Monday, February 25, 2013

Mary and the Green-Eyed Monster

Poor Nancy Gibson (Mary Astor)! Just returned to New York from Europe, where she went to look after her ailing mother, she finds her beloved husband Donald (Robert Ames) is head-over-heels in love with a younger woman, and eager for a divorce.  Thus begins Smart Woman (1931), a pre-code film which focuses on Mary's clever plan to recover her husband's affection - make him believe that SHE returned for a divorce, to marry her "lover",  Sir Guy Harrington (John Halliday). 

This is a clever little movie, made all the more pleasurable by the presence of Edward Everett Horton as Nancy's brother-in-law, Bill Ross.  We are so used to Mr. Horton as a buffoon, it was great to see him being smart and even, at times, cagey.  Disgusted with his Donald's behavior, he and his equally smart wife, Sally (played by Ruth Weston) collude with Nancy in her quest to convince Donald that she strayed long before he even thought of it.  We were also intrigued by the performance of John Halliday.  His Sir Guy is genuinely in love with Nancy, but his is an unselfish love - he attempts to break up the affair between Donald and Peggy Preston (Noel Francis) in his own inimitable fashion.  But we won't spoil the end by revealing his plan.

We found the relationship between Peggy and her mother as rather reminiscent of a later film - The Parent Trap.  Think Vicki Robinson (Joanna Barnes) and Mama Edna (Linda Watkins).  Vipers awaiting their wealthy prey. Mary Astor is just delightful as she realizes Peggy's motives, and has to keep up the front that she is all sympathy for their "love".  Watch her as she tells Peggy exactly WHO owns the house!  Here's the scene where Peggy and Nancy meet:

Next week, we invite you to a mystery

Monday, February 18, 2013

Barbara Dances

We again visit Barbara Stanwyck in the precode era, with the wonderful Ten Cents a Dance from 1931.  As taxi dancer Barbara O'Neill, Stanwyck is smart and honest.  She has caught the eye of wealthy businessman Bradley Carlton (Ricardo Cortez), however she is much more interested in Eddie Miller (Monroe Owsley), a down-on-his-luck neighbor.  She asks Bradley to give Eddie a job, which Bradley does.  Eddie asks her to marry him, which Barbara does.  However, Eddie is a cad - more interested in currying favor with former wealthy friends than being a decent husband, he wastes his money on fine clothing and gambling.  And he begins to have an affair with Nancy Sheridan (Martha Sleeper).  Which leaves Barbara struggling to pay the rent.

Monroe Owsley is here at his oily best.  It is sad that he died so very young - he died following a car accident, at the age of 37, his career just starting to take off.  We had seen him before, of course (in The Keyhole, which we discussed a bit ago). But here, though just as slimy, he has a more rounded character.  You want to see Eddie the way Barbara does at first, but Owsley lets us under his curtain. We see the weakness and the just plain callousness that lies beneath the surface.  Here's a scene between the two of them.
Again, we get treated to Ricardo Cortez playing a good guy.  At first, one is not quite sure of Bradley Carlton's motives. He seems like a good man, but is he just another man out for a good time? We see him through Barbara's eyes, and at first eye him with the same jaundiced glance that she has.  We want to like him, but like her, we need to discover what is under the surface. We're big fans of Cortez, and always find it a pleasure to see him as the hero.  

Finally, there is Stanwyck herself.  Barbara O'Neill is warm and kind, but she doesn't let people walk on her.  She tries to be straightforward and honest herself - ultimately, it is Eddie's dishonesty that will be the thorn in their relationship.  And Stanwyck can show us the whole of Barbara with merely a glance.
For more information on this film, do visit the TCM article on Stanwyck's Precode Films.  Also take a look at this article, which discusses the director of the film - Lionel Barrymore, whose severe arthritis was beginning to affect his career.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ginger Avoids the Path

A woman whose mother and grandmother are prostitutes tries to avoid the life.  No, it's not a pre-Code. This is the 1940 Ginger Rogers Film Primrose Path. Ginger is Ellie May Adams, whose father (Miles Mander) is a drunk and whose mother (Marjorie Rambeau) is a hooker. Oh, and her grandmother (Queenie Vassar) pretty much functions as a pander. But, Ellie May tries hard to avoid the life of her mother, first by acting as a tom-boy, but then by marrying a man (Joel McCrea) who is unaware of her past.  Her problem, however, is not so much her family, but the fact that she lied to her husband, Ed.  Because when Ed finds out her family history, he is not able to handle it.  And her grandmother is eager to get her back into the house.

Queenie Vassar as Grandma is properly revolting. You really want to find a deep well in which to drop her (though none is handy). And Marjorie Rambeau as mother Mamie is sweet and sympathetic.  She, too, had hoped for a better life when she married, only to learn that her husband is weak.  Yet, she still loves him and does her best to protect him - and to support her family in the only "talent" that she has.

Ginger Rogers, as always, is wonderful; her Ellie May is sweet and sympathetic.  Even when her world falls out from under her, she still manages to convey, realistically, the pain and desperation of this girl who just wants love and a normal life.  Joel McCrea, however is less sympathetic - eyeing his "portagee gals", judging his wife when he certainly is not the purest flower in the garden, and just being plain nasty at times.  One really wants to put him in the well with Granny.

Keep your eyes open for Charles Lane as Mr. Smith. He is rather a nice surprise. It's always great to see him - even in a small part, but also great to see the character. All in all, this is a lovely film that I wish more people had the opportunity to see.  Here is the scene where Ellie May and Ed meet: