31 May 2009

Fun Facts

Fun Fact: Hitler had an invisible friend named Möckey Maus.

21 May 2009

The Miracle Woman (1931)

Released by Columbia Pictures in 1931, The Miracle Woman tells the story of a of disillusioned pastor's daughter (played by Barbara Stanwyck) who falls in with a con-man named Bob Hornsby and takes up evangelism for profit. Sister Florence Fallon (as she is called) soon finds herself the centerpiece of an immense evangelical movement, fueled by her fiery radio sermons. Florence and Bob rake in the cash, under the pretense of taking donations to build a tabernacle. Meanwhile John Carson a blind former aviator named turned songwriter, plans to commit suicide, but happens to overhear one of Florence's sermons just as he is about to take the fatal leap from his window. After attending (and taking part in) one Florence's sermons in person, John finds himself smitten with her, and volunteers his services as a hymn writer. Florence soon finds herself just as smitten with John, and becomes quite conflicted about the great scam in which she has involved herself. Florence tries to quit the racket, but being the cad that he is, Hornsby blackmails her into staying with the program (and thereby with him). How ever will the star-crossed lovers extricate themselves from this sticky situation?

The Miracle Woman is an unapologetic criticism of religious hypocrisy and those who would use religion for their own ends, so much so that a title card explains this to the audience rather bluntly at the start of the picture. Moreover, the character of Florence Fallon is a not particularly subtle jab at Aimee Semple McPherson, who conducted a similar mass-media religious campaign in the 1920s and 30s. In many ways, the picture's message is just as relevant today as it was in 1931. Florence's sermons carry with them all the bombastic pageantry and ritualistic spectacle of a National Socialist Party rally. Particularly interesting is the chorus of believers, clad uniformly in white with a large cross and an FF monogram emblazoned on their shirts. Although it all feels quite extreme and is perhaps somewhat exaggerated, the whole extravaganza nonetheless calls to mind images of modern day evangelical conventions and mega-churches.

The poignant social commentary is complimented by solid acting, in particular on the part of Barbara Stanwyck. Even though she had fewer than ten pictures under her belt at this point in her career, Barbara shows some astounding talent. Her tirade against the congregation of her late father's church at the outset of the picture is perhaps the foremost example--she begins as half-hearted and inwardly resentful, but soon explodes into outrage and just indignation as she lashes into the shocked churchgoers. It is a gripping and utterly believable performance; the sort of thing about which professors of acting must have wet dreams. David Manners turns in a sympathetic performance as the blind (yet multi-talented) John Carson, but he is naturally overshadowed by Barbara Stanwyck (along with pretty much everyone else who appears on the screen).

Finally, the cinematographic aspects of The Miracle Woman are just as solid as its thematic aspects. Even if he was prone to sentimentality in some of his pictures, Frank Capra made some of the best movies to come out of Hollywood, and The Miracle Woman should be counted among his best pictures (even if it is obscure by comparison to the likes of It's A Wonderful Life). The Miracle Woman features some quality camera work, and despite being an early talkie, never feels stiff or static. Capra does a particularly great job conveying a sense of chaos in the pictures final scenes.

All in all, The Miracle Woman is a quality landmark in the curriculum vitae of both Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Capra. It has been released on VHS and airs occasionally on TCM. Although it is not available on DVD in the US, in does appear in a British boxed set. Whatever the format, the picture is well worth watching if the opportunity should avail itself.

20 May 2009


In the (highly unlikely) event that anybody out there has tried to leave a comment or two in the recent past, it appears that the settings for this blog were such that comments did not work properly. That should be fixed now.

Also, I'm feeling the need to screw around with the layout again. Consider yourself warned.

Great Ladykillers of Yesteryear: James Stewart

Perhaps "ladykiller" isn't the best label for James Stewart. Jimmy was never the kind of charming ruffian who could sweep a dame off her feet and into his arms. And how could he be, with a voice like that? No, Jimmy's key to success wasn't his Errol Flynn-esque roguish charms nor his Valentino-like good looks. Rather, it was his aura of the American everyman that made him so intensely likable--if ever there was a "boy-next-door" among the titans of Hollywood, it would have to be James Stewart, even though he was older than he typically looked. In You Can't Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, one cannot help but to cheer for him as he attempts to bag Jean Arthur, and one cannot help but be happy for him when he finally does.

Ever the patriot, Jimmy put his film career on hold to serve in the Army Air Forces, where he led numerous bombing sorties in the European theater. After dropping bombs on Nazis--who had it coming to them for quite a while--he went to play numerous versatile and memorable roles, including several as the long-suffering protagonist in films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Even if he didn't look the part like Tyrone Power did, Jimmy is a cool enough guy to warrant the title of Great Ladykiller of Yesteryear. And besides, what else could you call a guy who, if even only for a little while, was knocking boots with Norma Shearer?

Happy birthday Jimmy, you old dog, you.

18 May 2009


American society isn't nearly as fun as this poster makes it out to be.

17 May 2009


God dammit, does this picture makes me miss the Northwest...

15 May 2009

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 17

Way back when I was a wee lad, Fay Wray was probably the first girl I ever had a crush on. This was no doubt a result of repeated viewings of King Kong, the film for which she is best known. True stardom eluded her, however, and poor Fay spent the rest of her days haunted by the specter of that damned mechanical ape (in much the same way that Jason Biggs will spend the rest of his days haunted by the specter of that infamous pie). To her credit, she was at least a good sport about the whole thing, even accepting a cameo in the 2005 remake of King Kong (a part which, sadly, she never did get to play, as she died before filming began). Giant monkey notwithstanding, Fay Wray will always have a place in my heart.

[Image Sauce]

11 May 2009

Musical Interlude - Мы смело в бой пойдём

A little context is necessary for this video. It shows footage of the leaders and soldiers of the White Movement in Russia (i.e. the various forces who opposed the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, albeit in vain). I'd provide a little more background information about the song itself, but unfortunately I don't know much about it, other than the fact that the title translates to "We Boldly Go to War". Enjoy...

04 May 2009

Enchanted Faces

A few of my favorites from illustrator Bob Harmon's Enchanted Faces series of portraits.