If your familiarity with Lucille Ball is confined to her TV shows and specials from the 'golden age' of television until her death (1911-1989), her film career in Hollywood comes as a bit of a shock. Instead of the ditzy comedienne and wife of Ricky Ricardo, Ball's motion picture efforts encompass glamour-soaked roles under the cameras as a well as a variety of comedy efforts, not to mention live theater play work.
She started out in Hollywood as an extra in the 1933 Roman Scandals, and worked through a whole string of B-films (for example Five Came Back 1939) and some better budgeted-movies (The Big Street 1940, opposite Henry Fonda).
If you watch the Marx Brothers in Room Service (1938) expecting a comedy part keeping with her post I Love Lucy reputation, you'll be surprised how Ball is just another character foil for the Marx Brother's craziness. However, a few years later when Ball appears in the Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn Without Love (1945) it is clear Ball is combining both the photogenic good looks of a veteran Hollywood female film actor with a handle on comedy well ahead of the average 'straight' actress.
By the time she stars in the comedy The Fuller Brush Girl (1950) the "Lucy Ricardo" DNA is showing, but it is still mitigated by the carefully photographed Hollywood star cinematography and her own 39 year old physical architecture.
But then in 1951 Lucille Ball started in her co-starring role opposite (then) husband Desi Arnez in the 181 episodes of I Love Lucy. This TV show had a popularity which eclipsed everything that had come before in her career, and introduced her to a wave of younger people who had little familiarity with the long career in Hollywood. It made a fortune for her and Arnez, and cemented her as the premier female comedy star of TV.
She appeared in 'serious' films on occasion afterward (for example the semi-comedic examination of adultery in The Facts of Life with Bob Hope, 1960) but her work thereafter was almost strictly comedy. By the time her final effort in front of the cameras was made (the 1986 Life with Lucy, 13 shows filmed, only 8 aired) she was carbonized into the I Love Lucy character by virtue of it's sheer success through global syndication and through the expectation of Americans who had grown up on that shows endless re-runs.
She suffered from ornithophobia (a fear of birds) and banned all bird images from her home and offices. She attributed her comedic skills to her film favorite Carole Lombard, and to Buster Keaton. Before Hollywood, Ball worked as a model under the name Dianne Belmont, contracted rheumatoid arthritis and spent two years re-learning how to walk. In her bit role as a slave in the 1933 Roman Scandals, she was required to shave off her eyebrows - they never grew back.
Later, Ball was the first woman to ever own her own film studio as the head of Desilu Productions. Careful with investing and holding her money, she was often listed at different times as the wealthiest woman in American Television.
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Gold Diggers of 1933 is a Busby Berkeley follow-up to 42nd Street, which opened only three months earlier and made an enormous amount of money. This time, Gold Diggers is about veteran stage actresses struggling to find work (and pay the rent) who get involved in a stage musical that morphs before our eyes from a generic long line of chorus girls rehearsing by a tinkling piano into a Berkeley extravaganza (what else could it be called?) with acrobatic camera movements and the famous geometric over-head views of lock-synched dancers. The rest of the film is directed by Mervyn LeRoy with a lot of humor, songs and fast-paced dialogue.
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Kona Coast 1968 - Richard Boone is a Hawaii-based charter boat sports fishing captain who discovers his daughter dead from drugs, or more likely, murder. He relies on Kittiebelle (Joan Blondell) as he battles both the criminal gang that did the deed and the police department that is too slow and unwilling to get the case solved.
Boone plays it all straight and makes the film work whenever he is onscreen, much the way that he took what was an otherwise overheated Twilight Zone episode film I Bury the Living (1958) and made it seem like a tense thriller with qualities well beyond its budget and script. He provides the scowling gravitas that this film badly needs.
Something which badly dates the film is the late 1960s drug-simulation camera techniques, blurring, focus-out-of-focus, etc. Also, the plot is fairly predictable to a modern audience which has seen this kind of story in many an action film.
Joan Blondell is older and plumper, but is the same sprightly actress of the 1930s - concerned, or smiling lightly, or just framing the scene so that the other actor can get their lines across effectively.
