Friday 28 January 2011

Film Friday: The Public Enemy (1931)

OK, I'm cheating a bit here - it may say Friday 28th at the top of this post, because that's when I started, but I just finished it today (Saturday). I never thought I'd be grateful for Blogger's slightly bizarre dating method(!).

The second post in this [gangster] film series looks at The Public Enemy, the film that gave James Cagney his breakthrough role (Cagney was originally cast as a supporting character but the producer saw his obvious talent and switched him over to the main star) and of the type for which he is arguably the most well-known, despite his many attempts to play other styles in later years.

The film begins in 1909 as we see a young Tom Powers and his friend Matt Doyle getting into all sorts of scrapes and troubles, obviously meant to show us how they fell off the straight and narrow and eventually became gangsters, but particular focus is on Tom and his destructive relationships with the local toughs, his strict policeman father and his straitlaced brother Michael.

1909 (which I suspect is really 1931, or at best a few years earlier).

Who else remembers going into pubs as a child through the "Family Entrance"
whilst wondering what strange unknowns lay beyond the door marked "to the Bar"?
Interesting to see the custom practised in early 20th Century America too.
(Tom looks on as Matt talks to his sister and her friend)Escalators were still in their infancy in 1909, so this is obviously 1931 (really).
Don't try this in your local Debenhams, kids!

Tom and Matt are already stealing things and passing them on to a local yegg,
Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell). The black roll neck sweater is quite a modern
look, even for 1931.

Still cutting a dash in a waistcoat and bowler hat. Another roll neck to his right,
but a nice contrasting waistcoat/jacket combo on his left (not to mention the
most jauntily-angled cap you're ever likely to see!).

By now the action has moved on to 1915 and Tom & Matt appear as we will know them throughout the rest of the film (James Cagney and Edward Woods).

Despite being street-tough youths, both Tom and Matt still sport proper hats
and neckwear.

Putty Nose sends the boys out on their first big job but it all goes wrong and before the night is over their lookout and a policeman are both killed. Tom and Matt escape only to find that Putty has disappeared and left them in the lurch. Luckily for them they are not linked to the crime.

In 1917 America enters the Great War and Tom's brother Mike (Donald Cook) enlists in the Marines, much to the consternation of their mother and Mike's girlfriend.

Mike Powers works on the streetcars and goes to night school. His uniform
makes me long for properly-dressed public service vehicle operators(!).
Mike's girlfriend (uncredited). A nice layered effect on the second dress,
I fancy.

We then skip another 3 years to 1920. The War is over and Mike has returned, albeit badly shell-shocked. Prohibition begins, and I imagine because it was so fresh in the minds of everyone in 1931 these scenes are probably pretty accurate:Having been abandoned by Putty Nose, Tom and Matt join Paddy Ryan's (Robert Emmett O'Connor) gang as bootleggers.

Nice sheepskin-collared coats sported by Matt and Tom.
Soon the boys are making big bucks from the liquor business. Tom's all-black
look is very clean and crisp, with the light-coloured cap contrasting well.

The boys can now afford some fancy clothes and head out for a night on the town. In a nightclub they meet Mamie (Joan Blondell) and Kitty (Mae Clarke).I know a pocket square is ideally meant to be a kind of stylish afterthought,
but Matt's is frankly ridiculous. As ever, Cagney leads the way in fashion.I like the whole contrasting effect of Mamie's outfit, particularly the bows on
the hat.
Kitty's outfit is the first of many in the film to feature giant furry sleeves.
Judging from their ubiquity I imagine it must have been a popular look
in the Thirties.

Tom and Matt continue to act as muscle for Paddy's bootlegging business...
A classic tough guy pose. Here we see Cagney wearing a very high-crowned
trilby (almost homburg-esque in its style), which really suits him and helps
disguise his height. If you look at a lot of Cagney gangster films you'll often
see him in this type of hat.

...while living it up with Mamie and Kitty in their hotel suite:
Big furry cuffs again!

By now Tom has grown very bored of Kitty (whereas Matt and Mamie become ever closer). Things reach a head at the breakfast table:
The infamous grapefruit scene.

Whilst out on a job the boys meet Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow) literally on a street corner(!). For Tom it's love at first sight.
Later, Matt and Mamie announce their engagement, so everyone goes out to celebrate.
That's one helluva fur! Gwen's iridescent coat/wrap is pretty snazzy too.
Mamie's black dress with gold(?) detailing is almost plain by comparison.While in the nightclub Tom and Matt spot Putty Nose, who has returned now that he thinks the heat is off. Not forgetting how he dropped them at the first sign of trouble, and blaming him for their descent into crime, the boys follow him home and exact their revenge.
Excellent use of atmospheric shadows in this scene.
I forgot to mention in the Little Caesar post, where they are also very much in
evidence, that the bowler hat (or derby) seems to be the gangster hat of choice
when they're going for a formal, public-facing look.

Tom continues to romance Gwen. A chance here for my readers to drool over
Jean Harlow and/or her gown and apartment ;-)
Meanwhile, rival mob boss Schemer Burns (great name!) is on the warpath, looking to take over Paddy Ryan's territory.Paddy orders the boys to lay low in a safe house until he can figure out a way to deal with Burns. Tom and Matt aren't happy about it, but reluctantly agree.
Paddy's hat is interesting, being almost Stetson-like in its style. Suits him well,

Paddy's girlfriend (uncredited) looks after the boys while Paddy is away
More furry cuffs! And flowing sleeves again as well.
Some tricky camera shots for 1931 include:

Tom and Matt grow restless at being cooped up inside and go out against Paddy's orders. They are attacked by Schemer Burns' men, with bitter consequences. Tom acquires some firepower, intent on dealing with the new menace himself. He waits outside the gang's headquarters.Wonderfully evocative scenes with Cagney waiting with the rain hammering
down. He still manages to look stylish, even when he's soaking wet!

Tom is able to get his men, but is badly wounded in the attempt.
"I ain't so tough!"

The final scenes take place in the hospital, where Tom is taken, bandaged and watched over by his family. Later, it seems that he will soon be well enough to come home but then he is suddenly kidnapped by the remaining members of the Burns mob! Will Paddy Ryan be able to convince them to release Tom unharmed?! You'll have to watch to find out!

The original trailer and the film's foreword are a sobering reminder that, as much as we may look back on these kind of films (and continue to try and emulate them today) with the gulf of 80-odd years and all the romanticism that has grown up around gangsterism, this kind of thing was a very real and very dangerous problem that was once a great contemporary threat to a society.

Next time on the [increasingly infrequent!] Film Fridays Gangster series - the original Scarface, Howard Hughes' gangdom masterpiece, from 1932.

Monday 24 January 2011

Forties Fashion #2: Evening Wear 1940

For the second in this series of fashion posts from my recently-acquired 1940s Fashion Sourcebook the focus is on evening wear; even at the height of war the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment was still in evidence - one might almost say more so as a result of the hard times and dark days of 1940. Already there are some small examples of the make do and mend attitude creeping into these clothes, though, as you will see.

The first outfit (left) consists of a black silk-jersey dinner dress (shaped neckline, fitted bodice, full-length inset sleeves and ankle-length flared skirt) with yellow-gold tissue for the pleated front panels; matching turban hat with large bow trim; a narrow, clasp-fastening belt and black peep-toe suede shoes. Sounds quite striking, doesn't it?
These next three ladies wear - top: a deep-blue fine wool-crepe evening dress (low V-neck, ruched-shaped side panel of self-fabric from hip level to under deep-scooped armholes, slender bodice and skirt cut in flared panels with no waist seam) and silver kid strap sandals.
Bottom left: full-length royal blue silk taffeta evening dress (wide square neckline, brooch trim at each point, matching band of royal blue on hem of pale violet skirt).
Bottom right: fine black wool dinner dress (bloused bodice, V-neck, gathered shaping from asymmetric insert with black sequined embroidered motif); black and grey fox-fur stole and black satin strap sandals.

Now on to an area I am more familiar with (I have to be honest, I may as well have been typing "blah blah, V-neck, blahblahblah, skirt, blah blah" for all the sense the ladies wear terms make to me!) - menswear! This dashing fellow (right) sports: two-piece black wool evening suit (double-breasted jacket with wide lapels faced with black silk, white silk handkerchief in breast pocket and straight-cut trousers with no turn-ups [no turn-ups on evening suit trousers, of course. There's also no mention of silk braiding but for the record one should wear single braid trousers with black tie (informal) and double braid when in white tie (formal). We can forgive this chap though, after all there was a war on - material was probably scarce!]); white cotton shirt with black silk bow tie (and you must tie it yourself - if I can do it, so can anyone. Pre-tied bow ties are just plain wrong); black patent leather lace-up shoes.

Well, there you have it. I feel like getting suited up for a night at the dance hall, or possibly the theatre, after that! Mustn't forget the overcoat and hat!

Friday 21 January 2011

Doubly Stylish

When I switched my electrical babbage engine on this morn, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my unobtrusive little blog had won another award - the Stylish Blogger Award, given to me by the lovely Gloria Alex from That Vintage Broad. I had to go out soon afterwards, but imagine my delight when I returned later in the afternoon to find that the equally lovely Kitty over at Kitty's Vintage Kitsch had bestowed the selfsame award. Two awards in the same day - thank you both, girls, I'm flattered!

I've said it before but I never thought that my interests, the little tit-bits of news that I unearth and my ramblings thereon, would be so popular, so my thanks again to all my followers and readers for sticking with me. I just write pretty much whatever comes to mind and it pleases me no end that you all find it worth looking at.

Right, gushing acceptance speech over; on to the ever-present "conditions" that accompany this award. Having thanked and linked back to the conferrer(s) I must now list 7 things about myself that you, my readers, do not know. Note it doesn't say "interesting" - I lead a very quiet life and am probably one of the dullest people you'll ever meet, so if you skip over this bit I shan't hold it against you(!).

  1. I don't own a mobile telephone. Never have, never will. I could go on about how I think they are the bane of modern society; how they have led to the death of politeness, patience, punctuality, common sense, awareness, self-reliance and initiative and how we all got along perfectly well before the damned things were invented. But that's a rant for another day.
  2. I might (and heavy emphasis on the "might") be distantly related to Charlie Chaplin. His mother and my paternal grandmother share the same maiden name and both families lived in the same area of London (Lambeth) at the same time in the late 1890s/early 1900s. Sadly I haven't had the opportunity or wherewithal to investigate this properly, but it remains a tantalising possibility that I hope to get to the bottom of one day.
  3. I collect coins and stamps (and have done since I was a boy). My collection spans 5 albums and continues to grow, although again thanks to circumstances these days less so than when I was younger. The pride of my coin collection, which is predominantly British pre-decimalisation (£ s d) is the Edward VII gold half-sovereign from 1909 that my grandfather gave me; my stamp collection contains many hundreds from all over the world but some of my favourites include a selection from Germany post-WW1, when the country was ravaged by hyper-inflation. The lowest denomination is 100 Marks, the highest 100,000,000 Marks!! Some have even "overprinted", as we philatelists call it, because the original face value became worthless so quickly! Whenever I look at them I am always given to wonder what such a situation must have been like and how Germany - and the world - suffered in the first few years following the Great War.
  4. I used to do a bit of singing and amateur dramatics. Nothing fancy, mainly Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and show tune concerts. Always in the chorus, of course. Some people still think I've got a half-decent singing voice(!).
  5. I am currently trying (and failing) to learn how to play the ukulele. Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer is my musical hero in this regard. If I can get to be a 1/100th as good as him, I'll be elated.

  6. The 3 most prized books in my possession are: an 1894 copy of Cobbett's Advice To Young Men, a 1919 The Handyman's 1000 Practical Receipts and the 1929 Tit-bits Yearbook. I shall try and work a few blog posts around them in the future.
  7. I don't drink coffee ("I take tea, my dear", as Sting sang in his 1987 classic An Englishman In New York). I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times in my life I have had coffee. I just don't like it. Cocoa, yes. Hot chocolate, definitely. And I've been drinking tea in one form or another since I was about six months old. But coffee? Urgh.

    Well, there you have it, and believe me it was hard to think of just those seven things! Now I've got to pass on this award to 10 more blogs. So without further ado, congratulations to:

    Thanks again to Gloria and Kitty and here's wishing you all a great weekend!


Tuesday 18 January 2011

The French house untouched for 100 years

The French house untouched for 100 years

This has got to be one of my favourite items of news for a long time! Shades of the 70-year-old Parisian flat I blogged about previously, methinks. What is it with the French and leaving things alone for decades on end? If this had been in Britain the place would have probably been knocked down by now(!). What a fantastic story, and what a fellow Monsieur Mantin must have been to build a huge house, fill it with such a vast collection of ephemera and then insist it be left as a museum so people today could have some idea of his lifestyle? It's the ultimate time capsule!

I get the impression from the article that he is considered something of a morbid eccentric but then as it also says what better way to ensure his immortality? I wish I could do the same, but I doubt my poky little flat and its contents would be of any interest to 22nd Century scholars (or even still standing 100 years from now)! The terms "aesthete" and "gentleman of leisure" are certainly well-deserved though; one could easily add "philanthropist" considering what his legacy has turned out to be and the esteem in which he is held by the townspeople today. It must be a fascinating place to visit - I almost want to hop on a ferry now and cross the Channel to have a look! Certainly a must-see if one is ever in the area.

And to think that a simple misunderstanding went towards making it how it is today, in that M. Mantin only wanted it to be a museum in 100 years time, not that it should be locked up for 100 years. His great niece should also be commended for seeing the cultural and historical importance of the place and ensuring that it was opened in accordance with Mantin's wishes, despite [typical] paper-pushing from the local government. All in all, an incredible memorial to one man's interests and life 100 years ago, and an amazing saga.

Christmas special of Downton Abbey to be screened

Christmas special of Downton Abbey to be screened

Following the spectacular success of the first series of Downton Abbey on ITV1 it was a no-brainer that a second series would be commissioned pretty quickly, a fact that was confirmed quite soon after the first run.

Now not only do we have a rough time frame of when the second series is due to be shown but also the announcement of a Christmas special!

It seems strange to be talking about Christmas specials in January (as if autumn isn't long enough to wait for the second series!) but at least it's something to look forward to. An Edwardian Christmas sounds just the ticket and sitting inside watching Downton Abbey on a cold autumnal night doesn't sound bad either!


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