Thursday, February 17, 2005

I Can't Wait To Be Forgotten

I gave my husband The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection for Christmas and last night we watched The Cocoanuts. The movie was made in 1929 and shows how surprisingly primitive early talkies were. It seems like once sound came in Hollywood forgot how to make movies for a while . This movie was one of the two Marx Brother movies made at the Astoria Studios on Long Island. The Brothers filmed during the day and then rushed back to Broadway to do their stage play Animal Crackers at night. This film is so old the video quality of some scenes is terrible and the sound quality poor. In fact, the sound is so bad I was sure all the music was being played on tiny instruments by an ant band.

Since the movie is a film version of their play of the same name it is very stagey. It has fine examples of horrible acting courtesy of a man named Oscar Shaw. It has the worst songs Irving Berlin ever wrote. It has the most awkward dancing you have ever see in a show not put on by The School For The Terminally Clumsy. And it had the Marx Brothers. I haven't laughed out loud at a movie in a long time. I loved the word play. I loved the look on Harpo's face each time he walked away from the table when he heard someone start a boring speech during the dinner party. I loved hearing the "Why a duck?" routine again. I loved Groucho's scenes with Margaret Dumont; who was never quick enough to catch all the insults he hurled at her.

Then there was Kay Francis. Most people have never heard of her but she was a big star in the thirties. The Cocoanuts was her first movie. It is said her career went into a decline when Warner Brothers signed Bette Davis. After this the studio's focus was on Davis instead of Francis. Turner Classic Movies had a Kay Francis Month and ran several of her films. I managed to see three; Jewel Robbery(1932) with William Powell; Trouble in Paradise (1932) with Hebert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins; and King Of The Underworld(1939) with Humphrey Bogart. In all she played a smart, breezy, sophisticated woman who could handle anything; just the kind of parts Bette Davis played. By 1946 her movie career was over.

My life? Well, I get up at a quarter to six in the morning if I'm going to wear an evening dress on camera. That sentence sounds a little ga-ga, doesn't it? But never mind, that's my life...As long as they pay me my salary, they can give me a broom and I'll sweep the stage. I don't give a damn. I want the money...When I die, I want to be cremated so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth. I can't wait to be forgotten."
-From Kay Francis's Private Diaries, Circa 1938

Trailers for three Kay Francis movies from Turner Classic Movies:
Jewel Robbery
Mary Stevens, MD
King Of The Underworld

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