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Just Around the Corner (1933)
Bette Davis married to Dick Powell!
JUST AROUND THE CORNER is a rather lavish commercial for General Electric appliances, circa 1933-4. Not only was the print we saw in pristine condition, but the subtle casting of Warner Brothers players in a fairly commonplace tale of the little homemaker impressing the boss's wife and then the boss himself provides enough delight to recommend this short subject to anyone. Ruth Donnelly portrays the impressionable wife to boss Warren William, and both become deeply convinced of the superiority and efficiency of GE appliances, as ably demonstrated by non-other than Bette Davis as the dedicated homemaker. Bette is so confidently persuasive, as she calmly demonstrates each unique feature that she manages to sell the boss on both a new kitchen and promoting hubby Dick Powell to the coveted office manager position! More amazing than this achievement, Bette Davis effortlessly convinces the audience that she loves and adores her husband and that she will stop at nothing to promote and encourage his career.
Camp Runamuck (1965)
Good Morning to you! Good Morning to you!
My brother and I loved both this show and HANK, but hardly anyone else watched them. We didn't understand this, because CAMP RUNAMUCK was wacky and hilarious! It was always the girls against the guys, but I don't recall one single child actor, if there were any it's news to me now. This show was about the adults! Arch Johnson was the head counselor and his staff always seemed to be unprepared and hung over, while each morning the over-achieving girls' camp across the lake would wake up the boys' camp singing "Good morning, to you, good morning, to you!!!" Alice Nunn was a formidable adversary for the men, and every time she'd get that look of revenge in her eye, Nina Wayne would breathily say "Ohhh, Mahala May!" Ketchum and Madden were a riot, and yes, every time Madden saw Nina Wayne (or any dishy woman), he'd shake, rattle and discombobulate, and Kethcum (or some one) would actually smack him and Madden would say "Thanks, I needed that!" Man, it sure sounds silly, but it was fast-paced and I think we kids thought all the lousy adult behavior was the funniest thing on earth, well every Friday night, that is, until they canceled it, which was pretty quickly. Would love to see this again!
Sweethearts and Wives (1930)
What a treat to see such an unexpectedly saucy picture. SWEETHEARTS AND WIVES is a true romp of a sex farce, delightfully frank and featuring performances filled with genuine joy and colorful flourishes. Of particular interest are the provocative and engaging character turns by Clive Brook and especially by that canny ingenue, Leila Hyams. Hyams plays a married woman about to cheat on her husband, and at all times she manages to balance moral outrage with intriguing randy-ness. Both her contempt for her own situation and her game ability to play along with the farce are quite contemporary, and thoroughly charming, making one wonder why Hyams rarely got more challenging material to work with. Of the four main characters, leading man Sidney Blackmer is the least distinctive, although he seems much more committed to his playing than I've seen in many other films he's done, and he is certainly having a good time. Star-above-the-title Billie Dove, still gorgeous and with a fine, melodic speaking voice, begins her performance in cultured Hollywood French, and it is a relief when, fairly early on in the plot, she is given great reason to drop the French Maid act, and this is when SWEETHEARTS AND WIVES takes off as a sophisticated hoot. One of the most distinctive of those "colorful flourishes" is brought by the often stone cold stoic Clive Brook. In this picture, he plays a Divorce Detective, and he races with his role, having an enormously ripping good time brandishing a long cigarette holder and making smoking resemble the occupation hinted at by Lady Bracknell in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST.
The Love Trap (1929)
A Real Surprise!
A real surprise and a delight, that is, if you enjoy the Cinderella stories of the 1920s. I always do, so long as they are nicely played, and THE LOVE TRAP has enough distinction to recommend it very highly. Charming and entertaining as a fluid silent, there are many marvelous visual touches, particularly the choreography involving synchronized taxi cabs. Unexpectedly, THE LOVE TRAP retains this graceful pace when the picture begins talking at about the half-way point. The second half is so engaging one really does forget that the first half was such a terrific silent picture. Star Laura La Plante is her wonderful, pert, pretty self, effortlessly carrying the silent style with a seemless transition into the heroine speaking the rest of her role. Of particular note and enjoyment is the handsome leading man, the future Commissioner Gordon on TV's BATMAN, Neil Hamilton. Though called upon to behave like a first rate schmoo at one point during the plot, Hamilton is a first rate smooth comedian, both silent and talking. For being a relatively innocuous "Cinderella" tale, THE LOVE TRAP packs in some fun little moments of sexual intrigue, such as when the snootie sister, Rita La Roy, tells the family she cannot be bothered with La Plante's sordid situation, and as the family leaves, she climbs the stairs, soon followed by a slyly winking butler.
Gypsy Wildcat (1944)
Go, Gypsy Wildcat!!
