Tag Archive for '1930s'

The Wedding Night

The Wedding Night (12/28/14) TCM (1935 **) Directed by King Vidor, starring Gary Cooper, Anna Sten, Ralph Bellamy and Helen Vinson. An F. Scott Fitzgerald-ish writer, hard up for cash to maintain his and his Zelda-ish wife’s lavish lifestyle moves to family tobacco farm in Connecticut, where he finds a muse by the name of Manya. This is a decidedly strange, post-code movie that felt at times like a pre-code film. The basic premise, with the “open relationship” between the writer and his wife led (morally) to the film’s inevitable conclusion. In an odd casting choice, Ralph Bellamy played a Polish heavy who was made up with copious amounts of mascara to make him look foreign. Though it’s not a horrible film, I can’t say I really enjoyed it at any point, and so I can’t really find grounds on which to recommend it. My wife, however, commented at one point on the striking good looks of young Gary Cooper. So, I guess, it has that going for it.

Going Hollywood

Going Hollywood (5/2/14) TCM (1933 **) Directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Marion Davies, Bing Crosby, Fifi D’Orsay and Stuart Erwin. A French teacher fixated on a radio singer stalks her way to Hollywood and into the heart of the object of her obsession. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Some films made eighty years ago just don’t hold up. Yes, a lot has changed since 1933, particularly in the field of Psychiatry and the diagnosis of obsession-related disorders. In short, this film hinges on the audience identifying with a woman whose behavior would likely result in a restraining order in 2014. That aside, it’s hard not to watch this film and see it as a study in context. Knowing Marion Davies’ relationship with William Randolph Hearst and his “patronage” made watching her attempts at dancing all the more bizarre. But just as curious as watching Davies try to dance was watching Bing Crosby try to act. Crosby, of course, went on to become a fairly decent actor, even winning an Oscar in that category 11 years later for Going My Way (1944). In 1933, however, he still had a lot of thespian roadwork ahead. Then again, maybe the poor guy was just exhausted: Going Hollywood was just one of three feature films and three shorts he made that year.

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes (3/22/14) TCM (1934 ***1/4) Directed by David Butler, starring Shirley Temple, James Dunn and Jane Darwell. When the maid for a rich family dies in a horrible accident, her adorable daughter becomes the center of a custody battle. The level of overwrought melodrama in this film was unbearable at times, but Bright Eyes might just be the best Shirley Temple film I’ve seen. As I wrote recently in my review of Stowaway (1936), this film was aired as part of a TCM Shirley Temple tribute after her passing February 10, 2014. There’s a decided contrast between the two films, namely that in Stowaway (made two years later), Temple’s character was orphaned before the film’s story began. In this one, she’s orphaned on-screen, and while she shows plenty of pluck and resolve, it must have been hard for depression-era audiences to watch her go through that loss… on her character’s birthday, no less. On the other hand, maybe it was completely appropriate to the times.

Stowaway

Stowaway (3/21/14) TCM (1936 ***) Directed by William A. Seiter, starring Shirley Temple, Robert Young and Alice Faye. A little American orphan named Ching-Ching hooks up with an adult man and plays matchmaker. Shirley Temple-Black passed away February 10, 2014, and we recorded this film as part of a TCM tribute. Watching Stowaway, it’s not hard to see why Shirley Temple was such a star, especially during America’s Great Depression. In this film, her character’s backstory was incredibly sad, and yet she had the resiliency and high spirits to make a bachelor playboy become a husband and father. While there’s not much depth in the story, I can easily imagine the depression-era audiences leaving the theater with their spirits lifted.

Blonde Venus

Blonde Venus (2/14/14) TCM (1932 **1/2) Directed by Josef von Sternberg, starring Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Herbert Marshall and Dickie Moore. What would you do if your husband had radium poisoning and needed an expensive treatment? Would you have sex with Cary Grant? That’s the moral dilemma asked by this melodrama punctuated occasionally by Deitrich’s nightclub numbers. It was interesting to me to see what kinds of storylines pre-code films were allowed to pursue, and in some respects it had the moral depth of far more recent films. However, I got no joy watching a custody battle driving Marlene Dietrich to haul her young son across the country, trying to evade authorities and her estranged husband. I suppose I could look it up, but I can’t help but wonder if the male outfit Dietrich wore in her last nightclub performance was intended as an indication that her man-weary character had switched teams.

The Great Ziegfeld

The Great Ziegfeld (1/4/14) TCM (1936 ***) Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer, Frank Morgan and Fanny Brice. Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. may have had vision to spare and a predilection for risk-taking, but he clearly lacked anything resembling business acumen. I had watched this Oscar-winning 3-hour long “biopic” once before, back in my college days. Did Flo Ziegfeld (who’s not exactly a household name in 2014) have a life engaging enough to warrant a 3-hour film? I suppose the depression-era public of 1936 thought so. I always find it interesting to watch old biographical movies: Almost invariably, the “real” people in the films come across as so stylized and flatly characterized that you have to wonder just how much of the subjects’ actual persona remained. In the case of this film, one of the individuals portrayed was Ziegfeld’s wife Billie Burke (played radiantly by Myrna Loy), a working film actress who would appear onscreen three years later as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

A Family Affair

A Family Affair (8/25/13) TCM (1937 ***) Directed by George B. Seitz, based on the play Skidding by Aurania Rouverol, starring Lionel Barrymore, Cecilia Parker, Julie Haydon and Mickey Rooney. Judge James K. Hardy’s unpopular decision to block a job-creating engineering project leads to him being blackmailed over his daughter’s apparent infidelity and impending divorce. This was the first entry in the long-running Andy Hardy film series, which had 16 features and one short film in all. It’s not hard from this film to see why the series was such a beloved success or why Rooney went on to become the biggest box office star of 1939 and the focus of later films in the “Hardy” franchise. The world was a very different one three-quarters of a century ago, yet Judge Hardy’s homespun wisdom and moral turpitude remain comforting. By the way, this was the only film in the series in which the Judge was played by Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life), who was replaced in the second installment by Lewis Stone.

Satan Met a Lady

Satan Met a Lady (8/4/13) TCM (1936 ***) Directed by William Dieterle, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, starring Bette Davis, Warren William, Marie Wilson and Arthur Treacher. When private eye Ted Shane’s partner Milton Ames is killed, he seems more interested in “having a lot of fun” than finding the killer. If the storyline of this film seems a tad familiar, it’s because it was one of several versions of The Maltese Falcon, most famously remade five years later in 1941 and starring Humphrey Bogart. This version substituted a jewel-stuffed French horn for a jewel-encrusted bird. The main character, played by Warren William, was established from the beginning as an unlikable shyster willing to bilk old widows out of their inheritance with little conscience. My favorite part or this movie was the not-so covert flirtation. When Shane said to a number of ladies, “You and I could have a lot of fun,” you knew exactly what he was talking about. That “running gag” of sorts was paid off deliciously with an implied sex scene at the end of the film between Shane and Bette Davis’ character.

Outward Bound

Outward Bound (8/4/13) TCM (1930 **) Directed by Robert Milton, based on the play by Sutton Vane, starring Leslie Howard, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Dudley Digges. A suicide pact puts two lovers on a boat ride to the beyond. Some films use the plays on which they’re based as a jumping-off point, while others — like this one — feel more like photographed stage plays than actual motion pictures. It’s decidedly hard to recommend a film like this, as it seems so old-fashioned. I have a difficult time imagining anyone really enjoying it, other than as a curiosity. The premise is intriguing, though. While there are a number of films made with “heavenly” overtones, most of them have tended toward the comedic. Outward Bound plays out as a purely dramatic offering, with a bit of propagandist philosophy thrown in. The film was remade fourteen years later as Between Two Worlds, a film I reviewed back in 2011. In my review of that 1944 version, I mentioned a possible connection between it and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, though I didn’t feel that same similarity with the original.

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel (3/17/13) TCM (1932 ***1/2) Directed by Edmund Goulding, based on the play by William A. Drake, starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery. To paraphrase the song, you can check into Berlin’s Grand Hotel, but you can never leave. This Best Picture Oscar winner was apparently a real novelty at the time. The idea of populating a film with FIVE stars engaged in interlocking storylines was quite a sensation. And it’s worked ever since, in classic masterpieces like The Towering Inferno and Airport ’77. Hell, these days five movie stars is sometimes the minimum required to get a film green-lit in Hollywood. It was a kick to watch this film on TCM as part of its Essentials series, especially since Robert Osborne’s co-host was Drew Barrymore. She spoke with great affection for the movie, her great uncle Lionel and her grandfather John. On an unrelated note, I can never think of this film without remembering the classic scene in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment in which Jack Lemmon sits down to eat his TV dinner and watch Grand Hotel… along with its numerous commercial interruptions.