Short Reviews 2015

December 5, 2015
STRANGERS MAY KISS (1931), directed by George Ftizmaurice, is a film about women on the brink of emancipation from the limited thoughts of what makes women “good” and “bad”.  And it’s the women who have the capacity to break through this barrier, but unfortunately fail.  They fail because men and society’s stringent ideas of women’s sexual behaviour is a hard rule to break without them feeling they’ve done something immoral.  There are three examples of women in this film, all trying to make it in a man’s world.

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The film opens up with a wonderful little segment.  Lisbeth (Norma Shearer) and her lover, Alan (Neil Hamilton) are in a two seater plane.  They are both intoxicated with each other but the noise of the plane makes hearing the other impossible.  To scribble a message, Lisabeth opens up her little carry-on and we can’t help but notice it holds only lingerie, toiletries…and a pen.  He writes, “Kiss?” and she responds with, “Help yourself.”  While they indulge in each other, the plane takes a free-fall nose dive and when he straightens the plane out, you can only imagine how this tailspin added to the thrill of love in the pits of their stomachs.  This sets the mood for Lisbeth’s journey.

You know how they feel just by the look on their faces

You know how they feel just by the look on their faces

Lisbeth has another admirer though, in the form of childhood friend Steve (Robert Montgomery).  He’d marry her in a flash, but although she loves him, she’s not in love with him, she explains.  He’s actually pretty decent, with his only fault perhaps being his major love of alcohol.  And what about Alan?  Lisabeth is madly in love with him, but she knows he’s not the marrying kind, or so he’s told her.  She’s also convinced that marriage is overrated and that she can live a life with the man she loves without having to be tied down.  She is, after all, “free, white and 21”.  However, there’s one little snag; she’s not a he.

But first, let’s talk about Lisabeth’s Aunt Celia (Irene Rich) who believes she’s happily married to Andrew (Hale Hamilton), for something like fifteen years, no less.  It’s football season and there’s a big party celebrating the City’s win at a New York night club. Celia is going stag since she doesn’t know where Andrew is.  He’s up to his ears in business and that’s how it will be when Lisabeth and Steve marry, she claims.  Steve knows that with Alan in the picture, there’s not a chance for him.  But it doesn’t stop him from continually trying.  When they explain to Aunt Celia that Alan is a foreign correspondent who travels the world for news, she declares to Lisabeth:

Celia:  You wouldn’t be happy married to a man who traipses around like that.
Lisabeth: Well, who’s talking of marrying?  Why every girl isn’t born with a marriage license in her hand.
Celia: Aw, but Steve’s been in love with you for ages.  Oh but seriously, I don’t mean to be prying but if your mother were still alive…
Lisabeth: Dear Auntie, I’m free, white and 21, and I know my own mind.

Flattering Football Attire?

Flattering Football Attire?

Later on at the night club, Celia continues her discussion with Lisabeth and Alan on the merits, or not, of marriage:

Alan:  Marriage isn’t to be taken seriously.
Celia: Lisabeth?
Lisabeth:  Oh, I’m Swiss.  I’m neutral.
Celia:  Marriage without love of course is nothing.
Alan:  Pshaw.  Love and marriage mean internal combustion.
Celia:  Don’t you believe it.  Marriage and love aren’t enemies.  Why, a woman doesn’t know how to be in love until she’s been married ten years.

This is how you celebrate a football victory

This is how you celebrate a football victory

And it’s at that moment that Celia notices her husband at another table with two men and three young women.  When she leaves to compose herself, Alan makes himself the hero by heading over to inform Andrew that his wife is present.  But the girl he’s with is not having any of this.  When Celia returns, Andrew goes over to join them but he is confronted by his girlfriend (I think the actress may be Bess Flowers) at his wife’s table.  She takes him back with her and although Celia is being polite, everyone, including herself, knows she’s been deceived.  Her heart is broken and she is shattered.  She takes back her remarks about marriage, goes home and does the worst.

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The second woman in the film who has something to say about relationships is Geneva (Marjorie Rambeau), Lisabeth’s boss.  After deducing that Lisabeth is happily in love, she suggests:

Geneva: If you feel that way, why don’t you marry him?
Lisabeth: (Laughs)
Geneva: Well, why don’t you?
Lisabeth:  We don’t believe in the awful necessity of marriage.
Geneva: You mean, he doesn’t.
Lisabeth: I mean what I said.  And by the way, when did you go conventional?
Geneva: When I got sense.  At present I’m carrying on a purely platonic affair with a very rich man.  Platonic.
Lisabeth: You’re funny.
Geneva: No, clever.  I’ll marry him someday.  (Pause) Unless he’s smarter than I am.
Lisabeth: He isn’t.

Later on at the night club, just before Andrew makes his presence known, she is proposed to by Harry (Jed Prouty).  She’s quite happy and has decided that small-town living is where she can keep her husband safe from other preying women.

Love the neckline

Love the neckline

It’s Christmas and Lisabeth is spending it alone.  Steve calls her from out of town, drunk and in the company of Andrew.  He says he’ll be back to see her in the morning, again with a marriage proposal.  He never gives up.  But Alan has unexpectedly returned, explaining to Lisabeth he left because he “didn’t want to hurt her” in the same way her aunt was hurt.  She points out that not all women kill themselves, and that many pick up and go on to further adventures in love.  He’s full of flattery, saying he’s leaving on a two or three year assignment and wants her to join him.

By morning, she decides to take this rather risqué plunge. Geneva just happens to drop by to give her more advice on why she shouldn’t go off with Alan.  Then Steve and Andrew drop by.  My God, Andrew has advice for her!  He’s worried that she “was overdoing the hysteria” that made her Aunt Celia kill herself…and that she should marry Steve because matrimony, after all, is the natural….  She cuts him off with the following speech:

Lisabeth:  Oh, quit, will you.  You make me sick.  You think women should all be shoved into a coop-like pen.  That is “good” women.  The only important thing, you don’t mention at all.  You can’t tell me anything.  Women aren’t human things to you, they’re either wives or sweethearts.  Get a house, and some furniture, and some rugs, and a wife.

Geneva, who’s been listening while changing her clothes in the bedroom tells her she’s changed her mind about her going off with Alan and shoos her out the door.

This is how you dress in Me'hico

This is how you dress in Me’hico

Now she’s living on a tropical island with her lover and it’s all fun and games for the two of them.  That is, until he decides to tell her, his friend, a secret—that he just happens to have a wife in Paris.  And then more bad news, for Lisabeth anyway, arrives in the form of a telegram that instructs Alan that he has to leave immediately for Rio de Janeiro.  He decides to go off on this assignment on his own.  He’s such a jerk in the way he tells her.  Unbelievable.  He’s sending her back to New York.  She asks him if he has a girl in South America and he feels that it’s very unfair for her to ask him that.  She acquiesces that he’s right.  She decides to stay put and think about her life.  He doesn’t understand why she’s making such a fuss.  She knew what she was getting into.  It’s not fair of her to act so despondent.  It’s upsetting him.  She, the good sport, calmly says goodbye to him, wishing him luck.

Sorry, I have to leave...and did I tell you I was married?

Sorry, I have to leave…and did I tell you I was married?

So instead of heading back home, she heads to Europe for a carefree life, hobnobbing with wealthy men and laughing a lot, literally.

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She’s the Belle of Paris, that floozy.

Ray Milland is one of her admirers, in a speaking but uncredited role

Ray Milland is one of her admirers, in a speaking but uncredited role

After two years of flitting from man to man, and while she’s the guest of a very rich admirer, she receives a telegram from Alan, saying he’s divorced and ready to marry her.  She wants to leave immediately, but her host is not happy with that idea since he’s been spending a good amount of money on her.  She owes him.  She’s calculating enough to get herself out of that type of predicament (being held captive and raped—you know, THAT predicament) and enlists Steve’s help (he just happens to be in Europe at the moment) to escape.

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He even shoos off the advances of the sexy Spanish dancer (Conchita Montenegro) to help Lisabeth with her escapade, hoping it’s him she’s escaping with since Lisabeth is rather ambiguous as to why she suddenly wants to get away.  It’s not until they’re in his car that she shows him the telegram.  Oh well, no hard feelings as they snuggle up together.  And he doesn’t seem to mind that he missed out on private dance lessons if he had stayed.

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Back at her place, she places a phone call to Alan.  She’s so excited and asks him when he’s coming over.  He says he’s not and abruptly hangs up.  Uh oh.  That’s what happens when a man finds out a woman’s been behaving just like him for the past two years.

She heads over to his place and here’s the frustrating conversation:

Lisabeth:  I had to see you Alan.
Alan:  Why?  Do you want me to tell you what I found out as soon as soon as I set foot in Paris?
Lisabeth:  No.  (pause)  I don’t know.  To brush so near towards happiness.  And not get it.
Alan:  Yes.  It’s too bad.
Lisabeth:  But there’s so much.  The rest of our lives.
Alan:  If I thought there was anything to talk about, I’d have come to see you.
Lisabeth:  There’s one thing that’s important Alan.  That you ought to consider.  I didn’t think that I was ever going to see you again.  Don’t you see, I heard nothing?
Alan:  I wrote you twice from China.  Both letters came back.
Lisabeth:  Oh!  Then that was just bad luck, wasn’t it.
Alan:  Luck had nothing to do with it.  Nobody knew where you were.
Lisabeth:  But I hardly knew myself.
Alan:  I haven’t much respect for that.
Lisabeth:  But I didn’t think that I was ever going to see you again.  Don’t you understand?
Alan:  No, I don’t.  If I’d come back and found that you’d forgotten me, or that you’d fallen in love with someone else I’d have tried to win you all over again.   But this cheap, contemptable, promiscuousness…
Lisabeth:  Oh, wait a minute Alan!  You laid down the rules for me when you left me in Mexico.  You didn’t care a rat about what I did until you found out you loved me.
Alan:  All right, put a label on it.  It’s just plain, primitive brute jealousy.  If you loved me as you said you did, no other man in the whole world could ever put a hand on you.  Oh, it didn’t just sully me out.  It makes a joke of the word “love”.  It’s dragging some intangible flag in the dust.
Lisabeth:  I once held out my very heart to you but you liked your freedom best.  You wanted it for yourself so you let me have mine too.  And now because you don’t like what I’ve done with it, you’d kick me right back in the gutter where you think I belong.  Why, you’re great, you men, you proud, arrogant creatures…
Alan:  Then don’t marry the rotten world that they know all about.  Women like you won’t do.  I won’t spend the rest of my life looking at “shadows on the wall”.
Lisabeth:  Shadows on the wall.  I see.  Well, I’m going to tell you something now that I couldn’t tell you before.  But I can tell you now because I’m never going to see you again.  There were no shadows on the wall when we met.  I saved myself for the man I loved.
Alan:  But what’s that got to do with the past two years?
Lisabeth:  Why everything!  If you hadn’t liked your selfish liberty so well, you might have found out that you loved me sooner.  You wouldn’t have sent me whirling into empty spaces when I gambled everything I’d valued and lost.
Alan:  Rot.  Just the rotten alibi of indecent women and nothing else.
Lisabeth:  (containing herself) You’ll have plenty of time to change your mind about that.  I was only trying to tell you how much I loved you.  You set me free.  You didn’t know or care how empty or silly freedom is.  You’ll find out now though cause you love me.  You couldn’t be so brutal if you didn’t.  I’m going this time Alan.  You’ll find out what a curse freedom can be when you’re in love.  It’s your own medicine Alan.  Make the best of it.

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So Lisabeth gets the last word and meets up with Steve.  Steve still wants to marry her.  Even as he’s drinking, he’s telling her how he’s been laying off the drink so he can think.  He has no problem with “the shadows on the wall”.  Who doesn’t have those, he quips.  Decent bloke.  Of course, this is all representative of women being virgins and here is where Lisabeth is telling Steve that that’s the most important thing a woman can bring to a marriage.  Steve thinks that’s a lot of nonsense.  She is now in this ridiculous mindset that if Steve really loved her, he couldn’t forgive her for having slept around.  She’s fine with her life and Steve remarks that she’s been kicked around by two jackasses and she’s still quite a girl.  Really, there’s only one.  Steve just isn’t aggressive and pigheaded enough for Lisabeth’s taste.

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Back in New York, just heading into a Broadway show, the group of friends encounter Alan.  He’s settling down there as a rich businessman.  Now for the most nauseating of speeches:

Lisabeth:  I don’t want you to say you’re sorry for anything you said in Paris.  You were right.  I should have waited.  Even if you’d never come back.  I’m glad you expected so much of me.  I don’t know what you want to do, but there will never be anybody but you.  As long as I live.

During the show, Alan comes to fetch his true love, even if she is a celibate tramp.  Steve can now be free to become the alcoholic he craves to be without his true love getting on his case.

So what is the message in the end?  I have no idea.

November 17, 2015
Elaine Talbart (Frances Dee) is the catalyst that connects all the misdeeds that occur in BLOOD MONEY (1933), written and directed by Rowland Brown.  It’s a wild pre-Code with some unusual, even dizzying camerawork by cinematographer James Van Tree.

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Poor Noel Francis has a short and unsympathetic role in the first minute of the film.  She watches her sugar daddy, Red (Joe Sawyer), pack his things; he’s had enough of her and needs to get out of the city for other reasons as well.  She’s ungrateful, even though he’s given her clothes and furs, because she can’t wear them in public due to the fact they are stolen goods.  But the cops are at the door, using a key to enter to arrest Red.  When they easily find what they’re looking for, Red realizes Noel has squealed and he gives her a real hard sock which lands her on the floor.  And that’s how we’re introduced to the suitably named Bill Bailey, a bail bondsman (George Bancroft).

Bailey is also a pool shark and makes extra dough sinking shots.  Called back to his office, pool cue still in hand, he’s not shy getting his fee even if it’s owning the deed to a client’s house (Ann Brody) when she asks him to place bail for her 16 year old son (Henry Lewis Jr.) who’s been charged with criminal assault against a 38 year old woman.  In 1933, what were the laws like when charging a youth?  Does Bailey, and the audience of the times, know something we might not any longer?  Are we to assume the charges are false?  Or that the boy, being a youth, will get away with molesting an older woman?  Regardless, his mother, a nice little Jewish lady, believes in his innocence.  And we fear she may lose her home because of that belief.

The speakeasy Bailey frequents is owned by his girlfriend Ruby Darling (Judith Anderson in her first and only feature role before becoming famous as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca).  He stops to admire and acknowledge the singer (Blossom Seeley) before heading to the bar to order his regular, bourbon with a beer chaser, as well as a whiskey sour for one of the regular girls.  Also drinking beside him at the bar is a woman in drag (Kathlyn Williams—interesting if that credit is correct, as Williams at the age of 54 looks quite young) who he first assumes is a man due to her attire.  He almost does a double take when first noticing that he’s a she and then offers her a cigar. She feels it, smells it, hands it back declaring, “You big sissy.” and this sends Bailey into hysterics as he climbs up the stairs for his visit with Ruby.  This little scene is a gem.

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Jessica (the lovely Theresa Harris recognizable as one of three black actresses who was destined to play personal maids in early film), meets Bailey out in the hall to escort him into Ruby’s apartments.  Ruby’s there with her brother Drury (Chick Chandler) who’s getting ready to leave to meet, surprise of surprises, the “cute little tidbit” who’s dressed in a tuxedo.  Ruby doesn’t think he’ll get anywhere with her, but he claims she dresses that way for laughs, “She got a great sense of humour”.  As he’s heading downstairs, he meets Jessica coming up and asks her to fix his tie.  She exclaims that he’s always in a hurry and he replies, “That’s because I’m a guy that takes his time.”  Hmmm.

