Broadway Bad (1933)

BROADWAY BAD (1933)

I just finished reading the brand-new book, The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez by Dan Van Neste and loved every single page.  It’s laid out in a well-thought-out format, first with Cortez’s life story followed by a detailed fact-filled summary and review of each individual film he ever worked on.

I knew little about Ricardo Cortez’s personal life other than that he was born Jack Krantz and came from a poor Jewish New York family.  His father, Morris, came from a middle class Orthodox Hungarian/Austrian family, and, following his older brother, emigrated to America when he was 17 in 1894.  He learned a typical Jewish trade, becoming a shirt maker or tailor.  Ricardo’s mother, Sarah, was born in Hungary although her parents were Austrian.  She was better educated and more worldly than her husband.  Ricardo was their first-born and four other siblings followed.

Of those siblings, Bernie Kranze worked for many years in the New York sales departments of various movie studios, including RKO and United Artists.  He also became notable as one of the executives and chief proponents of Cinerama, the widescreen process originally utilizing three cameras and three projectors synchronized to project a single image onto a curved screen.

His other brother, Stanley, also changed his last name from Krantz to Cortez, and we know him today as the famous cinematographer who worked on such films as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949), The Night of the Hunter (1955) and The Three Faces of Eve (1957).

Cortez was married three times and his first wife was silent film star Alma Rubens.  I have only ever seen two films that she had bit parts in, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish and Intolerance, both made in 1916, but would love to see her in a lead role.  The scandalous secret that Alma hid from most everyone, including her new husband, Ricardo, was that she was addicted to narcotics.  Because of this addiction, she died quite young, at the age of 33, less than one month shy of her 34th birthday.  She wrote an autobiography, Alma Rubens, Silent Snowbird, which was first published and serialized in the New York Daily Mirror in 1931, then went on to be published as a book in 2006.  Apparently, what she wrote about her marriage to Ricardo wasn’t all factual, but nevertheless I’m sure it would sure make an interesting read.

His two other marriages were to non-actors.  His second was to socialite Christine Coniff Lee, married in 1934, divorced in 1940, followed by her tragic death by fire.  His last marriage to RKO secretary Margarette Bell was successful, lasting from 1950 until his death at the age of 76 in 1977.

So, after screening a number of Cortez’s films, I decided this short, sweet and somewhat sassily-scripted pre-Code, Broadway Bad, would be a fun film to screen this evening.  Apparently at some point the film was retitled Her Reputation, which you will notice in one of the images below.  Although that might instantly explain Joan Blondell’s character’s dilemma, I think Broadway Bad is much more suitable for the glamour we all expect from early 30s films, especially when they depict the era of Art Deco New York.

What’s rather interesting to me is what the critics think of Blondell’s character.  Without telling you why, I think she just took the bulls by the horn after others let her down.  In fact, it appears to me she kept her “values” intact throughout, since people seem to care so much about her supposed cold-bloodiness.  But of course if she were Allen Vincent, who plays Bob North in the film, no one would care, this would all be a moot point and…hey, wait, no one does care!

So, along with the bodacious Blondell, a flippant Ginger as Flip Daly, Mr. Shark Teeth, as I like to call Cortez, and scantily clad females throwing around snarky banter, what more could you ask for!

Caren

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Production Company: Fox Film Corporation.  Produced by Sol M. Wurtzel.  Directed by Sidney Lanfield.  Story by William R. Lipman and A. Washington Pezet.  Script by Maude Fulton and Arthur Kober.  Cinematography by George Barnes.  Art Decoration by Gordon Wiles.  Costume design by Earl Luick.  Film editing by Paul Weatherwax.  Songs Forget the Past with words and music by Sidney Mitchell and Harry Akst; Little Man with words and music by L. Wolfe Gilbert and James F. Hanley.  Music by Hugo Friedhofer and Arthur Lange.  Released:  February 24, 1933.  61 minutes.

Joan Blondell……………………………………………………… Tony Landers
Ricardo Cortez……………………………………………………. Craig Cutting
Ginger Rogers………………………………………………………….. Flip Daly
Adrienne Ames……………………………………………………………. Aileen
Allen Vincent………………………………………………………….. Bob North
Francis McDonald……………………………………………….. Charley Davis
Frederick Burton……………………………………………… Robert North, Sr.
Ronnie Cosby…………………………………………………………… Big Fella
Donald Crisp……………………………………………………………….. Darrall

A Successful Choras Girl

The new picture at the Palace is mediocre enough to persuade the disinterested visitor that the title would be a more accurate description if read backward. For Broadway is a more interesting street, and its habitués have a talent for doing more interesting things, than the pallid Broadway described in “Broadway Bad.” As a matter of record, the presence of a mysterious baby in the plot, for whom Joan Blondell as Tony Landers is supposed to feel an emotion which the audience finds it difficult to share, is no great help either.

Tony, as the story gets under way, is a chorus girl of exemplary character who spurns the sinful advances of Craig Cutting, a wealthy amateur showman played by Ricardo Cortez. But she does marry a young scion of wealth who shortly thereafter divorces her on the unjust grounds that she has been too friendly with Cutting. Having been punished for her innocence, the girl now determines to reap the harvest of the lurid publicity she has received during the divorce proceedings. The result is that she becomes a name to conjure with in the theatre. She saves her money, preserves a cynical outlook toward Mr. Cutting and her other associates and goes away every week-end to visit a baby which has been born to her on some indefinite earlier occasion. When the family of her former husband learn of the baby’s existence and try to take it away from her. Tony becomes the central figure in one of those court trials which only surprise the characters in the story.

Mr. Cortez is the most amusing of the players as the pleasantly cynical playboy with the evil reputation. Miss Blondell suffers the double burden of a foolish part and uncomplimentary photography. Ginger Rogers appears as a chorus girl with a sentimental streak.

The New York Times Review, A.D.S., March 6, 1933

Nothing outstanding in this repetition of the undeserved reputation theme, but it’s a well-made picture with some snappy backstage stuff for the men and the mother-love appeal for the women.  Maybe the limb display is a little too strong in a few spots for the sticks, but Broadway Bad ought to keep the blushes off the balance sheet.  Not a deluxe first-run, but good in other houses in the first division and pretty certain in the second flight.

Photography is good and the sound is average, with clever direction and fair acting average.

It’s the story of the Broadway chorus girl who gets an undeserved reputation when her souse-marriage husband jumps at conclusions and divorces her.  She lets the press agent do his worst, and her synthetic reputation lifts her from the chords to the lights.  Husband, who is more or less of a cad, abetted by a rich dad, seeks to take her child from her on the plea that she is unfit to raise the boy, but she boomerangs the case by pretending that the child is that of the theatrical angel (sic) who was named co-respondent.  So she turns to the angel (sic) and the story ends on the note of a marriage to him.

Plot is pretty thin, with the adapters not getting around to suspense until near the close, but before that the building of the girl’s stage stuff with the story opening in a sleeper with the show making a jump.

Practically all of the acting falls to Joan Blondell and Ricardo Cortez, both coming through with strong contributions.  Miss Blondell, in particular, makes her chorus girl generally believable and plays with a note of sincerity.  No one pulls the story out of shape, but no one gets through with a score.  Ginger Rogers comes closest to attracting secondary attention.

Variety by Chic., March 7, 1933

The Subdued Blondell

Broadway Bad gives Joan Blondell a lot of fine clothes, a limousine, money, an apartment at 900 Park Avenue, even a baby—but what’s the good of all that luxury when it doesn’t understand her?

Miss Blondell submits to the expensive trappings, for she is an amiable girl, but they smother her personality, dim her own precious sparkle, change her into just another routine heroine who, however, hasn’t the technical good looks to conquer so stereotyped a role.  Her briskness is gone, she even loses a good measure of her likableness.  She’s in the wrong environment and she knows it; when Miss Blondell is uncomfortable and depressed in a picture, something’s very much the matter.

Broadway Bad is so insensitive to the real Blondell that it starts her off as an innocent country child, finishes her as a hard-headed, cold-blooded, financially successful trollop.  Mechanically she goes through the motions of each phase, achieving the illusion of neither.  Her sense of humor, her sincerity atrophy with no opportunity for expression.  The baby who finally clambers into the story completes the rout, for Miss Blondell, poor put-upon creature, has to call him ‘Big Fella.’

Miss Blondell must not let herself get so discouraged, however, that she neglects to keep her hair at its part as blonde as it is at the ends.  She should have rebelled t the utter lack of synchronization of the voice dubbed in when she is supposed to be singing.  Since grand clothes were her only reward for suppressing her personality, she should have refused the white ermine jacket with its shawl collar criss-crossed with brown.  Ginger Rogers, prettier than ever, more natural and spontaneous, alone escapes stifling at the clumsy hands of Broadway Bad.

Variety: Going Places by Cecelia Ager, March 7, 1933

With Joan Blondell and Ricardo Cortez for the marquee, and Ginger Rogers and Adrienne Ames in support, and a combination of gold-digging show girls, penthouses and mother love for story theme and catch lines, Broadway Bad contrives to be moderately entertaining, reasonably well constructed.  Its appeal necessarily is more definitely to the feminine patronage, with an emphasis on the behind-the-scenes show angle, the broad-mindedness of Cortez important as a possible means of attracting a sizable representation of the other sex.

This must rank as regular run film fare, having but little to bring it above the average in construction, performance, story or development.  The work of Miss Blondell and Cortez merits attention, Cortez being particularly smooth in his performance.  Where Miss Blondell has her friends her name will of itself attract a goodly portion of patronage.

Attracting the attention of Cortez, millionaire and show backer, she is given a chorus opportunity.  In a hasty affair, she marries Allen Vincent, wealthy college boy, who later misunderstands the attention of Cortez, not knowing she is married, pays to her.  A divorce is obtained, Miss Blondell goes in for gild-digging on a large and successful scale, while the notoriety resulting from the divorce brings her name to top lights on the musical stage.

Upon her hidden child she lavishes all the affection possible, until Vincent, in a crooked deal, and in need of money, attempts blackmail, tries to take the child from her by legal means on the grounds of unfitness, when she becomes the fighting mother, about to be bereft of her offspring.  In court the judge is about to award the child to its father, Vincent, when she declares it not his but that of Cortez, a misrepresentation in which Cortez, seated among the spectators, acquiesces with a nod.  Case dismissed, and the rest is left to the imagination.

Miss Blondell is here seen in a somewhat different role than her audience expects for her, that of a mother, with the gold-digging pursued relentlessly only as a means of providing the best of care for the child.  This becomes an angle worth capitalizing in selling the picture.  There is nothing here that could interest children.

Motion Picture Herald: Showmen’s Review by Aaronson, New York, March 11, 1933
(This department deals with new product from the point of view of the exhibitor who is to purvey it to his own public)

Your reviewer cannot help thinking that Mae West is more suited to the leading feminine role in Broadway Bad than is Joan Blondell, who was loaned by Warners for that purpose.

It is the story of a girl who comes to Broadway with high hopes and not much experience.  Before she knows what it is all about she is the victim of a wild party that ends in a college boy husband, and another affair with a more mature playboy who is not matrimonially inclined.

Taking it on the chin, as you learn to do on Broadway, Joan sets out to get by on her own.  In spite of her disillusionment and reputation, she does it, and having done it, picks out her own husband and lover, and figuratively tells Broadway where to get off.

See it by all means….But remember that it’s too well seasoned for conservative tastes.

