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What I Did This Weekend: Dorothy Arzner’s Women’s Films About Women

What I Did This Weekend: Dorothy Arzner’s Women’s Films About Women

What a treat I gave myself. I went to the Billy Wilder Theater to see Director Dorothy
Arzner
’s films “The Wild Party” (1929, Paramount) and “Anybody’s Woman” (1930, Paramount) as restored by

UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, in cooperation with Universal Studios and
Paramount Pictures.

And as good as these two films were (fantastic!), the audience was just as good. I saw our old friend Alan Howard with his friends David Ansen and Mary
Corey
, my best friend during our oh-so-long-ago freshman year at Brandeis. A perfect segue into the film “The Wild Party” Clara Bow’s first sound feature. I had never seen
Clara Bow before, nor had I seen a Dorothy Arzner film. And I had only seen Mary Corey once since we both left Brandeis after our freshman year and went our
separate ways.

It somehow never occurred to me that Dorothy Arzner would have a particular point of view as a woman; but she certainly did. Lesbian herself, she made
women’s films about women and men who were always slightly slighted by her, but with a loving touch. These were the opening films to the Dorothy Arzner Retrospective held in the Billy Wilder Theater of
the Armand Hammer Museum.

Alison Anders will present August 30th’s film “The Red Kimon” and “Old Ironsides”

. The series runs until September 18. Do yourself a favor and catch at least one of these historic films by a historic director…an anomaly perhaps still yet
to be surpassed.

“The Wild Party” (1929)
 

In “The Wild Party” Clara Bow plays Stella is an inveterate partier at an all-girl college. She is tough – when drunken men molest her and her friends and
even kidnap her to rape her – she fights. When a favorite classmate is implicated in a scandal, Stella heroically defends her friend’s reputation at the
expense of her own. Rich with pre-Code delights (including furtive, “innocent” bed-hopping with college professors), one may easily detect the film’s
insistence on the supremacy of female friendships.

Clara Bow, the “It” Girl, in my mind was a live Betty Boop; what the “it” meant in her nickname was not clear though I knew it had something to do with
sexy. Actually, her breakthrough film was entitled “It”. She is a wonderful comedian and her expressive eyes and face rule the screen; she was America’s
first sex symbol. She won a photo beauty contest which launched her movie career that would eventually number 58 films, from 1922 to 1933.

Paramount Famous Lasky Corp. Producer: E. Lloyd Sheldon. Director: Dorothy Arzner. Screenwriter: E. Lloyd Sheldon. Based on a story by Warner Fabian.
Cinematographer: Victor Milner. Editor: Otto Lovering. With: Clara Bow, Fredric March, Marceline Day, Shirley O’Hara, Adrienne Doré. 35mm,
b/w, 77 min.


Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the Myra Reinhard Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and
Jodie Foster, in cooperation with Universal Studios.

“Anybody’s Woman” (1930)

“Anybody’s Woman” holds lots of surprises including the title itself. The cheesy out-of-work chorine Pansy Gray (Ruth Chatterton) accepts an irresponsible
marriage proposal from Neil Dunlap (Clive Brook), an intoxicated but elegant upper crust attorney, and winds up in high society, to the horror of her
newfound “family.” Reforming her dissolute husband and striving to be an honest social success, Pansy is compromised by the flirtations of several men,
including Neil’s most important client, for which she is denounced as a seductress.

As David described Clive Brook as stiff and Mary defended his acting because the role called for such a stiff actor, Kevin Thomas was introduced to David
and joined our little group; the talk veered into other directions and so did I. But I want to say that Paul Lukas, the Hungarian born actor held a very
special place in this film; elegant but vulgar, open and mysterious, he was able to play the thin line of a slightly compromised but sincere character. He
went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for “Watch on the Rhine” in 1948.

Ruth Chatterton herself began as a chorus girl at age 14 so her role must have felt very natural to her. She became a Broadway star with “Daddy Long Legs”
in 1914 and appeared in various shows before moving to Hollywood in 1925. As her film career faded in the late 1930s, she returned to the stage in
revivals, and radio and TV performances, including “Hamlet.” In the 1950s, she began a successful writing career. She was nominted twice for an Academy
Award for Best Actress. She had no children.

Paramount Publix Corp. Director: Dorothy Arzner. Screenwriter: Zoë Akins, Doris Anderson. Cinematographer: Charles Lang. Editor: Jane Loring. With: Ruth Chatterton, Clive Brook, Paul Lukas. 35mm, b/w, 80 min.

Read about this film series in the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal.

The UCLA Film Archive is pleased to commemorate the indispensable career of director Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979) as part of a year-long commemoration of our
own 50th Anniversary. This retrospective features six Archive restorations of Arzner’s work, which have helped to spur scholarship into and retrospectives
of the director’s remarkable achievements. The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television is also proud to claim Arzner as a former professor. A
remarkable and nearly unique figure in American film history, Arzner forged a career characterized by an individual worldview, and a strong, recognizable
voice. She was also, not incidentally, the sole female director in the studio era to sustain a directing career, working in that capacity for nearly two
decades and helming 20 features—conspicuously, still a record in Hollywood. Distinguished as a storyteller with penetrating insight into women’s
perspectives and experiences, Arzner herself emphatically made the point that only a woman could offer such authority and authenticity. At a time when the
marginalization of women directors in the American film establishment is still actively debated, we celebrate Dorothy Arzner, and the Archive’s long
association with her legacy.

Special thanks to:

Peggy Alexander, Curator—Performing Arts Special Collections, UCLA Library; Gayle Nachlis, Kirsten Schaffer—Women in Film, Los Angeles.

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