Film Noir Legends: Bette Davis, Claire Trevor, Eleanor Parker, and John Huston

When it comes to cinema, I love those made during the 40’s and 50’s when in my view, films were made not so much for their profitability, but for the art itself and the messages contained within. As a kid I would watch the local version of The Sunday Matinee Movie and became familiar with actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and others. This was the era of “film noir” which is defined as movies that are symbolized by dimly-lit sets, a bleak setting and center on stories about corrupt and cynical characters. The plots of these films often revolve around an anti-hero, a crime (and subsequent moral dilemma), and a romantic interest for the films central character. The films were shot in black and white, with shadow having as much importance as dialogue. These films used unusual angles, silhouetted close-ups and somber tones to create unique and powerful storylines. These films were made during a roughly twenty year period, beginning with 1940’s “Stranger on the Third Floor” (starring Peter Lorre and John McGuire) and the underrated “Brother Orchid” (Edward G. Robinson), to Orson Well’s 1958 classic, “Touch of Evil.”

Some other movies opf this era are “Angels With Dirty Faces” (James Cagney and Pat O’Brien), “Key Largo” (Bogart, Bacall, Sidney Greenstreet), “Gaslight” (Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer), “Double Indemnity” (Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck under Billy Wilder’s direction) and “Mildred Pierce.” Hollywood has had some recent success with films of that style including, “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.” seem to support such a notion, with the latter featuring an Oscar-winning turn by Kim Basinger as femme fatale Lynn Bracken.

Arguably, the biggest actress of this era was the doe-eyed beauty Betty Davis. She was born Ruth Elizabeth Davis, on April 5, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts When she attained stardom at age 26, it was not just for her acting acumen and acidic delivery, but her eyes, which were immortalized in song by Kim Carnes/’ “Bette Davis Eyes” hit number one in 1981.

She made her film debut in 1931’s “The Bad Sister” and usually played characters with tough exteriors, but who were vulnerable. Her characters usually were smart-mouthed and many of them smoked cigarettes, behavior which wasn’t considered very lady-like. According to the Unofficial Bette Davis website, Bette Davis, “was described by

one critic as ‘a force of nature that could find no ordinary outlet’.” Her filmography boasts such classics as, “Dangerous” (1935) and “Jezebel” (1938), for which she received her first two Best Actress Oscars. However, she wanted the lead in 1939s “Gone With the Wind,” but the role went to Vivian Leigh. Davis’ most famous role would come some 11 years later, as that of actress Margo Channing in 1950s “All About Eve,” earning her another Best Actress nomination. Ironically, her career waned shortly thereafter.

Davis also gave sterling performances in “Now, Voyager” (1942); “The Bride Came C.O.D.” (1941, with James Cagney); “Deception” (1946); “The Corn Is Green” (1945); “Mr. Skeffington” (1944) and “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane” (1962). In the latter she played alongside her long0time rival, Joan Crawford and won an Oscar for Best Actress. In the film she portrayed an unbalanced, washed-up child star. “Baby Jane” was also that year’s top grossing film.

Davis’ number of Oscar nominations–10, is second only to Katherine Hepburn (11). Her other nominations include powerhouse performances in, “The Star” (1952) ; “Mr. Skeffington” (1944); “Now, Voyager” (1942); “The Little Foxes” (1941); “The Letter” (1940); “Dark Victory” (1939) and “Of Human Bondage” (1934). In 1977, Davis became the first woman to receive the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also known as “The Queen of the Screen.” Three of her movie quotes are among the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest. They include, (No. 7, from “All About Eve”) “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” (No. 60, from “Beyond the Forest”) “What a dump.” and (No. 45) “Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars. (from, “Now, Voyager”5)

Perhaps her most memorable line was from the movie that catapulted her to stardom. In “Of Human Bondage” (1934) she co-starred with Leslie Howard and delivered the line, “You cad! You dirty swine! I never cared for you–not once! I was always making up to love ya. Ya bored me stiff. I hated ya. It made me sick when I had to let ya kiss me. I only did it because you begged me–ya hounded me and drove me crazy! And after you kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth. Wipe my mouth!” Along that same tenor, In “Cabin In The Cotton” (1932) she uttered the line, “I’d like ta kiss ya, but I just washed my hair.” Then again as Joyce Arden in, “It’s Love I’m After” (1937), she quipped: “Dearest, I think you’re the lowest thing that ever crawled, but as long as I can reach out and get my hands on you, no other man will ever touch me.”

