Monday, September 26, 2011

Joan Gets Jilted

Based on a play which starred Tallulah Bankhead, Forsaking All Others (1934) is an absolutely delightful film.  With an exceptional cast, which includes Ms. Crawford, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Billie Burke, and a brief appearance by Rosalind Russell; and a screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the viewer is given a delightful 84 minutes of great acting and witty dialogue.  Joan's Mary Clay is preparing for her long-anticipated wedding to her childhood friend Dillon Todd (Robert Montgomery).  The day before her wedding, unsuspecting Jeff Williams (Clark Gable) returns from Spain, with enough money to propose to Mary, whom he has loved since they were children.  His disappointment is palpable when he discovers he is too late, but rather than burden the ecstatic Mary, he agrees to give away the bride.  Come the day of the wedding, however, Mary learns that Dill has eloped with his former paramour Connie Barnes (Frances Drake).  Mary tries to start over without Dill, but when he renews his pursuit of her, she begins to succumb to his charms.

The script is just full of little bon mots, like "I saw [a fan dance] with electric fans once, it was awful" that keep you giggling through the movie, along with sight gags like Robert Montgomery sound asleep in a lacy nightie.  And you can't do better than this cast.  Gable is just commanding as Jeff.  He conveys so much by just LOOKING; all his hurt and love shine out of his eyes.  And Crawford was never more endearing.  Even when she is about to mess up her life totally by returning to Dill, you still adore her, and just want her find her way to Jeff.  Robert Montgomery, a versatile actor who played everything from the love interest, lunatic, war hero, and second banana, walks a very thin rope here. He manages to keep Dill appealing, while you still want him to lose the girl. A hard job, but Montgomery is more than up to the task.
Finally, a word about another performance: that of Billie Burke as Mary's dear friend, Paula. One is so used to seeing Ms. Burke as a ditz, that it is a pleasure to see her play someone with some sense.  Yes, Paula is still a bit of a nut, but she is sensible and loving. Her regard for Mary know no limitation, and she does everything in her power to protect this girl who is nearly her own child.

This film is not shown enough. It should be shown more.  Next time it is around, do see it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Joan is Possessed (for the First Time)

Joan Crawford made two movies named Possessed. We already looked at the 1947 film (with Van Heflin); this time we look at an interesting pre-Code film of the same name (from 1931), co-starring Clark Gable.  Crawford is Marion, a factory worker with an eye towards bigger thing. When she meets a New York playboy while his train is laying over in her town, she accepts his invitation to come and see her in NYC,  and follows him to the big city. Here, we see their meeting:  

Of course, Wally Stuart (Skeets Gallagher) is not in the least serious about wanting to see her.  Constantly drunk, he barely remembers her, but he decides he owes her some "good" advice - meet a rich man, and take him for all he is worth. Though, he - Wally - will not introduce her to any of his friends.  Marion, however takes his advice immediately to heart, and maneuvers herself back into his apartment, where he meets Mark Whitney (Clark Gable), a wealthy lawyer, with visions of a political future.  Whitney is immediately smitten with Marion, but, the victim in a bad marriage, he has no intention of wedding again.  Instead, he sets Marion up as a wealthy divorcee, Mrs. Moreland, and she becomes his hostess and lover.

Crawford's Marion is so very likeable in this film.  Even her machinations to meet Mark are down with a down-to-earth honesty that makes you truly like her character.  The same is true for Gable's Whitney.  He is a man who has been burnt, but his regard for Marion is true. He does love her, treats her with respect and love, but is unwilling to risk losing her - he says - by marrying her.  

Another fairly interesting performance is that of Wallace Ford as Al Manning, Marion's small-town boyfriend.  He is most interesting when we meet him again in the film, after he has become a success.  Watch for the confrontation between the two of them, and then watch his reaction when he realizes that she has the ability to make or break him.  It is a fascinating turn.  We also liked the brief appearance by Marjorie White as the mistress of one of Mark's associates.  It is a wonderful part, but the way Crawford and Gable interact with her is just lovely and subtle.  Kudos especially to Crawford here - her silent training - especially her ability to use her eyes to tell you so much more than the words of the story reveal, are easy to see.

Join us next time for another early film.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Joan Runs

Two years after Clark Gable followed Claudette Colbert to Jericho, he was again portraying a reporter in pursuit of an heiress in 1936's Love on the Run.  Gable plays Michael Anthony, an eager reporter in competition with his best friend and roommate Barnabas Pells (Franchot Tone).  The men are unimpressed with the two stories that they need to cover (an interview with an aviator, or the wedding of an heiress) - they flip a coin, and Michael loses.  Donning top hat and tails, he heads off to cover the wedding of Sally Parker (Crawford) to expatriate Prince Igor.  However, what begins for Michael as a bore, becomes an adventure as he watches the bride run OUT of the church, sans groom, and barricade herself in a hotel room.  Michael convinces her he is NOT a reporter, and the two dash off in a series of fairly silly adventures, with Barnabas in hot pursuit.

This is nowhere as good a movie as It Happened One Night (which is what it wants to be.  One can almost see L.B. Mayer growling that he wants Gable reproducing the story for HIM - after Mayer loaned Gable to Columbia as a punishment!!), but it is fun and Gable and Crawford are a delightful pairing.  Adding to the amusement is the knowledge that Crawford and TONE were spouses, but clearly - on film - the spark is with Gable.  When they are on screen together, you really can't take your eyes off them.

One really outstanding supporting performance here - Donald Meek as the caretaker of the Palace of Fontainbleau.  Having lived alone for many years, the caretaker delights in his imaginary dog, Bismark and looks forward to visitations from ghosts.  Crisp is an absolute riot, and Gable and Crawford especially join in the fun with him.  (Plus, you get Gable dancing in costume. You can't beat that). We won't go into the fact that three people are able to break into the Palace and sleep for the night.  It is just a little too outlandish.

All in all, this is a film well worth your time if you would like a little laugh.  Here's a trailer to get you started: