Monday, July 30, 2007

Sexiest Scenes in Film History: Part Two

I had so much fun compiling a list of what I thought were some of the sexiest scenes in film history that I thought I'd come up with 8 more sizzling scenes to share. These are scenes that seethe sex even with the imposed restrictions placed upon them by either the Hayes Code (with the exception of most pre-codes) or societal mores. They are remarkable in that their power is not in the showing but in the suggesting. If subtely is something you appreciate, like I do, then there is no question you will enjoy (or have enjoyed) these sultry scenes.

  1. To Catch a Thief (1955) - Hitchcock was well-versed in the power of suggestion. He took advantage of Grace Kelly's sexual allure and Cary Grant's deobonairre persona to create electricity on the screen. One could even say the chemistry between the two main characters was "explosive". The scene in question has Kelly and Grant, in a hotel room, in the dark sharing a passionate kiss while fireworks go on outside. Fireworks, of course, suggest something else happens shortly after. (link is the trailer)

  2. Young Man with a Horn (1950) - Kirk Douglas stars as a trumpeter who should fall in love with the angelic Doris Day but cannot help being seduced by femme fatale Lauren Bacall. They are married but frustrations grow as he realizes she has little to no desire for him. After much turmoil, Douglas' character confronts his wife when she is out with another woman. Yikes!

  3. Baby Doll (1956) - I often forget this was a film from the '50s and not from the '60s, as I usually classify it in my mind. It's so ahead of it's time. Eli Wallach is hot in this film. And I mean hot! He plays a Sicilian cotton-gin supervisor who likes to torment and tease another man's 19-year old wife. The girl, played by Carroll Baker, isn't quite capable of consuming her marriage as she's stuck in a little-girl mindset, which is probably her way of coping with growing up before she was ready. The infamous swing scene has Wallach's character seducing Baker's, who only pretends not to be interested. Very steamy. (link is the trailer)

  4. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) - Elements of this film are sexual, but in the wrong way. Queen Norma Shearer plays invalid Elizabeth Barrett who is kept in her weakened condition without possibility of improvement by her overbearing father, played by Charles Laughton. Laughton did an excellent job at suggesting the father's incestuous infatuation with his daughter by evoking his conflicting passions through his eyes. The most uncomfortable scene is when the daughter tried to walk and he sweeps her off her feet and carries her away. Eek!

  5. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - It's New Orleans, the air is hot and dense with humidity, which makes the characters all that more bothered and restless. Besides Brando being absolutely gorgeous in every scene, the Brando/Stanley-Hunter/Stella-Leigh/Blanche sexual triangle is unsettling because each of the character's is not in their right mind. Stanely is frustrated, Stella is frustrated and Blanche is just plain off her rocker. Many of the scenes in this film are very sexy, but there is one that stands out. Stella descends the stairs towards Stanley, who's shirt is barely hanging on by a thread, she pulls him towards her and runs her hands down his muscular back. Is it hot in here or is it just me? (link is the trailer)

  6. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) - Sex is on the mind of every character in this film. Not sex in general but the lack of sex between the young married couple played by Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. While only very subtly suggested in the film, Newman's character is dealing with the internal conflict of being married to an attractive woman but still holding onto to the repressed homosexual attraction to his now deceased friend. Taylor's character is sexually frustrated and it doesn't help that his family blames her for not having had a child yet. To me the most sizzling of scenes is when Taylor wraps her arms around Newman pleading for sexual attention only to have him break free from her grip for the umpteenth time. Poor thing. (link is the trailer)

  7. Red Dust (1932) - I couldn't create this new list without including a Jean Harlow film. This film, which was later remade as Mogambo (1953), stars Clark Gable as a plantation overseer who has conflicting desires for floozy Jean Harlow and married Mary Astor. There are numerous sexy scenes in this film. Harlow naked in an outdoor bathtub, being man-handled by Gable. The howling wind conveniently moving up Harlow's skirt revealing her slender gams. The sexiest one is when Gable roughly pulls Harlow onto his lap, kissing her. This is the culmination of all the sexual tension between them. (link is the trailer)

  8. Design for Living (1933) - I am still surprised that this film was ever made. Miriam Hopkins stars as a woman who cannot decide between which of her two boyfriends (Gary Cooper and Frederich March) to keep, so she decides to keep them both in her life and moves in with them but forgoes a sexual relationship with either. Neither of the two men are happy about her decision but at the same time do they don't want to walk away and let the other snag her. The sexiest scene takes place in a car where Hopkins sits between her two beaus and plants a kiss on one then turns to plant a kiss on the other. Talk about sharing. Wow!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Queen Norma Shearer: Avec Robert Montgomery Poll

I just had the pleasure of watching Private Lives (1931) which recently aired on TCM and I had managed to tape it. It's so difficult to find Norma Shearer films to watch (see my previous rant about this subject) that when I get the opportunity to see one for the first time I feel like I found a $10 bill I didn't know I had. This particular one was a treat because it's one of the many pairings of Norma Shearer with Robert Montgomery.

This duo, although not as famous as, say Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Doris Day and Rock Hudson, was a successful one in it's own right and produced some wonderful movies. My personal favorite one is Strangers May Kiss (1931). For those of you out there who are Norma Shearer fans (or Robert Montgomery fans), let me know which of these is your favorite by posting a comment (I love getting those).

Their Own Desire (1929)
The Divorcee (1929)
Private Lives (1931)
Strangers May Kiss (1931)
Riptide (1934)

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Asphalt Jungle: Images Speak

I had never put much thought into it but when I recently did a repeat viewing of The Asphalt Jungle (1950) for my film noir class, I kept thinking about the various publicity pictures and posters used to promote the film. They vary greatly and each says something different about the movie and the time it was released. It got me thinking, what goes into these works of art and photography? Because first impressions are everything, I'm sure that the creators of these promotional images thought very greatly about who the potential audience was and what would draw them in enough to pull out their wallet and fork over the cash to buy a movie ticket.

So I had some fun and let my mind run wild with the idea. I scoured the internet (okay I just Google'd) and picked 3 of my favorites to discuss.

This is by far my favorite one. I had discovered it a couple of years ago when I did my regular post-viewing research of The Asphalt Jungle. This image is straightforward and eye-catching. You've got all the main stars in the image and it's a clever shot of them from below. They are surrounding a pile of jewels which ties them all to the jewel heist which is at the center of the film. This is the image most representative of the film's story. It's not just about a convoluted robbery that goes bad, it's about several individuals who all have their own weakness that leads to their downfall.

This one confuses me greatly and downright irks me. It reminds me of the pathetic cover of a certain BBC-Austen miniseries in which the American packaging showcased 2 models instead of the actors because they were better looking than the actual stars. It's misleading and wrong! This particular poster tells the audience, "come watch this film because you'll see sexy Marilyn Monroe strut her stuff." Those poor lustful souls will only come away disappointed to have seen her in just 3 short scenes.

As I write this, I cannot help feeling like a hypocrite. I did come to find this film as a Monroe fan wanting to see more of her films. I liked the film for what it was and not necessarily for Monroe's role. Yet this title is often distributed as a Monroe film. I'm hoping that in a few years this will be known only as a very good film noir.

Let's ignore Marilyn Monroe scared face in the corner for a moment and look at the other elements of this image, which happens to be the DVD cover. This is quite good. In the background, you have the asphalt jungle and the tagline "The City Under the City" which is representative of both the underground scenes and the "underground" network of hoodlums. Then set below the city you have the 3 main people involved with the actual heist (versus those involved with only the planning of the heist); Sterling Hayden, the hoodlum, James Whitmore, the driver and Anthony Caruso, the box man ~ explosives. Then right below them you've got the sex, i.e. Monroe. Clever thing about this image, is that it's on a tilt symbolizing the impending downfall of these characters (except the sex, which survives of course).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Double Indemnity: Second Viewing

I didn't quite have the time before my first class to watch Double Indemnity (1944) two more times, but was lucky enough to be able watch it once in an interactive manner. By which I mean, I took notes while I watched. I sometimes notetake while watching films. My hands are pretty restless and taking a pen to paper has a tendency to calm me. Also, my mind becomes more alert as I'm actively searching for interesting things to write down. It makes for a more in depth movie experience.

My second viewing of the film was quite interesting. I'd been looking for minutae and subtleties that I may have overlooked during the first go. The language, lighting and plethora of staircases all stood out to me. Part of me wonders how much of what I get out of a film is what I am searching for (either consciously or subconsciously) and what the filmmakers put into it for the viewers to find. Here are some things that I discovered in my second viewing.

  1. Robert Osborne -Any movie benefits from a Robert Osborne introduction. Always impeccably dressed, he welcomes you into the movie with fun facts and quips. If your lucky, he will tell you a particular scene or image to look out for. And am I the only one that thinks that loft-style studio is beautiful. Could I move in? I think Osborne should introduce every DVD, no matter what the film.

  2. Edith Head - I didn't notice this the first time around, but caught her name in the opening credits. No wonder Barbara Stanwyck looks so stunning! The amazingly talented Edith Head dressed her. I wonder if she dressed the men? If so, I've got a few complaints. The main one being that Fred MacMurray's suits seem to hang on him while Edward G. Robinson seems to be bursting out of his.

  3. Film Noir Language - "Dame" "Hot Potato" "Outfit" "Dimwitted" "Song and Dance", this movie is chock full of colloquialisms. Yet what I find so intriguing is the wit and banter and the heavy heavy flirting! I wonder how much of the intricately sexy language was a result of passing this film through the codes. Did the language have to be clever to convey all the sex that had to be censored?

  4. Linear and Square - It's "straight down the line" until they get to the "end of the line." The plot movement is very linear. The sequence of events pertaining to the crime seem to happen back to back like a line of dominoes and the uncovering of the crime by Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) seems to happen in the same sequence as the crime does, it's just one step behind. Everything falls apart when Fred MacMurray's character breaks that line. The square element is the romantic entanglement which is at the heart of the story. Phyllis - > Walter - > Lola -> Nino. I could call it a circle, but this is film noir! It's all about the harsh angles.

  5. Fire - Did anyone notice Fred MacMurray's amazing ability to light a match with his thumb? I found this oddly sexy. As though he was so pumped up with testosterone and adrenaline that he thought nothing of potentially burning his thumb with the match. It was just a faster way to light a cigarette.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Double Indemnity: First Viewing

In preparation for my first Film Noir class next week, I will be watching the classic, Double Indemnity (1944). I have already seen this film but it was some months ago and a refresher seemed necessary. Why watch this film again? Why not, I ask? For any of you who are repeat viewers, you will understand that each viewing of a film is its own unique experience. Minute subtleties overlooked on the first pass, reveal themselves during a new viewing. Sometimes even after 100 viewings of a favorite film, I will be surprised to discover something new and the feeling is equivalent to finding a $5 bill you didn't know you had. Plus repeat viewings are a way for us to intertwine an important movie into our lives. To badly paraphrase deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, single moments cannot be grasped, so to experience something one must repeat it; either the experience itself is repeated in the same form or in a similar form or the memory of it plays in one's mind.

Repeat viewings have always fascinated me. There are certain films that I feel lend themselves to that continued experience. As an experiment, I will document my reactions to each viewing of this film and will finish with a final round up of what I learned from my class. These are my impressions on my first viewing. Elapsed time does not help with my memory so I will only draw on what sticks out in my mind the most.

  • Naughty Fred MacMurray - Most of you know him as the detective gone bad in Double Indemnity (1944) or the sleazy, womanizing boss in The Apartment (1960), but my mind's image of Fred MacMurray is quite different. To me, he is the loveable and charismatic actor of so many romantic comedies and dramas from the '30s and '40s. The rich but loving boyfriend of Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams (1935), the morally righteous lawyer married to a pathological liar in True Confession (1937), or the poor lovestruck suitor who has to compete with an even more endearing wheel-chair bound Ralph Bellamy in Hands Across the Table (1935). To see him be a little bit bad in this film was confusing yet very exciting.

  • The Wig - It stands out. Even director Billy Wilder thought it was a bit ridiculous. Yet one couldn't envision Barbara Stanwyck in the role of the conniving femme fatale without the curly, blonde wig. It's severe but she's severe. It's over the top, but she's over the top. It just works. And also there is something that happens to a woman when she goes blonde. Like Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953), they go a little bit bad, or in Stanwyck's case a whole lot. However, this is all coming from a brunette who has a serious case of blonde-envy.

  • Secondary Romances - They work. Period. I love them and oftentimes I find them more interesting than the primary romance. In this case, the forbidden love between rich daughter Lola and Nino who is poor and rough around the edges. Very intriguing.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Boston of Classic Film

Boston is my town. I love it here and always have. Yet, the Boston in classic films is not the Boston I know and love. It's very different. My Boston is made of many different shades: moderately conservative juxtaposed with moderately liberal; heavily accented townies and young students and upstarts from other states; history and modernity. Boston to me is variety and acceptance of that variety. Yet the Boston in classic films is highly conservative, extemely judgemental and socially backwards. Any films from the '20s to the mid '60s portray this city that way. Something happened (Civil Rights movement? Women's movement? Sexual liberation?) that changed Boston in the mid to late '60s that makes it portrayed so differently. I've tried to find out what that change was but to no avail.

I first discovered this anti-Boston trend when I watched a documentary on Bette Davis. She was born and raised here and had a very conservative and strict mother. Perhaps that's why I like blonde Bette Davis so much. She was rebelling from her conservative upbringing and brought an energy and fire to her new home, Hollywood. She had mentioned numerous times about heavy restrictions laid upon her by Boston society. I thought little of it, but didn't forget.

Then I watched The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) and I myself was shocked. Betty Grable stars as a typist in 19th century America and travels to Boston for a position. Her new boss, a Boston local, is shocked that the employement company provided him with a woman for the position. She proceeds to woo him with her looks and vivacity, so all ends up well with him. She also moves into a home filled with eccentrics, all of whom share a deep hatred of Boston. In fact, despising Boston society was a requirement for moving in! I was deeply disturbed by this.

Then came If a Man Answers (1962), one of the three films Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin made together. Sandra Dee plays Chantal, a young woman who has a very sexy French mother and a dour, old-fashioned Boston father. Her Boston-French heritage is her primary source of romantic conflict. Hearing the familiar Boston fog-horns in her mind turns her into a cold and unaffectionate person. It's only the French part of her that makes her snag her Bobby Darin. Watch the opening sequence of this film. It's a '60s-style carton in which a growing Chantal proceeds to lure boys and men in with her French charm only to (literally) turn them into ice with her Boston frigidity.

I don't like this at all but will have to come to terms with it. I'm intrigued enough to want to see more Boston-based films from eras past to get a better understanding of this cold, conservative Boston which is so foreign to me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Queen Norma Shearer: Boxed Set?

Why is it, that on this good, green earth there has yet to exist a boxed set of DVDs of Norma Shearer films? It seems shameful that there are legions of classic film fans out there that are not capable of owning their own small library of Norma Shearer DVDs. It is a damn shame. In fact, there are only 2 DVDs out there. The Women (1939), because of the ensemble cast and the familiarity with the broadway play, and Marie Antoinette (1938) as a tie-in to Sofia Coppola's version. That will keep broadway buffs and Norma-Shearer-as-Marie-Antoinette-fans happy (yes, there is a whole underground society of such people) but what about those folks, like me, who like her broad range of silents and talkies?

So Warner Home Video and TCM, listen up! We the people who love Norma Shearer films demand a DVD boxed set of her movies! Or at least a larger selection of DVDs in print! Here are some suggestions of what I think would make for excellent boxed sets.

Norma Shearer: The Silent Years

The Snob (1924)

Norma Shearer: Queen of MGM
The Women (1939)

Norma Shearer: Drama

Escape (1940)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sexiest Scenes in Film History

Many folks say that the famous beach shot of Burt Lancaster and a blonde Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953) is one of the sexiest scenes in film history. I had that in mind when I watched the movie for the first time last weekend. Maybe I was expecting more, but I was mildly disappointed when I did finally see it. It was far too short and quickly moved into a heated argument over jealousy and rumor. I was much more intrigued by the scene in which Deborah's character is looking for her husband and Burt's character says to her, in a very flirty manner, "Is there anything I can do for you?". Yes, I'm sure there was a lot of things he wanted to do for her.

This got me thinking. Classic films are not generally known for their sexiness. In fact, most people have a preconceived notion that because these films were heavily censored that they were stripped of any sexuality. But that just isn't the case. There are plenty of very sexy pre-code films and suggestive movies from the late '50s. Besides, filmmakers found numerous ways to work around the censors and subtley makes for more of an impact on the viewer.

Below is a list of what I believe are the top 10 sexiest scenes in classic films. I hope you've had the pleasure of seeing at least one of them.

1. Rear Window (1954) - Grace Kelly walks in on a sleeping Jimmy Stewart and wakes him up with a seductively soft kiss. Then plants numerous little kisses on him after showing him her overnight bag. WOW! (link is a short clip)

2. Double Harness (1933) - Ann Harding slips into something more comfortable while at playboy William Powell's apartment. So scandalous that it was discovered many years later that the 2-1/2 minute clip was taken out of many copies of the movie. (link is another related clip)

3. Red-Headed Woman (1932) - What scene of this film isn't sexy? I think they all were. Jean Harlow is red-hot as she seduces her wealthy boss played by Chester Morris. He's fed up with her seduction and confronts her at her apartment. She traps him in her bedroom by locking the door and hides the key in her cleavage. Yowzah! (link is another related clip)

4. A Free Soul (1931) - Norma Shearer is in a figure-clinging dress (and nothing else, if you know what I mean) when seducing gangster Clark Gable. She reclines on a sofa and beckons him to put his arms around her.

5. The Cabin in the Cotton (1932) - The sexual tension between Bette Davis and Richard Barthelmess is intense. The most famous scene is Bette line to Richard: "I'd kiss ye, but I just washed ma' hair". She teases him almost endlessly, until one day, the rich southern belle takes the poor boy up to her room, in her mansion, and then well, you know. (link is the trailer)

6. Spartacus (1960) - One of the opening scenes in which Kirk Douglas is slaving away under the hot sun, combines his muscles, a nice tan and a lot of sweat. It's just all very good.

7. North by Northwest (1959) - Hitchcock was a very very clever man. The final scene with Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant, on a train, in a bed... then cut to a shot of a train entering a tunnel. Talk about suggestive. (link is a featurette about censorship of the movie)

8. Woman of the Year (1942) - You are probably surprised that this is listed here. However, the scene where Katerine Hepburn's character meets Spencer Tracy's character for the first time is electric. The chemistry between them was unmistakeable. This was their first film together and it lead to their real-life romance of 27 years. (link is the trailer)

9. The Seven Year Itch (1955) - One of Marilyn Monroe's most iconic roles. Besides the famous flowing skirt scene, this film is rife with Monroe's special doses of blonde bombshell. Monroe is hot (because it's summer and for other reasons as well) and is trying desperately to find ways to cool down. In the meantime, she gets the married Tommy Ewell all hot and bothered. The air-conditioner scene is my personal favorite. (link is the trailer)

10. Cat People (1942) - Feline Simone Simon is seductively bad. There is something very alluring about the bathtub scene. She seems delicate yet dangerous. So subtle! (link is the trailer)

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