Thursday, May 30, 2013

Olivia Finds Gold

This week, we return to one of our favorites, the lovely Olivia de Havilland in the 1938 technicolor epic Gold is Where You Find It.  Olivia plays Serena Farris, the daughter of Colonel Ferris (Claude Rains). She is at odds with her wastrel brother, Lance (Tim Holt), who has no regard for the land, while she endeavors to build a fruit orchard on the farm. 

Enter Jared Whitney (George Brent), the new mining foreman at the Golden Moon Mining Company.  He shares Serena's love for the land, but at the same time, he is the person now responsible for its destruction.  He befriends Lance, loves Serena, and earns the enmity of the Colonel.

Set in California's Sacramento Valley, the story is both a romance between Serena and Jared as well as the more serious story of the effects of hydraulic mining on the environment.  The film vividly portrays the damage caused by high-pressure mining, and on the farmers who are trying to live and work in the midst of this destruction.  The opening is done in an almost documentary style, making its statements about mining even more powerful.  That much of the back-story - the mining itself, its consequences, and the lawsuits initiated by the farmers (specifically Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company) increase the impact of the film. This chapter from the Public Policy Institute of California may be of interest to those of you who would like more information about this period of history.

Filmed in Technicolor, Gold is Where You Find It was likely the first western to use the process.  (It was also a test balloon for The Adventures of Robin Hood, an attempt to see the results of the process.  Interestingly, Michael Curtiz directed both films).  The special effects are tremendous - though today, we can spot the miniature work for what it is, in 1938 (and on a big screen), it must have been amazing. And if you want to see a really beautiful scene, watch the very last shot.  The technicolor vistas will take your breath away.

We've got some amazing performances here as well.  Let's start with the lovely Olivia.  Serena is only 17 years old when the film begins.  The character is well named.  Though she has a temper, there is a serenity about her when she works in her orchard.  She rather reminded us a bit of Candide, looking to create the best of all possible worlds in her small piece of land.
George Brent's Jared is a good man, in the best sense of the word.  He wants to do his job, and do it well, but he also understands and appreciates that his work is creating damage.  He wants to change it, but he is hamstrung by the greedy, careless men for whom he works.  He loves the land, and falls in love with Serena because she is so much a part of the land.

Margaret Lindsay (Rosanne Ferris), who is married to Colonel Ferris' dull and avaricious brother Ralph (John Litel) is literally a piece of work.  Flirtatious in the worst sense of the word, she has no love for anyone.  She has no interest in her niece and nephew. Then again, she apparently has no children herself; she's selfish and vain enough that children of any age are a burden.  We loved her line to Serena to "not call her Aunt, just Rosanne".  Heaven forbid anyone suspect she has an adult niece!!  The costuming of Serena and Rosanne give us more information.  Look at the lovely, simple country clothing, contrasted with Rosanne's citified, overdone gowns.  We learn a lot about the women from the way they are dressed.
Claude Rains as Colonel Ferris is, as always, amazing.  He is in the midst of a firestorm, with tensions between him and his brother and between him and his son.  Rains' attitude towards Brent is understandable; he sees him as stealing his daughter, corrupting his son, and destroying his farm.  Ultimately, Ferris is shows as a fair man; Rains lets us see the goodness in the man, even when we most dislike his actions.

Tim Holt gets very low billing in the film, but he treads a fine line in his portrayal of Lance.  And he succeeds admirably. He manages to show a young man who clearly has depth, but chooses not to always plumb it.

Finally, one of our favorite moments happened about midway through the film, when we meet Senator Hearst, whose son "Willie wants to be a journalist".  The senator is horrified - running a paper will never make a profit!

For an interesting analysis of the film, visit the article on the TCM website about the film.  Here is a trailer:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Myrna Goes Upstairs

This week, we watched Penthouse, a 1933 film starring Myrna Loy as Gertrude Waxstead, a young woman "with a past" and Warner Baxter as Jackson Durant.  Durant is engaged to Sue Leonard (Martha Sleeper), but the wealthy young woman is distressed that her fiance has lowered himself to practicing criminal law.  Bored with the current activities in his law practice, Durant has just defended (and gotten acquitted) gangster Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton).   While acknowledging that he craves the excitement of criminal law, Durant was also convinced that Tony was innocent of the crime for which he was accused (otherwise, he would not have defended him).

But his new interest in the law causes friction between Durant and his partners, and with Sue.  Plus, Sue has found a new boyfriend - Tom Siddall (Philip Holmes), an upper-crust young man, who is not all that pure of heart.  Once Sue tells him she is interested in him,  Tom agrees to break up with his mistress, Mimi Montagne (Mae Clarke).  However, the breakup is just the start of problems for Tom, for Sue and for Durant.  And it also serves as Durant's introduction to Gertie. 
Myrna Loy is just adorable in the film.  Invited to Durant's apartment, she discusses spending the night there; he provides her with pajamas, and then, much to her amazement, leaves the bedroom.  Later, she discusses her feelings for Jackson, but tells him that it would be inappropriate for their relationship to be public - she will live as his mistress.  It's quite clear that she is not quite the prim and proper virgin.  She knows her way around the seamier side of the City.

