Jun 20 2007

Patriarchy blaming with Louis Jourdan

Under the weather for a couple of days, and discovering that I had omitted to schedule my Netflix program to accommodate this contingency — Netflix timing is something of an art form — I turned lemons into lemonade. That’s right, I took to my bed and absorbed, with a few bowls of sesame noodles, about 6,542 20th century Hollywood movies on the Turner Classic Movie channel. So that I could kid myself that this was an appropriate use of my valuable spinster aunt time, I took notes, in the interest of patriarchy blaming, on the sexist, misogynist themes that continue to rage unchecked in popular culture today.

Imagine my delight when TCM turned out to be ‘celebrating the birthday’ of original Continental gigolover Louis Jourdan with a marathon of his most misogynist films. All the titles revolve around vulnerable women who are exploited in various rapey ways, not just by Jourdan’s stereotypical dashing rake character, but by nearly every other male who stumbles into the shot. Taken as a group, the films describe a nightmarish dystopia in which white dudes [1] roam the earth partaking of life’s sumptuous pageant while women subsist as a subclass of passive sex minions for male use and abuse. Too bad they describe the real world, too.

Spoilers, of course, ensue, so if you have been wildly anticipating your own Louis Jourdan retrospective, avert your eyes now.

My bedridden screenings commenced with Madame Bovary (Vincente Minnelli, 1949), which film reduces Flaubert’s fairly virtuosic bit of writing to a melodrama about a scheming, unfaithful wife. That this film should have completely missed the mark is evidenced by its tagline, “Whatever it is that French women have, Madame Bovary has more of it!” Oo la la! To make Emma’s infidelities appear more reprehensible, Charles Bovary is portrayed as a nice guy with a heart-o-gold rather than a stupid, bumbling clod; Minnelli even gives him a spine when he morphs the famous scene in which Bovary botches the operation on Hippolyte’s club foot to one in which he nobly refuses to perform a surgery for which he is unqualified.

Curiously, Minnelli’s Madame Bovary opens with the famous obscenity trial in a scene where James Mason as Gustav Flaubert explains to mid-century moviegoers why they should be sympathetic to such a loose-moraled heroine. He falls a bit short of a feminist statement when he argues, essentially, that he blames society (what Betty Friedan would later call ‘the feminine mystique’) for the real-life existence of thousands of Emma Bovarys, but these remarks reveal that it apparently did not elude even Judy Garland’s mascara-wearing ex-husband that women are the recipients of, on the whole, a pretty bum deal.

Next up was Julie (1956): Doris Day is a naive trophy wife stalked by her jealous psychokiller/ brilliant concert pianist husband (Jourdan). Relentlessly pursued through the streets of San Francisco by the murderously raging Jourdan, Doris is from start to finish a helpless prey animal whose fate rests entirely in the hands of an assortment of male authority figures. On the upside, the film presents an accurate picture of the minimal legal recourse available to American women who are stalked by homicidal French playboys. But this is canceled out by the final scenes, where Doris, a stewardess, has to land the plane (Louis Jourdan has shot all the pilots, naturally). The extraordinarily long ‘No no, I couldn’t possibly!’ ‘But you must!’ exchange reassures the audience that, even though she’s about to do something heroic, Doris is sufficiently possessed of womanly debility. The (male) air traffic controllers, using Doris ‘as just another instrument’, guide the phlying phallus into the airfield and call her ‘honey.’

The final shot is a close-up in which Doris emotes both shock and blandness. Also amusing is the scene where she has about 13 seconds to get away from Louis, but stops to pack a bag first.

This was a truly terrible movie, and I performed a joyous re-fluffing-of-the-pillows to celebrate its conclusion. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

In the utterly worthless romantic comedy The Swan (1956), Grace Kelly is a princess who has to marry royal asshole Alec Guinness (hot virgin teen paired off with experienced old dude? Check.) but uh oh she is secretly in love with Louis Jourdan, playing against type as an intellectual commoner.

I can well understand the global fascination for Grace Kelly. She is the patriarchal ideal of womanhood: a consummate cipher. She possesses the immaculate beauty of a perfume model, her depths could be plumbed with a toad’s eyelash, and her perennial limpid virginity makes her appealingly vulnerable to fantasies of conquest.

Even if you ignore its vapid, misogynist fairy tale premise, The Swan contains no philosophic value whatsoever; I bother to mention it only because of the occasional comedic contributions from 60’s TV scene-stealer Estelle Winwood as the dotty old aunt, and because of some truly hideous rococo interiors. Next!

I’d seen the mind-numbingly awful The V.I.P.s (1963) before, so you’d think I’d have had the presence of mind to switch to Wheel of Fortune or something when the titles started rolling. But an imp of the perverse compelled me to press on: a blustercluck of stars headlined by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are stuck overnight in an airport hotel; slices of life ensue. Taylor is leaving her possessive, self-absorbed, gun-wielding zillionaire husband (Burton) for a penniless international playboy (Jourdan). In the pivotal scene, Burton smashes Taylor into a door and snarls “now you know how much I love you!” Bleeding profusely, Taylor looks gratefully into his eyes, and nods when he asks if she forgives him. Their repulsive relationship blossoms anew when Burton gets shitfaced and threatens to commit suicide; poor Louis Jourdan is left at the gate, a non-starter.

