Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Snapshots: The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)

This movie grabbed my attention mostly for the involvement of James Whale. He is known best for directing Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man. The Kiss Before the Mirror was a movie he directed between the latter two films, and later remade as Wives Under Suspicion. This is the second non-horror movie directed by Whale I've seen. The first was Waterloo Bridge, featuring a young Bette Davis and pre-Frankenstein Mae Clark.

Being single has its points – at least no-one will ever murder me. 

Walter finds his wife undressing in her paramour's bedroom and shoots her dead through the window. He pumps a few more bullets into her for good measure. He immediately calls the police and gives himself up.

He recounts the events to his best friend, Paul, who is also the attorney defending him. The 'kiss before the mirror' was the one he gave her when he showed up unexpectedly, as she was getting dolled up to meet her lover. She got irritated because his sloppy kiss messed her hairdress, and he was not feeling the love. He followed her and discovered her infidelity, but was so traumatized, he couldn't recall how he did the deed to his lawyer.

When the attorney goes home and sees his wife, Maria, exhibit the exact same behaviors before the mirror, he gets suspicious. He decides to test the theory by grabbing her and forcing a brutish kiss on her, and when she reacts with displeasure, he suspects her.

She goes to meet her lover and attempts to call off the relationship, as the murder of her unfaithful friend has got her unnerved, but he convinces her to say goodbye up in his apartment. Paul has been hiding in the bushes and discovers the truth, allowing him to understand how his friend killed his wife. His plan is to use his understanding to get his buddy acquitted, setting a precedent to get him likewise absolved when he kills his own wife.

At the trial, after an impassioned argument, Paul pulls a revolver from his pocket and points it at his wife, causing her to scream and faint. He then argues that any guy could go nuts just by thinking of being betrayed by a woman. His stunt is successful and the jury finds Walter not guilty.

Paul confronts his wife and uses the revolver in the end.

If you want a more detailed account of the ending, it is included in my thoughts below.

Notable dialogue:

Paul: He was stunned by her betrayal of him. Momentary insanity induced by jealousy. On that defense, would you acquit him?
Hilda: I don't know. As a woman, I would instinctively find him guilty. One shouldn't encourage men to commit murder, although, it's a great compliment to us when, under the circumstances, men might even murder us.

Paul: What was she doing?
Walter: The most important thing in a woman's life–she was admiring herself.

Maria: You're a funny creature. What are you? A lawyer or a new kind of woman?
Hilda: By day I'm a lawyer, at night...well, you might be surprised.
Maria: Why don't you get married?
Hilda: Well, being single has it's points–at least no-one will ever murder me.

Paul: Tell me how do you think the case looks.
Hilda: Not too good. So many wife murderers have been acquitted on the same defense I fear the reaction. The jury is liable to doubt the existence of enough lovers to go around.
Paul: No, you're wrong, Hilda. No matter how low a woman may fall, there's always a man waiting for her.
Hilda: Then there's still hope for me.

Paul: For faith is the greatest element in love. And exclusiveness of possession is all that makes marriage worthwhile.

Paul: The greater the love, the greater the hate. The bitterer the illusion, the more serious the wound. The shrewder the woman, the more lustful the revenge. The more we love, the more we want to destroy the woman we've loved. Did the defendant love his wife so much that the murder can be explained by such love?

Hilda: Is it an acquittal?
Paul: What do you think, Hilda?
Hilda: As a lawyer, I congratulate you–you've probably won. As a woman, I didn't believe a word of your argument.


One thing I like about James Whale is that his movies inspire reflection. I did not particularly enjoy this movie or most of the characters in it, but it does leave a lasting impression. The casual way that the men talk about killing their wives is disturbing, and the point is to question whether an insanely jealous husband who murders his wife is culpable or not. Maria tells Paul that her friend Lucy didn't deserve to be "shot down like a mad dog" and he suggests it's a "matter of taste." How chilling.

Maria and Lucy are portrayed as vain, selfish women who enjoy the security of husband and home while indulging in affairs on the side. It's interesting to note that both are childless in an era when having children was the expectation, suggesting they're either using contraception to prevent any confusion of paternity, or that they're too self-absorbed to devote themselves to motherhood. Their negative portrayal seems an attempt to lead the audience to feel they deserve their fate.

Hilda is an interesting character offered up as contrast. She is an intelligent and independent woman working as a lawyer. When Maria asks if she's a "new kind of woman," meaning sexually liberated, Hilda gives a vague response that confirms she may be spending her evenings having dalliances. While it may be an exaggeration to suggest that no-one will murder her if she stays single, it is true that her chances of being murdered by a spouse are greater than being killed by a stranger.

Especially disturbing is the underlying theme that the most intense feelings of love can inspire one to murder. Paul says, "The more we love, the more we want to destroy the woman we've loved." Hilda states that it's a compliment that men are willing to murder women, suggesting that it was due to their devotion. Maria tells Walter she's glad he was acquitted, despite the fact that he murdered her best friend, because of this belief that he loved her enough to kill her. Murder is not an expression of love, people. That is some twisted thinking.

Maria claims Paul does not love her as much as Walter loved Lucy, which may be why he was unable to kill her. In the end, Paul throws his revolver at the mirror, smashing the symbol of vanity, just as Maria appears in the room. They look longingly at each other and embrace, with Maria sobbing and Paul calling her name as the film closes. It appears to be a happy ending, but doesn't feel like one. I expect I'll continue to refine my thoughts on this film. It is unsettling.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Where It's At

It's been a little over a year since I accidentally started blogging. I never intended to start writing, it just happened, and I've been blogsperimenting since then. When I went completely bonkers and decided to extol the virtues of The Invaders, this initial venture took a dive. What was to be my winter indulgence in silent movies was placed on the back burner in favor of adventures in classic TV. I truly had no idea what I had gotten myself into, and when major setbacks occurred, both sites suffered. It has been a useful learning experience. As I catch up and wrap up my initial trial at recording a favorite TV show, I hope to bring life back to this site.

While I had initially planned for a Pre-code Spring, I have to recognize that the increasing demands of work over the next month will prevent me from giving the attention to my favorite era of movie making that it deserves. In the interest of clearing out the cobwebs around here, I'm introducing a new feature I'm calling Snapshots, in an attempt to share a few highlights of what I've been watching in more succinct fashion, until I find more time to devote to writing in June. The first entry is a thriller directed by James Whale and will be arriving shortly.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Season of Silents Wrap Up

How disappointing. The Season of Silents really fizzled out. I'll spare the boring details of the circumstances that have made it difficult to post and will resist the urge to make up exciting details to explain my absence. Suffice to say, it's my first year blogging and I'm learning as I go.

By immersing myself in the silent film era, I have deepened my love and appreciation for the silents. It is a rich experience that requires a bit more interpretation and thought from the viewer, which made it somewhat challenging for me to write about. It was fun to get to know new actors and directors, as well as new genres, and see how early film evolved.


Silent film is easy for me to love because it capitalizes on what I enjoy most about movies: the visuals.


It was interesting to discover powerful women in early films, not only in storylines, but behind the camera. I look forward to seeing more of the female adventure serials and more films by early women filmmakers.

I experienced the joy of slapstick comedy. It's still not my favorite genre, but there is much to appreciate about it.

I really enjoy time traveling through these early films and find it interesting that while so much has changed, many of the social issues remain the same. I had planned to follow up with a Pre-Code Spring, but I have decided to be a little more open and focus on movies from the 1930s as a whole, which may include some French favorites and other films that would not be considered pre-code. I expect I'll slide into some film noir in late spring/early summer when things start heating up and the smell of honeysuckle is all along the street.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Early Women Filmmakers Receive Their Due

During the past few weeks of my silence on the silents, I've been steadily learning more about the silent era, and have been delighted to discover a plenitude of women who were involved in directing and producing movies in the early years of film. I had been completely unaware of the involvement of so many women in the early years of filmmaking.

After thoroughly enjoying Lois Weber's fascinating short film, Suspense, I was interested in learning more about her and seeing more of her work. As I began seeking out more of her films, I found a trio of DVDs in a series released by Kino, entitled First Ladies: Early Women Filmmakers. The movies I've seen from this series are captivating, surprising, entertaining, thought provoking and visually delightful. You can read a thorough review of the three DVDs in this series on DVD talk.


Just as I was wishing that Kino had more to offer in this series, I discovered that Kino Lorber recently mounted a Kickstarter campaign to fund a collection of films by women directors called Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, with an estimated release date in November. I wish I'd seen that sooner to be able to support the project, but look forward to that release, just in time for Christmas.


Then, to further fulfill my wishes, I just received word from Flicker Alley that they will be releasing Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology in early May. This looks to be an amazing collection of films that I can't wait to see. I'll definitely be making room on the Collections shelf for this one, as Flicker Alley never lets me down.


When I wrote about Ida Lupino being the only woman director and producer in 1950s Hollywood, I had no idea of the many women who preceded her. It is wonderful to see these films come to light and be able to enjoy the unique perspectives and talent that these women contributed to the early years of film.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Season of Silents: The Butcher Boy (1917)

I have never seen any Buster Keaton films, probably because I'm not a huge fan of slapstick comedy. It's possible Keaton may change that for me. I've read too many raves of his talent to ignore his work any longer, so when Amazon had the Buster Keaton Shorts Collection available on a Lightning Deal, I decided the time was right.

The Butcher Boy is the first Buster Keaton short I'm watching and the first he made with Roscoe Arbuckle 100 years ago. The screenshots I've taken are not from this Blu-Ray release, which is not tinted. The title cards in this short may not be the original ones, and some title cards on other releases I've seen provide more information than those included in this collection. Some of the character's names have also been changed in this short. Slim was originally called Alum and Amanda was Almondine. I do not approve of changing the titles and names from the original and hope that won't be common practice with all the shorts in this collection. I do prefer the Robert Israel score that accompanies this film and the picture is also superior in this Blu-Ray collection.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Season of Silents: The Chinese Fan (1914)

The Chinese Fan is the fifth episode from the serial, The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies from the Edison production company, and runs for fourteen minutes. The other episodes are currently lost, and this one can be seen on Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive, which also includes three reels from the first feature film credited to Alfred Hitchcock, The White Shadow.

The notes included on the DVD explain that there was an increasing popularity in serials featuring adventurous young women around 1913, many with alliterative titles: Perils of Pauline, Hazards of Helen, and Exploits of Elaine. The plucky heroine of this adventure is having adventures in a predominately male workplace. It may not be what you'd expect from the time period, which makes it fascinating to watch.

"A reporter is bound to come in contact with the seamy side of life. That is why Dolly has interesting adventures."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Season of Silents: The Man Who Laughs (1928)

I first saw The Man Who Laughs back in 2011 when I borrowed the Kino DVD from Brother John, and enjoyed it so much I had to purchase my own copy. I am glad I did, because it's a hard title to come by these days. Although I'd seen Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I had not yet begun avidly collecting and watching silent film. This was a film that gave me a newfound appreciation for 1920s movies.

This is a Universal film produced by Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures, whose son brought us the Universal Monsters. While it is a silent film, the soundtrack that accompanies it features synchronized sound in the form of wailing wind, sounds at a fair, and crowd sounds. The sound on this DVD is not in the finest condition and there is some degree of hiss, but the music on the soundtrack definitely has that Universal Pictures flavor. I found some of the sound effects to be a bit distracting (a lot of horns honking) and did not do much to enhance the action onscreen. It is as disappointing as the synchronized sound that was later added to Phantom of the Opera, and what you might expect from practitioners experimenting with a new medium.

Some of the intertitles have a decorative, flowery background. The film is based on a story by Victor Hugo and is directed by Paul Leni. It features Mary Philbin from Phantom, Conrad Veidt from Caligari and Olga Baclanova, who would later be known from her appearance in Freaks. Lon Chaney was intended for the part of Gwynplaine, but was working for another studio at the time. He would have been superlative, but Conrad Veidt proves himself more than adequate. I recommend checking out moviediva for some interesting background information on this film.


"Hear how they laugh at me-- nothing but a clown!"

Monday, January 2, 2017

It's a New Year!

I was supposed to be posting about The Man Who Laughs (which is forthcoming), but instead got caught up in New Year's festivities and new projects.


I decided to spend the New Year revisiting a favorite film I discovered this year. It is brimming with wit and intelligence and I love it completely. It seemed appropriate to bring in the new year with its good humor and satire. I was sorely tempted to write about it, but this film is so rich and so wonderfully detailed that it will take me a considerable amount of time to do it justice. I also hope to maybe tone down my fervor a little as I may be overdoing it a bit. You know how it is when you find a film that really resonates with you that you thoroughly enjoy. You want everyone else to see what there is to love about it, and your overenthusiasm tends to be lost on them. Nevertheless, it is something I expect to complete in 2017.

The new project I'm working on is blogging about The Invaders, a TV program from 1967. I'm not entirely sure what has possessed me to overextend myself by taking on yet another blog, though I will attempt to explain my reasoning. I will be posting on Tuesdays and will be covering the pilot episode on January 10th, the date it first aired fifty years ago.

I anticipate that 2017 will be a year when I depend on the escapism of classic movies and TV to keep me happy and at peace. Hopefully my internet litter may bring a little joy to the world gone mad.

Take me away, Invaders!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Season of Silents: A Christmas Carol (1910)

I'm revisiting a well traveled story today and watching a short version of A Christmas Carol from A Christmas Past DVD. The Internet Movie Database lists 25 different versions of this tale on film, and this is the second version listed, the first one being from 1908. This was filmed at Thomas Edison studios and since it is short, the action is condensed down to important scenes, with a basic knowledge of the story to carry it along. This short is presented with a score by Al Kryszak, relying heavily on violins that, to these ears, have an unpleasant, discordant sound. Perhaps it was an attempt to match the unpleasant character of Scrooge. Scrooge is played by Marc McDermott, who was a prolific actor from 1909 to 1928, and appeared in He Who Gets Slapped and Flesh and the Devil.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Season of Silents: A Trap for Santa (1909)

A Trap for Santa is a short film by D.W. Griffith, who's well known for developing many film techniques that are used today. I have not seen any of his feature length films, which may be unusual for a silent film enthusiast, but I have taken a different path to silent film. This is one of several short films of his I've seen, most of which have been thought-provoking films that involve social issues. This short film can be found on A Christmas Past, a collection of Christmas silent movies, which gives an interesting look at Christmases in the early 1900s. Al Kryszak is responsible for the original score, using violins, viola, cello, piano, harp, and a handbell choir. At times it is pleasant and other times discordant. I don't find that it always fits the action onscreen, but it's got a holiday vibe.

Before we even see the family we are informed that there is no work for the father (Henry B. Walthall), and that misery and want are the family's lot. The mother certainly looks miserable while their little waif of a daughter appears to be gnawing on a chunk of bread.