Short Reviews 2014

December 28, 2014
Scrooge (1)                           Christmas Carol (1)                          Scrooge aka Christmas Carol (1)

No matter what your personal religious beliefs are, this is the time to watch holiday movies.  My favourite is SCROOGE aka A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, starring Alastair Sim.  I can’t imagine there is anyone out there who doesn’t know the story either by having read the Dickens tale or seeing one of several film versions, but in case there is, it’s not the story of Jesus—he is never mentioned—but it is the story of good will towards other humans.  I must have watched it a gazillion times and I never tire of it.  The cast is wonderful and Alastair Sim is such an incredible actor.  You can see him subtly change from a miserable, miserly, sarcastic, horrible creature when he finally discovers that because of thoughts and choices he’s made in his life, he hid the decent, sensitive person he really was deep, deep down in his being.  There is really no other version prior to this one that touches me with the same sense of pathos and sadness mixed with sweetness.

Kathleen Harrison and Alastair Sim

Kathleen Harrison and Alastair Sim

I can’t speak to any newer film versions, but in the past I had seen the 1935 and 1938 films and although Sir Seymour Hicks’s Ebenezer Scrooge comes close to Sim’s, Reginald Owen’s Scrooge is horrifically awful. It may not even be his fault.  It’s a terrible Hollywood version of the classic English story directed by Edwin L. Marin, and I think he must be the one to blame.  There is nothing nuanced about Scrooge.  He’s either miserable or jolly.  There is no personal progression or discovery.  And when he’s “cured” of his miserableness, he’s just unbearably happy.  Get him away from me!  And who at MGM decided to cast Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit?  He’s too well-fed to play the role.  I suppose it was a nice gimmick to have the real-life married couple Gene and Kathleen Lockhart play the married Cratchits, but not enough of one to make people care about seeing the film.  A beautiful Ann Rutherford did, at least, make seeing Scrooge’s Christmas Pasts more enticing than the other two ho-hum ghosts.  Not like the 1951 film, where, no matter what age I become, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come played by C. Konarski is always scary and creepy.

Scrooge Meets the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Scrooge Meets the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

I don’t want to have to watch the 1938 film to remind myself of more disagreeable things to write about, but I also remember not feeling too sorry for Tiny Tim who was played annoyingly by Terry Kilburn.  Glyn Dearman, who played him in the 1951 film, was thoughtful enough of an actor not to appear cloyingly sweet.

Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim

Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim

Also in the cast are actors I have grown to learn about and love:  Kathleen Harrison as Scrooge’s maid Mrs. Dilber, Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit, Hermione Baddeley as Mrs. Cratchit, George Cole (Sim’s adopted son, who surprisingly resembles him) as the Young Ebenezer Scrooge, Ernest Thesiger as The Undertaker and Patrick Macnee (from The Avengers fame) as the Young Jacob Marley.  There is not a false note in the cast or the film.  It’s just a delight.

One little scene that struck me as typically part of the class system was when Ebenezer calls on his “penniless” nephew and his wife on Christmas and the door is answered by their maid (Theresa Derrington).  Even poor, if you are of a certain class, I suppose, one would still have servants.  She didn’t even seem put out that she was spending Christmas working for her employers.  But the scenes that follow this, are priceless and oh so lovely.

Here are some images from the three versions.  Enjoy!

SCROOGE (1935)

Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge

Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge

Oscar Asche as the Spirit of Christmas Present

Oscar Asche as the Spirit of Christmas Present

Scrooge (6)

Scrooge (4)

Scrooge (3)

Scrooge with Donald Calthrop as Bob Cratchit

Scrooge with Donald Calthrop as Bob Cratchit

The Cratchit Family

The Cratchit Family

Scrooge (9)

A CHIRSTMAS CAROL (1938)

The Ghost of Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll) and Scrooge (Reginald Owen)

The Ghost of Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll) and Scrooge (Reginald Owen)

The Spirit of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford)

The Spirit of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford)

Christmas Carol (3)

The Spirit of Christmas Present (Lionel Braham)

The Spirit of Christmas Present (Lionel Braham)

The Spirit of Christmas Future (D'Arcy Corrigan)

The Spirit of Christmas Future (D’Arcy Corrigan)

The Cratchits (Kathleen and Gene Lockhart)

The Cratchits (Kathleen and Gene Lockhart)

The Cratchit Family

The Cratchit Family

We're all friends now

We’re all friends now

 

I'm a Happy Man with my Goose

I’m a Happy Man with my Goose

SCROOGE aka A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)

Scrooge aka Christmas Carol (8)

The Cratchit Family

The Cratchit Family

The Spirit of Christmas Present (Francis De Wolff)

The Spirit of Christmas Present (Francis De Wolff)

Scrooge aka Christmas Carol (10)

The Pawning of Scrooge's Possessions

The Pawning of Scrooge’s Possessions

Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) and Scrooge

Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) and Scrooge

Scrooge aka Christmas Carol (11)

Scrooge aka Christmas Carol (7)

All the best to everyone and wishing you a wonderful new year!  Caren

December 11, 2014
Watched THE GREAT GATSBY (1949), directed by Elliott Nugent with Alan Ladd, Elisha Cook Jr. and Shelley Winters.

The 2013 film version with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby piqued my interest to take a second look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel which I originally read in, I think, grade 7.  I had mixed feelings about the latest film.  I kind of liked the Art Deco 20s combined with late 80s New Wave, filmed in part like a wildly coloured music video but didn’t like that I knew that this really wasn’t the right feel for depicting the era the story takes place in.  (As a matter of fact, neither do the party scenes in the 1949 film depict the partying that went on in the 20s, but that probably has more to do with censorship than artistic licence.  But I digress.)

A 1920s Flapper

A 1920s Flapper

I also had a memory of the 1949 film which I had seen twice before, especially one particular sequence where we learn about Jay Gatsby’s youth, spent on a yacht which sails around the world three times in just as many years.  So, since my daughter had just finished studying the book in school, I thought it would be a perfect time to pull out my less-than-sharp copy of the film.  (This was also a strategy to get my daughter to watch a movie in black and white.)

Gatsby and Daisy

Gatsby and Daisy

Hollywood decided to add a little prefix onto the film with Nick Carraway, the story’s narrative author (Macdonald Carey) and Jordan Baker (Ruth Hussey) visiting Gatsby’s grave twenty years after the story takes place, in contemporary time.  Nick is the only sympathetic character in the novel, and remains so in the film, but it’s decided by the screenwriters that be, that Jordan was to be changed into a caring, sensitive person, which she surely wasn’t.  This type of introduction to the story lets viewers know right off the bat the inevitable ending for these three characters.

Gatsby and Wilson

Gatsby and Wilson

When the story begins, it pretty much follows the novel with Nick moving into a rented cottage next to Gatsby’s mansion and being invited to one of his many parties.  But it expands on the sequence I mentioned above with regard to Gatsby’s teenage years.  I find I can be fixated on ages of characters and the actors who play them.  In the film, Gatsby’s lifespan was 1896-1928 which means he died at the age of 32, and right away that poses a discrepancy with the novel.   The book was published in 1925 and the story takes place in the summer of 1922.  Alan Ladd, 36 at the time of the film, looks the part of the handsome Jay Gatsby, but doesn’t convince us when he’s supposed to be a teenager.  Jimmy Gatz, at the age of 17 is befriended by multi-millionaire Dan Cody (Henry Hull) who lives on his yacht with his beautiful wife Ella (Carole Mathews).  Cody takes the young Jay on as his second mate and teaches him how to sail the seas while both Ella and Jay lust after each other to the amusement of her older husband.  He is constantly reminding Gatsby, with Ella in earshot, that a man with the bucks always wins the beautiful woman over a man possessing youth and virility.  When Cody finally expires, he lets Jay know that he thought of him as a son and has left him a legacy of $25,000.  But when Gatsby spurns Ella, she threatens that she will fight his inheritance if he doesn’t give in to her sexual demands.  Jay decides to stay honourable to the memory of Cody and eventually the courts settle $5,000 on him.

In the novel, this part of Gatsby’s history is there, but different.  He lived with Cody for five years and sailed around the Continent three times.  It explains why Gatsby dislikes drinking (Cody was an alcoholic); Ella wasn’t Cody’s wife but Ella Kaye, a scheming newspaper woman who, it is implied, brought about Cody’s early death and inherited all of his millions.  Gatsby doesn’t get one cent of the $25,000.

So Hollywood again changed the relationship amongst the three of them.  In the novel, there’s never any mention of the teenage Jay being romantically interested in Ella, and certainly the worldly, older Ella wouldn’t have been at all interested in this penniless boy.  And we also learn that Gatsby already has a lot of experience with (and contempt for) women even prior to meeting Cody (which could explain his interest in Ella the wife if we’re mixing the two mediums.)  So when he meets Daisy, we learn he’s refreshed by her naiveté and “niceness”.

Flashback to the early romance of Gatsby and Daisy

Flashback to the early romance of Gatsby and Daisy

But what is there about Daisy that has Gatsby so obsessed, especially in the films?  Although it’s not always understandable to know what one person sees in another, maybe it’s just Daisy’s wealth, flightiness and ordinariness that enchants him.  All the actresses who have played Daisy (Betty Field) in this and the films that follow (Mia Farrow and Carey Mulligan) are well cast, able to play bland and boring to perfection.

Jordan and Daisy, hot and lazy

Jordan and Daisy, hot and lazy

And then there’s the wonderful performance of Shelley Winters as the volatile Myrtle Wilson, the dull garage mechanics wife.  I loved her in this small but pivotal role.  She was truly attractive, sexy and brassy and for once she didn’t play Myrtle as the snivelling, whinny character I so often saw her do.

Great Gatsby (1)

In the novel, Jordan Baker’s character is more interesting and you understand the push and pull Nick feels towards her.  She’s intelligent and ambitious, but she’s also self-centred in a ruthless sort of way.  And this is what eventually turns Nick off, and Jordan ends up fading away after a final phone conversation although he runs into her one last time right at the end of the novel.  In the film, we’re forced to know from the beginning that the attraction blossoms into marriage even though Jordan is sexist and immoral when she says the one thing that I would have thought should have doomed her in Nick’s eyes.  After the fatal accident, when Tom (Barry Sullivan), Daisy, Jordan and Nick discuss how Gatsby said he would take the blame for Myrtle’s death, Nick can’t believe that Daisy would let Gatsby cover for her.  And Jordan can’t imagine Nick wanting Daisy to go through, well, all the things someone has to go through if they’ve killed somebody in a hit and run.  Why does she thinks it’s okay if Gatsby does, especially because he didn’t do it?!   Oh, maybe because he’s a man, a man with a past and therefore can handle it?  Does the audience buy this?  Gatsby overhears all of this and finally comes to the realization that Daisy is fickle and self-serving even though he doesn’t know that she wakes up the next morning with second thoughts and insists Tom ring until he reaches Gatsby by phone to warn him that Wilson (Harry Da Silva) is on the rampage looking to revenge the death of his wife. Here is where Gatsby tells Nick that he is through with Daisy and is going to close down the house and take the rap for the hit and run.  And here’s Hollywood censorship kicking in.  That since he really is a gangster who got all his wealth through illegal means, he deserves to go to jail.  Teach young men, like himself, the young Jimmy Gatz, that crime doesn’t pay.  So now, this ideal has changed from saving Daisy to getting his comeuppance for being a “bad” person.

Nick and Gatsby

Nick and Gatsby

But none of this happens in the novel.  Everything is different from the accident onwards.  Daisy is driving and never stops the vehicle as she does in the film.  Gatsby wants to protect her.  He does wait outside her home most of the night but doesn’t know what Nick knows—that Tom and Daisy are in the comfort of their kitchen discussing the accident in an intimate fashion. We never really learn what Gatsby and Daisy talked about right after the accident in the book but when he doesn’t hear from her by the next afternoon, we are to understand that Gatsby believes the relationship is over.  And this is where Nick learns about Gatsby’s past on Cody’s yacht, the meeting and love affair with Daisy and his time with the army.  So now I’m back to ages and years.  If Gatsby was 17 when he met Cody and left him when he died, penniless at 22, then went into the army shortly after, how old was he when he met Daisy in 1917 when she was 18?  (Daisy marries Tom in 1919.)  Gatsby goes to Oxford in 1919 for five months, leaves the army then meets Wolfsheim, the gangster who starts him in the business and now has known Gatsby for “several years”.  So how can all this have happened by the summer of 1922?  I know this is fiction, but it’s still an interesting mystery to me, so if some Gatsby scholar has any thoughts on this, please fill me in.  Tell me that I figured the time-span incorrectly and explain.  Or is “What is really true about Jay Gatsby” the mystery?

Daisy asking Tom to ring Gatsby

Daisy asking Tom to ring Gatsby

As for the very ending, once Gatsby is killed by Wilson, there’s only one remaining shot with only Nick and Jordan at the burial.  But there’s quite a bit more in the novel.  Wilson commits suicide, Tom and Daisy have left town before Gatsby’s body hits the ground, Myrtle’s sister never reveals the truth to the police, and Klipspringer but not Myron Lupus is mentioned.

Great Gatsby (5)

Okay, Klipspringer was a real character in the novel and was played by Elisha Cook Jr.  Myron Lupus (Ed Begley) was the non-Jewish sounding name for the character Meyer Wolfsheim.  Neither—and they were closer than anyone else to Gatsby—attended his funeral.

Klipspringer, Gatsby and Myron Lupus

Klipspringer, Gatsby and Myron Lupus

And lastly, it was interesting to note that even though it was acceptable by censorship standards of the day that Daisy’s husband Tom was having an affair with Myrtle (heck, when isn’t it acceptable?), it was also clear to the audience (as well as Jordan and Nick) that she began her own affair with Gatsby.  And both knew what the other was up to.

Jordan, Nick, Daisy and Gatsby

Jordan, Nick, Daisy and Gatsby

The book is a gem, and the 1949 film’s casting of Alan Ladd makes it interesting when you know that he came from as difficult a background as the Great Gatsby.

November 15, 2014
Watched PARTY HUSBAND (1931), directed by Clarence Badger with Dorothy Mackaill and James Rennie.

James Rennie had just made ILLICIT with Barbara Stanwyck (which I screened for film friends January 21, 2012) when he next went into a very similar role for PARTY HUSBAND.  In both films, he plays a weak husband who has a strong wife.  I have to say that I love the women in these films.  They are fighting hard against an old fashioned image of how women should be content to stay at home and live to serve their spouse.

Changing out of her Wedding Gown

Changing out of her Wedding Gown

Childhood sweethearts, Laura (Dorothy Mackaill) and Jay Hogarth (James Rennie), claim they are different; they plan to be a “modern couple in matrimony, intending to retain their separate individualities”, meaning that they can both work, spend time in the company of the opposite sex—although they are not condoning going as far as sleeping with others—and not being influenced by their families.  In this case “families” means Laura’s mother, Mrs. Duell (Helen Ware) and family friend, Kate (Dorothy Peterson) who is secretly in love with Jay.

Party Husband (4)

Heading towards their destination via train (for a month-long honeymoon—how nice is that!), there is a lipstick scene which foreshadows another lipstick scene, but in a different shade, so to speak.

Party Husband (5)

Settled into married life in New York, Laura has a telephone conversation with her mother letting her know that she is cooking her last dinner because Jay has just secured her a paying job as a reader in a publishing house.  Her mother is less than delighted and tells Laura she already has a job running Jay’s home and that Laura needs a paying job about as much as she herself “needs roller-skates”.  Kate, who’s visiting the couple, continues the conversation in the same vein as Laura’s mother.

Laura's New Boss

Laura’s New Boss

When we meet Laura’s boss Horace Purcell (Donald Cook), he’s on the make and Laura, who can read him, takes him up on his advances thinking she is smart enough to stay in control.  The other secretaries also know what’s going on when they head out for lunch together.

Party Husband (8)

“There’s one reader I thought the boss couldn’t ‘read’.”

Party Husband (7)

“Looks like he’s going in for night work again.”

Party Husband (6)

“That owl gets his best work in at night.”

Bee Meets Jay

Bee Meets Jay

Meanwhile Jay, whose job is to fill radio time slots with programs, meets Mrs. Bee Canfield (Mary Doran) who talks about “children and home-stuff” but discovers that’s she’s all talk and actually quite undomesticated, shall we say.

By this point, I’m wondering, is this pre-Code film pushing the idea that a woman’s place belongs in the home or should she find independence for herself in the work force?  Mrs. Canfield preaches home domesticity for women while she lives a hedonistic life. (As she says, her public utterances and her private convictions are very different.)  Laura and Jay still appear to be happy with each other even while working late hours with attractive co-workers.  But, even though it’s 1931, I still think I know where it’s heading.

Checking out the Hogarth's Apartment

Checking out the Hogarth’s Apartment

After a late night dinner, Jay brings Bee home to his apartment only to find that Laura is still not back.  He and a Bee flirt, and then head into the kitchen to mix some drinks.

Must I wait in the Living Room all by my little ol' self?

Must I wait in the Living Room all by my little ol’ self?

They keep the kitchen lights off.  Laura walks in with Horace and the kitchen lights go on.  Jay walks out, unaware that he has lipstick on his face, and he and Laura have this cool talk, with Horace enjoying the exchange.

Party Husband (12)

Laura sends Jay to the bathroom as she heads into the kitchen to meet and have a catty conversation with Bee.  It also turns out that Bee and Horace are well acquainted.  What Laura does with the ice-pick, gives us a comic indication of her feelings.

Party Husband (14)

Party Husband (13)

Laura’s dialogue is quite vicious and calm.  Jay is becoming somewhat pathetic.

Kate and Horace are over for dinner.  Laura’s maid Mary (Louise Beavers) has been asked by Jay where she bought the squash pie.  She indicates that it wasn’t bought but that Kate made it from scratch.  Hmmm.  Just then the phone rings.  Bee has inveigled artist Henri Renard (Paul Porcasi) to invite Laura and her entourage to a party he’s throwing that very evening.  At the party, Bee gets Jay alone while Renard tells Laura in the most unflattering terms why he wants to paint her.  She’s so insulted that she tells Horace that she wants to leave and they go in search of Jay.  Kate, who’s creepily sitting outside the private curtained room that Jay and Bee are in, let’s Laura know just where to find them.

What's my husband doing with that woman in there?

What’s my husband doing with that woman in there?

Laura doesn’t have the nerve to see them together, so sends Horace in to get Jay.

Party Husband (15)

Jay is allowing Bee to get him drunk so he can use drunkenness throughout the rest of the story as his excuse for his further actions.  I don’t like him.  Jay decides that Laura wants to leave because she’s jealous of Bee so just to prove him wrong, she stays.  Kate takes matters into her own hands and becomes a third wheel in the private room with Jay and Bee.  She easily gets rid of Bee and Jay is just as happy to flirt with the woman who’s left in the room.  Horace wants Laura, but she’s not willing.

What a Party!

What a Party!

Meanwhile, the party gets out of hand when a precious piece of art work gets smashed and Renard kicks everyone out.

Party Husband (1)

The couples end up leaving in separate cabs, Jay to Kate’s place and Laura to Horace’s.  Both stay out all night.

Horace declares his love for Laura and although she likes him, she is not in love with him.  But why?  He’s much more attractive in every way than Jay.  He also lets Laura know that he is leaving on a short boat voyage.

Jay gets home to find Mary, the maid, has arrived for work, but there’s no Laura.  She comes home shortly afterward and we soon discover that Jay slept with Kay while Laura was faithful.  He uses that old excuse of drinking too much, for a supposed cold, and that’s that.  No big deal.  All’s well.  Later when Jay gets home from work, he discovers that Laura has gone away by boat to Albany for a few days with Horace.  He heads out to get on the same boat.

Horace and Laura have separate rooms.  She’s in Horace’s room and tells him she’s basically only there to sleep with him to hurt Jay.  Jay shows up with a gun which doesn’t faze Laura in the least.  The gun gets tossed.  When the tables appear to be turned, Jay proves he can’t handle it.  Laura is heartbroken and they separate.

Kate becomes the perfect little housekeeper after receiving a note from Laura that Jay is in a bad way.  Still, she can’t win Jay’s heart no matter how well she cleans and cooks.  But he grows to love the service!

Night Club on New Year's

Night Club on New Year’s

Laura, Jay and Kate meet up at a night club on New Year’s Eve.

They Don't See Laura

They Don’t See Laura

The ladies have a heart-to-heart with Kate letting Laura know that Jay still loves her.  She suggests that Laura go in her place to her old apartment in the morning to fix Jay his breakfast.

Heart-to-heart in the Ladies' Powder Room

Heart-to-heart in the Ladies’ Powder Room

Jay is ready for work and is peeved to find that Kate isn’t there.  Laura is heading into the building when who should pull up in a taxi but her mother.  Her mother doesn’t know that they have separated and she pretends that she was just out on a bacon-buying errand—except she forgot to buy the bacon.  “There you are,” her mother says, “so busy at your office that your poor husband hasn’t any bacon….The man must have his bacon.”  Laura stumbles in just as Jay is stumbling out of the apartment and Mrs. Duell catches on pretty quickly with more bacon talk that the two aren’t living together any longer.

I'm Here With Mother

I’m Here With Mother

You're Here with Your Mother?

You’re Here with Your Mother?

Mrs. Duell plans to stay for a few days so the couple have to pretend that they are still living together.  Jay is still unable to forgive Laura for her supposed infidelity.

Why is Jay so weak and why does Laura still love him?  Do the couple get back together or not?  Does Laura keep her job?  I guess you’ll just have to watch this film to find out the answers to these still somewhat relevant questions.  And remember, in the end, mother knows best!

November 3, 2014
Watched THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925), Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial debut. It was a beautiful restored print by the British Film Institute in association with Studio Canal from the best archival materials available including newly discovered footage and restored tinting and toning.  It was presented by the Toronto Silent Film Festival at the Royal Cinema in Toronto.

The Pleasure Garden Cabaret Dancers

The Pleasure Garden Cabaret Dancers

The story is about a kind-hearted show girl, Patsy Brand (Virginia Valli) who helps out small-village newcomer Jill Cheyne (Carmelita Geraghty) when her letter of introduction along with all her cash are stolen from her purse. Although Jill is snobbish, fickle and self-centred, Patsy sees the talent and fun Jill also possesses and keeps her on as her roommate once she’s helped her land a job at The Pleasure Garden cabaret in London.

Patsy and one of her many admirers

Patsy and one of her many admirers

Jill is engaged to childhood sweetheart, Hugh Fielding (John Stuart) and when he comes to London for a visit, he introduces Patsy and Jill to his friend Levett (Miles Mander) who is on a two month furlough. Both men work for the same British company with Levett already stationed on the South Seas Island where Hugh will also be heading.  He will be stationed there for two years and plans to make enough money so that he and Jill can marry on his return.

Hugh and Levett enjoying the Girls Perform

Hugh and Levett enjoying the Girls Perform

After a night out which included watching the girls perform, (Jill being the main attraction), they all go out for dinner.