Mercifully I snoozed through most of Gigi (1958), but not, alas, before hearing pervy old gasbag Maurice Chevalier grunt through his repellent theme song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Gigi, of course, is another of those stupid stories in which a worldly, handsome stud gives up his sexually lucrative, envied-by-all bachelorhood to marry a vivacious teen virgin who has blossomed before his eyes into ‘a woman’. At one point in this lighthearted musical, leering pedophile Chevalier congratulates Jourdan on having inspired, for the first time in his mackdaddy career, a woman to commit suicide. “May it be the first of many, ha ha ha!”

Another romantic comedy, Made In Paris (1964) tickles the funnybone right off the bat when Ann-Margret fends off date-rapist Chad Everett by clocking him with a large kidney-shaped ceramic ashtray. It goes downhill from there. Despite the hilarious attempted rape, Ann-Margret loves Chad Everett — his forehead now comically adorned with a large Band-Aid — and spends the rest of the movie trying to protect her virtue, which is always in question despite her innocence, from international playboy Louis Jourdan and a really creepy Richard Crenna, who drugs her with absinthe. This is 1966, so there is much macho Hefnerizing about women’s ‘measurements’, and plenty of fashion models creeping down runways with a bizarre hunchbacked, pelvis-out, tippy-toe gait.

In the end, Ann-Margret falls for this speech by Chad: “I lose my temper and I’m jealous. All I have to offer is a station wagon, a couple of sheepdogs, and maybe a couple of kids. Apparently that’s not enough for you.” Au contraire, Chad! She instantly ditches her promising career as a Paris fashion buyer to marry him and begin her exciting new life as a domestic.

In every one of these films, the female leads are hapless pawns upon which the dudes act. The women are variously terrorized, owned, used, patronized, dominated, manipulated, and humiliated. The tone is universally unapologetic and unsympathetic; clearly, the submissive characterizations, morals, and behaviors depicted — i.e., that women exist only in terms of men — are considered to be consistent with the essential nature of women. The astonishing thing is that this shit continues, in 2007, to be presented with a straight face as perfectly acceptable expressions of popular sentiment, rather than as curious relics of bigotry and sexism. But of course Hollywood always has been, and continues to be, patriarchy’s communications department.

1. Honkys are the default humans in Hollywood; the only people of color to be broadcast on TCM for 12 straight hours yesterday were a few grinning jazz musicians in one lone Paris nightclub scene.


Skip to comment form

  1. rootlesscosmo

    The blustercluck, the toad’s eyelash as a unit of depth-measurement–oh my. Phly high, Twisty, phly high.

  2. Jerry

    Not a whole lot has changed, popular-movie-wise, in the past fifty years, huh? Get weller soon, Twisty!

  3. S. D'Attournee-Lawson

    “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” has got to be the creepiest song ever! I mean, it’s up there. (Oh, the links are wonky)

  4. norbizness

    Well, as long as Louis “What’s The Use of Gettin’ Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again)” Jordan escapes unscathed, it’s all good.

    Plus, you’re forgetting Jourdan’s magnificent comeback as Kamal Khan in the James Bond film Octopussy. Maud Adams runs a matriarchal secret society where every woman is required to wear Spandex! Truly liberating!

  5. GenderBlank

    Oh, Twisty, why do you put yourself through this? Not for our sake, I hope.

  6. TP

    Hairy-legged feminists are always bitterly complaining about the feminine ideals they have to live up to, but look at Louis Jourdan? How can a man ever hope to live up to the studliness of a man whose victims commit suicide for the love of submitting to his rapist charms? It’s really the men who are victimized by all this Hollywood glamor.

  7. MoxieHart

    If Gigi squicks you out then you have to see Daddy Long Legs. My roommate owns it & told me a little bit about the plot, which I barely remember. IMDB does a better job: “On a trip to France, millionaire Jervis Pendelton sees an 18 year old girl in an orphanage. Enchanted with her, but mindful of the difference in their ages, he sponsors her to college in New England. She writes him letters, which he doesn’t read. After 3 years, he goes to visit her at a dance, not telling her that he is her benefactor. They fall in love, but the usual movie-type difficulties get in the way before they can get together at the end.”
    I love my roommate but she has the most horrible movie-musicals from the 40’s-60’s, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Flower Drum Song.

  8. thebewilderness

    In my head I know that comment is snarkily funny, but my knee jerk reaction was still, Fuck You.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better Twisty. Once you get a look at the forum, I suspect you’ll dive back into the lime green recliner.

  9. Rumblelizard

    Oh my. I’d blotted the existence of “Flower Drum Song” out of my memory until I read MoxieHart’s post. Curses!

  10. acm

    movie title links are all broken in some way…

  11. lavonne

    No wonder I’ve been married four times; I grew up on these movies. Doris Day was my favorite actress, sad to say. I remember being traumatized in a dark theater by the airplane-landing scene while my mother kept saying, “Remember, it’s only a movie.”

  12. Twisty

    “movie title links are all broken in some way… ”


  13. TP


    Yes, and I’m sorry, too. I could have simply noted that it’s horrifying that Hollywood explicitly teaches men to rape and cause emotional damage to the point of suicide, but it’s so incredibly bleak I had to resort to sarcasm, the cheapest of all forms of humor.

  14. Ganza

    The reduction of women to objects of male support and service is certainly more obvious in movies that would appear on a TCM marathon that it is in movies out now, but I think you’re right; it’s just as ubiquitous now as it was then. In modern movies, how many women who are supposed to have strength and agency instead become doting moral centers or coy objects of conquest for male protagonists? It’s nearly impossible to go out to a movie without the implication that woman A should be with and serve man B.

