Johnny Guitar

  • Directors: Nicholas Ray
  • Producers: Herbert J Yates
  • Writers: Philip Yordan, Roy Chanslor
  • Genres: Film-Noir, Western
  • Actors: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady

On the outskirts of a wind-swept Arizona cattle town, an aggressive and strong-willed saloonkeeper named Vienna maintains a volatile relationship with the local cattlemen and townsfolk. Not only does she support the railroad being laid nearby (the cattlemen oppose it) but she permits a suspected stage robber called The Dancin’ Kid to share her bed, and his confederates to frequent her saloon.

Vienna’s ex-lover Johnny Guitar, a reformed gunslinger whose real name is Logan, arrives at the saloon, renews his love for Vienna, and offers her needed protection. Life is cozy for the two until one day The Dancin’ Kid and his gang rob the town bank. The townsfolk suspect Vienna has played a part. Led by the vengeful Emma Small, a cattle rancher who has long hated Vienna, the posse descends on Vienna’s saloon and burns it to the ground. Emma persuades the men to hang Vienna, but at the last second she is saved by Johnny Guitar.

Vienna and Johnny escape the posse and find refuge in The Dancin’ Kid’s secret hideaway. The posse tracks them. The Kid and his men are killed. Emma challenges Vienna to a showdown. Vienna is wounded in the duel, but she manages to kill Emma. A halt is called to the bloodbath by the posse’s leader, McIvers. Vienna and Johnny depart, hopeful that better days lie ahead.

Grand Hotel

  • Directors: Edmund Goulding
  • Producers: Irving Thalberg
  • Writers: William A Drake, Based on the play by Drake and a novel by Vicki Baum
  • Genres: Drama, Romance
  • Actors: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt

Doctor Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), a disfigured veteran of World War I and a permanent resident of the Grand Hotel in Berlin, wryly observes, “People come and go. Nothing ever happens,” after which a great deal transpires. Baron Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore), who squandered his fortune and supports himself as a card player and occasional jewel thief, befriends Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), a meek accountant who, having discovered he is dying, has decided to spend his remaining days in the lap of luxury. Kringelein’s former employer, industrialist General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery), is at the hotel to close an important deal, and he hires stenographer Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) to assist him. She aspires to be an actress and shows Preysing some magazine photos for which she posed, implying she is willing to offer him more than typing if he is willing to help advance her career.

Another guest is Russian ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), whose career is on the wane. She unexpectedly returns from the theatre while the Baron is stealing her jewelry, and when she discovers him in her room she tells him, “I want to be let alone.” Disregarding her, the Baron stays and engages her in conversation, and Grusinskaya finds herself attracted to him.

Grusinskaya departs for the train station, fully expecting to find the Baron waiting for her there. Meanwhile, Kringelein offers to take care of Flaemmchen, who suggests they go to Paris and seek a cure for his illness. As they leave the hotel, Doctor Otternschlag once again observes, “Grand Hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens,” although a great deal has.

Mildred Pierce

  • Directors: Michael Curtiz
  • Producers: Executive Producer, Jack L Warner, Producer, Jerry Wald
  • Writers: Novel, James M Cain, Screenplay, Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner, Catherine Turney
  • Genres: Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery, Romance
  • Actors: Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden

While the novel is told by a third-person narrator in strict chronological order, the film uses voice-over narration (the voice of Mildred). The story is framed by the questioning of Mildred by police after they discover the body of her second husband, Monte Beragon.

The film in noir fashion opens with Beragon (Scott) being shot. He murmurs the name “Mildred” as he collapses and dies. The police are led to believe that the murderer is restaurant owner Mildred Pierce (Crawford), who under interrogation confesses to the crime. She then relates her life story in flashback.

We see housewife Mildred unhappily married to a newly unemployed Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett). He was originally a real estate partner of Wally Fay (Carson), who propositions Mildred after learning that she and Bert are about to divorce. Mildred keeps custody of her two daughters: Veda (Blyth) and Kay (Jo Anne Marlowe).

Mildred’s principal goal is to provide for eldest daughter Veda, who longs for possessions the family cannot afford. Mildred needs a job and the best she can find is as a waitress — a fact she hides from Veda. One day, Veda gives their maid Lottie (Butterfly McQueen) Mildred’s waitress uniform, thinking nothing of it, until Mildred admits that she is a waitress, infuriating Veda, who thinks it a lowly employ.

When Veda takes up with the scheming Monty, a showdown ensues at the beach house where the film began. We discover what really happened: that Veda, furious over Monte’s unwillingness to take her seriously, is the one who shoots him. Mildred can cover for her daughter no more, and Veda is led off to jail.

The Women

  • Directors: George Cukor
  • Producers: Hunt Stromberg
  • Writers: Clare Boothe Luce, Anita Loos, Jane Murfin
  • Genres: Comedy, Drama
  • Actors: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell

Based on the 1936 play by Clare Boothe Luce, The Women follows the lives of a handful of wealthy Manhattan women, focusing in particular on Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), a cheerful, contented wife of Stephen and mother of Little Mary. After a bit of gossip flies around the salon these wealthy women visit, Mary’s friend and cousin Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) learns from a manicurist that Mary’s husband has been having an affair with a predatory perfume counter girl named Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). A notorious gossip, Sylvia delights in sharing the news with Mary’s other friends, who set up Mary with an appointment with the same manicurist so that she hears the same rumor about Stephen’s infidelity. While Mary’s mother urges her to ignore the gossip concerning the affair and continue on as if nothing has happened, Mary begins to have her own suspicions about her husband’s increasingly frequent claims that he needs to work late, and decides to travel to Bermuda with her mother and daughter to think about the situation and hope that the affair and the rumors surrounding it will fade. Upon her return from Bermuda a few months later, feeling well-rested and more sure of herself, Mary heads out to a fashion show at a high-end clothing store and learns that Crystal is in attendance, trying on clothes from the show a few dressing rooms down. Mary storms into Crystal’s dressing room and confronts her about the affair, but Crystal is completely unapologetic and reveals that Stephen plans on divorcing Mary to marry her. Heartbroken and humiliated by the revelation, Mary leaves quickly. The meeting will not fade from gossip circles, however, and the situation is only exacerbated by Sylvia, who manages to turn the whole affair into a tabloid scandal by recounting the entire story to a notorious gossip columnist. To save her own pride, Mary chooses to divorce her husband despite his efforts to convince her to stay. Mary explains the divorce to her daughter Little Mary (Virginia Weidler), and the household prepares for Mary’s departure.

At the party, Mary makes a grand entrance, and pulls all of the women into the ladies room for a showdown. Mary tells the Countess that her husband Buck has been having an affair with Crystal, while also informing Crystal that she knows what’s been happening with Buck and that Stephen is unhappy with her. Mary manages to pit Sylvia and Crystal against each other, and makes sure that a gossip columnist hears the whole story of Crystal’s affair as the two women argue. Crystal, however, doesn’t care about Stephen’s lack of affection and tells Mary she can have him back, since she’ll now have Buck to support her. The Countess reveals that she has been funding Buck’s radio career and that without her he will be penniless and out of a job. This leaves Crystal resigned to the fact that she’ll be heading to Reno herself and then back to the perfume counter to support herself, while Mary, completely triumphant, heads out the door to win back Stephen, who is waiting for her there.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane

  • Directors: Robert Aldrich
  • Producers: Robert Aldrich
  • Writers: Lukas Heller, Based on the novel by Henry Farrell
  • Genres: Drama, Horror, Thriller
  • Actors: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono

A lengthy prologue set in 1917 introduces six-year-old Baby Jane Hudson, a highly successful vaudeville performer, and her older sister Blanche, who remains in her shadow. Jane is extremely popular with the audiences and doted on by her father. Blanche resents this but, out of consideration for their mother, keeps her feelings buried.

As the two become adults, in a second prologue set in 1935, Jane fades into obscurity while Blanche becomes a renowned film actress. One night after a party, one of the sisters walks forward to open the gate to the driveway of the Hudson mansion. We see the other sister put her foot on the gas and and crash the car into the gate.

As the film reaches present day, we see that Blanche is paralyzed after the accident, and Jane is apparently the responsible party. The two have become recluses in their decaying mansion, where Jane ‘cares’ for Blanche. When Jane learns Blanche is planning to sell the house and move in with their black maid Elvira, and perhaps place her in a convalescent home, Jane holds her prisoner and increases her sadistic verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. She even kills Blanche’s pet parakeet and serves it to her sister on her dinner plate. She later performs the same gruesome prank with a dead rat.

Jane realizes Blanche could have been her friend, and goes off to a snack stand to buy ice cream cones for the two of them. Two policeman at the food stand recognize Jane and run after her. Soon, when the policemen catch Jane, a crowd gathers around her. The now completely deranged Jane begins to entertain them with a song-and-dance routine as they watch, giving her the attention she had so desperately craved. The film ends with a long shot of the beach. The police spot the limp body of Blanche and run over to her, leaving Jane happily dancing within a circle of onlookers.