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Dorothy Mackaill films

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intothenitrate
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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby intothenitrate » June 11th, 2011, 12:08 am

I wanted to add a note about the Wellman touch that really blew me away the last time I saw Frisco Jenny. If you'll remember, Chatterton is carrying the piano player's baby, he's killed in the earthquake, and then later the Chinese lady takes her to Chinatown to have the baby. Just before the arrival, the camera moves towards the birthing room, stops, and then the door closes, leaving us out in the hallway. The camera moves left to frame two Chinese men and they have a brief conversation in Chinese.

Wellman keeps the camera on them a little longer than you would expect. We have no idea what they're saying, but in a way, we don't need to know. And yet, by giving them that little extra screen time, you realize that Jenny is in a safe place, and that the men, though outwardly exotic, are just guys...standing out in the hall like any other guys. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it struck me as an good example of that on-the-fly artistry characteristic of Wellman's work at that time.

Do we have a Wellman thread?
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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby feaito » June 13th, 2011, 8:04 am

Do we have a Wellman thread?


We indeed have one intothenitrate. It's on "The People on Film" forum, as far as I can remember.

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby moira finnie » June 13th, 2011, 9:34 am

We have two threads devoted to Wellman:

In The People of Film section:
http://silverscreenoasis.com/oasis3/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=3352&start=15

In the Movies and Features on TCM area:
http://silverscreenoasis.com/oasis3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1308
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Dorothy Mackaill Films - "SAFE IN HELL"

Postby CineMaven » June 13th, 2011, 10:46 am

SPOILED IN HELL: HOLY MAM’SELLE!!

As Birdie Coonan might say, the only thing left was for the wolves to come nipping at her heels. My word, I don't even think Hitchock ever put his best “wronged man” characters in such a pretzeled position. And my admiration for our heroine soars as I watch her tackle life on her own terms.

Perhaps you can help me. Maybe I don’t know my early 30’s babes as well as I thought, but I can’t think of any other actress who could have played the lead. Bette? Miriam? Kay? Stanwyck? Harlow? Carole? Joan? I don’t know, there's something not quite right about them. Gladys George...Ann Dvorak...Joan Blondell? Maybe. Oh wait, I know...or do I? Glenda Farrell. But I’m being silly. Why re-cast this. I take my hat off to DOROTHY MacKAILL. She does a phenomenal job of combining vulnerability and survival. Now, she’s not exactly a glamour girl like Harlow nor a tough dame like Gladys George, but Dorothy’s got just enough oomph to keep the boys interested and enough moxie to shoot any man who comes up those stairs. Director William Wellman is an uncompromising s.o.b. who weaves his web around MacKaill whose circumstances spiral downward. (I love that guy!) Aaaah, those pre-codes...or maybe it’s Wild Bill. No sugar coating; straight, no-chaser. He doesn’t provide a sunny hopeful message for depression-era audiences. In fact, from my 21st century vantage point, “SAFE IN HELL” on the face of it looks pretty bleak.

Do you see touches of (the future) Hitchcockian twists in this tale? Call me crazy/call me silly, but I do. I see "VERTIGO" and twisted ironies. And I also see the traits of a latter day Bette Davis, who won't ask for forgiveness. Dorothy MacKaill plays GILDA CARSON, who has to take up a life of ill repute to survive. (ASIDE: I loved the brief sardonic appearance of CECIL CUNNINGHAM [Aunt Patsy in “The Awful Truth”] as the Madame who sends Gilda to her client, pre "BUtterfield 8"). Gilda accidentally kills the client...who is also an old boyfriend. Her current seafaring boyfriend (DONALD WOODS) helps her lam out of there by booking her passage as a stowaway on his ship to a fictitious Carribbean island with no extradition laws. Already she's in trouble. She's not traveling like Joan Bennet in "TRADE WINDS." We barely see her face behind some slats. Man! Once on the island, she's one of two women in this island hotel. The other is played unstereotypically by Nina Mae McKinney, who becomes if not a real friend in 1930's-America, but confidante to Gilda. I wonder why Wellman cast her. Why'd he go this way? (I'm not complaining...I'm just wondering). It's a part anyone could have played for "mammy" effect since the woman would be an 'island woman.' Genius, Bill (he's as smart as King Vidor who cast her in "HALLELUJAH". All she needed was a break. Well Nina does a good job of not being (much) of a caricture. And may I extend a shout out to Clarence Muse, reliable as Old Faithful who ALWAYS infuses his role with dignity. With his voice and bearing, he can't help but do that. What might have been...