If there is a slight problem with the film, it is the fact that the murder (we won't say who is murdered), seems motiveless.  We really never find out why the victim was targeted. Was there a threat perceived by the murderer?  The murder is a very complex setup - yet the reason behind it is never discussed.

Long Island here becomes the playground of the rich (Sue's family has a mansion there) - much the way it does in The Great Gatsby.  We suspect that it is just far enough from the City as to have the aura of entitlement.  As New Yorkers, we found that amusing.
We found Charles Butterworth as Layton, Durant's manservant, very amusing.  We also had a long discussion about Warner Baxter.  We have so rarely seen him in films, though he had a long career.  He was the Crime Doctor in the 40s, as well as playing The Cisco Kid in several films. He had a substantial  career in silent films, before making the switch to talkies - even playing the original Daddy Long Legs in 1931.  He died at age 62, the result of infection following a lobotomy (in this case, being used for the relief of extreme pain caused by arthritis. A quick look at the medical literature for the late 1940s and early 1950s does show that lobotomy was being considered as a relief for intractable pain!)

Again, the costuming is quite good, though Myrna Loy only gets one dress - it's gorgeous, but except for a change of costume at the end, this is all we see.  There is a very funny scene in which she tries to describe to Warner Baxter what dress he should bring her from her apartment. Clearly she has quite a nice wardrobe at home.

Before we go, here is a clip from the film - featuring Myrna in her dress.  Next week, another classic film.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Irene Meets a Bachelor

Bachelor Apartment (1931) really stars Lowell Sherman as Wayne Carter, the owner of the apartment, which comes equipped with hot and cold running women.  One evening, while his is entertaining a recent conquest, Helene Andrews (Irene Dunne) arrives, looking for her younger sister.  Turns out, Carter's manservant has enticed the girl there, pretending to be the wealthy Carter.  Attracted to the out-of work Helen, he offers her a job in his organization - and help sister Lita (Claudia Dell) get a chorus job.  The course of true love does not, of course, run smooth.

We had seen Lowell Sherman before - playing the drunken director in What Price Hollywood?  We found him a lot more believable there, than as a roue being pursued by an endless number of women.  WHY they found him so attractive, was beyond us.  Our conclusion - he is quite wealthy, though that did not explain the constant presence of Agatha Carraway (Mae Murray), his former lover, who is now married and eager to restart their affair.  Either he is the world's greatest lover, or something else is going on here.  Regardless, the film, as a result, is very risque, amusingly so. We particularly enjoyed the scene where Helene appears in a bathrobe to protect Carter from Agatha's irate husband.

The costuming, especially Dunne's business clothing is quite impressive.  The wardobe for Murray is very over-the-top, but it perfectly matches her rather loud persona.  It is worth noting that our star, Lowell Sherman is the director here as well.

While not a great film, this is a fun one, and is worth a view.  Certainly an opportunity to see Dunne at the start of her impressive career is always welcome.  And while Sherman is not our idea of manly beauty, he is an amusing actor.  Here's a scene to whet your appetite:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kay is in Trouble

Trouble in Paradise (1932) is a film that requires you to keep your eyes on the screen. So much happens here that concentration is essential.  The film opens when two thieves - Herbert Marshall (as Gaston Monescu) and Miriam Hopkins (as Lily) - meet and fall in love in Venice, as each attempts to rob the other one!  The following year, they are still together and still on the prowl for victims.  Enter wealthy widow Mariette Colet (Kay Francis); Gaston steals her purse, collects the reward for returning it, and convinces Mariette to hire him as her secretary (with Lily as his assistant). Sound simple? It's not.

All of the characters are well developed, from our leads to various supporting characters.  Besides the ever wonderful Ms. Francis - who makes Mariette a bit of an airhead, but a brainy one (yes, a contradiction, but this film is full of contradictions), we have Herbert Marshall being oh-so debonaire, and Miriam Hopkins. Quite honestly, Ms. Hopkins can be an annoying actress - she is mannered and at times over-blown.  However, here she is quite funny as the naughty Lily.  When she morphs into Gaston's assistant, Mlle. Votier, she is hysterical -wearing glasses, talking about her little brother, and her mother (who, of course, are sadly dead), and trying to be Mariette's new best friend.

For supporting players, we have some remarkable actors:  Edward Everett Horton as Gaston's Venice victim Fran├žois Fileba, Charlie Ruggles as The Major, one of Mariette's many suitors (men she loves to lead on, but has no intention of marrying. She's quite happy being in control of her own life), and C Aubrey Smith as Giron, the Chairman of Mariette's company who has been embezzling from her for years. He is a riot when he threatens to resign... eventually.

Director Ernst Lubitsch is having lots of fun here.  Watch for the love scene between Mariette and Gaston.  We know exactly what is going on, as their shadows superimpose on a bed.  Lubitsch doesn't need to be crass; he easily gets his points across by innuendo.  We also have gowns by Travis Banton, and gorgeous accessories and set design.  A major focus of an early scene is a purse, and an exquisite purse it is!

We end with a clip - including the purse!