Monday, June 27, 2011

Myrna Sues Jean?

As we wait for a few more Crawford or Lombard movie to appear on our favorite channel, we visit with a pair of truly lovely, talented ladies - Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow - in the hilarious Libeled Lady(1936).  Loy is Connie Allenbury, a wealthy young lady with lawsuit on her mind after a newspaper, run by Spencer Tracy's Warren Haggerty inadvertently libels her.  To circumvent the suit, Haggerty comes up with a plan - marry his fiance Gladys (Jean Harlow) to writer Bill Chandler (William Powell), then have Bill seduce Connie, so Gladys can sue Connie for alienation of affection!  Only problem is, both Gladys and Connie actually fall in love with Bill, who is head over heels for Connie. 

This is a very funny movie. If you have a decent script (which this does), it is rather hard to miss with this cast.  Spencer Tracy as the reluctant groom is a riot; and you are rather pleased when he gets a bit of his comeuppance.  Harlow as the doubly spurned woman is lovely.  Thankfully, she gets her man in the end (this is a comedy!). 
And can you miss with that wonderful team of Powell and Loy! They had already made the first Thin Man  together, as well as Evelyn Prentice and Manhattan Melodrama. You cannot see the credit list and not assume that they will end up together.  They are perfectly matched, and Powell does his utmost to turn Bill from cad to dream.

A screwball comedy in the best sense, this one is well worth a look. We highly recommend it.  Here's a trailer to give you a taste:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Joan and Gary and Franchot and Robert

None of us had seen 1933's Today We Live, so when we discovered TCM was airing it, we were very eager to see it. A great cast (Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, and Robert Young) and a marvelous director (Howard Hawks) led us to expect another forgotten gem.  But, it turns out, this one was probably forgot for a reason. The word "turgid" rather sums up the odd movie.  During WWI, Richard Bogard (Cooper) has just arrived in England to rent a country mansion on the day when his landlady, Diana Boyce-Smith (Crawford), finds out that her father has been killed in action.  Quickly, they discover they love one another - only problem Diana is engaged to childhood friend (and war officer) Claude Hope (Young), who is serving in the military with Diana's brother Ronnie (Franchot Tone).  Diana flees to the continent to work in the war effort; Richard follows her, joining the air corps.  Of course, they meet. Of course, Ronnie and Claude are there too.  Complications, as they say, ensue.
This film is very much inspired by director Hawks' experience in World War I. Indeed, his earlier film, The Dawn Patrol, also looked at fliers during the war; his later Only Angels Have Wings would be his penultimate tribute to the men who risked their lives in the air.  The problem with the film is that we have a bunch of obvious Americans playing Brits.  The writer seems to think that speaking in clipped sentences is the way to convince the audience that his actors are really English. It doesn't work.  

This is clearly a pre-code movie. Diana is no innocent. In fact, we realize that she is living with Claude while in Europe.  But other than that, it is not really all that racy, or even romantic.  The scene where Cooper and Crawford announce their love for one another rather leaves the viewer going "HUH? Where did THAT come from?"  Too bad, really. They should have made an interesting combination.  

We'll be taking another short break from Crawford for the next two weeks (while we wait for a few movie that will be aired in July).  Next week, we look at a comedy the great Jean Harlow. We hope you'll join us.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Carole Takes the Train

Some time ago, we did a Carole Lombard film festival. There were a few movies we didn't get to see because we couldn't lay hands on them, but we finally got a copy of 1934's Twentieth Century, a delightful comedy in which Carole trades tirades with John Barrymore. Would be actress Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) comes under the spell of producer/director Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore).  Their professional partnership results in a name change (to Lily Garland) for Mildred, as well as fame and fortune to them both UNTIL yet another fight results in a rift that drives Oscar into near bankruptcy. His solution - woo Lily back into his latest play, featuring her as Mary Magdalene.  As they say, high-jinx ensue.

This is a very funny movie, but it is LOUD.  Neither Oscar nor Lily believe in talking - they scream, screech, yell, bellow, cry, but they NEVER just talk. Much of this movie resembles an old fashioned farce, with lots of noise, slamming doors and just generally weird characters. Some good character actors here - including Walter Connolly as the much put-upon Oliver Webb (Oscar's favorite hobby is firing poor Oliver), as well as Oscar's other aide Owen O'Malley played with gusto by Roscoe Karns,  Of course, one really does want to see Barrymore and Lombard together, as they duel endlessly.  And then, there is Oscar's oft repeated line "I close the iron door..."  Here's a little montage of the action:

Our thanks to Carole and Co. blog for mentioning our efforts here. It was just a coincidence that we had another Carole movie in the pipeline.  We hope to find a few more.  In the meantime, we also hope for some other fine performances down the road.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Double-0 Joan

We were able to get a copy of Above Suspicion when it last aired on TCM, much to our delight.  The advertisements which aired on TCM made the film seem to be a much more tongue-in-cheek story than we would have expected from a World War II vintage (1943) film, and while there are some moments that are humorous, on the whole, this movie very much reminded us of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (plug for my favorite TV show), it had those same elements of seriousness that one expects from good spy story, combined with humor. Here, we have a pair of innocents, newlyweds Frances and Richard Myles (Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray), who are recruited to locate a scientist with essential war related information.  Because they are Americans, and because they are on their honeymoon, it is believed that they are "above suspicion".  Of course, they are not, and rather rapidly they come under the eye of Count Sig von Aschenhausen (Basil Rathbone), a former classmates of Richard's who is deeply involved with the Gestapo.

There are a number of nice touches in this movie. The introduction of the character of Thornley (Bruce Lester), who also came to Germany to assist the English, and who also was considered "above suspicion", much to his sorrow makes a nice counterpoint to our couple.  Also, it was wonderful to see that excellent actor Conrad Veidt as Hassert Seidel, who is working AGAINST the Nazis.  Veidt escaped from the Nazis, yet spent most of his years in Hollywood playing rather horrid Nazis. Robert Osborne, in his introduction, reminded us that this was Veidt's last movie - he died a short time later from a massive coronary - a great loss to film. 

This was also Joan Crawford's final MGM film (and her only film with MacMurray).  She is really delightful in it.  And the ending, in which she has to assume a disguise in order to escape from he Nazis, is wonderful.  She really is convincing in her costume!  Add to all this excellent performances by Fred MacMurray and Basil Rathbone, and this is certainly a movie that is worth your time.  It was our belief that the film did not do especially well in 1943 - a shame, because it is certainly a film that keeps you interested. A truly neglected little gem.  We found a trailer for you to look at: