Sunday, January 29, 2012

All roads lead

The Film Noir Festival currently underway at the Castro Theater in San Francisco concludes Sunday with a tribute to Dashiell Hammett. The author of The Maltese Falcon and other classic works of detective and crime fiction will be celebrated with the screening of six films based on his work. It is a not-to-be-missed all-day affair - and one with more than one connection to Louise Brooks.
The Film Noir Festival tribute is fitting.

Arguably, the noir aesthetic sprang from Hammett's work. His hardboiled characters and grim plots - which served as a counterpoint to the work of S.S. van Dine (another leading mystery writer of the time) - set the tone for a good deal of the noir fiction and film which followed. And secondly, Hammett lived in San Francisco in the 1920s. It is here that he wrote the novels and stories for which he is still read today.

Before beginning his life as a writer, Hammett worked for the Pinkerton detective agency. And it was as a private detective that he came to San Francisco. One of his assignments involved gathering evidence for the defense of Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle at the time the famous comedian was tried for murder.

Hammett wrote most of his now classic work during the eight years he lived in San Francisco. From apartments on Eddy, Hyde, Monroe, Post and Leavenworth streets he pounded out story after story, drawing inspiration from almost everything around him. Notably, more than half of Hammett's stories take place in the city, as do his novels The Big Knockover, The Dain Curse, and, of course, The Maltese Falcon. Also set in San Francisco is his longest series -- three novels and 28 stories -- concerning an unnamed operative for the Continental Detective Agency.

In the single best source for information on the writer's time in San Francisco, The Dashiell Hammett Tour: A Guidebook (City Lights, 1991 / expanded and revised edition 2010, Vince Emery Productions), Hammett expert Don Herron wrote, "Hammett's San Francisco stands as one of the great literary treatments of a city - it has been compared with Joyce's Dublin and Dickens' London for its evocation of place and time. . . . In the Continental Op tales, the nameless detective goes to every neighborhood in the city and encounters every level of society, from bankers with wandering daughters in Pacific Height's mansions to cheap gunmen living in furnished rooms in Tenderloin hotels who do their drinking in North Beach speakeasies."

All told, some 32 films or television episodes have been based on a Hammett story or novel. On Sunday, the San Francisco Film Noir Festival will screen six of them.

Roadhouse Nights(1930, Paramount, 68 min.)
At 12:00 noon: This rarely shown film - the first based on a Hammett book - is loosely based on the author's classic gang-war novel Red Harvest, a story which proved too brutal and cynical for pre-Code Hollywood. In this Hobert Henley-directedadaption, Hammett’s story becomes an action-comedy starring sultry torch singer Helen Morgan, Charles Ruggles, Fred Kohler (who played in the early gangster film, The City Gone Wild), and newcomer Jimmy Durante. Not on DVD.

The Maltese Falcon (1931, Warner Bros. 80 min.)
At 1:20 pm: This first of three adaptions was made the year after Hammett's landmark novel of the same name was published. This pre-Code version, directed by Roy Del Ruth and sometimes titled Dangerous Female, flaunts a sexier tone than John Huston's more famous 1941 remake. Here, Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels star as Sam Spade and Ruth Wonderly (the Brigid O'Shaughnessy character), with other parts played by Una Merkal and the doomed Thelma Todd. And don’t miss an “appearance” by Louise Brooks, whose photograph hangs in Spade’s apartment as a curious piece of set dressing.


City Streets (1932, Paramount, 83 min.)
At 3:00 pm: In City Streets, Gary Cooper plays a carny sharpshooter who goes crooked in order to free his love (played by Sylvia Sidney) from prison. Paul Lukas, Willam Boyd and lovable Guy Kibee round out the cast. This film was made from the only story Hammett wrote specifically for the screen, and it's brilliantly realized by director Rouben Mamoulian and cameraman Lee Garmes. Restored print courtesy the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Not on DVD.

Mr. Dynamite (1935, Universal, 67 min.)
At 4:45 pm: Originally conceived as a second Sam Spade novel, Mr. Dynamite is the most rarely seen of all films based on Hammett's work. Edmund Lowe stars as a disreputable private dick hired by a gambler to solve a murder within the casino. The cast includes Jean Dixon, Victor Varconi and lovely Esther Ralston (who starred in The American Venus). Directed by Alan Crosland. Archival print courtesy of Universal Pictures. Not on DVD.

