Chemistry, the Camera and Cooper

City Streets (1931)

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In City Streets, gangster’s daughter Sylvia Sidney wants her boyfriend, easygoing shooting gallery employee Gary Cooper, to make something of himself by joining her father’s Prohibition-era beer racket.  When her father allows her to be imprisoned in connection with a murder he himself committed, Cooper is unwillingly drawn into mob life, thinking the fast money he can make will help him free her.

In the scene linked here, Cooper visits Sidney in jail, decked out in his new mobster finery.  Her time in prison has led her to see how terrible mob life is and to want no part of it.  When she realizes that her sweet, innocent boyfriend is  now a racketeer, she is horrified.  It’s such a great scene – their initial happiness at seeing each other, their straining to touch and kiss each other through the wire that separates them, and Sidney’s growing dismay at what she’s gotten him into.

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, City Streets is surprisingly modern and technically sophisticated for such an early movie.  (It boasts the first use of a voiceover to indicate a character’s inner thoughts in any talking picture.)   The performances are really good too, especially Sylvia Sidney’s.  She transforms from a shallow girl who goes along with a criminal life because of what it can get her, to someone who sees how rotten her father’s business is and wants only to get herself and her boyfriend out of it.

Gary Cooper was so young and beautiful.  I feel shallow always going on and on about his looks, but it’s impossible not to gush.  His introduction in the movie (about 30 seconds into the below clip) will take your breath away.  The way the moment was staged was obviously meant to do just that.  There are a lot of actresses who would’ve killed for such loving treatment by the camera.  That smile!

 For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

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I had to watch For  Whom the Bell Tolls over the course of three days, because it’s just too long!  Parts of it drag, most of the political motivation of Robert Jordan and his band of Republican guerillas was drained out of Hemingway’s story, and it all goes on and on.  And on.

What makes For Whom the Bell Tolls worth watching is the romance between Gary Cooper’s Robert Jordan and Ingrid Bergman’s Maria.  Their scenes together are incredible.  The rumor is that the two of them had an affair during filming.  Bergman later said she fell in love with Cooper, but because they were married to others nothing happened.  Given both of their reputations, that seems unlikely. 

Whatever the truth is, there’s definitely a lot of heat between the two of them on screen.  The way they gaze at one another, drinking each other in like they can’t get enough, is amazing.  Frankly, Maria often seems too smitten and blissful every time she looks at Jordan, given her terrible recent history of rape and imprisonment at the hands of the Nationalists.  It’s as if Bergman’s feelings for Cooper are too overwhelming, perhaps spilling over into her acting a little more than they should have.

The movie is a bit of a mess overall, but scenes like the ones below make up for that.  Even if I never sit and watch the whole 2 hours and 45 minutes again, I can certainly see myself fast-forwarding through the battle scenes and endless talk of El Sordo’s horses to get to moments like these.  “If there’s nothing to do for you, I’ll sit by you and watch you.  And in the nights, we’ll make love.”

Swoon!

 Saratoga Trunk (1945)

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Saratoga Trunk is such a strange movie – almost like two movies stuck together.  In the first half of the film, Clio Dulaine (Ingrid Bergman), illegitimate daughter of a Creole aristocrat and a lower class French woman, returns to New Orleans bent on revenge against the aristocrat’s family for their part in destroying her mother’s life.

Clio runs into Texas gambler and con-man Clint Maroon (Cooper), and sparks fly between the two of them.  It’s sort of a Rhett/Scarlett thing, with him not being the marrying kind and her determined to avenge herself on the family that did her wrong, then marry a man much richer than Clint.

Clio is accompanied by her bossy, superstitious maid, Angelique (Flora Robson in disturbingly bad makeup meant to indicate her mixed race), and a mischievous dwarf manservant, Cupidon.  Their presence gives an especially bizarre tone to the movie.

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The second half of the film takes place when Clint and Clio make their way to Saratoga, he to exact his own revenge against the railroad magnate who ruined his father, she to beguile and marry a wealthy railroad heir.  Clint and Clio are of course madly in love with each other, even if they won’t admit it, and are at cross-purposes all the time.  They finally make their way into each other’s arms, but not before a (literal) train wreck.

It’s a big, sweeping story, though a bit disjointed.  The tone of the New Orleans half of the movie is noticeably different than the Saratoga half.  It just doesn’t quite flow.  And though it seems they were going for the sort of sparring romance Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh had in Gone With the Wind, Gary Cooper is by nature too laid back for that to really work for the Clio/Clint relationship.

Nonetheless, the chemistry he and Bergman exhibited in For Whom the Bell Tolls is still there.  This scene, in Clio’s New Orleans boudoir, is a good example.  I love the possessive way he grabs her hair and wraps it around her neck, and the way she bats his hand away with her brush.  Sexy!

The camera spends a lot of time leisurely taking in Cooper’s long-legged frame in Saratoga Trunk.  When we first see him it’s from Clio’s point of view – a slow, sensual sweep from his cowboy boots to his big white hat as he sits on the edge of a barstool and leans back against the bar.  At another point, a middle-aged busybody in Saratoga tells Clio she’s foolish not to drop her rich suitor in favor of Clint, longingly describing his broad shoulders and narrow hips.

I’ve noticed that Cooper is often ogled by the camera and lusted after by female characters in his films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, in a blatant way usually reserved for actresses.  He is almost too beautiful, but he carries it off with total nonchalance, as if he has no idea how gorgeous he is.  Or, if he does know, he doesn’t really care.  Which of course makes him that much more attractive, doesn’t it?

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Cary Grant’s favorite leading ladies

Irene Dunne

Co-star in “The Awful Truth”, “Penny Serenade”, and “My Favorite Wife”

“I loved working with Cary – every minute of it.  Between takes he was so amusing with his cockney stories.  I was his best audience.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  The more I laughed, the more he went on.”

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Katharine Hepburn

Co-star in “Sylvia Scarlett”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Holiday”, and “The Philadelphia Story”

“We got on well, Cary and I.  It was fun to play with him, and I think he had a good time, too.  People liked us together, so we enjoyed it.”

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Ingrid Bergman

Co-star in “Notorious” and “Indiscreet”

When Hollywood shunned Ingrid Bergman for leaving her husband to marry Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Cary was one of the only stars who stayed in touch with her, stood by her side, and remained a friend.  When she returned to movies in the mid-1950s, he co-starred with her for the second time in “Indiscreet”.  “I was very fond of Ingrid,” Cary said.  “She was an amazing woman.  She was one of the world’s most talented women, completely secure and happy.”

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Rosalind Russell

Co-star in “His Girl Friday”.

  Cary introduced Russell to her husband, his friend Frederick Brisson, during the filming of “His Girl Friday” in 1941.  “Cary, you will never know the great joy you have helped bring us both and how much we shall always love you for it,” Rosalind wrote Cary.  “You must know, too, that the wedding would not be complete without you.  You who brought us together.  All love to you, Cary, darling.”  Cary was best man at their wedding.  Russell and Brisson were happily married until her death in 1976.

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Here are Cary and Rosalind at the 1942 Academy Awards.  Wartime, so no tuxedos and evening gowns here.  Looks like they had a fine time anyway.

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Grace Kelly

Co-star in “To Catch a Thief”

Cary absolutely adored Grace Kelly and was a devoted friend for the rest of her life.  “Grace had a kind of serenity, a calmness, that I hadn’t arrived at at that point in my life – and perhaps never will, for all I know.  She was so relaxed in front of the camera that she made it look simple.”  Cary admired women who were elegant, ladylike and refined.  Leslie Caron once said “Cary liked women who had a distinction and a certain education about them.  That’s what he liked about Grace Kelly.”

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 Deborah Kerr

Co-star in “Dream Wife”, “An Affair to Remember”, and “The Grass is Greener”

“His elegance, his wit, his true professionalism were outstanding, and I learned so much from just watching him work,” Kerr said.  “As a person, apart from his talent, he was warm and affectionate and a joy to have as a friend.  He lived simply and was not tremendously social – a very private person.  He was also a keen and shrewd businessman; in fact there was no end to his talents.  I treasure my memories of him.”

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Audrey Hepburn

Co-star in “Charade”

“I think he understood me better than I did myself,” said Audrey.  “He was observant and had a penetrating knowledge of people.  He would talk often about relaxing and getting rid of one’s fears, which I think he found a way to do.  But he never preached.  If he helped me, he did it without my knowing, and with a gentleness which made me lose my sense of being intimidated.  I had this great affection for him because I knew he understood me.  It was an unspoken friendship, which was wonderful.  He would open up his arms wide when he saw you, and hug you, and smile, and let you know how he felt about you.”

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