  15. E

    Tom and Lorenzo, two self-confessed “fabulously glamourous fags judging things harshly” have something called Musical Mondays on their pop culture blog.

    http://tomandlorenzo.blogspot.com/search/label/Musical Mondays

    Every Monday, they review (including screenshots) a different old movie musical. They are certainly not honed with sharp-eyed rad-fem skillz, but they point out misogynistic bullsh*t when they see it. Blamers with a soft spot for musicals, witty commentary and Old Hollywood elaborate costumes may find them amusing.

    I especially liked their review of My Fair Lady:

  16. Stella

    I saw those last two!

    Oy. The only positive thing I can come up with is this: the then-hip, retro-pastelled, obviously-soundstage backdrops were lovely.

  17. Jezebella

    My professional opinion as a non-medical-doctor is that watching films like this is only going to make you feel worse. How do you do it? How do you even get up off the fluffed pillows after such a hideous marathon?

    I suppose it does give the old obstreperal lobe a good workout.

  18. Medbh

    Jourdan banked a career on his accent, but hardly even remotely talented.
    I always cheered that Liz got top billing over Burton. Her fame eclipsed his for once.

  19. Kowhead

    Your comments about Madame Bovary have prompted a response. After 3 readings of this book over my lifetime I have come to the conclusion that Charles Bovary, is indeed a hero, THE HERO, of this novel. He may be, in a limited sense, “a bumbling clod” but that does not mean he is not a hero. Heroism may be completely unconcious, and not diminished a bit by it.

    Look at it — Charles never strives to be more than he is. The whole incident with the unnessary and disaterous operation he performs, reluctantly, is created precisely to give him a moral flaw and so disguises his fundamental goodness. Nonetheless, he learns from it and regrets it, and moves forward with a sense of his limitations.

    Madame Bovary is complete waste of a human. She wants to love and be loved, but knows nothing about what that means.
    She never questions herself or the consequences of her actions. The clearest demonstration of this is that she completely abandons and ignores her own daughter. I forget if Charles is the father — but he loves and cares for the child as his own. In this context it is almost impossible to view Madame as some kind of feminist hero. She walks away and doesn’t even have a moment of regret. And in this same context it is hard not to admire Charles and see his selfless, and again unconcious, love as an example of humanity at its best. It would seem from modern standards that Charles is the feminist.

    So when the chips go down for Madame she does the easy thing and commits suicide, rather that have to deal with it, rather than have to THINK about things other than herself and her immediate gratifications (which is a necessary part of love).

    It escapes me, I am not sure if Charles learns about her infidelities or not. What is clear is that he takes himself and his daughter into the future, and still retains a sense of love for it all, even for Madame. I hope he found real love, he deserves it, he earned it. Yes, he is a hero.

  20. thebewilderness

    Excuse me, kowhead, reality check, FICTION.

  21. Patti

    She was written by a MAN to have walked away and never have a moment of regret.

    TP, I thought that puns were the lowest form of humor.

    And, Television Without Pity sometimes has great critiques of modern television fare. Sometimes not.

  22. delagar

    Also, Kowhead? Look right under the title of M. Bovary. Check who wrote it. Then go on and read a little fable by a dude named Aesop, about a lion and a man taking a walk. They’re arguing about who is tougher, men or lions. They come on a statue, hey, cool: it’s a man killing a lion! See, the man says: I told you! Men are way tougher than lions. Yes, sure, says the lion, who do you think carved the statue? If lions did art, we’d see a different statue, I tell you what.

  23. josie my source of most frustration

    Jebus, until right now, I’d never even heard of Louis Jordan. I kind of wish that I could’ve gone on living in blissful, Louis Jordan-free ignorance. Nevertheless, I am a bit enamored of his “what’s the use of getting sober if you’re just going to get drunk again” philosophy, if not his Heftastic, playboy ways.

  24. The Reverend B. Dagger Lee

    I’ve often been informed that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, leading me to believe that aphorisms are the lowest form of wisdom, and definitely the lowest part of listening.

  25. Carolyn J.

    Maurice Chevalier is the creepiest actor to have walked the face of the earth. I wonder if French people are disgusted by his over-the-top stereotypical accent.

  26. The Reverend B. Dagger Lee

    Yikes, Twisty, who sentenced you to that sickbed fare?

    Thanks to the Lord of the Vacuum for Tivo which faithfully seeks out and records any and all movies on zombies and women’s prisons. Each has very strict genre rules. Imagine me and Miss Patsy’s delight as we settled in to watch Women’s Prison, 1955, Ida Lupino, followed by Voodoo Island, 1957, Boris Karloff.

  27. Frigga's Own

    I’m so glad my television died because I neglected to feed it, now if only my dvd player could go the same way. One day I hope to read Twisty’s impression of the Lord of the Rings movies, as I’m sure she’ll articulate what I can only express as “Plot bad, where women go? Why they treat war as fun?” before attempting to clobber the hapless electronic device with something heavy. Still, sometimes I have a six hour knitting project to finish and theres only so many ways to keep the rest of my mind entertained.

    Sometimes I do miss TCM, if only for the rare chance to see something I find passably watchable, like Stage Door. (I almost made that a link, but I understand it’s been hard to close tags recently.)

  28. Betsy

    Well, I’m thrilled that someone articulate like Twisty (that’s not to mention the trusty band of commenters) has viewed and categorized this crap so I don’t have to. I can collapse, contented, on my own fluffy pillows, at least for this night.

    Sorry not to be pulling my weight with the blaming. Some other time.

  29. CafeSiren

    On the topic of classic movies: I’ve never quite known what to do with the Jean Arthur character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” On the one hand, she’s the one who knows what’s going on, who schools Our Hero Jimmy in how to get shit done. She’s pragmatic and no-nonsense for most of the movie.

    On the other hand, there is that scene in the beginning where she declares that, of course she’d rather give up this tedious job as a congressional aide to get married, settle down, and have a family, but she just hasn’t had a good offer. And, by the end of the movie, as Our Hero gets progressively savvier, her abilities gracefully fade into the background.

    Can anyone suggest any classic movies with even moderately feminist female leads?

  30. rootlesscosmo

    Depends on the definition of “feminist” and “moderately,” but let me suggest Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, based on Henry James’ Washington Square. I think she may qualify because when faced with a choice between self-respecting spinsterhood and self-humiliation to a worthless man (Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend) she displays hitherto unglimpsed strength of character and pitiless discernment, in the process utterly crushing her oppressive father (played by Ralph Richardson.) Directed by William Wyler, from a stage play by Albert and Marion Hackett, and one of my favorite movies.

  31. yankee transplant

    Come for the movie reviews, stay for the blaming. Another great post, Twisty. Hope you’re feeling better.

  32. Twisty

    “[…]Women’s Prison, 1955, Ida Lupino, followed by Voodoo Island, 1957, Boris Karloff.”

    I saw them both! Ida Lupino! I’m naming my next cat after her.

  33. Twisty

    “Can anyone suggest any classic movies with even moderately feminist female leads?”

    I can’t, and I’ve been watching TCM nightly since last August.

  34. Random Lurker

    Frigga’s Own, the lack of women in LOTR is largely due to Tolkien’s difficulty in writing female characters. Arwen said maybe three sentences in the entire written trilogy.
    MoxieHeart, you reminded me of a truly creepy book I once read called “Daddy Long Legs” about an orphan girl who is sponsored by an anonymous man. Mr. Benefactor had in the past only funded the education of boys and in the words of one of the charachters “does not like girls”. The benefactor finds a number of icky ways to infringe upon the young woman’s privacy–including sending her to the country so she couldn’t meet a boy for a date. It turns out he sponsored her so she could be molded into a suitable little wifey and her gratitude was such she married the creep. Sad to hear that particularly noxious book was turned into a movie.

  35. stekatz

    Gosh, the only character I can think of who is a bigger hero than Charles Bovary has got to be Louis Jourdan’s character Dr. Anton Arcane is both “Swamp Thing” and “Return of the Swamp Thing.” I get chills.

    Well, I’m a bit of a sucker for Judy Garland’s plucky characters. Nothing beats Esther clocking John Pruitt in “Meet Me In St. Louis” (If there’s one thing I hate, loathe and abominate, John Pruitt, it’s a bully!). I wouldn’t go so far as to call the movie feminist as they’re pretty co-dependent on the father, but I’ll watch it any time it’s on.

    I just realized today whilst channel surfing during lunch that as much as I once loved M*A*S*H that is one truly sexist show. Trapper and Hawkeye are nothing short of date rapists most of the time.

    And remember blamers, when life gives you lemons, squeeze them in people’s eyes.

    Hope you’re feeling better Twisty.

  36. slythwolf

    I thought of you, Twisty, when I rented the cheesy animated “Happily N’Ever After” this past weekend. I was infuriated by the treatment of the evil stepmother. She was hot, she owned her sexuality, every time she was shown walking anywhere the focus was on her hips going back and forth, and her motivation for taking over the fairy tale kingdom was that she didn’t accept her place and she wanted to win. So, of course, that was completely unacceptable and she had to be destroyed. The Cinderella character on the other hand was encouraged to challenge her preconceived place in the fairytale–to the extent that she was allowed to fall in love with some boy other than the prince, that boy being the Nice Guy kitchen boy who was pretending to be her friend hoping that eventually he could get into her pants her to fall in love with him.

    There were no people of color in this movie. The whole premise was that life had to remain consistent with the way the fairytales were supposed to go, and this was represented as an actual pair of scales with an actual needle pointing at “good” or “evil”. Nothing was allowed to change. It was fucking creepy.

  37. Shira

    Slythwolf, have you seen the new disney animated cesspool, “Meet the Robinsons”? Same basic themes as the movie you described – anglo boy genius orphan versus black female robot hat named Doris. The movie presents two alternative futures. One is a technological utopia headed and made possible by Boy Genius, and the other is a bleak, coal-dust-filled dystopia where black robot hats (all birthed presumably by the original Doris, who is shown making a baby black hat earlier in the film) have enslaved all the (white, of course) humans. Doris gets her start when she objects to being a mindless slave of the white characters. They show Grown Boy Genius & Co. trying to kill Doris for her uppityness, but she escapes and goes back in time to kill Boy Genius while he’s still wallowing in that orphanage, hence the movie.

    There were other explicitly patriarchal themes in that movie, too – for instance, the only female scientist is incompetent and stressed, her “happiest memory” is not any of her scientific achievements, but the day she got married, and her big contribution to the future is not technological, but in raising and nurturing Boy Genius so he can create the happy heteronormative white future. All non-white characters were either animals or robots. The nominal white male villain was REALLY being controlled by the manipulative non-human black female hat (and Boy Genius gets to make a big speech to that effect – DON’T LISTEN TO HER, WHITE MAN! SHE’S JUST USING YOU!)

    I was absolutely livid when I walked out of the movie. What a waste of $12 and 2 3D glasses.

  38. Cara-he

    Without going into all the details (partly because I have willfully blocked out many of the worst of them), for a truly horrifying Louis Jourdan experience let me nominate “Can-Can” costarring Shirley McClain, Frank Sinatra, and Maurice Chevalier.

    The details you must know are that S.M. begins the movie as an independant business woman (albeit as essentially a madam), and that EVERY character in the movie literally conspires to humiliate and degrade her so that she will learn to submit to not only her man but all and any man who may at any time cross her path. The worst part is that with every fresh incident of abuse you keep thinking that this time they have gone too far and she will erase them from her life. But no, Dog forbid.

    Truly a film so awful that I regret not clawing out my own eyeballs in protest of the images before them.

  39. Cara-he

    In reading over the ImDb review, I realize that one of the moments I blocked out was the mind-numbing scene wherein Shirley MacLaine (apologies for the earlier misspelling) falsely reports a rape for reasons that I cannot remember aside from a feeling that in spite of the movie’s presentation of it as a fake accusation, by any reasonable standards she probably was raped.
    Way to set women up as pathetic, flighty liars, 20th Century Fox!

    I stridently and disgustedly BTP

  40. Catherine Martell

    S. D’Attournee-Lawson:

    “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” has got to be the creepiest song ever! I mean, it’s up there.

    I nominate “I’ve Written A Letter To Daddy”. But, of course, that is supposed to be creepy.

    Frigga’s Own:

    One day I hope to read Twisty’s impression of the Lord of the Rings movies, as I’m sure she’ll articulate what I can only express as “Plot bad, where women go? Why they treat war as fun?” before attempting to clobber the hapless electronic device with something heavy.

    Damn you, funny lady. Tea everywhere now. I may have to start a website called Feminist Neanderthal Movie Reviews. Though most of them would be “Plot bad, where women go?”

    Further to LOTR (filmed or writtened version), the scenario is that you have warring tribes of men, all the important relationships are between men, all the romantic relationships are between men (Sam is blatantly in love with Master Frodo), and everything that happens is caused by men, excepting the occasional irritating distraction. The film attempted to big up some of the female roles, but women are still only seen momentarily flitting across the Tolkenic transom like an incomprehensible unnatural phenomenon. The fact that they are mostly styled as the aurora borealis only reinforces this.

    Also, evil is represented by the Eye of Sauron, which in the film is depicted as a giant burning vulva. And there’s a bit with a massive lady spider that traps human men in her sticky tunnel and eats them.

    As for classic movies with moderately feminist female leads, I suggest you look pre-Hays Code (effective 1934). Little of it would be a feminist revelation to advanced blamers, but there are strong female leads with sexual and even personal or political agency in the some of the early films of Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Mae West, Greta Garbo, etc.

    Looking outside Hollywood is another good way to see feminist films. Last night I went to see Deepa Mehta’s Water, and I would exhort all blamers to do likewise as soon as possible, especially if they are unaware of the situation of Hindu widows and/or are interested in the impact of patriarchy in non-Western cultures. It made me cry. A lot.

  41. Frigga's Own

    Ooh, I was just trying to remember Mehta’s films the other day, thanks!

    I was noticing as I slogged my way through the last disc of the LOTR movies that the word “womenandchildren” kept popping up. “Get the womenandchildren into the caves!” “Back to the citadel, get the womenandchildren out!” The director may have given individual women a heftier role, but womenandchildren remained helpless chimera, grafted together one imagines, so that they are easier for the important men to protect.

  42. The Reverend B. Dagger Lee

    I’ve always adored Ida Lupino. Miss Patsy stayed up really late a couple of nights ago and watched Beware, My Lovely.

    You know, Twisty, if you wanted to say, marry Ida Lupino, there’s a place where it can be done.

  43. Joanna

    I lost track of my Netflix password for a while, so every arrival was a surprise. I believe I will go back and program in something with Ida Lupino.

  44. Sara

    “Can anyone suggest any classic movies with even moderately feminist female leads?”

    Well, there was Queen Christina starring Greta Garbo. Not perfect, and certainly not historically accurate, but more feministic than most.

    “Gigi, of course, is another of those stupid stories in which a worldly, handsome stud gives up his sexually lucrative, envied-by-all bachelorhood to marry a vivacious teen virgin who has blossomed before his eyes into ‘a woman’.”

    And the thing to remember about her blossoming is that she it came as a result of her being deliberately cultivated by her prostitute mother and grandmother to sell her teenage virginity to said stud, who was supposed to be her first lucrative client in what was expected to be a long and successful career of her own — you know, provided she didn’t catch venereal disease. Or kill herself.

    Just so many layers of yuck. So very many.

    Everyone knows that Pepe le Pew was based on Jourdan, right?

  45. Mar Iguana

    “In modern movies, how many women who are supposed to have strength and agency instead become doting moral centers or coy objects of conquest for male protagonists?” Ganze



    “At one time the procedure to terminate a pregnancy was not a dirty word in Hollywood films.

    “Throughout the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and even into the ’80s you could not only say the word abortion but have characters actually get one in a film, like Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in the 1982 comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Imagine abortion in a comedy, dealing with a difficult situation with humor and pathos. “I called the ‘free’ clinic and it cost $100,” Leigh’s character laments.

