Lost and Found: The restoration of Beyond The Rocks

Beyond The Rocks was released in 1922 and stars Rudoloph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. It was considered a lost film until a nitrate print was discovered in the Netherlands in 2003. The Dutch Filmmuseum (which is now the EYE and a must-see for any cinefile visiting Amsterdam) had the pleasure of being able to restore the film and re-release it. In this video, they explain the process of restoring a privately kept ‘lost’ film.

Casting Scarlett O’Hara

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After the novel Gone with the Wind was published in 1936, the search for the right actress to play Scarlett in the MGM film adaptation had begun. 1,400 actresses were interviewed for the part and 400 were asked to do readings. In contrast, the public and the studio were unanimous about who should play the leading man, Rhett Butler. That was Clark Gable.

scarlett ohara gone with the wind

Just a few of the actresses considered: First colomn to last: Paulette Goddard, Tallulah Bankhead, Lana Turner, Lucille Ball, Joan Bennett, Katherine Hepburn, Olivia de Hallivand, Norma Shearer, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford

In Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography Me: Stories of my Life, she says that she was considered a back up option for Scarlett if they couldn’t find a better fit. George Cukor was hired as the director (and later fired) and he had worked with Katharine on A Bill of Divorcement and Little Women (later they would make The Philadelphia Story together). He thought she wasn’t the right type of girl and so they kept searching. Of course, in the end the two serious contenders are said to have been Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh.

Vivien Leigh was unknown in America but David Selznick, the producer, was impressed with what he had seen of her. Yet he considered her “too British” for the role. Vivien got a second chance to impress when she met Selznick through Laurence Olivier. He discovered that just like Scarlett, Vivien was half Irish and half French. They had found their Scarlett. Vivien Leigh went on to win an Oscar for her performance.

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Silent Summary

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I’ve been getting into silent films lately. I decided to sit through The Birth of a Nation to start with. Would not recommend. It’s three hours long and not very exciting. Of course, it’s also racist. They use white people to play black characters which confused the heck out of me. You have to remind yourself that that obviously white guy is playing a black political leader. Sigh…

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Next up was The Sheik which I also didn’t love but it was ok. It seems a lot more commercial than other films I’ve watched from the 20s and 30s but now I understand why girls wept at the death of Rudolph Valentino. What a handsome fellow! I would say he’s the best reason to watch the film. I watched the sequel The Son of the Sheik which was much the same.

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A film that I did love was Flesh and the Devil. Here comes my Garbo crush again. She was captivating in this film, divine! Just watch this scene…It makes me want to get a matchstick tattoed on my body (Ok maybe not. Maybe just a tiny portrait of Greta Garbo ;-) )

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Another great film that I watched was 7th Heaven. It’s a lovely romantic film set in France at the time of the First World War.

It Happened One Night (1934)

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Another wonderful thirties film yay! While I was watching I was wondering if this was a pre- or post-code movie because it was a little bit spicy. Claudette Colbert shows a whole thigh! It was indeed pre-code.

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It’s not a laugh out loud comedy but it’s pretty darn fun. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert had great chemistry. I’m ready more more Colbert and screwball comedies after this.

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Movie Time: Anna Christie (1931) [German Version]

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Another Garbo film! This blog is turning into quite the Garbo-fest. I watched Anna Christie auf Deutsch (with English subs). There are a lot of differences between the English and German versions. All the actors apart from Greta are different in each version and the German version is more frank about Anna’s past. Also, as Raymond Daum puts it in Walking with Garbo, they “tarted her up” for the German version.

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Greta seems incredibly comfortable with the German language. I wish she’d done more German films. I don’t recall reading that she spoke German before her Hollywood days but perhaps German phonology is easier than English for the Swedish tongue.

Crazily enough, they didn’t alter any of the sets or the storyline to account for the fact that everyone is speaking German. The bathroom door reads ‘Ladies’ Entrance’ and we are supposed to believe that Anna grew up in Minnesota  Another criticism that I have is that there are a lot of bad cuts in the film and the pace is rather slow at times.

The film was adapted from a play by Eugene O’Neill, first presented in 1921. Anna’s father is an alcoholic and her mother died when she was young. She was raised with relatives on a farm but her life there was miserable and tragic. Later she becomes a prostitute and develops a hatred for men. The film starts with her meeting her father for the first time in 15 years.

Compared to Baby Face, another uncensored film that deals with promiscuity, Anna Christie is a lot more direct and realistic. Its realism is due to the fact that the emotional consequences of Anna’s rough life are dealt with and Greta acts these scenes brilliantly. Older films can feel like they are covered by a veneer that prevents any truly heavy emotion from seeping through but this film does not gloss things over.

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I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out that Greta’s hair looks awesome in this film. Soft, fluffy curls.

All in all, this film is far from perfect (certainly from a technical perspective!) but it offers a taste of realism that differs from the usual gentle Hollywood approach.

Movie Time: Ninotchka (1939)

I’ve got another Garbo film for ya! The lovely Greta is cast as a Russian again (as she was in Grand Hotel) in her one and only comedy AND penultimate film, Ninotchka. It’s set in Paris where a trio of Russians are trying to sell the jewels belonging to a Grand Duchess. The Soviet citizens begin to rather enjoy the capitalist lifestyle and start to neglect their mission, getting drunk and enjoying the company of three French maids. That is until Ninotchka turns up. Ninotchka is a dedicated communist with a slightly robot manner of speaking. She has no sense of humour and is concerned with the technical details of life.

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Luckily there’s a man who can defrost her Russian heart. At first she’s having none of it but eventually she loosens up, drinks some champagne and starts spreading communist propaganda in the powder room. It’s not easy courting Ninotchka.

When the film first came out the posters parodied the tagline of her first talkie, Anna Christie. “Garbo Talks!” became “Garbo Laughs!”.

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I laughed too. There’s some brilliant dry wit in this film. You only have to take a look at the IMDB quotes page for Ninotchka to see how brilliantly funny the dialogue is. It makes me sad that Greta Garbo only made one more film after this. I would have liked to have seen her do more roles that diverted from her usual repertoire. Rating: 8/10

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Adrian – Costume Designer

After enjoying the fashion in Grand Hotel I was curious about the designer behind the costumes. It turns out a rather prolific designer made the gowns in that film. He was known simply as Adrian and born in 1903. He started out at the New York School for Fine and Applied Arts and later went to study at the Paris campus of his college. There he was asked by Irving Berlin to design costumes for Berlin’s Music Box Revue.

Adrian got his first break in Hollywood after being hired by Rudolph Valentino’s wife to design costumes for The Sainted Devil in 1924 (a lost film).

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In 1928 he moved from Paramount to MGM, where he stayed for the rest of his career, designing costumes for over 200 films. He made costumes for many of Greta Garbo’s films including Queen Christina, Anna Christie and Anna Karenina.

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Do a Google Image Search for Joan Crawford and you’ll be flooded with pictures of her in floor-length gowns. Pick any one and chances are Adrian designed it since he made costumes for 28 of her films. She was a stunning model…

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Saucy!

He also dressed Jean Harlow in the sexy bias-cut wonders she was famous for.

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Katharine Hepburn’s gown in The Philadelphia Story is also an Adrian creation.

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But his most famous costumes are undoubtedly those in The Wizard of Oz!

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