The Glass Key (1942, Paramount, 85 min.)
At 7:00 pm: Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake add lots of sex appeal to this second adaption of The Glass Key, Hammett's gritty behind-the-scenes novel of the dirty work that goes on in big-city politics. Director Stuart Heisler is at his rapid-fire best, eliciting terrific support from dashing Brian Donlevy and thuggish William Bendix. Not on DVD.

The Maltese Falcon (1941, Warner Bros. 100 min.)
At 9:00 pm: Noir City's 10th Anniversary celebration closes with an encore screening of the film version of the most influential work of crime fiction ever written. This classic film features legendary performances from Humphrey Bogart (whom Brooks knew and wrote about), Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and San Francisco's own Elisha Cook Jr. Written and directed by John Huston.

One other event Hammett fans won't want to miss takes place next month at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. On Tuesday, February 21st, Myrna Loy biographer Emily Leider will speak about "Nick and Nora's San Francisco." Leider's event will be presented by the San Francisco Historical Society and Museum.

According to the San Francisco biographer, whose Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood was published late last year by the University of California Press, her talk will focus on three figures: Hammett, who wrote The Thin Man and created its sleuthing characters Nick and Nora Charles; actor William Powell (who starred as Philo Vance in The Canary Murder Case), who played Nick in the 1934 MGM movie of the book which spawned five sequels; and Loy (who played in A Girl in Every Port), the actress who portrayed Nora in all six films.

Utilizing film clips and photographs, Leider will discuss Hammett’s relationship with Nick, Nora and San Francisco, and the experiences of Powell and Loy in The City while filming After The Thin Man (1936) and Shadow of The Thin Man (1941) - two movies in the series shot in part in San Francisco. Leider will also touch on San Francisco’s reputation as a “wet” city during Prohibition, and on the impact of Prohibition’s repeal in 1933 on the audience for The Thin Man.



Dashiell Hammett character Nick Charles confronts S.S. van Dine character Philo Vance (both played by William Powell) in the trailer for The Thin Man. Curiously, both Hammett and van Dine did not care for one another or their writings, and they sparred in print.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Louise Brooks film screens in Berkeley, California

As part of its 25 film, four month Howard Hawks retrospective, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California will screen A Girl in Every Port. The 1928 Louise Brooks film, by consensus the best of Hawks' silent efforts, is set to play on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 pm.

A Girl in Every Port is a buddy film which tells the story of two sailors (Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong) and their encounters with various women in various ports of call. Brooks, under contract to Paramount at the time, was loaned to Fox for the film. She plays the girl from Marseille, France. Myrna Loy, Sally Rand, Leila Hyams, Natalie Kingston and Maria Casajuana (the soon to be Maria Alba) are among the other girls in other ports of call.

Brooks is cast as a vamp, a circus artiste / high-diver known as Marie (Mam’selle Godiva). McLaglen and Armstrong, each suitors, offer a towel and more. 'Mlle Godiva' handles each with Lulu-like aplomb.

When A Girl in Every Port premiered in February of 1928 at the massive Roxy Theater in New York City, it played to a packed house. At the time, advertisements placed by Fox claimed the film set a “New House Record – and a World Record – with Daily Receipts on February 22nd of $29,463.” Considering admission was likely less than a dollar, that’s a lot of movie-goers in a single day – then or now.

Popular as well as critically applauded, the film received good reviews in New York’s many daily newspapers. Mordaunt Hall, writing in the New York Times, described it as "A rollicking comedy,” while the New York Telegram called it “a hit picture” and the Morning Telegraph pronounced it a “winner.”

Irene Thirer, writing in the Daily News, noted “Director Howard Hawks has injected several devilish touches in the piece, which surprisingly enough, got by the censors. His treatment of the snappy scenario is smooth and at all times interesting. Victor’s great, Armstrong’s certainly appreciable, and Louise Brooks is at her loveliest. The rest of the gals from other ports are good to look at, too. Roxy’s got a winner this time.”

Similar sentiments would be echoed in other New York City papers including the German-language New Yorker Volkszeitung, the trade journal Women's Wear Daily, and even the socialist Daily Worker.

Reviewing the Roxy premiere, the anonymous critic for TIME magazine wrote, “There are two rollicking sailors in this fractious and excellent comedy. . . . A Girl in Every Port is really What Price Glory? translated from arid and terrestrial irony to marine gaiety of the most salty and miscellaneous nature. Nobody could be more charming than Louise Brooks, that clinging and tender little barnacle from the docks of Marseilles. Director Howard Hawks and his entire cast, especially Robert Armstrong, deserve bouquets and kudos.”

