Monday, December 28, 2009

Ms. Lombard Meets Mr. Powell

One so frequently thinks of Carole Lombard as the madcap that we forget the many dramatic parts she does. THIS is one of them. This week, we are looking at her 1931 film Man of the World.  Here she plays heiress Mary Kendall, who is close to marrying Frank Thompson (Lawrence Gray), but falls in love with con-man and blackmailer Michael Trevor (William Powell).  Just when it seems that Trevor is about to give up his wicked ways for Mary, he realizes that their life together is doomed and openly blackmails her uncle, in order to drive Mary away.

We were surprised at the bleakness of this film. Unhappiness is rampant here. No one ends this film on a happy note (except maybe Frank). And given that this is precode, we expected a warmer ending.  But, it seems everyone gets punished for Michael trying to mend his ways. 

Lombard is, as always, lovely.  She is also touching. Her Mary is warm and fragile, deeply in love with Michael, willing to forgive his past, and devastated by his betrayal.  And Powell is also wonderful here. His Michael truly loves; he even has feelings for his partner-in-crime, Irene (Wynne Gibson). She loves him and finally convinces him that his relationship with Mary is impossible, leading the the unhappy ending.
This film was released before Lombard and Powell married, and it was here that they met. While the marriage didn't last all that long, the friendship between the two did. They are quite sweet together in the film; their affection for one another is evident. It also was nice to see them in something other than My Man Godfrey (oh, and we all LOVE My Man Godfrey). We enjoyed having the opportunity to see something that was serious.

Next week, we do another serious Lombard movie - In Name Only.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Carole Lombard Joins Movie Night

We've decided to begin a mini-Carole Lombard festival for movie night (mini in the sense that we've done a bunch of her movies in the past, and won't repeat most of them) We started with We're Not Dressing.  This is a very silly movie.  Carole plays an heiress, pursued by two men (one of who is a very young and callow Ray Milland!!), but she instead falls in unwilling love with a hand aboard her yacht.  His claim to fame? He can sing to her pet gorilla.  He, of course, is Bing Crosby, so we get treated to a number of songs by the maestro of 1930s pop. 

We wondered if Lina Wertmuller (Swept Away) had seen this movie, because it is the same plot, only done for humor.  And we have additional humor in the form of the delicious Gracie Allen.  We talked a lot about Gracie.  As always, she is so funny - living in her own world, and bemused that others don't get it.  This movie, however, shows the earlier incarnation of George Burns, as an exasperated and annoyed onlooker to Gracie's viewpoint.  We much prefer him in the 50s, when his response to her nonsense was always "I love her, that's why". 

We were also amused by the "special effects", obvious cuts between a real gorilla and a man in a costume.  Really, they did do a decent job in the transition.  (Why we needed the dumb gorilla, we never quite figured out.  It really was silly beyond belief). 

Is this a great movie? NO. Is it funny - yes, it is.  Thanks to Gracie Allen, and some lovely work by the ever luminous Ms. Lombard, it is funny.  Certainly worth a look (and if you like to listen to Bing Crosby singing, again - worth your time.)  And here is Crosby singing to Lombard in the trailer:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wayne and Colbert

Again, we had a bit of a break in our meetings, but we are back together, and decided to follow up The Searchers with another (and very different John Wayne movie.  This time, we saw Without Reservations, a light comedy feature Claudette Colbert as hit writer Christopher "Kit" Madden (think of her as Margaret Mitchell crossed with Ayn Rand), whose best-seller is about to be turned into a motion picture.  En route to the west coast, Kit meets two fliers, Rusty Thomas (John Wayne) and Dink Watson (Don DeFore). A few seconds with Rusty, and Kit is convinced that he is the embodiment of her lead character, Mark Winston.  She attaches herself to him, in hopes that he will portray her character in the upcoming movie. 

We found it a bit disconcerting to see Claudette Colbert going so totally gaga over a man as to be downright silly.  She doesn't want to tell Wayne her real name, so she adopts the pseudonym Kit - short for Kitty - Klotch.  Klotch?? She is a writer; one would think she could write herself a better character. And then she gets on a train without a ticket (because the boys are going on the less expensive train. She has first class accommodations on the SuperChief). Of course, hijinks  ensue, and love - eventually - follows.  Here's a scene on the train, in which Rusty discusses Kit's book:

On the plus side was a cameo by Cary Grant (always welcome), and Don DeFore as Dink was quite fun.  We spoke at some length about DeFore, an actor who we felt was highly underrated, and probably should have had a more extensive career.  But John Wayne making eyes at Dona Drake (as Dolores Ortega) just made no sense when the lovely Claudette was there.  We kinda wondered why Kit would stand around doing dishes while the men flirt with Dolores. The car they are in belongs to Kit. If WE were Kit, we would have left them behind!! (And gone looking for Cary Grant).

Okay, so not our favorite movie, but we didn't hate it. It's tongue is mostly in its cheek, and it does seem to know how totally silly it all is.  With the second World War over, this lighthearted look at a couple of fliers must have been a welcome relief.

We will be back soon. We'll be spending some time with the glorious Carole Lombard.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Searching for "The Searchers"

We haven't met for awhile (vacations and family issues), and returned to our get-together with the decision to step away from Pre-code for awhile.  One member of our group had never seen The Searchers. So, we ventured into Monument Valley, to the land of Ford and Wayne.

It is pointless to say this is a brilliant movie.  My friend was struck immediately by the beauty of the scenery.  The cinematography here is unparalleled.  The vistas breathtaking.  The differences between the beauty of the country, and the almost dingy homes of the settlers is, at times, unnerving: low doors compared to endless skies.   

We had to note this is NOT a holiday movie - with Christmas almost here, it was a leap of faith for my friend to watch this.  It is a relentless film. At times, the pain is overwhelming.  After the film, we looked again at the scene where Ethan bids Martha goodbye, with Ward Bond carefully not watching their interchange. With minimal dialogue, this chaste kiss on the forehead becomes palpably heartbreaking. We know that these two have a past; we know too, they have no future.  Here is that scene:

Finally, there is John Wayne. His Ethan Edwards is a revelation. Every one of his critics should be forced to watch this brilliant performance. Certainly, it is his best performance (and that is saying a lot, when you consider his work in Red River, Stagecoach, The Quiet Man, and the cavalry trilogy), and I think his most unusual.  One doesn't think of John Wayne being so callous. The character's bigotry is hard to watch, but put in the context of the rest of the movie, he is, in many respects, no different than the other settlers.  Listen to Laurie Jorgenson's (Vera Miles) attitude to Debbie's possible return.  Even Marty is tainted - his treatment of Look is unforgivable, in fact it makes your skin crawl.  The only character who is, I think, truly good here is Olive Carey's Mrs. Jorgenson, who continues to love Debbie, no matter where her life has turned. 

Next week, we'll be heading to a more festive film.  Hope to see you then.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Crawford Sings and Dances

This week, we decided to watch Dancing Lady (1933), famous for Joan Crawford's only turn at dancing with Fred Astaire (it was his first picture - as himself).  In some senses, this movie is wannabe Busby Berkeley.  Watch the sillouhette scene, where we see young ladies apparently undresssing, and then the reveal to show that they have changed into a rather revealing costume for a good example of this.  Joan Crawford stars as the titled Dancing Lady - Janie Barlow, a burlesque dancer who is determined to hit the big time.  With the assistance of high-society's Tod Newton (Franchot Tone), Janie gets a letter of introduction to Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable), a Broadway producer.  Her dancing skills land her a part in the chorus; her determination and pluck land her the lead in the musical. 

Of course, we have a love triangle here: Janie, Tod and Patch; though, in some ways, her love of Patch is as much her love of dancing.  Tod is high society; he attempts to change Janie ("No shoes with bows on them".  "But I like shoes with bows!"), Patch loves her for who she is.  It is interesting that in some senses this triangle mimicked Crawford's real life. There have long be rumors of liaisons between her and Gable; she and Tone were married from 1935 to 1939.
Precode naughy bits run through the movie. The previously mentioned dance number, the burlesque strip that opens the film (and almost results in Janie's imprisonment), a scene where Janie undresses for bed, as the flashing neon lights outside her NYC apartment flash to reveal what her slip covers. And then, there is Tod's interest in setting Janie up as his lover (which she rejects).  All rather racy by standards a year later.

Finally, there is the dancing in the movie.  It is wonderful to see Astaire in his first picture, and of course his dancing is great. But Crawford, who did start out as a dancer is rather an odd dancer. Her style is rather flapper-ish - her arms and legs splay around. She's not really graceful.  We took a look at an earlier dance number that was featured in That's Entertainment, and it is pretty much the same. A trailer gives you an idea of some of the dancing:

 Thankfully, Crawford turned to dramatic parts. We'll look at one of those next time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Precode Royalty - AHH Garbo!

For this meeting, we looked at Garbo's Queen Christina.  This is a wonderful film in so many ways.  Let's begin at the beginning - before we even see the glorious Garbo.  We were so impressed by Cora Sue Collins as the young Christina.  Just her walk told her story.  Only six years old, but already with a mind of her own, and the ability to rule, she is both amusing and enthralling.  I look forward to seeing a few more of this actress' films (she appears to have "retired" in 1945).

Then, we get to Garbo. Her relationship with Aage (C. Aubrey Smith), her body-man, is unique indeed. How many films actually show a man walking unbidden into a woman's bedroom to awaken her for the day's work? Immediately, we understand the dichotomy that is Christina.  We quickly discover she has a lover (Ian Keith, as Count Magnus) and perhaps another one in the person of her lady-in-waiting, Ebba (Elizabeth Young).  The kiss that Christina bestows on her young maid, and her anger at discovering Ebba with a young man point up that there is much more to this relationship than merely that of a Queen and her handmaiden.
Finally, we get to her nights with John Gilbert. How is it that EVERY item in the room seems to be phallic? Even a bunch of grapes make one sit up and take notice. We felt that John Gilbert is a very underrated actor. We were not sure why his career ended so early. As we all know, his voice was just fine. Perhaps a bit tenor, but certainly not unpleasant, and the chemistry between him and Garbo is palpable.  His duel with Ian Keith was exciting; his death scene totally moving.  And then, there is Garbo again. Her face a mask of determination and pain.  I defy anyone to not be moved at the sight of her staring off into her future.  Here it is:

Next time - Dancing Lady

Monday, November 16, 2009

Precode Golddiggers

This week, we look at Gold Diggers of 1933, another Busby Berkeley musical. It looks at the Depression through the eyes of showgirls who are trying to survive as theatricals close under them.  Enter Brad Roberts (Dick Powell), a young man eager to break into show business as a songwriter.  He agrees to finance a show, as long as it features his music and stars his love, Polly Parker (Ruby Keeler). Brad is, it seems, quite wealthy, the younger son of a family that has agreed to his ambitions as long as he changes his name.  However, once his older brother Lawrence (played by William Warren) finds out that young Brad is planning on marrying a showgirl, mayhem ensues.  Carol's friend Polly (Joan Blondell) is mistaken by Lawrence for Carol, and Polly decides to play along.

During the musical numbers, Billy Barty is back, again as a child in the "Pettin' in the Park" number, oogling all the lovely ladies.  The number ends with the famous scene of him handing a can opener to Dick Powell, so he can cut the "protected" Ruby Keeler out of her tin armor.  But as racy as the number is, perhaps the interaction among Joan Blondell, William Warren, Aline MacMahon (as Trixie Lorraine, another showgirl) and Guy Kibbee ("Fanny", the object of Trixie's golddigging). The girls con expensive hats out of the men - retribution for their mission to break up Brad and Carol.  And let's not forget the lovely Fay (Ginger Rogers), whose last name is Fortune, and who, quite frankly, is looking for one.Of course, all comes right in then end - Brad get Carol, Polly gets Lawrence, and even Trixie get "Fanny".

We were surprised that, in this lighthearted romp, the number that ended the musical is "Remember My Forgotten Man". Its somber tone is in direct contrast to the rest of the movie, and that it ends the movie is a statement in and of itself. Coming out in the middle of the Depression, it reminds the audience of the environment to which they must return.  Here is that scene:

And so, next week we pick up with a more serious story.  Hope you'll visit with us again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Precode, Busby and Cagney

We decided it was time to go back to some lighter fare, and since Footlight Parade had a brief moment in Wild Boys of the Road, we opted to start there.  It goes without saying that this movie is worth seeing if only to watch James Cagney dance (and act. Then again, he could read a telephone book, and I would watch).  But this is a fun movie, with the added attraction of Joan Blondell. A little tap dancing from Ruby Keeler, a song from Dick Powell - this is a movie not to be missed.

In some senses, the plot is not important here.  It's the musical numbers you pay closest attention to.  Indeed, most of the more suggestive bits of this movie are in the musical numbers: "Honeymoon Hotel", with the silhouette of the apparently naked ladies; "Sitting on a Backyard Fence" (did Andrew Lloyd Weber see this before making Cats?), and, of course, "Shanghai Lil".  Billy Barty's Mouse/Little Boy is just oh -so naughty!!  Here is the "Shanghai Lil" number:

Busby Berkeley has this way of making his number ever so slightly off-color, yet they are so spectacular, that you end up going "did I just see that"?  But this suggestion goes with the lush sets of the musical numbers; it compliments and enhances the over-the-top and unique vision that is Berkeley.  And then there is Cagney: brash, gutsy, sexy, and with a dancing style that is hard to imitate (the closest I ever saw was Mikhail Baryshnikov in his wonderful tv special Baryshnikov on Broadway). We so rarely get to see Cagney dance; double pleasure here.

More Berkeley next time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I Cover the Waterfront

I'll just start out by saying that this movie was a big disappointment.  We were all so pleased to find another early Claudette Colbert movie, but she has so little to do here that it was just a waste of her great talents.  I Cover the Waterfront follows reporter Joe Miller (Ben Lyon) as he tries to get the goods on Eli Kirk (Ernest Torrence), a smuggler who deals in illegal Chinese immigrants.  The beginning is pretty horrific - about to be trapped by the authorities, Kirk throws his "cargo" overboard (bound with chains to make absolutely sure he sinks), with a shrug and the comment that "He knew what he was getting into."  The big complication here is that Kirk has a daughter, Julie (played by Colbert), and our hero Joe falls in love with her.  In the end, Julie must choose between Joe and her father.  

The meeting between Julie and Joe IS rather funny. Joe receives a report of a nude woman swimming in the ocean.  It's Julie, and it seems she does it all the time. She doesn't like swimsuits (then again, if one thinks of the suits at THAT time, one can understand why!).  Joe camps himself beside her clothing, so she is unable to get dressed, and of course, he won't leave until she agrees to meet him again.  Here's a later scene, with Julie and Joe:

We can't really recommend this one, though it is nice to see Claudette in just about anything.  Better yet, get Torch Singer!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween and the Precode Era

To celebrate Halloween, we decided to watch the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi in the title role.  What can we say about this iconic film? To get a bit of perspective, we looked at a scene (the "I never" scene) from the 1931 Spanish-language version which was shot on the same set as Lugosi's film.  Carlos Villar (also known as Carlos Villarias), who plays the infamous Conte Dracula, probably ends up being unfairly compared to Lugosi. Sure, he's good, but Lugosi's Dracula is charismatic. It is why, when we think of Dracula today, we still tend to think of Lugosi. He's overstated at times, but he is arresting. It is hard to take your eyes off of him.  And of course, they could not make this sensual a Dracula for years. Perhaps the Frank Langella version 1979 is an attempt to recapture the sexual nature of the Count on film. 

We also talked a lot about the  way in which certain films (this one and Frankenstein, in particular.  Both, by the way, from the Precode era. Frankenstein was released only a few months before Dracula) completely overpower their original work.  Frankenstein the movie, has so entirely kidnapped the book, that when we say "Frankenstein", who do we automatically think of? - the creature, of course. And it is the wonderful Boris Karloff that we remember. We forget that "Frankenstein" is the DOCTOR, not his creation. And I think, even with all the Frankensteins that have come after, we forget that there ever was a Creature other than Mr. Karloff. A tribute to his portrayal, and the wonderful makeup created by Jack Pierce.
Dracula, the book certainly is very sexual And it is wonderful that this mood was able to be captured on film.  Though, the film goes away from the book frequently (we lose Lucy the vampire, and Jonathan Harker does not go to Transylvania), we were rather taken from one major change - Renfield as the lawyer who ends up as Dracula's first victim.  It makes rather a nice touch to have this explanation for Renfield's madness (and an explanation as well for his rebellion against Dracula when Mina Seward is threatened).

This montage of clips from the film might be of interest:

Happy Halloween all!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gloria Swanson Sings!

For those of us only familiar with Gloria Swanson's work in Sunset Boulevard, Indiscreet is a revelation. No, this is not the Cary Grant / Ingrid Bergman film, but a 1931 romantic comedy which is a lovely vehicle for Gloria Swanson's many talents.  The story centers around Gerry Trent; we come in on her life as she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend, Jim Woodward (Monroe Owsley).  We find out quickly that their relationship is more than casual when Gerry hands Jim his golf clubs from her hall closet! 

Several months later, Gerry meets and falls in love with Tony Blake (Ben Lyon).  After much consideration, she decides to tell Tony about her prior relationship. He accepts her confession, asks that she not tell him the name of the man, and tells her that he wants to marry her.  Problems ensue when Gerry's younger sister returns with her fiance - Jim Woodward. Gerry is horrified, and attempts to break up Jim and Joan (Barbara Kent). However, her attempts appear to Tony to be an affair with Jim, and Tony decides to leave for Europe.  All is resolved when Tony releases that he is being an idiot and goes back for Gerry. They will marry on the ship.

This is a total vehicle for Swanson, with director Leo McCarey using all her varied talents, comedic and dramatic.  Swanson's pantomime skills, as she tries to convince party guests that she is loony, are a joy, as is a similar scene when she tries to sneak aboard the ship on which Tony is leaving the country.  She will have you in stitches.  But, she also sings (and isn't bad); and her Gerry is so sweet and sympathetic that she has you rooting for her all the way.

This is a delightful movie; a real surprise, and I heartily recommend it. We'll leave you with a clip of Ms. Swanson singing in the film.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hell's House

Hell's House from 1932 is one of the precode era's social reform pictures. It is the story of a young man, living with his loving aunt and uncle after the death of his mother, who is befriended by a bootlegger.  In an effort to make a little extra money, young Jimmy (played by Junior Durkin) begins working for the bootlegger, is caught, and is sent to an horrific reform school, where the boys are routinely tortured by the cruel punishments. In an effort to save his dying friend Shorty, Jimmy escapes and tells his story to a newspaper.  Alas, it is in vain, Shorty dies from his punishment.  But Jimmy is saved when the bootlegger Kelly finally agrees to confess that he alone was responsible, and that Jimmy had no idea of Kelly's occupation.
It was strange to see Pat O'Brien playing such a callow fellow.  One is not used to seeing him as a villain.  And Bette Davis is in a very minor role as Kelly's girlfriend, a sweet woman (NOT a moll), who is horrified when she learns of Jimmy's fate, and that her boyfriend was the cause.
This is not a great movie by any means, but interesting to see the social concerns of the era. Certainly, the boys' lives in the detention center are no walks in the spring rain, but the "horrors" are mild by comparison of what we would see today. See it for an opportunity to view an early Bette Davis film, or Pat O'Brien in a completely different vein. Here's is a bit of the film's opening:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Children of the Depression

Wild Boys of the Road!  We laughed about the title for weeks. We were sure it would be quite silly We were WRONG.  This is a fascinating movie.  It focuses on three children - two boys and a girl, about age 15 - who set off on the road because the depression has made them a burden to their families. The boys, Eddie (Frankie Darrow) and Tommy (Edwin Phillips) are friends; Tommy's family is already feeling the poverty of the era, when Eddie's father loses his job. Eddie tries to help by selling his car, but it is not enough, so the two boys determine to leave home in order to find work.  Of course, they can't.  They meet other children in the same predicament and are chased from place to place, as their numbers grow and town citizenry become disenchanted with this gang of impoverished children.

The unique thing about Wild Boys of the Road is that none of the children are mean-spirited or cruel.  When Sally (Dorothy Coonan, who would become Wellman's wife) is raped, it is by an adult - her companions rush to her defense. When Eddie loses a leg in an accident, all the children work to support him.   Here's that scene:

The beauty of this film is the fact that director Wellman makes sure that the children are seen in a positive light.  Their existence is almost communal, with all the children staying together, all contributing to the support of the group.  Though they seem to lose track of their original goal, to support their impoverished families, we later discover they still hold that goal close to their heart.  It is just that the crushing poverty in which they find themselves make survival become the priority. The performances, especially Frankie Darrow, are a joy. 
We watched a few  minutes of the commentary (and I look forward to watching the rest of it at a later date); what we heard was fascinating. The ending is a positive one, but we learned that Welllman had wanted a far more downbeat ending.  We agreed with the commentator who said that we preferred the positive ending.  Had the film ended differently, I think it would have been unbearable.  [And - an aside - look at the picture on the desk of NYC judge. He will become famous as a TV actor in later life. The answer is in the commentary].

Don't let the title turn you off. Do watch this. We think you will agree with us, that Wild Boys of the Road is a forgotten gem.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Precode Look at WWI

Heroes for Sale is nearly unrelenting in the intensity of pain that the character of Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess) goes through.  A soldier in the first World War, who is severely wounded in an enemy action, he ends up addicted to morphine when his German doctor can only relieve his pain rather than remove the shrapnel in his body. He returns to America to find that his fellow soldier George (Grant Mitchell) has been given awards for bravery for leading the action in which Tom was injured, while George hid in a foxhole, paralyzed with fear.  George attempts to help his friend, as much out of fear of being revealed as anything else, until Tom's addiction becomes known, at which point Tom is fired from his bank job and put into a rehabilitation center.

Cured of his drug problem, Tom starts over, marries (Loretta Young as Ruth), becomes successful, only to have everything taken away from him yet again.  He loses his job, his wife, his son and finally ends up one of the depression homeless, primarily because he refuses to live upon the pain of his fellow man.
William Wellman never lets up in this story. Just when you think Tom will make it, something else happens to him.  Richard Barthelmess is wonderful as Tom. We felt for him at every moment.  He had had a remarkable career in silents, which continued into the 1930's, finally petering out (unfortunately) in the 1940's.  We had previously seen him in Only Angels Have Wings, and looked forward to seeing him in a lead role; he was not a disappointment. 

Unlike the previously discussed Midnight Mary,  Loretta Young plays an innocent girl in Heroes for Sale, someone who loves her husband and son with her whole heart.  Young is quite good in what is really a small part.
Besides Barthelmess, though, the other actor of real interest is Aline MacMahon as Mary Dennis.  Of particular note is a scene during which she realizes that Tom has feelings for Ruth. Watch her face - Aline MacMahon will break your heart.

Ms. MacMahon began her career in 1931, and continued working until 1975.  She had started on Broadway, appearing in The Madras House in 1921 - she would continue to work on the New York stage until 1975.  She spent her film career in supporting roles, like Trixie Lorraine in Gold Diggers of 1933 and Mrs. Murray in The Search.  Married once (from 1928 until her husband's death in 1975), she retired in after completing For the Use of the Hall.  She died in 1991, aged 92.  

Here's a scene with the always wonderful Aline MacMahon and Richard Barthelmess:

Next week, we conclude this particular precode set with Wild Boys of the Road.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Meeting "Midnight Mary"

The discussion for today will focus on Midnight Mary.  We were all fascinated to see Loretta Young play a prostitute/gun moll. One is NOT used to her playing anything but the sweet innocent. However, she was excellent in this, a tribute to her abilities as an actress.  Though Midnight Mary IS a traditional woman's picture, it is also a condemnation of the Great Depression, and the conditions that women faced as a result. Mary Martin ends up in reform school, primarily because she is an orphan and has no one to defend her (when it is her friend who is stealing).  When she returns to the community, she is unable to find work, and ultimately turns to prostitution just to pay for food.  We noticed that there are real similarities to the situation facing Myra in Waterloo Bridge (we were discussing the the 1931 version - because it fit our "precode" focus, but this certainly applies to the the 1940 version as well).

Quite a bit of our discussion was about Ricardo Cortez, this time playing Leo, the mobster (who is a really awful human being). He is, of course, so very different in this than his role in Torch Singer.  We found an interesting comparison to Franchot Tone's Tom, who is our hero in the film.  Though he marries another woman after Mary rejects him, we felt that Tone made the character a lot stronger than we would have expected.  We also liked Mary's relationship with him.  Her desire to protect him from her past was lovely; we also felt that he was well aware of her past, and that it made no difference to him.

Here's a scene, featuring Loretta Young and Ricardo Cortez:

Next posting will be about another very interesting William Wellman film: Heroes for Sale.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ruth Survives the San Francisco Earthquake

San Francisco was not the first movie to show the devastating effects of the San Francisco earthquake. In fact, Ruth Chatterton's Jenny in this week's Frisco Jenny also made it out of the wreckage. However, unlike the latter movie, the earthquake begins this movie, setting up a chain of events that drive our heroine to unwed motherhood and prostitution.  Of all the movies we've seen so far, this one had the most traditional "code" feeling. Jenny may become wealthy as a madam, but she had no happiness, and justice is served in the end (I won't reveal the ending). 

Our discussion focused on comparison to a few other movies we had seen in the past. First, we considered Female, also starring Ruth Chatterton. While that too results in a rather traditional ending, the character does not get her "just desserts" (if you will), and she is going to live happily, in spite of her rather unfettered lifestyle.  We also ended up looking at the earthquake scene again, and then comparing it to the earthquake scene in San Francisco.  We were fascinated that, in the latter, the earthquake is shown almost entirely in close up. A broken wagon wheel here, some falling bricks there, a face looking up - all seen almost exclusively from Blackie Norton (Clark Gable's) perspective, making for a very personal, very emotional set of scenes.  Frisco Jenny avoids close-ups, and Jenny is almost entirely removed from the action once she sees her father killed by falling debris.  Thus, the earthquake here IS the actor. Wellman combines stock footage with studio shots to show the destruction of the City from quake and fire.  It works beautifully, but is less a city of people than the latter film will be. When we return to Jenny, it is at least seven months later, and Jenny has concerns other than rebuilding the City. (Too bad she didn't run into Jeannette MacDonald in her distress. Imagine how much happier her life would have been!!)

Here is a trailer:

Next week, we venture on to precode Loretta Young!  Join us then.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stanwyck Sings too!

Perhaps we should call The Purchase Price Torch Singer II, since Barbara Stanwyck also plays a torch singer of spotty reputation and also does her own singing (though to far less beneficial effect than Ms. Colbert in Torch Singer. One understands why Ms. Stanwyck was later dubbed in Ball of Fire!  We have a trailer below, with her singing included.) Stanwyck's Joan Gordon wants to marry; however her lover Eddie Fields (Lyle Talbot) quickly informs us and reminds her that he is already married. She has a possibility - a young man of wealth named Don Leslie (Hardie Albright), who dumps her because his father has discovered her relationship with Fields. She leaves town - mainly to get away from Eddie. Then, she changes places with a hotel maid to travel to North Dakota as the mail order pride of Jim Gibson, played by George Brent.

We've liked George Brent in pretty much everything we've seen him in, but not this one. His Jim is a creep. His near-rape attempt of his stranger bride on their first night together we found revolting, and his assumption that molesting her immediately was his right as a "husband" doubled our dislike of Jim.  I can't speak for my fellow movie watchers here, but I know I found Eddie a lot more attractive (and wife or no wife, I would have gone off with him. He's a much nicer man, and cared more about Joan's well-being than Jim ever does).

The other creep in the movie was Bull McDowell (played by David Landau), who offers to advance Jim money IF Joan will act with a house maid (with benefits, of course). We also found the rather odd man who stands around barking rather disturbing (we couldn't figure out WHY he was barking!)

Stanwyck, who is good in everything, is wonderful in this, and the movie is worth seeing just for her. There is no question about Joan's character. We see her return a house key to Eddie, as she goes off to marry. But she attempts to be a good wife (in all but the physical sense) to Jim, as she tries to win him over. She is good to her neighbors, and smart and strong. We loved the scene where she goes off to assist a woman newly delivered of an infant; alone, and  still too weak to care for her newborn and young daughter, Joan steps in, cooks, cleans and gets the family back on an even keel. At that point, I dare anyone to NOT be in love with Joan.

 As promised, here is a trailer with Stanwyck singing:

Tune in next time for Frisco Jenny.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Other Men's Women

 After Bill (Grant Withers) succeeds in ducking his marriage to Marie (Joan Blondell), his pal Jack (Regis Toomey) offers to put him up. Jack's wife, Lily (Mary Astor) has no objections, but as time goes on, Bill and Lily start to have feelings for one another.

Other Men's Women is rather an odd movie. The consensus of our group was that it didn't quite know what it wanted to be: a romance for the women, or an action-adventure movie for the men. It did have both elements, with the love story between Grant Withers and Mary Astor playing out within the context of railroad men.  Mary Astor's character, Lily, disappears for most of the end of the movie, and one wonders why she would leave her now-blind husband even with the danger of a ensuing flood.

We did enjoy this early James Cagney appearance. His characterization of Eddie was a delight - from his first appearance atop a railroad car to the scene where he meets his girl friend at a fancy club in work clothes - then proceeds to strip down to the tux he had donned underneath.  Add to that a little dance step of joy, and you can't help but smile at the man who will launch to "overnight" success as Tom Powers in only two months. He was an amazing dancer; it's a shame he didn't get to do more of it, but it does make what we have even more to be appreciated.
The juxtaposition of the beginning and ending scenes, both set in the same cafe, really gave you a good look at the development of Grant Wither's Bill White.  A nice advantage of seeing these on DVD is the ability to go back and compare the two scenes. 

Here's a brief scene with Mary Astor and Grant Withers:

Next week, on to The Purchase Price.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Buster Crabbe goes PreCode

Search for Beauty is the final entry in the Pre-Code Hollywood DVD set, and what a hoot. Buster Crabbe (of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers fame) plays an Olympic swimmer who becomes an editor for a health magazine, only to discover the owners are interested in a sex magazine. One interesting point is that the movie opens at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, showing Crabbe's character, Don Jackson, winning the gold medal in the 400 meter swim meet - the event for which Crabbe actually won his gold medal. His best girl is played by Ida Lupino (appearing as a platinum blonde!). Both are hired by the magazine to give it credibility, while the publishers fill the rag with salacious pictures and stories.

There is lots of innuendo here; there are also male and female swimmers in showers; beauties in bathing suits and tight training outfits; ladies dancing on table tops in lingerie.  In this musical number, you can get a glimpse of some of the milder aspects of the movie:

But parts of the movie are even a bit racier:  there are also naked male bottoms. Early in the film, we venture into the locker room at the Olympics, to witness several young men running to showers bare bottomed. 

We found the combination of Buster Crabbe, as our upright hero, and Robert Armstrong, as our loose-moraled publisher (his character, Larry Williams, just got out of jail as a result of selling non-existent oil wells) amusing. And, of course, it is never hard to have James Gleason in a movie, even when his character is not quite on the right side of the moral.

Finally, do watch to see the scene in which Ida Lupino listens to two female writers relating the sensational stories they have written for the magazine. These two look like they should be teaching Latin, not writing salacious stories!

Next week, we start Forbidden Hollywood, 3

Monday, August 17, 2009

PreCode Meets Broadway

This week, we watched Murder at the Vanities (or, as the title card had it Earl Carroll's Murder at the Vanities). The jacket of the dvd said it broke every rule of the code. We agree. We had young ladies in costumes that barely covered anything (and what WAS covered was so sheer as to appear transparent) 

Vanities star Eric Lander (played by Danish actor Carl Brisson) announces his intention to marry his costar Ann Ware (Kitty Carlisle), much to the annoyance of wannabe lover Rita Ross (Gertrude Michael). We soon learn that Rita is a vindictive sneak; she has stolen papers and photos from Eric's flat that implicate his mother in a murder.  Soon afterwards, the private detective (Gail Patrick, finally getting to play a non-bitch) Eric has hired to recover the stolen papers is found murdered.

We were taken by the suggestiveness of the whole piece. The previously mentioned almost-nudity; the fact that we are being asked to sympathize with a murderer (I won't say more than that. You will have to watch the movie); the producer (Jack Oakie) who is obviously sleeping with one of the cast members; the police detective (Victor McLaglan) who so clearly is setting up a night TO sleep with another young lady. And then there is the number in which black and white dancers all dance and sing together to the music of the Duke Ellington orchestra. When we consider that Shirley Temple got flack for holding Bill Robinson's hand a few years later, we were stunned.  Oh, and then there is the musical number about marijuana:

Was this a great movie? Nope, but it was funny - and worth seeing. You'll be surprised!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Claudette Sings!

Last evening's precode movie was Torch Singer (1933), with Claudette Colbert as an unwed mother who is forced to surrender her baby for adoption when she unable to find a means of support for the little girl.  Sally (or Mimi, her career name) becomes a "loose" woman by reputation. However, IS she? We see her flirting, but never see any evidence that her reputation is more than rumor to support her employer's contention that torch singers must suffer for their art.  Suffer she does though, unable to find her little girl, she turns to drink. We (the viewers in NYC) had a lot of affection for her, and felt that her reputation was hype.

We were fascinated to learn that Ms. Colbert did her own singing.  She has two songs, a children's lullaby and her character's signature song "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love". Ms. Colbert has an interesting (though not exceptional) voice - it dark and rather throaty, but she certainly can carry a tune, and she SURELY sounds like a torch singer.  

The two men in her life, played by Ricardo Cortez (as Tony) and David Manners (as Michael, the father of the her baby) are surprisingly sympathetic. Both good, supportive men, who care for her and want the best for her. We are inclined to dislike Michael at first, but when he tells his side of the story, he becomes easier to like. It was interesting, we felt, that the men WERE shown in such a positive light. We expected one or the other to be the villain of the piece. If there was a villain, it was the women (Michael's aunt) who refuses to help the destitute Sally.
We were especially pleased to see the interactions between Sally and the nun who runs the hospital where Sally gives birth. There is no condemnation here - only support. And Mother Angelica is, as we learn later in the film, a woman of deep principle.

Again, we highly recommend this movie for those of you interested in pre-code movies, or in Claudette Colbert. She is just glorious!

