Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bogie Fights the Nazis

This week, we move to the period just before the start of World War II to discuss All Through the Night (1941), a very funny - and entertaining - film from Warner Brothers.  'Gloves' Donahue (Humphrey Bogart) is a promoter in New York City.  Every day, 'Gloves' goes to his favorite restaurant for Miller's cheesecake.  The restaurant is under orders to ONLY serve Miller's cheesecake.  On one particular day, Papa Miller (Ludwig Stossel) has not made his usual delivery.  Though Papa Miller assures 'Gloves' that all is well, later that day, - following a frantic phone call from his mother (Jane Darwell) - 'Gloves' discovers Papa Miller has been murdered.  'Gloves' - the prime suspect of the police - and his crew investigate the murder, and find not only the murderer, but a passel of Nazis who have infiltrated New York City.

This film has an amazing cast.  Humphrey Bogart demonstrates his flare for comedy as 'Gloves' (whose given name is Alfred!), and is supported by actors like Frank McHugh (as newlywed Barney), William Demarest (as right-hand man Sunshine), and Jackie Gleason (as Starchy).  His opposition is just as impressive.  Peter Lorre as Pepi, our slimy villain was of particular interest.  He is an actor who is always fascinating to watch; he is not a disappointment here.  The wonderful Conrad Veidt is featured as Hall Ebbing, the ultimate Nazi; and Judith Anderson appears as Ebbing's comrade - she is just as menacing as she was in Rebecca.  Add Kaaren Verne as love interest Leda Hamilton and Phil Silvers (as a waiter in the restaurant), and you have a powerhouse of actors.  It's really it is the acting that make this film so enjoyable.  It has a good script, but coming from the mouths of these folks, the dialogue shimmers.

The film was released on December 2nd, 1941 - just 5 days before the United States would enter World War II.   Many of the studios tried to avoid any mention of the difficulties in Europe.  Certainly, this was an economic issue (insulting the Nazi party would assure that the studio's films would not be shown in Germany).  But censorship was an issue as well.  The Hays office, which governed film standards under the Production Code, was very clear that films which "would arouse very bad feeling in Germany" were to be avoided (The New Yorker.  "Hitler in Hollywood").  However, Warner Brothers had other ideas.  As this article from the American Film Institute discusses, Warner Brothers release of Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939 (based on an FBI case in New York) was the first explicitly anti-Nazi film made in America. It was produced in the face of numerous domestic and international threats, and reversed the policy of the Hays office. 
This film follows in that anti-Nazi vein, and features three actors who had a vested interest in showing the dangers of the Nazi party.  Conrad Veidt, whose wife was a Jew, left Nazi Germany for the United Kingdom in 1933, relocating the U.S. around 1940.  Peter Lorre was in a similar situation.  Though lauded by Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbel for his work in the film M, Lorre and his wife (actress Celia Lovsky) fled to the United States in 1933.  Kaaren Verne left Germany in 1938, also to get away from the Nazis (Verne and Lorre would marry four years after this film, after divorcing their respective spouses).  Veidt, who donated huge sums of money to the British war effort, especially seemed to relish the chance to make the Nazis look bad.  He is a marvelous actor, and it is a shame that his death of a heart attack in 1943 precluded his return to meatier roles. 

The advertisements for the film make sure to emphasize that Bogart's 'Gloves' is a gangster.  Take a look at the poster above.  "The underworld's top trigger-guy..." That's 'Gloves'.  Except that the film clearly tries to make him less a gangster and more a businessman. Sure, he orders all the local restaurants to only purchase cheesecake from Papa Miller (a cheesecake protection racket!), and he has a gun.  But he is a nice guy who loves his mother.  The script really wants to de-emphasize the shadiness of 'Gloves' line of work, so that the film can have a happy ending (the Code would not allow a real gangster to survive the ending, no matter how noble he was).  But it's amusing that Warner Brothers is really trying to have their cheesecake and eat it too!
All Through the Night is obviously set in New York City.  But as natives, we were very amused by the film's geography.  The warehouse which 'Gloves' and crew go to investigate is on 733 E. 61st Street, which would be in the middle of the East River.  The art gallery is attached to it (around the corner, we are told), but later on we are told that the gallery is 3 blocks from 5th Avenue.  Huh?  If the warehouse is floating in the center of the East River, that's about 10 blocks from 5th Avenue. 

This film was yet another role that Bogart got because George Raft wasn't interested. (Raft also refused to do The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra).  Olivia de Havilland was at one point listed for the role of Leda.  This TCM article discusses how Gleason and Silver got into the film. Though no characters were in the original script for the actors, Jack Warner told Vincent Sherman to find them parts.  So he did!