The hotel is full of the scurviest scummiest guests this side of the Bermuda Triangle. It's a veritable "can you top this??!" as these men ironically vie for her charms by revealing their crimes. One guy is worse than the next. (Yeecch!) You couldn't take a one of them home to your parents. The police chief really wants her for himself. He gives her a gun to protect herself; puts on a full court press, but Gilda wants NOTHING to do with him...and he might just be the worst of the lot. Another twisty point is the way men view "The Oldest Profession." (Nooooo...it's not dentistry!) When the seafaring boyfriend (who reminds me of Arthur Hill) finds out she's a prostitute he takes back his engagement ring and is ready to drop her like it's hot; he relents when he hears police sirens at her door. The view of the scummy hotel "guests", is that they have a healthy respect for her as being one of them. After all, she's killed a man. (YaY!) And she's sort of a good girl. (Awww!) They want her but she gently, but firmly slaps their ears back. As soon as they find out she's been a prostitute, they feel like they've been had (HUH?), suckered. (WTF!) Because they've treated her like sort of a lady when she was really nothing but a commmon...well, it's like: "...and we let that go to waste?" They're ready to storm her Bastille. I found both those polar opposite reactions to her "profession" very interesting.

The man she accidentally kills is NOT dead. He's alive; resurrected like Madeleine Elster and he's now on the island. She's free. She has hope again. There's a spring in her step (Yay!) But he hasn't changed, and he still wants her. She hasn't changed and will still be faithful to her seafaring boyfriend. Conning his way into her hotel room (he's going to show the boys how it's done as they sit there lined up at the bottom of the stairs, the ex-boyfriend/client/cad/creep tries to "force" the issue and she shoots him with the gun the police chief gave her. The twist here, is that giving her that gun was the Chief's insurance policy of getting her into his jail. And once she was under his lock and key, nothing would spare her from him. Ya gotta like a man who thinks ahead. I think. Naaaaah, ya gotta think he's dirt.

Here she has a second chance at life, to go straight, to go clean. The seafaring guy will be coming back to get her and marry her. You know, make a "decent" woman of her. But now she's on trial for murder. And her scurvy suitors really root for her. How the heck did Gilda find herself in this mess. She was in the clear. She's up, she’s down and she keeps fighting for herself. The judge and jury look like they will see things her way and finally cut this girl a break.

The final irony comes when the police chief makes his intentions salaciously and explicitly clear. His action is such a low low blow, it made my blood boil. You’ve heard the expression: "I wouldn’t go to bed with you if you were the last man on Earth." But girls, do you mean it? Do you really mean it? How much do you mean it? What would you do to really mean it?

Gilda’s actions to the police chief is akin to Bette Davis telling Herbert Marshall in “THE LETTER” "...with all my heart, I STILL love the man I killed." She says something knowing it will seal her fate. She tells him that the only way he would touch her is when he puts a rope around her neck. Did you notice the Police Chief's reaction: his eyes welled up, his cigar slowly lowered in his mouth. My jaw dropped. I was a depression-era audience member. I thought to myself: "No. She'll make it. She'll pull through. She's got a fiancee waiting for her. She defended herself. Naaaah, it'll be okay, right Wild Bill?" Yes, I am brainwashed. I want that happy ending. I want the girl and boy to make it together. She bursts back into court and makes a confession that ensures her Pyrrhic Victory.

On the face of it from my 21st century vantage point “SAFE IN HELL” looks pretty bleak. But you know what, it's not...really.
Last edited by CineMaven on June 13th, 2011, 4:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby JackFavell » June 13th, 2011, 11:21 am

Wowsa! What a great review - you brought it all back to me! Every torturous, dirty, lowdown detail!

"Meet the other GILDA" spoilers

One thing I should have said before, is that I really liked Donald Woods here as the seafarin' boyfriend. Wellman didn't make him a sap, he gave him enough grit to be believable as Gilda's boyfriend. I can't bear him in Public Enemy, but I think I have to cut him some slack - I think I wasn't supposed to like him there. I loved his quick transitions in the scene where she tells him what she's done to survive, and I love that even through his shock and revulsion, he helps her escape, and comes to terms with it. Now, this is the guy who you want to be with, girls. The man who knows you, really knows you, and still wants to be with you.

What I also liked, and you bring up, is that the disgusting men on the island work as a group, and also work as individuals. This doesn't happen too often in the movies, and I appreciate the time Wellman took with each of themto make fairly rounded characters out of them - the lawyer being a standout.

But hey, the truth is, this is Dorothy MacKaill's picture, and she shines as bright as a Madonna as she keeps her word, for once in her life. She transcends the material, and the material is pretty good to begin with.

Thanks, Maven, for taking the time to write this up, and to go into detail - I am so glad you did... because your words jogged my brain back into thinking about this movie.

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby CineMaven » June 13th, 2011, 4:35 pm

Thank you so much for the compliment, JACKAAAAY. I saw the movie back in March...but I taped it this go round. I'm going to have to look at it again. Heeeere's a gal with the courage of her conviction.

"ALL HAIL MacKAILL!!!!
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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby charliechaplinfan » May 22nd, 2012, 2:16 pm

I watched Love Affair yesterday with Dorothy Mackaill and Humphrey Bogart, I've liked Dorothy Mackaill in other movies, particularly Safe In Hell and I like her here, another voice to be added to the lament about what happened to her. The film was completely hers all other players seemed to operate at a lesser imapct. Something about Bogart reminds me of Cary Grant's very early movies where he looks good, says the words but doesn't hit the spot that would make him a fully fledged star. Bogart isn't a great screen actor at this point, especially in the dramatic scenes but he managed to grow himself as a screen actor and make a comeback a few years later that made everyone sit up and take notice. One last note about Love Affair, I love the opening scenes in the beauty parlour, I like representations in film that shows us what everyday details were like in days gone by. Some of the 30s equipment still looks like torture equipment to me.
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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby JackFavell » May 22nd, 2012, 3:48 pm

Do you know who directed it, Alison? I'm just curious.

I think at that certain point in his career, Bogart looks like a tennis player who happened to stumble onto the set in his neatly pressed whites, and found himself in the picture.

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby charliechaplinfan » May 22nd, 2012, 4:05 pm

Thornton Freedland, he's not someone I know. I agree about Humphrey Bogart, at some point the tennis player wandered off and when he came back he had metamorphised into an excellent actor. It's almost as if he had to find the bad side to become an effective screen actor.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby feaito » May 22nd, 2012, 4:08 pm

Now that you mention that Wendy, I recalled that in one Bio I read it was stated that Bogart had a Valentino-type image in the Theatre plays he was featured in during the '20s and that more than once he had to say "Tennis anyone?"...I think that "Love Affair" is a Columbia feature that was directed by Thornton Freeland BTW.

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby JackFavell » May 22nd, 2012, 4:17 pm

Thanks, guys! I must have read that too, Fer, because it was percolating in the back of my mind!

Alison, I would love to know Bogies secret, how he learned to act. I agree, I think it was finding that inner bad guy, the turmoil maybe?

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby charliechaplinfan » May 23rd, 2012, 1:06 pm

Perhaps it was acting with Leslie Howard or watching other professionals or just doing everything differently than he did when he was first in Hollywood. I was so surprised when I realised that Bogart came from a upper middle class background, he was the antithesis of this in his screen incarnations.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby JackFavell » May 24th, 2012, 6:24 am

I know I still have trouble seeing that upper class background! He certainly cultivated a bad boy image, even at that time I think he rebelled against his upbringing.

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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby CineMaven » May 24th, 2012, 8:34 am

He's from the West 90's and West End Avenue, trust me, still a pretty tony area today.

Here's a nine-minute hors d'oeuvre:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_ZApf5heh8[/youtube]

JackFavell wrote:I know I still have trouble seeing that upper class background! He certainly cultivated a bad boy image, even at that time I think he rebelled against his upbringing.

He makes me think of those middle-class rap artists who act all ghetto to have some street cred. Look at young Bogey...he's a cutie here.
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Re: Dorothy Mackaill films

Postby charliechaplinfan » May 24th, 2012, 12:56 pm

Doesn't he just? He just doesn't convince me as the rich boy, he doesn't convince me in the later Sabrina either. Give me the rough and ready Bogart any day, he's seems like he belongs anywhere but hte drawing rooms and parlours of the rich.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin


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