The New Movie Magazine: New Pictures You Should See—and Why, March 1933

Trolley Jazzed

For Broadway Bad the Palace, New York, used a display in the lobby, extending from side to side showing a section of a street, presumably Broadway itself.  To jazz things up a trolley car ran back and forth on an endless belt, a recess at each end of the sign permitting the fan to turn around out of sight.

Where this idea is used, there should be only one point of contact between the car and the belt, to permit it to round the pulley at either end.  Round belting is best.  Where there is a sufficient depth it would be better to use a belt with several cars which are returned through a tunnel masked by the display of the title and sales copy.  Belts running in opposite directions will give more life to the display, but a lot of people were stopped by the single car in the Palace display.

Variety: Exploitation by Epes W. Sargent, March 21, 1933

Produced in 1932 for an early 1933 release, Broadway Bad starts off with a pre-Code bang, with a long sequence of lingerie, legs and lechery, and much snappy dialogue.  Thereafter its mood changes somewhat, and it turns at the half-way mark into something of a soap opera, vaguely akin to the Cary Grant-Loretta Young Born to Be Bad.  Nevertheless, pre-Code touches and lines remain, as in Ginger Rogers’ carefully knocking wood when reminded of the possibility of becoming a mother.  And the shot of the newspaper scurrying away in the wind, only to be blocked and then folding up in submission, is as novel a symbol for seduction (in this case, Blondell’s) as we’ve ever seen.  Nicely mounted and photographed, and with some fascinating Times Square shots (with Murnau’s Four Devils prominently on view) it’s a most enjoyable little film today, though one can understand its negative reviews at the time, since it was hardly much competition for the big first-runs that surrounded it when it opened in New York.  Incidentally, Victor Jory is quite prominent in the original casts but does not appear to be in the film; possibly his role (or scene) was a casualty of getting the film down to a tight 59 minutes.  This 16mm print, possibly the only one extant for the film has never been shown on tv., was made from Fox’s preservation 35mm., so has not of itself been cut and relates exactly to the original release version.

The New School Film Series 63: Program #8 by William K. Everson, December 8, 1989

Chorus girl Antoinette “Tony Landers is the subject of gossip that the wealthy back of the show has given his mistress the boot in Tony’s favor.  While it might be true that the boss has designs on her (he’s been the secret source of funding behind the “dividend” checks Tony has been receiving—that she thought were coming from bonds left her by her mother), Tony has fallen for, and secretly married Bob, a college boy for a wealthy family.

When the jilted mistress reveals the boss’s secret financial support of Tony and implies that Tony knew where the money was coming from and was more than just another employee, Bob believes it all, becomes abusive, and sues for divorce.

Seeing Bob’s meanness and lack of trust, and also noticing the effect the publicity is having on her show biz potential, Tony decides not to deny any of the allegations and ride the news stories to stardom.

Although it looks like it should be a Warners picture, this is a Fox Production.  In 1935 the Production Code Administration asked Fox to withdraw its application to reissue Broadway Bad, as its content was no longer acceptable under the Code—meaning that this is a Pre-Code film for more reasons than its original release date!

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Joan Blondell spent eight years under contract with Warner Brothers which is where she cemented her stardom with numberous best friends, chorus girls with hearts of gold and the occasional leading lady roles.  Segueing gracefully into character roles, Blondell found regular work in films and later television, working up until her death in 1979.

In addition to being an early screen Perry Mason, Ricardo Cortez was the first Sam Spade in the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon (later retitled Dangerous Female to avoid confusion with the more popular Bogart version.)  Cortez started in silent era, changing his name from Jacob Krantz to become a candidate for “Latin lover” in the Valentino mold.  Another actor who transitioned successfully to character and supporting roles, Cortez withdrew from acting in the Fifties and became a successful stock broker.

Ginger Rogers went on to greater things working with a partner who, according to his audition report “Can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.”

