Sunday, March 31, 2013

Connie Becomes a Star

We'll be starting a number of Constance Bennett movies over the next few weeks.  The first is What Price Hollywood? (1932) in which Ms. Bennett plays would-be actress Mary Evans.  The film opens with an unseen woman looking through a magazine.  The ads show us just what the stars use to make themselves beautiful.  The woman who is looking at the magazine is using the stockings, and makeup that the ads recommend.  The camera pulls back to show a our heroine, who is living in a tiny apartment, with a Murphy bed.  No star she, just a simple waitress waiting for her big break.  

That night at work, she befriends director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman), a good man, but one with too large an affection for alcohol.  He reluctantly agrees to help Mary, but her stiffness and inexperience is evident; he decides to recast the role with someone else.  The next day, Mary convinces him to give her one more chance. And thus, America's Pal is born - Mary Evans becomes a star.

Certainly, this is so close to A Star is Born as to be the original source material for the 1937 Janet Gaynor film.  But, we understand from the TCM commentary, no credit was given by either this film, nor the Judy Garland film in 1954, to this lovely movie (the former was produced by David O. Selznick, and the latter was directed by George Cukor, the producer and director of this film).  For those of you familiar with the later films, take a look at this clip, which is very reminiscent of something that occurs in both of the later versions:


And a wonderful film it is!  Several scenes are especially worth mentioning.  The opening scene we described above is one.  Here is a clip from that, which contains a small tribute to the man who would become the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable:


Another, is the scene in which Mary, having been fired from her first acting job by Max, goes home and spends the night practicing her lines.  Ms. Bennett is just fabulous as she stubbornly attempts to master her craft. 

We should also tip our hat to the male lead for this film - Neil Hamilton, best known to a generation as Commissioner Gordon in the 1960's television show, Batman.  As children of the Batman generation, it was fun to see Mr. Hamilton in a totally different (and much younger) role.

Next week, another Connie Bennett film.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Joan Joins the Fourth Estate

A murder in a small New York state town creates a firestorm for the locals, including the widow of the victim (Vivienne Osborne as Marcia Ferguson). a neighbor (Leon Ames, here listed as Leon Waycoff, as Judd Brooks) and a local reporter (Tom Brown as Bruce Foster).  In 1932's The Famous Ferguson Case, Joan Blondell is featured as one of the reporters that invades the town in search of sensation. 

On occasion, films from the thirties can feel a bit dated.  However, The Famous Ferguson Case is as timely as the paparazzi that stalk unwary celebrities.  The reporters that descent Cornwall like a plague of locusts are of the yellow variety - creating sensation when they don't find enough to feed their daily news reports; destroying lives in the name of "reporting the facts." Only one talks of the dangers of bad reporting, however no one listens (and quite frankly, he's not the strongest character you've ever met).

Blondell is interesting as the reporter who has seen the seamier side of her profession for all too long.  We are well aware that she has had an affair with Bob Parks (Kenneth Thompson), and she is just short of being appalled at his behavior in Cornwall, mostly because she is all too familiar with his modus apparendi.  Leon Ames is excellent as a man in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Watch for the scene where he finally gets to have HIS "say" in the proceedings.

We heartily recommend this one: an excellent film, with an enjoyable ending. Here's a trailer that might be of some interest:  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Loretta Goes to Work

1931's Big Business Girl features Loretta Young as  Claire McIntyre, a woman just out of secretarial school.  She is in love with musician Johnny Saunders (Frank Albertson), but her debts from school force her to let him journey off alone to a lucrative gig, while she looks for work in New York City. After landing a job as a stenographer, she is able to get into see advertising executive Robert J. Clayton (Ricardo Cortez), who, impressed with her ad copy (and her looks) promotes her to copywriter.  Claire inadvertently overhears Clayton's assessment of her skills and appearance, and decides to use her wiles to further advance her career.  Re-enter Johnny, and sparks begin to fly, as Johnny is furious at Claire's dedication to her job, as well as Clayton's obvious interest in her sexually.

Looking back from the vantage of 2013, one could see Claire eventually suing Clayton for sexual harassment, but this is 1931, and neither his actions (nor her's) is at all bothersome.  We won't go into too much detail as to Johnny's reactions, because that would give away a big surprise that is revealed in the middle of the film.  But there is a lot of petulance on the side of Johnny (Frank Albertson is rather good at petulance.  Witness his Freddie Miller in Bachelor Mother) and sliminess on the part of Cortez (which we all know from many movies he too is very good at portraying).  And Loretta skirting the edge of being the slightest bit racy.  The fact that Claire is quite talented at her job (and is very careful to not lead Clayton on too far) makes her just barely moral.  But this is a pre-code film, so that titillation value is there.

There is also a nice surprise towards the end of the movie - an appearance by Joan Blondell.  Telling more than that would give away too much of the plot, but the she is a riot.  Here is a trailer that will give you a taste of the movie (and of Ms. Blondell): 

While not a great movie, this is an interesting film that is worth seeing.  Just for Young and Cortez alone, it worth the just little over an hour of your time.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Gumshoe Joan, Take Two

Bill Reardon (Melvyn Douglas) is an unsuccessful PI.  With no clients, and loads of debts, he decides to go back to his job as an investigator for the District Attorney's office.  His wife, Sally (Joan Blondell) protests, so he jokingly gifts her with his office.  Next thing you know, a client, in the form of Lola Fraser (Mary Astor) appears. She hires Sally to find out if her husband is a cheat.  Only, within hours, Walter Fraser is dead.  Who dun it?

Thus begins the screwball There's Always a Woman (1938).  Our group had rather mixed reactions to it.  Developed as a response to The Thin Man, the big reaction was that Bill and Sally are no Nick and Nora.  The jokes tended to go on and on (sometimes way too long for some tastes.  And the over-the-top humor made the movie far less enjoyable.  

On the other hand, the film had great sets and costumes.  And some scenes were really funny.  Like a bit, late in the film, when Sally is being interrogated by the police, and is not in the least phased by the rhetoric.  Blondell could be very cute at times; other times, you wanted to give her a good spanking.  Here, we can share a little bit of the slapstick action (and it might give you a clue of why Sally is such a brat):

Finally, a couple of things to look out for: a young Rita Hayworth as the Bill's secretary (she's there for about one minute),l and Mary Astor appearing in a role very reminiscent of something a few years away - The Maltese Falcon.

Next time - another pre-code.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Gumshoe Joan, R.N.

A hospital nurse, bored with the day-to-day routine, is offered the opportunity to do private duty nursing. At last, she says, something different!  And so, our heroine, Miss Adams (Joan Blondell) ends up in the home of a young man who just committed suicide, taking care of his elderly, ailing, aunt (Elizabeth Patterson).  Only Detective Patten (George Brent) suspects murder, and having an agent in the house to observe the comings and goings of those potentially close to the victim would be a godsend. Thus, our heroine gets the adventure of her life becoming Miss Pinkerton (1932).

This is a fun, if somewhat convoluted movie.  The ending does kinda feel like the author wasn't QUITE sure how to end it, and a murder victim was culled from a number of choices. Regardless, it works.  And Joan Blondell is delightful as our detective/nurse.  She's smart, and brave (there's a bit of screaming, and at least one faint, but she does pretty well, given her naivety).  George Brent (without his mustache) is fun here; there's not enough of him, though. 

This is a film that requires a bit of attention, so if you watch it, don't leave the room.  You'll likely miss something.  It's fast paced.  And you really don't want to miss a moment of Joan Blondell.  She always got something amusing to say!  Just to get your ready, here is a brief trailer: