Monday, August 20, 2012

Communist Kay

1934's British Agent is our film this week. The wonderful Leslie Howard is Stephen Locke, an English diplomat serving in Russia as Lenin takes control of the government. The British, after the rise of Lenin, leave Locke as provisional staff, evacuating their more important diplomats (as do the French, Italian, and American governments).  Locke is committed to his country, and does the best he can under adverse circumstances.  He also meets and falls in love with Elena Moura (Kay Francis), a Communist working with Lenin's government.  Though she loves Stephen, she too loves her country and informs her government about Stephen's plan.

This is a fascinating film, with a great cast (and some wonderful supporting players, such as Cesar Romero as Tito Del Val the Italian provisional representative.  The film with keep you wondering just what is going to happen next, and Ms. Francis is wonderful as the conflicted Elena.  She and Howard are quite good together. though I believe this is the only time they appeared together on film (though they did the radio show Screen Guild Theatre together in 1939 (Never Of This World).

It's also interesting to see this somewhat sympathetic view of Lenin in 1939.  This surely is NOT a pro-Communist film, but, as you will see at the end, Lenin is vindicated. So, anti-Communist - perhaps, but with a bit of a balance.  Here's a trailer for this excellent movie:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kay's House was a Home?

The House on 56th Street (1933) is a fascinating film.  In it, Kay Francis is showgirl Peggy Martin, who has two men very interested in her: Monte Van Tyle (Gene Raymond), the scion of a wealthy family, and Lindon Fiske (John Halliday), who has been involved with Peggy for some time.  Peggy falls in love with Monte; Since Lindon is quite clear that he is "not the marrying kind", it is an easy choice for Peggy.  So, despite Monte's mother's objections, the couple wed and are quickly blessed with a daughter.  Years go by, with Peggy and Monte living happily - even Mama Van Tyle (Nella Walker) has gotten used to her daughter-in-law.  Then, at a party, Peggy meets Lindon again.  She is concerned at his appearance, as Monte knows nothing about him.  Add to this, Lindon does not look well.  Kay is concerned, and her concern is her downfall in this drama.

Rather than give too much away, we'll stop with the plot there, even though it forbids us doing more than mention two important characters: Bill Blaine (Ricardo Cortez) and Eleanor (Margaret Lindsay).  The two are pivotal to the plot, and are wonderful.  Both show up in the latter half of the film.  To say more would be to ruin this wonderful picture for you.
Kay Francis has to age over 20 years in this film.  The motif that the director, Robert Flory, uses to demonstrate the passage of time is subtle but effective - we see Peggy playing solitare, as newspapers flash up important events of the day.  

The film is also interesting in that it discusses with some seriousness the problems of compulsive gambling.  In  1949 Barbara Stanwyck would powerfully portray a woman with a severe gambling problem.  This precursor to The Lady Gambles is no less impressive, as it discusses an issue few other films were willing to examine.

When you get to the end of this film, you will understand WHY the code began to be an issue.  We suggest you give it a try.