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. Was this the film where they met? They are quite sweet together, and it 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.