And now for the scene which establishes that Ruby and Bailey have something going for each other, some overly mushy dialogue that doesn’t quite suit the mature couple.  They actually don’t look wrong for each other, with Anderson playing a handsome woman rather than a pretty one, who at 36 looks close enough in age to Bancroft’s 51.

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Back at the bail office, in walks Elaine Talbart (Frances Dee) who uses the name Jane Smith to introduce herself.  When she makes a call to her father in the pay box, Bailey is able to listen in through a device installed in his office.  Elaine is wide-eyed in a wild sort of way.  She’s also a kleptomaniac.  Along with being charged for stealing a beaded bag at a department store, she steals Bailey’s cigarette lighter off his desk.  He offers to drive her home and when they make a stop at a drive-in to order her a burger—with plenty of onions—she lights another cigarette while waiting.  When Bailey notices what she’s lighting it with, his lighter with the inscription “To My Pal Bill Bailey from Jack Dempsey”, he takes it back with a look of surprise on his face.  Elaine smiles, leans back into the seat, looks him in the eye and drawls, “So what.”

Bailey is able to make a deal with Jordan, the department store manager (Edward Van Sloan) when he explains that “Jane Smith” is really Marcus P. Talbart’s daughter, controller of some of the biggest concerns in America.  They get the insurance broker on the phone who tells Jordan to drop the charges.

And speaking of enterprises Mr. Talbart is involved in, many of them are Hawaiian so this obviously leads to, you guessed I’m sure, a Hawaiian-themed party, with hula dancer (Grace Poggi) to boot.  And Elaine is very turned on by it all, exclaiming to Bailey that the dancing is “almost savage.”

Notice tongue action is included

Notice tongue action is included

This leads to a conversation about their relationships with others.  Bailey thinks the young Elaine is an innocent and feels ashamed of his many experiences with other women when she asks about them.  But she’s disappointed he didn’t tell her to mind her own business.  She wants a man who will be her master, who will take control of her, shoot any man who would even dare look at her.  He jokes around that she would have liked Al Capone but she’s not kidding.  He tells her she needs a good spanking which she changes to “thrashing”, and with glee in her eyes, says she would follow him around like a dog on a leash if that were the case.  This young woman has very bizarre, sick psychological fantasies and we’re ready to hear them all.  Bailey isn’t sure how to proceed with this conversation, so changes the subject to the food they’re eating–caviar and octopus, not something his palate is even interested in tasting.  Bored with the conversation, Elaine introduces Bailey to her father where they begin talking about their differences in politics and Elaine takes off to learn to dance the hula with the sexy female dancer.

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When the conversation between the two men shifts from politics to the fineness of Elaine, they both agree that the young woman has a bit too much “imagination”.  I think we all agree.  It’s interesting, though, that her father knows her well enough to indicate that if she wasn’t born into such an affluent family, she might have chosen another path.  Bailey gives him advice on how rich people can avoid arrest from shoplifting—open up accounts in department stores and when something is stolen, just have the store charge the account.  I must admit, I’d never heard or thought of that idea before.  Kind of interesting.

So, now we are brought to the moment of why we had to endure the earlier mushy-talk scene between Ruby and Bailey.  He has to confess to Ruby that he’s fallen for Elaine and there should be no hard feelings.  Ruby’s not happy, and Bill probably realizes that his line about her outgrowing him is just a bunch of guilty nonsense.  What’s a bit odd about the dialogue though, is that unless the Talbart’s have a luau party on a regular basis, this scene should have come before the previous one.  The reason I say this is because when Ruby asks Bailey to go out with her that evening, he says he already has plans and will be attending the Hawaiian-themed party at the Talbart’s.  A mix up in the reels of the version I watched or a problem with the original editing?

Interesting backless dress

Interesting backless dress

A bank’s been robbed.  Ruby’s brother is the obvious suspect, with two past convictions.  Third strike equals life imprisonment.  Ruby and Bailey head off to see Drury and discover from the horse’s mouth that he did it—he just couldn’t help himself.  But he thinks he’s safe since when he went back to the bank, the teller didn’t recognize him,  And, similar to OJ, the glove they found at the scene of the crime was, in this case, too big.  Although I’m not up on how the bail bond industry works, Bailey says that since the cops are looking for Drury anyway, he may as well go set bail for him.  Fifty-thousand dollars for a $500,000 robbery in case Drury has to jump bail.  But Drury says most of the bonds he stole are registered and so he may not even break even.  Okay, I’ll take his word for it.

Bailey and Elaine are at the dog races.  Why does she want to hang out with him, he enquires.  She likes the kind of people he knows.  They fascinate her.  After losing their bet on the race, Drury, who just happens to be there, drops by to say hello.  Now this part should interest most of you.  He’s with a couple of “ladies” who are not up to snuff apparently to be introduced to Elaine.  Although she’s identified as a girlfriend on IMDb, I would say that a dreary looking Lucille Ball and her unidentified friend are definitely not that.  When Bailey excuses himself for a few minutes, Elaine makes eyes at Drury and he pays the two women off and heads over to thrill Elaine.  But Bill heads back before Drury can tell her what a bank robbery is like.  She’s good at playing up to both, but heads off with Drury to place a bet and then flirts as seductively as possible.  She’s hooked him.

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Both men meet up for a game of golf but that’s not the only game they’re playing.  Both make an “important” phone call in adjacent phone booths.  Drury is faster on the draw and gets in touch with Elaine while Bailey only gets a busy signal.  Symbolic as well as obvious.

It’s night and Bailey has come calling on Drury to talk but there’s nobody home.  A cab pulls up and Drury and Elaine are cozy in the back seat.  He asks her to come up and she says not this time, so we know they’ve been alone together before.  He gets out and she rolls down the window and asks if he’s going to kiss her.  He asks what for and she rolls up her window in an angry huff.  He darts back in, and when they part, she announces that he bit her lip.  She’s also delighted.  Bailey meets him on the stairs with the bad news that there’s a dame who can identify him as the bank robber and advises him to skip town and jump bail.

Drury gives complicated travel instructions to Elaine for the two of them.  She’s excited for this “honeymoon” adventure (so do we assume they will be getting married?), even if it does only last a day, she claims.  He also gives her important instructions on what to do with the registered and unregistered bonds he’s stolen in the robbery.  Elaine, at the moment, is madly in love and needs to know that Drury feels the same.  In the most remorseful voice, he claims he does, but only we know what he’s looking at—money, escape and time.  This is really what matters to him.

Bailey still hasn’t a clue why he can’t ever seem to reach Elaine.  But when he looks through the bonds that she has dropped off to him and which are supposed to cover the jumped bail for Drury, they are the worthless registered bonds.

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Bailey informs Ruby that he’s going to bring the double-crossing rat, or so he believes, back and she insults him by calling him a copper.  After all, the thieves made him and they can break him.  He was a copper in his past life, and says he will always be one.  And look how she makes her money, running an illegal speakeasy with much more meaning implied.  Now she refers to the scene we saw earlier, where he gets his money from: poor young woman who have to give away their last piece of jewelry to the home deeds of struggling everyday people.  They part but there is lots of contempt on both sides.  Ruby gathers her crooked cronies around and gives the reason that Bailey is going after her brother is because he stole his girl, not because the bonds were worthless.  She wants them to break Bailey by having everyone he’s put up for bail to do just that—bail. 

I don’t want to give away the explosive ending which puts Bailey behind the 8 ball.   But I would like to comment more about Elaine.  Drury has been picked up and put in the can.   Elaine comes to see him under an assumed name and I guess in those days the only thing separating visitor and tenant is a bit of wood about neck high.  We don’t know the plan she’s come up with exactly, but it involves a gun and the unregistered bonds she kept for them to live on.  After all, she’s pretty sure her father is going to disown her.  When he hears she’s not turned the unregistered bonds over to Bailey, Drury’s hands come up over the separation and he slaps her so hard she falls to the floor.  As an observer, it’s rather disconcerting to see him do this to her (as it was at the beginning with Noel), but knowing Elaine, it would have been interesting to see her reaction.  We know she likes brutality in her men.  But suffice to say that Drury is finished with her, calling her a “dirty little bag”, and insisting he speak to his sister while he’s being toted away to isolation.

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In the very last scene Elaine knows for certain that Bailey is also through with her.  But she doesn’t have time to be upset as her attention is drawn to a woman (Sandra Shaw) in the street who’s crying.  When she asks her what the matter is, the woman tells her that she just had answered an ad for a model and when she applied in person the man in the office assaulted her.  “It was the most horrible experience of my life,” she repeats.  As she’s telling Elaine the story, you see the glitter of excitement appear in her eye and her face lights up.  She grabs the paper with the ad and heads off to apply.

In real life, this would be something that would make us shake our head as well as a situation that we would hope no woman would ever knowingly put herself in, never mind seeking it out.  But what does it mean in a film like this?  I’m reading Thomas Doherty’s book “Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934” and although he doesn’t specifically speak on this film, he explains much about how the Great Depression and politics played a major part in censorship and the fight against it.  So to me, Elaine’s character is titillating, destructive and perverse, just like the times; perhaps she’s the vice that comes from all the corruption.  She’s also in a realistic sense representative of the very few wealthy people who crave excitement and don’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from, certainly a polar opposite of the poor who are watching the film.  Whatever Elaine is, she’s a unique filmic character.

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As for dizzying shots, the one that caught my attention was the moment when Bailey leaves Ruby’s joint after telling her they’re quits.  The camera swings from him walking out the front door diagonally up to the second floor landing as Ruby is exiting from her apartments.  It’s a lovely little cinematic sweep.

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If you love pre-Code film, you won’t be disappointed watching this one.

October 27, 2015
Watched SCOTLAND YARD (aka Detective Clive Bart) (1930), directed by William K. Howard, with Edmund Lowe, Joan Bennett and Donald Crisp.  My print wasn’t great, with some of the heads cut partially or fully off at times, but it was still worth the viewing.

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Convict Dakin Barrolles (Edmund Lowe), on a foggy night, has escaped, we assume, from prison.  He’s swimming in the Thames while a boat of officers are out looking for him without much success.  He manages to climb aboard a houseboat that is the honeymoon abode of Sir John (also Edmund Lowe) and Lady Xandra (Joan Bennett) Lasher.

Scotland Yard (9)As you may well know, Joan Bennett was a blonde until she changed her hair colour to brunette in the 1938 film Trade Winds.  She was both a blonde and brunette in this film and she must have seen how the dark hair changed her from a pretty woman to a gorgeous one.  She kept her hair dark ever after.

Sir John Lasher

Sir John Lasher

Lady Xandra is disgusted with Sir John.  He’s very drunk and it seems that she has discovered on their wedding night that this is his regular way of being.   She wants him to stop drinking, sober up, and get into a romantic frame of mind.  Instead, he pours himself another drink from his second bottle of champagne.

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In comes Barrolles demanding the drink for himself and Sir John pooh-poohs him, insisting he go away.  Although it looks like Barrolles has a gun in his pocket which he’s threatening the unaware, vapid Sir John with, I’m wondering if he really has one, and if so, wouldn’t it be water-logged.  The double exposure scenes between the two are very good, and Lowe looks and sounds quite different as Dakin, and much like Lowe himself as John.  No mistaking one for the other.

Dakin Barrolles

Dakin Barrolles

Barrolles’ ankle has been injured and he insists Xandra bandage it.  While she’s doing that he picks up a locket that has the photos of Sir John and Lady Xandra side by side.  Dakin is grateful and gracious for her nursing service and leaves with the locket as a reminder of her forced kindness. Scotland Yard (5)

Darkin’s next stop is to meet with his criminal comrade Charles Fox (Donald Crisp) whose robbery of a bank the previous night went for naught.  He’s worried he’ll be caught out as he lost his tobacco bag with his initials on it after knocking out a night watchman.  So instead of hanging around, Darkin suggests they join the troops marching by to fight for King and country during the First World War

After a very short war interlude—don’t blink or you’ll miss it—Dakin ends up in a French chateau used as a medical facility with his head totally swathed in bandages.  It appears his face was hopelessly damaged with shrapnel and while the authorities are there looking for Barrolles, it is discovered through photographs shared between Captain Graves (David Torrence) and Dr. Paul Deon (Georges Renavent) that the man they think they have found is Sir John.  We learn that the doctor has used the little cameo in the locket of Sir John which was found on Barrolles to reconstruct his face.

Scotland Yard (6)

Meanwhile Xandra is enjoying her freedom from her ninny of a husband (who’s believed dead after heading off to war two years earlier, the same time as Fox and Barrolles made their exit) by having romances with handsome men who shower her with attention.  Her behaviour is forgiven by her old–and older–friend Sir Clive Heathcote of Scotland Yard (Lumsden Hare) who is about to give her the bad news.  She readily admits that she doesn’t and had never loved her husband and is quite happy that he never returned from battle.  But when she sees the cablegram that states he is convalescing at the chateau in France, she bitterly tells her latest paramour, Reggie (Norman Ainsley) that their romantic getaway is cancelled and he’s to go back and join the pool of other young men.  Although Xandra knows how to have a good time, she also knows her duty as a born-again wife and Lady.

The bandages are removed and Darkin is a double for Sir John, even having the scar over his left eye removed.  This only furthers Darkin’s believe that the locket is a talisman for good luck.  When Graves comes back to meet Darkin, who he believes is Sir John, Darkin informs him that he knows for certain that “Darkin Barrolles” is dead.  How he knows this, he states, is because they were both in the same battalion.  Captain Graves challenges this statement since he knows from the war office records that Sir John was in a different unit.  They agree to disagree, say their farewells, and next on the visitor’s list is Xandra.  But just before they’re reintroduced, the doctor points out that when he was shown a picture of Darkin, he had a scar over his left eye.  Barrolles is a pretty cool customer, doesn’t fluster easily, and if he can’t come up with a smooth answer, he just changes the subject.

Now he comes face-to-face with his long-time crush.  She notices right away that he’s changed—his voice, his demeanor.  She wants to take him home to England.  He asks to speak in private to Dr. Deon and admits to who he really is.  The doctor decides to give a “soldier of great courage” a second chance and sends him off as Sir John Lasher with his unsuspecting wife.  Hmmm…  Will she like this model better than the last?

Scotland Yard (1)

Heading back to England via train, Barrolles has planned to disappear somewhere in between.  Just as he’s ready to make his exit, the train is involved in a horrible derailment and Darkin comes back to save Xandra.  He brings her to a French Inn run by the charming and talkative Madame Rousseau (Adrienne D’Ambricourt).  She’s concerned that this married couple aren’t sharing a room.  Having spent ten days there recovering from the accident, they are planning to head back to London.  Xandra asks him if the new him—the concerned, caring and loving Sir John—is the one who will still be there when they settle back at home.  She just can’t get over the change.  Meanwhile, Fox has just arrived at the Inn after receiving a telegram from Darkin that he has a new “business proposition” to discuss with him.  Darkin is the forerunner of the debonair crook with exquisite manners who can charm the ladies.  Here it’s the woman of his dreams, Sir John’s wife.

When Fox first encounters Darkin in his new guise at the inn, Darkin plays with him by muttering remarks under his breath in his usual, harsh voice.  It doesn’t take Fox long to figure out who it is.

Captain Graves informs Sir Clive that he believes that Sir John is really Barrolles.  We learn that Barrolles was also brought up in a “fine family” but his fall from grace was the usual—hanging out with peers of bad character.  He (and we) further learn that Sir John most probably died in a German prisoner-of-war camp the previous year.  What troubles Sir Clive more than Darkin pretending to be the husband of his dear friend Xandra, is that he plans to take up Sir John’s profession of banking!  Merde!  What’s the world coming to?

