Monday, January 28, 2013

Kay on Trial

There is no question that our group are big fans of Kay Francis.  But tonight's movie is probably (in our humble opinion) one of her finest performances.  It is Confession from 1937.  The action opens on a young music student, Lisa Koslov (Jane Bryan) being approached after a recital by the renowned musician Michael Michailow (Basil Rathbone).  Complimented, Lisa finally agrees to meet him; they go to a nightclub where Vera (Kay Francis) is the lead singer.  She sees Michael and Lisa. Michael sees her.  He attempts to leave the nightclub, only to have Vera follow him and shoot him dead. The rest of the movie is Vera's trial, and the story of her life, which will clarify WHY she killed Michael.

Francis is amazing here.  We see her (as we did in The House on 56th Street) in many phases of her life.  That she makes errors is clear; that she was wronged is also clear.  But, cut to her at the beginning of her trial, the utter blankness of her expression, followed by the panic when she realizes that her attorney is going to tell her story without her permission.  This is great acting.  

It's also fun to again see Basil Rathbone, who really did spend half his career playing villains, as the bad guy once again.  He oozes insincerity.  WE know what he is after.  Unfortunately, Lisa (Jane Bryan, who does an excellent job playing a naive young woman) has not got a clue that men like him exist. 
It's interesting that this film was actually a shot-by-shot remake of a German film (with an American cast, of course). Regardless of the fact that this film is borrowing heavily, the performances make it a new film. We'll close with the scene where he makes his play for his latest innocent victim:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Barbara's Love Nest

Illicit, with Barbara Stanwyck, is easily a Pre-Code film!  Stanwyck stars as Anne Vincent, a young woman in love with Dick Ives (James Rennie).  Dick and Anne aren't married, but are openly living together.  Dick has proposed multiple times, but Anne resists, seeing marriage as the death of love.  Finally, Dick's father convinces her that marriage is the only way to avoid scandal.  But, Anne soon finds that she and Dick are taking one another for granted, and though she still loves him, she is furious when she finds he has been out with his old girlfriend.  And things begin to unravel from there.

It's rather shocking, really, to think of a couple in 1931 living together, and discussing a long-term relationship without a wedding ring.  Sure, they do get married, but Anne is convinced for much of the movie that it is marriage that has destroyed her relationship with Dick.  Stanwyck is just terrific here, both vulnerable and tough.  An interesting casting note is Charlie Butterworth as Dick's gossipy friend Georgie.  A drunk and a ne'er-do-well, Georgie is really one of the major reasons the marriage become troubled. 

It's also good to see Ricardo Cortez (as Price Baines, Anne's old flame).  Ricardo is such a slimy bad guy.  It's a pleasure to watch him work to break up the marriage (and oh, yes, he certainly does try).

If you would like to have a taste of this delicious movie, try this clip:

Next time, another Francis Pre-Code gem.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Nanny in Disguise

Devotion (1931) stars Ann Harding as Shirley Mortimer the maligned and ignored daughter of an intellectual family.  While assisting her family (Shirley runs the house. The rest of the family is “too busy”), she meets David Trent (Leslie Howard), a busy barrister in need of a nanny for his young son. Shirley is smitten with David, and decides to pursue their relationship by apply for the job as nanny. She facilitates this by inventing an older Cockney lady, Mrs. Halifax, and donning a grey wig, old clothing, and glasses. David, of course, is oblivious to the disguise, but it doesn’t take long for his client, Norman Harrington (Robert Williams) to realize that the wig is hiding an attractive, young woman.

It struck us that Shirley was the somewhat less unbalanced mother of Bette Davis’ Charlotte Vale (Now, Voyager). Both are looked down upon by their families, both seem to see themselves as unattractive.< However, Shirley decides NOT to have a nervous breakdown. Instead, she becomes someone else.

Though filmed in the Pre-code era, this isn’t really a Pre-code movie. Or is it? Norman has murdered his wife (and been found innocent, because the wife was a violent lush). And David has his own little secret (which we won’t reveal) that rather smacks of the Pre-code ethos.

Ann Harding is quite endearing as Shirley. Though her family doesn’t think so, she really does have a backbone, is smart, and ultimately quite attractive. Leslie Howard is appropriately befuddled as the overworked barrister. And then there is Robert Williams. Robert Osborne told us about his unfortunate, brief life – a life cut short just as he was receiving attention for his work. His Norman is JUST enough on the edge to make you wonder IF he was really a murderer. One is never quite sure if he is trustworthy or not. And watch for Louise Closser Hale as Shirley's witch of a mother.
We leave you with a clip from the film. Next time, a real Pre-Code film!