Critics singled out Brooks, and some described her as “pert.” Regina Cannon, writing in New York American, stated “Then comes THE woman. She is Louise Brooks, pert, fascinating young creature, who does high and fancy diving for a living. . . . Miss Brooks ‘takes’ our hero in somewhat the manner that Grant took Richmond. . . . Louise Brooks has a way of making a junior vamp and infantile scarlet lady seem most attractive.”

As well received as the film was in the United States, it was even more highly regarded in France, where it has been regularly revived.

Writing in Cahiers du Cinéma in January 1963, the French film archivist Henri Langlois stated “It seems that A Girl in Every Port was the revelation of the Hawks season at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For New York audiences of 1962, Louise Brooks suddenly acquired that ‘Face of the century’ aura she had had, many years ago, for spectators at the Cinema des Ursulines. . . . That is why Blaise Cendrars confided a few years ago that he thought A Girl in Every Port definitely marked the first appearance of contemporary cinema. To the Paris of 1928, which was rejecting expressionism, A Girl in Every Port was a film conceived in the present, achieving an identity of its own by repudiating the past.”

A Girl in Every Port
is considered by many scholars to be the most important of Hawks' early works because it was his first to introduce the themes and character types he would continue to explore throughout his long and distinguished career. And, notably, Louise Brooks is the first to portray what became known as the "Hawksian woman."

More info: A Girl in Every Port screens on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 pm as part of "Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man," a retrospective  at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. The film will be introduced by UC Berkeley professor Marilyn Fabe; Judith Rosenberg will accompany on piano. Details at http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/film/FN19308


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Louise Brooks lights up screens in coming months


Louise Brooks was one of a handful of early movie stars given a cinematic shout-out in Martin Scorsese's 2011 blockbuster, Hugo. (if you haven't already seen it - go do so! You will love it.) That film, along with The Artist, has spurred renewed interest in the silent era and its many personalities.

This revival of interest includes Brooks, three of whose silent films will be shown in the coming months. Notably, not among them is Pandora's Box (1929) or even Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), two of Brooks' most frequently screened and popular films. 

Instead, the films being shown are three of Brooks' lesser seen American silent films. Each of these events give fans an opportunity to see a rare Brooks film - none of which have been commercially released on DVD. If you live near any of these screenings, get your tickets now. (Follow the linked titles.)


A Girl in Every Port is being screened as part of a 25 film, four month Howard Hawks retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. This early Hawks' film is considered by many to be the most important of the director's silent efforts. Why? Because as a "buddy film" it is the first to introduce the themes and character types Hawks would continue to explore throughout his long and distinguished career. A Girl in Every Port is a “love story” between two sailors (Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong) which features an alluring high-diver, played by Brooks, as the woman who attempts to break up their friendship. The film was a huge hit both in the United States and Europe. The novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars said A Girl in Every Port "definitely marked the first appearance of contemporary cinema." A Girl in Every Port will be introduced by UC Berkeley professor Marilyn Fabe, and will be Judith Rosenberg on piano.


No, this is not a Brooks film. And no, it's not the Bogart version of Hammett's classic story, but rather the original - made the year after Hammett's landmark novel was published. This pre-Code adaptation, directed by Roy Del Ruth and originally titled Dangerous Female, flaunts a sexier tone than John Huston's much more famous 1941 version. Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels star as Sam Spade and Ruth Wonderly (the Brigid O'Shaughnessy character). What's little known is that Brooks also makes an "appearance" in the film. In a key scene in Spade's apartment, a picture of Brooks can be spotted hanging above Spade's telephone;  curiously, the camera lingers on this prominently placed piece of set dressing. Why Brooks is there  . . . is a mystery.


The Street of Forgotten Men is a romance (between Neil Hamilton and Mary Brian) and underworld story set among professional beggars in New York City. At the time of its release, director Herbert Brenon was praised for his gritty depiction of Bowery life, while star Percy Marmount was rightly compared to Lon Chaney for his vivid, dramatic performance as a fake cripple. And in an uncredited role, Brooks enjoys some 5 minutes of screen time in this, her first film. She makes a lasting impression.  Long thought lost, six of the film's seven reels were found a number of years ago at the Library of Congress - that is the archive which will be providing the print for this rare screening. Though a date has not been set, this screening has been announced on the Cinefest Facebook page. 
Cinefest takes place March 15-18 near Syracuse, New York.


Over the last couple of years, the Dodge Brothers - a British country blues, rockabilly and skiffle four-piece outfit - have made a name for themselves among British cinema fans for their live accompaniment to Beggars of Life. The 1928 William Wellman-directed film stars Louise Brooks as a girl, wanted by the law, who dresses as a boy and goes on the run and rides the rails in pre-Depression America. At this special event, the Dodge Brothers will be joined on stage by one of the world's best known silent-film accompanists, Neil Brand, to provide a live soundtrack for Beggars of Life at the Bradford International Film Festival. The Dodge Brothers will be playing guitars, harmonica, banjo, double bass and a washboard, with Brand on piano, in the National Media Museum's renowned Pictureville cinema.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Pandora's Box score coming

According to an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post, Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson has been commissioned  to write a score for Pandora’s Box (1929), starring Louise Brooks. Stay tuned for further details as this story develops.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rolled Stockings screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas dies at age 111

Silent era screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas, who penned a handful of Jazz Age comedies and dramas including the 1927 Louise Brooks film, Rolled Stockings, died on January 5th at age 111.

Frederica Sagor's name appears in this 1927
newspaper advertisement for Rolled Stockings.
It was a rare honor for a writer and
suggest the esteem with which she
was once held.
The former La Mesa, California resident and "supercentarian" was one of the last surviving personalities from the silent film era, and perhaps the very last individual associated with one of Brooks’ silent films. Maas was also considered the second (or third according to some reports) oldest person in California.

As a woman, Maas was often assigned work on flapper comedies and light dramas. Her first big success, The Plastic Age (1925), was a smash hit for Clara Bow, the “It girl.” Maas' screenwriting and story efforts – sometimes credited, sometimes not – include other Bow films like Dance Madness (1926), Hula (1927), and Red Hair (1928), two films featuring her friend Norma Shearer, His Secretary (1925) and The Waning Sex (1926), the Garbo movie Flesh and the Devil (1926), and the now lost Brooks film Rolled Stockings (1927).

Rolled Stockings is a romantic drama set among carousing college students. It was one of a number of similarly-themed films aimed toward the youth market. To add a bit of verisimilitude, Rolled Stockings was filmed largely on and around the campus at the University of California, Berkeley. Local papers of the time reported on the arrival and activities of the film crew and cast.

The Richard Rosson-directed film was made for Paramount, and features the Paramount "junior stars." Besides Brooks, its cast includes then up-and-comers Richard Arlen, James Hall, Nancy Phillips, and El Brendel. Rolled Stockings, adapted from an original story idea by Frederica Sagor, proved popular in the summer of 1927 – and not only in the United States. It also played across Latin America and Europe.

In its review, the New York Morning Telegraph wrote, “Freddy Sagor has written quite a nice little story . . . . ,” while Robert E. Sherwood, writing in Life magazine, called Rolled Stockings “ . . . a surprisingly nice comedy . . . the characters are of importance, and they are nicely represented by the adroit Louise Brooks.”

Even the critic for the Ann Arbor Times News, a college town newspaper, appreciatively stated “The three stars, Louise Brooks, James Hall and Richard Arlen are so thoroughly likeable and the story so different from the usual line of college bunk, that Rolled Stockings proves to be a delightful bit of cinema entertainment.”


In 1999, at the urging of film historian Kevin Brownlow, Maas published her autobiography, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood (University Press of Kentucky). Maas was 99 at the time. In the book, which features an introduction by Brownlow, she recalled her life both in and out of Hollywood - as well as her remembrances of Rolled Stockings and impressions of Brooks.

A youthful and lovely Frederica Sagor
adorns the cover of  her 1999 memoir.
I first met Frederica Sagor Maas in May of 1999 at a lunch held in her honor at Musso & Frank's restaurant in Hollywood. At the time, I was attending the national booksellers convention in Los Angeles while scouting film books for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. At her publisher's booth I spotted an advance copy of her book, and queried about the author. Learning of her connections to silent Hollywood, I managed to get myself invited to the lunch being held the following day. That night, I stayed up late reading her engaging memoir. And that's when I discovered she had penned the story to one of Brooks' films. (Subsequently, I read the manuscript of that story, which is held at the Margaret Herrick Library in Burbank.)

