WAIT FOR THE MOMENT WHEN: Mia Farrow…

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…scatters the Scrabble letters onto the floor in ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) to spell out a nightmare revelation. “The name is an anagram”. It’s a scene which never diminishes no matter how many times you watch the movie – have I run it 100 times? – or read Ira Levin’s novel which Roman Polanski films almost line by line (expertly cutting and brisking up the dialogue). After initial bafflement Rosemary pushes the counters into place as smoothly and uncannily as an upturned glass gliding over a ouija board. A sunny room full of bright summer light and Rosemary’s fluffy (baby) blue slippers add counterpoint to a horror emphasised by shrieking music on the soundtrack and the uncanny coincidence of the leading man’s¤ name being almost an anagram of that of the devils in the adjoining apartment. Have you not noticed the similarity between ‘Cassavetes’ and the ‘Castavets’? The more you think about it the more disturbing it becomes, especially in the context of this scene.

Which is always terrifying, every single time. It has the implacable recitative ritual of a fairy tale, it plays on our atavistic reverence for the power of words and the magic of secret names which may not be spoken. THIS time, will the words come out different? No – once again the letters fall into the same order. Like a girl in a fable, a fairy – or, of course, a witch – Rosemary transmutes the mundanity of a board game into a revelation of Satan. Director Roman Polanski has Farrow made up and coiffed like a Vidal Sassoon elf, a sick changeling like the baby within her. Her huge slippers are like paws. Whereas John Cassavetes as Guy – “he’s so good looking” – is saturnine and far more like most folks’ notion of Satan than the scaly lizardy creature we see crawling over the flowery mattress during the Black Mass rape sequence.

Nothing in ROSEMARY’S BABY is what it first seems; the jumbled letters are a metaphor for the whole film. Guy, the terrible actor who can give a good performance only when lying to his wife. The apparently idyllic apartment with its concealed passages¤¤; the chocolate mousse/mouse with the chalky undertaste; the dippy old couple next door and their frumpy friends; the bouncy girl in the basement who we next see smashed to pieces on the pavement. Rosemary’s dreams – “I told Sister Veronica about the windows and she withdrew the school from the competition…”. And, of course, both the doctors: Hollywood’s stock symbols of respectability and normality subverted. Is “dream boy” Dr Hill really another witch after all, just like jovial bluff Dr Sapirstein*? Could well be – but by the time Hill betrays Rosemary to her captors we are as paranoid as the poor girl herself so it is hard to say for sure.

Polanski’s camera and microphones insinuate themselves through doorways and around corners, using shots and set-ups to make the viewer feel like an excluded eavesdropper, seeing and hearing only a part of what is actually going on; and (until the film is seen again and again) probably misunderstanding, as eavesdroppers often do. The director also uses ingenious aural clues – one might almost say aural puns – to enlighten the more alert members of the audience. Wait for the moment when Rosemary is writhing in bed with terrible stomach cramps and Guy pops out to fetch ice cream cones: then listen up. You may learn something to your advantage.

There’s a memorable sequence when Rosemary goes downtown to the Time & Life Building during the Christmas rush and gazes into a dim window display of something bleak and weird as a banshee wail on the soundtrack makes us jump out of our skins. Then our collective minds clear – we are looking at a Nativity tableau and the shriek is “only” Minnie Castavet doing her shopping. But then there’s deeper ambiguity here – for Minnie is a coven leader, expressly sent out like The Childcatcher to bring Rosemary ( the fattened festive lamb) home under escort.

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Now think about Rosemary absently chewing raw liver and then throwing up as she catches sight of her reflection in the side of a toaster: the primitive mirror (traditional witchy accessory)revealing the truth. Food is everywhere in ROSEMARY’S BABY: mundane canned goods, picnic fare, sandwiches, crisps, party canapes and eggs, but also sinister under-done steaks, creepy cakes and mousses plus of course Minnie’s freshly-made herbal vitamin drinks. Food – the staff of life, the nourishment of growth – becomes something evil and ( like the crack in W.H. Auden’s teacup ) another banality that opens up “a lane to the land of the dead”.

As does smell: we are continually being reminded and prompted by mention of odours and our instinctive response to them. Polanski and Levin lead us back to the animal response that what smells bad is likely to do us harm. Stinking tannis* root may be encased in exquisite silver filigree and (like Rosemary) the viewer may fleetingly persuade himself that it really is a lucky charm – but when Rosemary hangs the tiny pomander around her neck# we cannot help but remember it comes to her washed clean of a suicide’s blood. She recoils at the stench but – fatally – ignores her own instinct to have nothing to do with it. By the time she drops the dainty horror down a drain it’s all too late, things are entirely out of hand.