We end our discussion for this week with a trailer featuring our remarkable character actors and our star:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Barbara's Love Nest Revisited

As promised, we again return to Illicit, which we've reviewed on two separate occasions (to read those, please visit my reviews from last November - when I saw it in a theatre - and in January of 2013.)  This time, we talked about the film in comparison to Ex-Lady, a remake of this 1931 film.

The plots are very similar; a young woman, deeply in love with a young man, disdains marriage, but is finally convinced to wed the man, and finds her prophesy of unhappiness is coming true.  In both films, we have past lovers who interfere with the marriage.  But there are substantial differences, and those changes mpact the remake.

Illicit makes quick reference to Anne Vincent (Stanwyck)'s reasons for disliking marriage - her parents were divorced.  The only other parental figure we meet is Dick's father, who is a good and kind man.  No spouse is ever mentioned for Mr. Ives, Sr.  As a result, Anne's reluctance to wed is rather unspecific.  Ex-Lady, however, gives us a clearer picture of Helen Bauer (Bette Davis)'s abhorrence to marriage.  In one brief scene, we are shown the horrible marital example Helen has lived with her entire life - her domineering father, and her passive, obviously abused, mother.  Given a graphic example of Helen's family relationship, it's little wonder she despises marriage.  Also, unlike Anne, Helen is extremely career-focused and has a marketable skill.  We have to assume that Anne is independently wealthy - we never actually see her doing anything. 
On the other hand, the reason for the couple's separation is much clearer in Illicit.  Dick and Anne are never with one another. They are always partying, and the intrusion of their exes is much more evident.  Another big factor is Dick's obvious lack of a career or of any kind of ambition (other than carousing).  In Ex-Lady, Don's jealousy of Helen's more successful career seems to starts the downward spiral (though Don was aware of her work ethic before their marriage). 

While Ex-Lady is 12 minutes shorter, there is more depth to the characters.  We never felt that we got enough screen time or development of Ricardo Cortez' Price in Illicit.   Monroe Owsley, however, gets much more of a chance to flesh out the "other man, " Nick, who he portrays as a total swine; he's oily and rather revolting.  When Ricardo Cortez plays the same character, you don't like him, but he's not quite as slimy, though he should be.

All in all, we love Stanwyck, we're not keen on Raymond, but Ex-Lady came out with a slightly higher thumbs up from the group.  That extra bit of character development, and the strengthening of the lead female role made the film a lot more appealing.  Here's a trailer from Illicit

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bette's Love Nest

In our continuing search for interesting pre-code films, we found Ex-Lady (1933) starring Bette Davis.  Ex-Lady is a remake of Illicit (1931), starring Barbara Stanwyck, which we discussed last year.  That the two were related was a nice surprise (thanks, Robert Osborne for the information).

Helen Bauer (Bette Davis) is in love with Don Peterson (Don Peterson); their affair is quite open, much to the disgust of Helen's father (Alphonse Ethier), who effectively disowns her.  Though Helen is convinced that marriage destroys love, Don convinces her that their marriage will work.  However, as Helen's reputation as a  commercial illustrator grows, and Don begins to have problems within their business, the couple's relationship begins to strain.  The intrusion of Nick Malvyn (Monroe Owsley) and Iris Van Hugh (Claire Dodd), former lovers of the Helen and Don, put more pressure on an already threatened marriage.

Davis' Helen is bright and ambitious.  She works for a living, and is good at what she does. Helen doesn't want children, she enjoys working, and she enjoys her freedoms.  Davis imbues Helen with an independence the pervades every scene.  As discussed in this TCM article, this was Davis' first headlining role. She would make her big breakthrough a year later in The Petrified Forest. 
Early in the film, we get a telling image of Helen's youth - a cold, authoritarian father and a passive, downtrodden mother (Bodil Rosing).  With that one scene, we begin to understand Helen's aversion to marriage, and her determination to not become the passive target of male domination.  It's also interesting that the parents are clearly immigrants, setting up a comparison between the Old and New World morals.  It also floats in a negative picture of European culture, in an era of increasing American isolationism. 

In contrast to Helen, Gene Raymond's Don is not exactly the brightest bulb in the pack.   He doesn't seem to know how to run a business - he and Helen go on vacation, but he doesn't leave proper instructions for his staff, and ends up losing accounts.  Helen, on the other hand, who works with Don, gains business, making Don petulant and resentful. 

We are increasingly impressed with Monroe Owsley.  He again plays a total rotter; he makes the character of Nick oily and rather revolting.  And even though this is a relatively short film (67 minutes), he manages to flesh out the character quite a bit. We discussed him at some detail when we looked at Ten Cents a Dance, and refer you there for more information on the brief career of this interesting actor.

