Friday, June 13, 2014

New Yorker Nancy

We've not had a lot of opportunities to view the films of Nancy Carroll, but when we've gotten the chance to see her, we are always surprised and delighted by this wonderful, virtually unknown actress.  We had previously encountered her in an early Cary Grant film, Hot Saturday.   This week, we viewed Child of Manhattan (1933), which stars Nancy as Madalaine McGonagle, a dance-hall girl who meets the hall's landlord, widower Paul Otto Vanderkill (John Boles) when he drops by the club to check out his property.  Paul is enchanted by this little native New Yorker (she's got a fairly thick Manhattan accent), and within a short time, he has asked her to become his mistress (he doesn't want his family to know about their relationship).  She agrees, and is immediately rejected by her mother and brother (both of whom were QUITE willing to accept Paul's beneficence when the relationship was not so open).  In short order, Madalaine discovers that she is pregnant, and Paul agrees to marry her.  But when the child dies shortly after birth, Madalaine is consumed with guilt. 

Nancy Carroll had a long career - she began as a stage actress, going over to films in 1927 (she did appear on Broadway in the 1930s, at the height of her popularity).  Among her notable film appearances was in Abie's Irish Rose, with Charles "Buddy" Rogers as her Abie.  Her last film role was in 1938.  She retired for awhile, but eventually transitioned to television for a few roles in the 1950s and early 60s.  She also returned to the stage, and died at age 60 while performing in a play.  She is adorable in this film - you like her Madalaine immediately, as Carroll has the ability to project innocence and goodness, even as she portrays a character who is NOT conforming to society's norms.
Another actor who is not as well known today as he should be is John Boles.   We've discussed him before in our commentary on Craig's Wife, and he is best remembered for his role opposite Barbara Stanwyck, as her husband Stephen in Stella Dallas.  Like Carroll, Boles started in silents, where he worked with actresses such as Gloria Swanson.  It's hard to imagine him not talking, though, his voice is so mellifluous.  His pre and post film career is also very interesting.  He worked as a spy during the WWI; by 1943, he left films and went to back to work as a stage actor (He was in the original Broadway cast of the musical One Touch of Venus with Mary Martin).  He also went into the oil business.  He and his wife were married for 52 years, until his death in 1969. Coincidentally, the Flick Chick just did a wonderful commentary on John Boles, which we recommend to you.  His portrayal of Paul gives a sympathetic and likeable character.  Even when he asks Madalaine to live with him out-of-wedlock, it's hard to dislike him, as he always seems to care deeply for her.

There are some other performers in the film who deserve mention.  First is Jane Darwell as Madalaine's mother.  With her Irish accent, Mrs. McGonagle at first seems caring (though her willingness for Madalaine to accept a $1,000 gift from Paul is a bit suspect). Ultimately, though, Mrs. McGonagle disowns her daughter for openly consorting with Paul. But what we remember about her is that Mrs. McGonagle and son Buddy are interested only in the money that Madalaine provides to the house, not in protecting her.  By going under Paul's protection, Madalaine leaves the house, and her income leaves with her.   

If you blink, you will miss Betty Grable appearing as Madalaine's sister, Lucy. It's certainly not her first movie role, but it will be awhile before Grable becomes the superstar she would become.  Buck Jones, however, as Panama Kelley, was a well-known western star of the silent era.  At this point, he was attempting to recreate his career, and would go on to some success as a western star in the talkies.  His Panama is a noble man, who deeply loves Madalaine and only wants the best for her.  Sure, he's a bit common, but he is decent.  Jones manages to make him engaging with very little screen time.  Jones would die in 1942 after being burned in a horrific fire at the Coconut Grove hotel.  Stories vary, but one says that his death was the result of his repeated efforts to rescue people trapped in the hotel. Is it true? We'll probably never know, but one would like for him to have this epitaph.

Interestingly, the 1932 Broadway play on which this film is based was written by the always wonderful Preston Sturges.  Neil Hamilton was originally cast as Paul, but two weeks into filming, Boles replaced him.  The reason for the switch is not evident.  

Both Carroll and Boles are costumed exquisitely by Robert Kalloch in this delightful little film. We recommend it highly!

2 comments:

  1. Whee! John Boles and Nancy Carroll together. Thanks for shout out about my current crush, Mr. Boles. I am also a BIG fan of the adorable Nancy. Have you ever seen her in FOLLOW THROUGH? She and Buddy Rogers were simply too cute for words. They sing a duet called "We're a Peach of a Pair" (or something like that) and they sure were!

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    1. I wish I had seen more of Nancy Carroll; she's being added to the list of forgotten actresses to remember. Like Dorothy MacKaill. And Kay Francis.

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