Stream Leading Ladies (When There Were Leading Ladies) IV

Merle Oberon

These Three 1936 Based on Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour. Directed by William Wyler. School friends Karen Wright (Merle Oberon) and Martha Dobie (Miriam Hopkins) turn Karen’s farm into a girls school backed by wealthy Amelia Tilford (Alma Kruger). Her out of control granddaughter, Mary (Bonita Granville), is enrolled. Karen and local doctor Joe Cardin (Joel McCrae) begin to date unaware Martha is in love with him. When Joe falls asleep in a chair waiting for Karen, he’s seen by Martha’s aunt who jumps to the wrong conclusion.

The confrontation is overheard by a student who unwillingly shares it with Mary. Ms. Tilford then gets an earful of malicious lies. Blackmail keeps the truth hidden. The scandal results in the school’s closing and Joe’s dismissal; lives left in wreckage.

Inspired by the true story of two Scottish school teachers whose lives were destroyed when they were falsely accused of engaging in a lesbian relationship. The Hays Code prevented even a hint of this in the film. The New York Times declared, “Miss Hellman’s job of literary carpentry is little short of brilliant.” A 1961 remake starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner reverted back to the original nature of the lie. Free with Amazon Prime.

The Divorce of Lady X 1938 Adapted from the play Counsel’s Opinion by Gilbert Wakefield. Directed by Tim Whelan. British interpretation of a screwball comedy. Stuck in thick London fog after a party, madcap socialite Leslie Steele (Merle Oberon) worms her way into the hotel suite of conservative divorce lawyer Everard Logan (Laurence Olivier). Nothing he tries succeeds in getting rid of her, so he offers the bed and sleeps in an adjoining room. In the morning, much to Logan’s regret, she’s gone.

Leslie tells her grandfather she’s affianced to Logan. He in turn shares that the lawyer is arguing a case in his courtroom that afternoon. The socialite visits and is taken aback to observe Logan tear apart a woman for adultery. The rest of the film is a push/pull of character except for a subplot involving mistaken identity. Everard either becomes clay in Leslie’s hands or finds his true self- depending on how you look at it. A remake of the 1933 film, Counsel’s Opinion. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Wuthering Heights 1939 Based on the novel by Emily Bronte. Directed by William Wyler. One of our great romances. Star crossed lovers Catherine Earnshaw (Mere Oberon) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) were raised together. Born to the respectable household, Cathy is drawn to and intrigued by the wild boy her father found on the streets during a business trip and brought home to be raised as his own. Her brother Hindley (Hugh Williams), on the other hand, is immediately jealous and hostile.

Cathy and Heathcliff meet secretly and grow up in love. One night spying on a grand party at the well-heeled Lintons, she falls over a garden wall and is taken in by the household. The wounded young woman spends months at her neighbors’ during which Edgar Linton (David Niven) proposes. Back home, Cathy chatters to the cook about Edgar. She  flippantly says it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff. He overhears and immediately leaves. Cathy regrets her words too late. Edgar steps in to court her and, dazzled, she marries.

Heathcliff returns two year later, wealthy and elegant. He buys Wuthering Heights and to spite Cathy, courts Edgar’s sister Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Everyone suffers. Revenge is bitter. Love lives on enchanted.

Best Film, Best Cinematography Academy Awards. Wyler filmed one scene 72 times without giving any actual direction. Finally, Olivier is said to have exclaimed “For God’s sake, I did it sitting down. I did it with a smile. I did it with a smirk. I did it scratching my ear. I did it with my back to the camera. How do you want me to do it?” Wyler’s retort was “I want it better.” Free with Amazon Prime.

Night Song 1948 Directed by John Cromwell. Socialite Cathy Mallory (Merle Oberon) becomes enamored of blind cocktail pianist Dan Evans (Dana Andrews) when he plays some of his own compositions. Hoping to help, she returns to the club but is told by bandleader Chick Morgan (Hoagy Carmichael) that the musician has quit. Cathy tracks him down and arranges an ostensibly accidental park encounter. She tells him she’s poor and also blind.

With the aid of companion Miss Willey (Ethel Barrymore), she rents a modest apartment with a piano so that Dan can finish his concerto. She then sponsors a Carnegie Hall competition which he wins fair and square. The money enables Dan to have an operation restoring his vision. He meets and is drawn to Cathy Mallory. The pianist must choose between the “two” women. Predictable, but not without its moments. Andrews wore special contact lenses that made his eyes appear damaged and made it impossible for him to see. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Norma Shearer

The Divorcee 1930 Based on the novel Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott. Directed by Robert Leonard. The musical chair relationships of a New York “in crowd.” Paul’s (Conrad Nagel) in love with Jerry (Norma Shearer) who instead marries Ted (Chester Morris). Despairing and drunk, Paul crashes his car, disfiguring his passenger’s face and marries her out of pity. Years later, Ted has an affair and the couple divorces. In a loveless marriage, Paul declares himself to Jerry. The two plan a future but old feelings hold sway complicating things.

Shearer, Irving Thalberg’s wife, was not believed to have enough sex appeal to be cast in the lead. Only after the actress arranged a special photo session with portrait photographer George Hurrell and Thalberg saw the result did he change his mind. Rent on Amazon Prime.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street can be found in Stream Films ABOUT Notable Authors III (Poets)  Shearer plays Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The Women 1939 Based on the Clare Booth Luce play. Directed by George Cukor. Highly recommended. A scathing look at women’s (1930s) pampered lives and clawing power struggles, cleverly written and filmed with not a man in sight. (Even the pets are female.) Contented upscale wife and mother Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) learns through a blabbing manicurist (who got it from Mary’s gossiping cousin, Sylvia Fowler – Rosalind Russell) that Mary’s husband Stephen is having an affair. His mistress is sexpot perfume counter saleswoman Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford), out for all she can get.

Mary’s wise mother takes her away to calm down, but she returns to discover Stephen’s now keeping Crystal and immediately packs for a Reno divorce. On her way to a Nevada ranch, she meets flamboyant Countess de Lave (Mary Boland), tough cookie chorus girl Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard), and shy young friend Peggy Day (Joan Fontaine), pushed into divorce by Sylvia. Eventually Sylvia joins the pack. Circumstances vary, sisterhood is sympathetic, sparks fly…but not as much as when Mary returns to New York and sees the truth past her pride.

“The New York Times reported on Cukor’s strategies for managing a cast of 135 women led by three famously demanding stars. He described one technique for dealing with precedence: He made sure that all three stars were called to set simultaneously, either by sending separate staff to knock on their dressing room doors at the identical moment, or by calling `Ready ladies!’ so all could hear.”  Terrific cast. A hoot. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Featured photo: Public domain, copyright not renewed. Merle Oberon and Sir Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights

About Alix Cohen (872 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.