[Originally published in Movietone News 40, April 1975]
The first of the best films of 1975 has been and gone, and won’t be back, at least at your naborhood theatre. LoveamongtheRuins appeared on ABC-TV on March 6; reportedly, an agreement with Sir Laurence Olivier ensures that it will never be released theatrically. One can only hope that the film will soon be leaked quietly to 16mm nontheatrical distributors (as, for instance, is the case with Losey’s A Doll’sHouse), for it’s a treasure, a shining testimonial to the glories of memory and dreams that deserves better than to become merely a memory itself.
If the story of What Price Hollywood?, the George Cukor-directed 1932 show-biz tale of an aspiring actress on the rise and an alcoholic director spiraling downward, sounds familiar to you, it’s likely because it’s something of a rough draft for A Star is Born. Not that Cukor’s film or the original story, penned by newspaperwoman-turned-screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns, received any credit, but the inspiration is undeniable. The 1937 A Star is Born has a more polished script and lavish budget, and its rise and fall tale has a classically tragic arc, but What Price Hollywood? is witty, spunky, adult, and bouncing with energy, a Hollywood tale right out of the pre-code sensibility of the early 1930s.
Constance Bennett is aspiring actress Mary Evans, a spunky young woman waiting tables at the Brown Derby as she tries to break into movies, and Lowell Sherman is the boozing director who wobbles into the restaurant, orders a few drinks, and invites Mary to be his date at the grand opening of his new picture. There’s no hanky panky here, it’s just another lark for big time Hollywood director Max Carey, a generous and funny guy who saves his acid wit for fellow film professions and show business celebrities. “Let me give you a tip about Hollywood,” he advises Mary. “Always keep your sense of humor and you’ll do just fine.” She plays along with his gag and he gives her a bit part as a thank you for being a good sport.
This is a snappy, sassy script with a clear-eyed view of show business dreams and reality.
[Originally published in slightly different form in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]
Emlyn Williams’s play The Corn Is Green is nothing if not aptly titled. Williams has always been a minor writer, and when writing about his homeland, Wales, which is also my homeland, he has been particularly unimpressive. He writes for tourists – coy jokes, local colour, stereotypes, and carefully transposed cliches from melodrama. People outside Wales, knowing little or nothing about the place, are inevitably caught by the curiosity value of it all, not realising that what they are really responding to is the familiarity of all this Celtic strangeness. Williams’s cliches are commonplace ones, it’s just that the setting he finds for them seems strange. Viewing a production of The Corn Is Green, the uninformed will ask, Are the Welsh really like that? Answering yes, they can then add: How quaint! And how frightfully sweet! What the play chiefly offers on top of this topographical spice is a thundering leading role for any actress d’un certain age. Miss Moffat, the schoolmarm who discovers a genius amidst the unlettered and uncouth populace of a mining community, is a lady to outgrabe the meanest mome-roth who ever breathed, and Bette Davis did nobly by her in the 1945 movie. No less of a natural for the role is Katharine Hepburn, and I’ll bet she was the prime mover in getting this present made-for-TV movie version of the old warhorse onto the assembly line. Thank God, they roped in George Cukor to direct her. The whole of the enterprise is in the work of these two: had either failed, then surely the whole would have crumbled.