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Even then, Rosemary tries to right herself with perfume; to claw her way back to normality with fragrance: something we all do from time to time. She sprays herself heavily and refreshingly with Revillon’s 1953 silky aldehydic Detchema. I wonder why such a point is made of this. Do you think it’s the scent of her absent mother, back in Omaha? As she approaches parturition, Rosemary maybe seeks a kind of vicarious maternal comfort. Or is this lush floral, originally intended to complement the wearing of furs, a symbol of the worldly wealth and prosperity brought by Satanic intervention? “The sweet smell of success”. More straightforwardly, maybe it was simply author Ira Levin’s favourite scent. LW had his own funny little experience with Detchema some 20 years ago. Emerging with a bottle from a Nice parfumerie and radiating ylang ylang and iris, LW was at once propositioned by a very homely and traditional (shall we say?) fille de joie: “Allo, cheri!” It brought to mind a well-known advertising campaign for another fragrance – sex workers can’t help acting on impulse…… If only Rosemary had followed hers, right from the start.”

MIA FARROW b. 1945
ROMAN POLANSKI b. 1933
IRA LEVIN 1929 – 2007

¤ John Cassavetes – and of course ROMAN Castavet/ ROMAN Polanski. It’s unsettling: no wonder Mr Mia Farrow (cradle catholic Frankie Sinatra) forbade his wife to do the picture. Her defiance contributed to their eventual divorce.

¤¤ and inexplicably moving furniture.

* highly imaginative casting – dear old Ralph Bellamy: so safe and solid.

** “are you sure you don’t mean anise or orris root?”

# once again, listen to the gasps on the soundtrack.

Of Mice and Mint

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I don’t exactly jump on a chair and squeal at the appearance of a mouse in the house but it’s always a bit of a shock to find traces of rodent activity. Their euphemistically named ‘traces’ are, after all, faeces and I am told that the wretched things are chronically incontinent – they micturate as they move. I may have mentioned before that the smell of white mice is one the most abiding odours of my infancy. Some kind person had made me a gift of a blue tin cage with two white mice in it – all pink eyes and tails. Mice being mice, they fructified and multiplied at astonishing speed. Mrs Sarson, shuffling in on her dropped arches to help with us tots and do the ironing, would ostentatiously hold her nose – “Pooh! I tell yer!”. This became such a common theme (and maybe there was something about prolific mouse fertility that disturbed all of us) that the creatures were finally “given away”. That doom-laden phrase…

But they certainly smelled, that’s for sure: a sour musty animal reek which I can just about remember but which is quite hard to find these days – certainly not in the modern disinfected supermarket style of pet shop. As to mice in the house we’ve only had one problem infestation, and that was caused not by LW dribbling crumbs or flour about the place but by emigration from two houses along. When the dear old Greek lady died, they found she had divided her home into 40 cubicles which she’d been rack-renting since the last War. The builders moved in, the mice moved out and sideways.

We had them only in the sitting room: the poor girl downstairs discovered them even in the bed and the airing cupboard. Her beautiful black and white tomcat was far too laid back and contrary-minded to be a deterrent. Combings of his coat left lying about had no effect either.

Traps didn’t work and neither did poison (not really): in the end I got rid of our little visitors by dint of two tips passed on by folk wisdom and fellow sufferers. First thing, by placing icons and statues of St Martin de Porres (patron of small vermin) in their areas of ingress and access. The saint calms and reasons with the mice; persuades them to move on and out for good. To accelerate this exodus I bought a vial of oil of peppermint.

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Now mice cannot abide peppermint – in an emergency, if you’re temporarily out of oil, smear toothpaste on wads of Kleenex or pour a kettle of boiling water into a bowl on top of a tube of Polos. The mice run a mile. Consequently, having cleared out the pests in short order, I found I had the best part of a bottle of neat peppermint on my hands. This was the roasting August of 2003, the summer when thousands died of the heat and boiling London buses cooled their engines from church fonts. I thought to myself, I’ll take a delicious cooling peppermint bath.

