Woman of Straw (1964): A Seamless Blend of Hitchcock and Bond

A vengeful, greedy nephew (Sean Connery) seizes the opportunity to claim his tyrannical uncle’s (Ralph Richardson) fortune by hatching a plan with his uncle’s beautiful nurse (Gina Lollobrigida).

When thinking of Bond films, what stylistic images to mind? For me, a mention of the iconic spy conjures up images of beautiful people in exciting settings wearing the most exquisite costumes – all associated with Glamour.

Its fair to say the characters in Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic world are not far from that description either and are often involved in some form of shady business.

Usually the director has plenty of surprises a plenty in store for his eager audience. And you can bet there will be a good story to dive into with terrific acting, direction, and cinematography.

Lucky for us, Woman of Straw contains the best of both of these worlds.

Production

Woman of Straw is based on the 1956 French novel La femme de paille by Catherine Arley. According to Imdb, the title denotes the phrase “man of straw” which means “a situation in which one person serves as a front for another in activities that may or may not be legal.”

This British film directed by Basil Dearden, produced by Michael Relph, and released through United Artists, is sumptuous and visually rich.

From the grandeur of Charles’s English estate shot at Audley End House in Essex, England, to the lush outdoor scenes shot in Majorca, Spain, every scene is a feast for the eyes. The cinematography by Otto Heller contains unforgettable images that would be at home in any Hitchcock film.

Woman of Straw not only starred 007 himself, it was filmed at the home of the Bond franchise, Pinewood Studios. Tagging along was production designer, Ken Adam, responsible for the look for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s.

Fun bit of trivia: Adam also designed the production on another Ian Fleming project, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

Costumes

Beatrice Dawson (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, 1951) created the costumes for Woman of Straw with special credit given to Dior for our leading lady’s wardrobe.

Lollobrigida wears quite a range of looks as her character escalates in status and wealth – from a simple nurse uniform, to sophisticated separates and bright bathing suits, to bejeweled gowns and frothy peignoirs.

“Woman of Straw is one of the most significant films in the history of James Bond clothing.”

Matt Spaiser

Director of the early Bond films, Terence Young, commissioned his own tailor, Savile Row’s Anthony Sinclair, to transform Connery, a one-time milkman and rough-edged amateur bodybuilder, into the ultimate image of sophisticated masculinity.

If the saying is true that clothes make the man, we could say that Woman of Straw not only reaped the benefits in a big way, it also holds an integral place in Bond history.

According to Matt Spaiser of Bond Suits, several iconic outfits worn by Connery in Goldfinger first make their appearance here, in Woman of Straw.

Yes, that includes the infamous white dinner jacket which Spaiser indicates is actually ivory.

Read more on Spaiser’s excellent blog as he analyzes both films and their costumes here.

Note: Further confirmation is found in The Films of Sean Connery by Lee Pfeiffer and Philip Lisa. The authors note the white dinner jacket and elaborate: “an astute reporter on the Goldfinger set noticed that several of Sean’s suits bore the initials ‘A.R.’ His character’s name in Woman of Straw was Anthony Richmond.”

The Cast

While I came for Connery, the standout performances for me were Gina Lollobrigida and Ralph Richardson, both individually and collectively.

Their characters’ relationship is poignant while somehow, their unlikely pairing makes magic on the screen.

Although Gina Lollobrigida essentially plays a “bad girl” out to cash in on her unbearable employer, she imbues her role with softness and sensitivity.

Upon observing the inhumane behavior of Charles Richmond (Richardson), Maria Marcello (Lollobrigida) is immediately repulsed, and does not hesitate telling him so; yet, there is something about the man that makes her sympathetic towards him.

In a masterclass of acting, Richardson goes from cantankerous to contemplative and back again. In that fleeting moment Maria glimpses his humanity and finds herself genuinely caring for him.

Lollobrigida brings humanity and depth to what could have easily been a stereotypical role, but also particularly towards the end of the film, she lets loose, revealing a whole new side of this actress I had yet to witness.