While Darkin and Fox take a walk together during another dismal and foggy London night, the proposition alluded to above is set up.  When a poor Cockney asks Darkin for a light, we’re delighted to see that it takes one criminal to know another’s touch.  Darkin gives an ironic lecture on the perils of crime and then asks for his pocket watch back.  No hard feelings.

Scotland Yard (8)

The plan is about to unfold on his first day back at the bank.  No point in waiting.  They are ready to replace real bonds with fake ones which Fox has meticulously printed up the previous night.  But Scotland Yard is suspicious, let by Graves and Sir Clive.  Every movement of Darkin’s is scrutinized.  He’s signing cheques at his desk with his right hand and it’s pointed out by Sir Clive and Sir John’s staff that he had always been a lefty.  Again, fast thinking, Darkin shows the shrapnel scars in his right arm he received at Vimy Ridge to explain his new scrawl with his right.

When Fox, disguised as an Italian doctor, insists that he be shown the bonds, Darkin decides it’s not worth the risk.  He fakes fatigue and gives a promise that the doctor can see the bonds the next day.  But is this the only reason Darkin has given pause we begin to wonder?  Fox leaves, perturbed, but this doesn’t do anything to alleviate Sir Clive’s suspicions.  When Darkin admits he faked his fatigue, he also claims that he distrusted the doctor’s motives.  Just then, in walks Lady Xandra inviting both men to join her on the houseboat for dinner.

After dinner, Lady Xandra confesses to Darkin that she is looking forward to being alone with “her husband” but that they first must listen to a true-detective story from Sir Clive.  He gives the account of Lasher and Barrolles lives up until this point in time.  Xandra thinks it’s boring and Barrolles understands that Sir Clive knows that the bank is going to be robbed that very night.  When Darkin leaves for his rendezvous with Fox, he leaves the locket talisman on his pillow for Xandra to find.

Scotland Yard (10)

The three men show up, with officers surrounding the bank.  After all unfolds (something I will leave for you to see), Xandra appears, demanding to know who this man she loves really is.

As Sir Clive and Barrolles head off together into, again, the foggy night–with a reprisal of a run-in with, and lecture to, the poor Cockney–I feel the pang of a future déjà vu.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

October 12, 2015
Watched DUEL IN THE SUN (1946). Let’s say that this film is made as if it were still in the pre-Code era. It’s so refreshing, and kind of crazy, that so many scenes got past the censors.

Duel in the Sun (17)

King Vidor is credited as the director. When I first saw this film back in my 20s, I also knew that Josef von Sternberg had directed some of the scenes. My friends and I guessed at which scenes those might be, coming up with one in particular, which I’ll mention further on. But looking at the list of names on IMBd, most of these directors could have been responsible for any of the outrageousness: William Dieterle (Jewel Robbery), Sidney Franklin (The Barretts of Wimpole Street—twice), William Cameron Menzies (known more as a brilliant set designer), David O. Selznick (producer of that famous film Gone With the Wind and lover, and later husband, of the star of this film, Jennifer Jones) and Otto Brower (a director I’m not familiar with, probably because he made a lot of westerns. He co-directed a WWII VD educational film with John Ford Sex Hygiene (1942) in explicit detail).

And the cast is really out of this world: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore, Herbert Marshall, Lillian Gish, Walter Huston, Charles Bickford, Butterfly McQueen, Harry Carey, Otto Kruger, Sidney Blackmer and Orson Welles as the narrator.

Yes, DUEL IN THE SUN is set in a western genre, but it could be set anywhere really. It’s the story of a love-hate, misogynist relationship between the two main characters, Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones) and Lewton ‘Lewt’ McCanles (Gregory Peck) who also happen to be first cousins. You know that’s a no-no both culturally and legally, not to say that any babies created in this union have a good chance of being chromo-logically handicapped.

Duel in the Sun (15)

This also happens to be my favourite role of Gregory Peck’s. If you’ve only ever seen him as the good, sometimes misunderstood, hero, then you have to treat yourself to a very bad Peck! Nothing stilted, although controlled, in this fine performance.

I pretty much love Jennifer Jones in everything I’ve seen her in, even when I don’t like the film (such as Good Morning, Miss Dove which I wrote about below, on February 25th of this year). She can be so odd and quirky while at the same time sweet and angelic, beginning with her first major screen role in The Song of Bernadette (1943). Here she’s Pearl, the teenage daughter of my favourite but suave cuckold, Herbert Marshall, who claims he loves her but premeditatedly makes her an orphan when he kills her mother (and his wife, played by Tilly Losch) and her lover (Sidney Blackmer) after he sees them stroll off together. Why they didn’t lock their door, allowing him to walk right in to kill them, is a puzzle to me.

Sidney Blackmer and Tilly Losch

Sidney Blackmer and Tilly Losch

The story lets us know it’s racist right from the beginning with Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall) so righteous in his belief that he, his wife and her lover have no right to life. He is God and his own executioner. I also enjoy the logic of “the sins of the father are visited on his children”. She is the result of the sin that he committed by sleeping with her mother, a native woman who’s, in his mind, beneath him in so many ways. How does that make a girl feel?

Duel in the Sun (6)

Even good guy, Pearl’s cousin Jesse McCanles (Joseph Cotten) can’t help but tease the poor girl when he’s gone to pick her up at the train station, sight unseen. Sure, he was expecting a young, white, properly bred girl, but her identity outshone his manners. It’s like every male character in this story assumes that Pearl is a heathen, which I suppose is the moral of the story. If the females act and are genteel, then how come most of the men are so scornful of them no matter that this seems to be their character’s trait? But then, let’s look at this story as being more of a good time then philosophical.

Duel in the Sun (10)

The film was shot in gorgeous Technicolor by not one, but three, cinematographers, Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan and Harold Rosson. The western sets, with a huge, blazing sun hanging over the horizon; with landscapes of billowing clouds in a bluish-purple sky, are breathtaking to behold. Selznick must have had some left over footage or ideas from Gone With the Wind, and we’re happy for him to bring it on.

Lillian Gish as Pearl’s aunt Laura Belle McCanles was still fair at 53 with beautiful skin. I noticed she was mostly dressed in purples and mauves which brought out her softness. Immediately after meeting her aunt, this is where our poor Pearl meets the other two family members, her uncle by marriage, Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) and her Jesse’s younger brother, Lewt. He’s nasty right from the beginning and she knows she’s in deep trouble.

Duel in the Sun (14)

One big problem for Pearl is that she is not rooming in the house in a private bedroom where her aunt may be able to keep a better eye on the comings and goings of both Pearl and her wayward son, but instead is given a bed in a little shack where anyone can gain access, and does.

Lewt as menacing

Lewt as menacing

Duel in the Sun (8)

Pearl is wary

Duel in the Sun (13)We get to meet Vashti (Butterfly McQueen) who is as scatterbrained as she was in Gone With the Wind, but you can also sense a deepness to her thoughts and feelings. Sweetness, but with a bit of fear of the men, abound in her demeanour.

Duel in the Sun (18)

Pearl’s main thought throughout the film is that she is and wants to be a “good girl” but when she’s seduced and raped, she thinks of herself as “trash”. Her father and her aunt make her swear that she will grow up to be a proper lady but her circumstances seem to make that simple dream impossible.

Duel in the Sun (11)

The Senator is almost funny, if it weren’t so demoralizing, in his demeaning language to his wife and Pearl. He is proud of Jesse but very interestingly is even more proud of his trouble-making son Lewt. Even when he has to pay off a costly gambling debt for him, he shoos it away as no more than an unserious and typical trivial moment in a young man’s life.

Since this takes place in cowboy-land, the men wear chaps. We all know how these leather coverings represent macho-ness and sexy, so we are especially made to notice them on Lewt and Sam Pierce (Charles Pickford) who are in competition for Pearl. She loves the gentle Jesse but when he discovers what’s been going on between her and his younger brother, he blames her (ah, she’s better off without him since he knows his brother is a seducing louse) and puts his feelings of love for her aside. Really! He needed to save her and take her away.

Duel in the Sun (9)

When Lewt won’t make a good woman out of her, she accepts the offer of marriage from the much older but kinder and understanding Sam. Unfortunately, Pearl is in a horrible dilemma (as well as any man who shows any interest in her) because Lewt won’t let anyone else possess her regardless that he won’t make an honest woman out of her.

Duel in the Sun (12)

I always thought that Charles Bickford and Joseph Cotten looked related and should have played father and son. I don’t know if they were in any other films together but I liked the fact that at least they were in this one although I don’t recall that they played any scenes together. Jesse had left town before Sam came on the scene. But it still works that Pearl would decide to marry an older-looking Jesse who may actually grow to understand her and whom she would also treat well.

Duel in the Sun (17)

So where does Walter Huston come in? He plays Mr. Crabbie, The Sinkiller (great name and title, wouldn’t you say), the non-minister in them parts of cattle country. This has got to be one of the more insane scenes in the film and the one we thought might have been directed by von Sternberg. Just a guess, mind you. Laura Belle thinks it’s a good idea to have called him late one night, to bless and purge Pearl of her sins. Vashti has woken her from a sound sleep and, like most of us would, just wraps her naked body in the coloured blanket she was sleeping under and traipses into the house. Mr. Crabbie knows a sexy woman when he sees one and decries against Laura Belle’s description of her as a girl. He gives her a lecture on how to be a “good girl” and it’s a doozy. He has her kneel down in front of him, and with his hand planted on her head, gives her a good blessing. But, after he takes another good look at her, he decides he hasn’t finished and asks her to kneel again so he can bless the cowpokes who may have sinful thoughts when gazing at her loveliness. Amen.

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There are other problems that occur that don’t concern Pearl, the main one being when the government brings the railroad to McCanles country to continue building it over his land. Although the Senator is wheelchair bound (because by this time so was Lionel Barrymore) he rides his horse alongside his son Jesse, leading all his men, armed. Again great scenery, with accompanying cowboy-sounding music by Dimitri Tiomkin. This is where the Senator and Jesse have their falling out. And the building of the railroad is allowed through.

Duel in the Sun (1)

There’s all kinds of other happenings. Pearl goes skinny dipping and is harassed by Lewt until the day is gone and she’ll freeze to death if she’s stays wet any longer. She’s the one who finally has to give in and ascend naked from the water. Lewt is never up to any good as he continues to cause murder and mayhem. And there’s Laura Belle’s sudden death scene. Never a dull moment during this 126 minute film, but it’s the end that you’re waiting for. You have to see it to believe it. What can compare? Romeo and Juliet, Ruby Gentry (1952) (which is oddly similar and also stars Jones) or even Gun Crazy (1950), but I don’t think there’s any ending to top DUEL IN THE SUN. Give yourself a visual feast.

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July 30, 2015

Nana 1926 (6)   Nana 1934 (8)

I had been thinking about trying to write a comparison of the films of NANA and the novel written by Émile Zola for a long time. Can I do it in a satisfactory manner? I don’t know, but I have been giving it a lot of thought. I originally read “Nana” when I was young, at a time when I was reading a lot of classic literature. Nowadays I read mostly contemporary fiction or film-related books and my quest for writing about NANA started with my obtaining a copy of the 1934 film back in March. My vague memory was that the ending of the film and the ending of the book were completely different. Because even if I couldn’t remember much of the intricacies of the story, or pretty much nothing of the film, I had always retained an image of Zola’s depiction of Nana in death.

Everyone has their own image of what a character looks like when they read a story. The description may be very detailed and sometimes when you see a photo or a drawing of the character, you think, “Yes, that’s more or less how I pictured them.” But with Nana, I think it’s hard to have something definite in mind. She’s considered stunning at 17 or 18, with flowing, golden hair and a figure that’s divine. Men seem to swoon at her feet. She’s full of dichotomies—fussy yet easily distracted, animated yet unintelligent, sensitive yet self-centred, thoughtful yet careless, gauche yet graceful, whimsical yet petty, greedy yet not spiteful, kind yet vulgar. So writing a script and finding an actress able to portray someone like this could be a difficulty.

Catherine Hessling as Nana

Catherine Hessling as Nana

In the 1926 film, Jean Renoir cast his then wife, the Goth, but attractive-looking Catherine Hessling. In the 1934 version, The Samuel Goldwyn Company cast the lovely Anna Sten. Can either of them fulfill our dream of Nana? Neither and both. Catherine Hessling had the figure but she was made up to look like a dark-haired Geisha rather than a blonde French woman–which is odd, because Hessling was, after all, French.   And Anna Sten who was absolutely stunningly gorgeous never acted for one minute like the Nana I interpreted while reading the novel.

Anna Sten as Nana

Anna Sten as Nana

Near the end of the story, when Nana becomes a destructive whirlwind of chaotic motion, I thought that perhaps Zola, when he was writing this in 1878-9, was really writing about the countries of Europe, and France in particular. Okay, I’m far from a knowledgeable history buff, but here are some of things that were going on during Zola’s life and before “Nana” was completed: in 1851, President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup d’état by dissolving the National Assembly without having the constitutional right to do so; the Eastern War (Crimea War) of 1853-56 involved besides, France, Russia, the UK, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia; in 1859 Napoleon III led France to war with Austria over Italy, gaining his country both Savoy and Nice but outraging French Catholics over the idea of Italian unification, excluding the temporal power of the popes, just to name a few. There were many political issues going on in Europe and Nana becomes so over-the-top that I thought this must no longer be an actual human being he is writing about, but is really an allegory of the political turmoil happening in the European world.

But apparently it was not. It was Zola’s study of heredity and what becomes of a streetwalker who rises to become a high-class courtesan during the last three years of the French Second Empire. In his earlier book “L’Assommoir”, published in 1877, Nana Coupeau is portrayed as the daughter of an abusive drunk, who, at the conclusion of the novel, is living in the streets and just beginning her life as a prostitute.

Nana 1926 (4)

Back to the film portrayals. The films would have to be a lot longer than the 150 minutes of the 1926 version (and that’s already long) and certainly much longer than the meagre 90 minutes of the 1934 film to capture the whole story. The silent film offers a lot of highlights from the novel, the most impressive being for me the horserace where her namesake, owned by the character Comte Xavier de Vandeuvres, wins in a dishonest race and then ruins him. He burns himself up along with his horses in his stables. Yet, in the book, it is mentioned by one of the many, many characters we meet (Labordette) that someone swore they saw Vandeuvres escape through a window and as “a man who is such a fool about women, and so utterly worn out, couldn’t possibly die as bravely as that.” Regardless, the image is pretty horrible. But Vandeuvres is much less a main character in the novel as is portrayed in the film by actor Jean Angelo.

Nana 1926 (3)

Renoir tried to condense and use a lot of the narrative in his film, the problem was that Hessling was too old and too internally unattractive to be Nana for me. She was so nasty, demanding and falsely coying that I could never understand what men saw in her. Yet, in the 1934 film, Anna Sten was so beautiful and so sweet that you could see how men would want to possess her, but again, that was not what Nana was about. She was supposed to have just as much power over men as they had over women.

Comte Xavier de Vandeuvres (Jean Angelo) and Nana (Catherine Hessling)

Comte Xavier de Vandeuvres (Jean Angelo) and Nana (Catherine Hessling)

In the novel, she sleeps and plays around with a young man named Georges and then later, when his mother sends her older son Philippe, to “rescue” him from Nana’s clutches, she beds him as well. This is touched upon in the 1926 film and Georges comes to the same fatal ending as he did in the book, which is important to keep in mind when comparing it to the 1934 film.

But the main man in Nana’s life is the Comte (Count) Muffat; he’s the older, married aristocrat who falls so deeply for Nana that he humiliates himself to no end to keep her and be in her life no matter how many times she betrays him. In the 1926 film, he’s played by Werner Krauss. In all versions, the Comte is married and has a young, gangly daughter. His wife, the Comtesse Sabine, also finds satisfaction elsewhere, mainly because she knows what her husband is up to and she has a very persistent admirer. Unless I just read it incorrectly, she seems more dejected in the silent film than in the novel; her main worry in the novel is that her reputation will be ruined by gossip and that their fortune is being compromised by the greedy Nana. In the 1934 film, she just suffers as a good wife should.