No one said it was going to be a special thing, but seeing a screening of this incredibly and unexpectedly entertaining, albeit highly improbable, TECHNICOLOR yarn truly was special. Of the so-called Universal "Tits & Sand" Maria Montez Easterns, GYPSY WILDCAT was a departure in that there was very little, if any, sand. "Lush" is the first thing I would say in describing the effect of seeing this gorgeous, no, breath-taking print (screened in Bay City, MI) in color like I'd never seen before. Maria Montez keeps on most of her clothes, even managing to keep the mid-riff covered for much of the running time, and although she isn't much of an actress, she is gorgeous (no, breath-taking!), and she knows how to handle the stuff they've laid out for her to do. Jon Hall operates at a more active, swashbuckling level, and he seems to be having a much better time than a lot of the others in the cast, although I'm not so sure he carries the action so much as the action carries him along on a sort of Errol Flynn-school bubble. When the camera is not fixed on this couple, the entire film is sort of passed along from character actor to character actor, as if they are passing off the baton. Taking things mighty seriously are Leo Carillo and especially Gale Sondergaard, who literally runs the show for the entire climactic gypsy revolt sequence. Her craftsmanlike control during this portion of the film is as much a special effect from these escapist Montez vehicles as the technicolor, or the star's costume changes for Montez. The money went into the color, and the spectacle went into the colorful costuming (by Vera West, who apparently threw open the circus trunks). For all its technicolor marvel, GYPSY WILDCAT isn't a heavily populated opus, nor are the sets terribly unique to any one genre (or film), in fact, it was a losing effort trying to figure out GYPSY WILDCAT's intended time period. I love how James M. Cain has the screenplay credit, with additional dialogue by Joseph Hoffman. All I want to know is, what screenplay, and what additional dialogue? But no matter, it is a fun picture. Douglas Dumbrille and Peter Coe are also quite serious about their very different assignments, and both leave you wishing they'd had larger roles, especially the unexpectedly dashing Coe, who gets to share a few smoldering shots with Montez before Hall shows up. Best of all, Nigel Bruce sputters forth the ham like company's comin' for dinner, and lucky for us he does! Just when the great Nigel seems to be on the verge of silliness, he grabs that baton and leads the picture into the exciting finish! Go, GYPSY WILDCAT!
A Small Town Princess (1927)
Madeline Hurlock is gorgeous!
Of the four photos I have been able to locate of the actress portraying A SMALL TOWN PRINCESS, Sennett stock company player Madeline Hurlock, not one of them did her justice or even remotely captured the beauty, charm, and dead-pan magnificence of this lady. The four photos present a vamp or an exotic, someone unapproachable, but Hurlock was really doing her subtle best to vamp that 1920s type. The lead, Billy Bevan, is certainly good, and easily carries this detailed, very funny short (set in a small town, and quickly moving on to a Sennett inspired netherworld of Hollywood and of filmmaking), but for me, the revelation was discovering this bewitching, dark-eyed actress. Hurlock was what the Silent's Majority called "the wittiest of Sennett's beauties" and, according to them, she went on to marry famous writers Marc Connelly, and later Robert E. Sherwood (from 1935 until his death in '55). Hurlock herself retired from pictures in 1928, and when you size up her credits, she appeared in only one feature, and the rest Sennett shorts supporting the likes of Bevan, Andy Clyde, Harry Langdon, and Ben Turpin. She worked for a who's who of directors like Roy del Ruth, Lloyd Bacon, Eddie Cline, Del Lord, Harry Edwards, Edgar Kennedy, and some of the pieces she played in were even written by Frank Capra. A lot of beautiful, talented women worked for Sennett, but I never expected to sit up and take serious note of this woman I'd never heard of before seeing her so expertly dead-pan her way through A SMALL TOWN PRINCESS.
The Cohens and Kellys (1926)
A Treasure from the Twenties
The four leads are nothing short of miraculous, and calling them great simply isn't enough. Remarkable, legendary Charlie Murray plays the lanky, rubber-faced, temper-prone career police officer Kelly, and beaming, robust, beer-lovin' Kate Price, that absolute first choice among Irish Mums during the 1920s, is the Missus. George Sidney is the proud Nathan Cohen, a squat-stocky, blustering, hair-yanking businessman, while pleasantly plump, dark-eyed, forever worrying Vera Gordon plays Mrs. Cohen (she brings hand-wringing to new levels!) THE COHENS AND THE KELLYS is, for the most part, about the perfect casting of these four leading roles, so successful it spawned a series of sequels (and in true Hollywood fashion, George Sidney is the only member of this original quartet to appear in all of the sequels). Kelly and Cohen are funny enough on their own, but add wives, the offspring, and then (not being content) even the family pets, all competing with one another in a great and gusto-laced rivalry, we have a film that generously lives up to its promotional tagline - "An Uproarious Knockout! -- A Thousand Laughs!" Fortune smiles on the Cohens, who move rapidly up in the world and into a fancy, spacious mansion, and the rivalry is jumped a notch. Now, all along there has been a secret relationship between their eldest offspring, police officer Jason Robards, Sr. as the Junior Kelly, and "Nannie" Cohen, played by attractive Universal contract player Olive Hasbrouck, and this BRIDGET LOVES BERNIE/ABIE'S IRISH ROSE sub-plot plays itself out to the expected sentimental yet humorous conclusion. The pace is fast, the jokes are, indeed, very funny, and the cast is marvelous (including skinny, cranky Nat Carr as a business associate). The unavoidable stereo-types you will expect (this picture was screened for a highly appreciative audience at last year's Syracuse festival) prove hilarious and warmly, timelessly entertaining.
Stupid, But Brave (1924)
Apt title for St. John!