Her performance proves, like so many other beauties of this era, she was much more than a sex symbol – she was a performer capable of handling intense drama.

Ralph Richardson as Charles Richmond embodies all that is undesirable in a human being. He is racist, sadistic, you fill in the blank and it probably fits.

And though Richmond is the last person you’d want to meet, he elicits sympathy from the audience due to Richardson’s outstanding performance.

Woman of Straw occupies an interesting place in Sean Connery’s filmography – after his first two films as James Bond, Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963) – and before the psychological thriller Marnie (1964) directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Dr. No (1962) ushered Sean Connery into the status of icon with the launching of the James Bond franchise. Not expecting Bondmania to overtake the world, Connery agreed to a rather low salary of $16,000 for Dr. No.

Now as an international star, Woman of Straw would earn the actor his first million dollar paycheck.

“I don’t want to be Bond all the time…It rifles me when people call me Bond off the set…That’s why I’m making pictures like Woman of Straw, in the hope audiences will accept me in other parts.”

– Sean Connery

According to The Films of Sean Connery by Lee Pfeiffer and Philip Lisa, Woman of Straw also gave Connery the opportunity to work alongside a man he long considered his favorite actor, Ralph Richardson.

As Tony Richmond, Connery is very Bond-esque. He oozes charm, knows what he wants, and knows how to get it.

Where Connery shines is in the climactic scenes. When Tony’s facade starts crumbling, we then see real emotions and vulnerability appear in his once assured eyes.

Conclusion

This film is sure to delight fans of Hitchcock, Bond, mysteries, and any of the three leads.

Although I knew where the gist of the plot was leading, there were still numerous twists and turns that kept me on my toes. The screenwriters (Robert Muller, Stanley Mann) and actors pulled me in to the point that I found myself rooting for the schemers during the moments of nail biting suspense.

That’s when I know they have done their job.

Watch Woman of Straw for free now on YouTube.

This post is my contribution to You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon hosted by Pale Writer (Day 1) and Realweegiemidget Reviews (Day 2). See day 3 here. And Encore day here.

Check out the links to read more of the fabulous Bond. James Bond.

Stage Fright (1950): Hitchcock’s Cinematic “Trick” or Treat?

Once upon a time there was an Alfred Hitchcock film. But not just any Alfred Hitchcock film.

This film had the distinction of dividing fans of The Master of Suspense, for The Master himself claimed he made a mistake in his choices on the production. By the time he realized it, time was no more.

The very premise of Stage Fright is based on the theater, the birthplace of artifice and illusion. And as the credits roll, the safety curtain rises on our story.

With this in mind, did Hitchcock really make a mistake or does his cinematic “trick” fit like hand in glove?

The Plot

Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), an aspiring actress, seeks to clear the name of her friend and crush Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) while posing as a lady’s maid to the woman (Marlene Dietrich) whose husband Jonathan is accused of murdering.

The Production

Stage Fright takes its source material from the 1947 novel Man Running by Selwyn Jepson and was adapted for the screen by Whitfield Cook, Ranald MacDougall, and Alma Reville (Hitchcock), with additional dialogue by James Bridie.

Stage Fright began production under Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein’s Transatlantic Pictures, founded in 1946. Their first two films, Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949), released through Warner Brothers were box-office failures.

Stage Fright was shot at Elstree Studios in London, with location shooting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Scala Theatre. Production was completed at Warner Brothers.

The Cast

Decked out in glistening diamonds and creations by Christian Dior, Marlene Dietrich steals the show as Charlotte Inwood, the glamorous stage actress and singer who entangles Jonathan Cooper in her seductive web.

Charlotte Inwood could have been stereotypical and dull but in Dietrich’s hands is fascinating and electric. Just when we think we’ve got her number, she unveils another layer of her personality.

The cinematography adds to this effect as the lens ambiguously caress her.

According to Hitchcock’s Heroines by Caroline Young, Hitchcock knew of Dietrich’s technical prowess and let her have free reign of her camera angles and lighting.

Because of this it almost appears as if Dietrich is in an entirely different movie than her co-stars, as her shots are in soft focus and every inch the star treatment – think von Sternberg.

