Tag Archives: orson welles

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 4: 5TH AVE GIRL (1939), EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE (1933), THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947), Closing Night Party

The final day of the TCM Classic Film Festival was by far the lightest in terms of screenings, but I also found it to be among the most enjoyable. One of the wonderful things about this festival, speaking for those of us who write about classic film, is that there is never any shortage of community here. The classic film writers’ world is quite a tight-knit one, and I found myself constantly surrounded with fellow bloggers and friends comparing schedules and trying to coordinate screenings, chatting in line about Barbara Stanwyck and Irene Dunne, and updating each other on what’s new on our blogs. The TCM Classic Film Festival is known for valuing bloggers, so many of us in the online classic film community received credentials this year and it was nice to put faces to names, and reunite with those I saw last year.

The first showing today was a repeat, a movie that had sold out in a previous time slot and they scheduled it in another to get more people in. It was a Ginger Rogers movie called 5th Ave Girl, directed by Gregory La Cava (of My Man Godfrey fame) and co-starring Walter Connolly, telling a story about a young woman who is hired by a lonely man to live in his house with his wife and children, and make his life a little less boring. It was not, in my opinion, a hugely successful effort, but it is a feel-good movie and it showcases Ginger’s ability to do some pretty top-notch deadpan comedy.

Interestingly, it was made in 1939, the year known as “the best year for movies,” alongside Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Stagecoach. But in those days, studios were an essential factory line for movies, and it’s sobering to think that even in a year like 1939, the sheer amount of movies coming out of Hollywood ensures some troublesome ones. Though it was not a bad movie, it was rather slow with a bit of a loose plot that I found tedious. It is one of the few films I’ve seen at festival that I haven’t particularly liked.

Loretta Young and Walter William in EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE.

Next up was Employees’ Entrance, a 1933 film about a corrupt and evil boss that uses people and then throws them out. It stars Warren William as the evil boss and a young Loretta Young as the wife of his next-in-command. The boss is such a tyrant that he won’t let his employees get married, so the two have to keep their marriage secret, and the movie is about their lives and those of everybody else who is privy to the antics of this deranged person.

One of the highlights of the Employees’ Entrance screening was an informative and entertaining lecture about the pre-Code era from the president of the Film Forum in New York City, Bruce Goldstein. Goldstein gave a witty and fun overview on what the pre-Code era meant for Hollywood, and referenced several strong pre-Code films and the strong women characters that are indicative of that era.

As my readers know, I have a real fascination with the pre-Code era and I have just learned that TCM will soon be having a tribute to the women of pre-Code Hollywood, who make up some of the most exciting characters ever to be seen onscreen. Stay tuned for more details as they become available, as I will be doing a series on Backlots related to this.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947).

My final screening of the festival was a movie that I have had the privilege of seeing before on the big screen, but this was a world premiere presentation of a new digital restoration that I was anxious to see. It was The Lady From Shanghai, a movie that presenter Eddie Muller called “noir poetry,” directed by Orson Welles and starring his recently separated wife Rita Hayworth opposite himself. The movie is notable for the brilliant “hall of mirrors” scene, and for the surprise of seeing the beautiful Rita Hayworth with short blonde hair–as well as the magnificent directing of Welles and his innovations in cinematic technique. The plot is a bit muddy, but in this case it doesn’t much matter because the focus is primarily on the visuals and Welles’ beautiful manipulation of the camera.

The restoration was gorgeous. There are some mixed feelings within the classic film community about digital restorations, and in my opinion it’s possible for a film to be “over-restored.” A few years ago I had the privilege of seeing a new digitally restored print of Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, one that was hailed as being such a superb restoration that it was near flawless. And it was a flawless restoration. To my mind, too much so. It looked computerized in how perfect it was, and it didn’t look like it came from film stock. It turned me off a little. But this one was simply a pristine clean-up–it was still clear that this was a movie that had been shot on film, and it was just the restoration that was done digitally. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

And that was the end of the TCM Classic Film Festival. I spent the rest of the evening at the closing night party, talking to friends and preparing to miss them until next year. But the good news is that we all know each other online, so it’s only goodbye to faces–not goodbye to people. Thank goodness for the internet, keeping us all connected though miles away.

A huge thank you to TCM for allowing me to attend this festival, to Chelsea Barredo for all her help with the red carpet credential, and to all the wonderful people I met and reconnected with this year. Here’s to the next one!


