TCM Showcase Claudette Colbert: Imitation of Life/Cleopatra/The Palm Beach Story/Midnight [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Imitation of Life
The first of two film version of Fannie Hurst's novel, 1934's Imitation of Life chronicles the friendship between two women--one white (Claudette Colbert), one black (Louise Beavers). Colbert is a widow with a baby daughter who hires Beavers, who also has a daughter, as a housekeeper. Colbert is a working girl who yearns to operate her own business, which she does thanks to Beavers' special pancake recipe. A family friend (Ned Sparks) suggests that the ladies form a corporation to merchandise the "Aunt Delilah" pancake mix, and within ten years both women are quite wealthy. Colbert's relationship with her teenaged daughter (Rochelle Hudson) is strained when both ladies vie for the attentions of the same man, but these problems are minor compared to the travails of Beavers, who not only must deal with the De Facto segregation of the 1930s but must also contend with her restless daughter (Fredi Washington), who resents being an African-American and attempts to pass for white. The heartbroken Beavers dies, and at her funeral her now-chastened daughter weeps out her apologies for turning her back on her mother. Imitation of Life was remade in 1959, its story glamorized and updated to accommodate star Lana Turner. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Palm Beach Story
As for the opening reels, the principal motivating factor is money. After a deliberately confusing pre-credit sequence (not explained until the film's punch line), Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea) and Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) are married. "And so they lived happily ever after," exults a title card, "...or did they?" Well, they didn't. After five years of marriage, Tom hasn't raised a dime with his pie-in-the-sky inventions. Using the sort of logic common to Sturges heroines, Gerry decides that the only way to help her husband is to divorce him, marry a wealthy man, and use the second husband's money to finance Tom's schemes. Borrowing money from a generous self-made business mogul known only as the Wienie King (Robert Dudley), Gerry boards a train to Palm Beach, FL, where all the rich folk go. En route, she is "adopted" by the Ale & Quail Club, a group of perpetually drunken millionaires whose idea of a good time is to shoot their rifles at everything that moves (among the club members are such Sturges regulars as William Demarest, Robert Warwick, Jimmy Conlin, Robert Greig, Jack Norton, and Dewey Robinson). Taking refuge from this rowdy crew, Gerry makes the acquaintance of likeable stuffed shirt John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), who happens to be one of the wealthiest men in the Western Hemisphere. While Gerry spoons with Hackensacker in Palm Beach, the confused Tom (remember him?) dallies with Hackensacker's man-crazy sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor). How all this straightens itself out is better seen than described, which is pretty much the case whenever one discusses Sturges' singular work, and The Palm Beach Story is vintage Sturges with one side-splitting sequence after another. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Midnight
Paramount's screwball comedy Midnight is the first collaboration between director Mitchell Leisen and screenwriting duo Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. The film merges Brackett and Wilder's early emphasis on repartee and masquerade with ex-costume designer Leisen's flair for high style and sophistication. American Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert), a wily ex-showgirl, must impersonate Hungarian royalty in order to infiltrate the Parisian jet set. Midnight begins during a midnight rainstorm as Eve arrives penniless at Paris' Gare de L'Est, owning only the gold lamé gown on her back. She attracts the attention of Hungarian cab driver, Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche), but walks out on their budding romance; Eve will no longer make the mistake of dating for love rather than money. Instead, she finds shelter from the downpour by crashing a socialite's late-night soirée using a pawnticket and a pseudonym, the Baroness Czerny (the cab driver's surname). There, Eve meets aristocrat Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore), who entices her with a place in society if she agrees to remain disguised as the Baroness and seduce his wife's playboy lover. Meanwhile, Tibor Czerny has not given up his search for Eve. When he locates her whereabouts and discovers the fact that she is using his name, Tibor also travels to the Flammarion estate -- to win back Eve, and to pose as her husband, the Baron. What ensues is quintessential screwball comedy, full of deception, love, quadruple entendre, and outright farce. Midnight remains Leisen's most heralded directorial effort, as well as one of Brackett and Wilder's earliest successes. ~ Aubry Anne D'Arminio, Rovi

Cleopatra
Film historian William K. Everson once observed that the secret to the success of Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 Cleopatra is that DeMille subtly reshaped the known historical events into a contemporary "gold-digger makes good" scenario. Exhibiting the same determination with which Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way to the top in 1933's Baby Face, Queen Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) uses her feminine wiles to become sole ruler of Egypt. By turns kittenish and cold-blooded, Cleopatra wraps such otherwise responsible Roman worthies as Julius Caesar (Warren William, who wittily plays his role like one of his standard ruthless business executives) and Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) around her well-manicured little finger. To emphasize the "contemporary" nature of the film, DeMille adds little modernistic touches throughout: The architecture of Egypt and Rome has a distinctly art-deco look; a matron at a social gathering clucks "Poor Calpurnia...well, the wife is always the last to know"; and, after Caesar's funeral, Mark Anthony is chided by an associate for "all that 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' business!" Cleopatra's barge scene and her suicide from the bite of a snake marked two of the most memorable sequences in DeMille's career. Remarkably, for all the enormous sets and elaborate costumes, Cleopatra came in at a budget of $750,000 -- almost $40 million less than the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor remake. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Claudette Colbert
    Claudette Colbert - Beatrice "Bea" Pullman
  • Warren William
    Warren William - Stephen Archer
  • Louise Beavers
    Louise Beavers - Delilah Johnson
  • Ned Sparks
    Ned Sparks - Elmer
  • Fredi Washington
    Fredi Washington - Peola at 19
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