I wish I knew people I could have these kinds of debates with...
3. Who is your favorite director of silent dramas?
6. Is Al St. John a genuine heavy, or a baby heavy?
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.
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.