Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Last night I watched Dinner at Eight - a long film in its day, running at almost two hours.
I haven't seen it since I was in my twenties, and watching old movies again now, I'm always surprised how grown-up they are. I used to think they were anachronisms - pretend people living pretend lives, but the good ones really do resonate.
Dinner at Eight was particularly apposite because it was made shortly after the Wall Street Crash (it was released 1933, which must mean the script had been written closer to the Crash) and very much deals with the effect of the the financial collapse on business, who became the winners and who the losers in the clear-up afterwards. My favourite line came near the beginning when Lionel Barrymore is talking to Marie Dressler (who I want to be when grow old).
Marie plays a retired actress who has been living in Europe and who has returned to America to try and salvage her dwindling finances. Lionel sighs and points to the window: "those are your financiers, sitting out there on benches" (I paraphrase, but you get the idea. It reminded me of recent BBC footage of suited cityboys gathered disconsolately outside the pubs of London's Square Mile).
Of course Harlow was wonderful - I'm still trying to decide what makes her so sexy - I don't think she's beautiful and her figure isn't voluptuous like Munroe, but she has such a fleshy presence that even when she's sounding off like a fishwife or putting the final touches to her make-up you're always aware of her body.
Finally before I drone on, one note of irony: Billy Burke, who plays the wife of the shipping magnate whose business is sinking, only returned to Hollywood to make some money after her husband Florenz Ziegfeld lost everything in the Crash. Which makes the scene where she switches from silly socialite to loving-wife-on-an-economy-drive all the more poignant. I couldn't help feeling she'd been there and done that for real.