Tuesday, May 17, 2011

CMBA Presents: The Films of 1939 Blogathon: "The Ice Follies of 1939" A Photo Review

The Ice Follies of 1939 is one of those films that just leaves you puzzled and shaking your head. It was Crawford's first vehicle in 1939 at MGM after coming off of the last two years with stinkers like "The Bride Wore Red" in 1937 and then "The Shining Hour" in 1938.  Of course it's no secret that MGM was growing tired of Crawford and putting her in these goose eggs so that she would break her contract and leave the studio.  Is it fair? No, but it was just how things were back in the day.

I would like to be an optimist here and think that perhaps MGM released Ice Follies due to 20th Century Fox's success in churning out so many Sonja Henie 'ice' extravaganza's that were raking it in at the box office. Theres nothing wrong with catering to a certain audience if it brings you a windfall.  Then theres the fact that the studio spared no expense on this film with lavish costumes designed by Adrian, going all out with a 10 minute Technicolor snippet at the end then utilizing The International Ice Follies in two long sequences as a draw. I'm confused as to if they knew it would fail and phoned it in or if they really did expect it to do well. Someone certainly was having a laugh at Crawford and Stewart's expense and I'm not just talking about the unfortunate audience who spent their hard earned cash on this one.

Then we have the cast. Joan had been under contract at MGM since 1925, churning out picture after picture for the studio and even though demanding at times she was for the most part a consummate professional. She knew her lines, arrived early and stayed late on the set, she kept in shape with her tireless fitness and beauty regimens and she married the men she slept with so her name certainly wasn't associated with major scandal like so many young starlets.  Even though Joan's talents and name recognition were used wisely in "The Women" which she filmed after this flop it wasn't enough to save her career that was now teetering close to life support.  By the end of 1939 this film had sealed her fate and she would be pushed aside by the studio with the hard to shake label of "Box Office Poison".

We also have Jimmy Stewart in this stinker who plays Joan's husband. Stewart looks about 18 where Crawford looks about 45 so I'm not sure what their thinking was in casting these two and expecting us to believe they were so in love on screen. Stewart was already cast in four other great films at MGM that year (all of which are being reviewed during this Blogathon by other bloggers) so he certainly wasn't hurting for work.  Although he does his best with a very weak script and delivers a few funny lines it's almost painful to watch his talent wasted as he floats through this one.

Then we have Lew Ayres who had been under contract at MGM since 1929 but still struggled to receive star status. He delivers the best lines in the film and his back and forth banter with Stewart is endearing. With a better script he would have been perfect for the part.  In the few scenes he has with Stewart they remind me of Matthau and Lemmon together. Very fun to watch.

Another thing about this film that just leaves you banging your head is the fact that you go into it expecting the cast to appear on ice skates and you get nothing. I mean, they are an ice skating couple and then theres the title. No, not a chance of that.  The two big ice skating sequences feel like they were an afterthought and added in to a very dull love story to glam it up and stretch it out. (I can just hear the big wigs watching the dailies and saying "This film is missing something, do you think we should add a bit of skating?") Here I was anticipating these two big stars in awful tights and cheesy costumes out there flailing around on the ice.

At the end during the big finale we see the cast in the audience watching Joan's film with a big ice skating extravaganza and Joan looking awkwardly out of place on a throne in a gigantic ball gown as she watches everyone skating around her.  Of course we keep panning back to Joan's character in the audience who keeps commenting that she should have skated.  Yes Joan you should have all skated. Your ego was already bruised so why not take a few bruises on your rump to give me a little more material to work with here.

the Cast:
Joan Crawford as Mary McKay
James Stewart as Larry Dale
Lew Ayres as Eddie Burgess
Lewis Stone as Douglas Tolliver
The International Ice Follies as themselves
Director Reinhold Schunzel
Gowns by Adrian
Set Design by Cedric Gibbons

I know you're sitting on the edge of your seats with anticipation so lets jump right in.