As for her feud with Joan Crawford, in her 1962 autobiography, “The Lonely Life,” Davis wrote, “I do not regret one professional enemy I have made. Any actor who doesn’t dare to make an enemy should get out of the business.”

She made her final film appearance in 1989, playing the role of Miranda Pierpoint in, “Wicked Stepmother.” She died that year on October 6, 1989 in Neuilly, France from breast cancer.

One of my favorite films from this era is the underappreciated “Caged,” starring Eleanor {Parker in the lead role of Marie Allen. It is the story of a pregnant girl imprisoned for being an accessory to a crime committed by her husband. While imprisoned Marie is mistreated by mean-spirited guard Emma Barber (played with a seemingly fiendish glee by Ellen Corby). Marie is eventually broken psychologically and her bitterness turns her into a hardened, wannabe criminal. Agnes Moorehead, better known for her role as “Endora” on TV’s “Bewitched” gives a strong performance as the kindhearted prison warden Ruth Benton.

For Parker it should have been a break out role that put her among the upper echelon of the actresses of that era. But she never reached the level of stardom that Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Claire Trevor achieved. One critic called the movie, “One of the most underrated movies of all time. Eleanor Parker really did deserve an Oscar for this performance.” Parker was nominated that year, but she was bested by Judy Holiday, (“Born Yesterday”). Also nominated for an Oscar was her co-star Hope Emerson, who played Marie’s foil, inmate Evelyn Harper. Emerson lost out to Josephine Hull (“Harvey”).

Parker was born in June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio. She made her debut in, “Busses Roar” (1942), The Film Guild of America says about her, “Audiences never knew what to expect when they saw her. To Eleanor, creating interesting characters was more important than cultivating a star image. In over 50 films, she would earn the title, ‘The Woman of a Thousand Faces’…If she had conformed, and simply used her stunning beauty to rise to stardom, she might be canonized today. Thankfully, she did not conform. Eleanor instead became a serious actress who gave her roles a depth and understanding that few stars have ever matched.”

This was followed by little known films, including five in 1944: “The Very Thought of You,” “The Last Ride,” “Crime by Night,” “Atlantic City,” (an uncredited part) and “Between Two Worlds.” She had a supporting part as Mildred Rogers in “Of Human Bondage” (1946). In 1950 she played Joan “Jo” Holloway opposite Humphrey Bogart in the war story “Chain Lightning.” Due to the weakness of the script the film is best remembered for its plane flying scenes.

Claire Trevor was born Claire Wemlinger on March 8, 1910, in Brooklyn, New York. Her career began in 1933 in “Life In The Raw,” and she also appeared in the John Wayne oater, “Stagecoach” (1939).

During her career, which spanned sixty films, she earned the moniker “Queen of Film Noir.” She played a plethora of “bad girl” roles, but earned three Oscar nominations: “Dead End” (1937, which also featured Humphrey Bogart and marked the debut of The Dead End Kids); “The High and the Mighty” (1954) and won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as the drunken girlfriend of an abusive gangster (Edward G. Robinson), in “Key Largo” (1948).

Her other films include, “Murder, My Sweet” (1944) where Trevor played Velma, the missing girlfriend of a gangster. Dick Powell played the lead as detective Philip Marlowe. In 1947 she starred in “Born To Kill” and in 1948 she made three films–“Raw Deal” playing a gun moll who helps her gangster boyfriend escape from prison; “The Velvet Touch,” where she was cast as an actress accused of murdering her husband; and then she played against type in “The Babe Ruth Story” (1948). The former two films are considered some of the finest examples of the Noir genre.

Trevor also won an Emmy (1956) for her performance in “Dodsworth,” co-starring with Fredric March. She died April 8, 2000.

Director John Houston was born August 5, 1906 in Nevada, Missouri. He went to Hollywood when his father Walter, another producer of note, gave him a job. He assisted with the writing on such hits as “Jezebel,” “High Sierra” and “Sergeant York.” He made his directing debut in 1941, directing Bogart, Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet in “Tha Maltese Falcon” for which he won an Oscar for writing. In 1948, Huston directed “The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” winning Oscars for writing and directing. His father won The Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie. Many consider this to be his strongest film.

Huston once called filmmaking, “a collaborative medium. Rather than being a tyrant, I believe in getting ideas from as many sources as possible.” He has worked with some of the biggest names of his era, including Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, Peter Lorre and Katherine Hepburn.