Jill's the Highlight--Patsy's in the Chorus

Jill’s the Highlight–Patsy’s in the Chorus

But it doesn’t take long for Jill to enjoy the advances of one of her wealthy admirers, the Prince.  Hugh is worried and a bit downcast, so Patsy promises to keep an eye on Jill while he is away.  (A lot of good that will do!)

Jill and The Prince

Jill and The Prince

Meanwhile, Levett still has another month in London after Hugh heads off to the plantation so proposes that he and Patsy should continue to see each other. She takes that as a real proposal and although Levett spells out the fact that he can’t take her with him, she declares her love for him and he accepts marriage.  But you (and her dog) know there’s something not quite right.

Patsy and Levett on their Honeymoon

Patsy and Levett on their Honeymoon

Miles Mander’s Levett was my favourite character. Although he turned out to be a villain—and an insane one to boot—he was hard to keep your eyes off of him when he was on the screen, especially when we meet up with him again in the South Seas.

Levett and the Native Girl

Levett and the Native Girl

Without giving anything else away, there is one more character in the film worth discussing; the Native Girl. But when I looked up the credits on imdb, there’s no mention of her.  I found the film on-line, but again there is no credit for the Native Girl.  So who played her?  In Donald Spoto’s biography The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (1983), the credit is given to Nita Naldi.  Spoto writes that one of the film’s producers, Michael Balcon, asked Naldi to replace the original actress cast as the Native Girl on condition she could extend her stay in Europe where the film was shot.  If there is any other information with regard to who played this role, please share.

It is November 10th and I am adding further information that I found with regard to the actress who played the Native Girl.  In Patrick McGilligan’s Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) in the Filmography section it is written: “The identity of the actress who plays the native girl is unknown, although the listing of Nita Naldi is an error that appears in almost every filmography.  Hitchcock in one account said the part was played by a waitress in the Alassio hotel who was impressed into service when the scheduled German actress could not go into the water because of her menstrual cycle.”  A friend of mine also found the following information: according to the Hitchcock wiki the Native Girl is played by a German actress named Elizabeth Pappritz, not Nita Naldi.  However, I think the information quoted in McGilligan’s book seems the most likely.

Is this Nita Naldi?

Is this Nita Naldi?

So, it’s interesting that Hitchcock’s directorial debut is a story that mostly takes place in London but is actually shot in Europe (I believe Munich, Germany) and with three famous American actresses (if Naldi is included). There is also something about the whole look that makes you think you are watching a story that takes place in the U.S., if not New York, and then you suddenly remember, oh yes, this is London and everyone is British.

We are British

We are British

Lastly, as an aside, I am reading the book Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star by William J. Mann (1998) and it mentions that Virginia Valli was married to Charles Farrell.  Theirs would have been considered a “Lavender Marriage” to camouflage Farrell’s gay identity.  Valli’s sexual orientation isn’t talked about, but since it appears to be well known that Farrell was gay, and even though this was her second marriage, I’m presuming that Valli was as well.  In any event, Virigina Valli made her last film in 1930, married Charles Farrell in 1931 and the marriage lasted over 37 years, until her death in 1968.  So, whatever the case, it appears they had been happy together.

Virginia Valli

Virginia Valli

October 28, 2014
Watched TERMINAL STATION and INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE (1954), directed by Vittorio De Sica with Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift. Jones’ husband David O. Selznick was the producer and the dialogue was credited to Truman Capote.

I don’t remember when, but many years ago Toronto Film Society, probably in their International Series, screened the theatrical version, INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE. I was a big Clift fan at the time and was thrilled to see anything he was in.  Most of the scenes have faded over the years so have always wanted to see this film again.  I recently purchased the Criterion DVD which also includes the director’s uncut version, TERMINAL STATION.  I decided to watch this version first.

What a beautiful film. And except for the opening scene, it all takes place in Rome’s Stazione Terminal.

Terminal Station (6)

Here’s where the biggest change lies. In TERMINAL STATION, we first encounter Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) walking with a purpose on a street in Rome.  She’s heading, with mixed emotions, to see her lover at his apartment.  But before she can ring his doorbell, she loses her nerve although we don’t know exactly why. She tries to hail a number of cabs, eventually boarding a bus to Stazione Terminal.  When she gets there, she heads over to read the departure board.  A man asks her something in Italian but she replies she doesn’t understand.  As she rushes away, a boy gives a departing train time to a blind man, who replies “Oh yes, I can see.”  She goes to one of the information booths to question the time of the next train to Milan and as she leaves, four priests take her place to ask about their train.  She stands in line at the ticket booth, changes her mind and heads to a phone booth.  All the time, she looks like she has something troubling on her mind that she is finding difficult to settle.  A man who has been looking through a phonebook, happily gives up the phone and book to her as well as offers her change for the phone when he sees her fumbling in her purse and she places a call to her sister.

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He ogles her a bit while fruit accidently falls out of his briefcase.  When she discovers her sister isn’t home, she asks to talk to her nephew Paul and tells him to pack a suitcase with her things and bring that and her fur coat down to the Milan train.  Then, without a backwards glance at the man who gave her the change, she heads over to the enclosed telegram area to write one to her lover.  A man and woman interrupt her while she’s trying to compose an explanation for her sudden departure.  She almost sends it, but then crumples it up and composes something more from the heart and much wordier.  As she’s writing, we see the interaction between the telegram employee and some of his customers.

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We hear her think her letter, but instead of sending it, she crumples it and puts it in her purse.  She sees the time is 6:50 and knows she only has a few more minutes before she has to board her train.  She enters the gift shop and asks to purchase a costume dress for daughter.  She hears the announcement for her train and knows she has to get going.  Meanwhile, we see a group of deaf boys with their teacher, see Mary buy a ticket from a vending machine, ask for directions to her train, walk along the train and tell a porter she still needs to buy a train ticket while he replies she can buy it on the train, boards and starts to look for a seat in one of the compartments.  The man in front of her is also looking, and when he thinks he’s spotted one, the man sitting across from it indicates it’s taken.  But when he sees Mary, he lets her know it’s free.  In the compartment, besides the man, there is a woman in charge of three or four fighting boys, and another man who’s being bothered by their commotion.  But Mary isn’t thinking of them, nor noticing the looks the man across from her is giving her, she’s thinking about her daughter, but then she becomes aware of her surroundings, the fighting boys, the looks from the man across from her and gets up, leaving her package on her seat.  As she’s about to leave the compartment, she waits at the door as a very sexy woman and her friend walk by and enter another compartment.  She then walks to the window, lowers it and then doesn’t believe her eyes.

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There is suddenly the sound of a musical crescendo and Giovani Doria, her lover (Montgomery Clift) walks into a stunning close up.  And you feel a whoosh in the pit of your stomach.

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This lead-up to their meeting in De Sica’s version took 16 minutes and 45 seconds.

Before INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE begins, there is a very American sounding musical interlude. Patti Page is introduced and sings two songs, “Autumn in Rome” and “Indiscretion”.  When the credits for the film roll at 8 minutes and 20 seconds, the scenes they’re displayed on are completely different from the ones for TERMINAL STATION. The story opens with Mary writing a letter to her lover, almost ringing his doorbell, rushing away, continuing with the letter (which is totally different from the one she wrote in the uncut version) before crumpling it, and arriving at the station to read the departure board.  The man asks her something in Italian where she replies she doesn’t understand, walks to the information booth to ask about the train to Milan, the four priests ask about their train, she sees the man who was ogling her in the original, but instead, he is clumsily dropping fruit out of his briefcase and she uses the phone, making the same call.  She notices the costume dress in the gift shop and that scene stays intact.  We see the deaf boys and then Mary is walking outside her train and mentions to the porter that she has no ticket and is told she can buy it on the train.  Mary is offered the seat in the same way as previously, but instead of not paying attention to what’s going on around her, she notices the boys fighting and bothering the other man, then she looks at her package and thinks of her daughter.  More fighting noises bring her out of her reverie, she gets up and walks to the aisle where the sexy woman and her friend enter another compartment just past hers.  She looks out the window, the music crescendos and there’s the close up of Giovanni.  But perhaps because of these cuts, the whoosh in the pit of your stomach, isn’t really there.  This also took the same amount of time BUT that includes the 8 minutes of Patti Page before the movie even starts.  So really, 8 minutes and 20 seconds were taken out and even slightly rearranged in Selznick’s edited version.  And this entire film is still 17 minutes shorter than the director’s cut.

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The opening, then, of INDISTRCTION had the most drastic cuts than anywhere else in the film although there are others. Little lines, here and there.  If you watch them close enough together, you can almost play that game: “There are two images, A and B.  Can you find the ten differences or missing items in B?”

Richard Beymer and Jennifer Jones

Richard Beymer and Jennifer Jones

So let me just talk about what I found most interesting about the story and the film. When they do meet, Mary gets off the train.  During their conversation her nephew Paul (Richard Beymer) arrives with her luggage and coat.  He’s young, maybe 15 or 16 but he’s old enough to know that something odd is taking place between his aunt and this man.  She sends him away with lots of love and promises for a future visit, and when he’s gone, we see the train leave too.  Giovanni takes her luggage and coat and as they walk away from the tracks and into the terminal, a porter offers to take her things.  And when the porter finds that he lost Mary and Giovanni on route, he turns and walks in another direction and we continue to follow the lovers into a dining area.  So what nagged at me at the back of my mind, even though I was immersed in the action, was what happened to her luggage and would we ever see it again.  (We do.)

INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE, (aka STAZIONE TERMINI), Jennifer Jones, 1953.

One of the most memorable moments in the film for me was the two minute take of Mary and Giovanni talking in profile. The build up to this scene is Giovanni “reminiscing” about what he imagined their lives would be like together if they had a future.  He moves to sit beside her and the two-minute take begins.  He begins by telling her how they would quarrel like his parents did, but when she questions his parents’ happiness, he exclaims that of course they were very happy.  But being that his father was an Italian and wanted things his way and he is after all his son, the conversation in profile continues:

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Giovanni: He‘d go off in the evening and he’d go to a café and play cards. Well, mother thought he ought to be home with her.
Mary: Well, so do I; I mean I wouldn’t like it if you went off every evening and left me to…
Giovanni: What?  Mend my clothes and cook dinner for me?  You wouldn’t like that?  (She shakes her head.)  Oh, I would.  Don’t forget, I’m an Italian too.  If you didn’t behave yourself (the classical Italian shake of the hand, then quiet and serious)…I’d beat you.
Mary: (with a little laugh) Giovanni, you wouldn’t. (See’s the unaltered look on his face) Would you?
Giovanni: (Still no change) I would.  (Smiles)  Naturally. Don’t start worrying about that now.  I’m not going to go off playing cards, not tonight.  (Asks waiter for bill.)  Come on, let’s get out of here.  We’ll go to my place.  Why don’t we walk?  We’ll be cold when we get there.  We can light a fire.  Have supper.  At least for a little while we’ll have known what it could have been like.

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We see all kinds of emotions fly over their faces during this exchange. Love, lust, desire for the fantasy, but what does Mary really think?  It is 1954 and women were not as free as they once were or would become.  Does she really want to leave her husband and be with this man, younger than her, for the long haul?  Especially when it looks like he gave her a glimpse of what real life in an isolated part of Italy might be like once fantasy becomes reality?

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There is still a lot more to this film. The pivotal moment coming closer to the end when they are arrested for sexual misconduct—or is it trespassing?  It seems odd watching it now, that two adults would be arrested for behaviour that is quite tame and non-offensive, especially in what I would consider the passion capitol of the world–Italy.  Certainly, the double standard between men and women is very clear throughout the film.

Films are given lots of titles to describe their vein and era. This one is in the neorealist genre which both De Sica and Zavattini established in their film The Bicycle Thief—another film worth taking a second, or third, look at.

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In Montgomery Clift: A Biography by Patricia Bosworth (1978), she writes that the making of the movie was anything but a happy experience for all involved.  Yet, looking at it today, you wouldn’t know, nor think of it as unsuccessful.  The acting of the two stars is superb and momentously this is the last film Clift made before his disfiguring car accident.  Jennifer Jones, who shows every quirky emotion on her face, is wonderful to watch and a perfect choice for Mary.  So if you get a chance to see these films, I really hope that you enjoy them!

October 17, 2014
Watched the wonderful NO MAN OF HER OWN (1932), directed by Wesley Ruggles with Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. Last Monday it was Carole Lombard’s birthday so a friend and I thought it would be nice to watch one of her films.  He made a good choice with this charming film.  It’s also the only film Carole and future husband Clark Gable worked together in.

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When the credits rolled, I was actually excited to see that it featured Dorothy Mackaill in a supporting role, that the story written by Edmund Goulding (along with Benjamin Glazer) and featured some great supporting actors—Grant Mitchell, Elizabeth Patterson, George Barbier, J. Farrell MacDonald and Charley Grapewin.

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It begins with a poker game in progress at Kay Everly’s apartment (Dorothy Mackaill). She’s invited her new sugar daddy, banker Morton (Walter Walker) to play cards with her “uncle” Charlie Vane (Grant Mitchell) and his two friends Babe Stewart (Clark Gable) and Vargas (Paul Ellis).

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But of course it’s a con and she’s part of the team and in love with Babe who’s no longer feeling reciprocal.  In fact when he tells her the love affair is over and she threatens “I’ll jump off the roof, believe me”, he retorts “I can’t depend on you.”

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But they’re interrupted by vice squad gum shoe ‘Dickie’ Collins (J. Farrell MacDonald) who’s been out to get Babe for the past six years.

Very Sheer!

Very Sheer!

Babe decides to leave town for a while and ends up in small, hick town Glendale where he meets sexy librarian Connie Randall (Carole Lombard), who lives with her family brother Willie (Tommy Conlon), mom (Elizabeth Patterson) and dad (George Barbier). And even though she’s old enough, their worried about her spending the night with her friends up at The Lake with “no chaperone, drinking and who knows what”.

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The library scene is so much fun. Babe really comes on to Connie and the library set is wonderful.

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There’s some great cinematography by Leo Tover where the camera follows Lombard down the ladder she’s on in such a way, that it’s almost dizzying.

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The next day, he meets her in church, introduces himself to her family and is invited for tea. Her mother advises her not to invite Babe up to The Lake “because he might get the wrong idea” but of course we know that’s just where he’s planning to head.

Don't come in--yet!

Don’t come in–yet!

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Very Tell-Tale Lounging Pajamas!

She doesn’t want to be just a notch on his belt, so she proposes they gamble with the flip of a coin—Him: “head’s we do”; Her: “tails we get married”. She wins the bet.  Honeymoon is on the train back to New York.

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There’s some cute dialogue, bum slapping and tongue action.

When they arrive at his apartment, she is completely impressed. She meets the boys but has no idea that they are professional gamblers.  He finds a job at his broker’s firm which keeps him alibied during the day.

Don’t want to be late for the office.

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But Connie begins to wonder why they spend pretty much every night with his pals and they are always gambling. One night, she spies Babe hiding a deck of cards in the designated card table and reshuffles them.  They lose big to their latest patsy and this is where the plot peaks.  She confronts him with what she’s discovered.  He is, as usual for most people who are caught, defensive, but what I like about so many of the serious matrimonial discussions in pre-Code films is when there are no histrionics by the wife.  She talks maturely, practically but with great love.

Beautiful Dorothy Mackaill

Beautiful Dorothy Mackaill

Without giving anything more away, there is one more scene where Kay and Connie meet. I was glad to see that Dorothy didn’t disappear…but she would, in just a few more short years.

Since this film was made during Prohibition, it was interesting to note the scene with the hidden bar (I’d love to have one as classy as that) plus Kay’s comment to Connie about her drink just before she takes her leave.  Enjoy the witty dialogue by Maurine Dallas Watkins and Milton Herbert Gropper.

October 6, 2014
Watch the wonderful HOBSON’S CHOICE (1954), directed by David Lean, with a stellar cast including Charles Laughton, John Mills and Brenda de Banzie in the main roles.

I had been shown this film many years ago by a good friend who wanted to share. In the past few years I have wanted to see it again, and even though I own a VHS copy and a recently disabled VCR, when Toronto Film Society screened it yesterday as one of its films for their Fall-Winter series, I was quite happy.  I knew it would be fresh since the details of the story were long gone in my memory.  I just thought I remembered that it was a drama about a difficult father and his daughters.  Well, that is the premise but it is a drama with a lot of comedy.

Henry Hobson

Henry Hobson

And this brought to mind the 1934 film, The Barretts of Wimpole Street which I recently saw in Rochester at the last TFS George Eastman House visit (see above tab).  Charles Laughton’s character, Henry Hobson, brought to mind this tyrannical father he played 20 years earlier, but with the obvious difference that there was nothing laughable about the horrible man he played in that film.  Both eldest daughters dealt with their respective fathers in their own way.  Without knowing the exact true-life details of Elizabeth’s story—and knowing that movies change reality to best suit the studios’ agenda—we can only guess that a real life father would more likely be much harder to deal with than a fictional one by an equally fictional daughter.  But I found it an interesting study to see these two similar fathers portrayed by the same man with different results.

In HOBSON’S CHOICE, Henry Hobson (Laughton) built a successful shoe store in Salford, England in 1880. At the time the story opens, it is run by his three daughters, headed by the eldest—and the smartest—Maggie (Brenda de Banzie).

The Hobson Family and Shop

The Hobson Family and Shop

Henry proudly pays them no fees, thinks that room and board is payment enough and spends his days as well as most nights at the local pub, The Moonraker’s Arms, while they mind the store and keep house.  His younger daughters Alice (Daphne Anderson) and Vicky (Prunella Scales—Sybil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers fame) want to get married.  But Henry doesn’t want to have to pay a settlement to the prospective grooms so vetoes the idea to their dismay.

A Sly-Looking Hobson

A Sly Hobson

And what about his eldest daughter, Maggie?  Well, Henry very unkindly laughs at the idea that an “old maid” of 30 would even have one prospect.  (de Banzie was 45 but I decided it made physical sense for her to play this role.)

What makes their relationship so enjoyable to us, the viewers, is that Maggie never bats an eyelash, no matter how rude, disrespectful or disorderly her father talks or acts. She just carries on with her new-found plans.  She lets her father know that she will be getting married soon and while he scoffs at the idea, especially because he knows there have been no suitors, she tells him she’ll let him know as soon as she has chosen one.

Along comes elderly, wealthy Mrs. Hepworth (Helen Haye) who insists on knowing who made the latest boots she purchased.

Mrs. Hepworth

Mrs. Hepworth

When she (and we) are introduced to William Mossop (John Mills), we learn that this humble, uneducated man is the most talented boot maker that she has ever come across in her many worldly years.  And although we don’t know if this is the moment when lightening striked for Maggie, this is when we do learn that her sights are set on William.

Maggie and William

Maggie and William

William can’t wrap his thoughts around the idea that he could call Maggie anything but Miss Hobson, never mind marrying her, but when he overhears her talking to the slatternly Figgins women where he boards, this is the crucial turning point in his life.

The Figgins Women

The Figgins Women

It is emotionally one of the most heartfelt moments in the film, to watch his reaction when he learns that this smart, sharp, no-nonsense woman loves him, this talented, timid, unschooled, decent man.

The Wedding Dinner with the Bride, Groom, Sisters and their Beaux

The Wedding Dinner with the Bride, Groom, Sisters and their Beaux

The other wonderful moment between these two characters is on their wedding night. How, he wonders, is he ever going to make love to this formidable but caring woman?  It’s almost as if he’s going off to war instead of the bedroom where he’s going to have to brave it out.  And the film could almost end there, but there are still a few more details to iron out for a fully satisfied story.  And the next scene is one of them.  When we see William and Maggie in the morning, we see that both are deeply in love AND satisfied with their night together.  Such a lovely moment.

Okay, back to Henry. He is a man with a severe drinking problem; severe enough that he is on the edge of jeopardizing his life.

Doctor's Verdict

Doctor’s Verdict

Nasty as he can be, he is also highly entertaining, but no match for his daughter, Maggie.  I love watching drunk people in film.  Or better expressed, I love watching great actors playing drunken characters.  Charles Laughton is brilliant.  And to enhance his brilliance, we can thank the wonderful cinematography of Jack Hildyard and the marvelous team of people who worked on his scenes of intoxication.  And there are quite a few, from the opening scene on.

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Although watching this film on a large screen using a superior print from the Criterion Collection, you can view it online at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xm7van_hobson-s-choice_shortfilms.   Much less satisfying but better than not seeing it at all.

October 2, 2014
Watched DARK CITY (1951) directed by William Dieterle, with Charlton Heston and Lizabeth Scott.

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Lizabeth Scott is 92 years old!

She had a wonderful, sultry singing voice. Mostly I loved when she sang in this film—and from all appearances it was her voice–but I can’t say that I loved her character Fran Garland all that much.

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She was good at playing the sincere woman, especially when she wasn’t as in Dead Reckoning.  In this film she was, but I hated seeing her be so obviously vulnerable and sappy every time she met up with the love of her life Danny Haley (Charlton Heston).  I couldn’t figure out if he was only attracted to her because she was considered a sexy nightclub singer or if it was because he knew she was so in love with him and therefore knew there was someone who truly cared about his wellbeing.  And when it appears he falls and cares for Victoria Winant (Viveca Lindfors), the widow of Arthur (Don DeFore), you are made to wonder who he’s going to choose in the end.

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When their illegal gambling business is raided and broken up by the squad team under Captain Garvey (Dean Jagger), Danny, Augie (Jack Webb), Barney (Ed Begley) and simple soul Soldier (Henry/Harry Morgan) end up broke. By chance, Danny meets up with nice guy Arthur Winant and lures him into a fixed poker game so that they can take him for a $5,000 cashier’s cheque that is meant for a charitable organization.

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When Arthur signs it over, he is so depressed that he hangs himself, leaving behind his wife Victoria and young son Billy (Mark Keuning).

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But little did the gamblers know that Arthur’s psychopathic brother Sidney (Mike Mazurki), who we can only identify by the ring he wears on his fourth finger, would come after these three card sharks with murderous revenge in his heart.

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I enjoyed the fact that I felt nervous and upset for Arthur being swindled and the shame that made him take his own life. It sat with me for the duration of the film.  I also liked the fact that I suddenly liked the character of Danny once he met Arthur’s wife Victoria.  Up until then, I didn’t, and couldn’t understand why Fran did.  Maybe it was mostly his sex appeal.  But were they really sexy?  Why were they filmed to look so much older and worn out than they really would have?  Charlton Heston was 27 and Lizabeth Scott was 28.  He looked in his early to mid-thirties and she looked anywhere from 35 to 45.  Was she supposed to look so unattractive?  And when they bared their teeth in lieu of a smile, they also looked rather skeletal.  It was eerie and not sexy.

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When Captain Garvey gives a heartfelt talking to Danny, is this what turns him into a decent sort of guy when he meets Victoria? His original reason for meeting her is to find out the identity of Arthur’s murderous brother.  What softens him up?  We can read all sorts of reasons as to why he acts the way he does—towards the widow and the torch singer–but I’m not sure if my motives make sense.  Before the ending of the film, I imagined Danny would die and we would be left wondering who he really loved.  Would that have been a better noir ending?

