29 September 2009

That's Entertainment, Part II

The Woman Who Couldn't Die was the nineteenth of Arthur Stringer's forty novels. He wrote mysteries, wilderness adventures and, it may be argued, was one of the earliest purveyors of prairie realism. Add to these two hundred or so short stories, fifteen collections of poetry and a few non-fiction works like A Study of King Lear (1897) and you have the most prolific and versatile Canadian writer of his generation. A good amount of Stringer's work found its way to the screen. Not only was Stringer the man behind The Perils of Pauline, his stories and novels served as the basis of roughly two dozen movies and serials. The most enduring, The Purchase Price, is based his 1932 novel The Mud Lark. It stars Barbara Stanwyck as Joan Gordon, 'a little gal who sings torch songs in a naughty nightclub', who flees Manhattan and her bootlegger boyfriend for Montreal. There, as Francine La Rue, she performs at the Maple Leaf Club until discovered by her boyfriend's cronies. In order to escape, Joan adopts the identity of her chambermaid, and leaves town as the mail-order bride to a struggling farmer. The rest of the film takes place in North Dakota, a change from the Canadian prairie setting of the novel.

A pre-Code Hollywood film, The Purchase Price isn't nearly as spicy as the title or movie poster suggest; though it does have a few examples of ribald dialogue:
Mail-order Bride #1: You know what they say about men with bushy eyebrows and a long nose?
Mail-order Bride #2: Oh, Queenie, I can tell you've been married before!
I'm quick to point out that this exchange does not feature in the novel.

Not a bad film, it's available in its entirety on YouTube.

Stringer had another connection to Hollywood in his first wife, actress Jobyna Howland. A woman of Amazonian proportions, standing over six-feet tall, she's generally recognized as the original Gibson Girl.

Here she is in later life as Fannie Furst – not Fannie Hurst – with Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey in The Cuckoos. A musical comedy featuring three sequences in early Technicolor, it was shot six years before her death from a heart attack at age fifty-six.

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