CLAUDETTE COLBERT AND THE MAGIC OF CINEMA – BY GEORGE KAPLAN

it happened one night
Claudette Colbert & The Magic of Cinema

There are some actresses whose names you don’t hear much anymore. It’s something to do with the passing of time; some stars are well-remembered, others, though they may have been as good if not better, are relatively little remarked-upon.
So, let’s talk about one of them, the glorious Claudette Colbert. For over a decade in the thirties and forties Claudette was a great star, often good in dramatic roles but  luminously wonderful in comedy. She was able to be sophisticated, lively, seductive, playful, intelligent, and altogether delicious. Quite apart from anything else she was radiantly sexy, she just had *it*! Her beautiful kittenlike face with its  mischievous eyes and adorable cheeks simply glowed in black and white. She may have said “By five in the afternoon I am tired and my face shows it”, which got her fired from 1948’s “State of the Union”, but who, really, could argue with that?! I was enchanted by her face as a boy and remain so now; the magic of cinema!

Claudette brought true zest to comedic roles and was at perhaps her best in two masterpieces for legendary directors, Preston Sturges’ “The Palm Beach Story”, and – the movie that made her a star – “It Happened One Night”, directed by Frank Capra and co-starring manly Clark Gable. Fans of classic comedy won’t need reminding of Claudette’s travails with the Ale and Quail Club (truly, absurdly hilarious!) or the romantic vicissitudes in “Story”, while “Night” is justly famous for the “Walls of Jericho” bed scene (not to forget Gable’s vestless chest!) and Claudette scandalously baring her thigh to attract a motorist’s attention when hitch-hiking! Certainly, Claudette could be hard to work with and said of Night after filming “I’ve just finished the worst picture in the world”, but, hey, nobody’s perfect! To see her at her best is still sheer delight.

19 Comments »

  1. Thank you very much for posting this little doodle of mine, darling Vickie. “Baby, you’re the top!”
    Hugs, George Kaplanovich

    • Mr. Kaplanovich – you are welcome, and I just noticed this but the two photos: Claudette leaning toward Clark and the photo in the previous post of Meta leaning into William but her head tilting away – dreamy and nice composition!

  2. George, your snappy tip tone would have raised one of Madame Colbert’s eyebrows in delight, I bet. 🙂
    The appeal of “Night” never fades, is never to underestimated–it is the perfect film to show to folks who say, “I don’t like old movies.”
    But a question: was it Claudette that Noel Coward called the “no neck wonder”? Or Norma Shearer?

  3. Why Heather, you are too kind 😉 I couldn’t agree more about Night.
    Re. The “no-neck wonder” barb, I do know that in his letters he said of Claudette that she had been such a nuisance that he would like to wring her neck “if he could find it”! So, I think it must have been Ms Colbert 🙂

  4. Dear George & V
    What a lovely vignette. I’ve had cause to ponder the fleeting quality of fame quite a lot as I am something of a devotee of the silent cinema, the stars of which with but a very few exceptions have disappeared from the firmament of our collective memory.
    Such a shame that sound had to come along and spoil everything. Or more precisely that silent films stopped after the arrival of sound, one assumes for commercial reasons.It would be a much more interesting world if the two forms coexisted properly rather than just in the case of novelty.
    All of which is off the point a little, but thank you for planting Claudette in my mind again.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • This one was Mr. Kaplan’s doing, but I do have to say I know what you mean when you say your a devotee of silent cinema… The other night I turned off the sound while watching a later film of Fritz Lang’s because I didn’t want the dialogue to compete with the visuals… Stunning visuals.

      • And the expressiveness of the faces.
        It’s almost as though visages froze when sound arrived and hundreds of years of acting technique went out of the window.
        How many of today’s fillered and botoxed ‘stars’ could have cut the mustard in a world where their facial muscles had to carry the load?
        Give me one Louise Brooks for twenty… ah but that would be mean.
        And yes, for visuals UFA, the German Expressionists ans Lang take some beating.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • Vickie, so true of Late Lang, so true! Interesting, also, to think of those movies with sequences of pure cinema; image; appropriate music; camera movements;lighting; and cutting. Whoosh!

    • Perfumed Dandy, I do so agree. We may have the films of Guy Maddin and the infrequent The Artist-like curiosity but it is not the same.
      And as for Louise Brooks, ah, she is still so moderne and dangerously ravishing… She had the Power and That Certain Something that is rare today. As, in a different way, did Ms Colbert. In our memories they are imperishable.

  5. Great post George. I was lucky enough to see Claudette Colbert and Rex Harrison on stage in “The Kingfisher” back in the 1970’s. She was glowing and full of incredible comic energy on that stage. Fabulous.

  6. Thank you ever so, Lanier. Oh, you lucky thing! I’m so envious… I think it’s splendid that she was already in her thirties (an age that is, ridiculously, when women are already made to feel “past it” at times) when her filmic stardom really began to burn brightly, and there she was on stage in her *seventies* and she still had it! Wonderful.
    I greatly appreciate that, Mr Lanier 🙂

  7. George,I like being the bees knees.I like also these gloriously dated and funny verbal extravagances and pepper my conversation as often as I can with them as they make me smile.

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