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Still, this film took me on an emotional bumpy road and in the end I have to say I liked it.

September 27, 2014
Watched AMBASSADOR BILL (1931) directed by Sam Taylor with Will Rogers. I have become interested in Will Rogers and although I thought this film was pretty corny, there were still something interesting about it.

The opening location scenes are assumed to take place in the country of Sylvania where a revolution is going on. All the residents of the palace speak in American dialogue and accents, which sound really odd, unless of course the actors are from England or Europe which works a bit better.

Playing checkers while a war rages on

Playing checkers while a war rages on

But Ambassador Bill Harper (Rogers), with his cowlick, speaking in his usual Southern drawl is being flown over by a supposed pilot from Berlin who’s really King Lothar (Ray Milland) incognito.  He was charged with desertion when he was falsely accused of cheating on his wife while he believed she was cheating on him.  He left for Vienna and was excommunicated by Prince de Polikoff (Gustav von Seyffertitz), the evil dictator, who has taken over power.  The evening of his arrival, Harper is presented to Queen Vanya (Marguerite Churchill) and her eight-year-old son Paul (Tad Alexander), now the King, and let les faux pas begin.

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He shakes the hands of their highnesses, apparently a no-no.  He offers homespun American advice, like shouldn’t the King be in bed at this late hour, while tapping him on the chest.

Queen Vanya

Queen Vanya

Being a single man, he’d even adopt the lad, if he could.  And he has the audacity to break up the evening before the Queen as dismissed everyone—which we the audience really know means that Bill’s a great guy—because he can tell her feet hurt her and that the King doesn’t have enough time to play as a kid should.

King Paul

King Paul

In fact, he’s going to teach the King how to play baseball in the morning!  Gosh, she’s such a nice Queen, and he’s such a sweet kid, it’s too bad their home is a broken one.

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But while the Queen’s changing (ooh-la-la), she’s being spied on by her husband. He tries to convince her that everything was a mistake and she should take him back, but since there wouldn’t be much of a story if she did, she claims not to believe him.

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When he’s spotted by Polikoff and his guards, King Lothar takes refuge in the building that Harper is accommodating.  And Harper knows an honest man when he sees one and helps him escape.

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The next morning, neighbourhood kids (from who knows where) have been rounded up to play baseball with King Paul. King Paul is tagged out but he doesn’t accept the verdict and a fight ensues.  A boy is arrested for striking the King and the penalty is death.  But for the love of new-found Babe Ruth wisdom, the King will be lenient with or without an apology.  Aw shucks.

What one of the Generals thinks of Ambassador Bill's antics

What one of the Generals thinks of Ambassador Bill’s antics

Fast forward to a dinner and Harper tells the Queen that he has a letter from the King, her husband. She pretends not to want it, but finally admits she does and asks Harper to give it to her.  But at the same time, Polikoff, in cahoots with Countess Ilka (Greta Nissen), has her steal it for him.

Polikoff and the Countess--They're always plotting something.

Polikoff and the Countess–They’re always plotting something.

This is the scene we’re all waiting for. The Countess loses her dress and when people mistakenly think they are seeing hanky-panky, it places Bill in a most precarious situation.  He is shamed and is asked to tender his resignation.

Some Great Silhouettes

Some Great Silhouettes

Sexy Dress!

Sexy Dress!

You won't let me out?  Take that!!!

You won’t let me out? Take that!!!

These dresses are very easy to slip out of.

These dresses are very easy to slip out of.

This isn't what it looks like!

This isn’t what it looks like!

This isn't what it looks like!

Oh My Goodness!

King Paul is so sad to lose this second father figure who, along with baseball games, also organized the first boys scout group and even later plans to take our little King fishing—in bare feet, no less. Bill is sad too.   We almost don’t have time to think how going to retrieve a letter for the Queen from his room, morphed into a scandal with the Countess with no room for explanation, could happen in real life.  But then again, maybe these are the way life’s misunderstandings arise.

I thought this was a great dress, but then noticed the top is see through!

I thought this was a great dress, but then noticed the top is see through!

But King Lothar, again disguised as Harper’s pilot, plots with Harper to start another revolution and take control once again of his country. These mini-wars all have comic commentary running through them by Rogers.  Rogers was a staunch Democrat and there are lots of Republican jokes strewn throughout the film, which makes me think that Guy Bolton wasn’t the only one who worked on the screenplay.  I compare Rogers, who once said “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts,” to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, today’s political satirists. But the oddest line—and I wasn’t sure of the meaning or joke behind it was when young King Paul tells Harper he must be the smartest man in the world, Bill replies, “No, I’m not. Haven’t you heard of Mussolini?”  Sarcasm to fascism?

Time for beddie-bye little King.  Yes, you can sleep with your spurs on.

Time for beddie-bye little King. Yes, you can sleep with your spurs on.

And the finale, sort of, is when King Paul dresses up as a cowboy, sneaks out of his room to go and join in the fighting on the streets and is saved from near death by—guess who! When he’s found missing from his room, this brings his parents together again.  And Sylvania is once again a lovely, profitable, free country where everyone lives happily ever after.

Aside 1: Will Rogers was talented at rope tricks, a highlight we get to see in this film.

That's the way to catch a buddy!

That’s the way to catch a buddy!

And my final aside: every time Harper was called “Mr. Bill” by the kid king, I thought of the 1976 plasticine character from Saturday Night Live and it made me chuckle.

July 26, 2014
Watched FIVE STAR FINAL (1931), directed by Mervyn LeRoy with Edward G. Robinson, Marian Marsh and Boris Karloff.  I had seen this film a few years ago, remembered the story and knew that I had liked it, thinking it a really good pre-Code.  But when Toronto Film Society screened it at the beginning of July, I was quite surprised at how tension-filled I found it this second time around.

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Edward G. plays Gazette editor Joe Randall who works for a New York tabloid run by Hinchecliffe (Oscar Apfel).  When implementing ethical journalistic policies caused sales to drop, Hinchecliffe insisted Randall run more sensational, sleazy stories to increase circulation. One such story is the twenty year old Vorhees Murder Case.  Nancy Townsend nee Voorhees (Frances Starr) had killed a man who we are meant to understand sexually abused her, leaving her pregnant. After she was exonerated by the courts, Nancy married her true love, Michael Townsend (H.B. Warner) and they raised her daughter Jenny (Marian Marsh).  Jenny was never told this shameful story and believed that Townsend was her biological father.

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On the evening before their wedding, at the same time Jenny and her fiancé Phillip Weeks (Anthony Bushell) are celebrating at her home with her parents, Hinchecliffe and Randall are discussing how they’re going to run a “whatever happened to” story.  Randall assigns alcoholic and creepy reporter Isopod (Boris Karloff) to dig up the scoop.  Isopod cleverly masquerades as a man of cloth and calls on the Townsends just after Jenny and Phillip leave for the theatre.

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They innocently invite him in for a talk thinking he has been sent by the head minister of the church where the wedding will take place.  Moments too late, they realize they have been tricked into giving Isopod not only personal information about themselves but also a photo of Jenny.

I could feel Nancy’s sick and sinking feeling of despair when she realized what they had done.  Although she was hoping against hope that what she thought was happening wasn’t true, their worst fears were confirmed when her husband talked to the minister at their church.  What happens next to this family is tragic.

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There were so many great moments in this film.  There’s two scenes where Randall, who is ethical at his core, is washing his hands and it immediately reminds you of Lady Macbeth.

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There’s wonderful split screen photography when Nancy tries to get through by phone to Hinchecliffe and then tries to reason with Randall to make him understand how devastating the story they’re about to print will be for her daughter’s future life.

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There’s the upsetting scene of what Nancy does when she can’t handle what she can’t control and how Michael reacts to her decision.

The most heartbreaking scene of all is when Jenny goes with gun in hand straight to the Gazette and confronts both Randall and Hinchecliffe.  She keeps shouting one question over and over again at them.  They can rationalize all they want, but we know they know the bottom line is greed.

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There are lots of interesting secondary roles played by those wonderful character actors found in the films of the 30s.  Aline MacMahon plays Miss Taylor, Randall’s devoted secretary.  Randall is totally unaware that she is in love with him but she finds the nerve to let him know once she’s had a couple of drinks.  George E. Stone plays Ziggie Feinstein, one of the Gazette’s reporters.

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Ona Munson, who can change her appearance for almost any film, plays buxom reporter Kitty Carmody.

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The old fashioned switchboard operator played by Polly Walters sounds just like you would envision, if you know what I mean.

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A totally worthwhile film to get your hands on.

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July 15, 2014
Watched THERE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN (1938) directed by Alexander Hall, with Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas and Mary Astor.

Such good actors and such an annoyingly silly story.  But that’s me.  I don’t like when beautiful, smart women play such nit-witty characters.  It’s along the same lines as the husband and wife teams in The Thin Man (1934), This Man is News (1938) and Fast and Furious (1939) but for one exception.  And that exception is that those women were brainy and a match for their husbands—even when the husbands didn’t think so.

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William Reardon (Melvyn Douglas) has attempted to go it alone by opening his own private detective agency but the business isn’t doing well.  He has been offered a job to work in the D.A.’s office for a set salary.  When his wife Sally (Joan Blondell) mistakes the rent collector as a client, Bill decides to go for the steady income rather than face the prospect of no income at all.  Sally feels differently.  She wants him to go on a little longer because she has faith being self-employed will lead to big bucks.

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When Bill leaves for the job interview and Sally is packing up the office, Lola Fraser (Mary Astor) enters and hires Sally to find out what’s going on between her husband Walter (Lester Matthews) and her friend and Walter’s paramour before marrying Lola, Anne Calhoun (Frances Drake).  She gives Sally a retainer of $300, almost enough to cover the three months of arrears in rent.

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Bill gets the D.A. job with a salary of $75.00 a week and to celebrate, Sally insists they go to the Skyline Club.  She hasn’t told Bill about the new client who will be dining there with her husband, Anne and Anne’s fiancé Jerry Marlowe (Robert Paige).

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Lots of shenanigans occur with Sally ordering the most expensive items on the menu when she had promised to stick to a budget, table switching, dancing, drunkenness and listening to murderous conversations.  We are also introduced to gambler and club owner Nick Shane (Jerome Cowan).

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The next thing we know Walter Fraser is dead and the D.A.’s office, with Bill in charge of the investigation, is questioning the threesome.  Sally hands a letter to the police officer stationed outside the penthouse and when he takes it in to Bill, she sneaks in, hiding on the second floor landing to eavesdrop.  Bill reads the note which reminds him not to “forget the butler”, (Walter Kingsford) and in a dizzy sort of way, she is correct.

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So without revealing any more of the plot or conclusion, I found something disappointing about this film.  It works when Gracie Allen plays dumb, but it doesn’t work for me when Joan Blondell does.  It’s not that she isn’t a good actress and isn’t absolutely adorable in her role, but I think that either the character has to be wholly one way or the other.  A mixture doesn’t work.  And playing against Melvyn Douglas, who is charming and a great deliverer of good dialogue, you have to see what he saw in her.  There is pretty good chemistry between them except for the fact that he still likes to belittle her whenever he can.  And she likes to play dumb and take advantage of him whenever she can.  Yet you have to believe they are in love and will likely always be so.

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I have no idea whether Warner Bros. saw THERE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN when they were casting the Brigid O’Shaughnessy role in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and thought Mary Astor would be perfect, but it certainly crossed my mind when I watched her in this film.

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One of the most entertaining parts of this film is when Sally is brought down to the police station to be interrogated.  It works well that the not-so-clever police are broken down without any affect on the person they’re trying to break.  Although the personalities and strategies are quite different, it’s somewhat comparable to the 1935 film The Whole Town’s Talking when Jean Arthur’s character is brought in for questioning.

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If you’ve ever seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), the names Reardon and Marlowe are used to fit in with other films such as The Bribe (1949) and The Big Sleep (1946).  Probably just a coincidence, but those names bring these other films to mind.

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So in conclusion, I am not a fan of women (or men for that matter) who play both the straight and silly role (I felt the same about Claudette Colbert’s character in It’s a Wonderful World (1939) in my Short Review of May 15, 2014.  The dialogue and situations seem contrived and forced at times and I’m not sure if the fault lies in the script or in my perception.  It certainly isn’t the fault of these wonderful actors!

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July 11, 2014
Watched CHICAGO (1927), directed by Frank Urson, although it appears Cecil B. DeMille directed some of the film but went uncredited.  Phyllis Haver plays Roxie Hart.

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There are two later versions of this film, the 1942 comedy ROXIE HART with Ginger Rogers, and the Academy Award winning 2002 musical by the same name with Renée Zellweger.  This is the first time I have seen the silent version.

The film opens up with the lazy, somewhat slutty Roxie sleeping while her handsome, enamoured husband Amos (Victor Varconi) wakes early to get ready for the daily grind.  No matter what Roxie does, or actually doesn’t do for that matter—dumping her clothes on the floor, leaving dirty pots, pans and dishes piled in the sink and all over the counter top—Amos remains infatuated.  Even though he can’t find her second garter when he picks up her clothes off the floor, he never suspects what she really did with it; he just assumes she was careless and lost it.  While she pretends to sleep, he cleans the dishes and makes them both breakfast which he serves her in bed.  He can’t keep his hands off her while she can’t wait for him to leave.

On his way out he encounters the rooming-house maid, Katie (Virginia Bradford), and gives her a stack of coupons he has saved for her while she flushes and bats her eyelashes at the handsome husband, sighing when he walks out of eye-shot.

Amos works behind a smokeshop counter.  One of the cigarette manufacturers has brought in his brand with the advert “If you want to hold your Sweetie…buy her SWEET DREAMS”.  The salesman puts it on the counter just as a customer comes to purchase his brand and when Amos talks it up, the customer says, “Hold your sweetie!  Say, I’m tryin’ to give mine the air!”  While Amos is getting his change, lo and behold, what does the customer pull out of his pocket but the matching garter!  So we now know that Casely (Eugene Palette) is Roxie’s lover.  Just as Casely slips it back into his pocket, Amos turns around to hand him his change and says, “If you had my sweetie you wouldn’t want to give her the air.”  And of course we laugh because she’s one and the same.

If you know the story of Roxie Hart/Chicago, you know what happens next.  Casely comes to visit Roxie and we are led to understand that Katie knows what’s going on.  Roxie stays lingerie-clad and flirts with Casely in a somewhat grotesque way.

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What’s interesting to me is Phyllis Havers’ Roxie is made up to look pretty, but coarse.  Is she young?  She’s supposed to be, but there’s something old-looking about her.  Phyllis was 28 when she made this film, but sometimes I think she’s made to look in her mid-to-late 30s.  I don’t think I’m the only one seeing her this way and believe it must have been a conscious decision to have her made up to look as she does—hard and tacky.

Just as she and Casely begin to think about fooling around, Roxie notices a bill collector standing across the road from her building.

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Ha, ha we fooled the bill collector–but be quiet, he’s out there!

She knows he’s coming to collect from her and she cunningly wards him off by affixing black nylons on the front of her apartment door to look as if someone has just died inside.  Then she plops herself on “Daddy’s” lap and tells him she has a surprise for him.

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Well, the surprise is a sheaf of bills for lingerie, make up, perfumes and such which add up to quite a sum.  Classy she isn’t.  When she grabs and tosses Casley’s wallet, he dumps her on the floor and tells her he’s through.  When she can’t woo him into staying, she kills him in cold blood.

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The scene is quite artfully choreographed.  The bullet has gone right through the mirror on the door and when Casely falls back into the apartment, there are those black nylons hanging as a symbolic death wreath over the body.

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Chicago (8)Since she’s such a self-centred individual, she calls the one person she hopes will figure out how to save her—Amos.  He first cops to the murder, but the detectives aren’t deceived and Roxie goes to jail to await her trial.  Even though Amos is disgusted with her, you also realize that she still has a very significant hold on him and he will still do anything to save her.  This means hopefully hiring top criminal lawyer Billy Flynn (Robert Edeson).

In jail, we meet the other girls in the “social club”—The Perfect Lady (Julia Faye) whose husband somehow mysteriously died;

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Charleston Lou, who knifed her sweetie;

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and Teresa (Josephine Norman) who killed her baby because the father wouldn’t marry her.  And then there’s Matron (May Robson) who oversees these ladies while she happily helps Roxie cut out the press releases for her scrapbook.

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Then one of the best filmed cat fights takes place between Roxie and the Perfect Lady while the others cheer them on, then join in to some extent by taking a couple of pokes at each other as well.

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The Matron has to break up the fight saying, “This is a decent jail—you can’t act here the way you do at home!”  When Charleston Lou thinks the Matron isn’t watching, she palms the scissors that was being used to cut out Roxie’s newspaper write ups, but the Matron is wise to her ways and takes them from her.  Just then, a guard comes to take Roxie to see her husband, paper clippings and all.  Amos just can’t believe that all she cares about is the publicity she’s getting without a thought in her head with regards to the man she murdered.

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This is where she meets and hopes to impress Flynn.  She dresses up for him and Flynn tells them he’ll do them the favour of representing her as long as Amos can come up with $5,000 in cash.  Amos pawns everything he can think of, including his expensive watch, taking a cheap one just so he can at least know the time, but is still $2,500 short.  Flynn isn’t interested in representing Roxie unless he gets the whole amount.  As Amos leaves Flynn’s abode, he finds a rather interesting way to break back into his basement.  Here he overhears Flynn discuss his crooked dealings and sees where he hides his cash.  (I just have to insert here that the avant garde makeup they use to “disguise” Amos is pretty eye-catching.)  But Amos doesn’t get away easily; he accidently breaks a figurine which alerts the butler and then Flynn.  However, he does manage to escape with $10,000 in cash, but in the kafuffle he leaves behind his watch.  Now at home, he hides the money in the earth of a planter.

Roxie is delighted to see Amos with the cash but immediately insists she needs even more cash for her own personal expenses.  After all, she has to look right for her big performance in court.  Although Flynn can’t prove it, he’s pretty sure that Amos was the one who broke into his home.

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Meanwhile, as the Matron hems Roxie’s demure dress, she and Flynn rehearse for the big day until she gets her expressions exact and down pat.  They are actually a perfect pair—phoney and attention seeking.  So in the end, with their over-acted performances, does she get acquitted?  If you know the story, you know the answer.

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And what about Amos?  Is he finally caught out for stealing Flynn’s illicit cash?  How does Katie fit into the story’s end?  Does Amos still love Roxie?

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There are so many wonderful touches in this film.  Though in 1927 the phrase “Fifteen Minutes of Fame” was not yet created by Andy Warhol, Roxie’s 15 minutes nevertheless is up almost before it begins when Two Gun Rosie (Viola Louie) makes her appearance.  There was the obvious symbolism of the newspaper with Roxie’s story and fame being rained on, walked on and kicked out of the way by random feet and then finally flows down into the gutter; Phyllis Haver’s use of her tongue which was purposefully noticeable and very undignified; along with lots of gum chewing by her and other women which must have been au courant in the flapper age.

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It’s beautifully filmed by cinematographer J. Pervell Marley and interestingly the art direction is by future director Mitchell Leisen.  Originally based on a true story, the play was written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, but DeMille decided to use Hollywood’s highly experienced film scenarist Lenore J. Coffee to write the screenplay.

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As for Victor Varconi, he was a cross between Valentino and Liam Neeson.  I had no idea that I had seen him before in films such as SAFE IN HELL (1931), DANCING PIRATE (1936) and STRANGE CARGO (1940), just to name a few.

June 30, 2014
Watched FLESH AND FANTASY (1943), a sort of sequel to Tales of Manhattan (1942).  Also directed by Julien Duvivier, it stars some of the people from the cast of the 1942 film.  However there are only three supernatural-themed but weaker stories to Manhattan’s six tales.  Universal Pictures released this film while Manhattan was produced at Twentieth Century Fox.  I’m guessing that Tales of Manhattan did quite well at the box office so Duvivier and Boyer decided to produce this follow up themselves.  Don’t know if it was equally successful but kind of doubt it.

The stories are tied together by two men, Doakes (Robert Benchley) and Davis (David Hoffman) who meet at a Men’s Club.  Doakes claims that, although he had a nightmare the previous night, he’s not superstitious with Davis tells him a magical story and then asks him read two more himself.

I had a vague memory that I didn’t like the first story and on second viewing many years later, I can see why.  It’s the story of a woman, a seamstress, living in New Orleans and on the night of Mardi Gras a customer implores her to let her wear the dress she’s been working on for the past two days even though she can’t pay for it.  She promises she’ll pay her for it the very next morning, but Henrietta (Betty Field), who’s considered dowdy and mean, won’t give it to her and the woman loses all tact and tells Henrietta how ugly and unlovable she is.

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When she is alone, Henrietta studies herself in the mirror and I’m sorry to say that we can see that she’s actually very fine featured and young.

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So we know that all she needs is a makeover and she’ll be glamorous and that’s a big spoiler.

Notice the lighting on her face

Notice the lighting on her face in the next few images

Prophecy being told

Prophecy being told

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The rest of the story has her dressing up for Mardi Gras but wearing a mask with a pretty face to replace hers and meeting Michael (Robert Cummings), the man we learn she has had a major crush on for some time now but who has never noticed her.

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And suddenly, because she has turned beautiful inside (really?), she is now beautiful on the outside.

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We can see she has a good figure and lovely hair, so when she takes off the mask, how can we be surprised to see that she’s also pretty?

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And if she suddenly knows how to dress, style her hair and apply her makeup like an expert, then all I want to know was why she didn’t do it sooner?  Or are we supposed to believe this look is “natural”?  Or, are we supposed to believe that we are only seeing her through Michael’s eyes, who now sees her as beautiful because he loves the person within?  Give me a break!

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The second story, which is based on Wilde’s story Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime starred Edward G. Robinson and Thomas Mitchell from Tales of Manhattan.  It’s the story of an unbeliever of the supernatural, Marshall Tyler (Robinson), a wealthy lawyer, who has his palm read by clairvoyant Septimus Podgers (Mitchell) at a party hosted by Lady Pamela Hardwick (Dame May Whitty).

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Tyler is told that he and Rowena (Anna Lee) will be married even though Tyler, who is in love with her, had no idea she felt the same way.

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But there’s more that Podgers sees it in his palm but doesn’t want to tell him.  Tyler insists on knowing what he saw, will even pay 100 pounds to find out, so Podgers tells him to come visit him the following night.  When Tyler finds out what it is, he is haunted from then on and does everything in his power to fulfill it, until he finally succumbs to the prophecy.

The Devil's in the Mirror!

The Devil’s in the Mirror!

Now he's reflecting from the table top!

Now he’s reflecting from the table top!

The ending leads into the third story about Paul Gaspar (Charles Boyer playing another Paul), a famous tight rope walker, who has a dream that he falls to his death as a woman wearing lyre-shaped earrings screams.  So after just awaking from this dream, The Great Gaspar–The Drunken Gentleman of the Tight Rope (yes, that’s his shtick), must perform his act and loses his nerve.  What his act consists of is pretending to be drunk while walking the tightrope and at the finale, jumping from a higher wire to a second one 10 feet below without using a net.

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After this fiasco, kindly King Lamarr (Charles Winninger), the circus’s owner and manager, tells Paul that they will be sailing for America and that if he wants to use a net or go back to his old act when they perform there, King would rather that then have Paul make a fatal mistake.  While on board ship, during a horrible storm, Paul sees the woman of his dream.

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He meets Joan Stanley (Barbara Stanwyck) the next day during calm weather and tells her his story.  She begins to believe him when he describes the earrings.  But she tries her best to avoid him throughout the voyage although he is constantly stalking her.

I just happened to be passing by and the door was unlocked.  Can I come in?

I just happened to be passing by and the door was unlocked. Can I come in?

Luckily, she is intrigued and attracted to him (or his behaviour would have been obnoxious!—and after all, it is Charles Boyer) and they engage in a shipboard romance.  But after a few days in, another man, thinking he has met her before under the name Templeton in Cairo, makes Paul wonder about her.  She becomes defensive and that night Paul has another vivid dream, this time about Joan.  When the ship docks, the dream appears to be just that, a dream, and Joan promises to come see Paul do his regular act the following night.

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Paul is successful, Joan is there–earrings and all–to see it and just as she’s heading to Paul’s trailer to tell him she loves him, his dream about her comes true.

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So even though, they don’t live “happily ever after” at the film’s finish, I can see in my crystal ball that it will happen in the not-too-distant future.

June 25, 2014
I watched TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942), directed by Julien Duvivier, esteemed French director who also worked in Hollywood.

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This is one of those films, and there weren’t many, that are like short stories.  Little vignettes with a tail coat to tie them all together.  The copy that I have, I’m pleased to say,  contains a restored sequence with W.C. Fields that was not included in the original theatrical release so credits to that segment are not listed at the start or ending of the film.

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A classy, expensive dinner jacket has just arrived for matinee idol Paul Orman (Charles Boyer).  It’s meant to bring him good luck.

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The story’s about the love affair Paul’s carrying on with the gorgeous Ethel (Rita Hayworth) who’s married to millionaire John Halloway (Thomas Mitchell).  So which man does she really love?

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Paul’s chauffeur Luther (Eugene Pallette) lends the evening jacket to Harry Wilson’s (Cesar Romero) butler Edgar (Roland Young) for $10.00.

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Playboy Harry is engaged to Diane (Ginger Rogers).  Before they meet for lunch the very evening they are to be married, Diane is visited by her unhappily married friend Ellen (Gail Patrick) who’s sure that Diane will have no better luck in her marriage to Harry.

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Ellen has found incriminating evidence in her husband’s dinner jacket.  She heads to Harry’s with Diane, daring her to go through Harry’s dinner jacket which they find hanging on a chair.  Sure enough there is a badly spelled love letter from someone named “Squirrel” who is thanking her “Passionate Lion” for the mink coat, as well as mentioning a few other unmentionable things.

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Harry overhears Ellen and Diane reading the letter and rushes to call his good but straight-laced friend George (Henry Fonda) to bring his dinner jacket and pretend that they had accidently taken each other’s coats the previous evening.

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After Ellen leaves and while Harry is getting dressed for the day, Diane and George spend some quality time together when Squirrel (Marion Martin) arrives.

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Perhaps you can guess the rest, but it’s worth watching just for the roaring!

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Both Luther and Edgar take the coat to a used men’s clothing store.  From there lovely Elsa (Elsa Lanchester) purchases it for her musician husband Charles Smith (Charles Laughton), and my favourite story begins.

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It’s quite a heartwarming tale about the talented but unknown composer, Charles, who is finally given his first-ever chance to conduct his magnificent symphony.

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However, during his debut, mayhem occurs until the sensitivity of maestro Arturo Bellini (Victor Francen) puts everything right.

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After his success, Charles gives the dress coat to a Salvation Army-type of mission run by Joe (James Gleason) and Molly (Mae Marsh), telling her it’s a “rabbit’s foot”.  One of the soup kitchen’s patrons is alcoholic Larry Browne (Edward G. Robinson) who Joe finds sleeping in the gutter when he goes out looking for him.  He delivers a letter that has found its way to the Chinatown mission personally addressed to Larry inviting him to his university’s 25th anniversary dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in uptown Manhattan that very night.  So, we discover, Larry used to be “a somebody”.  Joe convinces him to go and, you guessed it, he wears the dinner jacket.

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When Larry arrives, the party is well on its way.  He abstains from drinking but, to my dismay, he also refuses the dinner!  With a room full of successful men, everyone is catching up with what everyone’s been up to and Larry tells them he’s just flown in from China. There’s a touching speech from Professor Lyons (Harry Davenport) which leaves everyone thinking about their life’s good fortune.  Lots of goodwill is flowing when Williams (George Sanders) appears and suddenly you can cut the tension between him and Larry with a knife.

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On top of that, ‘Hen’ Henderson (Donald Douglas) discovers that his wallet holding $1,000 is missing.  Well-into-his-cups Hank Bronson (James Rennie) playfully suggests that they hold court to find the culprit. This is where we find out what happened to Larry and how he came to fall so far.

Just as Joe and Molly decide to sell the jacket to the Santelli Brothers used clothes store, hope for Larry arrives in the form of old friends and all we can do is wish Larry the best of luck with the rest of his life.

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Here comes the missing segment with Professor Posselthistle (W.C. Fields) wandering into the Santelli Brothers store.  Lots of comedy ensues with the proprietor (Phil Silvers) selling the Professor a most ill-fitting dinner coat by having crookedly placed a fat wallet into the inner pocket.

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The dinner jacket is sold for $15 and the Prof discovers his been hoodwinked with newspaper cut into the shape of cash.

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Meanwhile Mr. Langehanke (Mary Astor’s real last name—her first was Lucille) discovers that his wife is hosting a meeting for The Uptown Association for the Downfall of Alcohol, with a lecture given by Professor Posselthistle.

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Mr. Langehanke has a secret bar hidden in the wall and decides to sabotage the meeting in the hopes of ending them forever by adding alcohol to the cocoanut milk that the Professor is giving his talk on.

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So you can just imagine the state of the audience by the end of the lecture.

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Such funny mumblings: “The liver. It goes well with bacon.”

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The last story has a burglar (J. Carrol Naish) first stealing the tail coat from Santelli’s and then robbing an illegal gambling casino of forty odd thousand dollars.  He takes off in a two-man plane where the jacket catches on fire.  Without thinking, he tosses it, money and all, from the plane and it lands in the most desolate, haunted looking field that Luke (Paul Robeson) and Esther (Ethel Waters) are rummaging through.  Where in Manhattan this place is, I’ve no idea!  It certainly isn’t urban.

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Being religious and superstitious folk, they believe the money has been sent from the Lord.  Being very poor, but good people, they decide to take the money to their preacher, Reverend Lazarus (Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson) do ask him to help them divide up the money amongst the village folk.  Bossy Esther decides that if someone prayed for rather than wished for something, they get the amount of money they need to purchase their desire.

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I found this segment irritating.  Black people were portrayed as poor, ultra-religious, drinkers, uneducated and simple.  After the money is doled out to meet all the town’s folks’ needs, Luke gives a speech that they are going to farm the land and share the profits evenly.  Sort of communist-like.  Bossy Esther decides that they haven’t asked Brother Christopher (George Reed) what he prayed for. If it was for $43,000, then he gets the money.  Luke leads the town’s folk to Christopher’s shelter and we found out he prayed for—the tail coat!

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So the tales end with a song sung by the great Paul Robeson as the credits come up.

Fabulous shot from the Edward G. Robinson story

Fabulous shot from the Edward G. Robinson story

Beautiful sets, cinematography and musical score.

June 19, 2014
I watched CONFESSION (1937), directed by Joe May, with Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter and Jane Bryan, a remake of the German film Mazurka (1935).

Confession (1937)

It’s the story about a Polish woman, Vera (Kay Francis), who is arrested for the murder of pianist Michael Michailow (the very villainous Basil Rathbone) when she shoots him down in cold blood at the cabaret she is singing at.  With him, is teenage girl and musical student, Lisa (the not-too-interesting actress Jane Bryan) who Michailow is well on his way to seducing.

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When she is brought to trial, Vera admits her guilt, but will give no defence.  So not until the courtroom is cleared, does the Judge (Donald Crisp) and we the audience learn what possessed her to do what she did.

Confession (1937)

Kay Francis always does her remarkable best in any role she is given.  Here she plays an operatic singer and the voice that issued from her was really quite beautiful.  I wondered who had dubbed the voice and it appears Joe May used the original score and songs which were sung by the actress Pola Negri (as Vera in Mazurka) with the soprano lines dubbed by singer Hilde Seipp.

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Kay always looked fabulous in clothes and there is no exception for her looks in this film.  She is both blonde and brunette with both looks working with her.

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As for her wardrobe, in particular there is one body-hugging dress with a shimmery, lace-like floral design that was hard to take my eyes off of.

Confession (1937)

The Dress

Not to give away the mystery, there is a scene when Vera is telling her story to the Judge, how she knew Michael in the “old country”.  Although she is faithfully married to military man Leonide Kirow (Ian Hunter), she had worked with and enjoyed the flirty company of Michailow.  While her husband is away on duty, she attends a party at Michael’s home where she drinks too much and becomes drunkenly dizzy and insists on being taken home.  Instead, Michael takes advantage of the situation and leads her up to one of his bedrooms.  When she awakes in the morning, she is very upset and embarrassed to find herself in this compromising position.  What I found hard to determine was what had really occurred.  Did they or didn’t they have sex?  And how could it stump me?  It would appear that that would have been Michailow’s motive.  But if that was the case, then how could Vera look so perfectly coifed?  Her hair, jewellery and attire were as perfect as they were before she was placed on the bed.  Did Michael not take advantage of her but just decide to put her in this compromising position for the sole purpose of making her feel cheap?  Why would anyone have to know about this, as no one saw him lead her upstairs and the only person who knew she came home in the early hours of the morning was her judgemental housekeeper.  Was Vera worried she would tell her husband?  This was a pivotal part of the story and I just couldn’t figure it out.  I wondered if we had to assume the worst but due to the Production Code, it couldn’t be spelled out.

Confession (1937)

Another side note is that the director Joe May, who left Germany for America with the rise of Hitler, drove the cast crazy with his almost scene-for-scene remake.  At times he would run sections of Mazurka on the set and would insist that the cast act the particular scene in the same way.  This did not make for a happy group.  However, most reviews of the film were quite positive and I certainly agree that it was entertaining with beautiful sets, good dialogue (although funny to hear a 17 or 18 year old call her mother “mommy”) and with actors I always enjoy watching in most any film.

May 15, 2014
Watched IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD (1939) directed by W.S. Van Dyke with Claudette Colbert, James Stewart and Guy Kibbee.

I was looking forward to viewing this film as I don’t remember ever seeing it before.  Based on an original story by Ben Hecht and Herman J. Mankiewicz, screenplay by Ben Hecht, I was all prepped to enjoy it.  I was disappointed. I’ve never been a big lover of comedies and the reason this one didn’t appeal to me is that a lot of it was just too silly.

Doesn't it look like there's a Unicorn's horn is sticking out of her chest, heading for his ear?

Doesn’t it look like there’s a Unicorn’s horn sticking out of her chest, heading for Sidney Blackmer’s ear?

It starts off all right.  Guy Johnson (James Stewart) and Cap Streeter (Guy Kibbee) work together as private detectives.  Millionaire Willie Heyward (Ernest Truex), a nebbishy little guy is framed for the murder of showgirl Dolores Gonzales (Cecilia Callejo).

Showgirl Dolores Gonzales

Showgirl Dolores Gonzales-Nice Buttons and Bow!

Willie’s just married his fourth wife, Vivian Tarbel (Frances Drake) and Dolores announces she’s going to sue him for breach of promise.  James Stewart, employed by Heyward even before all of this begins, is called in to fetch him home when he goes, totally inebriated, to visit Dolores.  In case we couldn’t figure it out, it doesn’t take us long to learn why and by whom Willie’s been framed.  The only clue found in Dolores’s hand by Guy is half-a-dime.  Yes, that means half of a ten cent piece.  The killer tells us that he was taking it in to get fixed for the owner and it somehow got into Dolores’s hand when he killed her.  That makes no sense to begin with.  Where did the killer have this half-a-dime?  And how did she manage to pick something so small up as she died?  Did he leave it on purpose with her to frame his partner in crime?  How could that possibly benefit him?  It can’t.  So it’s gone over so quickly, we don’t really have time to think about the logic, just the idea that there is another half-a-dime floating out there somewhere in the world.  And, I realize it’s a moot point as this clue is needed for plot development.

It's a Wonderful World (9)

See what I mean?

Okay, once it’s established that the police are searching for Heyward and Guy, the story continues in an entertaining fashion right up until we meet poetess Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert).  She’s smart and flakey all at the same time.  Colbert is quite good at comedy, but we know she’s too smart to be flakey.  She’s kidnapped by Guy and in the next several scenes I start to think I could be watching Colbert and Gable travelling the road together in It Happened One Night.

It's a Wonderful World (3)

And this is where it gets too silly for me.  Although Stewart is initially funny looking dressed up as a boy scout master, the joke drags on a bit too long and it’s totally unbelievable that the police detectives searching for him could be so dumb as to not recognize him!  It’s just not my sense of humour.

It's a Wonderful World (5)

Eventually Edwina and Guy end up in a small town where a play is going to be premiered and where they’re hoping to find the owner of the other half-a-dime and the killers.  Just when Guy thinks he’s got everything tied up, he’s captured by the police.  Edwina comes to his rescue by declaring to the police that he is the real killer of Dolores and that they will find his love letters to her in the cabin where the real murderer is heading.  Her favourite oath, and the cutest line in the film is when she says “I swear by my eyes”.  Guy knows her well enough to follow her thoughts and let the police believe he’s the killer until the inevitable happy ending.

There’s also a short but good tussle between Edwina and Vivian.  Nice to see a brave woman.

It's a Wonderful World (7)

It is also quite enjoyable to see a still young, handsome and sometimes sexy James Stewart.

The Seduction Scene

The Seduction Scene

I found merit to this film; the dramatic aspects more entertaining than the comedy, and okay I’ll admit, there was some funny dialogue.

May 10, 2014
Watched THE THIRTEENTH GUEST (1932) directed by Alfred Ray with Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot and J. Farrell MacDonald.

This is an odd and humorous little murder mystery story and an early Ginger Rogers film.   It’s the story about a young woman, Marie Morgan (Ginger) who has returned, at night of course, to her old, derelict childhood house.  With flashlight in hand, she wanders through the rat and web infested house and comes upon a telephone.

Thirteenth Guest (6)

She picks up the receiver to find that it works and dials an operator (with a ridiculous voice) to ask her if she knows who would have installed the phone in this abandoned house.

Thirteenth Guest (5)

She doesn’t and Marie sits down at a still laid but dusty dining room table (think Miss Havishamish) and opens up an envelope that she was given on her 21st birthday.  Written on a piece of paper, she finds the numbers 13-13-13.  She then recalls, when she was a child, who sat where until she comes to the 13th chair.  Just as she’s trying to remember who that seat was for, she hears footsteps, walks towards them while asking if it’s a Mr. Barksdale, screams and then we hear a gunshot.  The taxi driver, waiting for her to come out, takes off to report what he heard to the police.  Captain Ryan (J. Farrell MacDonald) with Detective Grump (Paul Hurst) report to the coroner that they found a woman “deader then a mackerel” sitting at the dining room table.  It’s time to call in mastermind super sleuth Phil Winston (Lyle Talbot) who’s spending a night in with his latest love interest (Adrienne Dore).

Winston is eventually bothered enough to show up and he and the police begin investigating who had the phone installed.  Next, the photographers are there to photograph a dead but lifelike Marie sitting at the table in her childhood seat.

Thirteenth Guest (3)

How can Ginger Rogers’ character already be killed off?  And how was she killed?  Not by gunshot as it turns out, but by electrocution.

J. Farrell MacDonald and Lyle Talbot

J. Farrell MacDonald and Lyle Talbot

Marie’s brother (James Eagles) and his childhood friend, who also came for dinner, are brought in to talk to Detective Brown (William B. Davidson).  The detectives discuss the unusual  fact that the Morgan’s father left everything to the unknown 13th guest in his will.

Funny dialogue:  Detective Brown tells the brother to be careful, and he responds that he can take care of himself.  The detective says that it cost a lot to investigate a murder, so the brother replies that in that case, he’ll be careful.  Hilarious.

We discover that the lawyer, John Barksdale (Robert Klein) has installed the phone and lights in the abandoned house.  The police put out an APB to find him.  Meanwhile, back at the house, there is a masked person who hides behind a wall, but is able to see who answers the phone.  When anyone does, they are electrocuted and die.  Then this masked someone yells a crazed scream which scares any live person, like Detective Grump who goes running from the house.  He gives a comic recreation of the scream to Captain Ryan and Phil Winston.  When they get to the house they discover a dead Barksdale posed at the dining room table in his regular seat.

But who comes a-calling in the middle of this discovery?  A very live Marie.  Which begins Winston’s obnoxious insistence of calling Marie “a child” for most of the rest of the film.  Thirteenth Guest (2)

So who was the woman sitting at the table that looked identical Marie?  Who was the 13th guest?  Who wants to kill all the diners from those many years ago?  How does Winston keep the family safe from being knocked off?  What silly thing does Marie do when warned not to?  Does Winston actually have designs on “the child”?  Is Ginger Rogers a good screamer?  Is there any more funny dialogue?

Thirteenth Guest (1)

You’ll have to watch this old public domain film and find out for yourself!

April 25, 2014
Watched KISMET (1944) directed by William Dieterle with Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, and Edward Arnold.

What can I say?  It’s an absolutely gorgeous Technicolor film!  But the story?  It’s long and it’s hard to care.  It’s based on the play by Edward Knoblock, the screenplay by John Meehan.  Ronald Colman plays Hafiz, the Beggar King.  He has a daughter, Marsinah (Joy Page) and keeps promising her she’s going to marry the King of Bagdad.  She actually falls for the Caliph (James Craig) who has disguised himself as a gardener’s son so he can see how his people truely live.

Marsinah (Joy Page) and The Caliph (James Craig)

Marsinah (Joy Page) and The Caliph (James Craig)

The story opens up with Hafiz and the Caliph, incognito, meeting each other and going to a local “nightclub”.

Wonder what they've got in their hookahs?

Wonder what they’ve got in their hookahs?

The most entertaining moment of that scene is the frenetic dancing by Carmen D’Antonio.  Who choreographed that crazy dance?

Kismet (5)

Kismet (4)

Hafiz then receives a note from Queen Jamilla (Marlene Dietrich) to come to her bedroom tower.  How they originally met, I can’t imagine.  And what does she do all day and night?  It appears she grooms herself and sings.

Kismet (7)

Kismet (8)

Throughout the whole film, Marlene seems to have a slight smirk on her lips and doesn’t take anything or what any one says at all seriously.  She’s just there to have fun.  And considering she’s in a Islamic country, it’s pretty amazing that she is able to get away with inviting men to her chamber.  She is definitely the best thing in the film–from her gold-painted dance, all her fabulous outfits and her sexy spunk!

Husband Grand Vizier asks wife to dance for his guest

Husband Grand Vizier asks wife to dance for his guest

Kismet (11)

Kismet (12)

 

Kismet (13)

Kismet (2)

Who I felt most sorry for was Marsinah, Hafiz’s daughter.  Of course, she has to sneak out of the house to sit innocently and unmolested with the man she loves, even though her father will kill her if he finds out.  But even worse than her father killing her are the unattractive clothes she has to wear!  No matter the design, no matter how beautiful the colours were, she always looked dowdy.

Hafiz is hoping The Grand Vizier (Edward Arnold), will marry his daughter, even though he already has many wives, incidentally one of which is Queen Jamilla.  Shockingly, that doesn’t happen (just joking–we’re not shocked) and The Grand Vizier doesn’t live to the end of the film.  That way, Hafiz and Queen Jamilla can go away together.  Really?

Is this not gorgeous?!

Is this not gorgeous?!

By the way, I loved Arnold’s gold and black outfit when we first meet him.

Beautiful outfit Arnold!

Beautiful outfit Arnold!

And just so you can scratch your head with regard to the casting, comedic Hugh Herbert with his trademark laugh, plays Feisal, one of Hafiz’s drinking beggar buddies.

April 24, 2014
Watched THE SATURDAY NIGHT KID (1929) directed by A. Edward Sutherland with Clara Bow, Jean Arthur, Edna May Oliver and Jean Harlow.

It’s the story of two sisters, a nice one, Mayme (Clara Bow) and a not nice one, Janie (Jean Arthur).  Mayme and Janie live together in a room in a boarding house and work at Ginsberg’s Department Store.

Sisters Mayme and Janie share a room.

Sisters Mayme and Janie share a room.

Janie is always taking things that belong to her older sister Mayme; such things as money, the lingerie that Mayme says she’s saving “for an emergency–to be worn in case of fire only”; her love letters from Bill who also lives in the same boarding house, and then, hopefully, Bill himself.  Bill (James Hall) is the store clerk that Mayme is in love with and hopes to marry some day.

Mayme (Clara Bow) and Bill (James Hall)

Mayme (Clara Bow) and Bill (James Hall)

It’s quite entertaining to see Jean Arthur in this early role very unlike the roles she became famous for–sweet, sometimes ditzy and decent.  Here she’s conniving, whiney and cowardly.  She has been gambling her money, placing bets on horses through Lem (Charles Sellon) the lazy landlord husband of Lily (Ethel Wales) and when she keeps losing, she uses the welfare charity money collected from the Ginsberg employees that she’s responsible for.  Lem’s bet actually wins, but he lies to Janie, telling her he missed placing the bet on the winning horse, so he placed it on another that lost.  She knows he’s a liar and a crook, but he’s blackmailed her into not saying anything to his wife as he knows she used the charity’s money to place the bet.

Lem (Charles Sellon) and Janie (Jean Arthur)

Lem (Charles Sellon) and Janie (Jean Arthur)

But meanwhile, it’s the night of the department store’s charity dinner and dance, and Miss Streeter (Edna May Oliver) has organized a two-hour pageant which no one but herself wants to endure.  With amusing things happening such as the pageant scenery falling on her head, Oliver delights us playing the “propah”, ornery lady in her very Edna-May-Oliver way.  When Mayme doesn’t show up on time, Mr. Ginsberg cancels the show with the audience’s approval and this is when Miss Streeter asks Janie for the charity cash.  And who does Janie blame for it being missing?  You guessed it and she tells Miss Streeter that in fact Mayme stole it from her to specifically gamble it away.