In a  New York Times review, we were presented with very negative comments on Davis' lingerie (the costuming was by Orry-Kelly) but positive remarks on the film's screenplay.  We rather liked the costuming and sets (by Jack Okey), and refer you to the trailer below for a quick glimpse into the film.  Next week, we'll take a comparison look at Illicit


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bette Elopes

After Geoffrey Sherwood (Ian Hunter) is jilted by Valentine French (Katharine Alexander), Geoff goes on a bender, and shows up, quite drunk, outside of the church where Valentine is marrying the wealthy John Marland (Colin Clive).  Two police officers are about to arrest Geoff when Miriam Brady (Bette Davis) steps in and hurries Geoff to a restaurant to cool down and sober up.  When Geoff's friends (Hugh Brown and Tony Hewlitt, played by John Eldredge and Phillip Reed) suggest that Miriam can perhaps stay with him and keep him away from the wedding festivities, she agrees to remain with for a few hours.  However, by evening's end, she has become somewhat tipsy and ends up married to Geoff.  Though Miriam is ready to get an immediate divorce, Geoff suggests that marriage might be good for the two of them, and they decide to give it a go.  But, as Geoff's new business begins to become successful, and Valentine gets bored with her husband, the marriage is threatened. 

Thus begins The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935).  This is a very tightly scripted piece.  There's not a lot of fluff, and with a running time of 69 minutes, the story moves quickly from one scene to another. It's an excellent cast, with Davis at her most appealing as the down-to-Earth Miriam.  A working girl in the best sense of the word, Miriam has lost her job sewing labels into clothing.  Her education is fairly limited, but she is happy to learn from her upper-crust husband.  Eager as she is to please Geoff, however, she never loses her moral compass.  In that sense, she is reminiscent of  Madalaine in recently discussed Child of Manhattan. Bette Davis is able to imbue her with a aura of capability and integrity that makes Miriam a strong and attractive character.

We were sorry not to have seen more of Colin Clive, who is wasted really in the role of John Marland.  He only gets a few scenes, and John is a fairly passive role; he is constantly manipulated by his wife, and seems uninterested in anything requires effort.  Regardless, we wanted to see more of him, and see the character better fleshed out.  Clive is probably best known today for his title role in Frankenstein (he was the Dr., NOT the monster!!), but he also played Rochester in the 1934 Jane Eyre and was in the cast of Clive of India, which was the story of one of his own ancestors (no, he didn't play the historical Clive).   Colin Clive started his career on the London stage, and was cast as a replacement for Laurence Olivier in Journey's End, a role he reprised in the film version (with director James Whale, who would later cast him in Frankenstein).  His career was short - he died in 1937, at age 37 from pneumonia, exacerbated by his severe alcoholism.  His wife did not come to the funeral.

The part of  Valentine is ably played by Katharine Alexander.  We've seen her before in the film In Name Only as Carole Lombard's sister, Laura, and as Claude Rains' favorite nurse in Now Voyager.  She gives Valentine a supercilious air, which is effective in playing up the differences in upbringing between her and Miriam.  It also makes her eminently unlikeable.  Thus, it's hard to envision why two men are so passionate about her.  She's cold, and cruel.  She's also no beauty (though she does have a phenomenal wardrobe).  Alexander had a interesting end to her career.  As film roles began to diminish, she went to London, where she appeared in the Paul Muni production of Death of a Salesman, playing Linda Loman.   Her reviews were outstanding, so Alexander decided to go out on a high note, and retired after  her success there. She died in 1981, at the age of 83, 

Finally, there is my personal favorite character in the film, Mrs. Martin, as played by the always wonderful Alison Skipworth (Mrs. Martin).  We are familiar with her from previously viewed films, such as Devotion and The Gorgeous Hussy.   In this film, she plays a former showgirl (who "almost" prevented the birth of Tony Hewlitt.  Seems his father proposed to her).  She owns the building in which Miriam has an apartment, and becomes a second-mother and tutor to the girl.  Though Mrs. Martin is, as we learn, quite sassy, she is tactful as she tries to instruct Miriam in correct grammar and behavior.  But when Marian finally confronts Valentine in a restaurant, it is Mrs. Martin that we watch.  Her enjoyment of the situation is very funny. 

We leave you with a reference to an excellent article from TCM, the film's trailer, and brief bit of trivia about the title.  Why is Miriam from 10th Avenue? Well, in 1935, the part of 10th Avenue on which she lived was called "Hell's Kitchen", and was best known for the its poor, working-class - and tough - inhabitants.