    “Not anymore. Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” a raunchy comedy in a cinema near you, turned abortion into the “A” word, in league with the “N” word and other epithets so taboo as to be bracketed off from regular speech.”


    “The entertainment industry has elected to silence the discussion on abortion,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. “It’s an issue fraught with moral and ethical challenges and Hollywood has been almost silent on it for the past 20 years. It has been the one controversial subject matter that has not only not progressed, but has totally retreated from popular culture. If you’d watch TV or films in this country, you’d never guess that abortion is such a big issue.”

    But, none dare call it conspiracy. Hell, most women can’t even perceive “it.”

  46. Penny

    Twisty is in such fine form today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    It’s been so long since I read it, but wasn’t the whole point of Gigi, the original short story by Colette before it got musicalized, that life sucks in patriarchal Paris especially for little girls? (The author herself having been sold off as a child bride to a creepy older plagarist whom she later skewered in her own spinster-aunt bio)? Anybody know, because I’m too lazy to check?

    Ida Lupino rules. And whoa, forgot about Estelle Winwood.

    The (male) air traffic controllers, using Doris ‘as just another instrument’, guide the phlying phallus into the airfield and call her ‘honey.’

    This is going to make me chuckle all day.

  47. LouisaMayAlcott

    Whoa, Mar!

    Thanks for that link. A good read.

    And now I just * really* want to wear one of those “I had an abortion” T-shirts.

    I never *have* had an abortion, but I’ll wear one for all the women who have had, and are too freaked out to wear one.

    1970’s here we come

  48. LouisaMayAlcott


    The script edited out my sm!ley’s and ell!pses.

    Bah Humbug.

  49. Calabama

    I love old movies, but it seems that whatever feminist elements I glimpse always vanish by the end, so I suspect they’re just presented as a foil to the inevitable triumphal male takeover. The Tracy-Hepburn films are particularly repellent: After a struggle or two, he smugly reduces her to a collection of “feminine” weaknesses — for which she’s pathetically grateful.

    Aside from just about anything with or directed by Ida Lupino, the pre-Codes are probably the best bet for 3-D women characters, if not feminist themes. Try Heat Lightning (1934), with the great Aline MacMahon. She and her antsy little sister (Ann Dvorak) run a desert truck stop, and she spends a lot of the film in overalls, I remember.

    Unfortunately, along comes a man, for whom she dresses up and then suffers. I won’t spoil the plot further, but at the end, she at least retains her dignity. And her overalls!

    Five-Star Final is a fast and furious slapdown of yellow journalism. Not exactly feminist, but some surprising compassion for women — even painting a aged mother with a criminal past as a sympathetic character! MacMahon is sharp and snappy as Eddie G. Robinson’s wisecracking secretary — though, same old story, she’d rather be his lover. And though teenage Marian Marsh may seem insipid at first, she has a stunning hysterical-rage scene later on.

    The wonderful Ruth Chatterton is wonderful in Female (1933) as an auto megacompany boss who has a habit of enjoying and then dispatching her manfriend of the moment to a distant branch, but, alas, she’s finally forced into femininity by the charms of George Brent, of all people.

    I only vaguely recall Man Wanted (1932), with Kay Francis as a magazine “editwess” — but I think that the romantic ending didn’t entirely obliterate her identity.

    In The Clinging Vine (1926), butch businesswoman Leatrice Joy endures a makeover to get her man, but it’s such an exaggerated parody of femininity (her eyes get stuck from batting her eyelashes too vigorously) that I always felt it was sorta subversive. Still…

    For all their unfettered subject matter and despite their meatier roles for women, even before the League of Catholic Decency muscled in and messed everything up for the movies, the pre-Codes are no feminist fantasyland. Or even close. For that, as usual, IBTP!

    Hope you feel better, Twisty — and hope you find something happier to watch: a steady diet of Louis Jourdan can’t be doing you any good.

  50. Ginger Mayerson

    The only good thing about most musicals is the music, if you can ignore most of the lyrics. This would include “Can-Can.”

    Funny Colette’s writing should come up, I was just thinking about her and wondering if her writing qualifies as femminist. She was writing in an era when women did the best they could with the bad hand they got dealt, including Colette. What do you think of Colette’s writing, Twisty?

  51. Valkyrie

    Not old enough to be a classic yet but since it’s not all that well known let me recommend Dolores Claiborne (1995) wherein an abused woman/mother played by Kathy Bates gets her revenge. It also contains one of my favorite movie lines ever – “sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to”.

  52. Ron Sullivan

    Everyone knows that Pepe le Pew was based on Jourdan, right?

    Ah, Sara, sometimes all I need to get my sox hitched up and start the day is a glimmer of formerly-overlooked hope. Or a giggle, that’ll do too. Thank you.

    And yeah, I agree that “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” is in the running for Creepiest Song Ever. First time I heard it I was a mere larval blamer and I felt dirty all over. Funny how it’s always the G-rated stuff that’s the filthiest.

  53. Frumious B

    I had to look up the lyrics for Thank Heaven for Little Girls, since I have never heard of it before, and found recommended on wedding site for Father-Daughter dances.
    As though Father-Daughter dances, and weddings in general, are not enough ew.