Julie Adams is still in action with film credits through 2011: she also has an autobiography in print (there is also an audio book version) at her official web site here. The web site has more information, including audio of an interview with her about the book The Lucky Southern Star - Reflections from the Black Lagoon.
[Betty Adams, Julia Adams and Julie Adams are all the same person. Betty Adams was her birth name, and Julia was her original stage name before settling on 'Julie.']
Cary Grant: born Archibald Alexander Leach; January 18, 1904 – November 29, 1986
Buck Privates 1941 - with Abbott and Costello and the Andrews SIsters - read more
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Page about the DeMille Cleopatra movie from 1934
There are several versions of this 1933 pre-code morality tale afloat. The rarest (and longest) version has several scenes in which it is clearly spelled out the horrendous situation Stanwyck's character works in at her father's speakeasy-saloon. Thesesa Harris is on hand as a quasi-sister, maid and moll for Stanwyck's character.
The later scenes in which Stanwyck's character works through man after man while amassing a fortune is what is usually used to describe "Baby Face" in the film history books, but it is the earlier scenes in which Stanwyck spars with her degenerate father that sets the tone. A typical pre-code bad-girl movie shows the audience there is a price to be paid after all of the pre-code fun, but this films turns that around: Stanwyck's character has already been paying the price before she ever begins her climb up the ladder of social power, using leering males as the rungs.
Longtime Stanwyck co-star George Brent is on hand (they made five films together) as the only guy that might be able to slow her down. A very young John Wayne is also briefly onscreen as one of the tale's army of expendable males.
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No matter how you describe this silent film from 1927 (Directed by Tod Browning) you end up with something strange and demented. An armless knife-throwing circus performer (Chaney is Alonso, who uses his feet for almost everything) is hiding from the law beneath the big top (a trope that was used for Jimmy Stewart in Cecil B. DeMille's much different The Greatest Show on Earth).
Chaney's armless wonder falls in love with fellow performer Nanon (Joan Crawford), a psychologically scarred and bitter woman who loathes men, especially (as shown in a key scene) men's hands. The two's mutual hatred of the world and their friendship are some of the few comforts they have in life.
Seems like a perfect match between Nanon and Alonso, but Alonso isn't all that he seems: he's actually a professional criminal with two perfectly good arms (however, he does have two thumbs on his left hand) who quickly resorts to murder when he wants to clear the path into Nanon's affections. In fact, he blackmails a doctor into cutting off his two healthy arms so that he really will be armless, and ready to propose marriage to Nanon.
Meanwhile, Nanon is having her world view rehabilitated by Malabar the circus strongman (Norman Kerry), a handsome, muscular fellow with a happy disposition. When Alonso realizes he has sacrificed his arms (and more) for nothing, as Nanon now loves Malabar, his rather-iffy mental state crumbles into a homicidal plan to destroy Malabar and Nanon.
Todd Browning and Lon Chaney seemed to have had a lot of fun making this movie. Both men had long histories in the world of carnivals before going into film, and they combine that milieu with their crazed plot line about love, hate and murder.
Nils Asther and Barbara Stanwyck in an era-defying story of mixed-race love between a hostage American missionary and a Chinese bandit warlord. Directed by Frank Capra in 1933.
This movie is sometimes called "Sternberg-meets-Capra" because of the lush camera work from Joseph Walker, but the forward motion of the tale hurtles along like a Capra film, not like any Sternberg movie (Sternberg hardly refuses a chance to linger for extended lengths over something that catches his visual fancy).
There are overlapping qualities in the two films, though. General Yen followed in the wake left by Sternberg's popular Shanghai Express, which came out nearly a year earlier, and spawned imitation in Hollywood.
Though Warner Oland's character (from Shanghai Express) and Walter Connelly's character (General Yen) bear similarities (they're both mischievous and tricky), there is a huge gulf between the Marlene Dietrich prostitute that heads up Shanghai, versus the naive missionary played by Barbara Stanwyck in General Yen.