The Girls - Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Ethel Wales

The Girls – Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Ethel Wales

Meanwhile Mayme, the star of the pageant–she’s playing Pleasure–and good sister that she is, is rolling dice with Lem to win back all the money Janie lost.  At first Lem thinks he’s dealing with a real innocent he can fleece.  But when he starts to give her a lesson on how to make the dice “behave”, Mayme tells him to “make ’em rattle”, and he realizes she’s no gambling novice.  It’s a snappy, enjoyable scene with her winning back all the charity money and more.

Mayme beating the pants off Lem

Mayme beating the pants off Lem

When Mayme finally shows up late, Bill, having heard the false story about her gambling with the charity money, comes to her saying he wants to save her by replacing the missing money.  Before she can respond, Miss. Streeter confronts Mayme and calls her “a miserable, common, vulgar hussy–and a thief”.

I am not a hussy or a thief!

I may be Pleasure but I am no hussy or thief!

While Janie is trying at first to stop Miss Streeter from talking, Miss Streeter repeats what Janie has told her as the mortified Janie slinks away home.  Later, Mayme walks into their room to find Janie packing for a quick getaway.  Mayme confronts and pours out her heart to her sister by telling her that what’s upset her even more than all the lies and deceits is that now Bill think she’s a crook.  The only response Janie can think to blurt out is that Mayme is jealous of her.  This enrages Mayme to such a degree that she repeatedly smacks Janie across face.  Luckily, the walls are paper thin and Bill has heard it all from his room.  And all’s well that ends well.

Saturday Night Kid (7)

I believe this was Jean Harlow’s first speaking role in a feature film.  Except for her final appearance, she’s hardly noticeable.  In a rooftop party scene, she has no lines and her back is mostly to the camera.  There is another scene where she enters the sisters’ room to tell them to hurry to the pageant.  Mayme calls her Pearl although In the credits she’s listed as Hazel.

Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Jean Arthur

Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Jean Arthur

Jean’s best scene is when she’s in a line up of people waiting to go on the stage for the pageant and Miss Streeter is questioning her about the whereabouts of Mayme.  She’s standing in a body-hugging costume facing the camera, and she’s the one who draws your eye. She also has the most lines.

There's Jean Harlow!

There’s Jean Harlow!

During this scene, the dialogue and Edna May Oliver’s droll delivery are quite funny.  Here are some examples:
“Stupidity, go find Pleasure.”
“Miss Streeter, what do I say when the dog bites me in the grotto?”  “What a thing to ask–at this late hour.  You say ‘ouch’.”

And again with Edna May Oliver

And again with Edna May Oliver

This was Clara Bow’s third talkie and I thought she was very good in the role.  Even though she was not at her most glamorous in this film, she was a very expressive and natural actress.  Of course she’s most famous for her silent films, but I think we are lucky that she made several talkies before she retired from the screen.

April 18, 2014
Watched THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) directed by John Ford with Edward G. Robinson and Jean Arthur.  John Ford is a highly respected director, mostly known for making Westerns. Since Westerns are not my favourite genre of film, I don’t watch a lot of them and this isn’t one of them.  So, just to let you know, this film is available on a five-film Ford box set with other, mostly late 1950 non-Western films except for TWO RODE TOGETHER (1961).  A strange box set for a 1935 film to be included in.

Jean Arthur and Edward G. Robinson

Jean Arthur and Edward G. Robinson

THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING is a highly entertaining story about a shy, meek office worker who is the doppelganger of a notorious killer terrorizing the country.  There are lots of mistaken identity scenes with mainly humorous results.  Jean Arthur plays Miss Clark, accountant Jonesy’s (Edward G. Robinson) secret love interest.  Both are wonderful to watch.

Donald Meek as Hoyt mistakes Jonesy for Mannion

Donald Meek as Hoyt mistakes Jonesy for Mannion

Jean Arthur’s role is pretty small, but when she is on the screen she is absolutely charming.  Her facial reaction to everything going on is priceless.  There is a scene where she is being grilled by the police, who thinks she is Mannion’s (also Edward G. Robinson) moll which is pretty hilarious.  Other than Jonesy, she thinks most other people are dopes.  She comes to the office late most every day and we never have any idea of what her job entails.  She’s always loafing around.

What is it that you actually do Miss Clark?

What is it that you actually do Miss Clark?

Edward G. Robinson was never nominated for an Oscar, never mind winning one.  This role could have been a contender for an Oscar though.  He had to play two totally different characters, one meek and apologetic who cared about other people and a ruthless killer totally self-centered and devious.  The scenes where he plays opposite himself show you what a good actor he was.  There’s no mistaking who he is in any scene, together or separate.  The lighting may have helped, but when you see the sweetness or worry in his eyes, you can’t imagine Jonesy ever having a bad thought towards another.

Jonesy and Mannion

Jonesy and Mannion

With alcohol, his bravado comes out and it gives him the nerve to plant a kiss on Miss Clark’s lips.  She’s pretty impressed with his confidence.

Feeling pretty cocky!

Feeling pretty cocky!

But that confidence dies when he confronts Mannion waiting for him in his boarding room.  His meekness returns full force and he becomes enslaved to every one of Mannion’s demands.  It’s hard to understand why he never goes to the police despite some of the freedom he has, but then, that would spoil the story.

Just do what I say and don't ask questions!

Just do what I say and don’t ask questions!

On the other hand when Robinson plays Mannion, he’s the cold-blooded gangster we know and love.  There’s only malice in his eyes and a sneer on his lips.  But there is depth to both characters because of Robinson’s great acting ability.

Miss Clark just figured out the man she kissed was NOT Jonesy!

Miss Clark just figured out the man she kissed was NOT Jonesy!

There’s a lovely acted scene where Jonesy has been tied up all day to a chair in his room.  Mannion tells his boys to untie him so he can use him in the hopes of setting himself up permanently free from the cops.  When Jonesy is being untied by the two mobsters, you can feel how sore his wrists and ankles have become by the chafing of the thick rope as well as how stiff his body has become from having to sit in one position for hours on end.

I could look like Mannion in this distorted mirror.

I COULD look like Mannion in this distorted mirror.

A friend and I were talking about Robinson playing these two roles and how good an actor has to be to make you believe he is two different people.  They may look identical, but there has to be something in their whole demeanour that makes you know who you’re watching without being told.  We talked about the scene where Mannion has to pretend that he’s Jonesy and my friend said that that would be quite a formidable acting feat.  I agree, but what makes it most interesting and skillful a job is that Robinson had to play Mannion playing Jonesy the way Mannion would–a little off; just as when Jonesy has to save his life by pretending he’s Mannion, we can see that if Mannion’s boys were being at all observant, they probably would have realized their mistake.

Off to Shanghai

Off to Shanghai

Great screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin.  A huge cast of extras.  Keep your eyes peeled for Lucille Ball as a Bank Employee.

Aprill 13, 2014
Watched THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD (1934) directed by William A. Seiter with Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. A very interesting story about a fabulously wealthy heiress, Dorothy, (Miriam Hopkins) who doesn’t believe she will ever fall in love. She’s engaged to Don (George Meeker) but they both end up admitting they don’t love each other.

Miriam Hopkins as Dorothy and George Meeker as Don

Miriam Hopkins as Dorothy and George Meeker as Don

So when she meets Tony (Joel McCrea) over a game of billiards, (we have to pretend she is a expert player–she has terrible form) the unexpected happens to her. Dorothy, though, needs to know that someone can love her for herself and not her fortune, so she introduces herself to Tony as her secretary, Sylvia.

You don't know that this girl is a hustler

You don’t know that this girl is a hustler

Dorothy and Sylvia (Fay Wray) who is married to Phillip (Reginald Denny), have been playing this game for a while, so they know the ropes of pretending they’re each other. Dorothy becomes quite excited when Tony invites her, as Sylvia, to go canoeing with him. She runs to get a sweater but by the time she makes it to the dock, Tony has already left with the real Sylvia in his canoe, thinking she’s the heiress. Instead of this making Dorothy feel sorry for herself, she grabs Phillip and takes off in a motor boat to purposely tip the canoe. She brings the boat back around and has Tony climb in while she instructs Phillip to dive in and “save” Sylvia. The joke is that Sylvia is an excellent swimmer while Phillip can’t swim for beans.

This is going to be cold!

This is going to be cold!

Back at the mansion, while Tony’s clothes are drying, he and Sylvia have a conversation over several drinks about love, grammar and the type of girl Tony would marry. Dorothy convinces Tony that the fake Dorothy is quite interested in him. They get drunk, and all I can say is they are very cute together.

Joel McCrea as Tony with Miriam Hopkins pretending to be Sylvia

Joel McCrea as Tony with Miriam Hopkins pretending to be Sylvia

Phillip isn’t happy when Sylvia tells him that she and Dorothy have planned to convince Tony to marry Sylvia, thinking of course that she’s Dorothy, to see if in the end he would realize that it’s the real Dorothy that he actually loves. Dorothy’s good friend and financial adviser of the company she owns, John Connors (Henry Stephenson), is worried that Tony will fail the test because, after all, Sylvia is an attractive, intelligent and personable woman so how could any normal man turn down those qualities along with the wealth that he believes is attached. Phillip tries to forbid her to do it, but the two woman override his demand. So off the four of them go to a nightclub. Dorothy physically flirts with Tony while they talk about Sylvia, and Tony keeps rising to the bait much to Dorothy’s chagrin.

You wouldn't think they were discussing his next move to get "Dorothy"

You wouldn’t think they were discussing his next move to get “Dorothy”

Because Tony has no real money of his own, Dorothy comes up with a scheme that she and he will put the money that they have scrimped and saved, $1,800 each, together (remember she’s makes a secretary’s salary) and with the stock tips they can get from Connors, they figure they can make a fortune. Hmmm, inside trading. That way, Tony can afford to court the fake Dorothy while the fake Sylvia says she can become rich on her own. She continues to press Tony about how he really feels about Sylvia.

Is this not the best matching collar and gloves set?

Is this not the best matching collar and gloves set?

Now the four of them, Dorothy, Sylvia, Phillip and Connors, prepare what they hope is the final step of the scheme on Tony. They all plan to meet at the Adirondack’s Lodge and it works out that there’s a rain storm brewing that night. So when Tony shows up, no one is there but the butler who starts him off with the yummiest hot toddy before dinner is served. Connors calls to let Tony know that Dorothy won’t be able to make it there until the next morning. Tony’s disappointed but understands. But while eating dinner, a car pulls up and Dorothy arrives. Tony is so glad to see “Sylvia”, he pours her a toddy, toasts her, not Dorothy, and after she dines, they end up before a raging fire in the main room. The butler is dismissed and with a knowing look between him and Dorothy, he turns out the lights as he leaves. Tony, feeling uncomfortable for a moment, makes the joking remark, “Where was Moses when the lights went out?” with Dorothy replying “in the dark.” Then he sits down next to her and asks her if she’s ever heard the story of Moses and the burning coal. So first snuggling close and then with his head in her lap, he proceeds to tell her the Sunday school story, while stroking her arm, complimenting her beauty and finally kissing her hand. She’s completely enraptured.

The man of her dreams

The man of her dreams

When he sits up, he kisses her and tells her it’s her that he wants. She struggles with giving in to him, then managing to think, she says that it isn’t fair to Dorothy, that he had come up to ask Dorothy to marry him. Tony says he doesn’t care, kisses her again, and then says the most horrible thing any man could say to a woman–“She wouldn’t have me anyway.” Dorothy springs up and heads to her room.

In the morning she tells Connors what happened but Connors thinks that Dorothy made the test too hard for Tony, repeating his thoughts about it being impossible for any normal man to resist wanting to marry the attractive and richest woman in the world. But Dorothy, even though she’s madly in love and can’t stop thinking of Tony for a split second, sticks to her guns that she doesn’t want him if she’s not his first choice.

When Tony comes to talk to her, Connors leaves, and he apologizes for what he said to her the night before, telling her how much he values her friendship and doesn’t want to lose it. She continues to test him by saying that “Dorothy” might still marry him and that he should ask her that evening. He stupidly still shows interest. After dinner, the five of them head into the main room, but Connors, Phillip and Dorothy continue on out with Dorothy switching off the main light as she leaves. Tony repeats his “Moses in the dark” line with Sylvia making the proper reply.

Connor and Phillip badger Dorothy into telling Tony the truth before he proposes to Sylvia. Dorothy is sure that he won’t. But she finally gives in to them and as she rises from her chair, Tony and Sylvia sweep into the room with the “good” news that Tony has proposed and “Dorothy’s” accepted. Tony is thrilled while Sylvia looks dismayed. Dorothy leaves without a word and Connors and Phillip excuse themselves. Sylvia claims she’s tired, Tony walks her to her room, kisses her goodnight and then knocks on a weeping Dorothy’s door to talk to her. She says she’s too tired, so he sits on the stairs happily reliving the evening when suddenly, he sees Phillip head towards and enter Sylvia’s room. Tony is crestfallen.

The newlyweds - Fay Wray as Syliva and Reginald Denny as Phillip

The newlyweds – Fay Wray as Syliva and Reginald Denny as Phillip

In the morning, Dorothy tells Connors and Sylvia she is ready to leave for the city when Tony walks in to tell Sylvia that he wouldn’t marry her if she was the last girl on earth. This causes Connors and Dorothy to smile to each other behind Tony’s back while Sylvia asks for an explanation. When he tells her what he saw, Dorothy claims it was she who had spent the night in the room that he saw Phillip enter. This just confuses Tony more and he leaves abruptly. Connors is even more confounded with her now than ever and says she’s completely blown her chances with him by admitting she’s slept with Phillip.

They are all seated at the breakfast table when Phillip comes in super chatty and happy as a lark from, what we know, is his great night in the sack with his wife. Tony socks him right out of his seat and tells Dorothy to leave this house of “ill repute”. She refuses so he picks her up and carries her out to the waiting car. And all’s well that ends well.

You're coming with me whether you like it or not--she does.

You’re coming with me whether you like it or not–she does.

What an unusual little story about a woman who was gutsy enough to weave a web to prove to herself that the man she wanted was worthy of her. Fay Wray was a perfect choice as her foil because, although she might be considered prettier than Miriam Hopkins, Dorothy had the much more interesting personality and you could see why Tony couldn’t help but be drawn to her. The story was written by Norman Krasna who after seeing his first filmed play, 1931s THE FRONT PAGE, decided there and then to become a playwright.

April 10, 2014
Watched MURDER IS MY BEAT (1955) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer with Paul Langton and Barbara Payton. It was made at the late end of the Film Noir era, in partial flashback with the feel of sometimes watching a play. Detective Ray Patrick (Langton) searches for and finds possible murderess Eden Lane (Payton) who believes she has killed a man named Dean until she thinks she sees him through her train window while travelling in the custody of Detective Patrick for Dean’s murder. Does she see him or doesn’t she? And if so, then whose face and fingers was burned beyond recognition in Dean’s apartment?

Murder is My Beat (1955)

Barbara Payton’s most unusual looks, platinum hair, dark eyebrows and puffy baby face, makes it hard to take your eyes off of her when she’s on the screen. It’s a low budget film–and it especially shows in Payton’s wardrobe.

Murder is My Beat (1955)

Barbara Payton must have had one of the saddest life stories. Born in November 1927, she came from an abusive, alcoholic home, was encouraged by her mother to flaunt her good looks and started acting in films in 1949 by the age of 21. Due to her hard living and hard drinking lifestyle, she ruined herself physically and mentally along with her career. MURDER IS MY BEAT is her second to last film (her last bit part as an uncredited townswoman was eight years later in the 1963 movie, 4 FOR TEXAS) and her last starring role.  Her career lasted only six years.

Murder is My Beat (1955)

Payton was married four times with her first marriage ending in annulment and the other three ending in divorce. She had one son.  Her most notorious marriage was to actor Franchot Tone who divorced her when he discovered she was still seeing actor Tom Neal.  During Tone and Payton’s engagement, Neal had put him in the hospital with broken bones and a serious concussion!

Murder is My Beat (1955)

Another watchable actress in the film was Tracey Roberts who plays Patsy Flint, a striking-looking woman, who leads our detective to Eden’s whereabouts.

Murder is My Beat (1955)

A favourite line in the film was when Ray asks Eden if she would like a drink while they are holed up in a motel together. She declines, saying that she only likes to drink when she is happy. In real life this wasn’t the case. Barbara died at the age of 39 of heart and liver failure.

March 30, 2014
We read GREAT EXPECTATIONS in school and I have seen the excellent 1946 version several times, so was glad to have the opportunity to view the 1934 film over the weekend. It was directed by Stuart Walker and starred Phillips Holmes and Jane Wyatt.

Great Expectations (1934)

Pip bringing “borrowed” food to Magwitch

If you don’t know the story of GREAT EXPECTATIONS than you should probably read the Dickens classic. It’s basically a story of many interconnected coincidences and misunderstandings that bring our hero Pip (Phillips Holmes) and Estella (Jane Wyatt) together. I think viewing this film with the famous 1946 version would make for an interesting comparison and certainly not only because Jaggers is played by the same actor, Francis L. Sullivan, in both films.

Great Expectations (1934)

Soldiers arrive Christmas Day to ask Joe and Pip to help search for the escaped convicts

I noticed in the credits that Valerie Hobson was cast as Biddy, and if I remember correctly was the kind housekeeper who looked after Pip when he was still a lad. But by the end of the film, and with no further scenes of his early family life except when he learns that he has a benefactor, I rightly figured that Valerie Hobson’s scenes were cut from the film. Interestingly, Miss Hobson was cast as Estella in the 1946 version.

http://www.julienslive.com/images/lot/1274/127436_0.jpg

Florence Reed as Miss Havisham

Phillips Holmes didn’t make a bad Pip, but the direction or writing or something didn’t make you believe that Miss Havisham was as demented and her life student Estella was as hard hearted as we know they should be. And George P. Breakston as the young Pip was just a bit too over acted.

Great Expectations (1934)

Henry Hull, who plays Abel Magwitch, Pip’s benefactor, again wasn’t bad in his role, but the terror and then the pathos you feel for Finlay Currie’s Magwitch in the 1946 version can’t be matched.

Great Expectations (1934)

Estella and Miss Havisham

The print I had wasn’t the best, but I was glad to have a copy. It was originally released on video, but until now, still hasn’t been released on DVD.

Great Expectations (1934) Great Expectations (1934)

March 28, 2014
I watched PLAY GIRL (1941) directed by Frank Woodruff with Kay Francis and Margaret Hamilton. The write up on the back of the DVD package proclaims, “In this edgy comedy that squeaked past the production code…” After watching it, believe me, the production code is heavily in place. What an insulting story for women of any age. And men too–they are not this stupid.

Grace Herbert (Kay Francis) is an older gold digger who has the ability to string men along in the romance department until she can get a “breach of promise” settlement settled on her. How does she manage this? She seems to be able to find rich men who are willing to spend thousands and thousands on clothes, cars, jewellery, rent and meals just in the hopes of getting her in the sack. Then when she “misinterprets” all of these things as a proposal of marriage and the man shies away, she goes for the cash. Really? The men are going to fall for this? When we first meet Grace, we think of her as sophisticated and worldly, and without a doubt sleeping with any of the men she wants to even while she’s scamming them.

We first lay eyes on her while she’s on a skiing holiday in Lake Placid with Don (Kane Richmond), a handsome man, somewhat younger than her who is definitely enjoying her company. Grace lives and travels with her companion/maid Josie (Margaret Hamilton–famous for playing the Wicked Witch of the West) and when there’s a knock on her suite door, it’s Don’s father, Joseph Shawhan (Stanley Andrews), the owner of a important newspaper who is there to inform her that if she doesn’t get her claws out of his son, he’s going to put her gold digging record, names and amounts, on the front page of his papers. So she does the only thing she knows how to do, packs up the few belongs she has, $1,500, a car, a piece of jewellery a prince gave her and has Josie make reservations at a Miami resort where there are new men to hustle. But when she gets there our aging goddess isn’t having any luck. Has she suddenly gotten too old? The funny thing about men, she says, is that when they’re 16 they’re crazy about girls who are 19, when they’re 25 they like girls their own age, when they’re 30 they’ll settle for girls 25 and at 40 they’re right back to where they started, chasing girls who are 19. What’s Grace going to do now that she’s past 30? She needs to pay her hotel bill so she parts with her beautiful broach for about a fifth of its worth.

At this interval, I’m already wondering why Grace hasn’t used her smarts to make any wise investments with some of the large cash amounts she’s managed to swindle.  Or is she just psychologically a spendthrift without the ability to save–always figuring there will be new chumps to finance her way of life.  Marriage can always be her last resort.

Play Girl (1941)

That’s terrible, Josie! Am I really “over the hill”?

When she returns home she finds a young woman waiting for her who faints dead away as soon as Grace and Josie walk into their hotel suite. It turns out Ellen Daley (Mildred Coles) is starving and being a 19-year-old orphan was hoping Grace, who’s been written up in the “who’s who” section of the paper, could give her a secretarial job of sorts. Of course Grace is not in need of anyone for that position, BUT she is in need of someone to train to take over her gold digging role. How convenient is that?! What’s interesting, is Kay Francis is way, way more attractive than Mildred Coles and, yes, even though she’s “older”, I just couldn’t see how the men went gaga for Ellen. But then I’m not a man.

Once the training is done and all the man-luring supplies are bought ({ugly} new dress, makeup, hair, etc.) they’re ready to hit the road to Chicago. Grace already has Ellen’s first conquest in mind, William (Bill) McDonald Vincent (Nigel Bruce), an aging wealthy bachelor who likes to pretend he’s 38.

Play Girl (1941)

Now remember Ellen, Bill won’t be able to resist you when he catches just a whiff of this perfume, even if your dress is ugly.

But on the way, they get a flat tire and of course they need a man to help them change it. So they sit on a picnic blanket with a radio playing in the middle of the road waiting for someone to rescue them.

Play Girl (1941)

Please don’t run us over; just fix our flat.

Since the road also happens to be parallel to train tracks, a non-passenger train just happens to come by and stop right where they’re sitting. In an empty flatbed there are two men, one being young and handsome who is chivalrous enough to give the ladies a hand. When he sets his sights on Ellen, he immediately falls in love and she’s not far behind. She learns his name, Tom Dice, (James Ellison) and where he works (the stockyards–and yes, because we’ve seen so many of these films, we can already assume he is an owner, not an employee even though the ladies can’t) but the noise of the train keeps him from hearing hers.

Settled in Chicago, Grace gives Bill a call. He’s almost going to brush the old girl off when he learns that her 19-year-old niece is with her. He’s immediately interested.

Play Girl (1941)

Your niece? Nineteen did you say?