Unfortunately I overdid the oil and instead of a few carefully measured drops I sloshed in most of the contents. Like Elsie in What Katy Did At School the heat had made me feverish and reckless. I hopped into the bath and a wonderful freshness enveloped me, as though wrapped in soft snow. But all too soon, like Socrates with the hemlock, an iciness began to invade me, creeping up from my toes. Taking fright as my knees and then thighs turned to livid marble I very fortunately then had the sense to clamber out while still able. A terrible shivering and shaking seized me: I had lost all my body heat. A form of hypothermia had set in and despite the air temperature being over 30•C, I had to put myself to bed with quilts, jumpers and a hot water bottle. “You might easily have died” a skilled aromatherapist friend told me next day. “NEVER fool around with peppermint!”

So, take heed! I wonder what the smell of it does to the poor mice?

WAIT FOR THE MOMENT WHEN: Orson Welles…

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… rolls & staggers into sex worker Marlene Dietrich’s establishment in TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) in search of Tanya’s pianola, chili and crystal ball. Hank Quinlan is an obscenely obese police chief on the U.S. / Mexican border: bloated, pocked and crippled by bitterness, prejudice, hate, alcohol and food.

“Have you forgotten your old friend?”.

Dark-eyed semi-gypsy Tanya glares at him blankly over the stained enamel cooking pot:

“I didn’t recognise you…you should lay off the candy bars …you’re a mess, honey”.

Tanya is a dusky cigar-smoking chili-brewing madam who offers all kinds of obscure pornographic services:

” The customers go for it. It’s old it’s new…we got the television too…we run movies…” (and the way in which she says this! Lewdness of lewdery!)”…what can I offer you?”.

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Dietrich and Welles were old friends – “when I’m with him I’m like a plant that’s been watered” – and he was fascinated by her, though apparently not sexually. She complained that he liked only blondes¤ but hinted that he saw her in a new light once she’d got Tanya’s black wig fitted.

That wig! Marlene apparently went through the wardrobe department and assembled her own costume of bits and bobs (a kind of hommage to Frida Kahlo). The wardrobe girls told her the wig had originally been worn by La Liz in RAINTREE COUNTY. Well, thought MD, it was made for a tart and I’m playing one so how apt. She loathed Taylor who had a disturbing trend of making off with her own lovers – Fisher, Todd, Wilding, maybe Burton…¤¤. Tanya has only four short scenes in TOUCH OF EVIL (all said to have been shot on location in a single night) – Dietrich and Welles were in high spirits improvising her role as they went along and giving Tanya the final (and best?) shot of the movie.

If you know THE BLUE ANGEL it is clear that Tanya is a sketch of Lola Lola grown well…not old, but ageless. She now has not only a pianola at home – “zu Haus in mein’ Salon” – but chili too : “Better be careful! It may be too hot for you.” Maybe she emigrated to Mexico pre-war or, more likely, was chased out of Germany in ’45 as a Mitlaufer. Lola is just the sort of little chancer who would have gone along with Hitler if she thought there was anything in it for her. Tanya’s cluttered dusty apartment is crammed with beaded fringed lamps, kitschy knick-knacks and even a stuffed bull’s head** that all remind us of BLUE ANGEL props. There are toys and so-shy’s (including a facetious plaster chipmunk) that echo the presence of Marlene’s own dolls that sat around in so many of her pictures in the early days. Above all there is the haunting rippling wonderful music (Henry Mancini’s finest hour) of the pianola (“at home my pianola Is played for all its worth”) echoing spectrally through the dusty, boiling hot-windy night which heaves with corruption, vitriol throwings, rapists and drug gangs; luring men and women to their doom like Lola’s burning moths.

This is still a shocking film, despite (or because of) being stuffed with outrageous black comedy – the Galgenhumor in which Orson and Marlene both revelled. Director as well as star, Welles has a lot of ironic fun with the placing & wording of signs – one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s strippers, Zita, is blown to bits by a car bomb as her street wall poster – “ZITA: For this week only!” – is obliterated by acid. Back at Zsa Zsa’s joint there’s a sign prominently reading ‘Dining Room’ – presumably not an overused part of the house except for the proprietress’s preying on young flesh and the frailty of dirty old men. A dining room for vultures & vampires.

Charlton Heston (the good cop to Welles’s fiend: his face stained with the same walnut juice as used on Marlene) makes a call from a drugstore and the camera lingers on the placard “If you’re mean enough to steal from the blind help yourself “. Meanwhile the visually challenged proprietress exudes in close up a chumbling motiveless menacing
malevolence. At the climax of the movie Hank Quinlan commits murder in a hotel bedroom and fatally leaves his incriminating cane behind on the bed rail as the ” Stop! Forget Anything?” sign swings unseen on the door.

LW might write a dozen blogs on TOUCH OF EVIL without ever exhausting its wit and febrile fascination. But, for now, to touch on smells – if ever a movie stank it’s this; and there’s another Wellesian irony here because one of the main preoccupations of the camera is a knowing prurient voyeurism. The camera becomes the lubricious evil eye of Quinlan as Janet Leigh gratuitously lolls on her motel bed in boned white satin underwear – one of several prognostications of Hitcock’s PSYCHO. Then as Leigh is (apparently)*** gang-raped by Mercedes McCambridge’s leather gang – “I wanna watch!” growls the voice that later dubbed Linda Blair’s possession in THE EXORCIST. Mercedes was another chum of Welles and Dietrich – she doesn’t even get a credit for her terrifying cameo. All done just for fun. And so, to complement this voyeuristic motif, we have simultaneously a bombardment of words and images to conjure a powerful sense of smell and corruption: “it stinks in here! It’s a mess, a stinking mess!”. Choking clouds of marijuana; stained sweaty clothes; corrosive acid; chili; old perfume; grubby old beds; tobacco; blood; hair lacquer; Uncle Joe’s greasy toupee – “you lost ya rug!”; heat; petrol; cordite; electricity; leather jackets; hair cream; burning flesh; sex; fear; panic. And finally, the dark river choked with rot and ordure and refuse, with Hank Quinlan floating dead on his back in the black oil-slicked ooze. Tanya, lured from her den, wrapped in a coat that might be black silk or leather, watches like an omniscient ambiguous Aztec spirit of the night wind:

“What does it matter what you say about people? He was some kind of a man…”

Not half.

ORSON WELLES 1915 – 1985
MARLENE DIETRICH 1901 – 1992

¤ but what of his marriage to Rita Hayworth? Her famous red hair was of course dyed but Welles also had a long affair with gleaming brunette Dolores del Rio. Maybe MD was barking up the wrong tree here.

¤¤ a piece of paper was found in the avenue Montaigne apartment after her death “Open letter to Elizabeth Taylor … why don’t you swollow (sic) your diamonds and shut up?” Paris Match at once published it. MD was certainly dotty about Burton, though if they had an actual physical affair this has yet to come to light. “I’m behind you, Marlene!” – remember?

# and wait for the wonderful shot of Welles posed beneath the bull and its halo of banderillas – Quinlan’s own vision of himself as the brave old beast martyred in the pursuit of his duty.

* the naïve censor is placated by a weasel line of dialogue later on: Welles laughing up his sleeve again.

FATHER, DEAR FATHER

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My own father used to say that his favourite smell in all the wide world was that of jugged hare, on the high side*, with fried stuffing balls and red currant jelly on the side. In a rather more orthodox manner he loved the scent, sight, taste, touch & effect of gin and tonic. And this is how he preferred it to be prepared:

One would take a heavy cut glass tumbler and place it in the fridge to chill and frost an hour or so before serving. This would then be crammed to the top with ice cubes: much as he loved and relied on the gin (apart from 40 days’ regular abstinence during Lent), my father preferred to drink nothing at all rather than liquor without the ice – “lukewarm! Take it away!”. Woe betide him who had forgotten to refill the ice trays. I’d then pour about three fingers of Gordon’s or Beefeater over the ice and tuck slices of lemon down the sides of the glass. These he liked to chew as he drank. Occasionally one might add a sprig of fresh mint from the garden. Angostura bitters were applied liberally to turn the gin blood-red rather than pink, while a dash of Schweppes tonic water (on no account the Slimline version – “take it back!”) provided sparkle. (And of course aerated waters get the alcohol into the system quicker). We always had a case of tonic to hand as Pa required a fresh bottle every time, having a horror of it being served flat. He’d have maybe three of these restoratives nightly before supper, and each one had to be served perfectly else there would be ructions. His enjoyment was derived almost as much from the aesthetics as from the undoubted alcoholic stimulation: “look at that Beautiful Drink…..!!”

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Many perfumers have paid homage to the great G & T, whether intentionally or not: from Lubin’s self-evident Gin Fizz to Annick Goutal’s classic citrus Eau d’Hadrien which always used to provoke drinks trolley comparisons. Atelier Cologne’s stunning CEDRAT ENIVRANT at Les Senteurs has the exhilarating kick of the fabulous WW1 ‘French 75′ champagne & gin knock-out; while EAU DE CAMELIA CHINOIS breathes a green icy chill from its leafy tea-scented depths. Check out Frederic Malle’s BIGARADE CONCENTREE, too, for a wild high of iced bitter orange, cedar and cardamom, glittering with freshness.

The Sexiest Scent on the Planet straightWEB

Fascinating and inventive, THE SEXIEST SCENT ON THE PLANET was inspired by the ineffable Sarah McCartney’s smelling of the ten botanicals in Bombay Sapphire – and then creating a perfume with her favourites. SEXIEST SCENT, Sarah confides, is “smooth citrus, soft woods, a little spiciness and a dash of vanilla. It’s not designed to smell like gin, just to blend well with it – the ultimate mixer”. It stirs up emotions as well as taste buds, that’s for sure.

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My father’s optimum scent, chosen by his doting son, was GRAIN DE PLAISIR – that extraordinary sweet and spicy woody fragrance which incorporates patchouli, amber, oud, lemon cedar and mint with a unique kick derived from the dry pungency of celery seed, regarded for centuries as one of nature’s most powerful aphrodisiacs. As with many great fragrances, less is more – a drop is all you need for a long slow glowing realisation and a powerful sillage which enfolds you like a flame coloured cashmere scarf. To me there is a hint of barley sugar about it with a faint suggestion of coffee beans: but I have just shown a bottle to a customer who detected the delicious odour of freshly made Pimms, brought out to the lawn in the shade of the cedars of Lebanon. Dad had a great love affair with the Pimms jug of which he amassed something of a collection, so maybe he too caught this subliminal association.

Perfume is in origin a male accessory being worn millennia ago by the god-kings of the ancient civilisations. Perfume was the route to Heaven, burned to please the nostrils of the gods and to call their attention to their worshippers here below. From this use it was a short step to wearing scent as the ruler incarnated the divine in his own society. So there can be no more appropriate gift on Father’s Day to honour the head of your own family and to celebrate his unique role in your life and origins. Younger dads have grown up in an era which has seen a much broader, sophisticated and detailed approach to the wearing and appreciation of fragrance; those of a more mature generation will be intrigued and fascinated by the vast scope of modern perfumery. Select a scent which reflects your parent’s personality and lifestyle with – should you require it – our expert help and guidance. Offer a Les Senteurs Voucher or a Private Consultation for the gentleman to explore our shelves in person, with all his questions answered. My papa was over sixty when he first became bewitched by scent and perhaps he was inclined to overdo the application, spraying and rubbing it very liberally and enthusiastically over his head and neck with great zest and vigour, just as he behaved in most areas of life. He enjoyed making his presence felt. Perfume is a delight at any age and opening a new bottle is as festive as popping champagne. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all our readers!

* he would hang the hare in the coal house for as long as allowed – ergo, until there were protests.

WAIT FOR THE MOMENT WHEN: Claudette Colbert…

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…sits on a dowager’s Pomeranian in MIDNIGHT (1939). It takes quite a lot to make LW laugh aloud, alone on a wet May evening, but the gorgeous girl known at Paramount as The Fretting Frog¤ does the business. The dog-squashing is neither dwelt upon nor laboured, it flashes past and you’re already onto the next bit of business in this wonderful movie. Miss Eve Peabody arrives Third Class in Paris from Monte Carlo with nothing but the golden gown she stands up in. Picked up (in both senses) by a taxi driver with a beautiful nose – Don Ameche – she embarks on a series of comically saucy adventures in the horrible haute monde. The film (script by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder) is as fresh, exhilarating and inventive as it was 76 years ago: it unreels with the polished rhythm and incantatory structure of a Weltschmerz fairytale – “Every Cinderella has her midnight”.

Posing as a Hungarian baroness, Eve falls into a succession of disastrous situations only to be miraculously delivered and propelled into the next pickle. In one of the most glittering casts since GRAND HOTEL, the snobbish fairies and sex-mad witches are incarnated by such entrancing personalities as:

– intoxicatingly beautiful and hatefully haughty Mary Astor, author of the notorious diary burned by Court Order, gamely going along with a gag about her slightly problematic chin. Amazing Astor, one of the greatest of forgotten stars.*

– John Barrymore, the Great Profile of the Silents in terminal alcoholic decline: very funny indeed (intentionally so) as the drunken but faithful Fairy Godfather. “I’ve always had a weakness for size 12″.

– Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist as actress, playing a philistine musical saloniere with toy boy escort.

– Rex O’Malley (Garbo’s sympathetic aesthete in CAMILLE) as Astor’s malicious best gay boy friend.

– Francis Lederer! Need LW say more?

All this and Prince Charming Don Ameche (inventor of the telephone) too. The music is by Dietrich’s pal Hollander; the art direction by Von Sternberg’s Hans Dreier; gowns by Irene: MIDNIGHT is a confection of supreme cinematic luxury made at the peak of Colbert’s career.

She was then the highest paid woman in the USA, ergo the world. Unlike some of her legendary contemporaries – Astaire, Garbo, Crawford, Hepburn, Dietrich – she was never branded Box Office Poison (but then there was nothing disturbing about her)** and hers was the first face to be used to grace store window mannequins. Born in France but reared in the USA she had enough of the Old World to charm and enthral without being cast as a chilly exotic or an aloof vamp••. She tried all the genres except horror but excelled in romantic or screwball comedy, dressed to the nines before being stripped of her wardrobe by some unlikely catastrophe the better to show off her perfect figure, wasp waist and sculpted legs. In MIDNIGHT we are almost convinced that we have seen her nude as she wriggles into a negligee beneath the eiderdown.

Erotic but droll; audaciously risque, Colbert has the exquisite knack of leaving you to figure how much of the sometimes quite amazing suggestiveness is entirely in your own mind.

“What kind of work d’you want?”

“Well at this time of night and in these clothes I’m not looking for needlework.”

There is little gossip about her: she seems to have aroused affectionate if sometimes exasperated admiration in all including (rare in a star of her vintage) her own family. Her mother lived in; her brother was for a time her manager. Her second marriage (to the doctor who reputedly ruined Merle Oberon’s face) lasted over 30 years. An ancient story goes around that she once had a fling with Dietrich. I was told that in luxurious old age on Barbados she preferred to pinch magazines from the hairdresser’s rather than buy her own. Endearing peccadilloes: and on screen Claudette was equally appealing – tiny, discreetly sexy, chic, playful, flirtatious, delivering wisecracks in that smooth chuckling contralto. Confident, poised, cuddly and easy going she drove men nuts though not in the manner of her more frightening contemporaries. She sat on a lot of laps, was sometimes spanked. She was provocative & shrewd, but a reliable pal and a sport: the viewer always loves Claudette – an ideal girlfriend, best friend, wife, mistress, confidante and, later on, mum.

Do you remember the scene in THE PALM BEACH STORY when the senile smitten Weenie King invades her bathroom and (ahem!) enjoys her perfume? Off-screen, Colbert is said to have loved Caron’s Muguet de Bonheur, maybe attracted by the traditional French associations of the flower with l’amour. Ostensibly simple, Muguet de Bonheur is far from innocent. A highly complex formula including rose, orange blossom and jasmine plays out to a powdery lilac, heliotrope and dramatically musky finale. Needless to say there is no use of natural lily of valley for muguet defies oil extraction requiring to be synthesised from other floral oils in combination or else reproduced chemically. A conjuring trick of the highest order, a triumph of illusion and fantasy almost on a par with ‘Uncle Claude’ herself.

¤ she was tough and successful enough to negotiate a contract that limited her work to between 10 – 5pm. Her right profile was out of bounds to cameramen – “The Other Side of the Moon” they called it. Every set had to be constructed to enable this; just as every Colbert hairdo for 40 years had to accommodate her trademark bangs. It was a shock to see her on TV in The Second Mrs Greville in 1987 looking great but with her forehead at last exposed.

* when La Liz found herself seated next to Bette Davis at a dinner decades later, Taylor had the sauce to ask Davis whether it was true that she and Astor had once been to bed together. Davis “just laughed”. And don’t forget Claudette was the original choice for Margo Channing in ALL ABOUT EVE. Always an intriguing thought when you can’t sleep.

**though David Shipman thought her “probably after Dietrich the most consistently unreal of all the great stars”. Interesting, perplexing remark.

•Her portrayal of CLEOPATRA for de Mille succeeds because of her beauty but fails because she’s far too nice and jolly. As Poppaea Sabina in the same director’s SIGN OF THE CROSS she briefly exposes her beautiful bosom in a milk bath that the klieg lamps turned to cheese.

