John Barrymore

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A new box set from Kino International offers three previously issued films starring the Great Profile — “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (John S. Robertson, 1920), “The Beloved Rogue” (Alan Crosland, 1927), and “Tempest” (Sam Taylor, 1928) — plus the first official DVD release of the Eastman House restoration of Albert Parker’s 1922 “Sherlock Holmes.” Barrrymore remains an important cultural crossover point for the mainstreaming of the movies — Broadway prestige meets cinematic charisma — as well as a model for future generations of “actor stars” like Paul Muni, Robert De Niro and Sean Penn, with their insistence on foregrounding the chameleon-like craft of performance rather than creating consistent, likable identification figures. A review here in the New York Times.

Also in today’s Times, a profile of Andrew Sarris in the Arts and Leisure section confirms that Sarris will not be continuing on a freelance basis with the rickety New York Observer after all. This is sad news for all of us who grew up under Andrew’s critical guidance and insight, but he will continue to teach at Columbia and contribute occasionally to Film Comment.

111 comments to John Barrymore

  • Gregg Rickman

    Walsh’s women are stronger and more powerful than those of almost any other director in classical Hollywood; they are also sexual beings evincing desire in a way again that is unusual for the time. At the same time however (pace MAMIE STOVER) they can “sin” against both social conventions, and morality as it is more generally understood, and be punished for it (by at least the narrative). Is this latter Walsh’s doing or the culture he lived in? I’ve been looking into his early career lately and I think the template was set early, in his (lost) 1917 version of CARMEN, starring Theda Bara. It was produced quickly in response to the highly promoted DeMille version in an attempt to beat it to theaters. (Walsh writes about it in some detail in his memoirs.) My feeling is that Walsh used the “Carmen” archetype for women throughout the remainder of his career, but this is a matter for further research (into mostly lost films).

    Mike, neither of us were young women in the 1960s, and the scorn and mockery directed at mass popular culture by 1970s feminists is completely understandable to me (second and third hand as it were). Yet I don’t defer to it for my judgments of Walsh, Hawks and others; they were of their time but like other artists reacted to it in different ways. The characters in MAD MEN are also prisoners of their era but react to it in different ways (as Weiner and his collaborators have them react when suddenly confronted with homosexuality, interracial relationships, and the Cuban missile crisis in its second season). Contributors to this website, who aren’t important artists and aren’t fictional characters (exceptions noted in both instances!), are prisoners of our time as well. We also react in different ways to the crises of our age, shaped as we are by the mores of our time. (Those mores may well seem incredibly wrong-headed to the future, if any.)

    RVB and Barry, thanks for the comment on radio. The ending of Clampett’s BABY BOTTLENECK (one of his most brilliant cartoons) is spoiled for modern audiences. Who now remembers the radio advice program it references, with its tagline “Mr. Anthony! I have a problem!”?

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I don’t know if I would go so far as to say “spoiled.” As a child, I didn’t know that “Gee, ain’t I a stinker” came from Jack Benny or that all of the “Greetings Gate…” lines came from Jerry Colonna. But I still found them funny within the context they were used. And I would say the same for the ending ob BABY BOTTLENECK. It is just that it becomes even funnier when you are part of the culture that is being referenced.

  • Mike Grost

    On THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER:
    Mamie Stover gets rich through war profiteering, just as Cagney gets rich in THE ROARING TWENTIES through bootlegging. Both are punished at the end, although Cagney gets killed, and Stover merely loses her money. I don’t recall Stover getting punished for her sexual behavior.
    Nothing about this seems sexist.

    On MAD MEN:
    There was plenty of sexism in the 60’s, in the form of job discrimination. Women were stuck in the worst jobs, no matter how qualified.
    BUT: I just don’t recall the mass sexual comments directed at working women, in this era. The secretaries in MAD MEN are subject to a constant stream of sexual abuse, expected to sleep with employers – all in the most public way possible: public discussions in the lobby of the office! I just don’t remember this sort of thing in the puritanical world of 1960. Maybe big city ad agencies were different.

  • What gay subtext there is in Hawks is knowing and is used only for comic effect, as in the famous “I just went gay suddenly” line when Grant tries to explain his neglige in “Bringing Up Baby.” The 19th and early 20th centurues drew an imporant distinction between the homosocial and the homosexual which we shouldn’t be too eager to erase from our 21st perspective. I find William Wellman’s films much more homoerotic than Hawks’s in their persistent focus on male romances played out through intermediary female figures (like Clara Bow in “Wings”). Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen form a couple in that film (sealed by a dying kiss on the lips) that is very far removed from the backslapping friendship of Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong in Hawks’s nearly contemporaneous “A Girl in Every Port,” despite the now outrageous “Pull my joint, Spike” running gag.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Dave, I agree with you about Wellman vs. Hawks in this regard. I’m not interested in “outing” Hawks (as others have occasionally been, largely outside this site). I’m only interested in what’s on the screen. The dueling pistol sequence with Clift and Ireland in RED RIVER is a comic scene and I’ve related it here to the “putting up a front” aspect of Hawks’ work – young bucks jousting. There is however THE BIG SKY to factor in as a drama (haven’t seen it in too long to comment more).