COUNTDOWN TO HITCHCOCK HALLOWEEN: 75th Anniversary of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds”

Orson Welles records “War of the Worlds.”

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

75 years ago today, Orson Welles’ radio theater program Mercury Theater On the Air produced a radio drama that shocked a country, changing forever broadcasting as we know it. That program was “War of the Worlds,” an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name, billed as the Halloween episode of the series and presenting like a news report of a martian invasion of New Jersey.

The lasting legacy of the program is the effect it had on listeners, especially those listeners in the New Jersey area. Due to “War of the Worlds'” presentation as a legitimate news program, the story goes that the general public erupted into a frenzy, believing that an alien invasion had indeed landed in New Jersey.

The broadcast of “War of the Worlds” began with what appeared to be a weather report, followed by a musical program like any other one might hear on the radio during this era. The musical program is interrupted several times by a news bulletin on explosions witnessed in the sky over Chicago, which become increasingly in-depth as the program goes on. Orson Welles plays an astronomy professor who discusses the possibility of a martian invasion, noting disturbances in the planet Mars of late. The program switches back and forth between the broadcast of cheery, popular music and increasingly grave, disturbing, and serious reports–ultimately from a farm town called Grover’s Mill, NJ where a reporter reports on aliens who have landed in that town. For me, the scariest part of the broadcast occurs about 17 minutes in–when the increasingly panicked voice of the reporter, the screams and shouts and sirens in Grover’s Mill suddenly cut off and the program is completely silent. The announcer says that there is a problem with the field transmission, and when it returns, the announcer reports that several deaths have occurred.

According to reports, as the program was broadcast, people in the New Jersey area panicked, fainted, ran into the streets, and suffered from hallucinations of the things they had heard about on Welles’ program. The next day’s Daily News headline screamed “FAKE RADIO ‘WAR’ STIRS TERROR THROUGH U.S.” The New York Times added “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.” The news media worked itself up into a frenzy, with calls for Welles to make a formal apology to those he had frightened and for Washington to look into what had happened. Welles did make a formal apology, but insisted upon his innocent intentions and bewilderment regarding the public response.

Nothing like this had ever been seen or heard before. To audiences in 1938, the radio and the newspaper were the two most trustworthy things in life, and the concept of satire or parody in this context was completely foreign. This was also a particularly worried and aware America–the threat of war in Europe was looming large in 1938 (it would break out 11 months later with Hitler’s invasion of Poland) and broadcast media was relied on and trusted to give completely accurate information to this tense nation and world. Orson Welles, already a bona fide genius who had not yet reached his 24th birthday, was still wet behind the ears. It is unlikely that he fully understood the effect that his symbolic, metaphorical work of drama could have on a world waiting on baited breath on the brink of war.

The New York Times headline that illustrates the panic in context with world events, to the right.

The backlash against Welles and “War of the Worlds” was so great, that it gave rise to serious debate within the Federal Communications Commission about the possibility of radio censorship in order to protect the public interest (a prior FCC regulation reserved the right to revoke the licenses of stations deemed unfit to serve the public’s interest, but never was there an issue of censorship–the FCC had only looked into the holistic practices of a station when determining whether or not to renew their licenses). Ultimately, no direct regulation came out of the “War of the Worlds” hysteria, but the FCC has kept the event in its mind. Several subsequent policy statements from the FCC have made it clear that intentional deception on the air is not something to be tolerated, and have established a bit of a de facto ruling that a station may not broadcast knowingly false information to the general public.

Given the infamy of the event and the massive uprising against Welles and the program, it is easy to take our collective memory as truth. There have, however, been several scholarly reports to come out lately about the exact level of hysteria and how it matches up with our memory. One thing that is often overlooked is that “War of the Worlds” was competing opposite one of the most popular radio shows of the time–The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show. According to Broadcasting, only 2% of polled audience members said they were listening to “a radio play” or “The Orson Welles program.” None said they were listening to a “news program,” which would be what those who believed Welles’ program as truth would say. It seems that our perception of “War of the Worlds” may have been skewed by the media–and if so, aren’t we the real victims of a hoax? If the newspapers fabricated the story of the hysteria, it truly was a case of media overreach–but not from the direction they claimed. It seems that these trusted news sources may really have been the ones to blame…not 23-year-old Orson Welles.

Something to think about.

Here is the complete broadcast of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds,” celebrating its 75th anniversary tonight.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for tuning in for this countdown to Hitchcock Halloween! Don’t forget to submit your blogathon posts tomorrow, I will be making a post first thing in the morning.

