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The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s Paperback – February 18, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Depression-era romantic film comedies starring Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck are enthrallingly appraised here by social historian Kendall ( Where She Danced ). The formula for these movies--lightly making a virtue of personality traits usually thought of as feminine, a moral subtlety, an unashamed belief in the validity of emotions--was originated not at the big Hollywood studios, but by directors on the margins of the indsutry: Frank Capra, Gregory La Cava, Leo McCarey, George Stevens and Preston Sturges. Their genuine interest in women, and in romance imagined from a woman's point of view, resulted in It Happened One Night , Mr. Deeds Goes to Town , My Man Godfrey , Stage Door , The Lady Eve and other film classics perceptively described and analyzed in this enjoyable book. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
Kendall's 1990 volume examines the screwball comedies that flourished during the 1930s as a means of countering the harsh realities of the Great Depression. Many of those films featured women either married or betrothed who revolt against the men in their lives, with their stories at the core of such hits as It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, and other Hollywood gold. The text is supported by numerous monochrome portraits of the stars and some behind-the-scenes shots.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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In this regard, highly insightful, is her take on "Stage Door", where Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers work off each other's characters...or, is it their own selves...to support La Cava's vision of a stunning ensemble of spirited depression era women, struggling, and wise cracking, their way towards independence....financial, professional, and personal.
Aside from her right-on understanding of the Stevens/Rogers partnership, I have one quibble regarding Sandrich/Rogers in "Follow the Fleet". Kendall writes that the film (and its writers), "never bothers to show us (her) disappointment, or anger" at Fred's bumbling interference....causing her, twice to lose her job. In fact, she not only gets angry, she GETS EVEN! She tricks Fred into jealousy, with an out-of-uniform officer...which lands Fred in a fountain, dripping wet, and into "the brig"...as she walks off with the officer arm in arm. In addition, Sherry also puts Bake's wise-guy persona to the test, by linking her acceptance of him, to his help with her sister's fate. A pretty tough cookie, Sherry is.
I think that Stevens "went to school" on "Follow the Fleet". He even does his own imaginatively bright version of Ginger's firing, just as he completes Fred's deconstruction, that Sandrich began. However much he belittled her, Sandrich cracked the door, that Stevens and Rogers walked through.
[I take special attention to this because, I think "Follow the Fleet", just before "Swing Time" in 1936, is one of the quietly great films of the series...and because it has one of the most, almost supernaturally beautiful, and memorably elevated....pantomime, acting, song, and dance-of-courtship numbers, of any film ever made....in "Let's Face the Music and Dance". It's a human victory over despair and doubt...a powerfully evocative and blindingly elegant paired dance, that exudes pure courage, mutual empathy, dignity, and strength...right in the teeth of the Great Depression...the living national drama, stewing outside the movie house doors. Note that in this dance, Fred is a gambler-in-tux, who, as in "Swing Time", has no money, meets Ginger by chance...and together, resolve their unhappy situations, and exit, arm in arm, stage right.]
This quibble notwithstanding, the book is a most stimulating read, especially for those familiar with the films. It's food for further thought and appreciation...clearly written, well researched, and full of good information, careful analysis; with no agenda to sensationalize. It does what all good criticism does: It provides solid information and deepens understanding. The true-to-life individual narratives, of the actresses and the film makers, have plenty of zip and spunk, to make such typically exaggerated exercises redundant. Kendall is now a proven master of the genre, and this book demonstrates it.
The analysis of Stage Door is also extremely insightful, as it notes that through the process of improvisation, the movie ends up being a romantic comedy with Ginger Rogers and Katherine Hepburn playing the cross-class leads that were so important to Depression romantic comedy. Improvisation is stressed here, and the connection between the director and the leading lady is the key structuring feature of the book. This follows on Kendall's interest in dance and similar dynamics within modern dance companies.
It is so refreshing to read about these movies from a woman's point of view. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a case in point. Although many critics like it, Kendall points out that it demotes the heroine to a supporting part to the drama of Mr. Deeds. This would become ever more prominent in Capra films. She notes that Mr. Deeds, both the character and the movie, shows a sexlessness and a rejection of sexual tension in favor of a strangely maternal relationship between the leading lady and the hero. Kendall relates this to Capra's quasi-breakdown and conversion to Christian Science before filming Mr. Deeds. That really helps me to understand the difference between It Happened One Night and Capra's later films, which aside from It's a Wonderful Life, tend to hit you over the head with their Message.
Give yourself a treat and read this book.