It’s taken me most of the day to watch this, it’s so grim: Carrie (Jennifer Jones) leaves the farm to be exploited in the big city, working in a factory where she’s forced to work so fast she gets a needle through her finger and gets fired. Soon she’s got no wages to give to her nasty brother-in-law. Desperate, she gets taken advantage of by a smooth fast-talking salesman (Eddie Albert) and he tricks her into living with him though he never keeps his promise to marry her. She then falls for George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier) and runs off to marry him, though he fails to tell her he’s already married with two grown children and has robbed his workplace of 10,000 so he can be with her. The film changes focus as events catch up with them. The theft – which George saw as a temporary loan – is discovered and has made him unemployable; the first wife (Miriam Hopkins, glorious here), has all the marital property in her name and won’t even give him a divorce much less a cent. Thus begins George’s descent, and he goes down, and down, and down, right to the doss-house he gets kicked out of; until this viewer could barely stand it. Carrie, so proper at the beginning, a wised-up and successful actress at the end, tries to help him. He’d only come to the theatre she’s so successful at for a glimpse and for a hand-out, but leaves with the reassurance of her love and thoughts of suicide by gas in his future.
Did anyone think this would be a hit? It’s marvellous though, so I’m glad the filmmakers conned someone into thinking it might be. Wyler films in medium to long shot so that the environment is always part of the frame, a context and a history to the action. It’s quite beautiful; and Olivier, whom I don’t like on film, is here better than I’ve ever seen him. A great movie. Based on the Theodore Dreiser novel, Sister Carrie.
I was nominated by Andrew Grimes Griffin – One movie poster a day for 10 days. The no explanation bit is annoying people so:
I get older. Lubitsch films only get younger, wiser, more inventive, more understanding, more inclusive and funnier. Time and understanding have made depths from all its delightful surfaces. I love them all but have a few on pretty constant rotation: Lady Windermere´s Fan, To Be or Not To Be, The Shop Around the Corner, and todays choice, Trouble in Paradise. As I schlep around my flat from fridge to desk, stove to sofa, the peerless elegance, glamour and wit, the graceful skating over surfaces, the intelligence of Lubitsch become more welcome than ever. And anyone who hasn´t seen the scene where MIriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall reveal what each has stolen from the other as a a form of flirtation, an indication of attraction and then a final declaration of love, each gag topping the other, is missing out on one of THE great moments in films history, I am single-minded in trying to convert people, but a particular failure since such enthusiasms breed resistance when all that is really needed is to see the films. But this might be the moment. What could be better in Covid Times than a little Lubitsch touch?
The Heiress is so great. There must be other films that are about the slow, brutal realisation that one is unloved, even by one’s nearest and dearest, and how that knowledge closes off and diminishes a person, but I can’t think of any. It would make a great double bill with Now, Voyager which has an almost opposite trajectory, ie learning to value and love oneself. Also interesting is the different traditions of acting all the protagonists –Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Montgomery Clift, Miriam Hopkins –work in, and which Wyler prevents from clashing. Montgomery Clift is arguably at his most beautiful in the opening sequences. Wonderfully directed too so that space itself becomes allegorical (the uses of the staircase in the house). I want to explore the ending of the film more because doesn´t she in fact end up doing what her father wanted to and she herself railed against? In a way isn´t she defeated, bitter, vengeful and shut-in in her house, as her father wanted. Doesn´t patriarchy still win out in spite of Monty knocking desperately and helplessly at the door?
The Criterion is a great edition, and hidden amidst the extras is a fascinating short film on the role of the costume designer, using Edith Head’s decision making process through a film as a means to illustrate it.
Very good book on a great actress, still under-rated star, and key figure in the ‘pre-code’ era. The book is as good on her life as on her career. Her relationships with her mother, sister and child figure prominently and are woven throughout the narrative along with her numerous marriages and affairs. The plays, films and performances are well discussed and one also gets the nitty gritty dollars and cents information I at least am keen on.
The book is interesting on all her key films (The Smiling Lieutenant, Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Story of Temple Drake, Becky Sharpe, These Three;). It also gives a very good account of how difficult she was to work with, on the making of The Sisters, Old Acquaintance and the onset shenanigans with Bette Davis that ensued on those films. If Ryan Murphy wants to do a prequel to Feud this would provide very good material. Her reputation for being difficult affected her ability to get work in Hollywood but luckily she always had a stage career to return to in moments were she wasn’t getting what she wanted from Hollywood.
The book is fascinating on her extensive love life: Fritz Lang, Anatole Litvak, Robert Montgomery, and many others. The famous incident with Litvak and Paulette Goddard gets a full airing and Ellenberger also discusses and dismisses the rumours of Hopkins’ lesbian tendencies, locating the sources of the rumours and indicating how and why those rumours might have been propagated.
As an added bonus, one also gets a rich and full account of Hopkins’ career in the theatre. I recommend.
A Lubitsch film adapted by the great Ben Hetch from the Noel Coward play about his relationship with the legendary Lunts*? The heart speeds, the mouth salivates. Yet, it’s extremely disappointing; indeed almost awful. Coward and Lubitsch are like oil and vinegar or rather two superb vinegars that might have got toxic when mixed by Hetch. The film tell of two artists, playwright Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and painter George Curtis (Gary Cooper), who love the same woman, like each other, and decide to share a flat. Miriam Hopkins is the ‘free spirit’ who makes a condition of their living together that she will critique their work but won’t sleep with either (probably everyone’s idea of hell).
Fredric March was a big star, but on the evidence of his work here, his appeal is lost in the mist of time. Miriam Hopkins is made for Lubitsch. She’s simply wondrous as the elegant crook in Trouble in Paradise and her Princess in The Smiling Lieutenant is a continuing delight (Her transformation from princess to flapper, culminating in her performance of ‘Jazz Up Your Lingerie’, ciggie in one hand hand, garters visible, and visibly vibrating to post-ragtime jazz, is priceless). She always exudes a slight harshness but here she doesn’t have enough funny lines to compensate. She seems merely harsh; and not as pretty as Gary Cooper.
Orson Welles said Cooper was so beautiful he practically turned into a girl whenever he saw him; one look at Cooper here and one understands Welles completely – even Miriam eventually succumbs. He does some good double-takes too. But ultimately he’s unbelievable in the Coward role; whenever he’s discussing art you sense he’d really rather be on a horse. The first Lubtisch I’ve not liked. It is a pre-Code film and as daring as American cinema would get for another thirty years; but not delightful.
*(Alfred and Lynn, considered the great acting couple of their day and so famous they even figure in J.D. Salinger’s The Cather in the Rye, ‘they didn’t act like people, and they didn’t act like actors’)
After several more viewings of this film, I have changed my mind on it and now think this great but would like to keep this here as a response to my first viewing.