Monday, August 3, 2009

PreCode Cary Grant

Last week, we saw Cary Grant in a small roll.  This week, we watched Hot Saturday, a 1932 film in which Cary Grant took second billing to star Nancy Carroll. Ms. Carroll plays Ruth Brock, a small-town bank clerk, who likes to have fun (the weekly Hot Saturday), but is basically a "good girl".  She is being wooed by several young men, including local man-about-town Romer Sheffield (Cary Grant).  He is open in his unwillingness to ever marry, but finds her attractive, and tells her so. She, on the other hand, is looking for marriage, and while she likes Romer, is unwilling to compromise her principles for a fling.  In order to see her again, Romer invites Ruth's date (Connie - played by Edward Woods, known for his turn as James Cagney's brother in Public Enemy) to his home for a party. Connie accepts, but is infuriated by Romer's attentions to Ruth, and further angered when Ruth rebuffs his forceful attempts at lovemaking.  The next day, he and his new date, Eva (Lillian Bond), insinuate that Romer and Ruth are lovers - gossip that spreads through the town like wildfire.

We were very intrigued by the "racy bits" in this movie - and there were several. Ruth forceably removing the bloomers  that her younger sister (Annie) steals from Ruth's drawer right from sister Annie's body; Ruth, awakening, stark naked, after being drenched in a storm (and her undergarments clearly displayed on a line, just in case we were unsure that she was totally undressed); the fairly frank discussions between Romer (and we loved his name. It is pronounced ROAMER) and Ruth about marriage vs. involvement; Connie's physical attack on Ruth (complete with the "you owe me this" routine).  Small-town American life is displayed as provincial and bigoted - telephone conversations escalate the rumors concerning Ruth's night with Romer, til it is clear she is a "loose woman". An precursor to the 1960's Peyton Place?
This is Cary Grant's sixth film, and the first in which he appears with best friend Randolph Scott; they only have a brief scene togetherOf course, even at this early stage of his career, Grant is just wonderful. His Romer is appealing, yet it is understandable why Ruth resists him. Unlike Connie, he is a gentleman, taking her rejection with calmly. 

Nancy Carroll is also appealing as Ruth - she is NOT a tease. She is quite open with all of her dates about her goals. But the opportunity for a Hot Saturday is just too much for some of them to reject. Here's a clip which gives you a taste of the pre-code nature of the film:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Precode Continues

Tonight's movie was Merrily We Go to Hell.  Frederic March seems to almost be in preparation for his future role in A Star is Born, playing a drunken reporter, who marries wealthy, loving, and innocent Sylvia Sidney.  Our initial reaction was - why on earth would a lovely woman like Joan (Sylvia Sidney) be attracted to this drunken fool. He forgets who she is five minutes after meeting her; then shows up hours late for their first date. At their engagement party, he shows up late, and so drunk he has passed out in a cab.

It's not clear if the film considers Jerry an alcoholic or not. He seems quite able to stop drinking any time he wants to (the usual claim of drunks); there is also a certain luridness in his drinking. Yes, he is amusing, but not in the Nick Charles (The Thin Man) way. He humor is vague and silly. He forgets what he says after he says it. We find out later that he is drinking to forget a past girlfriend; when he meets her again, he again begins drinking (having given it up for his now-wife Joan). Finally, his drunkenness and infidelity drive his wife to drink.

As a brief aside, we have here an early film of Cary Grant, playing a friend of Jerry's and date of Joan's.  I believe he also has a one second bit (we only see his back) as an actor in a play (it WAS his voice). Interesting to see Cary Grant not the romantic lead. It won't last for very long.  

Here's a scene with March and Sidney:

Without giving away the ending, there is no joy here; no real redemption. Will our couple stay together? Will the drinking resume? And what about that last line. Just who is Joan talking about when she mentions "my baby".  It does give one pause.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Hello!  The Movie Night Group started many years ago - Once a week, some friends and I get together and watch classic films. We try to do "themes". Just recently, we discussed my blogging our discussion, as a record for us, and to share our opinions with all of you. So, after our "Movie Night", I'll get back to you on our discussion. 

Talullah Bankhead in The CheatRight now, we are revisiting PreCode films (we've previously done both of the Forbidden Hollywood sets), and are using the Universal Pre-Code Hollywood Collection for our viewing. We started with The Cheat, starring Tallulah Bankhead. Our reaction - WOW! It's rather over-the-top: Bankhead as a compulsive gambler who gets herself entangled with a sadist.  

We were fascinated with Irving Pichel who plays our villain, Hardy Livingstone. (Mr. Pichel later went on to be a director. Among his films was Santa Fe with Randolph Scott). Mr. Pichel's Hardy starts out appearing rather effete, but turns out to be a sadistic maniac.  Mr. Pichel was wonderful, making the change from ladies' man to sadist seamlessly.  

We were also amazed by a photo that is in the dvd box that is NOT in the film. It's very sensational - obviously shot to publicize the movie. It's also not in the movie (and couldn't be. I won't tell you why.)

I hope you get to see this movie. It's interesting, and not a bit boring. And, quite intense. You might be surprised!