Surprisingly, the effect is not jarring. It aids in our perception of her character.

Charlotte Inwood might just top Endora from Bewitched with the many names she calls Doris Tinsdale, Eve’s alias, with everything from Phyllis to Nancy.

Her disconscern with something as “trivial” as her maid’s name is both amusing and telling.

Because Charlotte Inwood is a singer and actress it gave Marlene Dietrich the opportunity to wear amazing gowns add some tunes to her repertoire.

In the film, Dietrich sings “The Laziest Gal in Town,” written by Cole Porter for Stage Fright, and friend Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.” These songs would become part of Dietrich’s famous one-woman stage shows which blossomed in the mid-1950’s.

We experience most of Stage Fright through the eyes of Eve Gill.

Fresh off her Oscar win for Johnny Belinda, Jane Wyman has a likable quality that corresponds well with Eve’s character, bringing this curious, daring girl to the screen through her spirited performance.

Eve takes us along with her as she adopts a guise and Cockney accent while gathering evidence to indict Charlotte Inwood with the murder.

Although Wyman felt overshadowed by Dietrich (sources say she would break down in tears after seeing the rushes) we have to root for her in order for the story to work – and we do.

We feel the fear of her ruse being discovered by Detective Smith (Michael Wilding) whom she befriends and her confusion as she begins to fall for him.

Richard Todd convincingly portrays the confusion and mad desperation of Jonathan Cooper – a man on the run with no where to turn except to Eve and her family.

Beneath his stalwart quality, Todd gives off an unsettling edge, where one can imagine something darker.

Todd was hot stuff at this point in his career, having won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer of 1949, an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for his performance in the The Hasty Heart (1949).

With his talent and fame, it is clear why Hitchcock would be eager to snatch him up for Stage Fright.

See all three leads in action here – if cou can find them beneath all the feathers 🙂

The Supporting Players

Stage Fright has been described by some as Hitchcock’s family oriented picture. Eve has a loving, supportive father (Alastair Sim) who tries to help her out of the many jams she gets herself into.

Although Eve’s father and mother (Sybil Thorndike) don’t always get along, you can sense their love for Eve.

These two bring an undeniable magic to the screen in their scenes together as they address each other indirectly and show their affectionate disdain for one another.

Hitchcock was intrigued by this project since it afforded him the opportunity to return to London, his first time since leaving for Hollywood in 1939, to be near his daughter Patricia – a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Patricia did some stunt driving for Jane Wyman and also has a small part in the film as Eve’s friend, Chubby Bannister. How’s that for a name?

Conclusion

I greatly enjoy this film. It emanates warmth, charm, and wit while delivering the director’s signature mystery and suspense.

Stage Fright won’t make you hold onto your seat, but it just might surprise you as familiar Hitchcockian themes present themselves in a cleverly told manner that was very much ahead of its time.

What do you think about Stage Fright? No spoilers, please!

This post is my contribution to The Distraction Blogathon hosted by Rebecca at Taking Up Room. Thanks for letting me participate, Rebecca!

Head on over HERE for more distractions from the silver screen!

How to Make a High Ridin’ Western in 5 Easy Steps: Go West, Young Lady (1941)

Trouble’s a brewin’ in Headstone…

Accosted mercilessly by unruly outlaw, Killer Pete, the weary townspeople turn to the outside in seeking aid.

A new sheriff, Tex Miller (Glenn Ford), aims to rid the town of its menace. What he doesn’t realize is that Belinda “Bill” Pendergast (Penny Singleton) has plans of her own up her sleeve to restore peace to Headstone.

Unfortunately for Tex, it will take him a few pies in the face before he finally gets the message.

1. Hire Unflappable Leads

Penny Singleton, darling of Columbia’s Blondie franchise, nabs the title role as Belinda “Bill” Pendergast, a gun slingin’, pie throwin’, high kickin’ gal if there ever was one. Bill is unafraid to get her hands dirty, whether performing an impromptu dance number, devising a clever ambush, or marching into enemy territory.

Let’s just say, when trouble comes knocking, you want her on your side.