The perfect title for this comedy short, not to mention for Al St. John's overall comedic "style." Take any and all opportunity to watch Al St. John's work, especially during this period. The man was impressively, remarkably original. I think what amazed me even more was how contemporary he seemed, as if he were some distant Carradine cousin, or a fore-runner to Jim Carrey. At this point in his career, he resembles a blonde, 1960s surfer dude, and being a lanky 5' 8", he looks a lot taller. Having trained with the Sennett gang in support to Fatty Arbuckle (it says he was a nephew), the physical comedy is peerless and expertly athletic. Fully capable as an actor, I've seen him play bits and small roles in many different genres, including the rare part-talkie SHE GOES TO WAR, where even though I cared little for the character he was playing, I had to admit he did a fearless job and gave it all he had. Thank God for westerns, for not long after Talkies came in St. John moved over to this genre and pretty much stayed there until the Fifties, often using other professional names. Check out the IMDb list of those names, then look down that long list of film credits and watch out for the comedy shorts of the early 20s, you will not be disappointed.
Sick Abed (1920)
Reid & Daniels have Star Power
Okay, it's the future and we only have the films we have, and thus, SICK ABED (1920) must be elevated to important status, if only for the two stars, Wallace Reid and Bebe Daniels, and its director, Sam Wood. Star appeal, star power, there's no question that it carries this picture. Reid was the forerunner to today's American light comedic lead, through Jimmy Stewart to Tom Hanks. Everything they said about him shines through here, the warmth, naturalness, the timing, the joviality, the athletic confidence, the Arrow-Collar looks. He's a forgotten original, and SICK ABED's not a bad example of his particular speciality. No less important, and much longer lasting, Bebe Daniels was smack dab in the middle of her featured player period, after her years with Harold Lloyd, and before her reign as one of the most popular screen comediennes of the late 20s, and she's marvelously cool and beautiful as the cool and beautiful nurse hired to look after a patient who is only faking a nervous breakdown. The reasons for this aren't terribly vital, it's a light play with plenty of doctors and lawyers, and a modest amount of mistaken identities and misunderstood intentions. The director kept things cracking, and the cast is fine, including the dependable Tully Marshall, and another enjoyable, eccentric turn by Lucien Littlefield. I'm told that Wallace Reid made much better movies than SICK ABED, and I know Bebe Daniels certainly did, but as an example of early 1920s romantic farce, and especially considering how few films of that era still exist, this one is in terrific shape, so it really is a more important film now, and deserves to be seen by more audiences.
The Innocence of Ruth (1916)
Dana-Collins Partnership Intriguing
Of the 28 films listed as being directed by John H. Collins, only 3 did not star his wife, Viola Dana (isn't IMDb fantastic?), and of the 15 scenarios credited to his writing skills, only one (the unconfirmed one) did not star Dana. What's more, between 1915 and 1919, only three of Viola Dana's films were not directed by Collins, who died of the flu at the age of 29 in 1918. If the well-constructed, highly entertaining THE INNOCENCE OF RUTH is any indication, the artistic partnership of Dana & Collins deserves a higher rank in the movie books. Viola Dana is completely convincing as a spunky, pretty teen who becomes the ward of a wealthy, unmarried, and relatively young man. Familiar territory, like DADDY LONG LEGS, only told in somewhat darker terms. Not only Ruth's innocence is threatened, but her benefactor's fortune and good name. As a film, RUTH's strongest assets are great pace, intriguing subplots, and a cast where every character has a shady, questionable side. It being a moderately budgeted 1916 production, there is hardly anything fancy here, no tremendous sets, no more than modest, serviceable settings and costuming. When all of society turns up for Ruth's special evening of dancing (not much of it, and not much good at that), there is no establishing shot of a large society audience, just a brief scene of Ruth with a small group of matrons heading out to get their seats. An important player of the 1920s, Viola Dana would find further successes (and further tragedy), starring in Metro's ROUGED LIPS (23); MERTON OF THE MOVIES (24); and the wonderful (and available) OPEN ALL NIGHT (24), sans sausage curls and now playing the wronged wife, and no longer so quick to defend her innocence. Capra's THAT CERTAIN THING (28) is being restored, and there is a marvelous turn with her sister Shirley Mason, an actress of similar career path with not a dot less of historical significance, in the all-star scatter-fest SHOW OF SHOWS (29), and you can still see the smiling, spunky, girlish RUTH of 1916 shining through.
Women in the Wind (1939)
Francis Back on Top
After an evening of Kay Francis floating through a series of flat "A" levels (ANOTHER DAWN; FIRST LADY; CONFESSION), where often even the scenery steals scenes from her, and especially after enjoying her Pre-Code hey-day (DR. MONICA; MARY STEVENS, MD; TROUBLE IN PARADISE; ONE WAY PASSAGE), it was gratifying to see the old fire spitting and sputtering through the John Farrow-directed WOMEN IN THE WIND. Francis, despite her name appearing below the title, a reliable if second-tier cast, and an oddly frumpy, figure-obscuring wardrobe, carries the picture along with cheery confidence and yes, a little more fire than you'd come to expect. Ravishing Kay holds her own, even against scene-thief Eve Arden, here playing an oft-married bon-aviatrix named "Kit" Campbell, the great sport, heroic long-distance pilot, complete with silk scarf and confident swagger. They may have tried everything to discourage her at Warners, but Kay Francis is unequivocally running this game. There is even a third strong actress given a generous amount of screen time, Sheila Bromley, a tough cookie whom you probably saw in some 1950s sit-coms playing tough cookies (JOAN DAVIS SHOW; I LOVE LUCY). Here Bromley gets to sink her chops into the stock "First Wife-Other Woman" road hazard, providing personally supervised obstacles for ex-hub (William Gargan), Francis, and all the WOMEN IN THE WIND put together. Lots of Warners' actresses - Ann Sheridan, Jane Wyman, Carole Hughes, Gloria Dickson, Lola Lane, Marcia Ralston - could have easily played this role, but it's a treat to watch Bromley - an actress who reminded me of the young, cocky Bette Davis of the "I'd love to kiss ya..."days. The lead is handled by William Gargan, an actor who had great Pat O'Brien-style charm, which here he uses sparingly, spending a large portion of the tale glowering. Too bad he's sort of dull and annoying while he glowers, because he's playing a guy named Ace Boreman. As comic relief, Maxie Rosenbloom has a nice, easy-going, laid-back style -- untrained with good instincts, and quite welcome in this film. And Eddie Foy, Jr., Frankie Burke, Frank Faylen, Vera Lewis, and Spencer Charters are all on hand to do good work in a highly entertaining tale that holds the interest. Footage of circa aircraft is actually as entertaining as any aspect of the picture, there's not one dull shot.
