Gary Cooper and Anna Sten in The Wedding Night
Meet Anna Sten, the incandescent, forgotten Ukrainian Garbo. Anna was discovered by Samuel Goldwyn in Germany, where she had embarked on a successful career in art house films and theatre after leaving Russia with her film director husband.
What a tragedy that Goldwyn brought her to America and mishandled her career in Hollywood. Sten radiates that elusive X-factor that all great actors have from Audrey Hepburn to Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper.
It's called charisma.
A Magnetic, Tragic Heroine
Sten is the magnetically lovely heroine of The Wedding Night, a young woman caught between two cultures in a forgotten King Vidor thirties black and white masterpiece about the clash between youthful, brash, anything goes America and aspirational immigrant culture opposite a marvellously open, playful and ebullient Gary Cooper. " You think you are an American girl, but you are a Polish girl," declares her silly, brutish father who sees his daughter as a commodity to be traded like his farm animals and land in a marriage contract with a man she can't stand. The consequences are profound, for Manya, (Sten), has fallen deeply in love with a man from another world, between milking her cow, keeping a lonely writer company and playfights in the snow.
What a revelation Coop is as a dashing young writer with all the arrogance of youth, some writing success, a taste for living high on the hog and virtually no ability to take care of himself. His attempts to light the stove and boil the kettle are wonderfully inept.
Love in a Cold Climate
He is sweet and perfect as the star-crossed lover who finds love and a meeting of hearts and minds where he least expects to find it, in the countryside where he grew up, with the beautiful, courageous and fearless daughter of a Polish immigrant tobacco farmer. Watch it and you will just ache to see love succeed over the milk churns, pancakes, manuscripts and local gossip.
A Doomed Marriage Inspired by the Life of F Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda
Barrat (Cooper) has returned to his childhood home in Connecticut in search of inspiration after his latest book is rejected and he has run out of money. His decadent, empty lifestyle has caught up with him along with his doomed, superficial marriage to Dora, which Knopf based on the relationship between F Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda.
Manya becomes his companion, muse and inspiration after his bored, spoiled wife Dora, Vinson, runs back to New York, leaving her husband to fend for himself. She risks scandal to spend stolen afternoons with Barratt, hearing him read the novel that has poured out of him as he tells their stream of consciousness, unfolding love story.
Coop is adorable in the Wedding Night. This is the actor before he was ruthlessly turned into the stereotyped strong silent type of High Noon. I like my Coop like this. He is goofy, playful, vulnerable, raw, emotional and daringly, heartbreakingly honest about love and the way he is prepared to tear out his heart for the girl who becomes everything to him in the depths of a lonely winter.
Manya is absolutely his equal in every way. She is smart, independent and spirited with an unspoiled loveliness. She is also the opposite of his vacuous, superficial wife, Dora, brilliantly played by Helen Vinson. Dora is a social butterfly who will use her claws to protect her own interests, with tragic consequences.
Me No Like the Countryside
The film could have been made yesterday. It is fresh, modern and crackles with sharp comic moments and brilliantly sketched local characters from the very bad singing housekeeper to Barratt's long-suffering Japanese man Friday who 'no like' the countryside. It's also honest, funny and soaked in fascinating historical detail about life in America in the thirties and the clash between the leisured and privileged middle classes and the immigrants working all the hours in the day to get on in life and follow the American dream.
A Vintage Christmas Card in the Snow
It's like watching an exquisite, glittery Christmas card brought to life. Despite gossip that Gary Cooper couldn't stand his beautiful and talented co-star, you can't tell from their intense chemistry on screen. Vidor turned the heat up or down during filming to intensify the emotion in the love scenes between Anna and Gary and it sure worked.
The Wedding Night was made in the winter of 1934, 88 years ago, and yet it shines for its spontaneity, naturalism, intimacy and the way it explores love, immigrant culture and authentic customs traditions and the end of a marriage before the Hayes code robbed Hollywood films of their ability to convey love, disappointment and relationships as they really are until the code was relaxed in the early sixties.
The film is remarkable for the times. Sten looks like a luminous Snow White in the scene where Barratt tenderly tucks her into bed and reads to her before kissing her. It's a bittersweet moment that is full of honest sexual desire and longing and both Cooper and Sten are utterly convincing as the sweethearts.
King Vidor one of the great directors of the Golden Age nurtured rich, magnetic performances from Cooper and Sten. Forget Cooper as the remote hero of westerns in the forties and fifties. Instead, watch his thirties film roles to see how funny, relaxed and talented he is at conveying complex emotional development laced with indecent levels of wayward charm and charisma. Coop I would run away and marry you any day of the week!
Rom-Com Film Gems
Man Up starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell ( It's Complicated) is a deliciously messy, contrary, awkward, puerile and at times excruciatingly depressing, (in a very British sort of way) gem of a quintessentially British rom-com that doesn't try to romanticise the pursuit of love.
