Monday, January 30, 2012

Carole Joins the Rackets

If you've seen Singin' in the Rain, then you are familiar with the comic take on the beginning of sound films.  The Racketeer, from 1929, is a serious example of this phenomenon.  In it, Carole is a former society lady named Rhoda Philbrook, who left her husband for a violinist Tony (played by Roland Drew). Only problem is, Tony is a drunk and now Rhoda is reduced to cheating at cards in order to get enough money to live.  While working the tables, she meets the racketeer of the title, Mahlon Keene (Robert Armstrong).  He is smitten with her, and eventually offers her marriage.  Thinking her life with Tony is over, she assents. But then, her life gets complicated.

By today's standards, this is not a good film. It is static and somewhat boring at times; resembling in some ways a filmed play (with a lot less movement).  BUT it is an excellent sample of how the survivors of silents were coping with the advent of sound.  Of course, the actors don't move very much.  The film is very talky, but you can see the beginning of something great.  Lombard is lovely here, and quite comfortable in the new mode (though some vestiges of silent film acting remain).  Armstrong (who never has been a favorite of mine), is fine as Mahlon.  He is stiff, but that is probably the camera restrictions.

So, while there is not a lot to in this film to make it appealing, do give it a look. It is a window back into the past - a baby step in the growth of a new industry.  TCM had a very nice article about the film during a Lombard festival.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Carole Marries Gene

In 1933's Brief Moment, Carole Lombard plays Abby Fane, a nightclub singer who is loved by - and loves - wealthy Rod Deane (Gene Raymond).  Despite the objections of his family, Rod and Abby marry, and have an extensive honeymoon in Europe.  When they return to their home in New York, they find that the home that Abby has hoped to design has been completely done over by Rod's dilettante friend, Sigrift (Monroe Owsley), who spends most of his time encouraging Rod to overspend and over-drink.  Abby is heartbroken at her husband's lifestyle, finally telling him that he has one choice - to find gainful employ, or to lose her.

One thing that is rather odd about this film is the relationship between Rod Deane, his brother Franklin, and their father.  Mr. Deane runs a huge business, yet he has totally cut his sons out of the running of the enterprise.  Son Franklin is a vice-president, but does nothing all day but play the horses. Why? Because his father will not share the responsibility of the firm.  One wonders what will happen when Mr. Deane is no longer able to work.  Then again, Mr. Deane isn't working all that much - he is MUCH more interested in his stable of horses.  Given that the action is contemporary to 1933, one wonders how the family survived the Depression with their wealth intact.  One interesting scene involves the writing of a check - we see the monthly allowance that is going to Rod - $4,000.  In 1933, that would have been more than the yearly salary for most people. One can only imagine the shock of seeing that number being given out to a young man who is doing absolutely nothing with his life.
While this is a slight little movie, the costuming is wonderful (Carole has some lovely dresses), and our Ms. Lombard is just lovely as the noble Abby.  Abby is reserved and gracious - she has much more "class" than her upper-class husband and his obnoxious family.  Gene Raymond is fine as Rod (though Raymond is not one of our favorite actors).  It is interesting to see Donald Cook again (just two years after he appeared in Public Enemy). The actor that stands out, though, is Monroe Owsley, who is (again) playing a cad.  He does it so well, and when he is on screen, he is fascinating to watch.

Certainly not one of Ms. Lombard's best films, but certainly worth a quick look.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Carole Abjures Orchids

Carole Lombard's 1932 film No More Orchids is a delight from start to finish. Wealthy Anne Holt (Carole Lombard) is used to getting what she wants, until she meets Tony Gage (Lyle Talbot).  He has no money, and she is engaged to royalty, but love blooms, and Anne is quite willing to give up her wealth and position to be with the man she loves.  But, there is a fly in the ointment - her grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith), a rather malevolent individual who will use anything in his power to manipulate Anne into wedding his choice - Prince Carlos.

The cast here is just magnificent, especially Louise Closser Hale as Anne's outspoken grandmother. Hale is an absolute riot, and makes the picture.  From the second we see her, Ms. Hale steals the movie, and you look forward to her every appearance.  Also wonderful is C. Aubrey Smith as Anne's nasty grandfather.  The cameraman (Joseph August), has a field day, filming Smith at angles, and with lighting that make him appear as the devil.  And Smith seems to relish the cruelty that Mr. Cedric delights in imposing on those around him.  Finally, there is Lombard, who is just lovely as Anne.  She is funny and sweet; running the gamut from spoiled brat to loving daughter, without being maudlin. 

One interesting detail about the film is that it is a pre-code.  That becomes apparent when Lombard spends the night with Tony, and he later makes a comment that casts aspersions on her "honor". (She has been forced to break up with him; he doesn't know why and believes she has been toying with his affections.) It's quite suggestive!

We strongly recommend this neglected classic.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Interlude: Lydia

As several members of our group were missing, we held off on our next Carole Lombard movie and instead watched Lydia, a little gem from 1941.  Told in flashback, the movie is the story of Lydia Macmillan (Merle Oberon), who was a much sought after belle in her youth, who became an unmarried philanthropist.  At a party celebrating her good works, she meets one of her youthful romances, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick (Joseph Cotton).  The son of her grandmother's butler, Michael had once had hopes of marrying Lydia, but, alas, it was not to be, because Lydia lost her heart to Richard Mason (Alan Marshal), a cad who seduced our heroine and then abandoned her.  Michael throws a party for Lydia, and invites her three romances: Mason, Frank Audry (Hans Yarah), a blind composer, and Bob Willard (George Reeves), a college football hero.  All are present, except for Mason, and the party of four begin to reminisce about the past.

Ms. Oberon is lovely as the youthful Lydia, but her makeup in the old-age scenes is rather odd (the men look SO much better; so much more realistic). We all enjoyed seeing George Reeves as the egotistical Bob (his drunk scene is quite funny), and of course, Joseph Cotton is always a pleasure to watch.  We really could not understand WHY Lydia would prefer Richard to Michael.  Michael is much more appealing; Alan Marshal is rather a non-entity compared to the much more dynamic Cotton. Also fun to watch (always) was Edna May Oliver as Granny. From the minute she shows up, Ms. Oliver is a delight.

Released in 1941, in many ways this film is shocking, in that it discusses a woman who has a two-week affair with a man who is probably married, yet her only punishment is to be single. Then again, one assumes in 1941, that was a fate worse than death for most women. But one can't help but thinking that Lydia made a huge mistake in abandoning Michael, no matter how profound her life was as a philanthropist (heck, Michael would have let her do both, even in 1941).

Next time, we promise another Carole Lombard movie!!