Columbia Studios had a gold mine with Penny’s Blondie, casting her and Arthur Lake in a series of twenty-eight (!) films from 1938-1950. Go West, Young Lady is one of two films she made apart from the series during that time.

Glenn Ford follows up as Tex Miller, the brave young sheriff willing to save Headstone from its perpetrator.

Ford was just two years into his Columbia contract and fresh as a bright new penny.

Go West, Young Lady was his second western, a genre he loved and would go on to make twenty-six in his long and varied career. His propensity for the great outdoors, grace on a horse, and ability to portray no-nonsense, resolute characters in extraordinary circumstances made Ford a natural for the genre.

Ford’s Sheriff Miller is a reliable man, always on the heels of Killer Pete, and doing what needs to be done for the good of the town. Once he meets Bill he knows she’s the gal for him.

If only she would stay out of his way in capturing Pete, or vice versa!

Faint glimmers of the world weariness that mark Ford’s career come through in his performance. More so, the film gave him the chance to demonstrate his comedic talents which he would return to in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

On screen, Ford and Singleton display a seamless, easy rapport.

Just a year prior to Go West, Young Lady, Ford appeared alongside Singleton in Blondie Plays Cupid. Though that film did not pair them as love interests, it must have helped their working relationship.

In Go West, Young Lady, their sweet and innocent relationship is of an “on again, off again” nature that is absolutely adorable.

2. Stir in a Variety of Crowd-Pleasing Personalities

Filling out our cast is the inimitable Ann Miller as Lola, the saloon girl of the Crystal Palace, Charlie Ruggles as Bill’s trusty Uncle Jim, Allen Jenkins as Hank, Headstone’s scaredy cat deputy, Onslow Stevens as Lola’s tough guy boyfriend, Tom Hannegan, and Jed Prouty as Judge Harmon.

Allen Jenkins

3. Pepper the Story with Plenty of Extras (and a doggie, too!)

Although Go West, Young Lady is not a Blondie film, it bears the same writers (Karen DeWolf and Richard Flournoy), producer (Robert Sparks), and director (Frank R. Strayer).

The shenanigans Bill gets herself in and out of wouldn’t be out of place in a Blondie film. While I can’t entirely see Arthur Lake in Glenn Ford’s role, there are moments that would inescapably fit Dagwood’s character.

Fun bit of trivia: Producer Robert Sparks and Penny Singleton married in 1941, a union which lasted until his death in 1963.

As you can already tell from the title of the movie, the ladies get involved in a big way in this western.

Not only does Bill take matters into her own hands, she dukes it out with Lola in a tough and lengthy catfight, which leads to a great showdown between the women of the town and Killer Pete and his gang.

I’m glad the writers didn’t leave Bill alone in her pursuits. Her companion Waffles the dog has an important involvement in unraveling the plot. I love when writers add animals to the story, don’t you?

4. Don’t Skimp on the Wardrobe

Here’s one name I wasn’t expecting to see on the crew – Walter Plunkett, costume designer extraordinaire (Gone With the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain). Plunkett lends his usual brand of excellence to this gratifying B programmer.

Is it just me or does Penny’s bonnet look awfully familiar? Even the two tone of the ribbon is similar to Scarlett’s hat from Paris.

5. Let It Sing (and Dance)

In between the action, Go West, Young Lady intersperses a few musical numbers. And as to be expected, Ann Miller taps her way across the stage and bar top of the saloon in her impressive, fast as a speeding bullet signature style.

One of the highlights of the film is when Allen Jenkins joins Miller, in spurs, for a comical routine “I Wish I Were a Singing Cowboy.”

Penny Singleton also adds to the musical scene with her singing and dancing talents, while “The King of Western Swing” Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys contribute a charming authenticity and country sound of the Old West with the traditional “Ida Red.”

Conclusion

Don’t go looking for any deep social messages like others of the genre. You won’t find them here. Go West, Young Lady is simply a feel good western of the cozy, amusing variety that wraps up in a quick seventy minutes.

Due to Penny Singleton’s persona and fame at this point in her career and feisty Ann Miller as her foil, Go West, Young Lady offers a female centric western, while the musical interludes and familiar faces add a delightful medley of spices to the tried and true recipe for some good ol’ cowboy stew.

This post is my contribution to The Glenn Ford Blogathon hosted by Hamlette’s Soliloquy and Coffee, Classics and Craziness. Thank you for letting me participate, ladies! Head on over to their blogs to read more about the talented Glenn Ford!

Prince of Players (1955): A Shakespearean Ode to the Beauty and Pain of Life

Edwin Booth lived a life few can ever imagine. Born into a renowned theatrical family, he inherits both his father’s genius for stage acting and the demons that plagued him. His success on the stage stirs the envy of his brother, John Wilkes, driving him to a terrible deed that will echo throughout history.

As personal tragedy strikes, will Edwin be able to weather the turbulence in his life or will the angry winds overtake him?

Prince of Players tells this story.

20th Century Fox’s lavish production gains its source material from the best-selling 1953 biography of the same name by Eleanor Ruggles.

The Patriarch – Junius Brutus Booth

Raymond Massey introduces us to the world of Shakespeare when the curtains rise on Prince of Players. Massey doesn’t just play the character of Junius Brutus, the famed, eccentric nineteenth century actor, he becomes him.

Massey carries himself with an air of grandeur as I’m sure a great Shakespearean actor from the past would, and when he is in a drunken stupor and young Edwin must drag him home and tend to him, his affecting performance brings the gravitas of the film to its center, setting in motion the battles Edwin must face.

The Prince of Players – Edwin Booth

Talk about perfect casting, in the 1950’s, Richard Burton was busy establishing himself as a Shakespearean actor, being hailed as the next Olivier, and completed a season with the Old Vic including a successful run of his popular “moody, virile, baleful” Hamlet.

Richard Burton is impeccable in the role of Edwin Booth. I am of the opinion that no other actor of the time could do the complex man justice while fitting seamlessly into the nineteenth century setting.

Sure, Burton is no American. But he possessed a mesmerizing presence, intensity, tortured quality, and a mastery of Shakespeare that even Olivier praised. Also, the way he can hold an audience without saying a word is something to behold/experience.

The Traitor – John Wilkes Booth

John Derek plays the infamous John Wilkes Booth. Since the film focuses on Edwin, we only get a brief outline of John Wilkes and his nefarious motives and actions, but what is there, is done well.

Derek’s characterization contrasts perfectly with Burton. Derek is outspoken, flashy, with an unbridled madness, whereas Burton is quiet, self possessed, and portrays an inward struggle.

The Peacemaker – Mary Devlin

Maggie McNamara is the Juliet who tames Burton’s Romeo with her gentle, comforting presence. You can sense the belief she has in Edwin’s abilities as an actor and as a man.

Burton’s trust in her to be there for him and his love for her is quite moving as he’s had to go it alone for most of his life and he cherishes the relationship that they share. The connection between the two is beautifully portrayed and convincing.

The Bard – William Shakespeare

Prince of Players treats its audience to monologues from Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Edwin Booth’s signature role as Hamlet, among others.

Since playwright Moss Hart is on board as screenwriter and long time screenwriter Phillip Dunne is at the director’s helm, these scenes don’t feel like add-ons, necessary evils, nor do they stop the action. On the contrary, rather they add relevant poignancy due to their thoughtful placement in the narrative.

For instance when Junius does not want to go on stage, Edwin gives his father a pep talk and pleads with him, “I’m proud of you, father. They’ll be seeing you for the first time. They built this theater for you. You’re going on tour where no great actor has been seen before. They’ve waited a year for your coming.” To which Junius responds positively.

While on stage though, Junius begins to forget his lines, leading to this heart wrenching scene while Junius and Edwin are playing Richard III.

Richard (Massey):

And thy assistance is King Richard seated.
But shall we wear these glories for a day,
Or shall they last and we rejoice in them?


Buckingham (Burton):
Still live they, and forever let them last.

Richard (Massey):
Ah, Buckingham, now do I play the touch,
To try if thou be current gold indeed:
Young Edward lives…

(Junius, forgetting his lines, is prompted by Edwin)

Think now what I would speak.

Buckingham (Burton):
Say on, my loving lord.

(Whispering admiringly and sadly) Say on, my loving lord.

(Another prompt from Edwin)

Richard (Massey):
Why, Buckingham, I say I would be king.


Buckingham (Burton):
Why so you are, my thrice-renownèd lord.


Richard (Massey):
Ha! Am I king?

(Searchingly, to his son) Edwin, am I…king?

The Supporting Players

The reliable Charles Bickford gives a solid performance as Dave Prescott, the Booth’s crusty, demanding manager who over time becomes their trusted friend.

Elizabeth Sellars plays Asia Booth, the sister caught between the opposing brothers, and gives a sincere portrayal of concern and care.

Esteemed stage actress, director, producer Eva La Gallienne is credited as the technical consultant for the Shakespearean scenes. She also appears opposite Burton as a fiery Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, marking her film debut.

The Score – Bernard Herrmann

Director Phillip Dune chose Bernard Herrmann to provide the score for Prince of Players based on his experience with the composer on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and as usual, Herrmann’s stirring music fits like hand in glove.

According to Herrmann’s biographer, Steven Smith, since childhood Herrmann had nurtured a love of English literature and theater and relished working on the project.

The opening titles sound a fanfare of trumpets and a dignified American march that sets the tone for what’s to come – the grandeur of the theater.

The music takes a different turn as the film goes on underlining the overwhelming drama. Herrmann’s cues resemble Vertigo in the scenes between Junius and Edwin, and Herrmann nails the psychological tensions that belie their relationship.

The love theme for Edwin and Mary is bittersweet and portrays the blissful love and devotion they share.

The Visual Style

Prince of Players handsomely recreates the mid-late nineteenth century through Mary Wills’s costumes (Hans Christian Andersen) and Lyle Wheeler’s art direction (Gone With the Wind), and includes a recreation of the fateful night at Ford’s Theatre. Charles G. Clarke’s cinematography (Miracle on 34th Street) has some particularly striking moments and is very appealing.

Conclusion

Prince of Players is a moving depiction of Edwin Booth’s early-mid life and the emotional pain that befell him as he endured a miserable childhood, struggled to maintain his own sanity and the guilt and shame of his family name, and the ray of light that helped him overcome.

In this way, Prince of Players is a fine study of the struggle of managing and overcoming family ghosts and one’s own personal demons, the importance of purpose, and finally, acceptance of life and that purpose.

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

Edwin’s daughter, Edwina Booth Grossman, on her famous father and his defining role:

…It was long before I could thoroughly disassociate him from the character of Hamlet, it seemed so entirely a part of himself. Indeed, in that impersonation, I think, his confined nature and pent-up sorrows found vent. He told me that the philosophy of Hamlet had taught him to bear life’s vicissitudes.

If that isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is.

To buy or not to buy

You can find this film here on Amazon. Hopefully one day the powers that be will restore Prince of Players to its former glory and present it as it was originally filmed in Cinemascope. But for now, any form of this hidden gem is worth seeing. Enjoy!

(Note: I am not an Amazon affiliate.)

About Edwin Booth

Enjoy this informative video and learn more about the Booth family’s history while touring Edwin’s beautiful home in which he established The Players – a private social club bringing together creatives and industrialists – in Gramercy Park, New York.

This is my contribution to The Biopic Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood.

Thanks for having me, Annette! Head on over and read the rest of the entries here.

Hot Water (1924): Harold Lloyd’s Thanksgiving-ish Comedy I Didn’t Know I Needed

Let’s play a game…What comes to mind when you think of turkeys, mother-in-laws, and car rides? For Americans there is only one answer – Thanksgiving.

In Hot Water, Harold Lloyd does battle with the three trappings that come with the iconic holiday. Although it’s never stated that this is the film’s setting, in my mind it is a match made in the cinematic heavens – so much so that Hot Water should be as essential to the classic film fan’s Thanksgiving celebration as pumpkin pie.

