Sunday, June 1, 2008

Forsaking All Others (1934)

I have a confession to make: I mostly watch classic movies because I am so often disappointed by the lack of new movies that suit my taste. I seem to like a kind of movie that's no longer being made: witty, clever, fashionable, romantic, funny and with a good, believable happy ending. I faithfully trudge to the video store to pick up the latest releases (I'm too cheap to see them in the theater) and I'm constantly disappointed by the "Along Came Polly" and the "Failure to Launch" of this world. I find some small comfort in a movie like "Two Weeks' Notice" or "50 First Dates" which have a passable combination of humor and romance. But where is the wit? The costumes? The happy ending that doesn't seem glued on but results from the intrinsic natures of the characters themselves? I basically live for Jane Austen novels to be made and re-made as movies...and therefore I must go backward, into the archives, for my "new" movies.

That's why, when I discover a movie like "Forsaking All Others" I feel a sense of triumph equal to an archaeologist stumbling on a Mayan temple - I didn't create it - I didn't exactly "discover" it - I mean, it was there all along - but I have unearthed it again - brought it to light - and now I can share it. These are the moments I live for!

In Forsaking all others you have a classic, perfect love triangle. Mary, Jeff and Dill grew up together and for as long as they can remember, Mary has loved Dill and Jeff has loved Mary - only of course Mary doesn't know that Jeff loves her - and Dill seems to love Mary. Of course, Jeff has gone off to Spain to make his fortune so he can propose to Mary (he doesn't seem to be born to the purple like Mary and Dill seem to have been) - and he comes home, unfortunately for him, on Mary and Dill's wedding night.

Poor Jeffy - they all have nicknames - he takes the news of his beloved's impending marriage well and stands by while all kinds of OTHER hijinks mess it up. He patiently rescues Mary from one scrape after another, cheers her up, puts her back together, chides her - you begin to see how he got the nickname "Uncle Jeff" or why people are constantly referring to him as "like her big brother".

But an interesting thing happens - Jeff continually reveals himself to be competent and resourceful, while Dill just seems more and more childish. Eventually I was yelling at the screen "he's an IDIOT" - and then Kim agreed "yeah, you're right, she IS an idiot." I didn't quibble. You just can't see by the end how Mary ever missed the fact that Jeff has all the same cute punchy playfulness that she loves in Dill but without the helplessness and foolishness.

Okay, I can find no photos to represent this to you, but I MUST say a word about the costumes: there are no words to describe the costumes. I was on the phone with my friend Renea when I got home and I started playing the movie on mute while we were talking. "Oh I wish you could see this outfit," I said, "it's like she's wearing a wedding veil around her neck upside down..." and then I gave up...there just are no words for the wackiness that fashion would tolerate in the 1930s. It was like - hey, prohibition is over and the stock market crashed so we have no actual runway fashion - let's see if we can pull THIS off!

I found a photo, though it hardly does it justice:

It's wild and woolly and in some cases gorgeous - this this is this one weird dress that has all kinds of ropey loops on it that Joan Crawford wears under a sparkly Elvira-like wrap while carrying a similarly ropey evening bag - it's so strange but it's totally flattering - I couldn't take my eyes off it - I sort of missed the importance of the scene she played in it, really, until later.

Apart from the fashion, the entire script is just full of exchanges that boggle the mind, like this one:

(a word of explanation - Paula is some kind of slightly older friend who acts as a sort of mother to Mary - I wonder whether she is a step-mother and the father has passed away, but it's not clear)

Mary: All I know about Spain is that they have bull fights and eat red pepper. What else is there to know?
Jeff: Well that's about all.
[Paula rushes in]
Paula: What have you done with him? Let me look at him! That's what happens the minute you get out of my sight, eating all that native food! Did you wear your rubbers? I understand it rains for months at a time in Spain. And all those poisonous insects.
Jeff: Why darling, I lived in Madrid - it's like Paris.
Paula: Really? I understand it's quite savage. Jungles and things.
Mary: Paula's never read Ernest Hemingway.
Jeff: Evidently not.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mary: Say where IS dinner?
Paula: You'll make it yourself tonight, the only nail I've got left on either hand is on my right thumb and I need that to start with when I get back to town.
Mary: Isn't she difficult? You know, cooks get like that when you're too familiar with them.
Jeff: Yes, well, I have something to confess.
Mary: What?
Jeff: I, um, I'm a very fine cook.
Paula: What?
Mary: Wonderful!
Jeff: All I need's a frying pan, a piece of string and some tinfoil.
Shemp: I'd like to be excused from dinner, I don't feel very well tonight.
Mary: Imagine knowing a man who can cook!
Shemp: You should see some of his hem-stitching!

It doesn't all make a whole lot of sense, but it's awesome.

Also, I am really beginning to be sold on Clark Gable, who I never liked. He's so suave, and he just exudes a kind of easiness that's totally charming - plus he does great things with his eyes whenever Joan Crawford is in the room. You really feel he's pining for her, even though all he's doing is joking and chiding her.

This really is almost a humorous, short version of Gone with the Wind, only Mary does the right thing in the end, unlike Scarlett.


Cheryl said...

I hope the current crappy economy brings similarly weird and wonderful fashion.

Ms. Q said...

Bring it on!