His movies are a cornucopia of classics: “The African Queen,” “Key Largo,” “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Prizzi’s Honor,” which starred his daughter Angelica and earned her a Best Supporting Actress honor. Many of those films were written by Huston as well. He noted, “I don’t make a distinction between writing and direction. But to write and to direct one’s own material is certainly the best approach. The directing is kind of an extension of the writing.” Huston also lensed an interpretation of “The Bible” (1966) and “The Red Badge of Courage” (1951).

Lauren Bacall called him, “Daring, unpredictable, maddening, mystifying and probably the most charming man on earth.” Katherine Hepburn said Huston was the “best piece of direction I have ever heard.”

Houston died August 28, 1987 from emphysema.

Sources:

John Huston profile, Wikipedia

Claire Trevor profile, Wikipedia

Martin Connors and Jim Craddock, “Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2000”

Eleanor Parker biography, IMDb.com

“The John Huston interviews,” edited by Robert Emmet Long

Bette Davis, imdb profile

Bette Davis profile, Wikipedia

The Unofficial Bette Davis Homepage

Bette Davis profile, “Reel Classics”

Enhancing Order Thinking Skills Through A Film Biography

Reinforcement is being right.

B. F. Skinner

Traditional language teaching methods are slowly evolving in order to blend with current learners’ environment. As consequences, curricula are being altered and are customized to be attuned to the breakthroughs of technology. Combining media forms as springboards with the aid of multi-media tools yield the possibilities of technological instructions’ facilitation on practically designed activities.

Teachers today need to be classroom innovators by not necessarily demanding complicated sets of technological tools from educational institutions they serve, but with the presence of basic technologies, mentors situate learning setting the most practical ways they can.

One of the simple ways to perform this is through the use of a film clip from the cyberspace’s YouTube which directs manipulation of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning revised as Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy by Churches (2007). Integrating this in English language teaching aims to strengthen the learners’ order thinking skills which starts from remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating acquired concepts or knowledge. While these are being employed, technical activities are simultaneously applied.

These suggested students’ activities that follow through a mini-biographical film of Walt Disney, primarily aim to employ the order thinking skills and to elucidate how these sub skills in every order thinking skills are being manipulated through learners’ viewing, listening, speaking, reading and writing aided by appropriate language targets prescribed by the teacher who acts as a facilitator. The learning objectives of these activities are defined by the sub skills.

1. Remembering

Bookmarking the URL of Walt Disney’s autobiography for easy access Finding the site of the given auto-biography to enable previews Copying or recording the passage into a file Listening and viewing the passage in a language laboratory or school studio Listing and sequencing important dates of Walt Disney’s life Listing and ordering important events in the film Tabulating events and dates through a Microsoft word or a PowerPoint Telling a story about Disney’s life orally or through a recording Labeling dates on the timeline of Disney through varied forms of graphic organizers Labeling events on the timeline of Walt Disney through the use of shapes and figures from the Microsoft word applications Numbering the events of Walt Disney’s life as they occur in the film bio while listening Quoting significant lines from the film bio and presenting this through scanned pictures, film scene excerpts, sketches or drawings projected onscreen Naming important films cited with their displayed promotional posters obtained from the Internet Locating Walt Disney’s travels through projected googled maps onscreen

2. Understanding

Relating the dates and events in a PowerPoint presentation Inferring through the character’s important dates and events gathered with matching pictures downloaded from the internet Interpreting the graphic organizer provided by the teacher projected onscreen Interpreting the graphic organizer personally constructed displayed onscreen Diagramming the events through semantic mapping styles Classifying the films cited in the biography through a column chart Gathering important facts to be presented by a PowerPoint Summarizing Disney’s life through a single paragraph onscreen to be deliberated

3. Applying

Playing the Auto-biography and presenting a timeline of his story Using semantic mapping tools to relate concepts in the short movie Demonstrating ideas from the film through imagery or sketches Presenting a gist of his biography through sketches Presenting a gist of his life through scanned pictures obtained from magazines Presenting his biography through photographs to represent ideas Demonstrating ideas through scanned pictures for slide shows Charting and completing the sequential significant events of Disney’s life. Completing and explaining a paragraph about Disney’s life displayed onscreen Choosing an event and presenting its significance Acting out some scenes from the film and simultaneously playing the original narrative Constructing a recorded narrative about the biography

4. Analyzing

Questioning by formulating series of questions according to levels or dimensions to obtain details as a whole Ordering the works of Walt Disney according to dates and places Organizing the events through PowerPoint presentations Presenting a slideshow featuring the works of Mr. Disney Classifying Disney films according to genre and showing some remarkable scenes Classifying Walt Disney films according to production years Deconstructing Disney’s Biography through graphic organizers Linking the timeline with his produced films using posters Ordering events through a designed timeline or a flow chart Outlining biography by dates, places, events and significant works in films

5. Evaluating

Editorializing his life with cartoons for deliberation Preparing a rubric to be displayed on the board for agreeing and disagreeing the significant events and accomplishments of the character Rating the biography in terms of its technical factors and contents Posting some illustrations that allude to the events of his life’s story Revising earlier structures that appropriately enumerate the events of Disney life Justifying Disney films’ advantages through a simulated talk show Reviewing the film by a conceptualized list of criteria Surveying and monitoring classmates’ opinions regarding Disney movies. Posting still pictures of Disney characters and captioning the pictures Re-framing titles of his movies through a projected screen Revising the film into a pure narrative to convey sequential events

6. Creating

Simulating Disney’s life with the use of improvised audio-visual materials Structuring a script through the use of script formats from the Web Publishing essays on Walt Disney’s life through online journals or blogs Creating animations to showcase some popular Disney film characters Blogging an essay about significant events Composing an article on Disney to be published in your school paper or in the Internet Producing a story by filming some instances of Disney’s life Orating a speech composition regarding his remarkable works through mixing with sound and visual effects in the background Constructing a talk show about Disney in a school studio or in the class Simulating Disney characters in the classroom by groups with technical effects Constructing a narrative summary through written or recorded form Producing theatrical performances about him through a script Monitoring opinions on the advantages of his films among classmates

A stronger perception about the rationale of these suggested tasks can be further explained through an example presumed to be a teacher’s discretion from a language program being patterned to. Under remembering as the lowest order thinking skills, students will tabulate events and dates after seeing the mini-biography. This type of activity deals with sub skills particularly, tabulating and telling which further imply the activities’ objectives and prescribe the appropriate grammar to be employed such as time expressions, prepositions, conjunctions, simple past tense forms of the verb as well as the involved skills such as writing, speaking skills engagement not to mention the viewing and listening skills that have been used earlier. Additional digital aspects of this lesson are further supplemented by the use of PowerPoint or Microsoft Word to create outputs which are facilitated by an external disc where the file has been saved, a computer to enable the file and a projector to display the students’ works after Googling the main source of the materials chosen for this lesson.

To summarize, the following factors can sustain and prove the possibilities of these proposed practical applications of digital taxonomy in language teaching: order thinking skills (digital order thinking skills) and sub skills, objectives, grammar focuses, authentic springboard (mini-biography from the YouTube), macro skills, instructional technology tools (website, external disc, computer, and projector) and outputs. All these mobilize the possibilities to perform these suggested activities.

Discovering the Little Known and Now Washed Up History in the Film Mi Familia (My Family)

Although it took me a few attempts to really stick in with the opening of the film, Mi Familia or My Family, I am glad that restarting at the beginning of the film and watched it in its entirety. After beginning to see the humor and humanness of the narrator and the narrating characters within this story, I was actually hooked to the screen, eager to know what next adventure awaits this complex, true and loving family. I was very delighted to see that this film addressed issues of unfair deportation of legal citizens in the United States in such an emotional and gripping way.

After journeying with Paco’s father through Mexico to the east side California, and watching his family grow and develop, I began to root for him hoping that everything would turn out well for him and his family. I was able to do this because the writer and makers of the film developed characters, especially, the Mexican and Hispanic characters in the film, with in depth history, background, psyche, wants and needs that accompany the universal themes found in their story depicted in this film.

I was delighted to see that his film pointed toward historical and cultural issues that have been forgotten or less publicized throughout the teaching of American history.

The filmmakers chose to highlight the issue that some citizens of the U.S. like the character, El California, who was born in Los Angeles when it was still Mexico, do not accept what the United State’s government did to their people or their land.

El California’s character, expressed beliefs through his dialogue in the film about Los Angeles are so poignant in the film that I began to inquire whether Los Angeles had once been a part of Mexico. Upon doing research, I discovered that Los Angeles was in fact originally a small Mexican town that later became a part of the United State’s territory.

This film, whether intentionally or not, validates the sentiments that may be felt amongst some members of the Mexican community in the United States by respectfully and creatively using dialogue, images, sound, and universal themes. These universal themes and use of film techniques create characters of Mexican descent who may not be perfect, but are shown to be complex in how they dealt with the situations that life brought their way.

This film successfully makes a hero out of each individual member in this family. I am able to recognize the villain or major antagonist in this film as the system and the system’s impact on early childhood development in relation to the effect that those experiences have on their lives in adolescent and adult years.