Bachelor Brides (1926)
Rod La Rocque: The "Rock" of the 1920s
The title BACHELOR BRIDES is almost completely unsubstantiated by the plot. Sure, constantly smiling Rod La Rocque is getting married soon, and he sure is happy about it, because he's constantly smiling. The genre is mystery-comedy, but this one is more comedy and less mystery, although the mystery aspects are more successful than much of the comedic element. William K. Howard directed La Rocque in this DeMille Pictures Corp production, the same team that brought the excellent GIGOLO together, and while slight by comparison, it is nevertheless a well-made, entertaining film. The settings are spacious, and the actors are uniformly game and engaging. Reduced to bits by Talkies, DeMille favorite Julia Faye gets to show-off skill as a much-disguised mystery woman, and veteran silent player Eulalie Jensen, whippet slender, is humorously frazzled despite an appearance too young to play Rod La Rocque's mother! As in GIGOLO, the leading lady is given little to do, but Elinor Faire does it well, and she's more than fairly attractive. While his voice may have typed him in Talkies, Silent era Lucien Littlefield appearances always surprise and delight, as there seemed to be a broader range for his slight, lanky and often kookie characters. Chicago native (really named) Rod La Rocque is very much at the center of the proceedings, and despite all the smiling he does play with engaging verve. In physical appearance, La Rocque was very Valentino-like, much more so than others in that field: Moreno, Novarro, Alvarado, or Gilbert Roland, and it is easy to see how this young and handsome (and dashing) figure could develop into a reliable heavy in "B" pictures with a little grey and a little moustache added. Of note is the actress/celebrity appearing as a beautiful and apparently thoroughly professional house maid, the incomparable Sally Rand. With that figure filling her uniform, it is hard to imagine this woman ever being mistaken for a boyish Flapper, and, as with Julie Andrews in the opening of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, this girl's beads are never gonna hang straight.
Capital Punishment (1925)
Capital Social Statement
This is not a Clara Bow vehicle, and yet it is clearly the aspect/asset of Clara Bow which elevates a fairly serious melodrama to a timeless and profound social statement. Opening the film on death row where the handsome youth awaits the chair, a stirring test of the legal system evolves after two elite types conspire to expose its inadequacies. Elite, jaded society lawyer Gordon Harrington fabricates a murder, implicating an entirely "hired" fall-guy, one Dan O'Connor, while the bored playboy-type hides away on a yacht until the points are proven and the legal system has been disgraced. Naturally, something goes wrong, the playboy really turns up murdered, and O'Connor is now the accused, imprisoned murderer scheduled to be hanged. Then Clara Bow takes over and it's an exciting race to the finish. George Hackathorne gives an effective performance as Dan, his early energetic confidence slowly eroding behind bars as he faces CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. Bygone silent lead Elliott Dexter is coldly calculated as the lawyer who had more to lose than he ever imagined. SUNRISE vamp Margaret Livingston is gorgeous, sophisticated, and nearly as jaded as Dexter. Although Mary Carr is a bit much in an oddly one-note "devastated mother" routine, the character actors are excellent, including George Nichols, Alec B. Francis, Wade Boteler, and Fred Warren. Robert Ellis creates enough interest as the playboy, the snarly volunteer "victim," that you do feel bad when he gets it, and you feel bad, too, when future COLLEGIANS' heavy Eddie Phillips offers a brief, effective bit as the doomed, handsome youth awaiting the chair at the top of the picture. After a few short scenes introducing her character, Clara Bow, portraying Dan O'Connor's spirited young fiancé, really stays away from the proceedings until things turn bad for her man. Thereafter, Clara Bow serves as the action device. Her unbending faith and fearless determination blend nicely with her own famous traits, i.e., the beauty, the warmth, the positive, seemingly unlimited energy, and a heart as big as Kansas. This force of personality helps to make CAPITAL PUNISHMENT a fast moving, thought-provoking social drama.
Spring Tonic (1935)
Leaves no bitter taste!
Clyde Bruckman did this one, and W.C. Fields' THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE in 1935. Fast moving, at times downright wacky, this zippy farce is almost too zippy and too much of a farce, but who cares? It never stops moving, which is SPRING TONIC's saving grace. The cast is engaging, and filled to the brim with some familiar (and welcome) names -- ZaSu Pitts, Walter Brennan, Lew Kelly, Sig Ruman, Henry Kolker, Arthur Housman, George Chandler, and Herbert Mundin among them. If you've been annoyed by the endless physical schtick of Mitchell & Durant, rest assured they are quite funny and well-utilized here. It is also fun to watch Walter Woolf King lampoon a guitar-serenading Latin "lover" type. Tala Birell is a riot as a subtle, dominatrix-style Lion Tamer, but the bulk of the action is centered around leading lady Claire Trevor, who alternates between a frantic frustration and a manic desire to keep the proceedings racing along. Different from other 1930s leads, Trevor's more like the later Anne Baxter -- a character actress strapping on her screwball heroine hat. Perhaps this is why SPRING TONIC is so entertaining, for no matter what is hurled her way (and everything is), Trevor never misses, and keeping the pace is that stalwart leading schlepp, Jack Haley, a consistently engaging spirit seen to advantage in this highly typical 1930s role, chock full o' his trademark cowardly heroics. Driving back in at about the midway point is leading man Lew Ayers, one of the more inconsistent film stars of that era, for in SPRING TONIC, he ain't so good, but he's not so bad, either. He shows up, he's accused of being stodgy, and he loosens up a bit. I've seen him handle similar assignments with much more verve and commitment (MURDER WITH PICTURES), but then again, I've also seen him far worse (IRON MAN). Ayers in no way hinders SPRING TONIC, but it really doesn't matter who was in it or how well they did, for most of the proceedings, and anything else not nailed firmly down to the rickety sets, was stolen from all by that American treasure, ZaSu Pitts. Suffice to say that there is one brief sequence that only involves Pitts and a small shelving unit - I've never seen anything quite so funny as that.
Before Dawn (1933)
Engagingly stirring and unusual little picture!
BEFORE DAWN could be a popular little cult picture if it were shown more often. A Medium (effectively played by the dependable Dudley Digges) and his extra-sensorially-gifted daughter are consulted on the frightening occurrences taking place in a, yes, old and mysterious mansion. Here's the catch, though, this is 1933, and, by golly, the daughter is played for real. I've seen dozens and dozens of television detective shows dealing with this exact subject, but those are all from the 70s-thru-current times, and I know the audience was surprised to hear they were actually utilizing ESP in a serious way. Dorothy Wilson was the attractive and intelligent ingenue raised from the ranks of the RKO secretarial pool, as legend has it. Her role might have been played by any number of marvelous actresses - Maureen O'Sullivan, Frances Dee, Jean Parker, Helen Mack - come to mind, but I'm sure glad it wasn't. Wilson is just as attractive, and yet she projects an almost Margaret Lindsay-level intelligence! She's calm and confident about her gifts, and yet she's no stranger to spook house, candle carrying fright. In addition to her old reliable father, she comes to count on detective Stu Erwin, who has learned to accept her gifts and understands the value of her assistance on the case. Veteran Jane Darwell has an effective bit, but Gertrude Hoffman (making her American film debut) impresses, adding much to the proceedings with a bitter, almost inarticulate portrayal. And stealing central focus at all times is the none-other-like-him great Warner Oland. So trustworthy, so sage, so warm as Charlie Chan, we were very fortunate that in this Post-Chan world, Oland had been given so many opportunities to use his "good" for so much marvelous, entertaining "evil." He was allowed to infuse that same trustworthy, sage warmth into a colorful array of motion picture heavies that take us unexpectedly into a darker world, as in SHANGHAI EXPRESS, DANGEROUS PARADISE, the FU MANCHU entries, and in a host of silent films. To the wise viewer, one may distrust him the moment he enters the film, but to those unsuspecting audiences who may only know his Chan films, beware! BEFORE DAWN and Warner Oland certainly keep you wondering. This is an engagingly stirring and unusual little picture!
All that the name implies!
Based on the Ferber novel, GIGOLO is the naughty title of a film that, surprisingly, actually winds up being all about a gigolo, and, even more remarkably, about a gigolo who came from Wisconsin. That the gigolo is played by an actor named Rod La Rocque, who's name was really and truly (Chicago born) Rod La Rocque, is just a double bonus extra. The underrated La Rocque, who can be seen in numerous extant and accessible films from his stardom heyday (CAPTAIN SWAGGER; BRAVEHEART; THE COMING OF AMOS; BACHELOR RIDES), had been a DeMille player, most effectively seen as the quintessential sinning Jazz Age modern in the underappreciated "contemporary" section of 1923's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Aside from a tad too much make-up as he transforms into the title character, La Rocque is quite terrific as the heir to a Wisconsin factory sold in order to finance an extravagant Parisienne lifestyle for his youth-obsessed mother and her unsavory second husband. Distinguishing himself as a WWI hero, he returns to find his dying mother ruined and deserted, and, several tangos later, finds himself "stretching his braces, pushing ladies with lifted faces" on the dance floor, when along come old family friends from Wisconsin on a little visit to Paris. How could he have wound up in such a scandalous predicament? Thanks in large part of the excellent direction of William K. Howard, this detailed saga tells you all about it, and in stunning fashion, for GIGOLO is laced with surprisingly griping, realistic depictions of the seamier side of the Roaring 20's, which helps elevate the film beyond the cultural titillation of the title. Jobyna Ralston is an attractive leading lady given very little to do, but veteran character actress Louise Dresser scores with a colorful, pathetic portrayal as La Rocque's doomed, insecure mother.