CLAUDETTE COLBERT 1903 -1996

Boxing Clever

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Recently I was told off at home to have a thorough clear-out, a spring clean in the Mrs Tittlemouse manner. “Very Tabitha Twitchet-Danvers” as the wonderful Sue Kaufman used to say. The stacks of sealed boxes piled up in the bedroom, under tables and behind the sofa all had to go. I had something very like a panic attack. “But what of the treasures inside?” I moaned. “Those boxes are filled with irreplaceable unique documents!”

“Then they will all need to be sorted out!” came the implacable reply. Now, I’d been filling these containers for at least 40 years: they represented, I believed, my archive, my legacy. Anyway, I hauled out gaudy biscuit gift tins, beribboned chocolate coffrets, shirt boxes, dress cartons & old suitcases and amid clouds of dust and cactus sediment I began the sad but thrilling task of breaking the seals. At least, I thought to myself, I shall have a few delicious surprises; old dear forgotten friends reunited. How bittersweet and emotional ( I thought to myself ) it will be. “I’ll bet”, I thought ” I shan’t be able to bring myself to throw out one single item!”

Do you know, there was nothing in any of it!

Well I don’t mean there was a void, a vacuum – at least, not literally. What I found in there were 1000’s of post cards and letters from folks long since dead, silenced or forgotten; endless newspaper clippings the significance of which I had quite forgot; and a few tatty photos. A three minute sermon, in fact, thunderingly delivered on my own bedroom floor! Never was a clearer and more shattering exposition of St Matthew Ch. 6, v.19 ¤. Most everything was quite without meaning. I had evidently moved on: so much for those expectations of being unable to part with any of it. Instead, all went unheeded into the recycling in short order and I felt much the better in consequence: just as the lifestyle therapists always say.

Now, there’s a moral here I think. Don’t fall into the same sort of trap with your prized perfume collection. Perfume, like our food, our skins and our emotions, is a living breathing thing. It is to be used, experienced, cherished and explored. It is an enhancement and nutrient of life. While all we scent-lovers build up a collection of favourites and curiosities over the years we must always remember to curate with care. As we know, properly stored (no heat, no light) fragrance will keep well for years. Still, we should keep it circulating and active; like beautiful garments it should be aired, inspected, shaken out and worn. Don’t bury your exquisite bottles too deep and dark against a rainy day or the Special Occasion that never comes. Use your perfume archive to adorn your daily life and activities.

There’s another snag to stockpiling. Everything changes: no doubt we wearers alter more than our scents, though they too undergo various metamorphoses over the years, both chemical and perceived. But our brains, bodies, dreams and perceptions all constantly mutate and the scent that once was couleur de rose may turn into a nightmare a year – or ten – later. Or, more excitingly, vice versa. This is one reason why at Les Senteurs we are continually smelling, wearing and re-evaluating our precious cargoes. Nothing stands still, the scent experience is always fluid, and like Pandora the perfume fancier often finds that the ultimate occupant of the fragrance bottle is Hope. I trust I shall never lose that sense of thrilling excitement as I whip the cellophane off a brand new perfume. Great expectations indeed but LW is no Miss Havisham. At least, not superficially so…

¤ “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt…”

WAIT FOR THE MOMENT WHEN: Patricia Roc

patricia roc

…Tries and fails to eat her dinner in the munitions canteen during the final minutes of MILLIONS LIKE US, the British Home Front propaganda drama of 1943. Roc made a speciality of playing superficially drippy but loveable girls with unsuspected reserves of resilience and spirit. Here she’s the newly widowed Celia Blake whose RAF husband¤ has been shot down over Germany. She takes her place at table in a vast hanger (filmed on location in the Midlands: there’s a joke about Market Harborough and another about The Marquis of Granby) clasping her cutlery and a plate of stew. On stage, singer Bertha Wilmot (Northampton girl) entertains the workers with throbbing music hall standards and lovely twiddly hand gestures. As Wilmot switches from “Just Like The Ivy On The Old Garden Wall” to “There was I, Waiting At The Church” Celia’s throat closes up and she has to be coaxed by best friend Megs Jenkins to join in the chorus for one of cinema’s great tear-jerking cinematic finales. Planes roar overhead across the night sky as the bombardment of the enemy continues, and Celia even breaks into a triumphant smile, tossing her head on the line “My Wife Won’t Let Me!” Written down it sounds too corny and ghastly for words, but it’s not: it’s wonderful and powerful & to see it is to weep or at any rate to feel a shiver through the flesh on every single viewing.

Superficially it’s similar to the climax of the biggest grossing German film of the war “DIE GROSSE LIEBE” (1942) which has Zarah Leander• handing back her wounded Luftwaffe husband to active service as the two marmoreal beauties (Swedish + Hungarian) gaze upwards at the winged Axis squadrons soaring over the Alps. Men must fight and women must weep: but MILLIONS LIKE US has a modesty, humour, heart and charm that had little place in Goebbels’ cinematic remit. Exotic Zarah’s idealised sacrifice is chilly and remote; she and co-star Viktor Staal, bathed in mountain light, seem fascistically impermeable to mere death. Whereas Pat Roc is simply the sweet dull girl from next door whose husband is suddenly wiped out.

millions like us

MILLIONS LIKE US has a lengthy cast of unrivalled & charismatic character actors¤¤. A certain roistering amateurishness adds to the invigorating atmosphere; as does the adroit use of unlimited factory workers & members of the armed forces as extras*, many of them endearingly self-conscious as they peer, giggling and entranced, at the camera and the stars among them. The very ordinary and rather mardy Roc (known around the studios as ‘Bed Roc': now, why?) is a British working class Everywoman who makes life in munitions look such fun that the viewer feels he’s been cheated of the experience of a lifetime. Tactfully, no mention is made of war nerves, hideous industrial accidents or ground-down exhaustion. Nor of the reek of swarf, grease, oil, cordite and B.O. (six inches in the bath and clothing on the ration) that engrained these heroic workers for the duration and “without complaint”. Of the girls, only stuck-up blonde Jennifer Knowles (Ann Crawford) smokes – and from an egregiously long holder at that. Wartime cinemas and their audiences smelled pungently. (LW well recalls watching films – and much later than this – through a thick mist of cigarette smoke and disinfectant). When a bomb hit the Bourjois factory in Croydon the smell of Evening In Paris hung for weeks over South London.

As in another contemporary Roc vehicle 2,000 WOMEN (in which the sharp-eyed viewer will spot Pat’s dress from MILLIONS LIKE US, thriftily recycled) females en masse are exploited to provide a certain titillation. The contemporary male audience no doubt enjoyed the frissons of references to “repression”, discussions of honeymoon lingerie, and girls being discovered in their hostel rooms in various stages of undress. Get an eyeful of pretty Terry Randall hopping into bed in her vest and knickers much to Ann Crawford’s distaste:

“Aren’t you going to take off your underclothes?”

“They’ve only got to go on again in’t morning….y’are fussy!”

Then there’s the Wednesday night dance (the mad stampede of the Palais Glide; the silk stockings won in the Prize Spot Waltz) and the over- eagerness of the salacious hostel doctor:

” …I enjoy these hops….Overcrowded, sweaty + remarkably unhygienic but as I say unprofessionally: what the hell, what the hell!…I’m always being misunderstood..”

As LW hits 60 he identifies more and more with the scene which has Celia’s dad staggering in from Home Guard duty and painfully prising his swollen achey feet out of his boots. His women have all gone off to war and he’s alone in a filthy kitchen with a stacked sink of food-encrusted plates and a fat studio cat named Pickles who steals the old boy’s fish and chips. Dad knocks Pickles off the table and fills his own mouth with a handful of puss-chewed batter.

The glossy Pickles waddles off, not a whit abashed. But the whiffy squalor of the lone pensioner on his uppers was not to be equalled again on celluloid till Edith Evans knocked us for six in THE WHISPERERS”.

¤ Gordon Jackson – ‘Mr Hudson’ from “Upstairs Downstairs”; MISS JEAN BRODIE’s nervous lover; an heroically patient friend of Kenneth Williams.

•much admired by her compatriot Garbo.

* these rationed players eat with genuine appetite. There is a wartime preoccupation with food and frustrated hunger throughout the picture: the scarcity or inferior quality of biscuits, oranges, saccharin, potatoes, cabbage, dates, potatoes, sausages and beer are all wistfully or disparagingly evoked.

¤¤ Besides Megs Jenkins, we have Terry Randall (who turned 100 last year), Eric Portman, Moore Marriott, Joy Shelton, Basil Radford, John Slater (later famed for the ‘Special K’ tv ads), the incomparable Amy Veness, Beatrice Varley, Irene Handl, a teenage Brenda Bruce and the eccentrically beautiful and very funny Ann Crawford who died of leukaemia at only 35….

“….& millions like YOU!”

PATRICIA ROC 1915 – 2003