My path into silent film began with Charlie Chaplin, Metropolis (1927), Buster Keaton, and then curiosity struck me (in the form of a blogathon) as to who this fellow Harold Lloyd was. Next thing I know, I’m in Hot Water and instant love with the plucky comedian who donned horn rimmed glasses and a warm, friendly smile.

Hot Water unfolds in an episodic fashion with each of the segments being able to stand on its own, while also fitting surprisingly well into the overall narrative. Harold Lloyd thought he could release the segments separately as two-reelers if the film was not successful.

Spoiler alert: He needn’t have worried! The film was loved by both critics and audiences and tied for fourth place with Girl Shy for most popular film of 1924 with Hot Water inching slightly ahead at the box office.

It all begins when Harold is taken by surprise by a pair of “soft-boiled” eyes, those of Jobyna Ralston, Lloyd’s leading lady of six films. Next we see Harold, he is picking up groceries – a clear indication he’s tied the knot – for Wifey (Ralston) which leads him to an encounter with a live turkey. Off on a streetcar he goes with too many bundles to carry, plus that troublesome turkey…

Domestic bliss is quickly interrupted by a visit from the insufferable in-laws, Wifey’s mother (Josephine Crowell) and two brothers (Charles Stevenson, Mackey McBan).

Crowell is the ultimate embodiment of a bossy mother-in-law. Imposing and judgmental, her curmudgeonly ways make us feel for poor Harold as he can’t even be comfortable in his own home (especially after his exhausting trip home on a crowded streetcar – not to mention the turkey).

Crowell’s expressive face says so much with a side glance or a scowl and I particularly love when she deviously, but hilariously, plays on Harold’s fears as the film goes on.

On the other hand, Wifey is sweet and loving as could be, though she does give Harold some grief with her mile long grocery list. Ralston has such lovely chemistry with Lloyd and the adoration they feel for each other is evident, leading to a very funny car ride scene in their brand new “Butterfly 6.” Harold, so overcome by love, takes his eyes off the road, only to leave them on Wifey and the car is left to navigate the road on its own. You can imagine what happens next.

The third segment of Hot Water is when everything goes off the rails and is, more or less, a screwball comedy. Not to give it all away but it includes chloroform, sleep walking, and priceless pantomime from a guilt ridden and fear stricken Harold who wrongly assumes he’s killed his mother-in-law.

While Hot Water was released during the golden years of Harold Lloyd’s career, today the film is not as respected by historians as his other output, although at showings it is eaten up by audiences. One of the reasons could be because of the formatting and the lack of a strong storyline since it is primarily a “gag picture.” However, the strength of this film lies in doing just that – providing gags from beginning to end that build on themselves sequentially, leaving the audience roaring with laughter that the concept of a storyline becomes a distant memory as much as a troublesome necessity.

 

A New York Times critic from 1924 summed the film up like this:

“Hilarity is rife in Harold Lloyd’s new picture . . . Although this production is not as subtle as ‘Girl Shy,’ it has a fund of original and ludicrous ideas, which as they are worked out defy one to keep a straight face even when the action drops to nonsensical depths. Humor is cleverly coupled with the absurd, and as the later may appear while one is still bubbling with merriment at the former, it is apt to inspire a fresh explosion of mirth, because of the utterly ridiculous situations in which Mr. Lloyd as a young husband becomes involved. Hence this hilarious contribution probably will cause as much mental sunshine as ‘Girl Shy’.”

Since viewing Hot Water I’ve seen other Harold Lloyd films, including Girl Shy. It will be interesting to see if things change over time, but for right now Hot Water holds a special place in my heart, and sticking with my theme, I’m grateful for the “mental sunshine” that it and Harold have brought me.

What is your favorite Harold Lloyd film? And how are you celebrating the inauguration of National Silent Movie Day?

This post is my contribution to The Silent Film Day Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Silent-ology given in honor of the first ever National Silent Movie Day, September 29, 2021! Thank you for having me, ladies! Check out this page for more silent film goodness.