Second Fiddle (1923)
A Stylish Rural Tale
I wasn't surprised to learn that Frank Tuttle directed this unexpectedly beautiful and stylish film. A quintessential "rural" story of the younger sibling (ie, the SECOND FIDDLE) breaking out from the oppressive shadow of the favored son. This is a stylish, briskly paced tale, and although themes of rural poverty, child abuse, and alcoholism conspire to render the proceedings occasionally grave, the acting is uniformly thoughtful and natural, thus occasionally lightening the burden. Much of this picture was shot out of doors, and during bright times with a consistent windiness about the grasses and trees, lending the piece a rather glowing, nether worldly quality and giving the film an eerie, contemporary feel. You are literally swept along with the breeze. It also helps that the leading players are exceptionally non-period, with Glenn Hunter particularly, and with timeless Mary Astor magically so. Young Mary Astor's dark beauty was as breathtaking as expected, but nothing prepared the audience for the bewitchingly natural vision captured in that outdoor splendor. And remarks about her beauty shouldn't obscure her value as one of the best actresses to ever grace the screen. Glenn Hunter was a lanky man, complete with imperfect teeth and angular face and hair cowlick. He gives a heart-felt, full-blooded performance as a young man finding himself and saving the heroine along the way.
Forgotten Classic Hybrid
STINGAREE was the first of the great Irene Dunne musicals: SWEET ADELINE; ROBERTA; SHOW BOAT; HIGH, WIDE, & HANDSOME; and JOY OF LIVING, count em, six films (aside from 1930's LEATHERNECKING, but no one counts that!) is all you got. How can that be? She's my favorite! She sang in other pictures, but these six were the full-blown star vehicles for Kern's favorite movie soprano. Without a doubt, STINGAREE is the strangest, and, oh yeah, Jerome Kern is no where to be heard. We get some "Martha" and "Faust," and mostly several reprisals of a song called "Tonight is Mine," written by the talented Australian bandit, the Stingaree, himself. He let's her have this song, dedicated to her, and thus sets her on her path to international Opera acclaim. Sure, she is assisted by impresario Conway Tearle, and along the way we meet dignitaries and governors and even Disraeli, but no one can ever touch her true heart like the Stingaree could. And why not, after all, it is RKO's resident veteran stud, the Rod Taylor of the Twenties, Mr. Richard Dix who is portraying the dashing, debonaire, and musically inclined robs-from-the-rich, etc, legend. We get the music, the scenery, the costuming, the lush period detail, the horses, the chases, the fisticuffs, the... hey, what is this, a Richard Dix western, or is it one of the great Irene Dunne musicals? Well, there you have it. Based on E. W. Hornung's (RAFFLES) novel, STINGAREE is one of the most neglected, forgotten hybrids of the decade. It was screened in Syracuse last year, and while everyone questioned the reasoning behind its creation, all agreed it was an unusual, entertaining achievement. For STINGAREE is, in fact, a rather exciting (if fabulously improbable) action picture AND a desert topping. It was one of the big RKO releases of that season, and as such, boasts the best the studio could muster, and this included some important character work by some of our finest, including Andy Devine as Mr. Dix's (and the pictures') comedy relief side-kick (another vote for "it's a western"). Henry Stephenson (DOUBLE HARNESS; HEARTS DIVIDED; CONQUEST), not to be confused with another marvelous actor, James Stephenson (THE LETTER), is on hand to play the husband of a flighty, self-important woman who attempts to stand in poor Irene Dunne's way, and who else could portray such a woman but the great Mary Boland? Not simply a pitiful comedic plot device, Boland's fearless performance blends the charming and the likeable (and often purposefully annoying) Mary Boland, with un-reigned egoism, calculated duplicity, and an unexpected Agnes Moorehead-level guile. Let's hope they can find the funding to restore this classic!
Love Among the Millionaires (1930)
Love that Clara Bow
Some of my favorite pictures, THIS GUN FOR HIRE; ROMAN SCANDALS; THIS IS THE NIGHT; and some early Clara Bow talkies, were directed by Frank Tuttle. I know he had style, but perhaps the man had patience, for it is written in many places how awful the talking picture experience was for Miss Bow. Tuttle certainly had a knack for keeping things light and entertaining. LOVE AMONG THE MILLIONAIRES was not an easy film to locate, and once I did, I found I must continue my search, for what's available is in pretty lousy condition. In spite of this, Bow manages to shine through, and very often does so with flying colors. Supported by three notorious scene stealers, the best that can be said is that Mitzi Green out-stole the combined efforts of Stu Erwin and Skeets Gallagher. Mercifully, this only effects Clara Bow one time, but unfortunately, it is a glaring one time. Bow does a nice job delivering her songs with inspired pizazz, especially the wordy one's like "Believe it or not, I've found my Man," and "That's Worth While Waiting for," and the just terrific, engaging title duet with Stanley Smith, but she is all at sea trying to put over the best song in the show - "Rarin' to Go!" Not a great singer, Bow could nevertheless sell the goods in a natural, savvy manner that most of the early talkie performers wish they'd had on tap, but when it came to this highly typical fox-trot, she is both visually and aurally flustered. What makes this moment worse is that she is soon followed by her kid sister, portrayed by Mitzi, who launches into her own verse of the song and brings the whole house down. Green was a Vaudevillian, the child of Vaudevillians, and with Vaudeville pumping through her veins it certainly wasn't her fault they handed her that song at that unfortunate moment in the film. This error aside, the picture is a Depression-ready Cinderella tale made palatable by a marvelous match between Bow and Stanley Smith (who has never been better than in this film). As with Astaire and Rogers, Smith instantly gives Bow some class while she unselfishly and unavoidably infuses her co-star with sex-appeal, you know, that girl just couldn't help it. Watch for Connie and Joan's sibling, Barbara Bennett, in one of her few film roles, as Smith's sister.
