Tag Archives: Gloria Swanson

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 229 – Fedora

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Stardom, beauty, the machinery of Hollywood, madness, age – 1978’s Fedora sees Billy Wilder occupying much of the same thematic territory of his 1950 classic, Sunset Boulevard. William Holden’s has-been film producer attends the funeral of Fedora, a reclusive former film star, and thinks back on the recent trip he took to Corfu, attempting to track her down and coax her out of retirement. What unravels is a mystery, a conspiracy, a twisted mother-daughter relationship, and another in Mubi’s strand of “perfect failures”.

Wilder’s struggle to finance Fedora is apparent, José suggesting that in every part one can imagine a superior actor. Though that’s perhaps scant defence of the tedious visual design – Dutch angles don’t cost money, and the film is crying out for more visual expression than it offers. Mike explains his problem with the plot structure and particularly his dislike of “two weeks earlier” hooks, and we consider the way in which we’re asked to believe in Fedora’s incredible stardom while not really having it explained to us satisfactorily. And José takes particular issue with the casting of Michael York as himself, finding him a blank, while Mike is more content with it, but perhaps that’s largely because whenever someone says “Michael York” it makes him laugh.

Despite the film’s many problems, it remains an intriguing exploration of stardom, identity, the lengths to which people will go to support their own delusions. Mike suggests that Fedora and Sunset Boulevard share a low opinion of women, that their themes of self-obsession, fame and beauty are particularly aligned with their stars’ gender. José describes Fedora‘s relationship to reality, in particular the ways in which it echoes Marlene Dietrich’s extraordinary fame and subsequent withdrawal from the public eye, and how Wilder’s experience and understanding of this and other inside stories informs the film.

And finally, Mike takes a moment to bring up two things he doesn’t like about Sunset Boulevard, because he wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t take one look at a great masterpiece of cinema and explain what’s rubbish about it.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Tonight or Never (Mervyn LeRoy, USA, 1931)

Tonight or Never

A soap opera about a Hungarian prima donna (Gloria Swanson) who believes she needs to experience ‘love’ so she can put more feeling into her opera singing. She falls for Jim (Melvyn Douglas) who she thinks is a gigolo. Her feelings for him enable her to sing so divinely she gets a contract to perform at the Met. She discreetly leaves him her emerald necklace by the bedside table as payment for services rendered. Quelle surprise!: he’s not a gigolo.

It’s tosh but tosh worth seeing because a youngish Gloria Swanson in an early speaking-role plays the diva and because Chanel’s wardrobe for the film is glorious. A close-up of Swanson glowing with diamonds and emeralds alone is sufficient to make the whole film worth seeing, though the film does offer other pleasures. Swanson  is too short and squat to be the ideal model for Chanel’s clothes, she’d thickened around the middle by 1931 — but they certainly did have faces then; she’s stunning. As for  Melvyn Douglas as the not-quite-gigolo… you can see why all those great stars (Garbo, Dietrich, Crawford) chose him as a leading man; in spite of his proficiency, you don’t look at him whilst they’re around; you certainly don’t here when Gloria appears with her hats and her clothes and her diamonds and those beautiful eyes. Because he had so many hits and because we still see so many of the films he directed (I Am a Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Gold Diggers of 1933,  Broken Blossoms, Random Harvest, Gypsy) we sometimes forget that Mervyn Leroy was a terrible director. Tonight or Never will remind you.

José Arroyo

Swanson wears Chanel
Swanson wears Chanel