Have a good night!


National Public Radio: “75 Years Ago, ‘War of the Worlds’ Started a Panic. Or Did It?'” October 30, 2013. Web. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/30/241797346/75-years-ago-war-of-the-worlds-started-a-panic-or-did-it

Levine, Justin: “A History and Analysis of the Federal Communications Commissions’ Response to Radio Broadcast Hoaxes.” February 1, 2000. Accessed October 30, 2013. Web. http://www.fclj.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/levine.pdf

Rita Hayworth and Her Dance

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Today marks what would have been the 95th birthday of Rita Hayworth, the legendary screen goddess best known today for her seductive portrayal of Gilda in the 1946 film of the same name. Beautiful, long-legged, and mysterious, she was Columbia’s biggest star of the 1940’s and became a pin-up girl during the war years with a popularity rivaling that of Betty Grable. Her popularity as a sex symbol became so overwhelming that many lost sight of exactly who she was, and from whence she had come. As with the vast majority of sex symbols, she became objectified, and her career prior to her 1946 portrayal of Gilda was almost completely forgotten and her background washed away. The sex symbol image bothered her. “I’ve never really thought of myself as a sex symbol,” Hayworth once said, “more as a comedienne who could dance.” Today, on her birthday, I would like to go back to Rita Hayworth’s origins and focus on what was important to her in her life and career–dance.

Rita Hayworth’s background was almost exclusively in dance. Born Margarita Carmen Cansino into a well-known Spanish dancing family (her father was Spanish flamenco dancer Eduardo Cansino, and her mother was an American former Ziegfeld girl of Irish and English descent), she began dancing under the tutelage of her father when she was 4 years old. Eduardo soon realized that his daughter had an exceptional talent, and he eventually took her south from their home in Chula Vista, CA to the Mexican city of Tijuana where they performed as a dancing duo. Shy, quiet and self-conscious offstage, Margarita came alive when she danced and audience members often noticed the dichotomy between the fiery creature dancing onstage and the silent girl they witnessed offstage. The experience dancing with her father in Tijuana certainly honed Margarita’s dancing abilities, and it was there that she learned the ins and outs of show business, something that would help her when she soon went to Hollywood.

During her years working in Tijuana with her father.

Rita’s Hollywood career began in a small role in a movie entitled Under the Pampas Moon, and from there her roles increased in frequency if not in quality, until Hollywood finally noticed her in the late 1930s. After some Hollywood grooming which included painful electrolysis to raise her “ethnic” hairline, she was paired with dancing great Fred Astaire with whom she starred in 2 movies, You’ll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier.

In You Were Never Lovelier, Rita and Fred danced what I consider to be one of the most phenomenal and challenging technical routines in movie history. The “Shorty George” number from this film truly demonstrates how skilled Rita was as a dancer, and how easy it was to watch her, still a relative novice at this point, in lieu of Fred Astaire. All eyes draw toward her, and she is the star of this complex routine. In spite of his legendary partnership with Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire always called Rita his favorite dancing partner. He recalled how gifted and quick she was in learning the most advanced routines–often learning the steps in the morning, mulling over them during lunch, and after lunch performing the dance without a single mistake.

Rita also seemed to have a propensity to use dance when life became difficult for her. She was always an intensely insecure person, and this caused problems in her relationships. Orson Welles recalled that, when they married in 1943, he would often set her up with a record of Spanish music in a private room, and just let her dance out her anxiety. Her experiences with her father in Tijuana seemed to be the catalyst for both her affinity for dance and her anxiety. According to Barbara Leaming in her biography If This Was Happiness, the situation brought out the worst in Eduardo in regard to his relationship with his talented pre-teen daughter. Leaming conducted interviews with Orson Welles in which he revealed years of physical and sexual abuse Rita endured at the hands of her father. As can be expected from these early traumas, Rita’s relationship with her father was severely damaged and it is almost certain that her many destructive relationships with men were results of these cruel experiences. Yet this seemed to only solidify her tendency to use dance as an outlet and means of expression during hard times, one upon which she relied for her whole life.

At the end of her life, when Rita was unable to communicate due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease, her daughter Yasmin often put music on and watched as Rita’s feet began to move rhythmically, as if she were remembering her life as a dancer. Her ability to dance was one of the last things to go–a glimmer of solace in the terrible world of Alzheimer’s Disease.