The film opens as these three exit the ice where we are to believe they just skated their legs off.  Boy I hope the audience of 1939 isn't feeling ripped off, they've got such a fun hour ahead of them.

Just in case this ice skating gig doesn't work out you really should hold on to that costume Jimmy. It would be perfect for a little film where you play an imaginary rabbit. Yes, that seems silly now but you just never know.

Larry: I look pretty darn handsome and focused in this shot so please just stop panning down to my fur pants and over to Joan who I'm supposed to have chemistry with. Are you sure I won't have to skate in this?

The show producer walks in and gives them the bad news. They've all been fired.  Thats what happens when you can't skate and keep pushing Joanie out on to the ice by herself. It's funny the first few times but Joan's legs, although fabulous, won't carry a show. 

L:  Listen honey, as much as I appreciate your fashion sense and you stuffing yourself into tiny ice skating costumes I've decided to quit so I can focus on other things. 

M: What other things Larry and why do you keep moving me over her where the lighting is bad?

Oh man, he's going to tell her about his crazy idea to move to a little town in Ohio then run for the Senate. 

M: Please stand still and listen carefully! I'm approaching 40 and I really need you to kiss me even if you have to close your eyes and think about Betty Grable.  L: Betty Grable? Can she ice skate or save this film?

M: Why did we stop at a peanut vender?  L: The lighting stinks here and I can barely see you so just give me a minute....I'm going to kiss you because thats in the script. 

No sooner do they all jump in their jalopy and exit the rink, they get rear ended.

Well that's lucky! The rear ender just happens to be a studio exec. M: Is that a note from the big wigs over at Paramount because I can have my dressing room packed in about an hour?  L: Don't go starting trouble now Joan....I'm a young star and I don't want to go and ruffle any feathers.  

We get a lot of whispering, loving looks and a nice kiss which I won't bother you with (You're welcome)  These two are up to something and I don't think it involves kidnapping Betty Grable. 

Oh they've run off and gotten married.  They look so darn happy and this would make a perfect ending. No, we're still rolling?  I'll stick around but we better get some figure eights and a few spins or I'm out of here!

Eddie: Listen, I tried to talk him out of that hair brained Senate thing and by the way, we didn't quit the ice show, we were fired. M: Boy do I feel foolish...I thought you were going to make a pass at me so we could liven this thing up.  

Eddie is starting to feel like a third wheel but he looks fantastic in his smoking jacket.  Why couldn't you learn to skate Lew?

Mary, being the opportunist and desperate to be able to afford more of Adrian's cone hats, heads over to Monarch Studios to work some magic.  Please don't let it include crying or holding anyone hostage...this film is working so beautifully without a plot or fun.

M: You rear ended our car last night so pay up.  Doug: If I pay you will you agree to move away from that lamp and get Adrian on the phone, that hat could use a veil?

Doug has decided to toy with Mary so he asks her to do some 'actress walking'. I had no idea it was so easy to get into motion pictures.  Somebody finish this review, I'm heading West.

Toliver offers her a contract just like that but he soon rejects the offer just to keep her groveling for a couple of minutes.

You want HER in pictures? She looks like she's one film away from being box office poison. 

Somebody was eavesdropping and she's back. Please stop toying with her so we can check in with Larry and Eddie.  I'm anxious to hear that campaign speech they must be working on.

They're just sitting around waiting for Mary to return from shopping.  I think Eddie wore those ice skates all the way home, he's been cleaning them for 2 days...I mean, how dirty can they be when YOU DIDN'T SKATE!

Mary: I have terrible news darling....I've got an inoperable brain tumor and I'm slowly going blind. L: Huh?  I saw Dark Victory and you're no Bette Davis!  M: We don't say that name in this house and I was just preparing you for the fact that I'm now a huge star and you're, well broke and too thin for your own good.