    More on MAD MEN. It’s appropriate that this discussion is winding to a lazy Sunday close with this series, as it addresses some of the same issues we’ve dealt with in other topics this thread. (Spoiler alert for non-viewers.) Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is like a Hawksian character who is all front and continuously inventing himself; he abandoned his real name and family as a soldier in the Korean War, taking on the identity of a dead officer. The question of whether there is indeed a there there has been returned through throughout the series; series creator/producer Matthew Weiner was kind to him in the second season finale and is allowing him a fresh start. He has recreated himself as a merchant of aspiration. One can draw a line between Draper and Melville’s “Confidence Man” as an American archetype. While there is something of Arthur Miller in the series’ less successful men (Joel Murray’s failed Freddy is pure Willy Loman, while Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete Campbell could be one of his sons) I would go to Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman for a different 1950s source for the Draper character. In the series Hamm takes on the iconography of Cary Grant (the Grant of Roger O. Thornhill in NORTH BY NORTHWEST more so than Hawks’ Grant), with his suits and chiseled good looks. This is made explicit in the second season episode “The Jet Set” (directed by Phil Abraham, written by Weiner) when Hamm in his R.O.T.-style suit is asked if he’s a spy.

    Jean Negulesco’s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (which Dave reviewed a year or so ago as I recall) is explicitly referenced in a first season episode, and might serve as a template for the series’ female characters. Its closest approach to a Walshian female is Christina Hendricks’ Joan Holloway. More so than her equivalent in THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, or any other Walsh movie that comes to mind, she’s horribly punished in the second season finale, “Meditations in an Emergency” (writer-director Weiner).

  • Mike Grost

    Dave Kehr could easily be 100% right about Hawks. Maybe those idealized male friendships in Hawks’ works are exactly that – friendships, with zero sexual content.
    It is so hard to tell!
    And there is no widely agreed methodology to settle questions like this.
    Best to treat these things as open questions…

  • jbryant

    Mike: Since you were only about 7 in 1960, why would you be expected to remember anything about sexual politics in executive offices of the time? I assume you weren’t hanging out in such places.

    Gregg mentions THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959); I’d add THE APARTMENT (1960) as contemporaneous “proof” that the sexist attitudes in the 1960-set Season 1 of MAD MEN aren’t off the mark. I’m sure the series’ writers draw on films, literature and memoirs of the era to add verisimilitude to their efforts.

  • My father was the assistant manager of a small credit union (8 employees). He took us kids everywhere, and I met lots of Michigan business people in the 1960’s. I also knew lots of people at the local Michigan State University. The whole society seemed overwhelmingly puritanical. It was made up of 45 year-old men who favorite program was BONANZA (G-rated to the max).

    Our family discussed what we now call “sex discrimination”. Banks (the hated commercial rivals of credit unions) discriminated against women. The non-profit credit unions allowed women to become managers. One of the largest local credit unions was run by a woman (yes, in 1960). She was a good family friend. Both she and my father viewed themselves as being part of “the Credit Union Movement”, a social cause with political and economic implications.

    We were all very lower middle class – far from the rich execs of MAD MEN. Still, I even wound up in 1965 at a barbecue on a millionaire’s ranch near Dallas, on a trip with my Dad. The whole thing resembled GIANT. As in GIANT, the dialogue was all G-rated.

    Years later, I watched a TV-movie called A MATTER OF SEX (directed by Lee Grant) with my Dad. It was a true story about a lawsuit over sex discrimination in the banking industry. My father’s comment: “I always said banks were evil!”
    Nothing at all resembled MAD MEN.

  • jbryant

    I grew up in Kentucky, and nothing much resembled the New York-set MAD MEN there either. But I think we only have to look at films of the late 50s-early 60s to see the attitudes that MAD MEN is depicting/skewering. A lot of the fun of THE BEST OF EVERYTHING is undone by a final act that dishes out the kind of pre-feminism “comeuppances” that can only make you shake your head or chuckle. Be careful what you wish for, career gals!

    And a film like 1962’s BOYS NIGHT OUT proves that the cultural attitudes of white collar suburbanites were being satirized, at least gently, long before MAD MEN came along.

    I love MAD MEN, by the way.

  • Gregg Rickman

    (Reposted from the Carradine/Gilbert thread.)

    Jbryant, MAD MEN references several contemporary films – the Nixonian Pete has seen CAPE FEAR twice and is planning to go a third time. He describes THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE as about “how things aren’t what you think they are, except they turn out to be what you thought after all” (I paraphrase). Don Draper, meanwhile, who encounters some LA DOLCE VITA-types in “The Jet Set,” is an art cinema fan – he namechecks LA NOTTE. He would fit right in with the architect in L’AVVENTURA. THE APARTMENT is one of several obvious influences on Weiner and his associates, including EXECUTIVE SUITE (which informs “Meditations in an Emergency”) and HOW TO SUCCEDE IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (Robert Morse’s casting as the out-of-it founder is marvelously apposite). Finally there are the Saul Bass-like titles, which conjure up VERTIGO.

    Mike, there’s a good article on women in the series by the Australian critic Stephen Matchett at http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25467505-25230,00.html. It opens “Old feminists should avoid Mad Men, it will only remind them of why they were so angry in the 1960s.”

  • jbryant

    Yes, one of the treats of that show is spotting all the film references/homages.