Monday, November 15, 2010

Joan and Franchot and Gene (and Edward)

Sadie McKee (1934) feature Joan Crawford as the title character. The daughter of a cook, who works for a wealthy family, Sadie has been raised quite happily with the scion of the house, Michael Alderson (Franchot Tone).  Newly returned from school, Michael immediately alienates Sadie by criticizing her beau Tommy Wallace (Gene Raymond).  In anger, Sadie elopes with him to New York.  However, before their actual wedding, Tommy is lured off by stage singer Dolly Merrick (Esther Ralston) to work in her act.  While working in a club, Sadie meets Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold), a very rich, but constantly drunk gentleman who married Sadie on a whim, much to the disgust of his friend and lawyer, Michael Alderson.

We really enjoyed this movie.  It is one that is rarely discussed, and seldom seem, which is unfortunate.  Given that Sadie spend the night with Tommy and is not punished, this film certainly falls into the pre-code category.  The scene is subtle, but it is quite clear that Sadie has good reason to expect marriage the next morning, and is truly devastated when Tommy betrays her.  Another interesting aspect to this film are the characterizations.  Quite honestly, with the exception of Dolly Merrick, there was something to like about every character. Even Tommy is redeemed in the end.  We were particularly impressed with Sadie's relationship with her husband, Jack.  Her determination to see him back to sobriety and health because "Mr. Brennan has always been good to me" shows us the essential kindness of Sadie.  But it is not just her goodness - take for example the character of Phelps the Butler, here played by the every wonderful Leo G. Carroll (in his first role, listed only as Leo Carroll).  Phelps is smuggling alcohol to Jack behind Sadie's back. In a rage, she fires him, then discovers that Phelps thought he was helping his employer.  Once Sadie explains the situation, Phelps and every member of the staff vow that no one will bring him booze.

Of course, the complicated relationships of the movie all reach a satisfactory ending.  And our Ms. Crawford is truly wonderful as she takes on this ride into the adventures of the kind Ms. McKee; a character one would love to meet again!  In this scene, Tommy serenades Sadie:

Next time, a film from 1940.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joan Dances!

Dancing Lady, which stars Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, was not the first time Ms. Crawford had danced, but it certainly put her in with the most illustrious dancing company of her career.  Her partner, in his screen debut at MGM, is none other than the magnificent Fred Astaire, playing himself.  Of course, he would not continue with MGM, moving over to RKO, where he would find fame with a remarkably better dancer named Ginger Rogers.  Crawford plays Janie Barlow, a would-be dancer who becomes involved with playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone).  Tod quickly falls in love with Janie, first trying to help her career by getting her a job with Patch Gallagher's (Clark Gable) new show; then sabotaging the show after he gets Janie to promise to marry him if the show flops.  Of course, Janie is a hit, and Tod must give in gracefully.  

As with everything she does, Crawford attacks her dancing with a vengeance.  She is all arms and legs and ENERGY.  When she dances with Astaire, quite honestly,  your eyes do keep moving over to Astaire, whose grace and screen presence are already well in evidence.  However, when she dances alone, Crawford's joy is transparent.  Even though she is not the best in the world, she is fun.  She makes you smile as you watch her.  

Gable is at his manly best as Patch.  Witness the exercise scene with Crawford.  The sexual tension that bounces between the two of them is transparent. (It's also very clear that this IS a pre-code film!)  You can feel the attraction through a screen (and through the many years).  With Tone (who would later become her husband), there is more of a sibling relationship.  It is interesting to note that Tone and Crawford remained friends for life, and that Crawford actually looked after Tone in his senior years when he was no longer able to care for himself.

Much like Grand Hotel, MGM is showcasing some of there talent here.  We have The Three Stooges throughout the film (sorry, we are not fans, and could have lived without them).  Nelson Eddy briefly appears in the final play as himself.  And, of course, Astaire.  Another nice surprise is Eve Arden as an actress trying to land a part by affecting a southern accent.  Any time one gets even a peek at Eve Arden, it's a good day.

We had actually seen this movie before - when we did the Precode series, and I had blogged about it then. But, as with all good movies, each time you see something a little different. This time, our concentration was on Ms. Crawford.  I hope we are not being redundant when we revisit a movie!  Here, we'll show you a scene without any music - just Crawford and Gable:

We hope to see you next time, with another early Crawford film.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Joan Checks In

Our latest movie is Grand Hotel, wherein Joan Crawford appears as Flaemmchen, a stenographer who almost falls into a fate worse than death.  Released in 1932, this movie certainly falls into the Precode period.  With a stellar cast, that includes John and Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, and Jean Hersholt, the movie runs several different plotlines that have all managed to intersect by the conclusion of the film.  Most famous as the source of Greta Garbo's most famous line ("I want to be alone"), Grand Hotel is a showcase for MGM's biggest stars. 

The relationship of Crawford's Flaemmchen, John Barrymore's Baron, and Lionel Barrymore's Kringelein is perhaps the most enjoyable part of the movie.  There is a real chemistry among the three, and watching the two Barrymore brothers bounce off one another is a delight.  We also get to watch Crawford's character become infatuated with the Baron (who, of course, is falling in love with the ballerina Grusinskaya - played by Garbo).  When we get  to the conclusion, with Flaemmchen falling into a temptation she finds almost impossible to resist, the Baron getting into a predicament he cannot escape, and General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) finally getting his comeuppance, we find ourselves mostly satisfied with the ending, if a little saddened by its inevitability.

If you get the opportunity to see the DVD of this film, do check out the excellent mini-documentary that is included in the special features - it is a real treat.  This trailer will give you a look at all the stars:

As Dr.Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) tells us, "Grand Hotel... always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens."  But of course, it does, and with life-changing effects.  Next time, join us for another star-studded Crawford film.