Eddie has read Mary's studio contract while his skates are being soaked in stainless steal cleaner. Apparently these two lovebirds are going to have to act single. (There goes those heated love scenes I was holding out for) The contract says she must not marry.

M: Darling you seem upset. L: No, I was just thinking about how my own career might take off if I could crash the Senate floor and filibuster.  M: Thats very fine dear, although odd. I was hoping you would rather stay right here and support my life as a huge star.  L: Well can I come along with you to the studio? I've always wanted Norma Shearer's autograph. M: We don't say her name in this house either dear.

The boys have nothing better to do so they read lines with Mary.  

Eddie's left to stare at a poster of himself and Slim Jim.  I can't imagine why that show failed. Oh wait, they can't skate.  I bet that poster took two weeks to photograph and even then they were being held up by fishing line.

Mary gets her first costume screen test and she looks lovely.  Cue the sheep!

Her umbrella is unraveling and her bra padding seems to be creeping up to her neck but other than that she is stunning as a blonde.

These are the last four actresses labeled "box office poison".  At least they were kept on display out of respect and not thrown into cold storage.

Eddie breaks the news that he's moving out but before he goes he lets Larry know that his skates are in a pot of boiling water on the stove so he'll have to prepare a salad tonight.

Larry's having a grand time playing house husband and I feel kind of bad that he's preparing potatoes.  When you offer and actress starches things can get a bit hairy.

Mary arrives with Hedy LaMarr's wig on. At least it's well conditioned.

L: What do you mean this is what the studio thought you looked  best in?  I think you would have looked swell in the blonde Betty Grable wig.

Look! From what I understand they're making this huge production called Gone With the Wind on our back lot so I wan't the studio to realize they made a HUGE mistake in not casting me as Scarlett..  Oh well, I hear it's going to sink the studio with it's outrageous budget and wimpy script. 

We get a scene with Mary leaving a movie premier as I sit here thinking what a riot it would be if her driver had been played by Eric von Stroheim. (Stay by the phone Eric, you'll have your chance)

Mary drags herself home and she's lit up light a Christmas tree. (I'm impressed with Joanie because she's really believable here and that's hard to do when you've never had a drink)

L: I was bored today while waiting for you to get home so I tried that rabbit outfit on without the skates. I think you might be on to something. 

Mary hasn't been murdered, she's just hungover. But boy wouldn't that have livened this thing up?

I love when films leave goodbye notes next to the dumpers photo.  

Larry has headed East to find Sonja Henie then kick her in her backside.

He winds up at an agent's office with fancy ice skating sketches and a wanted poster for Sonja.  It's not her fault Jimmy.

Eddie just happens to show up with his new partner Kitty. (No word yet on if she actually skates but I'll get back to you on  that.) They're all back together and on their way to another Ice Skating Production.  (I'll wait while you pop your corn)

I'm so excited right now....I think we might get to see skating. 

When you pause skating it doesn't quite translate but it really was graceful. 

That just looks vomit inducing. Skating is hard.

Group skating!

This is a first rate production. Look at that!

I'm glad you're such a good sport Jimmy Durante...who knew you had so much talent.

Synchronized Skating!  (well, don't look too close at their legs)

You were clammering for one of those dazzling overhead views so you've got it. I'm beyond tickled right now.

Skaters clowning around.  This show has something for everyone.

These two are over the moon about their success. (I'm so glad this worked out, that Senate thing just sounded beyond bizarre and like a complete failure)

Oh, we've got more fancy costumes and teepee's.

Yes, it's hard to tell from a few screen shots if it's a huge success so heres your proof. (No word if Sonja Henie is off crying somewhere in a corner)

Mary gets a note and apparently it's from Loretta Young! 

M: Why would Loretta Young send me a note saying "Nice Try?"  Toliver: She's a bit sensitive but never mind that....you look like one of those angelic snowbabies...the resemblance is uncanny. 

I think I'm being made fun of but I just can't prove it. 

Larry is so excited he can't stand it. His very own snowbabie will be arriving in New York and they might actually get to hold hands.  Awwww,  he really is all grown up now.

Excuse me sir but do you have a license for that pet?

Oh Larry please just look at her.  Sure fashion doesn't always make sense or allow you to recognize your spouse but you're going to give Adrian a complex.  

The policeeman is back and he's gone and brought the Bronx Zoo into this.

Eat your heart out Vivien Leigh

Mary is being given a fancy birthday party but it really is just a shame they insisted on including a candle for every year.  Hold your chins up Joanie, we're almost to the end.  Who wants birthday cake? 

Larry listens in from his humble surroundings as his famous wife blows out the candles on her career.

You see Mary feels just like Cinderella (snickers) and she would rather have her tall, lanky prince than stardom. 

I'm not sure how long it's been since she's actually seen said prince since he's looking like he's been holed up in solitary confinement without a meal for two years. (My word Jimmy, eat some carbs)

He's so tickled to hear she's leaving Hollywood for a life with him that he's starts doing flips. You're going to snap yourself in two like a twig.

Mary shows up just in time. She really does look lovely and it's a shame that in just a few short weeks Cukor will frizz up her hair and film her in the worst way possible. 

We were just looking for my skates.  Wow, why didn't you stand under this lighting an hour ago Mary? (Enjoy it while it lasts boys, we have Technicolor coming up)

Mary has brought Toliver who quickly offers Larry a career in Hollywood instead.  

Okay, I promised you Technicolor and here it is.  Larry and Mary who's stage name is Sandra Lee are a fabulous team.  I can't wait to see their collaboration.

I'm so happy MGM is resourceful.  It really would have been a waste to not utilize these leftover costumes from "The Wizard of Oz".  (I hear they went with shorter actors so this really did work out)

This is the first time the audience of 1939 has ever seen Joan Crawford in color and now you get to experience too. (Again, you're welcome)

We have fairies, glass slippers and ice skating.

Then Joanie getting crammed into a giant pumpkin carriage.

I am beginning to think Larry is getting revenge on Mary for all those years he suffered for her success.

Men in candy cane tights are just fabulous. (So are long shots of Joanie in color)

Even more fabulous...when they spin so fast the audience gets dizzy.

Betty Grable better pop out of this thing with a "Will You Marry Me" sign.

Nope! We get bluebirds 

Bluebirds who skate IN COLOR! Oh, MGM I forgive you but I just wonder how the audience of 1939 felt.

Little Red Riding Hood! Larry sure does have a sense of humor or a head injury.

The grand finale...it's an 'all skate' which means everyone gets to skate...except Joan who's on her throne and singing.  (She actually recorded three songs for this film but MGM not wanting death threats only left in about four verses of one song)

Joanie is fuming after seeing the final product. Those skaters stole the show...She keeps repeating that she should have skated.  I agree Joanie.  I bet with a little practice you could have  made Henie look like a three legged cow on stilts.

Well everyone I appreciate you getting through this one.  If you can't get to sleep tonight head back over here and read it again.

I want to take a moment to thank Becky for allowing me the honor of assisting her on this Blogathon. She did so much work behind the scenes with keeping us organized.  She's funny, brilliant and just a delight to work with.  And who knows, perhaps the CMBA will have forgiven us enough to allow us to host again in 2032.  I'll go ahead and put my suggestion in right now if none of you mind. I want "Skating Films and their impact on Hollywood".

In all seriousness, thank you everyone who signed up for the Blogathon and to all of our blog readers who have taken the time to read our reviews and leave comments. It's been a lot of fun. Now lets all get out there and find an ice skating rink to strut our stuff! Eat your heart out Sonja Henie.



  1. Oh my Page. This was hilarious. The man in the striped skating outfit looks like someone out of a holiday horror film. There must be a special place in classic movie heaven for you for enduring all of these bad movies just in the name of entertaining your readers. Thanks for three consecutive days of your photo reviews!

  2. Perhaps my favorite comment of the day: "Men in candy cane tights are just fabulous." Have you trademarked that line? It's awesome...as is your whole review! I'm not a fan of this flick either. It's not even weird enough to be "bad fun." Still, it's interesting to see for the cast and to ponder, as you wrote, whether the studio intended for it to really be a hit.

  3. Well, Page, I think the last part of your post was the best! I'm kidding, of course, but you are wonderful to say such nice things about me. I don't deserve any of them, but I'll take them anyway! Who would know that I would start out asking someone I hardly knew to be a co-producer because I liked her blog, and end up with a friend...

    Now on to the important stuff -- I'm not sure I can even pick a favorite of these 3 movie snarks. I've never seen Ice Follies, and it looks like I misssed something really special --especially awful! I am really shocked that Crawford never skated! I really expected that she must have! Rick is so right -- you should trademark your stuff -- you have a real gift for comedy. The dark lighting on Crawford, Hedy Lamar's wig, the candy striper skater -- especially those hideous bluebirds coming out of the pie .... in that shot from above, they are absolutely scary, look like a bunch of bats! And what in the world was that horrible white nun-looking outfit supposed to be?

    All of your captions were hilarious, and the pictures divine. I just have to give you A-One ratings on all 3 of your posts, and commend you for the incredible amount of work you put in. Just fantastic work, partner!

  4. CFB,
    I wanted to choose two films that I was pretty certain nobody else would want. Boy was I relieved when nobody grabbed up this one! I'm still pretty surprised that I could even find it. It should have been put on ice FOREVER!

    Thanks so much for not only getting my humor but for taking the time to sit through three reviews this go around.

    I know you're a bit let down that you haven't seen the candy cane spin but don't you fret I can email you the film to rewind over and over..Okay, I wont sit around waiting for your request.

    Thank you for allowing me to co-host this shindig with Becky. I feel very honored while puzzled. Lets face it, I'm seldom serious.

    Now that you've dried your tears and you can focus please know that I have plenty of Red and White yarn so I can duplicate that candy cane outfit in time for you to wear it to your next Christmas party...just don't blame me when you yell out "Ice Follies of 1939, HELLO" while being escorted out.
    I would give up everything (other than this fabulous review) to co-produce another Blogathon with you. How long do you think we should wait before asking to do it again? I'm pretty sure my carpal tunnel should be healed up in another three months...but this time we should invite our CMBA members to something fab like an ice skating party.
    You're delightful!

  5. Page, Becky, you two deserve beaucoup accolades for putting together this awesome 1939 Blogathon! Your teamwork paid off, big-time! I had a blast and discovered so many wonderful new-to-me movies and blog sites which I hope to read on a regular basis. Brava to both of you!

    Page, once again I'm drowning in tears of laughter over the insane lollapalooza that is THE ICE FOLLIES 1939! When my hubby Vinnie started reading over my shoulder to see it for himself (I had already described to him the pure genius hilarity of your blog posts about THE WOMEN and THE GORILLA), he was laughing his tush off just as hard as I was! Boy, did contract players at major studios have to pay their dues or what?! Thank you for all your magnificantly snarky pictorials; I'm looking forward to more of them in the future!

  6. Thanks for another hilarious and brilliant meta-commentary on what seems like one of the weirdest films to come out of MGM - I'm sorry I've never seen it, but will have to catch up. I agree w/ClassicBecky, just what IS that bizarre nun's costume Joan's wearing? She looks like the Wicked Queen in Snow White, only done up in white instead of black - or maybe she was warming up for a chance at playing the Virgin Mary in The Song of Bernadette, I dunno.

    To echo everyone else's comments, many, many thanks for your great work on this blogathon - it's been really fun to participate, and I look forward to the next! Maybe doing one on pre-code films some day?

  7. Dorian,
    Vinnie sounds like a great guy and it helps that he has such a great sense of humor. Once the dust settles on this Blogathon you might want to look through the archives and read some of the other photo reviews I've done like Scarface (32) Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, White Zombie and Kongo to name a few.

    I'm so glad that you enjoyed these and made it through all three.

    Grand Old Movies,

    Thank you for all of the wonderful compliments and for also getting through all three of these. Thats a lot of snark for one week.

    I know we have the next Blogathon topic for the one that will take place in six months but I can't recall what it is right now. But I certainly like your suggestion and I would be willing to participate if you want to produce one on pre-code films. Once we've had a few weeks rest after this one.

  8. Dear Page,

    First of all, thank you and Becky for organizing this Blogathon, I had a blast!

    Next, I have a question...Are you Wonder Woman? Seriously, I don't know how did you manage to make three posts in a row, with all those screen caps and funny comments! This one is my favorite because I had no idea that Joan and Jimmy had worked together (I'm so ignorant) and because I love when you comment films you don't like....It brings out your hilarious sarcastic self :)


  9. Wow! That looks, and sounds, jaw-droppingly awful. I must see this movie some day. I must.

    Great job, Page, as always.

  10. Clara,
    Don't beat yourself up here. I had no idea this film existed until I started looking for films for this Blogathon. I don't think it gets aired much which is for the best. Ha Ha
    I'm glad you found it entertaining and thanks for you kind comments.

    I feel better knowing you're being sarcastic here otherwise I would hate myself if this review has actually inspired you to watch this stinker.

    Who knew MGM had such a sense of humor.
    Thanks for hanging in there with me for all three.

  11. Haha, this was another great review. And so funny! At first glance it actually sounds kind of good--Lew Ayres, Jimmy Stewart...but wow, NO! What was Lew even supposed to be? Their maid? Joan had some really awful costumes in this (not all, but that one looked like she was getting swallowed up in white fabric and wearing and sequin halo, and then I spied an Ninotchka-like hat, too). And it does totally look like she stole Hedy's wig. Too funny!

  12. Page, I am picturing myself in a form-fitting candy cane knitted outfit with ice skates on -- I'm sorry, but I don't think I would subject an unsuspecting public to that! Besides, if I had skates on, I would need two large men holding me up on either side. I never could ice skate!

    Another blogathon? Sure, as I told Rick, I'd be glad to do another one -- in 2015.... Hardy har! I'd love to do another one with you, but why don't we do a different kind of blogathon soon -- let's say, something a little smaller -- how about "Movies In Which Joan Crawford Actually Skates"?

  13. What a goofy idea for a film; I'm sure this ice skating extravaganza had Darryl F. Zanuck and 20th Century-Fox (home of the Sonja Henie ice spectacles) quaking in their boots, although this looks more like something Vera Hruba Ralston would have done at Republic. And that still of Joan in a fur coat...one can imagine her saying, "Hey, Leo McCarey! See what you missed when you hired Irene Dunne for 'The Awful Truth' instead of asking me to be loaned out from Metro?" Never mind that Joan Crawford handles comedy with the dexterity of a rhino set loose in a jewelry store. Fortunately, all of James Stewart's subsequent 1939 films -- "Made For Each Other," "It's A Wonderful World," "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and "Destry Rides Again" -- helped people forget this rather quickly.

  14. Becky,
    You're a riot! lol

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one. It certainly had plenty to snark about. I would love to have heard the stars complaining behind the scenes. I'm sure Joan was fit to be tied for having to appear in this one.

    The only upside is that I doubt this film will never be selected for a re-make. I can actually hear Joan saying just what you said over The Awful Truth. I feel bad for Adrian that he wasted his talents on this one given how busy he was that year at MGM.

  15. Great review of a so-so movie. I saw this movie years ago, and I remember it not being as bad as the title suggest! (ha ha)