Friday, April 7, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Wickedly Good Women

“Wicked Woman” Beverly Michaels with her usual props — a cigarette, a bar stool and fishnet
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"Feud" Continues to Fuel Memories of Joan and Bette…"Wicked Woman" Gets Its Due ... Honors For Miss Midler ... Pepsi Pulls Kendall Jenner Ad, Apocalypse Avoided.

“GET OUT, Veda. Get your things out of this house right now before I throw them into the street and you with them. Get out before I kill you!”

As any movie maven worth his salt knows, that is the climactic moment in “Mildred Pierce” between Joan Crawford as hardworking Mildred and Ann Blyth playing one of the screen’s most vicious, ungrateful daughters. (Blyth strikes Crawford in the scene, a sharp, stunning slap that knocks Joan off her feet. When Crawford rises, with one fluid movement, eyes ablaze, the essence of outrage, it’s one the actress’s great moments, ever.)
So, if you happen to be in Los Angeles on April 15th, the Egyptian Theater is showing a double bill of “Mildred” and, ta-da! — “All About Eve.”

The day before, on the 14th, you can get to see the two ladies double-billed again.  Davis in 1952’s blatant and self-conscious “The Star” — Bette goes to town as a broken down actress, who at one point takes her Oscar on a drunken joyride. (Davis nabbed a somewhat improbable Academy Award nod for this.)
After intermission and more popcorn, settle down for  Crawford in Nicholas Ray’s 1954 vividly colored western “Johnny Guitar.”  This cult item showcases Joan looking comfy indeed in her tailored shirts, denim pants and six-shooter.  (Onscreen and in real life, Crawford and the other rough woman in the film, Mercedes McCambridge, did not see eye to eye.)
The Crawford/Davis revival is more fallout from the TV series “Feud.”  Last week’s episode attempted to squeeze in a lot of early feminist yearnings from several characters, unconvincingly. (Crawford’s maid, Mamacita, is really Gloria Steinem with a mop, a thick German accent and sensible shoes.)
Joan Crawford's longtime maid Mamacita is played by Jackie Hoffman in "Feud."
But creator Ryan Murphy needed to do more research.  In the scene where Crawford (Jessica Lange) abruptly dismisses the idea of a woman director, somebody should have remembered that Crawford actually made two films, “The Bride Wore Red,” and “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney” with the famous female director Dorothy Arzner. And Ida Lupino had carved out an excellent name for herself as a director of smart low-budget films and lots of TV.  (Lupino would go on to direct the hugely successful feature, “The Trouble with Angels.”)
Crawford in “The Bride Wore Red."
In "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney."
“Feud” continues to be an entertaining mix of fact, fiction and exaggeration, but it does seem to be hyping interest in the work of Crawford and Davis, so ... it has value.

... Speaking of the above mentioned Egyptian Theater, they presented a Noir Film festival, which recently ended.  Among the famous movies screened was one that should be better known — although it is worshipped by cultists. I do mean “Wicked Woman,” staring the great, lanky, femme fatale Beverly Michaels. Beverly never became a big star, but she was a vivid presence before her early retirement to a happy private life.
Beverly wasn't itching to play Dostoyevsky and study The Method.
“Wicked Woman” is her lurid apogee as a wanton, but intriguingly exhausted-by-life-woman, traveling from town to town, making trouble. You can find a fuzzy copy of this movie on YouTube, but I’m hoping that the showing at The Egyptian means it has been restored and perhaps TCM or Criterion will release “Wicked Woman,” in all its sordid black-and-white glory.
... BEST Bette. On Monday, April 17th, three days before Bette Midler opens in “Hello Dolly!” getTV will pay homage to The Divine One with a telecast of Midler’s very first TV special, 1975’s Emmy-winning “Ole Red Hair Is Back.”  Also being shown — an episode of the “Cher” TV series, with Milder as a guest, along with Elton John!
Additionally, getTV will air a 1969 special “Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey on Broadway.” (Bailey starred in the phenomenally successful all-African-American version of “Hello Dolly!” in 1968. She won a special Tony Award.)
More Bette: On May 19th, at the annual Drama League Awards in New York, Miss M. will receive The Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater Award.  This happens at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. For more info, Call 212-244-9494.
ENDTHOUGHT: Really?  Honestly?  Kidding me?  These are the only things that have come to mind in the wake of the ridiculous over-reaction, and over-analysis of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad.  I caught it — with dramatic buildup from CNN’s drama-person deluxe, Don Lemon, Tuesday night.

I was braced for the worst.  What did I see?  Miss Jenner — who I wouldn’t recognize walking down the street, unless somebody was holding a sign with her name on it over her head.
She is seen drifting through a bunch of pristine, model-worthy protesters made up of various genders, colors, religions (a smiling woman in traditional Muslim garb is issue-placed, photographing the event.)

Kendall appears to be having some sort of internal activist struggle involving a blonde wig and her commitment to the cause — whatever the cause is.  Finally, holding a can of Pepsi, Miss Jenner approaches a stern-looking policeman, and hands him her soft drink. Happy protesters dance and cheer. The End.
The CNN panel was, of course, horror-struck. OMG — it was trivializing Black Lives Matter and other important protest groups.  Miss Kendall was not fit to place herself in such an ad.  A pox on her, and Pepsi.     

Well, I didn’t even think of Black Lives Matter, or any other particular group.  It seemed very amorphous, insipid, hippie-ish, and it was an ad for soda! Since when is it new to trivialize, capitalize, sentimentalize or make money out of serious real life situations?   Coke urged the world to sing and everybody join hands.  Was that an insult to those who wanted peace on earth and general civility?
Was Natalie Portman ever the wife of a slain president? Was Bradley Cooper a military sniper?  Was “Flying Nun” and “Gidget” actress Sally Field ever a poor, gritty factory worker for heaven’s sake?!

This is an absurd reaction to the perceived (not incorrect) superficiality of Miss Jenner’s image and her flamboyant family. It is also fake outrage and hyper-sensitivity at its most annoying — like college students wanting “safe places” from opinions they don’t share.

We live in a world where innocent women and children are the ho-hum collateral damage of battle in the Middle East; a world where hundreds of gay men are arrested, tortured and killed in Russia. But Kendall Jenner and Pepsi are monsters. The ad has been pulled. Apocalypse avoided.
Now, a commercial that does annoy me is the new Volkswagen spot. Here, a young couple are shown having sex in a variety of cars (we see the vehicle shaking, with fogged-up windows).  Each time they do it, they have another baby and get a bigger car.  I think it ends with five children.
Not only is it a bit tasteless (can’t these people get a room?) But it totally ignores the very real issue of earth’s overpopulation as well as cash-poor American states such as Louisiana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, etc. (Are the down-and-out residents of these states thinking, yeah, let’s get a brand-new car, every time we make a brand new baby — no problem.)   I’d love to know who — other than Volkswagen — is sponsoring this paean to endless, cheery, childbearing?  This, in a U.S. where middle-class families struggle to prosper, even with both parents working full-time.
And the ad was surely conceived by a man. After multiple back-to-back births the woman still looks trim and energetic.  The husband has grown some stylish facial hair.

Let’s see Don Lemon and CNN do a six-panel, 45-minute segment on that.
APOLOGIES to the wonderful Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, who we quoted the other day, although we gave him a new first name, Mike.  We were so concerned about getting his last name right ...

Contact Liz here.