The New York Times critic was underwhelmed, writing that “Broadway is a more interesting street, and its habitués have a talent for doing more interesting things, than the pallid Broadway described in “Broadway Bad.”  But Variety found more that was worthwhile: “It’s a well made picture with some snappy backstage stuff for the men and mother-love appeal for the women.  Maybe the limb display is a little too strong in a few spots for the sticks.  Practically all of the acting falls to Joan Blondell and Ricardo Cortez, both coming through with strong contributions.  Miss Blondell, in particular, makes her chorus girl generally believable and plays with a note of sincerity.”

Cinevent 36 from May 28 to May 31, 2004, by Steven E. Haynes,

Blondell is Phony Baloney as a Girl Named Tony

I saw Broadway Bad in May of this year, at the Cinevent festival in Columbus, Ohio. If I hadn’t been attending the festival anyway, I would never have bothered to see this movie, as it stars an actress whom I loathe: Joan Blondell. Always cheap, vulgar, squawk-voiced and unattractive, Blondell is in her usual mode here. She manages to look a bit different this time round, but only because this movie was made at Fox (Blondell’s usual studio was Warners) … so the lighting, costumes, hairstyles and general ambiance are a change of pace for her. The storyline – concerned with morals, reputations and sexual hypocrisy – is something more typical of Warners than of Fox.

Blondell plays a chorus girl named Tony. (Is that short for Anthony?) {I don’t think Ms. MacIntyre read her Cinevent notes above. – Caren} In the 1930s, chorus girls were generally perceived to be of low virtue (and some of them certainly did fit that description), but we’re given to understand that Tony is a good girl for all her brassy behaviour. She gets a proposition from playboy Craig, who is wealthy in his own right, but she turns him down to marry Bob, who’s even wealthier but only because he’s the scion of a prominent family.

Apparently, Tony is genuinely in love with Bob (rather than gold-digging his folks’ money), yet she remains friendly with Craig. When Bob catches Tony with Craig once too often, he divorces her. In order to obtain the divorce, Bob’s father’s lawyers ruin Tony’s reputation.

As she’s now been branded as a bad girl, Tony decides to cash in on it. She straight away becomes a Broadway star by trading in on the public perception that she’s a slut. (Oh, so that’s how it works!)

I forgot to tell you about the baby … I mean, the scriptwriters forgot to tell you about the baby. All through this argle-bargle, Tony has secretly had a baby. Apparently, she was with some other man before Craig and Bob. We never do find out who this man was, nor the precise nature of Tony’s relationship with him – were they married? is he dead? – nor anything that would enable us to decide how much of our sympathy Tony deserves.  {Methinks Ms. MacIntyre didn’t quite get the story! – Caren}

Bob’s rich parents find out about the baby, and they assume that Bob is the father. They sue Tony to acquire custody of the child. The courtroom scenes degenerate into soap opera. Expect some big revelations that you really won’t care about.

Ginger Rogers is quite good as Tony’s friend, a chorus girl named Flip Daly. (She must be an acrobat.) I would rather have seen this movie with Ginger Rogers in the lead, as she was vastly more talented than Blondell and certainly easier on the eyes and the eardrums than Blondell ever was. I’ll rate Broadway Bad 4 out of 10, mostly for its proficient photography and efficient direction by the underrated Sidney Lanfield. There are some good supporting performances. Rogers is excellent, as is Ricardo Cortez as the semi-caddish Craig. (Over the course of his career, Cortez made an interesting and graceful transition from sheik-ish leading man to cynical hero to amoral cad to outright villain: at this point, he was in his early cad phase.) {Again, Ms. MacIntrye must not be aware of his insane, over-the-top villainous gangster in the 1931 Bad Company or the equally vicious sociopath he plays in Flesh in 1932 – Caren}  Joan Blondell, as usual, stinks. The lighting on the Fox sound stages doesn’t conceal Blondell’s facial moles as well as the lighting at Warners did.  {I wonder if Ms. MacIntyre still attends Cinevent—I’ll keep an eye open for her when I attend in 2018! – Caren}

IMDb Review by F Gwynplaine MacIntyre (Minffordd, North Wales), 9 August 2004

George Barnes pulled strings at Fox, where he was currently working, and got Joan the starring role in the sudsy, off-color Broadway Bad, a movie he was assigned to photograph late in 1932.  At the same time, his wife finally agreed to a divorce.  On her way out, she caustically wished his new love all the luck in the world.  {The marriage ended when their son, Norman, was an infant, and he was raised believing he was Dick Powell’s biological son until that marriage ended in divorce. – Caren}

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The matter of Norman’s paternity was hidden barely out of eyesight.  Joan had done everything to destroy household traces of George Barnes, so as to spare her son a story he was too young to understand.  Norman was never shown his well-hidden baby pictures with parents Joan and George.  Dick had for all purposes been the boy’s father, and for years Joan felt no more needed to be said.  But now her allegiance to Dick was gone, and she sought a way to soothe the transition of divorce for her children.  In one of the great miscalculations of her life, she told Norman the truth of his father on the eve of second divorce.  She believed telling Norman that Dick was not his “real” father would soften the pain of a split home.  This decision was a tactical catastrophe.  “The lack of information on good parenting at the time was huge,” said Norman years later.  “I had no idea until that moment.  She was trying to be gentle but that line of reasoning is so distorted, that a child would be comforted by the fact that the divorce doesn’t involve a biological father.  I had little or no awareness that my mother was married once before.  My father was my father.”

Norman was losing now only a family but an identity.  It was no comfort to learn that George Barnes gave him away.  Why had he never seen him?  Barnes reached the height of his career during Norman’s childhood, winning an Oscar for his great work on Rebecca.  He remarried and had two other children, but none of this had ever been shared with his son.  It all came to light when Norman was nine, too young to seek love and understanding from a stranger.  Norman, in effect, lost two fathers simultaneously, the one he loved and the one he did not know he had.

Joan’s disclosure was a grotesque echo of the plot of her 1933 movie Broadway Bad and her nostrum for divorce.

Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy (2007)

On December 1, Fox informed Cortez, instead of portraying an underworld boss in The Giant Swing, he would replace Ralph Morgan as a benevolent Wall Street financier in the minor league romantic drama, Broadway Bad, co-starring Joan Blondell.  Filmed in December 1932, the 59-minute program picture contained expert performances and competent direction for Sidney Lanfield, but the positives were outweighted by a tired mother-love plot and a substandard script.

While working on Broadway Bad, Cortez began preparing to shoot two Paramount films.  Besides Bedfellows to costar Nancy Carroll, Paramount chose Cortez to replace George Raft as a wisecracking, womanizing surgeon in the criminal division of an Emergency hospital in the melodramatic, Police Surgeon.

Reviews:

Variety: “Nothing outstanding in this repetition of the undeserved reputation, but it’s a well-made picture with some snappy backstage stuff for the men and the mother-love appeal for the women…  Practically all of the acting falls to Joan Blondell and Ricardo Cortez both coming through with strong contributions.”

Production Notes, Interesting Facts and Trivia:

  1. According to a Hollywood Citizen News item, Hamilton McFadden was originally slated to direct Broadway Bad, with Joan Bennett and John Boles to star.
  2. Some scenes were shot at the Yale University football stadium.
  3. Leading lady Blondell married the film’s cameraman, George Barnes, in 1933.

The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez by Dan Van Neste, (2017)

Blogs written by other film enthusiasts:
Allure by Operator 99, January 23, 2010
Gingerology…The beautiful science of Miss Ginger Rogers! by VKMfanHuey, July 31, 2011

Joining me for the evening were Adam, Allen, Christiane, Ronda and Scott.

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