Peach O'Reno (1931)
My Favorite Wheeler & Woolsey
Perhaps DIPLOMANIACS is their unsung classic, while COCKEYED CAVALIERS might be considered their most lushly produced. There is much to be found in HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE; KENTUCKY KERNELS; THE NITWITS; and HIPS! HIPS! HOORAY!, but for my money, PEACH O'RENO is my favorite Wheeler & Woolsey picture. I never knew about these two, but after my Dad mentioned that they had been his boyhood favorites, I took a close look at their stuff. The first thing that hooked me was the music, for in most of their work, there is at least one terrific song, usually performed by the unsung, underrated genius Bert Wheeler, and his very pretty, very unpretentious partner, Dorothy Lee. Wheeler was not just a good comic and good dancer, he was a clever, gifted dancer, and an inspired, original comedian. A notable 1920s "star of tomorrow," Bert Wheeler's singing was just a fabulous extra. When we are lucky, the songs in his pictures are extended by way of a comic verse for Bob Woolsey, a rather wacky character man who will confuse many until they realize that despite the glasses and the ever present cigar, he is not George Burns. The two were teamed by the legendary Flo Ziegfeld for RIO RITA, and they came along as part of the package when RKO filmed it, with Dorothy Lee selected by Wheeler himself (she appeared as part of the team 13 times). PEACH is that type of film you always hope you'll find along the way a picture you can recommend to anyone and you can depend on a positive reaction. PEACH can be compared, foot for foot, to any of the best Marx Brothers, I think it is that funny, that unexpected, and that entertaining. Just simply accept Wheeler & Woolsey as Divorce Attorneys, and you too can buy into this inspired satire on the divorce game in Reno, circa early Depression. Divorce? Well, you bet this is pre-code, and when these lawyers need to hire a correspondent, they just dress up Bert Wheeler, who will amaze you with this brilliant turn. Not content to merely parade or mimic, Bert's naughty, slightly debauched femme fatal should place him among America's comedic giants. There have been good drag acts on film, but very few have offered the detailed, inspired, finely-tuned portrayal served up here! In addition, Wheeler taps, the music is fun, the supporting cast is uniformly game and marvelous, the W & W schtick (trick settings, trick costumes, trick photography) is often a delight, the script is crackling, and although her best lines were cut by the censors way back when, we get a rare appearance by Broadway great Zelma O'Neal (GOOD NEWS; FOLLOW THRU!) as Woolsey's opposite.
True to the Navy (1930)
True to Clara
I saw a pristine print of this at Bay City, and was so blown away by Clara Bow that I just had to find a copy for myself. There was only one thing standing in my way, no one had one. What we saw in Bay City was the rare silent version released to houses not yet wired for sound at that time. What I located for home viewing was a very scratchy, dark copy of the talkie, complete with a song Clara belts out to Louise Beavers (though why a soda clerk should have a maid to sing to in the first place might be discussed in Social Sciences). At first you might think he was miscast as a tough, champion marksman "gob," but Fredric March is quite understandably marvelous in both versions; he's just as good silent as he is talking, and he and Bow prove a very important transitional match. I'm sure exposure in a Bow picture shot him to the front rank, and a teaming with one of the best of the new imports from New York (also teamed in the earlier THE WILD PARTY) must have been a strong influence on the proceedings. Overall a very appropriate tale of a gal who dates dozens at once, the dozens set out to humiliate her. Who knew the set-up guy (March) would actually fall for the randy miss (Bow)? The supporting sailors are around a good deal of the time, but seem to be utilized to better advantage in the silent version, the talking version being rather influenced by the comedic support of Harry Green, who's trade-mark fractured English is obviously more effective. While I lament that the perfect visual of the silent version had a great deal to do with the entertainment value of TRUE TO THE NAVY, this does not make the existing talkie a wash-out by comparison, just not as good. Clara's famous husband, the remarkably good-looking (no, this man was stunning, if you can buy that) Rex Bell has a brief scene as one of Clara's many suitors; Jed Prouty turns up as a dance-hall proprietor, and there is a very brief glimpse of young Frances Dee. Clara's partner behind the counter, one Adele Windsor, does a nice if brief job snapping back at the many suitors and sailors, but in reality her career and life were cut short not long after this picture was made.