Although, and this is the genius part, that is precisely what it does. What could be more romantic than randomly being mistaken for someone else's blind date under the big clock at Waterloo Station and deciding in a heartbeat to seize the day and pretend that you are that date even though you are the world's greatest romantic pessimist and quite down on love?
Leading Lady Lake Bell
Reader, I will leave you to savour the mayhem and surprises that follow. This film beats all the contrived and deadly dull big-budget attempts at romance, even if the ending does descend into Four Weddings territory. I don't care, I enjoyed it and I also think Lake Bell is a natural leading lady with brilliant screwball tendencies. I would love to see her take on a Jane Austen heroine.
More Rom-Com Jewels
Dirty Dancing - At first glance, Dirty Dancing, one of the most successful films of the late eighties, is an intoxicating love story that shows the transformative power of dance through its talented two leads, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. It is so much more than that. With an intelligent, literary script, the film deftly examines the insidious injustices of class and privilege in sixties America and it is one of the best films to watch right now on the returning threat to women's reproductive rights, abortion and hypocrisy.
It's Complicated - Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and Lake Bell in a film about love, family, divorce, sex with your ex and the joy of making food from scratch, especially croissants at 3 am in the morning.
Watch It's Complicated Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and Lake Bell in a classic rom-com that dissects love, sex, family, divorce and the importance of making delicious slow food and croissants from scratch at 3 am in the morning.
Maria Callas - Callas By Callas
Maria Callas shines in this finely crafted documentary meticulously pieced together from newsreels and a fascinating interview with the late Sir David Frost.
Given how news can be distorted, she finally gets to be the heroine in her own story and its riveting.
Maria Callas is the greatest. She magnetic," says a particularly ardent and intelligent student fan who has camped out all night to see Callas return to the Met in New York after a seven-year absence. Surely, heaven on earth is watching Callas, La Divina, sing her greatest roles - Norma, Medea, Violetta and Tosca as if her very life depends on it. She appears like an angel sent to earth to move us, to break our hearts, to live, to love and to feel as she did on stage. Then, the angel is also a mortal woman who has suffered, loved and lost and tells us so with remarkable eloquence, grace and poise that made her one of the greatest cultural shooting starts of the 20th Century.
So, we hear Maria her tell her story in her own words, in between captivating film reels of Callas as the living embodiment of the diva. The plain ugly ducking transformed into a polished, painted, dazzling goddess (who resembles Audrey Hepburn as Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany's) dressed in haute couture, an exquisitely chiselled work of art and force of nature reincarnated as the most beautiful opera singer of all time. "I lived for art, I lived for love' - she sings - such prescient and immortal words.
Watch, wallow and be enthralled by Maria Callas the woman and the diva and marvel that she existed at all. Then play her recordings. I cannot help thinking that we live in an age where authentic glamour and real talent are no longer celebrated unless they exist in the past tense.
Watch Maria on Callas
This Weeks Radio Highlights
The Poet Laureate Has Gone to His Shed with Prince Charles
Simon Armitage, the poet laureate hangs out with His Royal Highness, HRH, Prince Charles to the sound of the rain and peacocks calling in his barn in the Brecon Beacons to talk about his life's work to reconnect us to the miracle of nature.
"Nothing beats eating what you have grown yourself." Prince Charles
Simon's chat with Prince Charles starts off slowly, and slightly tentatively and then just gets better and better until is enthralling as Charles quietly and eloquently talks about the simple joy of being outside, messing about, planting hedges, growing apples, pears and asparagus, planting trees, the joy of art and creativity to his friendships with two former poet laureates, John Betjeman and Ted Hughes.
We learn why the Swift is his favourite bird and how much he laments what is happening to his beloved River Dee in Scotland, as a result of climate change. Along the way, he quietly discusses his life-long plan for saving the planet and " turning the tanker around" just in time. Charles declares that it is the children who get how urgent the crisis is as he says, " we are a part of nature, not a thing apart from nature, that has been the problem for the last 200 years."
The sights and sounds of nature are intimate and captivating and there is sherry too! Don't miss it.
Listen to Simon and Prince Charles on BBC Sounds
More Radio Gems this week at the BBC on BBC Sounds.
Rita Tushingham on Desert Island Disks
You're Dead to Me
Celebrating Kate Bush
Celebrating Music's Greatest Stars, Including Sir Paul McCartney and The Eagles Who Play Hyde Park in July 2022.
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This slow arts review was handcrafted over three days by our editor Alison Jane Reid. AJ has been a leading UK journalist for 25 years, working for The Times, You, Mirror Group, The Lady, The Independent and magazines, newspapers and journals around the world. She has interviewed several hundred cultural icons ranging from Sir David Attenborough to Keira Knightley, Vanessa Redgrave, Iman, Sienna Miller, Karl Lagerfeld, Ted Danson, Naomi Watts, Bryan May, Kim Cattrall, Joely Richardson, Natascha McElhone, Heidi Klum, Elisabeth McGovern, Terence Donovan, Patrick Lichfield, Glenn Close, Linda McCartney and Hugh Bonneville.
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