  54. Twisty

    “You know, Twisty, if you wanted to say, marry Ida Lupino, there’s a place where it can be done. ” — BDL

    I thought marriage between two H. sapiens, even if one of’em’s dead, was an abomination in that vacuum cleaner religion of yours.

  55. SourDad

    It never ceases to amaze me how screenwriters, producers and directors and get a story so wrong. Occasionally they get it right, but more often with short stories like Bokeback mountain. I love Proulx’s short stories.

    The short story or novelle fits the 2 hour movie time frame so much better than a 750 page book about a boy wizard, but alas few people read enough short stories to want to see them made into movies.

    Once in a while they even show a flash of brilliance and make a book or story better or expand it beyond the original: ala Adaptation, Forest Gump and Minority Report.

  56. herdottiness

    I grew up on these movies. I remember the intense feelings of self-loathing that I could never attain the beauty of those women, never attract someone like Louis, and thus never have the ideal life that the movies and my mother wanted me to have. I felt like an embarrassment to them and everyone around me.

    I know there is a lot of discussion about how violent movies and violent TV and video games affect the imagination of children. Frankly, I don’t doubt it. In my teens I really wanted to be Gigi, or any of the others. I think the only thing that saved me is that I wanted more to be Marlon Brando, with all the freedom allowed to men on motorcycles!!!

    IBTP all the way.

  57. Kali

    I can think of a couple of bollywood (not hollywood) movies which I found fairly feminist: ‘Abhimaan’ (husband has ego crisis after his wife becomes a bigger star than him. He acts out a bit, but then he grows up. 1973) and ‘Arth’ (After being cheated on and dumped by her husband, a stay-at-home wife learns marketable skills, gets a job, becomes independent, and starts enjoying her independence. 1982).

  58. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    A-fucking-men to all who are skeeved out by “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”. It gives me a major case of the creeps. And I *always* knew Pepe LePew was a howling perv.

    But, like lipstick, I like old musicals. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is such a large whack of rape apology it’s enough to make a blamer’s lunch reappear, but “Bless Yore Beautiful Hide” is fun to belt out, especially when your significant other has a large, economy-size hangover.

  59. TP

    Ruth Chatterton rules!

    The heyday of the ‘women’s’ movies came about because the founding fathers of Hollywood looked at the figures and realized a large percentage of their audience was women. Though constantly exhibiting tendencies toward hearth, home and husband that should make any decent radical feminist shudder, they still were movies written by women for women, and at least addressed women as fully-formed characters.

    Nowadays, with the Hollywood numbers topping out in favor of teen boys, guess what we get? Hostel II!

  60. notalady

    Thanks for saving me the trouble of watching any Louis Jordan movies. Ewwww.

    Last night I watched my first Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie ever: “Pillow Talk.” Could also be called “How Several Men Conspire to Dupe a Woman Into Sleeping With an Asshole.”

    My roomie is an actor, and researching feminine mannerisms from the 1950s for a role she’s doing this summer. She came across “Nancy Taylor’s Course For Personal Improvement,” which consists of four pink books (with pink pages) about how to mold oneself into a perfect lady.

    IBTP that most theatrical roles for women have sucked through the ages and continue to do so.

  61. bigbalagan

    Sorry you must suffer through serial Turnerization to make me laugh so much. As usual, its far more than a joke on your part—just consider how these thousands of cinema titles, esp. from the later 30s onwards, shaped our collective vision of our world. The brainwashing power of the medium is truly incredible. More so, perhaps, when the way to see them was on the big screen, with a large number of other unnamed and unknown viewers in a big dark room. As Gore Vidal points out, in those days you never expected to see a movie again, so the level of concentration was pretty high. We have a lot more control over media consumption and its environment today, but that hasn’t changed the level of crap that’s churned out one bit. Makes me wonder, what would a truly successful patriarchy-blaming movie look like?

  62. Catherine Martell

    Kali, I second that. Despite the many horrors of Indian patriarchy, you often get impressively non-dumb, non-compliant female leads in Bollywood. Perhaps for the same reason that TP correctly identifies above: a large female audience.

    I’ve always quite liked Pepe le Pew (the cartoon, not the horrible sleazy cat-bothering skunk himself). Aside from the obvious anti-French thingy, it’s a decent satire on unwanted attention. I remember many times in my teenage years feeling rather like that poor mute cat with a look of abject horror on her face, attempting to squeeze out of Pepe’s smothering grip. I thought he was based on Maurice Chevalier.

    And, Antoinette, if we’re going to be belting out songs from Howard Keel musicals at people with hangovers, surely we ought to pick something from Calamity Jane? Even the most hungover SO would have to drag herself from the fainting couch to throttle you if you were trilling your way through A Woman’s Touch, It’s Harry I’m Going To Marry, My Love is Higher Than A Hawk (if you’re basso profundo), Men!, or The Deadwood Stage. Now I think about it, especially The Deadwood Stage. Whip-crack-a-way whip-crack-a-way whip-crack-a-WAAAAAY!

  63. The Reverend B. Dagger Lee

    No, no, no! People get religion all wrong, like it’s arbitrary or something.

    I marry people to people and people to dogs and object and dead people, but I wouldn’t marry people to cats or vacuum cleaners. Then, recently, the divine instructed me (for reasons of personal profit) to go ahead and marry cats to people, and everything to vacuums.

    I can easily marry you to Ida Lupino and Rita Hayworth, too, if you want (although if you want my advice, I’d add Vincent Price to that mix, even though he’s already married to me). And since they’re dead, you can remain a spinster (if only technically). Or, if you have personal or political objections to marriage as the only allowable structuring of family and kin, I can marry Ida to Rita.