Comte Muffat (Werner Krauss ) and Nana

Comte Muffat (Werner Krauss ) and Nana

Now for the 1934 film. To begin with, it started off with director George Fitzmaurice who was dismissed and replaced by Hollywood’s only female director Dorothy Arzner after Goldwyn was unsuccessful at obtaining George Cukor’s services. It was very, extremely, highly loosely based on Zola’s novel. Lionel Atwill plays “Colonel” André Muffat, and suddenly he has a brother, Lieutenant George Muffat, played by the much younger and boyishly good-looking Phillips Holmes. They appear to be more father-and-son, especially because in reality they are 22½ years apart with Holmes being 27 and Atwill looking every bit and possibly more than his 50 years. And although Anna Sten may have been too old to play Nana, at 26 she was certainly young looking and stunningly made up. You don’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on the screen. And because it’s Hollywood, the fact that she’s got an accent, even if it’s the wrong one, makes her even more exotic. So instead of Comte Muffat worrying about her sleeping with everyone and being taken away from him by a richer man, in the 1934 film, it’s Colonel Muffat competing only with his brother George, Nana’s true love.

Lionel Atwill and Phillips Holmes

Lionel Atwill and Phillips Holmes

Here are some of the things that were in the novel but were either changed or left out of both of the film versions:

Nana has a friend, another prostitute named Satin. She is introduced in the 1926 silent, but is far from a main character. However, in the 1934 film, she is a prominent character, played by Mae Clarke, along with a secondary girlfriend Mimi (Muriel Kirkland) who, in the novel, is actually a minor male character, one of Nana’s young lovers. Initially, that struck me as kind of funny.

Mae Clarke as Satin

Mae Clarke as Satin

In all three scenarios, when we first meet Nana at the theatre—and although we know she’s been a prostitute up until this moment—we get to see how she becomes famous by wowing her audience. She sings them a song–twice. In the book and in the silent film obviously we can’t hear her. But we can in the 1934 film and she made me think of Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Not as fabulous in (dubbed) voice, but certainly visually. So this is what makes Nana a celebrity in Paris as well as it is how so many rich men become aware of who she is. And, as we know, there was a strong correlation in men’s minds that women of the stage were closely related to women of the street, whether it was true or not.

Nana 1934 (1)

In the novel, we learn very early on that Nana has a very young son, Louis. She is a very neglectful mother, leaving him to be taken care of by her aunt, giving her money for his care, but hardly ever spending time with her child. Neither film versions show Nana having a son.

If the story was charted on a table, the high points being Nana’s successes, a very low point between her two stage appearances would have been when she breaks with Muffat and falls in love and takes up with fellow actor Fontan. For the period they are living together, she is faithful to him, until he becomes so physically and mentally abusive towards her, finally forcing her to become a street-walker once again. I can understand why this would have been left out of the Renoir film being so long to begin with and not really adding to the relationship between Nana and Muffat. It certainly wouldn’t have made any sense in the 1934 film. But it definitely added another interesting dimension to the novel.

In the novel, there is a salon where lesbians are at liberty to be themselves. Satin introduces Nana to the proprietress and surprisingly Satin becomes Nana’s lover and one of the few people she is actually jealous of when Satin’s affections and attentions stray to others. Even though Arzner may have found it satisfying to have included such a scene, there is certainly no whisper of this in the 1934 film, and although we might not find it surprising if there was a whiff of it in the 1926 French film, Satin was such a minimal character there, that I doubt it could have found a place in the screenplay.

Nana 1934 (6)

As for the finale of the novel, the 1926 film and the Hollywood version, here are the differences. In the novel, when we learn Nana is dying of smallpox, she becomes someone we hear about through the voices of the people who know her. Muffat, if I remember correctly, pines away for her, but never sees her. Once she’s dead, we get a detailed description of what she looks like, which is shockingly gruesome and far from beautiful. As I mentioned, its depiction has stayed in my mind all these many years after first reading the book.

The ending of the Renoir film is not clear to me. Yes, she’s ill, yes, she’s bedridden and yes, she’s visited by the people who knew her. But Muffat is the last one to see her alive while she is hallucinating in the last throes of her illness.   In the book Jean Renoir: A Conversation with His Films 1894-1979 it says, “Muffat goes to her one last time and watches her die in the bed that made and unmade both her reputation and her fortune.” You see him stroking her head while, with no disfigurement, she looks straight ahead, the scene cuts, and then the room appears with no one in it. Kind of an odd ending.

Nana and George (Phillips Holmes)

Nana and George (Phillips Holmes)

Okay, the 1934 film version doesn’t even hint at smallpox. Nana is virtuous. She has loved George, and only him, no matter that she was once, before the film even started, a prostitute. But there’s been treachery amongst her female friends. No one has been mailing George her letters, nor delivering his to her. They both think they have been abandoned by the other. Meanwhile, André has compromised Nana is such a way that she is unable to avoid having a sexual relationship with him. When the two men come face-to-face with each other in a triangle with Nana, the poor girl, of course, does the only honorable thing she can do because, of course, she wants to spare these two brothers from killing each other—she commits suicide, of course. Smallpox, suicide; they both begin with “s”.

Anna Sten - by George Hurrell c1933 - Nana.

Anna Sten – by George Hurrell c1933 – Nana.

And so, if you love literature, then I recommend Zola. If you love Renoir and silent films, I can recommend this for interest’s sake. If you love films from the pre-Code era (although the ending is certainly a disappointment) and want to see a glamorous actress groomed, but failed, to compete with La Dietrich or Garbo, then I also recommend this film.

You can find more information on Dorothy Arzner and Nana in the biography Directed by Dorothy Arzner by Judith Mayne (1994).

July 10, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd (2)   Far From the Madding Crowd (1)

I don’t usually write about contemporary films—and by that I mean anything made after 1959—but recently I went to see the new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.  It was a lovely, romantic and intelligent film.  I had read the book before seeing the 1967 version which was too many years ago to remember much of either, only the story’s outcome.  I do remember thinking at the time that Alan Bates and Terence Stamp should have swapped roles.  In hindsight, I think I thought that because I was comparing their performances to other roles in other films I had seen at that time.  Stamp as Billy Budd perhaps, honourable, angelic looking and sweet and Alan Bates as feisty and devious, even vile as Bill Sykes.  Jumping ahead, I think both actors could have played either role and would have had no problem being convincing.

Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene

Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene

Last week I was on holiday in England and one night I stumbled across the 1967 film right from the beginning (how lucky is that) on the telly (and how British is that?!)  I always like comparing remakes and jumped at the chance at seeing this film just on the heels of the 2015 version.  Here are my thoughts:

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene

I liked the Thomas Vinterberg directed film better than the John Schlesinger film.  It was slower moving perhaps in a way, as a lot of new films are.  I think that has to do with Hollywood being more influenced by European films of the 70s as well as the fact that Vinterberg is, after all, European.  Sometime “slow-moving” can equal “boring” but in this case, it was anything but; it was just a way for these excellent actors to build depth of character while we sat back and observed.  For instance, the beginning scenes of the 1967 film are done very quickly compared to the 2015 film where again, everything happens at a much slower pace but then, almost like a symphony, builds up to a crescendo and you have a chance to observe the internal characters of both Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak.  Everything happens so quickly in the 1967 version that if you didn’t read the book, you don’t initially understand why Bathsheba is moving away, or to where.  I also didn’t much care for this early film’s introduction to Bates’ Oak either.  I could take him or leave him.  It was only by his altruistic choices later on in the story that I decided he was a good man.  Without remembering any details of the novel, I can only presume that these were made obvious there and that’s what we see in the 2015 remake.  Oak is a deep-thinking man right from the get go.

Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak

Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak

But then, so is Bathsheba played by Carey Mulligan.  Julie Christie was a star in the 1960s and she was also a woman of her time, which, to me, clearly came through 48 years later.  She looked like a charming young swinging-60s English woman, not a woman from the Victorian era.  Of all four main actors, she was the one who seemed to look the most contemporary in hair, makeup and actions.  The men looked how I would conclude they should look for their time.  And men, always having the privilege of being men, act in certain ways depending on their profession, stance in society and personal demeanour.  Women, even if they are mature, intelligent and strong-minded, as Bathsheba would have had to have been, still had to come up against the will of men.  So, although I still liked Julie Christie’s portrayal, if we’re choosing favourites, for me it was Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene.

Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak

Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak

The character of Gabriel Oak was better played by Matthias Schoenaerts than Alan Bates.  Right from the start, Schoenaerts was given more time by the director to give us insight into his noble character.  When the tragedy of losing his sheep herd strikes, their death and his despair is by far the stronger, especially when comparing the two scenes.  (Interestingly for me, in May I had seen the 1947 film THUNDER IN THE VALLEY at Cinevent—see above—which included, for one thing, sheepdogs and the intense training of how they control their sheep, so I had a better understanding of Gabriel Oak’s job as well as what he needed to teach, and expected of, his dog.)

Peter Finch as William Boldwood

Peter Finch as William Boldwood

People can fall in love at first sight of course.  Without remembering any of these details from the book, I think we get this idea put across to us from the 2015 film with regards to Bathsheba and how each man affects her.  With Oak, who actually may love Bathsheba right from the start, she is far more wary of what “love” means and her own feelings toward him.  She finds him a likeable person but doesn’t know him well enough to accept his proposal of marriage.  She does learn pretty quickly on, when she becomes mistress of her own farm, that he is reliable and honourable.  In one scene which is in both films, Gabriel saves the bales of hay from a violent storm.  Even though you know he is doing it because he’s a decent sort and therefore it is the right thing to do, in the 2015 film, there’s the added feeling that he’s also doing it out of his love for Bathsheba regardless that he is unhappy with the choice she has made in her personal life.  I didn’t feel this in the 1967 version, even if that was the intent.

Michael Sheen as William Boldwood

Michael Sheen as William Boldwood

Without writing about them in order, Sergeant Francis Troy is the third suitor vying for Bathsheba’s affections.  As introspective and intelligent a person as she is, she’s no match for the “bad boy” and his seductive ways with women.  She’s never had any physical contact with any man, so when this happens by someone she’s attracted to, she’s no match for him or her feelings of lust which she confuses as love.  Both Terence Stamp in 1967 and Tom Sturridge in 2015 were similar in looks and demeanour.  They were both very good and interchangeable to me.  The only variation of character was when we see how Troy reacts to Fanny not showing up in time for their marriage ceremony.  In the 1967 film, due to her own fault because of her misunderstanding of the church’s name, Prunella Ransome is spurned when she finally shows up, but too late, and is witness to Troy’s sense of outrage, personal pride and self-importance.  When Juno Temple misses the meeting altogether, we witness Troy’s feelings of betrayal and hurt.  Again, I’m not sure how it was written in the book, but both versions are consistent with Troy not being able to see Fanny for who she is since he believes that she would purposely have let him down.  And, because what at times appears to be his sincere love for Fanny, it slightly lightens the casting of Troy as a complete cad.

Terence Stamp as Sergeant Francis Troy

Terence Stamp as Sergeant Francis Troy

The second suitor for Bathsheba’s affection is wealthy farm owner and gentleman of a higher class, William Boldwood, first played by Peter Finch in 1967 and Michael Sheen in 2015.  Here there’s a difference in how each actor portrays his obsession with Bathsheba and I actually thought Finch’s unrelenting persistence caused the stronger feeling of intensity for me.  It’s his obsession with her that builds up to the scene that brings the whole story to its crescendo whereas in the 2015 film, it’s actually more of a surprise that Boldwood does what he does because you didn’t think he could do such a thing.

Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Francis Troy

Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Francis Troy

Both films have a scene where Bathsheba goes to the building where the farmers buy and sell their grain.  In the 2015 film, Bathsheba, with her right-hand woman, brings her grain to sell and is quite aware that many of the farmers, all male, think she can be swindled into selling it for a lower price; that they can convince her her grain is inferior to the others.  She’s quite aware that it’s actually of better quality and is quick-witted and shrewd enough to sell it for what it’s worth.  In the 1967 film, Bathsheba, also with her right-hand woman, goes to purchase grain where one of the farmers attempts to convince her to buy, for more than it’s worth, a poor-quality grain.  Being grain-savvy, she ends up throwing handfuls of it up in the air to the delight of the observing farmers, including Boldwood.  Again, I don’t know which version is the one we’ll find in Hardy’s novel, but I’m making a guess that it wasn’t the latter.

Prunella Ransome as Fanny Robbin

Prunella Ransome as Fanny Robbin

There is one major scene in the 1967 film that was not in the 2015.  I’m only surmising it would have been in the book.  It’s a scene where Boldwood, Bathsheba and a number of the farmhands attend a circus that’s performing in a nearby town.  It’s a very entertaining scene with Troy needing to hide his identity while performing well-timed acrobatic feats using horse and sword.  But by including this scene, you, the audience, learn that Troy has actually not committed suicide.  So if you have read the book (again I’m surmising the circus scene is there) or watch the 1967 film, then you are not surprised when Troy shows up later on in the story.  But if you see the 2015 film fresh from any knowledge of the story, then his appearance at the end of the film may be a surprise, unless you are suspicious of his suicide, which is also a plausibility for the experienced film-watcher.

Juno Temple as Fanny Robbin

Juno Temple as Fanny Robbin

So to conclude, I liked both films but favoured the 2015.  I enjoyed Carey Mulligan (even though she had a smile on her lips throughout most of the film which often gave me pause) and Matthias Schoenaerts’s performances better than Julie Christie’s and Alan Bates’.  Peter Finch’s performance was more intense than Michael Sheen’s but Sheen was a deeper, more emotional character; but in this case, I think I preferred Finch’s portrayal.  As for Terence Stamp and Tom Sturridge, they were both equal and interchangeable, and I mean that in a good way.  Without knowing his work–I have only seen two other films of Sturridge’s, the 1996 Gulliver’s Travels when he would have been 11 and the disappointing Vanity Fair (2004)–whereas Terence Stamp is an actor I have enjoyed in many films for quite a number of years and have liked him in everything I’ve ever seen him in.  Although I don’t recommend anyone watch these two rather long films back-to-back on the same day, I hope you will have a chance to seek them out if you haven’t already seen them.

May 12, 2015
Watched THE WHITE COCKATOO (1935) directed by Alan Crosland with Jean Muir, Ricardo Cortez, Ruth Donnelly, Minna Gombell and Noel Francis.

THE WHITE COCKATOO

THE WHITE COCKATOO

How do you figure out if someone is really who they say they are in 1935, before there’s DNA testing, internet searches or instant cables?  You share a quotation with the other person and if they don’t respond correctly, then you may have your answer.  Somewhat convoluted, but with just enough interesting ins and outs to keep me watching this story written by Mignon G. Eberhart and adapted into a screenplay by Ben Markson and Lillie Hayward.  Also, it stars Ricardo Cortez along with a number of other actors who more often than not hold my interest.

Although I know her name, I was not particularly familiar with Jean Muir.  She’s a lovely actress who I’ve seen with Ruth Chatterton in Female (1933), playing two roles with Paul Muni in The World Changes (1933), with Kay Francis in Dr. Monica (1934) and with Olivia de Havilland in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935).

Mostly, it all makes sense by the end.  We are happy that the first person we encounter is Jim Sundean (Ricardo Cortez) having a nice little confrontation with his taxi driver as he’s dropped off at the Hotel Navarre somewhere along the France countryside.  All the clocks have struck 8:00 and he discovers all three guests having a late dinner while the staff is chasing after Puchi, the proprietress Grete Lovscheim’s (Minna Gombell) white cockatoo who’s escaped into the garden. When Puchi is caught and everyone is back at their stations, Sundean registers and explains that he’s a New York citizen who has spent the last three years engineering and roughing it in Russia.  You can tell that something more is on the minds of the Lovscheims, Grete and Marcus (Walter Kingsford), as they are trying to be a bit dissuasive in accommodating Jim.  But there’s something a bit sly about Jim saying he has no choice but to spend a few days at the hotel as he’s meeting a friend—except maybe it’s really because he’s Ricardo Cortez and we’re used to seeing him, whether for good or bad, in pre-Code films and this one is in the new era, made sometime in the autumn of 1934.

But on with the story.  Sue Talley (Jean Muir) and Mrs. Byng (Ruth Donnelly) head up to their rooms and after a little tête–à–tête Sue heads off for her after-dark stroll along the coastal cliffs (hey, makes sense to me).  When the Lovscheims see her leave, Jim inadvertently sees Marcus in the courtyard tell a man who only we learn is named Stravsky (Ben Hewlett) to presumably follow her.  Jim is interested in these going ons and questions Marcel (Arnaud de Bordes), the hotel porter as to who is who.

Michael Stravsky (Ben Hewlett)

Michael Stravsky (Ben Hewlett)

Meanwhile, Stravsky has gone after Sue in a car to abduct her and somehow, even in her very heavy fur coat, she manages to escape him.

We'll pretend it's the dead of night.

We’ll pretend it’s the dead of night.

She runs back to the hotel and ends up in Jim’s room telling him what transpired.  But now that she’s safe she doesn’t seem to be worried anymore.  Instead, she comments on the sharp little dagger in the clock on his mantelpiece and then explains she’s been living in the hotel for the past year since her mother died.

White Cockatoo (24)

She’s ready to head to her room, number 17, but suddenly and frantically she remembers that the key is still in the lobby.  Jim tells her to wait there and he’ll retrieve it for her.  But the #17 key slot is empty and the scene cuts to the one other guest of the hotel, Dr. Roberts (Gordon Westcott) sneaking out of her room but leaving the key in her door.

Sue Talley (Jean Muir)

Sue Talley (Jean Muir)

When a planter is shattered in the courtyard (we see someone accidently knock it over the railing), Jim goes running outside, sees Sue in the upstairs hallway looking at him through different hallway windows, runs up the staircase to the suite level and finds a man lying dead on the outdoor landing.  Although Jim doesn’t, we know it’s Stravsky.  And of course, and why not—because it’s cold, windy and let’s face it, unpleasant out there, Jim drags the body inside and then calls for Marcus.  Marcus’s first response is to ask Jim if he killed the man since the dagger protruding from the corpse’s chest is from his clock.  Marcus has no intent to call the police and when Jim asks if he knows who the man is, Lovscheim claims he doesn’t and then pulls the dagger right out from Stravsky’s chest!  Jim is quite taken aback by this move and when Lovscheim again insists Jim must have killed him since the dagger is the one from his clock, Jim just laughs and tells him he still has to call the police.  When Grete appears, she screams (she is always so dramatic) and no matter if she’s sarcastic or saccharine sweet, she has this ingratiating smile until she doesn’t get her own way, which is at almost every turn, and then pouts like an unpleasant child.  Jim says he thinks they should return the sword to the man’s chest, but when he walks over, he just drops it onto the body.  It struck me as unintentionally funny.

Bending as low as he needs to, he drops the little dagger.

Bending as low as he needs to, he drops the little dagger.

Voila, Fait Accompli.

Voila, Fait Accompli.

Marcus asks the disagreeable, always grouchy Dr. Roberts to come look at the body while Grete calls for the police.  When Jim sees a light and female figure in a room across the courtyard, he asks Lovscheim who occupies that room.  The answer is “no one” and “you must be mistaken.”  Of course, we’ve seen it too and it looks like Sue.  Jim goes out to investigate yet again, this time with flashlight, and discovers lying where the corpse had been what looks like, to me anyway, a part of a plastic coffee cup lid.  He picks it up and then is immediately shot at, the bullet hitting the flashlight which shoots right out of his hand.  Jim presses his back against a wall to shield himself, retrieves the flashlight, runs down the staircase into the courtyard, is shot at again, and manages to run back into the lobby of the hotel.  He’s quite upset, as he should be, and asks Grete where the shooter went.  She says she has no idea what Jim is talking about; thought the shots sounded like shutters banging in the wind.  And then the police arrive.

With everyone gathered on the second floor surrounding the body, the police start asking questions only to discover that the dagger is no longer with the body.  For some reason, Sundean is the one most under suspicion by the police.  He shows them the flashlight with the bullet hole.  But with remarks made by Lovscheim in particular, Jim is taken into custody.

Marcus serving Jim some refreshments on his first night. Nice décor.

Marcel serving Jim some refreshments on his first night. Nice décor.

Oh, I should mention that the whole scene, from when he’s first shown his room up until now, is played in his dressing gown.  I think this is meant to be suave, which Cortez is very capable of being.

The next morning, again when the clocks chime 8:00, a taxi arrives with a new guest, David Lorn (Addison Richards) from New York (although he sounds British).  Lorn has been sent by Sue’s brother Francis Talley to investigate her claim to a share in their father’s estate worth two million dollars.  She says she has proof of who she is and Lorn produces a letter with instructions from Frank. (At first I thought it was a tale-telling mistake that Frank’s signature was incorrect—he spelled his last name as “Tally”.  If you notice the spelling of the name in the credits, you will see that it is “Talley”.  I now think this was just an overlooked error on the part of the Production Company and director.)  Sue tells him she believes the murder of the man the night before and the arrest of Jim have something to do with her inheritance and asks for his help.

While Lorn visits Jim at the jail, the local doctor has just informed the police that Stravsky didn’t die from a dagger to his heart, but from being poisoned.  Such twists and turns.  While Jim is showing Lorn the plastic coffee cup piece he found (it’s really a piece of wax), the police tell Jim he is free to leave.

Marcus Lovscheim (Walter Kingsford),

Marcus Lovscheim (Walter Kingsford),

The Lovscheims are not happy to hear that Sundean has been released and Grete is annoyed that Marcus has put Jim back in his old room and insists she is capable of convincing him to move.

Grete Lovscheim (Minna Gombell)

Grete Lovscheim (Minna Gombell)

We overhear the engaged couple, Marcel and housekeeper Marianne (Pauline Garon) discuss something cryptically which could cause Marcel’s death.  Mrs. Byng tries to leave the hotel but is told that no one is allowed to leave until the murder is solved.  When Grete pays a visit to Sundean, he’s just finished shaving and puts his dressing gown on again.  She does a rather poor job of convincing him to change rooms (he doesn’t) and when she asks him (again) why he’s there, he gives (again) the same reply that he’s there to meet a friend.  They both keep asking each other questions and only partially give answers.  There’s some flirting going on, but you aren’t sure either of them would actually carry through.

Your a very reckless young man.

Your a very reckless young man.

Moments after Grete leave, Sue comes in all nervous that someone is spying on her.  Jim insists it’s only her imagination but then asks her to tell him all that she can about everything that’s been going on as he feels he can help her.  That only makes me wonder what he’s really doing there.  Other than the possibility of his being infatuated with her, why is he so kind and concerned; willing to save her?  She’s decided to trust him and tells him the whole story.  Her parents separated when she was young; she lived with her mother while her brother stayed with their father.  Both estranged parents died within a couple of months of each other and now to claim the estate, she needs to prove she really is Sue Talley.  And she has the proof—one half of a token.  She also states that her brother hasn’t seen her since she was a baby.  Later, she has a confrontation with her brother and the discussion they have doesn’t quite make sense if she was truly a baby when Frank last saw her.  More on that later.  Jim understands now that this token of proof is what everyone is after.  Suddenly, they hear a woman crying from where they believe is an empty room.  As they head to the door to investigate, it turns out Marcel has been eavesdropping from the hallway.  He takes off and Sue and Jim check out the empty room.  They find nothing and continue to discuss her situation.  She shows Jim the letter, tells him he’s the only one there who knows about a will and then he asks her some hard questions.  Why did she send him for her key when she knew it was in the door the whole time?  She didn’t.  Does she still claim she left her room and went directly to hers?  She did.  And that’s where she was when the lights went out in the hotel.  Yes.  Then why did he see her looking out from the room across the courtyard?  She is now insulted by his disbelief and leaves the room.

Mrs. Byng (Ruth Donnelly)

Mrs. Byng (Ruth Donnelly)

That evening the five guests, along with Puchi, are hanging out in the sitting room.  Mrs. Byng is knitting a blanket while Puchi is unravelling it from the other end; Dr. Roberts is reading until Jim starts peppering him with questions.  Lorn, Sue and the doctor take their leave, leaving Jim and Mrs. Byng alone.  She tells Jim that she thinks Sue is odd because she turned off all the lights in the hotel the previous night. As she takes her leave to go to bed, Marcel enters the drawing room and begins to tell Jim who killed Stravsky and shot at Jim just as the elevator descends and “bang”, Marcel has been shot.  The police rush in thinking it was Jim who did the shooting but he insists they follow the shadow running up the staircase.  But too late.  Marcel is dead and Jim was hit in the arm by a bullet.  Dr. Roberts says he will not tend to Jim as this is a matter for a French doctor.  When he’s being bandaged, the Commissaire of Police (Andre Cheron) and Lorn discuss the fact that it couldn’t have been Jim who did the shooting.

Dr. Roberts (Gordon Westcott) being questioned by Jim

Dr. Roberts (Gordon Westcott) being questioned by Jim

Back at the police station, the Commissaire receives a report finally telling him that Dr. Roberts is neither a doctor nor Roberts.  As they head off to arrest him, we find Roberts (or whoever he is) searching Sue’s room again.  Meanwhile Sue is having tea with Grete and Lorn.  Grete slyly asks Lorn if Frank resembles Sue and Lorn confesses that he’s never met him, that he was retained by Frank’s lawyer.  Back in Sue’s room, Roberts has broken the desk lock and is going through her papers, but most importantly shakes her shoe.  He finds the token hidden in its heel.  We see a shadow outside watching him, but we don’t know who it is.  As Roberts leaves the room, he encounters Jim who asks him what he was doing in Sue’s room.  Roberts blatantly lies that he thought it was his room and tells Jim to mind his own business.  The police arrive and ask to see Roberts.  Grete takes them upstairs, meets up with Jim who says he just saw him come out of Miss Talley’s room but they don’t find him in his room.

As the police search, Sue forgives Jim and they start talking again.  He tells her what Mrs. Byng said she saw and Sue denies that she was the one turning out the lights.  Jim wonders out loud if it could have been Mrs. Byng but Sue says that she’s just a harmless school teacher.  Are we suspicious?  Nah.

So Roberts is not Roberts and he’s missing.  Lorn thinks he’s left town while Jim thinks that will only make him look guilty of the murder.  Lorn thinks he is, since the police want to arrest him. Lorn asks Jim if Roberts had anything in his hands when he left Miss Talley’s room as well as asks Sue if anything of value was missing.  No and no.

May I introduce your brother, Frank (John Eldredge).

May I introduce your brother, Frank (John Eldredge).

New guest.  Frank Tally (John Eldredge).  He’s introduced to his sister who, she says, he hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years.  He’s introduced to Lorn and Sundean where they discuss what’s been going on.

David Lorn (Addison Richards) , Jim and Frank.

David Lorn (Addison Richards), Jim and Frank.

Jim looks skeptical about something all the way through the meeting.  They all leave except for Jim and Sue.  Sue tells Jim that she’s lost the proof.  Jim lets her know he knew it was in the heel of her shoe claiming he figured it out just by the fact that she wore the same shoes all the time, even on the beach.  Jim tells her to stall her brother, not to let him know that the token has been stolen.  But she does have legal papers—marriage and birth certificates, letters and mementos—that were her mother’s stored in the hotel safe.  But they’re missing!  Frank says there’s a very simple way to prove her identity.  She says she’ll prove hers when he proves his.  He doesn’t agree and asks that they speak together privately.  (Out of interest, we never learn what that simple proof could be.)

White Cockatoo (12)

Lorn takes Sundean aside and asks him to do him the favour of asking Miss Talley not to settle with her brother for a couple of days.  When Jim asks him why, Lorn says he can’t say.  Jim guesses that Lorn isn’t convinced that he’s the real Frank Tally.  Lorn goes on to say that maybe it was the Lovscheims who hired him to pose as her brother to cheat her out of her money.  He’s phoning Frank’s office in New York.  Jim asks for a cable.

White Cockatoo (10)Suddenly Jim is in Dr. Roberts’ room, looking through his briefcase and finds the hidden token.  We see Sue peeking through the door.  But then we see Sue finishing up her conversation with Frank who doesn’t understand why she wants to hire her own lawyer and asks her if she trusts him.  She asks if there’s a reason why she shouldn’t and then quotes, “But now we see through a glass darkly, but then…”  He has no idea what she’s talking about.

The light has dawned. This is not her brother.

The light has dawned. This is not her brother.

What I wonder is when the siblings came up with this test.  Was she a baby the last time he saw her nearly 20 years ago?  Babies can’t memorize quotations, at least none that I know of.  I know the age of the actor isn’t always necessarily the same age as their character but if it were, Sue would have been about four or five when they separated.   So when did they get in touch with each other to agree on this signal?  Then why would they even need the token?

When Jim enters his room, he opens the blinds, the door opens and in walks Sue pointing a gun at him.

Sue?

Sue?

Do I tell you more?  Is that really Sue with a gun?  Who killed Stravsky and Marcel?  Suddenly Sue’s been kidnapped, tied up and hidden in a secret room and just as suddenly rescued.  Who was her abductor or abductors?  Are there more than two groups of people trying to steal her fortune?  Is the token that Jim found in Dr. Roberts’ room Sue’s or the real brother’s?  Who is the real brother?  Why is the top raised on the piano?  Is there another body hidden there?  What does the partial wax seal finally prove at the end?  Who stole Sue’s legal papers?  Who was carrying around poison?  How did the sword get into the body of Stavsky?  How is the murderer discovered?  Does the White Cockatoo give him or her away?

One of the unanswered questions was why did Grete care if Jim was given the same room to occupy after his release from jail?  Proximity to something?

In the finale, Sue tests Jim to see if he wants her for more than her fortune by reading him a cable regretting that the two million was lost on the stock market.  This doesn’t stop Jim from asking her why she put the sword back into the clock (doesn’t he know?) which leads into an almost-asked marriage proposal with Sue informing him now that even if there is no money, there is still an estate and she’s property rich.

Where does Noel Francis fit in?

Where does Noel Francis fit in?

The question I still had when it was over was, why was Jim Sundean really there and who was the friend he was supposed to meet?  That may be the biggest mystery of all.

May 2, 2015
Watched DOUBTING THOMAS (1935) directed by David Butler with Will Rogers, Billie Burke, Alison Skipworth and Sterling Holloway.

This was a comedy, and in general I’m not too keen when it comes to them.  But, I was interested because it was a Will Rogers film and I thought it would be interesting to see him act opposite Billie Burke playing his wife.  Billie Burke, who most of us know as Glinda, the good witch of the north in The Wizard of Oz started off as a stage actress where she caught the eye of Flo Ziegfeld while playing on Broadway, and they married in 1914 and remained so until his death in 1932.  Both Flo and Billie, with their daughter Patricia, were good friends of and regular visitors to Will’s ranch.  When Ziegfeld died, Will paid his funeral expenses as Flo had never recouped the fortune he had lost in the 1929 Crash.  Will wrote in his daily column that Ziefgeld “left something on earth that hundreds of us will treasure till our curtain falls, and that was a ‘badge,’ a badge of which we were proud, and never ashamed of, and wanted the world to read the lettering on it, ‘I worked for Ziegfeld.’”

