10 Feb 22–20 Feb 22
Retrospective of the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival
The Retrospective of the Berlin International Film Festival 2022 will showcase the comedic oeuvre of American actresses Mae West, Rosalind Russell, and Carole Lombard. The spotlight will be on some 30 films that bear the unmistakeable signature of each of the actresses in a classic Hollywood comedy.
Mae West began her film career at the age of 39. Already successful in theater and variety shows, her screen debut was in Archie Mayo’s ‘Night After Night’ (USA, 1932). She shortly rose to become the best-paid actress of the 1930s. In contrast to the era’s ideal of beauty, her trademark became her stylization of her own figure. Almost all of the 12 films she made will be screened in the Retrospective, including Wesley Ruggles’ ‘I’m No Angel’ (USA, 1933) and Raoul Walsh’s ‘Klondike Annie’ (USA, 1936), in which West played her perhaps most controversial role, as the disreputable Frisco Doll, who flees to Alaska and, along the way, assumes the identity of the pious missionary Sister Annie. Mae West wrote most of the stories and scripts for her own films; her aggressive use of her sex appeal often brought her in conflict with the Hollywood censors.
Rosalind Russell’s breakthrough as a comedienne came in George Cukor’s ‘The Women’ (USA, 1939). In the long career that followed, she would play both dramatic and comedy roles. In the comedies, Russell’s characters are often successful businesswomen who must choose between love and a career. She holds her own in a male-dominated world as a quick-witted journalist (‘Four’s a Crowd’, USA, 1938, directed by Michael Curtiz) or a worldly-wise judge (‘Design for Scandal’, USA, 1941, directed by Norman Taurog). With her impeccable timing and utter command of physical comedy, Russell was a master – indeed, a mistress – of slapstick. This Retrospective will give us a chance to rediscover her thespian skills.
Carole Lombard acted in silent films before advancing – like Mae West – to become a star at Paramount Pictures in the 1930s. Before dying young in a plane accident in 1942, she acted in more than 40 films, most of them comedies. Her interpretations carried a sense of the feminine and ranged from the naïf to the elegant woman of the world. She was brilliant as the carefree rich socialite in ‘My Man Godfrey’ (USA, 1936, directed by Gregory La Cava), as a spirited actress in ‘Twentieth Century’ (USA, 1934, directed by Howard Hawks), and in ‘No Man of Her Own’ (USA, 1932, directed by Wesley Ruggles) as the small-town girl who yearns for the big, wide world and even bigger love. Her acting style was a blend of lightness, charm, and wit, which she displayed in a multitude of variations.
The Films of the Retrospective
Belle of the Nineties
USA, 1934, directed by Leo McCarey
with Mae West, Roger Pryor, Johnny Mack Brown, John Miljan
In the American South, a vaudeville performer falls victim to a crooked bar owner who tries to cheat her out of her diamonds. Mae West is shown off to best advantage in this musical comedy as “the greatest sensation of our 19th century”.
Design for Scandal
USA, 1941, directed by Norman Taurog
with Rosalind Russell, Walter Pidgeon, Edward Arnold, Lee Bowman
A principled judge succumbs to the flattery of a purported artist. She doesn’t realise that an unhappy plaintiff has tasked the man with involving her in a scandal. A romantic comedy with slapstick elements.
Every Day’s a Holiday
USA, 1938, directed by A. Edward Sutherland
with Mae West, Edmund Lowe, Charles Butterworth, Charles Winninger
A con artist transforms herself into a French cabaret star. But with the chief of police still trying to arrest her, she gets involved in politics. In her last film for Paramount, Mae West gleefully takes down a corrupt representative of law and order.
Four’s a Crowd
USA, 1938, directed by Michael Curtiz
with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Rosalind Russell, Patric Knowles
A reporter falls in love with her editor. While he starts flirting with the publisher’s fiancée, the husband-to-be is hoping to catch the eye of the reporter. A tumultuous screwball comedy with Rosalind Russell and Errol Flynn.
Goin’ to Town
USA, 1935, directed by Alexander Hall
with Mae West, Paul Cavanagh, Gilbert Emery, Marjorie Gateson
A bawdy saloon singer inherits an oilfield and a fortune. Mae West plays a self-assured woman fighting for the approval of both high society and the man she wants, and landing some pot shots at the moneyed aristocracy along the way.
Go West Young Man
USA, 1936, directed by Henry Hathaway
with Mae West, Warren William, Randolph Scott, Alice Brady
A movie star is stranded in a rural boarding house after her car breaks down, where a well-built auto mechanic catches her roving eye. In this ambiguous film-within-a-film comedy, Mae West once again has the last word.
Hands Across the Table
USA, 1935, directed by Mitchell Leisen
with Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy, Astrid Allwyn
A New York manicurist is determined to marry a rich man but falls in love with a poor one. Critics deemed this comedy with a pronounced sense of social status a forerunner of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.
USA, 1940, directed by William A. Seiter
with Rosalind Russell, Brian Aherne, Virginia Bruce, Robert Benchley
A secretary marries her boss to keep his financial assets safe. But she’s really in love with him and determined to turn the short-term trade-off into a long-term investment. As usual, Rosalind Russell is a sure bet!
His Girl Friday
USA, 1940, directed by Howard Hawks
with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart
A divorced reporter is persuaded by her ex-husband and ex-boss to cover one last story for him. In the course of one chaotic night, they find themselves reunited. A classic of screwball comedy starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant.
I’m No Angel
USA, 1933, directed by Wesley Ruggles
with Mae West, Cary Grant, Gregory Ratoff, Edward Arnold
A frothy comedy about a honky-tonk performer who snags an affluent high-society New Yorker. Mae West is a lion-tamer with a thirst for love who makes a beeline for upward mobility, leaving a trail of criss-crossed men in her wake.
USA, 1936, directed by Raoul Walsh
with Mae West, Victor McLaglen, Philip Reed, Helen Jerome Eddy
A singer wanted for murder in California impersonates a missionary in Alaska. Among her converts is a detective, who falls for her charm. Mae West is worthy of devotion as an amoral adventuress.
Lady by Choice
USA, 1934, directed by David Burton
with Carole Lombard, May Robson, Roger Pryor, Walter Connolly
A risqué dancer adopts a homeless old woman as a PR stunt. But the hard-drinking ersatz mother has plenty of road dust on her and turns out to be a tough manager. This comedy takes up arms on behalf of “fallen women”.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
USA, 1941, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
with Carole Lombard, Robert Montgomery, Gene Raymond, Jack Carson
An argumentative couple finds out that their marriage is void. Before the inevitable reconciliation, the husband in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic screwball comedy experiences a maze of torturous jealousy.
My Little Chickadee
USA, 1940, directed by Edward F. Cline
with Mae West, W. C. Fields, Joseph Calleia, Dick Foran
A lusty story of the Wild West starring two greats of Hollywood comedy. Wrangling over romance with a masked bandit, W.C. Fields and Mae West deliver a tart-tongued duel that turns every stretch of dialogue into a verbal gunfight.
My Man Godfrey
USA, 1936, directed by Gregory La Cava
with William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick
A spoiled New York socialite hires a homeless tramp as the butler for her affluent, dysfunctional family. This ingenious, witty depression-era comedy has a frenetic plot that takes on the characteristics of a theatre of the absurd piece.
My Sister Eileen
USA, 1942, directed by Alexander Hall
with Rosalind Russell, Brian Aherne, Janet Blair, George Tobias
Two sisters from the Midwest try their luck in New York. Their tiny basement apartment becomes a bubbling hub of moody neighbours, oddballs, and aspiring suitors. A delightfully chaotic screen adaptation of a Broadway hit.
Night After Night
USA, 1932, directed by Archie Mayo
with George Raft, Constance Cummings, Wynne Gibson, Mae West
A speakeasy owner loses his heart to a young, uptown girl, while his club is threatened with takeover by gangsters. In her film debut, Mae West proved to be main attraction on New York’s nightclub scene.
No Man of Her Own
USA, 1932, directed by Wesley Ruggles
with Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Dorothy Mackaill, Grant Mitchell
A professional card shark marries a small-town librarian who wants to make a better man of him. Years before they married in real life, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable play a bickering couple in this gay comedy set in sinful New York.
USA, 1937, directed by William A. Wellmann
with Carole Lombard, Frederic March, Charles Winniger, Walter Connolly
A New York journalist publicly plays up the fate of a small-town beauty who is allegedly fatally ill. But in fact, she’s perfectly healthy. This sweeping indictment of sensationalism and shock culture is a big-screen delight in glorious Technicolor.
She Done Him Wrong
USA, 1933, directed by Lowell Sherman
with Mae West, Cary Grant, Owen Moore, Gilbert Roland
A comedy set in the 1890’s underworld of New York nightlife. Mae West is at centre stage as a singer and gangster’s moll who casts her roving eye on a mission director (played by Cary Grant).
Take a Letter, Darling
USA, 1942, directed by Mitchell Leisen
with Rosalind Russell, Fred MacMurray, Macdonald Carey, Constance Moore
A businesswoman and two men – one a millionaire, the other a penniless artist and her secretary. Rosalind Russell was the perfect choice to play a woman fighting on two fronts in this cinematic battle of the sexes.
This Thing Called Love
USA, 1941, directed by Alexander Hall
with Rosalind Russell, Melvyn Douglas, Binnie Barnes, Allyn Joslyn
A newlywed believes that the way to stave off divorce is to withhold sex from her groom for the first three months of marriage. Rosalind Russell is nothing if not seductive in this entertaining farce.
To Be or Not to Be
USA, 1942, directed by Ernst Lubitsch
with Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart
In 1939 Warsaw, a Polish theatre troupe costumes itself in German uniforms to thwart a Nazi spy. Ernst Lubitsch’s best known film is a glorious anti-Nazi satire, featuring a glamourous Carole Lombard in her last screen appearance.
USA, 1937, directed by Wesley Ruggles
with Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, John Barrymore, Una Merkel
A would-be writer confesses to a murder she didn’t commit. At trial, she dares not admit to her truth-loving lawyer and husband that she is a liar. A comedy about marriage and justice with a goodly dose of irony.
USA, 1934, directed by Howard Hawks
with John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns
A theatre impresario loses his biggest star to Hollywood. During a train journey, he tries to win her back, by hook or by crook. This temperamental duel between Carole Lombard and John Barrymore shaped the screwball comedy genre.
What a Woman!
USA, 1943, directed by Irving Cummings
with Rosalind Russell, Brian Aherne, Willard Parker, Alan Dinehart
The culture sector goes screwball when New York’s most successful literary agent tries to transmogrify the tweedy author of a rousing romance novel into a dashing actor who can play him onscreen.
USA, 1939, directed by George Cukor
with Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland
A wealthy New Yorker’s marriage starts to collapse after her girlfriends learn about her husband’s affair. With only women in front of the camera, Rosalind Russell is brilliant as a snarky schemer in this satire of high-society and female wiliness.