February 29th, 2008

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Leaping with Lombard



In honor of today -- February 29, 2008 -- being "leap year day," I wanted to find a photo of Carole Lombard...leaping. Alas, this is as close as I could get, as Carole, dressed in tennis whites, looks as if she's ready to leap over the net (though her partner in this pic, tennis champion and close friend Alice Marble, doesn't quite seem to share her enthusiasm).

Carole experienced eight leap year days during her life, Feb. 29ths every four years from 1912 to 1940. I've never come across any account of things she may have done on those days, so instead we'll examine things from another perspective -- what films of hers may have been playing in theaters on Feb. 29 from 1928 to 1940. Release dates are taken from Frederick W. Ott's fine book, "The Films Of Carole Lombard."

Wednesday, Feb. 29, 1928: Lombard was a part of Mack Sennett's troupe at this time, and two of his films released that month included her in the cast. The first, "The Best Man," starring Billy Bevan and future Three Stooges foil Vernon Dent, was released on Feb. 19. She figured more prominently in the other one, "The Swim Princess," issued a week later, and in fact plays the title role -- the school's star swimmer, arrested for speeding on the way to a big meet. She's sprung from jail and arrives in time for the final event of the day, but is detained by a pursuing sheriff. It's up to diminutive Daphne Pollard to save the day. "The Swim Princess" is notable for a few two-strip Technicolor sequences and that future famed director Frank Capra helped write the screenplay. It's the only movie where both he and Lombard collaborated.

Monday, Feb. 29, 1932: By now known as Carole Lombard (or William Powell's wife) and a contract player at Paramount, her latest film in theaters on this date, having opened on Jan. 30, was the drama "No One Man," co-starring Ricardo Cortez and Paul Lukas, both shown below:



"No One Man" is one of Lombard's more obscure vehicles, and if reviews are accurate, there's good reason. Variety said she was handicapped by both the character she plays and the camera -- "The lens has been none too kind to her here," its critic wrote. More recently, Hal Erickson in the All Movie Guide commented, "If Carole Lombard had continued starring in dreck like 'No One Man,' chances are that she wouldn't have attained the legendary status she presently enjoys in the annals of movie history."

To show just how relatively minor a film this was, look at the schedule for Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, Calif. It didn't get to showing "No One Man" until late March, and then it lasted all of one day, March 26. In contrast, the films the Stanford showed immediately before and afterward -- "The Beast Of The City" with Walter Huston and Jean Harlow, and "Shanghai Express" with Marlene Dietrich -- each had three-day engagements.

Saturday, Feb. 29, 1936: Universal was just about ready to release a film with Lombard, on loan from Paramount -- but it wasn't "My Man Godfrey," which wasn't issued until September. Rather, it was "Love Before Breakfast," slated for release on March 9. Chances are that Lombard's previous film, the Paramount comedy "Hands Across The Table," was long past, as it had been released in October 1935. Indeed, the Stanford had shown it on Nov. 11-12.

Thursday, Feb. 29, 1940: Now Hollywood royalty as Mrs. Clark Gable, Lombard's latest film, the steely nursing drama "Vigil In The Night," was in theaters, having opened on Feb. 9.



Directed by the great George Stevens, "Vigil" received generally good reviews, such as this one from the Motion Picture Herald: "'Vigil In The Night' is splendidly produced and inescapably effective as a document. It is not in any way a pleasant picture, nor is it intended to be. Carole Lombard gives a commanding portrayal of the austerely fervent nurse who shelters her sister and struggles on to exemplify the ideals of her profession."

"Vigil" didn't play at the Stanford until March 31, and it ran for four days. However, it was the bottom half of a bizarre double feature; top billing went to a completely different, and far more cheery, picture, "The Road To Singapore" featuring prior Lombard cohorts Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour and future Lombard (radio) co-star Bob Hope.

And speaking of leap year tie-ins, one of Lombard's directors, William Wellman of "Nothing Sacred" fame, was a leap year baby (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/60421.html). Read the entry and you'll find out why Wellman was unable to experience a birthday until he turned eight.
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Jazz up your lingerie!

As a leap year gift to you, check out this excerpt from Ernst Lubitsch's 1931 masterpiece, "The Smiling Lieutenant," now part of a collection of Lubitsch musicals recently released on DVD (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/51504.html).

This features Claudette Colbert, as the leader of an all-girl orchestra, and Miriam Hopkins, as the princess of a fictional small country. (Carole Lombard sought in vain to be cast in the Hopkins role.) Colbert's character loves the dashing lieutenant of the film's title, portrayed by star Maurice Chevalier...but due to a mixup, he ends up married to the rather strait-laced Hopkins character, and it's not working out. What to do?

Well, Colbert's character visits Hopkins and decides to bow out gracefully -- but before she does, she compares Miriam's rather dowdy undergarments to the bland sheet music near the princess' piano. Claudette's advice? "Jazz Up Your Lingerie"!

Hopkins indeed heeds her suggestion -- goodbye, Victorian underwear; hello, step-ins!



The clip runs a bit over eight minutes, and the song doesn't appear until the five-minute mark, but it gives you a feel for these characters and for the inimitable Lubitsch "touch." It's simultaneously charming, funny and outrageous. Enjoy!
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