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: