COUNTESS DE LAVE vs. CRYSTAL ALLEN

Also at the party, Buck Winston publicly declares his love for Crystal Allen. The Countess is humiliated, and Crystal goes for the jugular, implying that she is only after his money. The Countess reveals that all his money is gone, and that SHE is the sponsor of his popular radio show. Crystal is defeated, and her final line of the movie is:

“Well girls, I guess it’s back to the perfume counter for me. And by the way, there’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society…outside of a kennel. So long, ladies!”

The movie ends with Mary running back to Stephen with arms outstretched.

Director George Cukor is magnificent in channeling all these feuds into fun and creative scenes. Though there is some serious dueling in the film, the sharpness of the script and slapstick humor keeps the audience entertained and keeps the film from getting too mean.

The Women remains one of the best films of that marvelous year of 1939, and one of the best comedies of all time, thanks to the brilliant performances by the actresses involved and the unparalleled directing of George Cukor.

Today is the final day of the Dueling Divas Blogathon! Be sure to check out all the entries here. Thanks for reading and a special thanks to those who contributed their hard work to this year’s blogathon. I can’t wait for next year!

Dueling Divas 2012

Announcing the 2012 Dueling Divas Blogathon!

It’s happening again! That’s right readers, it’s time for those sassy sparring ladies (or gentlemen, we’re all for gender equality here at Backlots) to get out their foils and do some serious dueling! The Dueling Divas Blogathon is back for its second year, and this time there is a twist.

The rules remain the same as last year. As a refresher, participants may blog about any of the following types of Dueling Divas:

  • Those who had a rivalry in real life, either over a particular film role or over a personality clash, ie Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
  • Those who had a rivalry on the screen, ie Mildred and Veda from Mildred Pierce
  • Any dual role played by an actor or actress in a classic film, ie Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap.

You can write about the divas themselves, compare their films, or if you are planning on covering an actor or actress in a dual role, you can compare and contrast the differences in the characters to give one example. There is really a very wide range of possibilities for this blogathon, and for those of you who haven’t participated yet it’s lots of fun!

Olivia de Havilland plays twins in “The Dark Mirror” (1946)

The Dueling Divas blogathon will be held between December 20 and 23, and you can submit any number of posts over those three days. To RSVP for the blogathon, simply comment on this post and I will add your name to the list of scheduled participants. You don’t have to tell me what you will submit and when just yet, but if you already have something in mind I would love to hear it! And don’t worry if you see someone writing about the same divas as you, as we all know there are some pairs who are massively popular and I don’t want to limit anyone’s creativity here!

Here are this year’s participants thus far:

Now for the twist.

Each blogger who submits a post will have his or her name put into a raffle. At the end of the blogathon on December 23, I will pick out a name from the raffle and the winner will have the choice between two prizes:

     A) A DVD of the classic horror film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring two of our favorite dueling divas, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

     B) A copy of the TCM book Leading Ladies, that profiles the biographies of seemingly endless classic film stars including some real dueling divas!

The winner will receive his or her prize within a week of the blogathon’s conclusion. This is Backlots’ first competition/raffle, and I am very happy to be able to do it!

So start thinking about which divas you would like to profile, and be sure to RSVP in the comments section of this post so I can add your name to the list of participants. To add the blogathon to the events section of your site, you can use the banner at the top of this post and let your own readers know it is happening. I do want to keep it traditionally classic (before the year 1968), but if someone really wants to profile a classic clash from a more modern film, I don’t want to discourage it. As I’ve said before, the definition of “classic film” is very wide and there are no set rules about what is or what isn’t considered classic, so if you would like to profile divas from a post-1968 movie that you consider to be a classic, go for it.

Thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to see everyone’s posts in just about 6 weeks!