Monday, August 10, 2009

Thinking Caps Quiz: Statistical Breakdown (sort of)


So heartened was I by the response to my thinking cap quiz (see post below) that I decided to spend an indulgent hour idly collating the results, to see what interesting examples of convergence, divergence, passion, indifference and out on a limb eccentricity might emerge.
So far, the following fine folks have taken part:
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Amanda at A Noodle in a Haystack

Angela at Golden Strands and Silver Strands

Elizabeth at Oh By Jingo! Oh By Gee! and Flapper Flicks

George

Juliette at Some Parade

Lolita at Lolita's Classics

Meredith at Or maybe Eisenstein Should Just Relax
Millie at Classic Forever

Mykal at Radiation Cinema!

Panavia 999 at Stuff

Thea at Kinetografo

Samuel Wilson at Mondo 70
me
Don't worry if you'd like to do the quiz and still haven't: it will just give me another glorious excuse to draw up lists of the answers and monkey around with the results.
Anyway, here's what I found.
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Question 1:
Favourite non-private eye, gangster or Moroccan nightclub owner Bogart film was To Have and Have Not, with a late show of support from Amanda (joining Elizabeth and Millie) beating off its previous rival In A Lonely Place (Lolita and Mykal). Juliette later wished she'd gone for Lonely Place, but wish don't cut it. To Have and Have Not it is.
Question 2:

On the issue of stars in drag, nobody went for Jack or Tony in Some Like It Hot, perhaps from the fear (expressed by Millie) that it was too obvious an answer. So instead we have eleven different answers from eleven participants, with men dressed as women beating women dressed as men six to five. Juliette cheated by making up a fictitious actress ('June Preisser') in a fictitious film ('Sweater Girl'). (She also once tried to convince me there was a Liza Minnelli film called The Sterile Cuckoo. Yeah, right.) The judge's favourite was Elizabeth's - Roscoe Arbuckle in Coney Island (1917) - because I liked the confident way she wrote "How could it be anything else?" after it.

Question 3:

The Laurel & Hardy split did not fall neatly across the gender tracks as I anticipated, with Elizabeth in particular springing to their defence and Mykal in particular pulling the trap door by claiming to loathe all comedies. In the event, the ones I was expecting to sweep the board - Big Business (Samuel Wilson), Sons of the Desert (me) and The Music Box (Meredith) - showed up only once, Millie went for flat-out dislike, and Lolita nominated "their commercial for wooden products" (Tree in a Test-Tube). So the winner turned out to be the early sound short Men o'War, nominated by Angela and myself.

Question 4:
'Favourite star in a role strongly associated with another' proved another eleven-participants-eleven-answers question, but the judge wishes to single out for especial praise the chutzpah of George, who suggested Alan Arkin as Inspector Clouseau, and the innate good taste of Mykal, who opted for Zandor Vorkov
as Dracula in Al Adamson's majestic Dracula vs Frankenstein.
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An equally divergent crop for Question 5: the star you're least familiar with but think you'd like. Eleven participants racked up nineteen suggestions, but the only duplication was of Jessie Matthews by George and me, and then only because I read George's answers before doing mine.
Others that managed all or almost all different suggestions were Question 8 (favourite film that ends with the main character's death; though I suppose Waterloo Bridge has it: one of Juliette's three suggestions, it tallied with Angela, who quite frankly would watch a film of Vivien Leigh putting up wallpaper and not feel short-changed), Question 15 (favourite actor or actress most associated with the fifties; although Lolita's vote for James Dean tallies with one of Millie's three choices I'm disallowing it because he was a big girl, and my choice - Jane Russell - could have turned him into mashed potato with just one withering glance: sorry, the judge's decision is final), Question 19 (favourite last scene of a thirties film, with me and Elizabeth helping City Lights - the best last scene of any film ever - to a two-vote victory), Question 22 (favourite remake; no clear winner: King Kong got two votes but it was once for the '77 version from George and once for the 2005 from Mykal, however Meredith's vote for the 1998 version of The Parent Trap deserves at least acknowledgement), and Question 27 (most longed-for non-existent co-starring performers). The latter understandably brought forth eleven entirely separate answers, though it was interesting to note that while male-female combinations (Elizabeth, Millie and Angela) and male-male combinations (George, Samuel Wilson, Mykal) took three votes each, a slightly greater number voted for two girls (Amanda, me, Meredith, Juliette), which seems to me only right and proper. Lolita, true to form, offered up a threesome with Katherine Hepburn, Robert Montgomery and Kay Francis, under the indulgent directorial eye of George Cukor. Which would have been the judge's choice, but for the utterly charming suggestion from Elizabeth, via her mother: "Buster Keaton and Lillian Gish together, in which they do nothing but blink their great big cow eyes at each other."
Questions 6 & 7:
These, I have to say, surprised me. On the matter of pre-Petrified Forest Bette, Amanda abstained, Meredith went for Parachute Jumper "simply because her Alabama accent is absolutely adorable", George for Three On a Match because it was the only one he'd seen, ditto Mykal and Of Human Bondage ("and she was too cute by half"), Millie ("I'm not a huge Bette fan") chose 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing because she'd "always been fascinated by her hair in the trailer" and Elizabeth declared flatly "I don't like Bette" and didn't vote at all. In the final count, Mykal reluctantly helped Of Human Bondage to a three-vote win, but nobody who voted for it seemed that enthused: Lolita liked Bette's performance ("she's almost creepy, and yet sad, and yet... very creepy") but thought the film "wasn't great", while Samuel Wilson's vote was for "Of Human Bondage, I guess." Still, democracy's democracy, and three half-hearted votes for Of Human Bondage outweigh two certain ones for Ex-Lady (Angela and I).
Post-Mildred Joan Crawford proved equally unenthusing, with Meredith and George both going for Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? because it was the only one they'd seen, and Elizabeth ("I tend to avoid post-Mildred Pierce Joan Crawford; she got a little too weird for me") and Millie ("REALLY don't like Joan Crawford's acting") both opting out entirely. So again, despite a committed pair of votes for Johnny Guitar from Samuel Wilson and Juliette ("I just adore seeing gals in westerns"), Lolita's third vote for Baby Jane gets it the prize.
Question 9:
Mykal doubted the existence of any Chaplin talkies, Millie and Amanda didn't vote and George put an exclamation mark after suggesting A Countess From Hong Kong, but as expected, this settled down into a straight fight between The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight, with Verdoux winning, with three votes (Samuel Wilson, Juliette and Lolita) to its rivals' two apiece.

Question 10:
Favourite British actor and actress brought forth a record 25 votes, with the gongs going to Deborah Kerr for the ladies, who romped home with three votes (George, Samuel Wilson and Meredith), and for the chaps, with two votes each, a tie between wheezy Robert Donat (Juliette and Millie), Cary Grant (Amanda and Meredith) and Charles Laughton (me and Samuel Wilson). And Laughton wins because I voted for him and what I says goes. The judge also acknowledges the excellent taste of Millie (who included Dame May Whitty among her record eight choices) and Elizabeth (who plumped without rival or hesitation for George K. Arthur because of his "Gussie Fink-Nottle lisp").
Question 11:
Favourite thirties star in a post-sixties role was almost a three-way tie between Boris Karloff, Buster Keaton and Joan Blondell. But Keaton drops out because he was nominated for two different appearances: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by George and an episode of The Twilight Zone by Elizabeth. So that just leaves Karloff in Targets (me and Samuel Wilson) and Joanie in Grease (Angela and Lolita) duking it out... and I suppose this time I should let the ladies have it. The Good Taste Award to Meredith, however, who chose Barbara Stanwyck in The Thorn Birds.
Questions 12-14:
The either-ors generated less controversy than I expected. Dietrich took Garbo with a convincing seven vote victory (despite Elizabeth claiming to come from "a family of Dietrich-despisers", Lolita voting Garbo against her every instinct because she is "my country girl" and a disgruntled George at first opting for either Diebo or Garbrich, and only settling on Marlene after a coin-toss). Lugosi bested Karloff (and oh, how that would have pleased him) by the same margin (with Juliette giving her vote to Bela on the unusual grounds that he is the more debonair). Chaplin and Keaton went 50-50 (5 votes each and one abstention), but I suppose Stone Face has it, because while there was a general feeling of 'I love them both', Keaton got a "no hesitation" from George, and Lolita started off saying Chaplin but then panicked and refused to confirm it.

Level-pegging on Questions 16 and 17, with Ninotchka (Meredith, Lolita and George) sharing the favourite Melvyn Douglas film trophy with Mr Blandings (Amanda, Elizabeth and Millie) and seeing off The Old Dark House (Samuel Wilson and me), and Citizen Kane and It's a Wonderful Life arm-in-arming for best box-office failure, with a sneaky one vote each from Meredith, Angela going for the wonderful old Building and Loan and Millie for Rosebud.
Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story proved Question 18's most popular drunkard (with Lolita, Angela and George all offering to help keep him upright and get him home safely), though the judge is respectful of the fact that Juliette said the magic words Una Merkel, and Gig Young managed a vote each for two different films. I just can't believe nobody voted for Arthur Houseman.
Question 20, favourite non-comedy American silent was a walk in the park for The Big Parade (me, Angela and Elizabeth), with nothing else getting more than one vote other than Sadie Thompson, part of Lolita and Juliette's multiple answers.
But Question 21, favourite Jean Harlow performance, proved a tie between Red Dust (me and Meredith) and Dinner at Eight (Angela and Elizabeth), and with Mykal confessing to having never seen one and never intending to ("Hate the woman"). I suggest a look at Beast of the City (incidentally Juliette's choice), or failing that Red-Headed Woman (Lolita's) - we'll get that man converted.

Orson Welles picked up three actor-only votes for The Long Hot Summer in Question 23, though Millie hoped nobody was watching her at the time and Juliette split her vote with Three Cases of Murder, a British film that only she and I have seen since its release in 1955. Amanda deserves praise of some sort for choosing The Muppet Movie. But the judge's decision is final, and the winner is the pissed out of his skull Paul Masson champagne commercial voted for by Lolita, in which he begins each aborted take with the same guttural howl of existential despair, but then somehow segues it into a rambling speech about the merits of Californian champagne. This tops anything in Citizen Kane for me.
George and a shared vote from Millie helped One, Two, Three claw its way to a two-vote victory for a non-dancin', non-shootin' Cagney at Question 24. Angela, Amanda, Meredith and Elizabeth all declined this one, with Elizabeth adding the information that, as well as Dietrich despisers, her family is also "a society of Cagney haters", opining that his dancing "hurts to watch".
Question 25 split Lubitsch fans - formerly one, small happy family - into snarling factions of To Be Or Not To Be supporters (Meredith, George and Millie, the latter of whom reckons to have seen it 33,269 times: three times more than I've seen Abbott & Costello In The Foreign Legion), Ninotchka devotees (Elizabeth, Samuel Wilson and George again, a potentially useful peacemaker between the two camps), and rabid Trouble In Paradise obsessives (Mykal, Lolita and Juliette). Actually there was very little passion - I'm just trying to big it up - and Juliette's, like George's, was a split vote, so the judge gives it to To Be Or Not To Be on the grounds that Carole Lombard is foxier than Garbo. Though actually I voted for Design For Living with Miriam Hopkins ...
and that brings us to Question 26: The Big Fight
First, let the record show that as far as votes are concerned, Stanners KO's Miriam eight to three
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With one abstention (me: too close to call), Miriam picked up only two votes. (Elizabeth thought she "looks meaner".)
Just compare that to the confidence oozing from the Stanwyck camp:
Meredith - "Barbara Stanwyck hands down. Don't mess with Brooklyn, boys and girls. No one slaps her around unless she wants them to."
Juliette - "You kidding? Well, Bette shook Miriam around, and Barbara could totally take Bette, so it’s Barbara Stanwyck by a mile-- and she wouldn’t even break a sweat. She wouldn't have to put a doorknob in her glove for it, either..."
Samuel Wilson - "Don't know why Hopkins is even in competition."
But Mykal, the other Miriam supporter, is entirely confident he's backed the right mare:
"Stanwyck was all talk and no walk. Hopkins was the velvet hammer! For those answering Stanwyck – Pffft. Whatever."
My own feeling is that what we're seeing here is partly support for Stanners, rather than an impartial assessment of form, and partly a misjudging of Miriam based largely on mid-thirties and later performances, especially Old Acquaintance, in which Bette gives her a good hiding and she just stands there and takes it. Mykal, I suspect, is coming at Miriam from a pre-Code direction, and thinking of her spunky, feisty brawlers; her cockney prostitute in Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and trampy nightclub chanteuse in 24 Hours. This was the Hopkins I had in mind, the one that Bette's biographer Charles Higham calls "a pretty, blonde, ruthless bitch: hard-bitten, mean-tempered... She would fling herself into a chair, spread her legs wide as a stevedore's and throw down martinis as though they were lemonades... She was jealous, consumed with hatred, petulant, self-pitying, coarse, bloody-minded."
Tell me that girl can't take on poochy little Ruby Stevens!

Questions 28 and 29: You Can't Take It With You wins the favourite Lionel Barrymore role title with a decisive four votes (Meredith, me, Juliette and Elizabeth), with Meredith calling his household "the greatest fictional family ever created" (technically true, since the family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was based partly on fact) and Dottie beating Paulette as best Bob Hope gal by a narrow five to four (despite George's assertion that "the correct answer is Jane Russell").
Which brings us - and not before time, you say - to the thirtieth and final question: which thirties film from each of the six majors would you save from the blazing inferno that consigns all else to non-existence.
No other question found the participants quite so blatant in their resorting to subterfuge. Mykal opted to save the entire Universal horror sequence and leave MGM, Paramount, Columbia, Warners and RKO to fend for themselves. (I do see where he's coming from, though.) Amanda left Paramount to the flames while she dashed back into RKO for some more Ginger Rogers. George claimed his tears would work as a sprinkler system. Angela thought she could get out of Warner Brothers with a Busby Berkeley box-set. Then there are those who refused even to try. I don't want to name names. Elizabeth. And Millie, who chose to daydream about being rescued by burly firemen while her country's cinematic heritage went up in choking black smoke. Tut-tut.
Nonetheless, a few patterns emerged from the inferno. Though no single film appeared more than once for Paramount, MGM or RKO, the Marx Brothers nonetheless figured thrice in the Paramount bag, with me retrieving Animal Crackers, Lolita braving the flames for Monkey Business and Meredith risking life and limb for the sake of Duck Soup. Likewise Ginger (with and without Fred) dominated the RKO haul, with The Gay Divorcee (me) and Top Hat (Amanda and Meredith), Stage Door (Juliette) and the illegal saving of Bachelor Mother and Vivacious Lady by Amanda when she should have been at Paramount. Cecil B. DeMille did well too, with me opting to let Madam Satan represent thirties MGM for all time, and Samuel Wilson granting The Sign of the Cross the same privillege at Paramount. But at Universal, Warners and Columbia a greater degree of consensus emerged, with me, Juliette and Lolita all choosing to save Lugosi's Dracula - a surprise victory over two-voters Frankenstein (Meredith and Samuel Wilson) and one-voter Bride of Frankenstein (Angela), while at WB both Lolita and Juliette emerged with blackened faces and Baby Face in their satchels. At Columbia, however, it was Save Frank Capra Day, with three votes for It Happened One Night (me, Lolita and Angela), one for Mr Deeds (Samuel Wilson), and one for Mr Smith (Meredith). Amanda rallied to the Howard Hawks cause with Only Angels Have Wings, and Juliette was still trying to choose between Mr Smith and His Girl Friday when she passed out with smoke inhalation. "Don't judge me," she begs. Shall we?

STOP PRESS! (12/8/9)
New entries from Thea and Panavia999!

To Have and Have Not consolidates its ascent of the Bogart pile thanks to a fourth vote from Thea; Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (Thea and Lolita) and William Powell in Love Crazy (Panavia and Meredith) now distinguish themselves among the stars in drag and raise the men-as-women to women-as-men ratio to eight to five; Thea gives Sons of the Desert an equal lead for Laurel & Hardy, added a fourth vote to Of Human Bondage for Bette and raised Johnny Guitar to joint-leader for Joan.
Thea's levelling vote for Limelight in the best Chaplin talkie was cancelled by Panavia's extra boost for Verdoux.
In the either-ors, both added knockout punches to Dietrich's and Keaton's victories, Thea added to Lugosi's - Panavia abstained but that didn't help Karloff any - and the Dottie-Paulette ratio was preserved by one vote each.
For Melvyn Douglas, Panavia's vote for The Old Dark House brought it level for a moment with Ninotchka and Mr Blandings, but Thea saw Ninotchka to unequivocal victory (and did likewise for Citizen Kane for favourite flop.)
Both voted for Dinner at Eight in the Harlow category, making it the clear winner. Thea's Cagney choice, Man of a Thousand Faces, coincides with mine and makes it joint-winner with One, Two, Three, and a vote each for To Be Or Not To Be and Trouble In Paradise turns the Lubitsch category into a two-horse race, consigning Ninotchka to the also-rans.
I've a feeling Thea's vote for It's a Wonderful Life gives it neck and neck status with You Can't Take It With You in the Barrymore category, and while Panavia - at last! - joined the Hopkins team for the big fight, Thea's siding with Babs did nothing to halt her lead in the polls.
Finally, in the last question, Thea went to RKO for King Kong rather than anything with Ginger Rogers in it, but both upped the Capra quota at Columbia (Mr Deeds for Thea, Miracle Woman for Panavia) and reduced Dracula's supremacy at Universal, with a levelling vote for Frankenstein (Thea) and Bride of Frankenstein (Panavia).
Panavia also pointed out, quite rightly, that I had callously let Fox go the wall when listing studios.

Special mention should be made of the fact that in the 'favourite film that ends with the main character's death' category, Thea went for King Kong, while Panavia provided separate answers for films in which the main characters are a man, a woman, a man and a woman, a man in a western, a child and a donkey.