Because this is a comedy, Grace and Ellen have a role-playing session where Grace plays Bill. So when Ellen is alone with him, doesn’t he just repeat the same responses that Grace used when she was pretending to be him. How brilliant and convenient to know you can predict what someone else is going to say. I guess she just knows her men so well. Now for the part I found the most unbelievable (and there are lots of unbelievable moments in this film); that Bill showers Ellen with clothes, cars, jewellery and more so that he can kiss her. Really? So there is nothing here that even closely resembles a pre-Code (except for having the wonderful Kay Francis star in it). Finally, when Bill gets to plant the most nothing of a kiss on Ellen’s lips, Grace gets to the heart of the scam by going to Bill’s office and congratulating him on his engagement to Ellen. When he stutters and splutters his way through this “misunderstanding”, she lets him know that as sorry as she is, Ellen, who is heartbroken, is going to sue him for breach of promise. Bill says he will then marry Ellen. Not to worry, Grace knows how to deal with that. She calls Ellen, Josie answers and she pretends that it’s Ellen on the other end of the line. She starts to talk up a storm of all the things that Bill and her will be doing on their honeymoon which flusters Bill even more and he grabs the receiver, telling Josie/Ellen that the wedding is off. He hands over a cheque for $50,000.

Play Girl (1941)

Bill’s dying to marry you Ellen!

The next chump is a younger millionaire, Van Payson (George P. Huntley) who has also fallen for Ellen’s charms (I still don’t know what they are although at least she seems like a pleasant sort of person).

Play Girl (1941)

Of course my plain old aunt needs to chaperone me Van.

He takes her to a symphony concert, her first, and who is also there but, you guessed it, Tom. He’s sitting a couple of rows behind her and how do you think he gets her attention? It’s hysterical–not. He shoots spit balls at her. And to make it even more hilarious, his first one hits Van, the second hits the elderly, distinguished lady sitting to Van’s left, the third the conductor and finally the fourth finds its way to Ellen’s back. But when the love of your life is shooting spit balls at you, hey, all is good. He mouths that he wants to meet her later, and even though we have no problem reading his lips, she can’t seem to understand what he’s saying–again another hilarious scene–he borrows the lipstick from the woman sitting next to him and writes the words on his program. When the concert is over, Ellen slips away with Tom while the elderly woman complains to the usher that she wants Van arrested for being a stalker type. And as we guessed, Grace discovers that Tom is really the son of the owner of the stockyards and he’s worth eleven million bucks.

So my question is, how is Tom single? He’s a strapping, good looking man even if he is somewhat “aw shucks”. Yet no woman’s grabbed him up? Makes no sense to me.

Grace is now thrilled to have Ellen go out with Tom. She does, but because he is a rich guy, she decides she can’t marry him; go figure. Even though Grace tells her to go for it, somehow Ellen thinks that that’s Grace’s way of getting her hands on Tom’s money. I’m not quite sure how that would work. Did they sign some sort of contract? Could that contract hold up in court? And even though Grace is a gold digger, she’s a nice one. We’ve seen no evidence of nastiness in her! So Ellen does the only reasonable thing–she runs away instead of accepting Tom’s proposal. Ellen’s an idiot. So Grace figures, hey, why not get Tom on the rebound. She’s not too old after all!!! Yay!

Play Girl (1941)

Tom proposes to Ellen

Meanwhile we have to watch another scene that builds up to a crescendo of more hilariousness. While at the steam bath, Van overhears Bill talking to a friend about being taken for $50,000 by a scheming woman. After the friend leaves, Van introduces himself and they both realize they’ve been scammed by the same two women. Together, they head over to Grace’s to declare that their feelings for Ellen were only platonic and their gifts meant nothing. But at that moment, the hotel manager shows up to ask Grace to pay the outstanding rent of $3,200 and $3,019.50 for clothes and other expenses. She charmingly manages to get both men to pay the bills while they pretend they weren’t just taken. Who knew rich men were so easy to con?

Play Girl (1941)

Grace asking Bill and Van to help her pay her bills.

Finally, Tom decides he’s in love with Grace and proposes. She accepts.

Play Girl (1941)

Tom proposes to Grace

And who happens to be in town and pay a visit to Grace? Why, Tom’s mother of course. (Katharine Alexander). Even though she claims to have had a hard life running the business and that explains why she looks so much older than Grace (she doesn’t), she tells Grace that she’s looked her up and knows that Grace is actually the one who’s two years older. How shocking is that?! Grace graciously decides that maybe she won’t marry Tom and when he arrives she tells him where to find Ellen. And not only that, Mrs. Dice tells Grace that her 40 something brother-in-law is down in the lobby and she thinks it’s time for him to settle down with a good woman. And they all live happily ever after.

Play Girl (1941)

Ready for anything

Okay, so here’s what was confusing. How old really was everyone suppose to be and how old were the actors who portrayed these people? To begin with, Margaret Hamilton was only 39 but because she was never made up to be glamorous, she was probably meant to be considered ancient. Kay Francis would have been all of 37 but it seems they tried to make her look older in some of the shots. Was Grace supposed to be in her early 40s or was 37 considered over the hill in 1941? Ellen was 19 and Mildred Coles was close–21. Kane Richmond who played Don, the young man she was first skiing with, was 36 but we’re meant to think he’s around 20. Today, we would think that Bill looked, what, 60ish or older? Nigel Bruce, who plays him, was 45! Van, who looked older than the other young men in the film, wasn’t. George P. Huntley was 37, same age as Kay. Now for Tom, who we had to assume was in his early 20s if Grace was old enough to be his mother, played by James Ellison, was actually 31. His mother, played by Katharine Alexander was 43.

Now, that is what had me in hysterics!

March 26, 2014
I watched CONFESSIONS OF A CO-ED (1931) directed by David Burton and Dudley Murphy starring two of my favourite actors, Phillips Holmes and Sylvia Sidney. Besides the fact that Sylvia Sidney is a fine actress, she is quite lovely to look at and she is the best sufferer the screen has ever seen. No one can break your heart like Sylvia. Phillips Holmes wasn’t perhaps the world’s greatest actor, but he was usually decent in the roles he was cast in. The first film that I ever saw him in when I was around 20 was STOLEN HEAVEN (1931) and I was so happy to see a very handsome, YOUNG man playing the role of, well, a young man. It always made me laugh wryly when some older man would call another man “son” or “young man” when the male they were addressing looked nearly as old as they were. Not Phillips Holmes. He was in his 20s when he made his 30 Hollywood films. Sadly he died at the age of 34 in 1941 when, following graduation, he and six of his aircraftsmen classmates were being transferred from Winnipeg to Ottawa and their plane collided with another one in Ontario killing all aboard. Very sad.

When I started to watch this film, I had a vague memory of seeing it before. Even though some things are predictable, I could visualize what would happen next. So probably TFS showed this film sometime in the past. As far as I know, this is the first of two films that they starred in together, with AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY being made right afterward.

The story starts out with the title and then we see Patricia Harper (Sylvia Sidney) writing in her diary. She writes that she had started college four years earlier (impressively studying chemistry) but had never finished it and here’s her story. Suave Dan Carter (Phillips Holmes) and wealthy Hal Evans (Norman Foster) are friends and when on campus on Sunday mornings, it appears that the students are expected to attend church. As in any day and age, the boys are ogling the girls and Hal notices Patricia (sitting next to a very leggy Claire Dodd–but we see no more of her in the film) and hopes to be introduced. After the service, Dan, who’s a player and knows he’s attractive to women, introduces himself and Hal to Pat. When another girl comes along, she invites them all to a student party, and not just any party, but one that features The Rhythm Boys-Bing Crosby’s trio!

Confessions of a Co-Ed  (1931)

Fab party!

At the party, we find Dan and Pat dancing and Hal looking hopelessly on. As is Peggy (Claudia Dell) who is in love with Dan and was his girl–last week. Peggy and Dan dance and talk and she tells him that she knows she was stupid to fall for his lines, especially the one where he says “you’re the first girl I’ve ever met that I’d rather talk to than kiss”. When another guy asks if he can cut in while they’re dancing, Dan happily hands Peggy over. He cuts in on Hal who’s dancing with Pat and they dance into the courtyard to talk.

Confessions of a Co-Ed  (1931)

Hal, allow me to cut in!

And wouldn’t you know it, he hands her the exact same line that Peggy first fell for. Pat tells him she doesn’t believe him, but you can see that she’s smitten with him. When Pat gets back to her dorm that night, she writes in her diary how much she likes Dan and that she thinks he’s a man of “ideals and isn’t ashamed of them or being honest.” Just then Peggy enters the room and tells her Dan was just stringing her along; to keep her hands off of him; that he’s hers. Sylvia crosses off “honest” and changes it to “dishonest.” And then she suffers.

The next evening, Dan keeps trying to get Pat on the phone but she won’t talk to him and when she finally does, she brushes him off. All the guys have gathered around Dan while he’s on the phone, and razz him when she hangs up on him. Hal is also happy to see him strike out with Pat. But the next moment the dorm phone rings. Dan runs to answer it but it’s Peggy and she talks him into meeting her and going for a drive in Hal’s car. She’s angry and sarcastic but Dan isn’t really paying any attention to what she says until she suggests they go off to “lover’s lane” and make out. Then he’s all ears. So off they go, park their car along side a couple of others but are warned that the police are trolling the place and they’d better watch out. As they head off into the woods together, someone lets out a warning cry and all the cars take off. Peggy and Dan are the last to leave so they are the ones the motorcycle cop follows. During the high speed chase, Hal’s car blows a tire and the cop wipes out. No one is badly hurt and Peggy and Dan leave the car and head back on foot to campus. Unfortunately, Peggy has left her vanity case in the car and it has her sorority pin on it.

In the meantime, all the girls from Pat’s sorority are in lounging pyjamas, eating chocolates, smoking, talking about the independence of women, and–you guessed it–boys when Peggy comes in and tells them what happened.

Confessions of a Co-Ed  (1931)

Girl’s Sorority chit-chat

Suddenly there’s a phone call from the girl’s Dean Marbridge (Eulalie Jensen) to the house president and she relays the message that the Dean wants to know which girl was in the car. At first the girls don’t want to tell, but when it’s suggested that they will all lose their privileges (parties), or worse, be kicked out of college, they decide to tell. All except Pat; she feels they should support Peggy, after all, it could happen to any of them, so they decide to keep quiet knowing they might all be punished. When the Dean gathers them together and threatens them all with suspension, Peggy gives herself up. She is told to leave the college and Dan is man enough to say he will go speak to his Dean but she tells him not to. She figures why ruin his life too. Peggy is quite shocked being kicked out and Pat thinks that she should be happy because she won back Dan. But Peggy knows better and says that Dan wasn’t interested in her all along and she’s now lost everything. She says she’ll go get work somewhere rather than go home in shame.

Hal invites Pat to go away with him (and most of the other students) to a ski weekend over Christmas. It’s his last term and then he’s going to join his father’s law firm. She agrees even though Dan will be going too. When they all get there, Dan tries talking to her but she acts distant even though we know she’s still very attracted to him. But when he does this amazing ski jump, she can’t resist him and leaves Hal to ski with Dan.

Confessions of a Co-Ed  (1931)

Happiness

They end up alone in a cabin together where they talk and she believes him when he says that he is in love with her.

Confessions of a Co-Ed  (1931)

The cottage

Later, when they all get back to college, one of the students tells another that he overheard Hal ratting on Dan to the boy’s Dean about the incident with Peggy. Dan gets expelled but thinks that it was Peggy who changed her mind and exposed him as her partner in make-out crime. He even feels he deserves the consequences and only regrets that he has no money with which to leave on a freighter. He also lets Hal know that he’s “almost in love” with Pat, the closest he’s ever been to loving any girl. Hal, who can’t wait to get rid of him, gives him $120 in the guise of being his pal. Now the path is clear for him to make Pat his own. Pat learns that Dan is leaving, tries to ring him, runs to see him but misses him as his taxi pulls away. She suffers big time. And for no small reason–she’s pregnant. Peggy comes to visit her and we find out she got a job in a tea room. When she learns about Pat’s dilemma, she advises her to marry Hal.

Confessions of a Co-Ed  (1931)

What should I do Peggy? Better marry Hal, Pat

At first Pat turns him down because she is unable to tell him the truth. Peggy has her write him a letter about her pregnancy and then offers to deliver it. But instead, she puts it in her pocket and tells Hal that even though Dan is still in Pat’s heart, she knows she’ll marry Hal if he wants her regardless. And he does. So she has managed to work it all out with Pat thinking Hal knows and Hal thinking he can make Pat forget Dan and love him. Peggy burns the letter.

Three years go by and the baby’s paternity never seems to have risen. Pat suspects that Peggy never gave Hal the letter and when Peggy visits for the first time since their marriage, they discuss it. Pat feels that she needs Hal to know and Peggy insists that she’ll ruin her marriage and Hal’s career with the knowledge. That very same day, Dan comes home from South America and looks up Hal. He’s done well and wants to repay Hal for the “loan”. Without giving anything away, he invites Dan to come home and meet his wife. Before he sees her, Dan confesses that he wants to find Pat as she’s his true love. Hal doesn’t bat an eyelash when Dan tells him this, because he thinks he has the upper hand. But then he discovers that Dan has actually slept with her and Hal is not happy with this piece of information. And when the child (adorable Dickie Moore) comes into the room, they all realize whose son he really is. Even though Pat is happy that Dan loves her and Hal is not going to stand in her way, she still suffers beautifully.

March 8, 2014
Watched DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE (1931) directed by Harry Beaumont.  It was the first teaming of Joan Crawford and Clark Gable with seven more films to follow.  I’ve seen the film three times in the past couple of years and watched it this last time at the request of a friend.  I certainly didn’t mind.  It’s an interesting story and Crawford and Gable are absolutely beautiful.

Bonnie (Joan Crawford) and Rodney (William Bakewell) are siblings who live with their widowed father (William Holden–but not THAT William Holden), a self-made millionaire.  The movie begins with a party on their father, Stanley Jordan’s yacht where lots of dancing, drinking and making out is going on.  Jordan and three of his cronies are playing cards and talking stock market in the cabin.  Bonnie is drinking with her boyfriend Bob (Lester Vail) and she thinks it’s getting too quiet and the party is dying.  Bob asks for the lights to be dimmed and tells everyone to take their clothes off.  Everyone immediately strips down to their undies and they all go diving off the side of the ship into the water.  When the party ends, Bonnie, in her onboard bedroom wearing a slinky nightgown, is blow drying her hair.  Bob comes in, also in his robe and PJs, bearing a nightcap. He tells her he loves her and she tells him she’s willing to “try love out–on approval.”  She’s anything but “old-fashion”.

Several days later, breakfasting with their father, he repremands Rodney for drinking too much and Bonnie for smoking at the table.  Rodney doesn’t care and Bonnie says the smoking helps keep her thin.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

Smoking for breakfast

Jordan is worried about the stockmarket.  Neither of his kids have any concerns.  They are idle and uneducated, not even finishing high school.  Rodney, whose main passion is drinking, gets a call from his bootlegger, Wally (Earle Foxe).  Even though this is just after the Depression, it seems bootlegging is still a going concern.  So while the kids are at an afternoon party enjoying the bootleg liquor Rodney ordered, Jordan is at the stock exchange.  His company’s stock have become worthless and he dies of a heart attack right on the market floor.

After the funeral, Rodney and Bonnie discover that they are penniless and that the house and all its furnishings will go to auction.  Bonnie overhears “friends” discussing what they are going to bid on.  Rodney’s a pessimist and always looking for his next drink.  Bonnie’s got the positive attitude in the family, accepting her situation but believing that something will come along to help them get on with life.  At the moment, she thinks it’s Bob.  Well, it is Bob, except he is rather ungallant by telling her he’ll “do the right thing; marry her of course; it’s the least he can do”.  She is very put off by this form of proposal and tells him she’s letting him off the hook.  He’s such a dork that he can’t figure out how disappointed she is by his obvious relief when she refuses his offer.  She doesn’t want marriage to be a favour but she’s pretty heartbroken.

Rodney decides he’s going to drink.  Bonnie decides she’s going to get a job and she gets one as a cub reporter at a newspaper.  She takes the crappy work thrown her way, the razzing and deals with it with her sense of humour intact.  She befriends her office mate Bert (Cliff Edwards–the voice of Jiminy Cricket) who develops a bit of a crush on her.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

Bonnie bringing a story to her Editor

When Bonnie gets home to the small apartment she shares with Rodney, she learns that he has a job lined up.  She’s really happy and tells him how good a job will make him feel about himself but we know that he’s up to no good.  He’s going, of course, into the bootlegging business with Wally.  Wally brings him to meet the boss, Jake Luva (the absolutely smouldering Clark Gable) who runs a nightclub with beautiful dancing girls.  (I looked hard but couldn’t see Ann Dvorak even though she was there somewhere.)  They take him on since he has the connections with society and wlll be able to sway his old pals to buy booze from them instead of their competition.

Bob comes a-calling because he realizes how much he misses Bonnie but she’s not home.  Rodney is and tells him that Bonnie isn’t really interested in the old crowd and manages to put in a sales pitch for booze while he has Bob’s attention.  Meanwhile, both Bonnie and Bert are working on gangland stories when a major shooting in a garage gets phoned in.  Parker, the editor (Purnell Pratt) sends out the male reporters to cover the story and Bonnie feels left out.  It turns out that it’s Luva’s gang who did the killing and Rodney was inadvertently the driver.  He realizes he’s gotten in way over his head and goes to get a drink at the club’s bar to settle his nerves.  He ends up sitting beside Bert who is there looking for the story and quickly sizes up Rodney as a guy who’s very nervous about something.  Bert pretends he’s one of the outside gang members and gets Rodney to spill that he was involved.  But notice has been taken, Rodney is called into the back office and gang member Whitey (Russell Hopton), who knows Bert is a reporter, chats him up while Rodney is manhandled by the very scary Gable (he’s quite intimidating in his very few early roles as a mobster–you’d be surprised if you’ve never seen them) while telling Luva what conversation transpired between the two of them.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

Intimidated by Gable

His consequence is that he will have to murder Bert before Bert makes it to the subway entrance–or there’ll be a double murder!  As Bert walks towards the subway, everyone greets him, knowing that they’re really saying goodbye.  At the subway entrance he sees Rodney, says hello and Rodney shoots him close range.  When the office finds out what happens, they want to be the ones who find his murderer.  There’s a $25,000 reward for whoever does.  Parker comes up with the idea for Bonnie to go undercover and become cheap-moll-nighclub-dancer Mary Smith who won’t stop at “anything” to get to know Jake Luva.  And she’s game on.

She the star in Luva’s cabaret and he blatantly let’s his woman Della (Natalie Moorhead) know that he’s got a yen for Mary.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

Della glances knowingly at her man

And on this particular night, Bob and the old gang are there to view the entertainment.  Bonnie is the centre of attention and she shimmies her way into all the men’s hearts as only Joan can.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

Joan shimmies while Bob watches

After her performance, she ignores Bob and heads straight to Luva’s table.  Jake insists one of his men buys Della a drink elsewhere while he invites Bonnie to sit with him.  They flirt.  He offers a cigarette, she smokes, he goes to kiss her and she blows smoke at him before the kiss lands.  Very sexy.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

I’m sitting here with a very dangerous man

He keeps trying to kiss her, but she won’t let him, gesturing that it’s too public.  So they dance with both Bob and Della looking unhappily on.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

You know your role and your place, Della

Luva invites her up for a private dinner in his rooms and she agrees.  You can actually feel the squeeze he gives her as she heads off to dress for the occasion.  Bob goes in search of her thinking of course this is her true profession and this doesn’t make him happy.  But again, he won’t commit to her.  Instead, he kisses her, she pulls away in distain, he smiles smugly and asks her what the matter is, after all she’s kissed him before,  she comes back with theirs is not a permanent arrangement, he asks her if she thinks she’s being clever and she retorts that he’s being vague–as usual.  He tries to insult her further by telling her he’ll set her up as his mistress but she tells him that she’s the one choosing her men, not the other way around.  He reminds her that he said he would marry her and she thanks him for being so condescending.  She becomes real for a moment and reminds him that she had loved him and thought he had loved her.  But with the wall back up, she lets him know it’s too late and she’s in charge of herself now as she flounces out of the beautiful Art Deco door.

It’s nice to see that at least her social upbringing made her a good pianist as she entertains Luva on his Baby Grand.  She’s alone with him, they’re drinking cocktails, telling their life stories when he tries to kiss her.  She’s really revolted by him and keeps trying to avoid his kisses, but he manages to plant one on her lips when the phone rings and she jumps up to answer it.  She recognizes the voice of her brother.  She’s shocked, sick and horrified but manages to hide it from Luva.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

My brother works for you!?

She uses the excuse she has to fix her makeup, heads into the bedroom and escapes down the fire escape.  She heads home and confronts Rodney with his call to Luva and her sudden understanding that it was he who shot Bert.  She heads back to her place to find Wally and Luva waiting for her.  Wally had recognized her when she made her earlier escape and now they’re going to take her for a “ride”.

Dance Fools Dance (1931)

Thought you were too smart for us?

Rodney comes walking in just before they leave, Wally pulling his gun to shoot Rodney, and Bonnie, brave woman, grabs the gun before he can shoot.  But both Luva and Rodney pull their guns, Wally regains his and there’s a three-way shoot out with Bonnie being the only survivor.

So it all ends well for Bonnie.  She gets the scoop and she gets her man–just the way she wants him.

What makes this such an interesting film is the strength of the female’s character.  She’s not afraid of life and she has a moral backbone.  She still lives in the era she was born into, but if she can’t have the easy life, then she knows how to work and stand up for herself.  She is good at hiding her true feelings from those around her if she needs to, but not from herself and us.  She’s loyal to those she loves regardless of their behaviour, although, if she can find the words, she tries to lift them up the notches of life’s ladder.

March 3, 2014
Watched BRIGHT LIGHTS (1930) [aka ADVENTURES IN AFRICA] with a film buff friend.  Directed by Michael Curtiz, it stars Dorothy Mackaill and Frank Fay.  It’s the story of show girl Louanne (Mackaill) who rises up from performing in sleazy dives to Broadway with the help of her vaudevillian friend Wally Dean (Fay).  It’s her last night on stage as she is set to marry millionaire Emerson Fairchild (Philip Strange) after the show.

Bright Lights (1930)

Louanne, Emerson and Wally

Louanne and Wally are really in love but neither will admit it to each other.  Wally doesn’t want to stand in the way of her having a better life and Louanne thinks she will be rejected if she proclaims her true feelings.  The sets are wonderful (by Anton Grot) such as the Art Deco opening,  the weird and amazing stage sets and the wonderful pre-Code show girl costumes.  We meet Luanne when she’s in the midst of undress.  When there’s a knock on her door, she quickly grabs a robe to cover herself up with when Wally walks in.  “Oh it’s you” she remarks in a way that lets us know he’s seen her like this many, many times before, tossing the robe then romps around the room in her sexy black lingerie.  Wally helps her dress, the best part of the outfit being her knee-high boots with long, sparkly material draping down to the foot.

Bright Lights (1930)

Her fiancé joins them and shortly afterwards reporters come to interview Louanne about her past life. She weaves a dull story about how she was an innocent young girl living in rural England and made friends with the flowers, birds and wildlife.

Bright Lights (1930)

Reminiscing about her innocent past life

We are then shown the “wildlife” when we are taken to some speakeasy where our heroine is performing Song of the Congo scantily dressed in (I suppose) African garb.  Her set is followed by a rather unusual blues performance by the klutziest gaggle of women you could ever have the pleasure of watching.  While Wally is performing his number, Miguel Parada (Noah Beery), who has been lusting after Louanne, sneaks backstage and watches her strip close to naked before she catches him spying.  She wants nothing to do with him (earing and all) or his illegal diamonds and tries to fight him off when he attempts to rape her.

Bright Lights (1930)

Wally comes to the rescue and like the brave woman Louanne is, throws a kerosene lamp at Parada’s face when she sees he’s overpowering Wally.  The two of them skedaddle before the mob of staff and patrons enter her dressing room.

There are other behind-the-scene stories going on as well.  There is a bitterly married showbiz couple Mame and Tom Avery (Daphne Pollard and Tom Dugan) who yell, slug, punch and even try to kill each other.  The loveable Frank McHugh plays one of the reporters (Fish) whose name suits him well as he is constantly drunk (and getting drunker) throughout the picture.  He becomes smitten with showgirl Violet (Jean Bary) who grows to find him an endearing liar by the tale’s end.

Bright Lights (1930)

Fish and Violet

There’s Connie Lamont (James Murray) who has showgirl Peggy North (Inez Courtney) swooning whenever she catches his eye.  She wants to marry him but he doesn’t want to settle down until he has some money under his belt.  He’s excited that he’s just gone into business with, as it turns out, Miguel Parada, not knowing that he is a crook.  She kind of tricks him into marrying her, but due to the circumstances, he happily concurs.

Parada, who’s in the theatre for Louanne’s last performance wants to cause a scandal.  Wally protects Louanne once again by pretending to have a gun which he passes onto Connie when he has to perform on stage.  Parada discovers it’s only a closed switchblade when he pulls a gun on Connie.  They wrestle and the gun goes off.  Since it’s a pre-Code, the murderer gets away scott-free with the help of his friends.

Bright Lights (1930)

Frank Fay, Frank McHugh and Edward J. Nugent

Marlene Dietrich may be famous for her woman-in-drag performance in Morocco which was released December 6, 1930, but Mackaill did it first in Bright Lights which was released September 21, 1930.  However, they aren’t really the same thing.

Bright Lights (1930)

Louanne does a quick-change artist move, stripping away the tux to end the performance in a sexy evening dress.  There is also the song I’m Crazy for Cannibal Love which is also set in African motif.  All of this is watched with disapproval by Emerson’s mother and (with enjoyment), his sister.  As we know from the beginning, Louanne is going to end up with her true love.

Bright Lights (1930)

Unfortunately, this movie was original filmed in two-strip Technicolor but except for a few newly found scenes, the colour film is lost so we watched it in black and white.  John Carradine played his first (uncredited) screen role as one of the reporters.  Frank Fay was Barbara Stanwyck’s husband from August 26, 1928 to December 30, 1935 when they divorced.

Bright Lights (1930)

February 27, 2014
Watched THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932) directed by George Archainbaud, with Irene Dunne, Ricardo Cortez and Myrna Loy.  It was based on the book by Tiffany Thayers about twelve women who had gone to school together, stayed in contact and became involved in a “round robin” letter.  The story opens by letting you know that we are all affected by psychology which has the ability to manipulate what we otherwise think is our predestined fate.  As in so many of her early films before THE THIN MAN (1934), Myrna Loy plays exotic, usually evil, non-Caucasian women.

Thirteen Women (1932)

In this film she’s Ursula Georgi and, as the hero states, she’s a “half-breed type–half-Hindu, half-Japanese…I don’t know” and she’s out for revenge.  And why?  Because a decade or so ago, twelve of her classmates at St. Alban’s Seminary unfortunately acted like typical teenage girls and weren’t very nice to her by not allowing her to join their sorority when she moved to San Francisco from India.  They were bullies and now it’s her turn to get even by rewriting the Swami’s predictions (C. Henry Gordon), who she has under her exotic and erotic spell.

Thirteen Women (1932)

The Swami and Ursula

She mails these letters to each woman, and of course these predictions are anything but happy.  They predict murder, suicide, incarceration and insanity.  Our first two victims are sisters May and June, uh huh, (Harriet Hagman and Mary Duncan) who are trapeze artists.  (This seems like an awfully unusual career choice for girls graduating from an all-girl finishing school!)  Classmate Hazel (Peg Entwistle) has come to see their act on that fateful day when June’s horoscope prediction comes true–May dies and June goes insane.

Thirteen Women (1932)

Then Hazel, who has also received a letter, takes her husband’s life and ruins her own.  (This was somewhat mirrored in real life when Entwistle sadly committed suicide by jumping from the HOLLYWOODLAND sign in LA only two days after the film’s release.)

Thirteen Women (1932)

Peg Entwistle

Although we don’t end up meeting all thirteen women, we do meet Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne),  Helen (Kay Johnson of MADAM SATAN fame) and Jo (Jill Esmond who was Laurence Oliver’s first wife at the time.)  Laura, a widow who is the one unbeliever of the group, also has a young son, Bobby (Wally Albright).  Ursula has learned the art of hypnosis, it seems, and when she’s through with the Swami, she is able to will him to “take” the subway as a way out.  That way, he can’t say that he didn’t write the letters.  Ursula’s next step is to accidently-on-purpose bump into Helen on the train she’s taking to visit Laura and Jo. Helen confides in Ursula about the letter which predicts her suicide and Ursula stands outside her compartment door until she is satisfied Helen has done the deed.  That’s when Police Sergeant Barry Clive (Ricardo Cortez) comes into the picture.  Cortez usually plays the heavy, but here he plays the good and clever hero.  Laura has received her prediction–that her son will die before his next birthday which is in three days’ time.

Thirteen Women (1932)

Mother and Son

Bobby’s nanny unwraps a parcel sent in the mail addressed to him for his birthday.  We recognize the hand-writing as Ursula’s and know it can’t be anything good.  It is chocolates and candy.  Laura snatches it away before Bobby can eat any and has it analyzed in a lab.  From this point on, Clive figures out all the twists and turns of Ursula’s ploys.

Thirteen Women (1932)

Myrna Loy and Ricardo Cortez

Ursula has an inside ally from the household–the chauffeur Burns (Edward Pawley).  Burns is smitten with Ursula and can’t keep his hands and lips off of her.  He will do anything she wants, including murder, just to have her.  Fortunately Laura has Clive to protect her and after a harrowing car chase, he sends her, Bobby and his nanny off to New York on a train.  But Ursula follows.  There are some great shots in the train scenes.  In the earlier train ride, Helen, who is contemplating suicide, leans against a mirror where you get to see “two sides” of her, sort of like Alice in the Looking Glass which appears to signify her tortured mind.

Thirteen Women (1932)

Troubled Mind

In this last scene, there is a fabulous shot where Loy is wearing a beautiful tight-fitting hat with layered lines running slightly diagonally around the surface while there are similar lines of a diagonal up-and-down design running on the wall just beside and behind her.

Thirteen Women (1932)

Threatening Diagonals

So, even thought this film was made in 1932, it’s the same old story.  Don’t bully when you’re young or you could suffer for it later.

Thirteen Women (1932)

Ursula has Laura worried

February 22, 2014
Watched BORN TO KILL (1947) last night.  I’ve never seen this film before and have only recently paid attention to the actor Lawrence Tierney.  It has the wonderful Claire Trevor and Walter Slezak in it and was directed by Robert Wise who also made the original, excellent THE HAUNTING (1963).  The story is about a woman, Helen (Claire Trevor) who has just gotten a divorce in Reno.  She is staying at a rooming house run by the aging alcoholic Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard) and younger Laury Palmer (Isabel Jewell).  On her last night there, Helen visits a casino where she silently interacts with another gambler, Sam (Lawrence Tierney).  When Laury and her date Danny (Tony Barrett) encounter Helen at the table, we also understand that Sam is the one that Laury is actually interested in.  Murder and mayhem follow, and Sam and Helen end up crossing paths again at the train station with both of them heading to San Francisco.  A very odd and disfunctional relationship gradually develops between Helen and Sam and it interferes with Helen’s relationships with her wealthy fiancé Fred (Philip Terry) and her wealthy half-sister Gerogia (Audrey Long).

Born to Kill (1947)

Audrey Long and Phillip Terry

Then there’s the best friend of Sam’s, Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.).  I wasn’t ever sure what he was supposed to represent.  In the film THE SCAR (1948), Paul Henreid’s psychopathic character had a caring brother (see SHORT REVIEWS January 25, 2014).  But Marty lets us know that he’s only known Sam for five years (although he states that to him that’s a long time) and he has Sam’s back in every situation.  Kind of like his guardian angel, which is sort of like the devil having one.  But Film Noirs are odd and so we just have to accept this character so the story can progress as it does.  (It is based on the novel by James Gunn so maybe it would make more sense to me in the book.)

Born to Kill (1947)

Elisha Cook Jr. and Esther Howard

And where does Walter Slezak’s character Arnett come in?  He is the detective hired by Mrs. Kraft to find out who murdered her dearest friend Laury.  Let’s me just say that it all ends as a Noir should end.

Born to Kill (1947)

Esther Howard and Walter Slezak; Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney; Lawrence Tierney, Elisha Cook Jr. and Esther Howard

Such a wonderful and interesting cast!  Claire Trevor’s character Helen was somewhat ambiguous.  She was hard to figure out.  I liked that.  Everyone else was what they seemed to be.  I noticed that the clothes worn by Trevor were beautiful but there was sometimes something askew about them.  For the first outfit I noticed, there was a necklace that she was wearing in an early scene and I wanted to reach out and straighten it so the centre piece sat between each clavicle.  At first I thought maybe it was just the angle of the camera, but it appeared slanted in every scene.  I realized that it actually wasn’t a necklace, but a jewelled collar for the dress attached to fine netting and it was purposely sewn in on a slant.

Born to Kill (1947)

The Necklace Dress

The second was a dress that had a purse so perfectly aligned that I wondered if it was actually permanently attached to the dress.  But as I’m wondering this, Helen suddenly flings it off and now the dress is symmetrical.

Born to Kill (1947)

The Purse Dress

Born to Kill (1947)

Esther Howard and Claire Trevor in an earlier scene wearing the Purse Dress

The third was a silky looking dress that had a special bangle design on her left shoulder which kept bringing your eye there.  There may have been more that I didn’t notice and maybe these designs weren’t meant to symbolize her distorted psyche, but I like to think they were.

Born to Kill (1947)

The Bangle Dress

Regarding Lawrence Tierney, I recently saw him in DILLINGER (1945) which I didn’t write about and after reading about him as well, I can see why he was well cast in these violent types of roles.  And here’s something interesting: while Sam and Helen were having one of their conversations, I suddenly realized he sounded an awful lot like Humphrey Bogart in his delivery and accent and made a note of that.  In the middle of the film, my son came home.  He was eating his dinner out of view of the TV and said, “Oh, you’re watching a film with Humphrey Bogart.”  So, that was really interesting especially because he doesn’t know who Lawrence Tierney is at all.

Born to Kill (1947)

Claire Trevor, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long and Lawrence Tierney

Walter Slezak may be best known for his role in Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT (1944) but it was interesting to learn that he was discovered by Michael Curtiz and actually became a matinee idol in German films of the 1920s.  Phillip Terry who played Helen’s handsome fiancé Fred was Joan Crawford’s third husband from 1945-1946.  Tony Barrett who played the small role of Danny was much more than an actor.  For instance, he developed the 1960s TV show THE MOD SQUAD as well as wrote some of the episodes.

February 17, 2014
Watched THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1934) directed by Harold Young.  Even though this was a legit copy, sadly it was a pretty poor print.  It’s a classic film that I saw many years ago on the big screen but wanted to watch it with my son who didn’t know the story.  I had started reading it to him when he was a wee lad, but we never got past the first chapter for some forgotten reason.  We remembered from the book that the first disguise the Pimpernel (Leslie Howard) dons was that of an old lady, but we weren’t fooled; he looked like an old man.

Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Stunning Merle Oberon and Handsome Leslie Howard

What became clear was that the story wasn’t really about a brave man and his soldiers who rescue French aristocrats from the blood-thirsty French Republicans.  It was really about Sir Percy Blakeney (the Pimpernel’s) relationship with his wife, Marguerite, played by Merle Oberon at her most stunning.  We are introduced to their marriage at the point where he is in full distain of her and lets her know it in every passing conversation.  She can’t understand for the life of her, it appears, why he is so mean and nasty all the time.  We don’t know either at first.  And as well, to cover up the fact that he is really the clever and intelligent Pimpernel, he acts like a ridiculous fop and libertine around anyone but his soldiers and now even his wife.  Why does she still love him?  It must only be because she has the memory of what he was like when they first met which had to be more like the Pimpernel and less like an idiot, and an unpleasant one at that.  We eventually learn why he has grown to hate her, or rather that he still loves her and hates himself for it.  But is this how couples really interact?  Maybe.  One asks another if they are responsible for their friend’s death and the answer is “Yes.”  And that’s the end of the conversation?  No asking how something like that can be?  The other party not wanting to explain themselves?  So although she claims her undying and sincere love for him, he doesn’t believe her.  What’s a poor girl to do?  Finally, things come to light–he discovers why she hated the aristocrat whose death he believes she was responsible for.  Then he discovers that she wasn’t actually responsible for his death firsthand.  At the same time, she learns who her husband really is and goes to save him because she again, inadvertently will be responsible for another person’s death–his.  It may sound convoluted but it is actually a very entertaining story and film.

Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Foppish Leslie Howard and Villainous Raymond Massey

Here are few interesting observations about the film: there is no musical score; you only hear music when there is music being played for a scene.  The evil Chauvelin is played by Torontonian Raymond Massey who has a perfect villainous face.   And apropos of when countries continue to kill their citizens, in the story, which takes place in 1792, when asked by a French woman if there’s any way to save her husband who’s still in France, the Prince of Wales (Nigel Bruce) says, “Madame, the (English) government does everything in its power to save those who are threatened by death in the prisons of the French Republic.  But if a country goes mad, it has the right to commit every horror within its own walls.”  THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL was written in 1917 but no matter when, superheroes are always welcome.

February 12, 2014
In tribute to Shirley Temple, I watched one of her films that I didn’t remember ever seeing before: STOWAWAY (1936), directed by William A. Seiter.  It was released on Christmas Day of that year and the film had an appropriate ending so it could be advertised as a holiday movie in all probability.  Shirley would have been 8 1/2 when she made the film.  I thought the film would be entertaining because, well, Shirley always is; in fact, here she sings a couple of songs and, because she’s anything but shy, she runs up on a stage and does imitations of Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Fred and Ginger.  The plot sounded odd when I first read about it as it appeared she was playing a Chinese girl named Ching-Ching (but she wasn’t; rather she was a Caucasian girl living with missionaries in China); it had Alice Faye who has a fabulous singing voice; Robert Young who was never a favourite of mine, but lately I’ve been seeing him in early ’30 films and my feelings have begun to change; Eugene Pallette who unfortunately really had nothing of a role and Arthur Treacher, who had the best lines and drollest (and best) delivery.   Shirley Temple movies aren’t considered strange, but I felt this one was.  Everyone was so nice and so good-hearted (except for the Chinese bandits who kill her miserable Missionary guardians off-camera in the first five minutes of the film so who cares) that you think either the world was innocent and simple and therefore has changed drastically since the Depression or you know that these films were made to be as unbelievable and light-hearted as they could possibly be BECAUSE of the Depression.

Stowaway (1936)

Jane Regan (I think), Alice Faye, Astrid Allwyn (I also think), Arthur Treacher, Helen Westley, Shirley, Robert Young and Eugene Pallette

Ching-Ching has no fear that anyone she meets would do her harm.  She just happily goes along with Tommy (Robert Young) when he invites her to sit in his car.

Stowaway (1936)

This film was not in colour

She sits on any man’s lap if he slaps his knee for her to jump up.  She fills the hearts of nearly every soul she meets with love.  Because of her, millionaire playboy Tommy and Susan (Alice Faye), who’s engaged to Richard (Allan Lane) and is travelling with his mother Mrs. Hope (Helen Westley) on a cruise ship, decide to marry so they can adopt Ching-Ching so she won’t have to be sent to a Singapore orphanage.  Everything is so simply handled.  Why can’t my life be like that?  Why are decisions so difficult and have to be weighed?  On one hand, should I marry this millionaire playboy who claims he likes to drink too often and doesn’t have to work a day in his life because his family didn’t lose their money in the Crash just to help him adopt this lovely little girl that he wants to do right by and then divorce him once we land in America by heading down to Reno because I totally understand and I want to be a good person and, because I’m a good person, I would never consider taking him for any of his money when I divorce him even though he is a millionaire and I will have to move back to China with my ex-fiancé who, although he works hard (and is more handsome but has a meddling mother who says she’ll stay out of our lives, but I know she won’t) only makes a pittance compared to what Tommy can spend on just flying me down to Reno and putting me up in a hotel for the divorce?  Or on the other hand…will this stop me from watching other Shirley Temple movies?  For sure not!

February 5, 2014
Watched THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US (1932) directed by Alfred E. Green with Ruth Chatterton (Caroline), George Brent (Julian) and a stunning Bette Davis (Malbro).  It begins with the announcement of the richest girl in the world being born to the Van Dykes in 1900; the announcement of her marriage to stockbroker Greg Grannard (John Miljan) in 1920; and in 1930, we finally meet Caroline who’s out for dinner with–Julian.

Rich Are Always With Us (1932)

Adrienne Dore, George Brent and Bette Davis

Julian, an novelist, is constantly confessing to Caroline his undying love, and while she is flattered and very attracted to him, she wants to remain faithful to her husband.  So even when they encounter Greg in the same restaurant dining out with Allison Adair (Adrienne Dore), Caroline won’t admit to herself that they are most probably having an affair.  And so they are.  So when Caroline eventually catches them in a romantic embrace, she confronts them, and Greg sheepishly admits the truth: he wants a divorce.  Caroline is too sophisticated and too in control of herself to ever throw a scene, so she submits to their wishes.  Julian, when he hears the news, is thrilled.  And Caroline confides only to him that she is heading off to Paris to obtain that divorce.  Interestingly, Caroline’s best friend, Malbro, is herself madly in love with Julian and throws herself at him at every opportunity even though Julian is constantly thwarting her.  Caroline knows this, doesn’t feel threatened in the least, and loves her regardless.  It’s a funny relationship.  Once Caroline is divorced, Julian goes running to Paris to meet up with her, but overhearing only one end of a conversation she’s having with Malbro, who’s in America, he feels dejected and leaves.  Caroline, who is only minutes behind him, is somehow unable to catch up with him before his plane takes off so she sails back to America alone.  When she gets home, Julian ignores her.  She doesn’t handle this well and there’s a great little scene where, after he’s left, you see her muttering to herself in anger.  But eventually, she convinces him of her love and all is well.  The major problem between them is that she has a deep, platonic affection for her ex-husband.  At first, it seems that Julian mistakes this affection for something more, but near the end, she says something that convinces him–and us–that she is a good-hearted human being.  How can he doubt her then and not love her more?

Rich Are Always With Us (1932)

Ruth Chatterton

In real life, Ruth Chatterton chose George Brent to play opposite her in this film and a few months later they were married.  You can see the real attraction the two have for each other.  But the marriage only lasted two years.  Interestingly, Bette Davis was in love with George Brent at one time, and also had a two-year affair with him.  Ruth Chatterton was never typically beautiful, but she had a lot of charm and elegance.  She was a strong actress who played most of her roles in the pre-Code era.  Even though she was slim and chic, I always thought she looked older than most of the major stars from the 30s.  And that’s because, even though she was playing a 30 year old, she was actually 40.  George Brent, who became a blander actor as he got older, was very good looking in the early 30s–when he was also in his early thirties.  He was as well a little more than six years Chatterton’s junior.  The script was well-written and was based on the novel of the same name by Ethel Pettit.  What I liked was the intricate subtleties of infidelity, divorce, the growing understanding of another’s character and people’s compassion.  And on top of that, to be the richest woman in the world!

February 2, 2014
Watched UNDER EIGHTEEN (1931) directed by Archie Mayo and starring loveliness herself, Marian Marsh.  The film was released January 2, 1932 but I think this still qualifies it as a 1931 film. It’s a pre-Code and Depression era film, but except for the gold digger theme and models running around scantily clad, it’s mainly a story about people trying to survive the Depression.  The sub-theme seems to be that marriage isn’t worth it for women.  And the alternative of finding a rich man to foot the bills but throw you over when a newer cutie comes along,  isn’t much better.  Margie Evans (Marian Marsh) idolizes her older sister Sophie (Anita Page) who is marrying her handsome sweetheart, Alf (Norman Foster).  As far as Sophie is concerned, their marriage will last because it’s based on “true love.”  By the time Margie reaches the age of 17, her father has died, the Depression has come and Sophie’s marriage is going south with her unemployed husband and a toddler to raise.  Margie has a boyfriend, Jimmie (Regis Toomey) who is rather a good catch.  He’s working and saving his dough to buy himself his own business with living quarters for them when they marry and a mother-in-law suite to boot.  But he’s overly jealous and possessive and when Margie witnesses Sophie’s husband Alf sock Sophie in the eye for haranguing him about his uselessness, she decides to give up on marrying Jimmie.

Under Eighteen (1931)

Two Daughters and their Mother: Anita Page, Marian Marsh and Emma Dunn

She is also saving money from her meagre earnings as a seamstress in a high-end fashion establishment (even François, the French owner (Paul Porcasi) has a mistress on the side whose taking him for a ride as well) but when she overhears the models and former-models who have hooked rich lovers, she decides that is the way the wind is blowing.  She gets her chance–by chance–when she models a fur coat for showgirl Babsy (played by Claire Dodd who is always the sidekick, never the star) who is the latest passion of pre-Code bad-boy Warren William.

Under Eighteen (1931)

The best eye-candy scene is when Margie decides to take Raymond’s (William) offer of visiting him in his Penthouse.  The reason for her visit is really spurred on by the fact that Sophie has decided to divorce her no-good husband (and there’s also reference made to having an abortion as well since she’s pregnant with her second child) and Margie is trying to find $200 for Sophie’s shyster lawyer, played with usual creepy perfection by Clarence Wilson.  When all her options run out she heads to Raymond’s penthouse where the art-deco elevator opens up to a huge pool party going on with dozens of good-looking young guests.  It is the best visual scene in the film.  The pool is spread out on what looks like the rooftop of a New York high-rise.  Raymond is schmoozing a new girl when his butler announces Margie’s arrival.   The young woman is sitting astride a plastic horse which Raymond is rocking back and forth in a most sexual way when he literally dunks her in the pool to greet his new conquest.  Here’s where things get a bit wonky and a bit out of character.  But as like most films, it all works out in the end and Margie and Sophie end up keeping their original lovers.  It just makes you wonder for how long.  The next time a fist is raised and hits its mark?  When finances have dwindled?  Or, in Sophie’s case, both.

January 31, 2014
Watched MISS PACIFIC FLEET (1935) with Joan Blondell, and Glenda Farrell.  A so-so movie.  You know this would have been a lot more fun if it had been a pre-Code but they did their best to make it as risqué as they could since it was a comedy and a few liberties could be taken, mainly in fast and sarcastic dialogue.  Blondell and Farrell played in about eight films together and were good friends off camera.  Directed by Ray Enright, Blondell said after working with him on several films, that she could predict what he wanted with her eyes closed.  The story is simple, about two Broadway chorus girls who have ended up in California working in a carny running a toss-ring concession.  When dumb Marine, played by the wonderful Allen Jenkins (Kewpie), expert ring tosser, basically wipes out any profits the girl he loves, Gloria (Joan) and her friend Mae (Glenda) make, the girls decide Gloria will enter a beauty contest that can be fixed to predict the winner.

Miss Pacific Fleet (1935)

Gloria and Mae watching in dismay Kewpie practice his ring tossing

To help, Kewpie accepts a boxing challenge in the hopes of winning 5,000 ballots to put towards any of the contestant, which of course he will give to Gloria.  August Freytag, the company executive who is offering the prize, is played by Hugh Herbert who, as per his speciality, is inevitably drunk in pretty much every scene he’s in.  And there is no end as to where his liquor is stored.  Books, cigars, you name it.

Miss Pacific Fleet (1935)

Hugh Herbert surrounded by some Miss Pacific Fleet Beauty Contestants

Marie Wilson, who plays Virginia, was a lot of fun in her small role.  Wilson was an attractive comedienne who perfected the scatterbrained dumb blonde character.  My son commented that Virginia seemed to be high–that’s because she was really dopey!  To add to the comedy, there’s an overly jealous Mrs. Freytag (Minna Gombell) and a handsome love interest (Warren Hull) for Gloria.  I will watch Joan Blondell even in a so-so film, since for me she especially epitomizes 30s Hollywood.

January 28, 2014
If you like Greta Garbo (and who doesn’t) and Carole Lombard, then you would enjoy watching THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (1936) directed by William K. Howard which a friend and I screened over the weekend.  It’s a mystery/comedy/romance all rolled into one delightful story about a Swedish princess aboard an ocean liner sailing towards an acting career in Hollywood.  Joining the voyage is King Mantell, a handsome bandleader (Fred MacMurray), an unidentified escaped killer and a great cast of character actors including Mischa Auer, George Barbier, Douglass Dumbrille and Porter Hall.

Princess Comes Across (1936)

Alison Skipworth plays Princess Olga’s platinum blonde chaperone and William Frawley is Mantell’s manager.

Princess Comes Across (1936)

The film is strewn with fabulous shipboard sets (great lamps), staterooms unlike those seen when you and I travel on a cruise line and, for the most part, beautiful gowns designed by Travis Barton worn by Lombard.  One unusual scene was a song sung by MacMurray as one of the evening’s entertainment.  And it was really him singing!  So where does Garbo come in?  Watch as Lombard channels her as Princess Olga.

January 25, 2014
Watched the film THE SCAR (1948) also known as HOLLOW TRIUMPH, produced by and starring Paul Henreid of CASABLANCA fame.  It was directed by Austria-Hungarian filmmaker István Székely who had his name Anglicized to Steve Sekely when he came to Hollywood.  The cinematography, dark and foreboding, is created by fellow Austria-Hungarian compatriot John Alton (born Johann Altmann).  Paul Henreid plays two roles in this dark and somewhat interesting film–a psychopathic criminal (John Muller) and a psychotherapist (Dr. Victor Bartok).

The Scar (1948)

Doppelgangers Johnny Muller and Victor Bartok played by Paul Henreid

As John Muller, he believes he’s a lot cleverer than he actually is.  The film starts out where he’s just finishing his jail sentence and the Warden is reciting his past history where we learn that Muller is educated and intelligent but that he has only used his talents for criminal purposes.  Although the Warden gives him a lead to a stable, but rather dull, low paying job, we know right away that Muller is not heading in that direction.  He is picked up by his cronies in a real beautiful car where they’ve brought along a hooker so that he can celebrate his release in more ways than one.  And he immediately starts scheming.  Joan Bennett, who plays the psychiatrist’s secretary, has a rather odd role.  At one point she is having an affair with the doctor.  Then she takes up with Muller knowing full well that the relationship will not lead anywhere.  You presume he never really cares for her as well, because, frankly, you don’t think he can care for anyone–even a brother that is always worried about him.  And then, even when she learns how despicable Muller is, she still wants to be with him.  So, what does that say about her?  Either she’s lucky it doesn’t work out for her or they would have been a pair “made in heaven”.  And their dialogue together was rather strange; I found it hard to follow–it was as if each of them didn’t understand what the other was talking about and were having totally different conversations.  (Maybe it was me.)

The Scar (1948)

Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett

There’s also a scene in the film where Muller has to meet a woman (the glamorous Leslie Brooks) on a date that was set up earlier by Dr. Bartok.  Muller doesn’t know what she looks like or her name and all I want to say is that it’s too bad we don’t call people “Darling” anymore as it is a most useful way to address people when you don’t know, or can’t remember, what they are called.  A major theme seemed to be that you can get away with a lot because people don’t really notice “the nose on your face”–or shall we say “scar”.  I loved watching Henreid smoke.  I’ve never seen a character smoking as much as he did–it was used as camouflage!  So without giving anything more away, the film ends where it more or less begins and I quite liked the tie-in.

January 22, 2014
Last night I had a mother and son movie night.  We watched GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (1933) directed by Gregory La Cava whose best known film is probably MY MAN GODFREY (1936).  This is a most unusual film.  Produced during the pre-Code and Depression era, it seems to have been based on two novels; T.F. Tweed’s Rinehard and the second being the same title as the film written by Anonymous.  And well it might have been.  Walter Huston plays the newly sworn in President Judson Hammond who is corrupt at heart and happy to have this top job that will allow him do what he pleases.  There are millions of men out of work in America alone and the leader of these men in Baltimore is John Bronson (David Landau) who is classed as a criminal alongside gangster Nick Diamond (C. Henry Gordon) by the President.  Once we know this, there is a pivotal scene where two things go on in juxtaposition with each other.  The President is playing with his beloved nephew (played by the adorable Dickie Moore) while at the same time, and in Hammond’s earshot, John Bronson’s speech is  being broadcast on the radio.  But Bronson’s heartfelt appeal to the Government to help American citizens live through and get out of the Depression appears to be falling, literally, on deaf ears.  You start to wonder if Hammond can actually hear the broadcast.  In the next scene, Hammond decides to go for a joy ride, reaching the speed of 98 mph, when his car crashes and he lies in a coma.  This is where the title comes in.  A spirit, the angel Gabriel we suppose, enters the dying President’s room and possesses his soul.  So when the “new” President arises from his sick-bed, one of the first things he does is meet with Bronson and explain to him what he’s going to do to lift the people out of the Depression.  And it’s truly rather shocking–his solution is Communism.  Without looking it up, I bet many people involved in the making of this film were on McCarthy’s list.  And there’s more.  Hammond eventually declares himself Dictator, although benevolent, in order for him to tackle the many problems of poverty, crime and world peace (since the real world knew World War II was on its way).  Pretty shocking again in how he handles criminals;  they go before Judge and Jury in a rather unusual surrealistic courtroom.

Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

Unusual Surrealistic Courtroom – Art Deco-Sciency-fictionish?

Watch C. Henry Gordon’s face in his very last moment on screen.  And world peace?–I’m not sure if I understood how it would work 100%, but at least the European and Asian world leaders agreed with the plan.  (I noticed there were no African leaders, but maybe they were too busy with their own tribal wars?!)  Franchot Tone and the not-seen-often-enough Karen Morely played the President’s Secretary and Personal Secretary (wink-wink).  But both played their roles with the intelligence one would need to be in their positions.  Possibly one of my favourite Tone roles.  And I liked that Morely’s character’s romantic interests evolved.  Anyway, my 15-year-old son thought it was a “very good film”.  And I agree.

Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

Director Gregory La Cava, Walter Huston, Franchot Tone and Karen Morely

January 20, 2014
Watched THE UNFAITHFUL (1947) on a double bill program–with PLEASE MURDER ME (1956)–at yesterday’s Toronto Film Society screening.  It was lovely Ann Sheridan who was the main character in a film which was loosely based on Maugham’s THE LETTER except that Sheridan wasn’t self-centred and slightly evil as Bette Davis was in the 1940 version.  But it was Eve Arden who lingered on my mind.  When Arden was on the screen, she was the one I couldn’t help watching– svelte, tall-looking, with a beautiful complexion-Hollywood-style, she wore clothes easily as well as Sheridan did.  In one scene, she sported the most interesting pair of glasses for a woman in 1947–sort of Harry Potter style, but with thicker frames.

Unfaithful (1947)

Cousins Zachary Scott and Eve Arden, with glasses

Eve Arden always seemed to be cast in sardonic roles but I began to wonder if she sounds snarky because of the quality of her voice or because the quality of her voice, with great delivery, was perfect for sarcastic lines. Either way, I find her totally entertaining.

Unfaithful (1947)

Cousins Zachary Scott and Eve Arden, sans glasses

January 16, 2014
Watched DANGEROUS PARADISE (1930).  What can a girl do when every man who sees her can’t help but sexually harass her?  Poor just-trying-to-make-a-living violin player/singer in an all-girl band, Alma (Nancy Carroll) just wants to be left alone, but she’s letched after by her married boss, Mr. Schomberg (Warner Oland) and creepy hotel guest, also married Mr. Zangiacomo (Clarence Wilson).

Dangerous Paradise (1930)

Fighting over cuite-pie Nancy Carroll

Mr. Schomberg’s wife, who’s sporting the original Princess Leila hairdo, along with all the other married women, blame poor Alma for their men’s unwanted attention.  Considering that Nancy Carroll resembles a real life Betty Boop, you can understand why men think she’s a real cutie, but she finds it nauseating and a little scary that they can’t leave her alone from one moment to the next.  So she escapes, stowing away on bland Mr. Nice Guy Richard Arlen’s boat which takes her to his personal remote island.  And because he’s bland (and likes to read a lot {!}), she’s safe there, except of course when a trio of villains come in search of hospitality.

Dangerous Paradise (1930)

Richard Arlen and Nancy Carroll

Then she’s back where she started–fighting off knife-wielding Ricardo who wants her more than gold, and possibly, if things went too far, would even have to contend with muscle-bound Pedro, although strong-arming and strangling are his real passion.  William A. Wellman directed this early pre-Code with a lovely performance by the wonderfully named actor Gustave von Seyffertitz as Mr. Jones who was in 120 films between 1917 and 1939.  Alma need not worry about unwanted advances from Mr. Jones because, as we’re told earlier on, “he doesn’t like women.”  Hmmm.  And very surprisingly, this film was based on the Joseph Conrad novel “Victory”! The DVD I have is not a particularly good print.  It came directly from film, and besides not being very sharp, there were a couple of sequences where the voices were out of synch with the image.  Still any chance to watch an unreleased pre-Code is fine by me.

January 15, 2014
Watched KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOR, 1937, directed by Jacques Feyder (who directed Garbo in THE KISS and the German version of ANNA CHRISTIE).  I’ve had a copy of this film in one form or another for a couple of decades and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.  I am a major Marlene Dietrich fan, yet for some reason haven’t seen all of her films.  So…to begin with, Marlene looked beautiful.  This is her fourth film after working with von Sternberg and she learnt a lot regarding lighting and makeup and it shows in this film.  I love how she can look so sweet and innocent as the sheltered Countess (and even when she isn’t any of those things in Sternberg’s films) and I find it hard to take my eyes off her when she is on the screen.

Knight Without Armor (1937)

It’s another Russian Revolution film (see SCARLET DAWN review below) and in my estimation rather brutal.  There are quite a few scenes where the Comrades in charge are flippantly deciding who is going to go before the firing squad.  There is lots of gunfire and mass murdering.  Certainly the Countess (Marlene) is lucky to have “nine lives”.  Robert Donat, who grows handsomer and handsomer as he becomes more and more dishevelled, plays her hero, an Englishman who pretends to be Russian when he gets caught up in the uprising.

Knight Without Armor (1937)

But I was wondering who really is the “Knight without Armor” in this film.  Although Donat saves the Countesses’ life several times, there is this wonderful scene where they both travel on a train in the company of Poushkoff, played by the English actor John Clements.  I think he actually might be the “Knight”, as really, he saves them both.  The story is based on the novel “Without Armor” by James Hilton who wrote a number of famous screenplays in Hollywood.  I don’t think this film is available on DVD, but if you see it on TCM or find a copy somewhere, I think you will find it historically and theatrically worth your while.

January 12, 2014
Watched the two Greta Garbo versions of ANNA CHRISTIE, 1930 directed by Clarence Brown and 1931 directed by Jacques Feyder.  The 1930 film is the American version which was Garbo’s first talkie where her husky voice thrilled audiences with the line, “Give me a whiskey.  Ginger ale on the side.  And don’t  be stingy, baby.” Although MGM produced both versions, one immediately following the other, except for Garbo, the other characters are played by German-born actors (except for Salka Viertel who was born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire) in the German 1931 version.  They were both made on the same lot, using the same sets.  There is an added opening scene in the American version where the audience is introduced to Garbo’s father, Chris and his live-in lover/housekeeper played by Marie Dressler who is drunk.  The scene that follows, where they leave the boat to go ashore is used as the opening scene in the German film.  There are at least two other scenes taken from a long angle that are used in both films.  Because the body shapes of Chris and Marthy in both versions are quite different, it’s easy to spot, especially when watching both films so close together.  Reading other reviews, it seems that most people prefer the German version.  I think there are strengths and weaknesses to both although I wonder sometimes if it’s due to the fact that I’m watching one right after the other so am used to what I’ve already experienced.  But here are some of the things I thought.  Although I like Marie Dressler quite a bit as an actress, I liked Salka Viertel’s portrayal of Marthy better.  Maybe because she did seem more European and realistically more attractive than Dressler in her hardened way.  You could always see her thinking.  Dressler is too bulldoggish for me to ever have imagined her as an attractive woman-of-the-streets, where I could see it with Viertel.  I have never read any of Eugene O’Neill’s plays but I have seen and read about a number of his plays-turned-film and have become very appreciative of his talent.  Frances Marion, pretty well the most renowned female screenwriter of the 20th century, wrote the English screenplay which was adapted by others for the German version.  I found Charles Bickman looked to me more like what I imagined a sailor to look like than Theo Shall, but both were good in their roles.  The dialogue was different in both versions but the story was obviously the same.  The actor who plays the father in the 1930 version had a square-shaped head and the dialogue seemed to be written for him personally when they referred to that attribute.  Greta wore a  different outfit and makeup in her opening scene and I liked the German look more.
Anna Christie (1930)

Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler American Style

Anna Christie (1931)

Greta Garbo and Salka Viertel European Style

Anna was 20 years old and although Garbo was only 25, like most actresses of the day, they always appeared to be much older and mature than what I thought a 20 year old would be.  Anyway, since I like the theme of watching remakes whether similar or very different, this was a very interesting double bill.
January 9, 2014
Last night I had a mother and daughter movie night.  She seems to be starting to like some older b&w movies and I suggested we watch HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941).  The last time I saw this film would have been when my son was about six (although he doesn’t remember it) and I have probably seen it one or two other times before then.  HERE COMES MR. JORDAN is a well-known and enjoyable comedy, with such nice performances from the male actors, Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Edward Everett Horton and James Gleason.  Okay, while watching I noticed a couple of things.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Claude Rains, Robert Montgomery and James Gleason.

One of the things that caught my eye was something I like for some reason; when a scene takes place in a home (in this instance) and a character walks from one room to the next and the camera becomes the fourth wall and fluidly follows him.  I just like the way that looks; it makes you feel like your the invisible watcher.  By the way, the sets for the Farnsworth house were really beautiful.  The other thing I need to mention is a couple of outfits worn by Evelyn Keyes.  The first one was a classy form fitting dress with a matching hat.  There were what looked like some jewelry-type studs across the top of the dress but what really looked threatening were the studs on the back of the hat.  I don’t know why I thought so, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them when they would show you the back of her head.  Scary.  The other outfit that made me take notice was a very stylish black coat/dress (with matching hat of course) that had a design near the top.  But when they shot a close up from the collarbone up, it kind of looked like Evelyn was wearing a bustier.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Does this look like a bustier to you? With a matching hat?

But then I started thinking more about the story.  Okay, I know it’s a comedy and a fantasy but I couldn’t help but wonder:  1) if time in heaven and time on earth are at a different pace, and in reality it is obvious that in earth-time there is no earthly way Joe’s body could have been cremated in so short a time as took place in the story, then why couldn’t Mr. Jordan go back in time before Joe’s body was cremated and un-cremate him?  (because then it would make a very short story).  2) If Mr. Jordan could reanimate Farnsworth’s body for Joe the first time, then how come he couldn’t do it the second time, especially 3) if Murphy’s body was killed the same way that Farnsworth was killed the second time.  (Oh, because the idea was that he had to end up in Murphy’s body for some sort of spiritual lesson?)  The last sort of funny thing I thought was that although I so much enjoy Robert Montgomery in pretty well everything I’ve seen him in, and certainly in this film, I never could believe he was a boxer–he was so cutely pudgy looking!  And I also loved his accent!
January 8, 2014
Watched STAR OF MIDNIGHT (1935) starring William Powell and Ginger Rogers.  I think they would have had a lot more fun with this story had it been written before the Code was imposed.  I may be wrong, but it seems they were kind of looking at THE THIN MAN formula and seeing if they could do the same sort of thing with Powell and Rogers that they did with Powell and Loy in that film.  Until the very last scene, Rogers isn’t married to Powell.  If it had been a pre-Code, she may not have had to marry him then either.  But she is his aide in helping to solve a murder.  There is still a lot of drinking by Powell but Rogers can’t (nor does she look like she wants to) keep up with him.
Star of Midnight (1935)

Powell likes these Manhattans so much, he drinks both

The story is a bit convoluted with too many names thrown around, sometimes without faces to go with them.  Everyone is more or less considered a suspect (like in THE THIN MAN) and the writers do their best to trick the audience until the very moment of revealing the murderer’s identity.  There still is some good dialogue including these two WASPs using the Yiddish word “meshigina” in their conversation, which Powell would have been familiar with in some of his other films situated in the Lower East Side in Manhattan.  But really, Yiddish words didn’t become more common-place in films until much later, possibly the 90s or 21st century and I wonder if the mainstream audience knew what the word meant or was it just an in-joke for Jews.  The best part for me in this film is the scene that takes place in Powell’s bathroom with two coppers.  And the star of that scene is the bathroom!  It is fabulous!  Art deco was on the outs by 1935, but there is still a trace of it here along with the centre piece–what every man should have in his bathroom–a barber chair!
Star of Midnight (1935)

Interesting set piece which changes up when you get to see the whole night club

January 6, 2014
Watched the 1932 film SCARLET DAWN (1932) starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Nancy Carroll.  I can imagine how lush it would have looked if I had had a better print.  Douglas was so great-looking at the ripe old age of 23 and I’ve always liked Nancy Carroll’s cupie-doll looks.
Scarlet Dawn (1932)

Oo-la-la!

Fairbanks plays Nikita, a Russian elite/soldier who has to leave behind his fortune when escaping the Revolution.  His sweet and adoring servant Tanyusha (Carroll) accompanies him to Turkey where he learns what it means to work to put food on the table as well as actually care for anyone but himself.  He meets up again with his former mistress Vera played by Lilyan Tashman.  Besides the two main actors, I like to see anything that features Tashman.  She was an interesting actress with a secretive personal life.  Although she was gay, she was married to the actor Edmund Lowe in a lavender relationship.  She was good friends with Kay Francis and sadly she died at the rather young age of 37 due to medical complications.
Scarlet Dawn (1932)

Lilyan Tashman

As for the pre-Code element to the film, there is the opening scene where Nikita and other soldiers are involved in what looks like a rather hedonistic orgy.  Directed by William Dieterle who also directed some of my favourite pre-Codes.


January 5, 2014
Watch THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE and THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS.  What do these two films have in common?  Well, besides Humphrey Bogart being in both of them, he seems to have the same mental illness.  (THE CAINE MUTINY would make it a trip…le bill.)  But besides Bogart being in both these two films, SIERRA MADRE is the better film by far.  It’s also a film I appreciated much more now than I did when I saw it as a teen–because there were no glamorous women in it–even though the basic story stayed with me so it obviously made an impact.  Walter Huston is great.  Both John Huston and Robert Blake have small but memorable roles in the film.

Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948)

Tim Holt, Walter Huston, Humphrey Bogart

Bogart shouldn’t have been cast in THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS.  If someone like Gregory Peck or maybe Cary Grant were cast in the role, I think it would have made a better film.  It needed someone more suave (sorry Boggy–it’s down to your enunciation) who you could believe was an painter/artist.  But I liked the little girl played by Ann Carter.   And even though she’s been in many films, I noticed and enjoyed Anita Sharp-Bolster as the servant.  Barbara is just good in everything.
Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

Ann Carter and Barbara Stanwyck

January 4, 2014

Reading a book about Joan Blondell’s life.  Watched GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933!  Everything you could wish for in a pre-Code.  The ending is quite blatant regarding War and the Depression with The Forgotten Man number, Image 1.  Even though Blondell had the main role, here’s a very sassy Ginger Rogers, Image 2, from the beginning of the film.  I also have to comment that Warren William is such a wonderful, strange actor!  I kept wondering the whole time if he was trying not to crack up when he was saying his lines with such sincerity?
Gold Diggers of 1933

Forgotten Man

Gold Diggers of 1933

Ginger Rogers

January 1, 2014
I finished reading the excellent book “Gloria Swanson: Ready for Her Close-up” by Tricia Welsch.  One of the photos in the book, see below, depicts the famous scene in MALE AND FEMALE (1919) where a male lion places his paw on Gloria’s back….  No special affects there.
Male and Female (1919)

Male and Female (1919)
Gloria Swanson and Lion

Reading details of how films are made makes me want to watch them as soon as possible, so since I own a so-so print on DVD, I watched the two-hour film.  SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) is probably her most famous film known by today’s viewers.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Gloria Swanson and William Holden

You can see photos of her from the Silent era in the background of this photo from SUNSET BOULEVARD.  The one on the right is a still from her film SADIE THOMPSON which I wrote about when I screened it and one of its remakes RAIN back in 2009.  In any event, if you are interested in film history, I highly recommend this book by Tricia Welsch.  And check out Gloria Swanson’s films.  She really was something!

2 thoughts on “Short Reviews 2014

  1. Pingback: The Criminal Code (1931) and The Earl of Chicago (1940) | CarensClassicCinema

  2. Pingback: The Phantom Chariot (1921) and Burglars (1930) | CarensClassicCinema

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