The young and beautiful Billie Burke

The young and beautiful Billie Burke

Will Rogers first became famous playing in the Ziegfeld follies and then went on to world fame as a movie actor.  His acting was different than most other actors as he was more apt to see himself in a character rather than immerse himself in the character.  Will Rogers played a “Will Rogers type” role.  But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a good actor.  He was, and he was fun to watch.  At times it appeared he was adlibbing, but whether or not, his reactions were always naturalistic.  He was a beloved American especially due to his daily columns and radio broadcasts.  People didn’t miss his newspaper syndications nor his broadcasts where he spoke about anything from what he had for breakfast to what he thought of the latest government statute.  The public found him sensible and sensitive, especially when they were going through hard times.  They knew Will was a wealthy man, but they felt he understood, and was considered himself, “the common man”.  Whether they consciously knew it or not, Will worked hard at what he did.  It was in his blood never to sit still.  It may sound odd, but he was— and he wasn’t—the conventional man; he had worked very hard in many ways to become the man he did when he died in a plane crash in the summer of 1935, just two-and-a-half months shy of his 56th birthday.  Volume 1 of the Will Rogers box set contains the last four films that Will made before his death.  DOUBTING THOMAS was his third last, released just four weeks before his fatal crash.

Doubting Thomas (2)

Even though I can always find merit in a film, I found the story somewhat slow and irritating.  It’s based on the play “The Torch Bearers” by George Kelly and was adapted to the screen by William M. Conselman and Bartlett Cormack.  It’s about the Brown family, Thomas (Will Rogers), a pig sausage salesman, his wife Paula (Billie Burke) and their son Jimmy (Frank Albertson).  The town’s busybody, Mrs. Pampinelli (Alison Skipworth), recruits local citizen’s to act in the yearly play.  Thomas remarks to his son that “she and I are really in the same business.  I take pigs and turn them into sausages and she takes our citizens and turns them into hams.”  This is the kind of humour we hear from Rogers throughout the film.  It may have been fresh in 1935 but we’ve heard it so often by now, that it just kind of makes you roll your eyes.

Jimmy and Thomas Brown at Breakfast

Jimmy and Thomas Brown at Breakfast

But then Thomas goes on to say that he’s rather disgusted by the way Mrs. Pampinelli turns the heads of the young folk by persuading them they have talent when they don’t, and then she wreaks even further havoc by recruiting the married women who then neglect their homes and husbands.  Uh oh, it’s the dawn of the Production Code.

I can make you a star!

I can make you a star!

Before we meet the Brown family though, we meet perky sales girl Peggy Burns (Frances Grant), Jimmy’s girlfriend.  She’s being smooth talked into paying $75 to do a screen test for some supposed Hollywood talent scout, Rudolph LaMaze (T. Roy Barnes) who’s looking for new talent, knowing that Peggy’s a possible good bet as she had been in Mrs. Pampinelli’s play of 1934.  She rings up Jimmy to see if she can borrow the cash.  He says that although she may be special to him, she’s no actress.  She hangs up on him, Jimmy acts unconcerned, and Thomas heads out of town for a week’s business trip.

Nelly Fell, Paula and Mrs. Pampinelli

Nelly Fell, Paula and Mrs. Pampinelli

When Mr. Sheppard suddenly drops dead, his wife and niece must pull out of the play.  Now Mrs. Pampinelli must find not one, but two replacements.  And who do you think those might be?  Peggy—who originally lost the part to the niece—and, when Mrs. Pampinelli and her assistant Nelly Fell (Helen Flint) come a-calling, Paula.   Paula is delighted and lets them know she once acted in a play before she married Thomas, but of course, since he didn’t approve, didn’t continue with her career.  She gives them a sample, which is pretty awful, and they are all thrilled that the matter has been resolved.  Paula is relieved that the play will be over before Thomas returns and need never know her “betrayal”.  But then what fun is that?

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So when Thomas comes back earlier than expected, he basically stumbles into the dress rehearsal.  Nelly is the prompter; Mr. Spindler (Sterling Holloway) is the sound man—he has a little battery operated bell that he uses when a telephone or a doorbell is supposed to ring;

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Florence McCrickett (Gail Patrick) plays the wronged wife;

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Huxley Hossefrosse (Andrew Tombes) plays the philandering husband;

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Peggy plays his moral secretary; Teddy (Fred Wallace) plays his assistant, Ralph Twiller (Johnny Arthur) plays, well, I have no idea who or what, and Paula plays “the other woman”.  Of all the silly acting by these characters, I thought Billie Burke’s bad acting was the best.

Channelling Mae West?

Channelling Mae West?

One of the best performances within the film is when Peggy does a dance for her screen test.

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It seems to be the day that anyone who wants to be tested is, while that night the play is being publicly presented.  And it’s awful.  They make even more mistakes, and there are even more interruptions then there were on rehearsal night.  Meanwhile, Thomas has told Nelly, in strict confidence (ha ha) the lie, that he heard that the great director von Blitzen is secretly coming to the town that very evening to view the screen tests.  She promises not to breathe a word to a soul; happily, Thomas knows that she’ll only “exhale it to the world”.

Alison Skipworth's first Rene Hubert dress

Alison Skipworth’s first Rene Hubert dress

I wanted to note that some of the women’s clothes by René Hubert were beautiful; the dresses that Billie Burke and Gail Patrick wear during the rehearsal are, and especially the two evening dresses worn by Alison Skipworth.

The unusual back of Gail Patrick's dress

The unusual back of Gail Patrick’s dress

After the play, all the people involved congratulate each other on their terrific acting skills and Peggy and Paula are ready to give up their current lives and leave for Hollywood.  But before they go, it’s time to watch the screen tests.  And who should show up but director von Blitzen (John Qualen).

von Blitzen and LaMaze

von Blitzen and Lamaze with Huxley peering over the slouching directior

After they view Peggy’s dance performance, his comment is that she’s one of a million and would probably make a good housewife.

The sailor collar emphasises bare shoulders; It's hard to see the flowing sheerness of Gail Patrick's dress

The sailor collar emphasises bare shoulders; It’s hard to see the flowing sheerness of Gail Patrick’s dress

He tells Mrs. Pampinelli that as a director, she’s “Public Enemy No. 1”.  After they view Paula and Huxley’s horrible test, van Blitzen tells Huxley he’s guilty of murder—of art; that as an actor he is “Terrible.  Atrocious.  And not only that, very bad.” To Paula, he tells her that she’s talentless; her only asset is a kind face.  Immediately after these verdicts, van Blitzen is ready to leave, but the talent scout asks him to watch just one more as favour to him.  And it’s one of Thomas.  Really, it’s Will Rogers.  It would be the kind of spiel he would have given in one of his stage shows or later on his radio show.  So dawg-gone-shucks—but smooth.  And then he does a quick-artist change and comes out as a Bing Crosby crooner—“Ba-ba-ba-boo”.  It’s actually kind of weird and creepy, but you can’t take your eyes off of Will because he doesn’t look or sound anything like himself.

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So I’ll leave you with the difficult questions: is he discovered by von Blitzen? Does he leave his family and go for a Hollywood career?

Alison Skipworth's 2nd Rene Hubert dress; but Billie Burke's lacy dress here was a bit over-the-top

Alison Skipworth’s second Rene Hubert dress; but Billie Burke’s lacy dress here was over-the-top

The most interesting and satirical aspect of this film is that it’s all a put down of the acting profession.  And of course the irony is that everyone involved are actors and obviously love what they do and enjoy making their living doing it.  Certainly Will had a private family life and I’m sure many of the others did too.  I wonder what they all thought when making the film.  Perhaps they all thought it was funnier than I did.

April 20, 2015
I watched THE EASIEST WAY (1931) directed by Jack Conway with Constance Bennett, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Anita Page and Clark Gable.

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The title means just what you think it might mean; certainly it’s a double entendre. It’s the story of the life of poor—literally and figuratively—Laura Murdock (Constance Bennett). It’s the Depression and she lives in a run-down tenement with her family, sleeping two and three to a bed. Laura shares hers with bratty, whining adolescent Tillie (Elizabeth Ann Keever) and best friend Peg (Anita Page). The two youngest brothers, Andy (Jack Hanlon) and Bobby (Andy Shuford) sleep in the front room, while their parents, the worn down Agnes (Clara Blandick—Auntie Em from The Wizard of Oz) and lazy, alcoholic Ben (J. Farrell MacDonald) sleep in the middle room of their cramped apartment. Even back in 1931 kids threatened their parents that they would call family services about being abused when they were asked to pitch in to help out. It’s a hard life with lots of bickering.

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Pretty Peg, who works in a sewing sweatshop, is engaged to laundry deliveryman Nick (Clark Gable). Delicate, beautiful Laura works behind the counter in a department store.

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An encounter with a male customer gives her an opportunity to apply for a modeling job which she decides to go for. There’s a beautiful shot panning up a skyscraper into the advertising offices of Brockton where Laura now works as a lingerie model. When William Brockton (Adolphe Menjou) sees a sketch of her, he becomes immediately interested. His assistant Mr. Gensler (Charles Judels) tells him she’s even classier than portrayed, but immediately confirms that she’s no Park Avenue lady, just a young woman from the slums.

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She’s befriended by older model Elfie (Marjorie Rambeau) who’s been around the block more than a few times and she tells Laura that she’s quitting this job because she’s got a sugar daddy interested in her. When Laura is paged to come see Mr. Brockton, Elfie tells her to go as she is—lingerie clad—and then can’t help quip to the brunette model, “My word, gentlemen do prefer blondes.”

After he finds out a little about her, he “offers” to take her out for a ride in the park. From that point on, she tells her family that she has night work at the office. Her mother is worried but her father is happy with the extra cash she seems to be making. Still it hasn’t made a difference in how hard the other kids in the family work.

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Brockton buys her cars, furs and jewels and it doesn’t take long before he moves her into his apartment, but she knows marriage is not in the cards. When she drives up in her chauffeured-driven car to visit Peg who’s now living in the suburbs in a white-picket fenced home with her husband Nick and one-year old son Laura gets all the family news. Because of her lifestyle, she’s been ostracized by her mother—and by Nick when he comes home early and finds Peg mooning over a beautiful dress her sister just gifted her. He won’t allow Peg to keep it and Laura tells her to give it to Tillie since their father isn’t as “noble” as Nick. Laura leaves for good and Peg is quite devastated to be forbidden her sister’s company.

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Everyone knows by now that Laura is Brockton’s mistress but she is still uncomfortable in the company of his friends and business associates’ wives. While travelling via train on a business trip, Brockton tells Laura he’s going to leave her on a ranch in Colorado Springs with friends of his, Bud Williams (Dell Henderson) and his wife Clara (Hedda Hopper), while he travels on to Montana. She’s a bit concerned at first, but Brockton assures her that Bud is too good a friend for his wife to treat her with anything but respect; and, he points out, he’s notice how much Laura has “improved” herself over the past couple of years.

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When she’s shown to her room, she looks around admiringly and ends up meeting newspaper reporter Jack Madison (Robert Montgomery) on the shared veranda. He is immediately smitten with Will Brockton’s “secretary”, and with Will gone for the week, the two of them end up spending a lot of time together. There’s a beautiful scene with the two of them talking about Jack’s life while sitting at the edge of a lake with the trees reflected in the clear, moonlit water.

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One morning near the end of their week together, they go horseback riding just before breakfast so Jack can show her his favourite spot. But really he wants to tell her it’s time for him to leave for the Argentines, that he loves her and wants her to marry him. Who comes across them just moments after they seal their deal with a kiss but Will and Clara.

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Jack gets his instructions for his next South American assignment and finds Laura packing for New York. He tells Laura that he’s known since before she even arrived her true relationship with Brockton. She thinks, then, that he was just pulling her leg about marrying her, but he assures her that he wasn’t. He swears to be true to her while he’s gone on this next job and she says she is quitting Brockton, giving back all her jewels and will go back to modeling until Jack gets home so they can be married.

Will and Laura talk about their open-ended arrangement of breaking up when the time has come for either of them to do so. Of course, Brockton set up this arrangement for his own benefit and isn’t happy that it’s Laura who’s the initiator.  But he’s flippant and cool when she returns the jewels.

As time goes on with Laura now living in a rooming house and pounding the pavement for work, she becomes concerned when suddenly the cables stop arriving from Jack. She is visited by her father, hoping to sponge some money off of her while encouraging her to go back to Brockton. When he informs her that her mother isn’t well and that they need money for her to see the doctor, Laura gives him her last expensive possession, a fur that she still owns, to pawn. She wants to see her mother, but her father says that because she believes Laura’s lifestyle was “immoral or something” that it will only make her worse. Laura tells her father that he can’t rely on her to make ends meet anymore and that he really should go back to work at the docks. He says he’s not the man he once was and the work’s too hard for him. When she suggests that maybe Nick can get him something in the laundry business, he’s insulted that she should even suggest a longshoreman should have to stoop to that sort of work.

As he leaves, Elfie drops by dressed to the nines. They talk about their loves and lives; Elfie’s past and Laura’s present. Elfie insists that she knows men and without ever even having met him insists Jack isn’t honourable in his feelings for her while Laura is still totally convinced his proposal was on the up-and-up. Even though Elfie knows Laura is having a hard time financially, she acts highly offended when Laura asks her for a $100 and storms out.

At their mother’s funeral, Nick, and some other family members still shun Laura. Worse news when she gets back to her rooming house. She’s locked out of her room if she doesn’t pay her rent immediately. She finally gives in and places a call to Brockton who’s playing billiards at his club. When Brockton shows up, the clerk, with a knowing look in his eye, gives her her key so she can talk privately with Will. He won’t loan her any money, and the only way he’ll help her out is if she comes back to him. He’s about to leave when she resigns herself and accepts. He further stipulates that she has to write Madison and tell him it’s over between them.

Jack is back and takes a taxi directly to her boarding house. He learns that she has been staying at the Drayton Arms on Park Avenue for the past couple of weeks. Back in the lap of luxury, she receives a phone call from Jack where she (and we) learn that he was unable to write cables when he was sent into the interior “500 miles from anywhere”, but so does Brockton who’s listening on another line. She tells Jack to come over and Brockton is disappointed to learn that she didn’t end things with Madison. He’s also not willing to give her up this time and she promises she will end things with Jack for good if he gives her some private time with him. As she’s changing (in her gorgeous Art Deco boudoir), her maid Gerta informs her she has a visitor and Elfie walks in. Now that the tables are turned, Elfie’s lover, made ill by a stroke and back in the clutches of his family, Laura ungrudgingly gives her a piece of jewellery to help her out. When she tells Elfie that Jack is back but that she is going to give him up and keep her promise to Brockton, Elfie tells her that she’s a fool—that it’s a man’s game and that she’s too physically beautiful, good hearted and sweet to give up her youth to the type of man that Brockton is. She heeds her advice and when Jack shows up, she’s packed and ready to go. Jack wonders for an instant how she could live in such a fancy place, but doesn’t think much on her loose answers. She’s trying to rush him out of the place, but unfortunately they don’t get out before Brockton, who has changed his mind about allowing her to deal with Jack on her own, walks in.

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I’m not going to tell you how this all ends, but it may not be what you expect and it’s rather interesting. I do want to say, though, that there’s a heartbreakingly lovely scene between her and her brother-in-law Nick.

What girl wouldn't like to get a little dirty with Clark?

What girl wouldn’t like to get a little dirty with Clark?

The casting was quite a pleasure—two lovely actresses, Bennett and Page playing against two hot men, Montgomery and Gable; Menjou is perfect as one of those rich and powerful men who treat women as possessions rather than people; and all the other perfect performances by a great supporting cast, well-known or not.

March 22, 2015
Watched BLUES IN THE NIGHT (1941) directed by Anatole Litvak with the very interesting cast of Priscilla Lane, Betty Field, Richard Whorf, Lloyd Nolan (again), Jack Carson, Wallace Ford, Howard Da Silva and future director Elia Kazan.

The story is about musicians who decide to form a blues band when they hear a black prisoner soulfully sing while they’re in jail awaiting bail.

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The blacks and whites are segregated and there are noticeably a lot more black inmates experiencing the “miseries” then there are whites. These men comprise of Jigger (Richard Whorf), the pianist and lead; Nickie (Kazan), the clarinetist; the asthmatic Peppi (Billy Halop), the drummer; and meet up with Pete (Peter Whitney), an old friend of Jigger’s who becomes their bassist. Soon after, while in a New Orleans pool hall, they hook up with trumpet player, Leo (Jack Carson) and his wife, the interestingly named singer, Character (Priscilla Lane) who stands by her man even when she knows he’s broke, philandering or both. There’s a great little scene when they all head out to a club for some food where a black jazz band is playing.

Nickie, Jigger, Peppi, Pete, Leo and Character

Nickie, Jigger, Peppi, Pete, Leo and Character

Jigger dares big-mouth Leo to prove he’s as good as the musicians by improvising along with them. Interesting that even in this scene, Leo stays standing among the white audience, never joining the musicians on the stage. I just wondered if this was, again, because the races didn’t mix even in this medium. Blues in the Night (6)

While hopping freight trains, they inadvertently meet up with escaped convict Del Davis (Lloyd Nolan) who takes a shine to the band when they don’t turn him in after holding them up for their few measly dollars. Jigger never cares who he gives his money to, even if it’s his last penny. Del broke out to find his ex-partners Sam (Howard da Silva), Kay (Betty Field) and her crippled sidekick Brad (Wallace Ford) and invites the band to meet him at their joint called THE JUNGLE, alongside the Hudson River facing Manhattan.

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Kay’s been the main attraction there but when she hears Character sing, she decides to follow through on a flirtation with Leo. Character’s confided in Jigger that she’s pregnant, afraid Leo will take off if he thinks he’s tied down. She claims to be worried he’ll split from the band, but heck, he’s already tied down and she’s kidding herself if she thinks that’s her reason. Kay, on the other hand, is totally self-centred and relates every conversation she has with anyone to herself. If someone’s been having a rough time, well, she’s had it rougher. Blues in the Night (10)

On one hand this movie is so tough and absorbing, it almost feels like it’s the 30s during the Depression, and then, there’s spots where it gets a bit mushy, where the people don’t seem tough at all, just pretending to be. But not Kay. Not only is she tough, but she’s crazy and unlikeable. What Jigger–who ends up falling for her, but has such an affinity for Character–sees in this nasty woman, is beyond my understanding. It must boil down to the chemistry of sex being the big seduction. Blues in the Night (8)

Betty Field is rather chameleon-like. She’s bland but likeable as Daisy in The Great Gatsby but, until the end of her story, unpleasant and self-pitying in Flesh and Fantasy. Here she’s cheaply glamorous but tough as nails. Del is totally over her, but Brad is stupidly in love with her. And she treats him like garbage. Blues in the Night (1)

The music is the major star here. Harold Arlen wrote the music, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer for Blues in the Night. The actors are really terrific in the musical dubbing scenes! Priscilla Lane was the only actor who was also a musician so when she takes over the piano from Jigger, it could actually be her playing. Snookie Young and Frankie Zinzer dub the trumpet for Jack Carson; Stan Wrightsman dubs for Richard Whorf; and Archie Rosate dubs the clarinet for Elia Kazan.

Speaking of Elia Kazan, it was a thrill to see this acclaimed director “in the flesh” so to speak. He could act, and of course we know he directed classics such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which I recently watched), Gentleman’s Agreement, Pinky, Panic in the Streets, his most famous A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, A Face in the Crowd and Wild River (which I just saw at Toronto Film Society’s screening last Sunday). What also makes his connection to the movie special is that Kazan co-wrote the play Hot Nocturne that the film is based on. Blues in the Night (5)

Near the end of the film, the major climax is the montage edited by another future director, Don Siegel which accompanies Jigger’s mental breakdown and recuperation. It begins when the band members finally find Jigger in a bar, place him in a hospital after being diagnosed with a neuropsychiatric disorder and then all these images from his mind overlap until we find him four days out of recovery and playing in front of a young audience in THE JUNGLE. Totally fabulous and best to view on a big screen.

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This film had such an interesting feel to it. First, as I mentioned, it had a 1930s Depression atmosphere during the scenes where the band was riding trains. Then sometimes you felt the characters had the innocence that was sometimes portrayed in the 1940s, such as the Peppi, the drummer with asthma. Nothing further was made of his illness after the jail scene, so perhaps that was a side story which never developed.  And then the film can also be classified as a Noir with its gangster aspect and its psychotic femme fatale.   Pete, the bassist, definitely had a 50s beatnik vibe to him, which kind of made the band seem more hip than its time.

Richard Whorf kept teasing me with the thought that he reminded me of someone else. Tyrone Power would come to mind, but then I’d immediately dismiss him, thinking it was just the hair colour and texture that they had in common. And then it dawned on me! He has the same sort of mouth and quality of voice as Victor Mature. Glad to have pinned down the nag at the back of my mind. Blues in the Night (4)

Both Betty Field and Howard Da Silva were cast in 1949s The Great Gatsby. I also was happy to see Wallace Ford, an actor I know from his roles in pre-Code films, such as The Beast in the City, Freaks, The Wet Parade and Employees’ Entrance, just to name a few.

March 9, 2015
Watched two Tyrone Power films, DAY-TIME WIFE (1939) and JOHNNY APOLLO (1940) and thought I would write about the latter.  Directed by Henry Hathaway with a top-notch cast of Dorothy Lamour, Edward Arnold, Lloyd Nolan, Charley Grapewin and Lionel Atwill.

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It’s the story of a privileged young man, Bob Cain Jr. (Tyrone Power) who learns that his wealthy stockbroker father, Robert Cain Sr. (Edward Arnold) has been embezzling his clients’ funds.  He claims he’s just “borrowing” the money, but he’s really on the edge of what today we would call a Ponzi scheme.  He’s also an interesting character.  On the one hand, as a single parent, he’s brought up his son to believe in honesty and “living by the code”.  Yet, he justifies to himself that what he did was a reasonable business move and takes great offence that his son is bitterly disappointed in him and views him as a crook.  Very bull-headed, yet somehow we have to accept that jail reforms him while he is able to lend his great talents to the system along with being the sort of man all prisoners admire.  During his final scene with his son, while out on bail and just before heading off for sentencing, he goes up to Bob’s room to talk to him.  We find Bob sitting on his bed, legs dangling, looking like a bewildered kid.  You also want to shake Cain and tell him to humble himself; to listen to his son’s reasons for quitting school and feeling the way he does; but instead he says the most awful things to him, admitting to Bob that in reality he’s been a lousy father.  But without this lead up, there wouldn’t be a good story to follow.

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However, before this scene and before Cain Sr. can head out to his son’s Ivy League college to intercept Bob who’s on the rowing team, he’s arrested and collected by detectives from the District Attorney’s office.  His lawyer, Jim McLaughlin (Lionel Atwill), is sent to deliver the news instead.  This is where some eye-candy comes into play—the team of rowers clad only in bathing trunks roam in then out, leaving us with a quick glimpse of the handsome, wet and svelte 25-year-old Power.

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On the day of his father’s sentencing, Bob ensconces himself in the throng of spectators at the court.  Importantly, we’re introduced to the first criminal to be sentenced, long-time felon Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan) who managed to reduce his sentence to two-years because of the loopholes found by his shady lawyer, Emmett T. Brennan aka The Judge (Charley Grapewin).

With the estate gone to pay off the creditors, Bob goes job hunting with no success and no help from any of his father’s “friends” including his lawyer.  When he finally does get a job by applying under a false name, he loses the job for just that very reason.

McLaughlin is just as corrupt as his client.  After a year of job hunting and on the day he loses his only job, Bob visits his father’s lawyer to ask him how a habitual criminal like Dwyer can be paroled after only serving one year on his two-year sentence, while McLaughlin hasn’t ventured into even looking into parole for Cain.  Jim claims it’s because no upstanding lawyer would employ the methods that someone like Brennan would use.  A matter of legal ethics, claims Jim, yet Bob points out that he didn’t seem to have those “legal ethics” when he thought Cain could get away with embezzling funds.  And of course, what it really boils down to is money.  Who’s going to pay for any further lawyer’s fees—no matter that Cain Sr. set McLaughlin up when he first started out as a lawyer.  So off Bob goes to hire The Judge who has no qualms using the loopholes needed to free his father; he’s had a lot of time to think, like we all do, about what was said between them, what was meant and what wasn’t, and that in the end blood is thicker than water.

Cain and McLaughlin

Cain and McLaughlin

What I love about these types of films, I suppose it’s an early film noir, is the New York sets, buildings, shadows and especially the flashing neon signs.  I know I’m not the only one.  It gives the feeling that drinking, sex and–let’s face it—a good time is going on in the squalidness we know is just within reach.  So our next scene is Bob, heading into an office building to visit Brennan where he almost stumbles over Lucky Dubarry (Dorothy Lamour), who’s sitting on the steps outside of The Judge’s office, smokin’ in more ways than one.  When Brennan arrives, carrying a bag of whiskey bottles, and his milk mix already delivered to his door, he’s already stinking drunk.  Mmmm, what a yummy concoction!

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Finally, this is where the title of the film comes in.  Bob introduced himself as Johnny to Lucky and on the spot he takes his last name from the neon sign just outside the window flashing behind the other two’s heads.  “Apollo.  Johnny Apollo.”  Does this cadence sound familiar?

Charley Grapewin, Marc Lawrence and Lloyd Nolan

Charley Grapewin, Marc Lawrence and Lloyd Nolan

This is the point where the rest of the film begins.  I’ve always liked Lloyd Nolan ever since I was a kid and here he plays the Mick, a street-smart narcissistic, single-minded psychopathic, well.  He’s chilling and uncomplicated.  When he and the introspective, educated and intelligent Apollo hook up, it’s a very interesting partnership.  And Lucky and the Judge are right in the middle.  (By the way, we all know Grapewin, even if we don’t always recognize from where, as Uncle Henry from The Wizard of Oz.)

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We get to hear Lamour’s fine pipes when she sings a torch song as well as entertain in a nightclub act (wearing a not-so-flattering “L’il Abner” type of costume).

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Here’s what Dorothy had say about filming JOHNNY APOLLO in her 1974 autobiography My Side of the Road:

 “There was one absolutely gorgeous man in Hollywood I had admired from afar for several years.  When I saw him in a nightclub or at a motion picture function, I would just stare.  And when I was told that Twentieth Century Fox wanted to borrow me for a film with this dream man, I nearly fainted.  At last I was going to work with—and more than likely, be kissed by—Tyrone Power.  One of my favorite directors, Henry Hathaway, was to direct.  Originally Dance with the Devil, the title was later changed to Johnny Apollo.

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Of course I tried to be very sophisticated, but privately on the inside, I was very excited.  As I began to know Ty, I decided the word ‘devil’ certainly suited him.  Not only was he more handsome off screen than on (and that took some doing), but he was one of the funniest men I ever met.

Henry Hathaway decided to put me back into a sweater without benefit of bra, shorts, and boy’s cap, in a production number called ‘Dancing for Nickels and Dimes.’  When Henry insisted I wear my hair in bangs to boot, I really blew my top.  Like it or not, of course, I agreed.  Ty thought it was very funny; I definitely did not.  I wouldn’t even go into the commissary to eat with that outfit on and hate it even now when I see it on ‘The Late Show.’

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The production number took place in a nightclub, and at the end of the song thousands of balloons came floating down from the ceiling.  {If this was the case, it was not included in the final cut-Caren}  We rehearsed the number, then shot it.  It went very well, but when I looked at the clock, I saw we were running a bit late.  I had to do a live radio show that evening, and Hathaway and the producer, Darryl F. Zanuck, had agreed to let me leave early.  I didn’t even have time to take off my ugly costume.  But when I rushed out to my car, I almost fell over laughing.  Ty had tied balloons to the bumpers, windshield wipers, and door handles of my La Salle convertible.  I didn’t have time to take them off, so all the way to the studio, I’m sure the bystanders thought I had flipped.  I didn’t even have the time to brake and shout, ‘Blame it on Ty Power!’”

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If there’s a moral of any sort at the end of this film, it’s that birds of a feather flock together—no matter what class you come from.  Really, it’s all the same.

You need to see the follow-up kiss she plants on him!

You need to see the follow-up kiss she plants on him!

Watch for cameos by juvenile Wally Albright (the beautiful little boy in films such as Garbo’s The Single Standard [1929] and Thirteen Women [1932] which I wrote about in 2014) and Fuzzy Knight who acted in films from 1929 to 1967.

February 25, 2015
I’m going to write about a film that I really didn’t like.  I watched GOOD MORNING, MISS DOVE (1955) directed by Henry Koster and starring Jennifer Jones.

Henry Koster was responsible for many fine films including MY COUSIN RACHEL (1952) and HARVEY (1950).  As well, he was the director who introduced Deanna Durbin to the screen.  I also think Jennifer Jones was such a good actress, unusual really, beautiful and quirky.  What I think was the focal problem of this film was the era it was made in.  It’s contemporary, and I generally dislike mid-to-late 50s films, especially with flashbacks to the 20s which don’t look right to me.  The one thing I did like about the film was the Color by De Luxe.  There’s nothing today like the rich colours in films prior to the 1960s.  You can’t fault the Art Department for knowing how glorious the fabrics, wallpaper, furniture and everything else that goes into a scene is going to photograph.  Every little detail is stunning.  And sometimes this is what can keep you going when you’re watching an uninteresting story.

The basic story is about a 55 year old woman who is a spinster school teacher.  One day, during recess, she discovers she’s in a lot of pain at the base of her spine and needs to be hospitalized.  It turns out she has a small growth (a tumour) on her spine and needs to be operated on.  Every time she encounters someone from her town of Liberty Hill, she flashes back to when she first met them.  And, it seems, she has met EVERYONE–because she was their teacher.  There’s no one–from the doctor who treats her, the nurse who’s assigned to care for her, from the convict who gets a pass to visit her, from the policeman who escorts him–that she doesn’t know.

Miss Dove is escorted to the hospital

Miss Dove is escorted to the hospital

Is she a kindly person, Miss Dove?  We’re supposed to know that she is deep down, but due to her life experiences, she’s a no-nonsense woman who thinks about every word she will utter before saying it.  And when she speaks, it’s without humour, almost managing to keep the irritation out of her voice when she has to repeat herself more than once.

I’ve seen many silent films from the 20s over the years and with this in mind, I didn’t feel that they had the clothes quite right.  Maybe because it was in colour rather than black and white that made it look so odd.

Does this look like the 20s to you?

Does this look like the 20s to you?

I remember women being more liberated in the 20s than they were portrayed in this film, but then because it was made in the 50s and not too many years after WWII, they were shown more in the light of that era where women were to stay home (if they could) and be good housewives whose job was to keep the home and raise obedient children.  And how come these children behaved as obediently as the movie portrayed?  The husband was a strict home disciplinarian which included disciplining his wife as well.  Everyone feared him.  Such rules and organization for everything, and the kids adhered to authority.  Very different from today—or so it was depicted.  But this strikes me as fiction since in the 60s, it was these kids who created what came then!

Miss Dove and her father

Miss Dove and her father

We learn in an early flashback that the reason Miss Dove never married—and there was a man she did love who felt the same way about her—was because at the death of her father (Leslie Bradley) she discovered that he had embezzled over $11,000 from the bank he was president of.  She tells his good friend and now bank president, John Porter (Robert Douglas) that she will earn her living as a geography teacher and pay back every last cent her father owed if he can manage to steer this scandal into a personal loan.  She also ends her budding romance with archeologist major Wilfred Pendleton (Marshall Thompson) when Porter arranges her employment at a local school instead of marrying Wilfred and travelling with him to foreign lands.  She never tells him her real reason for refusing him.  Later in the story, Miss Dove does get another couple of proposals of marriage from the much older John Porter, but is totally uninterested.

Nurse Billy Jean and Miss Dove

Nurse Billy Jean and Miss Dove

She also saves the town from bankruptcy when everyone wanted to take their money out of the bank due to the Great Depression.  And here’s how she influenced so many of the other characters:

  • Dr. Tommy Baker (Robert Stack), the doctor she trusts to operate on her spine, she had it figured out that he was skillful with his hands when he was her young pupil and then she was his inspiration to survive during his time in WWII
  • She taught German Jew, Maurice Levine aka Rab (Jerry Paris) who becomes a famous playwright, to speak and read English, as well as teaches the other children to respect people who are different—they attend a Passover Seder at the Levine’s home (She explains that Maurice shouldn’t be called “Rab”, short for Rabbi, because Rabbi means teacher and that’s what Jesus was. Interesting how that is mentioned along with “Jew” and “Passover”.       However, that doesn’t stop them from calling him that. One other separate note with regards to tolerance, if you look quickly during an early scene when the young children are entering her class, there is one black boy, but we never learn of his fate
  • Billie Jean Green (Peggy Knudsen) is her nurse thanks to Miss Dove’s influence.  Otherwise Billie Jean would have turned into the town’s tramp. She had a child out of wedlock, fathered by Bill Holloway, but since the end of that relationship, she has been a good mother as well as a good girl
  • Bill Holloway (Chuck Connors), born on the wrong side of the tracks, becomes a policeman after having a heart-to-heart discussion with Miss Dove after returning from his stint in the army, Then, while in her hospital bed, Miss Dove is able to reunite these two people by using only one word—genteel
  • Fred Makepeace (Eddie Firestone) is the one kid who went bad but has a good and caring heart. He’s just too happy-go-lucky. As a boy he would bring Miss Dove stolen apples and while on parole from prison to visit her at the hospital, he brings her two that are legit because they are “jail-grown”

There are other characters who have benefited from Miss Doves influence; too many to mention.  After all, they were her students for six years, from ages 6 to 12.  Good Morning, Miss Dove (5)

I did like to see that kids, girls in particular, were able to climb and sit in trees during their lunch school recess.  That would be something you would get suspended for today.

There’s an early scene where Miss Dove has just come back home from college and is talking to Dr. Hurley (Robert Lynn) just outside the bank, on her way in to see her father.  Dove and Porter are watching her while she’s speaking to the doctor, standing in front of the car she drove to town in.  They are commenting on her beauty in such a technical way, that I wondered if at first they were talking about the car, which also was quite lovely.  Just a thought.

Old Miss Dove

Old Miss Dove

About the aging process, it missed its mark with Jennifer Jones.  She was 36 when she made this film and she looks it, young and pretty, despite the grey streak in her hair and the grey face makeup.  Especially when she’s lying in her hospital bed, it’s hard to imagine she’s any older than 30. Good Morning, Miss Dove (1)

And I wonder whose idea it was for her to act so stiff-backed and straight-laced?  Was it the director, or Jones herself?  You could see what they were going for, but it was just too one-dimensional–and too schmaltzy.  I couldn’t help compare this to the wonderful 1951 film THE BLUE VEIL with Jane Wyman as the beloved nurse (nanny) to many children and how they come back into her life when she is old and ill.  Now that’s a film I would love to see again!

February 8, 2015
The other week, I watched I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932), directed by Mervyn LeRoy, with Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Allen Jenkins and Preston Foster. I have seen this film maybe three or four times over a 35 year period and wanted to watch it again with my kids. My daughter isn’t into b&w film, so she claims, but my son will watch most things once I can get him to commit. So I was nicely surprised when they agreed to watch this film with me.

It’s a film, upon first viewing, where the final scene hits you hard. Upon repeated viewings, it’s a film that makes you feel tense throughout because you know the outcome. Like the story of Romeo and Juliet, I’m always hoping for a happier ending.

If you have never seen it, it’s the story of James Allen (Paul Muni), who returns to his American home town after fighting in WWI. He’s a lot more savvy and ambitious now, not wanting to go back to his old life of working a mundane job in a factory and has dreams of becoming a structural engineer. His family, consisting of his mother (Louise Carter) and brother, Reverend Allen (Hale Hamilton) keep pushing him to settle back into his old life. He’s a respectful and decent man and tries to please his family, but finally feels that if he isn’t true to himself, he’ll just become a wreck. His mother finally understands and Allen travels, many times as a hobo, through the States to find jobs in construction. It’s before the Great Depression, but jobs are still hard to come by and eventually Allen ends up in a shelter where he meets up with Pete (Preston Foster) who offers to score them both hamburgers at the local diner.

This is where his life takes a fatal turn, and by being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person, he ends up getting arrested for the theft of a pittance of cash, which he didn’t steal, and is convicted. His punishment is to serve ten years on a chain gang.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (3)

This film is based on the true-life story of Robert E. Burns who gained notoriety after escaping from a Georgia chain gang, writing his memoirs to expose the cruelty and injustice of the chain gang system.

I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG

There are three main female characters in this film. When I first saw CHAIN GANG many years ago, I must have not paid any attention to who the actresses were. Now, of course, I’m familiar with many actresses, including two of the three here.  But there is still one that I didn’t know, yet it turns out I’ve seen her in nine films, the latest being 1933’s ONLY YESTERDAY which I watched only last week as well as Princess Elsa in the earlier 1932 MY PAL, THE KING which I saw one August at Capitolfest—Mickey Rooney and Tom Mix being the main attractions.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (4)

She is Noel Francis, who plays Linda, a small but significant role.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (5)

She’s the hooker with a heart of gold, who can be trusted to keep secrets. She looks weary worn and older than her real life age of 26 years, thanks to makeup, and I loved her look.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (8)

The second main female character is Helen played by Helen Vinson, the woman that works with, believes in and loves James (although she knows him as Allen as he switches his name around when he starts his second life phase and becomes successful in the middle part of the film). Vinson was in forty films from 1932 to 1940, her first role being Kay Francis’s best friend in the much loved and very risqué JEWEL ROBBERY, and the main female in John Gilbert’s last film THE CAPTAIN HATES THE SEA (1934) but usually playing the secondary character (much like Claire Dodd) in many of her others.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (6)

The third female role was played by Glenda Farrell whose career ran from 1928 to 1970. For me, she was best known as Joan Blondell’s sidekick in, I believe, nine films. In CHAIN GANG she plays Marie, the nasty, blackmailing wife of James although you know it’s partially his fault for hooking up with her to begin with; sex being the lure that reels him in.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (7)

This film is a classic and I imagine most film buffs have seen it. If not, you won’t be disappointed. It enlightens us about the times and the injustices of chain gang incarceration and shows us that it’s probably wise to follow the lawyer’s advice especially when dealing with another American State. Once Allen, who is ingenuous and trusting, is in their grips, they don’t care or legally need to hold up to their end of the bargain.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1)

At Capitolfest this past August 2014, LAUGHTER IN HELL (1933) was screened, also a difficult film about chain gangs. It starred Pat O’Brien and Gloria Stuart (of the James Whale 1932 avant-garde THE OLD DARK HOUSE fame).

January 14, 2015
Lately, I’ve been into watching films starring William Powell.  I’ve seen PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 (1933), THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD (1936) and MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934).  It’s this last film that I want to write about.

MANHATTAN MELODRAMA was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and was Powell’s first film at MGM after leaving Warners.  It also starred Clark Gable.  And, more interestingly, it was the first film that introduced the fabulous team of William Powell and Myrna Loy, the next film being their most famous collaboration, THE THIN MAN, also directed by Van Dyke.

Manhattan Melodrama (11)

When I started watching MANAHATTAN MELODRAMA, I didn’t bother to read up on it—the year, the cast (other than I knew it was with Myrna) or the synopsis.  I wasn’t even sure if it was something I had seen in the past—it turns out I hadn’t.  So with the opening scene, I was interested to see that Mickey Rooney was in the cast.  He plays the boy, Blackie, who grows into the adult played by Clark Gable.

Manhattan Melodrama (10)

Jimmy Butler plays Jim who becomes William Powell.  There is a tragedy that happens right at the beginning for these people living on the Lower East Side who are partying on a riverboat in the spring of 1904.  After a horrible fire that kills the son of Poppa Rosen (George Sidney) and the mothers of the two boys Jim and Blackie, and when I heard the dialogue—Poppa Rosen: “How would you like to come live with me and be my sons?”  Blackie: “I’m not a Jew and neither is Jim.” Poppa Rosen: “Catholic, Protestant, Jew.  What does it matter now,” I said to myself, this has to be a pre-Code.  And of course, I was right.

What follows is a wonderful story about the rise and fall of these two main male characters—Blackie as a gambler, casino owner and hoodlum and Jim, a lawyer who rises to become the States Defence Attorney and then Governor and their “fall”.  Myrna, also from the slums, is first Blackie’s girl and then switches love interests to become the wife of Jim.  How realistic is that!  It totally makes sense.  They all understand each other.

It's very physical!

It’s very physical!

There is also a very “can’t take my eyes off the screen” scene where one of the victims of the tragic fire on the riverboat runs from the room where the source of the fire is, and jumps, completely ablaze, into the water which must have been a special effect created by Slavko Vorkapich.

Manhattan Melodrama (5)

Manhattan Melodrama (7)

It may seem today a mite hokey that Blackie is so cool when he’s convicted by his childhood friend, almost a brother, to the electric chair for a murder he committed for the sole purpose of protecting Jim from scandal.

Leo Carrillo as Father Joe, William Powell and an easy-going Clark Gable

Leo Carrillo as Father Joe, William Powell and an easy-going Clark Gable

And Jim, for his altruistic decision to leave the governorship.  It’s as if Jim punishes himself for his humanism; he would rather be a machine which makes no mistakes.  He and Eleanor (Myrna Loy) are on the same page and we are happy with the way things end.  After all, murder and corruption should be punished.  That’s why we, today in the 21st century, can relate so well to stories told in the pre-Code era.

Eleanor coming on strong to an obvious scrupulous but totally in love Jim Wade

Eleanor coming on strong to an obvious scrupulous but totally in love Jim Wade

Breakfast in Bed

Breakfast in Bed

When I compare the two pre-Code films above to the one made only two years later in 1936, there is such a huge difference in the script and characters.  THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD stars two great actors, Powell and Jean Arthur, but the story is convoluted and of course, besides the female being a clever ditz, the two have to be married, before and after, so that nothing immoral should ever happen between them.

Dillinger

I received some interesting feedback regarding the fact that Dillinger watched this film just before he was gunned down by the police who were waiting outside the theatre for him.  I saw the film DILLINGER several months ago but didn’t remember MANHATTAN MELODRAMA was the film he was watching.  In the 1945 version, we never see the film, just the marquee.  It is also used in the 2009 film PUBLIC ENEMIES and I believe you actually do see some of the footage.

Gorgeous Wardrobe by Dolly Tree

Gorgeous Wardrobe by Dolly Tree

Great Nightclub Decor

Great Nightclub Décor

Shirley Ross in the Cotton Club singing

Shirley Ross in the Cotton Club singing “The Bad in Every Man”

January 4, 2015
Watched BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (1931) directed by Melville Brown, with Mary Astor and Ricardo Cortez.  Cortez does not play the central character in this film.  It’s played by Robert Ames who I recently saw playing opposite Gloria Swanson in The Trespasser (1929).  He had a complicated personal life, was married four times and died at the young age of 42, just 8 months after this picture was released, from delirium tremens, which is brought on by a sudden abstinence from alcohol. Behind Office Doors (5)

The story is an interesting and frustrating one from a woman’s perspective.  Mary Linden (Mary Astor), personal secretary, basically runs the office of Ritter & Company, Wholesale Paper.  But that’s only because her boss, John Ritter (Charles Sellon) is getting old and forgetful and relies on Mary to remember everything.  So when he’s forced by his poor health to sell the business and retire, there’s not even a thought in the clouds of working out a deal to have Mary take over the helm.  Instead, Mary insists he consider James Duneen (Robert Ames), a salesman she has helped steer in the right direction with tipoffs, for the strange reason that she has decided she’s in love with him.  Why it’s strange, is it’s hard to see what she sees in him.  He’s a womanizer, at times lazy and definitely isn’t as smart as Mary.

Mary Astor and Robert Ames

Mary Astor and Robert Ames

Mary lives with her workmate Delores Kogan (Kitty Kelly) who is the switchboard operator at Ritters.

Kitty Kelly

Kitty Kelly

She comes home one evening to find her apartment full of people playing Blind Man’s Bluff and Ronnie Wales (Ricardo Cortez) is “it”.  He tags Mary and immediately charms her.

Behind Office Doors (10)

She’s smitten with him by the time he leaves, having told her he’s single, poor and ready to go to Europe to write a novel, when Delores breaks her bubble by letting her know he’s married, rich and is the father of twins.  So she’s back to placing her sights on Duneen. Behind Office Doors (4)

A very entertaining pivotal scene has Mary visiting Duneen at his home to discuss how he could buy into the company, with Robinson’s help, to become Vice-President on Ritter’s retirement.  She’s sitting and smoking a cigarette and Jim jumps up, walks over to her, takes the cigarette out of her hand, sniffs and and says, “No, it isn’t hashish.”  How refreshingly unexpected. Behind Office Doors (11)

When Duneen becomes the new boss of Ritter, Mary continues in her role as his personal secretary.  But Duneen is a party boy at heart and it isn’t beneath him to hire an “assistant” for Mary—gold digger Daisy Presby (Edna Murphy)—who knows what her real job is.

Edna Murphy

Edna Murphy

One day, when Duneen has to entertain two businessmen, he asks Mary to accompany him for the evening out, since he’s tired of Daisy.  She dresses to the nines and he likes what he sees.  He drinks too much, makes a pass that thrills Mary and makes her believe he is finally interested in her.  She’s brought down to earth next day at work when he tells her he can’t remember anything that happened after 10:00 the previous evening. Behind Office Doors (9)

Ellen Robinson (Catherine Dale Owen) is the daughter of one of Ritter’s top clients, the ones who eventually put Duneen in the President’s seat, and Jim starts courting her.  Ellen is no dummy and she knows what Duneen is like.  When their engagement is announced, she lets Mary know she’s quite aware that Mary’s in love with her fiancé and that it’s time for her to quit her job.  Mary decides to do just that and you can now imagine what happens with Daisy in charge in the top echelon of the company.

Catherine Dale Owen

Catherine Dale Owen

Meanwhile, with her heart broken, Mary decides to head off to Atlantic City with Ronnie, married or not.  But even though she would love to consort with him, in the end she just can’t bring herself to do something she isn’t comfortable with. Behind Office Doors (8)

Daisy is now Duneen’s inept secretary and their scene together is quite amusing.  In comes Ellen and the triangle is complete.  Duneen wants to be rid of the two of them and states he is willing to give Mary “half the company” if only he could have her back.  But when he can’t locate her, he places an ad for a new secretary, and in walks Helen Clark.  Does she or doesn’t she get the job—and what about Mary?  You’ll just have to watch this film, available in the public domain, to find out.

Behind Office Doors (7)

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