Monday, July 18, 2011

Joan's on a Caper

We follow with another Joan Crawford movie from 1937; this time The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, with Crawford as the title character, Fay Cheyney, Robert Montgomery as Lord Arthur Dilling, and William Powell as Fay's butler Charles. Or IS Charles the butler? THAT is one of the questions in this delightful comedy.  Fay meets Arthur when she accidentally ends up in his stateroom on a trans-Atlantic trip.She becomes the darling of his social circle, finally getting a treasured invitation to the estate of Arthur's wealthy aunt, the Duchess of Ebley.  But is everything on the up and up? And WHY is Charles so familiar to Arthur?

The person who really shines in this film is the always wonderful William Powell.  It is hard to resist a film that has Mr. Powell in it.  Understated, attractive, dignified,  compassionate - he is everything one would want in a man.  And his Charles, though suspicious, is always good and kind to Kay.  Also fun to watch is Frank Morgan as Kay's suitor Lord Kelton, and Nigel Bruce as Willie, who WOULD be a suitor if he weren't married.  As with so many MGM movies, the magic is as much in the supporting cast as in the stars.

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney is based on a 1925 London and Broadway play, which starred Helen Hayes as Fay in the New York cast.  It also had 3 directors, the result of the sudden death of the listed director, Richard Boleslawski. Interestingly, the film was completed by Dorothy Arzner, the director of our last film.

Join us next time for another Crawford film. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Joan Sees "Red"

This week, we return to Joan Crawford with her 1937 outing The Bride Wore Red.  Anni Pavlovitch (Joan Crawford) is a singer in a cheap dancehall. One night, her performance is seen by aristocrats Count Armalia (George Zucco) and his friend, Rudi Pal (Robert Young). The Count bets Rudi that he could take a member of the lower class, and pass her off as an aristocrat.  Rudi laughs off the suggestion, and leaves; to prove his point, the Count offers Anni a two-week vacation, all expenses paid, in an elite resort, on the proviso that she convinces Rudi she is, in fact Anna Vivaldi, an aristocrat.  Anni is soon buying clothing, including a gaudy red evening gown - something she has desired her whole life - and is off to the country to live a life of leisure for two weeks.  However, she soon decides she would rather continue to live the life of an aristocrat - by seducing and marrying the already-engaged Rudi.  

Filmed during the period of time when Crawford was married to Franchot Tone (who plays the peasant Guilio, the postmaster who loves Anni at first sight), the movie is a bit slow in pace.  Crawford is excellent as Anni, but it is rather hard to understand why Guilio remains interested in her while she repeatedly is nasty to him; just as it is equally hard to understand why Maddalena Monti (Lynne Carver) stays true to Rudi.  We know early on he is a cad and philanderer.  Why such a nice girl would stay with him is a mystery.

Much of our discussion focused on Robert Young.  Though a good actor, he never really seemed to find his niche before he landed on TV.  On the small screen he easily engaged the audience, whereas on the big screen he always seems overshadowed by his costars.  Here too, Crawford and Tone are much more dynamic than Young.  It is hard to understand, money withstanding, why Anni would feel anything for Rudi.  Even as a skunk, he is rather banal.  

Certainly worth a look for this wonderful cast.  And be on the lookout for Mary Phillips as Maria, a former employee of Anni's dance hall who has found a better life as a maid in the resort; and for Dickie Moore as Guilio's young cousin Pietro.  They add to the film immeasurably. You'll also get a chance to hear Crawford sing.  Here is a clip: 

It is also worth noting that the film was directed by Dorothy Arzner, the only female director of this period.

Monday, July 4, 2011

All Singing, All Dancing?

This week, we decided to try a musical as we waited for more Crawford or Lombard movies to show up in the pipeline.  Our choice was Good News starring June Allyson (as library assistant and French tutor Connie Lane) and Peter Lawford (as football hero Tommy Marlowe).  Our stars are college students who become involved with one another when Tommy decides he needs to learn French to impress recent transfer Pat McClellan (played by Patricia Marshall).

This is fun, if odd little movie. Some really cute dance routines, but with the most remarkably unmusical cast you have ever seen.  Only Mel Torme (as Danny) can really sing.  Certainly Allyson and Lawford did not have the greatest sets of pipes in the business, though their dancing is indeed earnest.  Surprisingly, even the second string player (particularly Joan McCracken as Babe Doolittle)are not really what one could call singers.  Regardless, it is an enjoyable film.  We, the viewers, however, did want to take Tommy and launch him into another solar system for his casual attitude towards our heroine, Connie.

On the DVD of this film, there is a cut number. According to the notes, it was removed because it slowed down the action.  We decided to take a look, and found that we agreed. It's a shame though; it was the only chance Patricia Marshall had a chance to sing), and June Allyson had on the most attractive evening gown! So much nicer than the Peter Pan collar numbers she is forced to wear in the rest of the picture!  Here is a clip of a number that did NOT slow down the action - "The Varsity Drag":

We were not familiar with either Ms. Marshall or Ms. McCracken, and their history is rather interesting.  For Ms. Marshall, this was basically her only film (she would appear one more time, almost 30 years later in The Prisoner of Second Avenue). She returned to New York, and appeared in the casts of Mr. Wonderful and Pajama Game. She married Larry Gelbart, and was with him until his death in 2009.  Joan McCracken had nearly as short a career; she did some television work, and married Bob Fosse in 1951 (they divorced in 1959, but he remained a source of support for her until her death in 1961.

So, do take a look at Good News. It's lots of fun, and you'll get to see two actresses you'll not see again.