  64. Twisty

    OK, Rev BDL, here’s my proposal: my Roomba and my Hoover would like to get hitched to Rita Hayworth; once that threesome is official, Bert would like to marry it, and if there are any offspring, they would be named Vincent and Ida, depending on what vacuum attatchments obtain.

  65. Nelle

    Yes, “Seven Brides” is truly awful in many ways, including the joyous musical number about rape (!), but I rewatched it recently and thought that, if you look hard enough (you really have to squint, and a few glasses of wine don’t hurt), many elements of the film undermine its supposed message that “Gosh, manly, macho men are great, aren’t they.”

    Just the beauty and grace with which the brothers dance when they’re contesting with the townsmen for the affection of the “brides” leads me to suspect that the film is meant to mock uber-masculinity as much as it celebrates it.

  66. CafeSiren

    What, Twisty — So Zippy gets left out?

  67. Niki

    This isn’t an older movie and it’s certainly not perfect, but Freeway with Reese Witherspoon was pretty good for strong women characters. It’s a modern day spoof on Little Red Riding Hood, with a horrifying Kiefer Sutherland (who I always thought of previously as being rather bland and benign) as the main bad guy.

    In fact, although everyone in the movie had serious problems, the women were very fierce and typically in charge of their situations. Plus there are some absolutely great revenge scenes against male perpetrators, if you feel like BTP in that manner.

  68. Kowhead

    Couple of quickies re my comments on Madame Bovary. First, I am completely aware that the book is fiction, would have thought that was obvious. I am also aware that the writer was a male, Gustave Flaubert. I will relate that one of my readings of this novel was for a class on feminist fiction. I don’t think the genre needs rely solely on female writers and Madame Bovary clearly deals with classic feminist issues, part of what makes the novel groundbreaking for its time.

    My suggestion is that Charles is in a sense the real feminist in the novel. He doesn’t treat people as simple extensions of their social roles, even if he does more or less accept the existence of them. He truly loves Madame. It is Madame who sees him in terms of a social role, and the limitations of that role blind her to the possibilities and reality of his love.

    I was also too quick to say Madame as a character is a worthless human being. No human is and Madame has her qualities as well. She does live in a suffocating environment of conventionalism and strives to break from it. Unfortunately, she can only conceive of this break in the terms that same environment has provided her, not one she provides and develops for itself. So real men are “dashing” officers, maudlin romatic poets, etc. She victimizes herself with a alternate conventionalism, and to a greater degree than that imposed on her from the outside. She internalizes the very qualities that have lead her to be dissatisified with her role by adapting an equally conventional and stultifying role of “mistress” and any man who doesn’t fit those conventions or play his “role” is of no interest to her.

    I could go on, this is a very interesting discussion to me, I really have thought a lot about this novel and have had little opportunity to express these ideas, thanks to all who replied. Typically, Madame is seen as some kind of victim or bold iconoclast, something that just doesn’t sit easy with me. In a sense, she reminds me of Daisy in “The Great Gatsby” but I suppose I am getting ahead of myself, and just will go forever. Thanks again to all, at least I learned something from Madame. I hope so anyway.

  69. kate

    just to defend poor Louis – he made the BEST DAMN DRACULA THAT HAS EVER GRACED A LARGE OR SMALL SCREEN. Yes THAT Louis Jourdan – in the 1987 BBC version of Dracula. The whole movie was the truest to the book and most excellent version EVER (and close in creepy to Nosferatu – when ol’ Louis flaps like a great bat down the walls of Castle Dracula – shudder!)Frank Finlay as Van Helsing – (THE BEST) and Judi Boker as Mina (KICK ASS) and as misogynist as ol’ Drac is – he sure gets his (phallic) comeuppance! The only performance of Jourdan’s really worth seeing!

  70. Mar Iguana

    Niki, “Freeway” is hilarious. I really like some of Witherspoon’s work. Have you seen her as Becky Sharp in Nair’s “Vanity Fair?”

  71. mAndrea

    Twisty. I had been wondering how you were dealing with all the exertions of getting the forum back up and running, in addition to all your other activities.

    Students who sleep more hours get better grades, sleep has more restorative effects on the body than most people realize, and people have their best ideas when they’re goofing off; or so research claims, anyway. No, you don’t get any cites, sorry.

    Please take special care of my very favorite Blamer.

  72. niki

    Mar, no, I’ve been a little squicked by all the legally blonde stuff that I’ve shied away.

  73. Daisy

    Wasn’t Louis Joudan the model for Peppy LePew? At any rate, he’ll always be a skunk to me!

  74. Twisty

    On the plus side of Louis’ karma tally, he was an active member of the French resistance during dubya-dubya-two.

  75. My Sister Would

    I always thought the most interesting thing about Gigi was how Our Hero, the one with the yen for childlike females, discovers that marraige is the best way to keep his conquest in the naive state he considers so bangable.

    Deeply gross, but also, it seemed somewhat insightful.

  76. smmo

    I had assumed Colette wrote Gigi while still under Willy’s thumb, but she wrote it in 1943. Well, perhaps she needed the money, as her husband was a Jew. Some have even accused Colette of being a collaborator. I have read several biographies of Colette and most of her own writing and am still confused.

    Meanwhile Louis Jourdan was in the Resistance, so score one for him.

Comments have been disabled.