My meeting with Frederica at the annual booksellers convention led to a later July event at the San Francisco bookstore where I was then working. At the time, Maas was nearly blind and frail, and at this - her first ever bookstore author event - she agreed instead to be interviewed about her remarkable life. I sat with her and asked questions about the many remarkable personalities she had known - Brooks, Clara Bow, Norma Shearer, Erich von Stroheim and others.

During that memorable evening, Maas told many stories, including one about Joan Crawford, who was then known as Lucille LeSueur and was just starting out in the movies.

As an experienced Hollywood insider, Maas was assigned by her studio to greet the young actress at the train station. She did so, but found the young actress rather uncouth. LeSueur, seeing Maas as a person of experience and sophistication, nevertheless asked the well-dressed scriptwriter to help build her wardrobe and shape a more glamorous image. Maas agreed, but found the experience challenging. She thought Crawford a “tramp.” The assembled crowd howled with laughter.

The next day, Maas appeared at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, where she addressed a crowd of more than 1000, drew a thunderous round of applause, and signed copies of her book – which quickly sold out.

Over the years, I kept in sporadic contact with Maas' guardians. I remember when she turned 100. And then 110. And then 111. I still have my double autographed copy of her memoir (signed by Kevin Brownlow as well!) - as well as a rare autographed photoplay edition of The Plastic Age which Frederica signed especially for me. Both are treasured books, and memory evoking keepsakes.

Frederica Sagor Maas with LBS Director Thomas Gladysz (standing)
Christy Pascoe at the Castro Theater in San Francisco in 1999.

Following her death, a number of obituaries and articles have appeared on-line including those in the Los Angeles Times and Hollywood Reporter and on Alt Film Guide and Patch.com and examiner.com

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Girl in Every Port screens in Berkeley

The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California has announced that it will host a major Howard Hawks retrospective, "Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man." The series runs January 13th through April 17th. 

The series spans Hawks' entire career. Films date from Fig Leaves (1926) through El Dorado (1967). Four silent era films are on the bill, including A Girl in Every Port (1928), which stars Louise Brooks. It will screen January 24th at 7 pm. Live piano accompaniment will be provided by Judy Rosenberg. (64 mins, Silent, B&W, 35mm, From the collection of George Eastman House, permission 20th Century Fox) More info at http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/film/FN19308


Monday, January 2, 2012

Save 25% off Louise Brooks edition of The Diary of a Lost Girl

Enter coupon code ONEMORETHING305 at checkout and receive 25% off the "Louise Brooks edition" of The Diary of a Lost Girl, edited by Louise Brooks Society director Thomas Gladysz. This great offer expires on January 6, 2012 at 11:59 PM PST, so don't miss out! You can only use this code once per account, and unfortunately you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. Follow this link to place an order at Lulu.com
"Gladysz provides an authoritative series of essays that tell us about the author, the notoriety of her work (which was first published in 1905), and its translation to the screen. Production stills, advertisements, and other ephemera illustrate these introductory chapters. In today’s parlance this would be called a 'movie tie-in edition,' but that seems a rather glib way to describe yet another privately published work that reveals an enormous amount of research — and passion." -- Leonard Maltin


"Read today, it's a fascinating time-trip back to another age, and yet remains compelling. As a bonus, Gladysz richly illustrates the text with stills of Brooks from the famous film." -- Jack Garner, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle


"Thomas Gladysz is the leading authority on all matters pertaining to the legendary Louise Brooks. We owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing the groundbreaking novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl - the basis of Miss Brooks's classic 1929 film - back from obscurity. It remains a fascinating work." -- Lon Davis, author of Silent Lives
 

"Long relegated to the shadows, Margarete Böhme's 1905 novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl has at last made a triumphant return. In reissuing the rare 1907 English translation of Böhme's German text, Thomas Gladysz makes an important contribution to film history, literature, and, in as much as Böhme told her tale with much detail and background contemporary to the day, sociology and history. He gives us the original novel, his informative introduction, and many beautiful and rare illustrations. This reissue is long overdue, and in all ways it is a volume of uncommon merit." -- Richard Buller, author of A Beautiful Fairy Tale: The Life of Actress Lois Moran


"Most certainly a book for all you Louise Brooks fans out there!! And silent cinema fans in general as well." -- Bristol Silents (UK) newsletter
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