Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #175: Movies with Strong Female Characters

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is movies with strong female characters, and it should come as no surprise that my selections include three of the toughest women (in real life) in Hollywood's golden age:

Mildred Pierce (1945). Joan Crawford plays the title character who, finding out that her husband (Bruce Bennett) has been unfaithful, divorces him and goes to work, working her way up to a chain of restaurants. But she's got an ingrateful daughter (Ann Blythe) who wants the better things in life, so Mildred spoils her rotten. This was Crawford's first picture at Warner Bros. after 18 years at MGM, and it starts the going over the top part of Crawford's career, as she was determined to make the movie a success. Crawford did win the Oscar.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Bette Davis plays England's Queen Elizabeth I, who had to be tough as nails to keep her throne and to keep foreigners from harming the country in the form of the Spanish Armada. This movie, however, is set toward the end of Elizabeth's life. She's felt love for any number of noblemen but was never able to marry them because of her perceived duty to the state. This time around, it's the Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn); Elizabeth eventually sacrifices him.

The Purchase Price (1932). Barbara Stanwyck plays a nightclub singer and gangster's moll who wants to get away from her boyfriend (Lyle Talbot). So she flees to Montreal and then offers to switch places with her maid, who was planning on quitting to become... a mail-order bride! So Stanywck goes off to North Dakota where she meets her new husband (George Brent) and tries to make the best of it. It's not easy, and then complicating matters is that her old boyfriend finds her again. (To be honest, I really would have preferred to use Night Nurse or Baby Face for Stanwyck, but of course I've already used both of them.)


Dell said...

Haven't seen any of these. Sad, I know.

Brittani Burnham said...

I never saw the Crawford Mildred Pierce, just the HBO mini series that aired a few years ago. I know I need to change that.

joel65913 said...

LOVE these picks!

If Mildred Pierce isn't Crawford's absolute zenith its certainly one of the highest points in her career (though I thought she was even better in her follow up film Humoresque) Ann Blyth is such a perfect pit viper of a person I never understood why her studio took her in the other direction and turned her into a placid ordinary leading lady. Eve Arden & Jack Carson are of course perfect as usual.

Despite keeping her distinctive speech pattern Bette Davis was born to play Elizabeth I. To dominate both those costumes and someone with Flynn's magnetism require someone with a powerful presence and BD had that in spades.

So glad to see The Purchase Price get a little light shone on it. Baby Face and Night Nurse are both provocative films but they have more renowned reputations and this is a great place to bring less famous films some awareness. The film is rough around the edges but that makes it compelling and it has that terrific pre-code frankness that Stanwyck thrived on.

I also reached back for mine and especially with my first tried to find films that are less known.

Three Secrets (1950)-When a private plane crashes in the remote California Mountains the only survivor is a 5-year-old boy. As word spreads that the child had been adopted at birth from a certain orphanage the three possible mothers, housewife Susan Chase (Eleanor Parker), newspaper reporter Phyllis Horn (Patricia Neal) and ex-con Ann Lawrence (Ruth Roman), gather at the mountain base to discover the truth drawing on their strength to endure the ordeal of wondering “Could that be my boy?” Solid drama with three excellent lead performances was directed by Robert Wise.

Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)-Young Tambrey "Tammy" Tyree (Debbie Reynolds) lives with her grandfather (Walter Brennan) on his houseboat in the swamps of the South. One day young pilot Peter Brent (Leslie Nielsen) crashes nearby and during his recovery Tammy develops a crush on him. He heads back to his family’s mansion telling Grandpa if anything should happen to have Tammy come to his family. Shortly after Gramps is arrested for making corn liquor and Tammy heads to town. Once there she shakes the place up with her common sense approach to all things relying on her strong sense of self to ride out any bumps along the way. Meanwhile Pete sees her in a new light. Debbie carries this with a light touch and scored an enormous hit with the theme song.

His Girl Friday (1940)-Ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is sick of the cutthroat world of the newspaper game and tells her editor and ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) she’s quitting to get married to someone Walter considers a dolt (Ralph Bellamy). Walter tries every trick in the book to get Hildy to stay finally dangling a carrot he knows her aggressive take charge reporter’s heart can’t refuse-a murderer’s execution. Despite her protests the resourceful Hildy jumps into action and when the chance for a scoop comes along all else is pushed aside. Manic screwball comedy is noted for its extremely fast dialog patter between the leads. This set Roz on the path as THE boss lady of the movies for most of the decade.

joel65913 said...

I’m also using this week to re-recommend two films I’ve chosen before but they fit right in and both are terrific somewhat obscure films that deserve a look.

Cry “Havoc” (1943)-As WWII rages in the Philippines a group of women volunteer to help the army nurses in a hospital unit on Bataan. Set mostly in their protective bunker and the switchboard that brings increasingly more dire war news this focuses on the struggles and hardships endured by the women as the front moves ever closer. The cast is comprised almost exclusively of great actresses, Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell and Fay Bainter among them, with only very brief glimpses of men, including a young Robert Mitchum. A compelling heavy drama leavened by doses of gallows humor.

Westward the Women (1951)-Unvarnished look at the hard road faced by a group of women settlers on a wagon train to California. Robert Taylor, weathered and hard is the rough but fair wagon master and has the only significant male role. Hope Emerson stands out as a plain speaking, no nonsense traveler but all the performances are very good. The cost of the trip is honestly depicted as heavy with human lives. Written by Frank Capra and directed with an unflinching eye by Wild Bill Wellman, an involving, unusual picture.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

Hope Emerson had a bunch of tough women roles. There's also Cry of the City, and especially Caged.

Birgit said...

I thought of Mildred Pierce especially Eve Arden’s role but I felt this character was a wuss when it came to her scheming daughter. I still have not seen Elizabeth and must change that. Love to see your last pick as it reminds me of the film Sleeping with the Enemy. I almost picked Crawford’s film Johnny Guitar where the men were secondary compared to the 2 female leads who even have a showdown at the end