Eternal Love (1929)
It's subtle AND it's breast-heaving
I saw this screened at the Bay City/Saginaw show, and although I was skeptical and even jaded about it while I was watching it, the imagery, the atmosphere, and the intensity of the subject (not to mention of the performances) provided me with my most powerful memories of the festival. Barrymore is not a dapper figure here, but his appeal and his talent for projecting smoldering fire is 100% intact. He is ably abetted by the angelic blonde, Camilla Horn, and the fiery, wildly uninhibited Mona Rico (a late silent discovery quickly forgotten, but who does turn up dancing a bit in John Carroll's ZORRO serial.) Horn is a delicate beauty suspiciously strung together with steel wire, while Rico goes some lengths to out-spitfire Lupe Velez, and does she ever wear a jacket? Rico's character is sooooo hot, that she is hardly ever seen wearing costuming that can contain her writhing, lusting, scheming torso. That she is supported in her efforts every step of the way by her mother is no vote for quality parenting, not by any stretch of the imagination, and Heaven help poor John. Poor, poor John. There is something about physical attraction in silent cinema, it can be obvious, nostril-flaring, eye-popping (or, as in the case of Miss Rico, breast-heaving) but when it's subtle, as with Barrymore and Horn, it can scorch the screen along with your eyes and imaginations. They are met subtlety for subtlety by the second male lead, handsome Victor Varconi, a fine actor often underused in the talking era, and are matched in color by Hobart Bosworth as Horn's Reverend father, and Bodil Rosing as their housekeeper. Evelyn Selbie, who portrays Mona Rico's horrible hag of a mother, seems to have had quite a career playing mothers in the Silents, and parlayed such roles into lesser talking picture assignments such as "Screaming woman" or "Immigrant woman," or "Tenement Woman."
Ever Since Eve (1937)
Does she ever!
I agree with the first comment, that I expected a poor picture and discovered a highly entertaining light comedy. Yeah, perhaps Marion Davies was typically too old to be playing what the reviewers called another "eye-batting ingenue," but she's not batting her eyes here. The entire concept of a woman succeeding based on her hard work, talent, and merit is taken quite seriously for a "silly comedy." This concept has been used time and time again, particularly with Laura La Plante in the English THE CHURCH MOUSE (35), and the earlier Warner BEAUTY AND THE BOSS, with Marian Marsh. La Plante was splendid, Marsh a bit inexperienced to carry off the entire chore, but Marion Davies plays with professional elan, and as usual, she is surrounded by folks who see to it that your time is never wasted - Patsy Kelly, Louise Fazenda, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, and Barton MacLane. Bob Montgomerey was borrowed from MGM, and although he's certainly at home in such material, he doesn't seem to be enjoying the ride as much as the rest of the cast. Davies made four films at Warners, and although Jack Warner claimed they all made (highly suspect) profits, they were certainly lavish affairs. EVE was the final appearance, and although it was not PEG O' MY HEART or SHOW PEOPLE or WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER, it is by no means a poor film, in fact, I would stack it against any later 30s film starring one of her contemporaries, say, Norma, Dolores, Janet, or Joan.
No Greater Glory (1934)
No Greater Example!
No musical spots, no romantic sub-plots, not even a girl around! Well, there's the great Lois Wilson as the leading kid's mother, and she's always worth watching, but make no mistake - this is about how boys develop their thinking process, their pecking order, and their views of the world. Not a hint of "boys will be boys," but boy, is it ever obvious in this unusually fearless, serious piece of anti-war propaganda. I would love to see this film restored, revived, and road-show-presented to every school in the country. It doesn't matter a dot that there are no girls in the story, either, as the subject is more valid today, perhaps, in light of world terrorism and how boys are being raised in other lands, than it might have been considered in 1934. We've enjoyed Molnar plays and tales - Liliom, The Good Fairy, The Guardsman, et al, but nothing prepared me for this hard-hitting, no holds barred filming of his book, the Paul Street Boys. There are plenty of marvelous character players, including Christian Rub, Samuel S. Hinds, Ralph Morgan, and of course, Miss Wilson, but it is the younger actors who race away with this picture, particularly everyone's favorite brat, Jackie Searle (who will not disappoint you!), and everyone's favorite tough guy, Frankie Darro, here offering a more layered, thoughtful performance than he is usually allowed to give. Though all the boys are terrific, one stands out, young Georgie Breakston (remember that wonderful moment in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT just after everyone sings "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" - the bus hits the mud and everyone goes flying - it was Georgie Breakston who broke the mood with his plaintive "Ma! Ma!" and gets the money from Colbert and Gable!!) effectively carrying the picture on his tiny shoulders. His performance in NO GREATER GLORY makes a lot of more famous child players seem like cardboard cut-outs. Write to your Congressman about this one, but try and find a copy and show it to your children!
The Crusader (1932)
Don't Stand in Evelyn Brent's Way!
How can you go wrong spending 60 some odd minutes with the likes of Ned Sparks, Lew Cody, Marceline Day, and the empress of this type of early 30s film, Evelyn Brent? Make no mistake, this is a talking talkie, with very little active action (save Brent parking her DeSoto and tracking through brush to the secret entrance), but you won't notice. The dialogue crackles by, delivered with relish by every actor in the picture. You know what happens when the District Attorney decides he's going to do some house cleaning? Well, eventually, this big plan hits too close to his own home. Naturally, Our Miss Brent has a past. This seems to be of major importance to some, but typically, Brent hardly seems to raise an eyebrow of concern, yet goes through the motions for the sake of her husband, and her husband's randy sister, Marceline Day in a blonde wig and looking so thin she would surely win roles on many of today's popular television shows. The cast is having a swell time, with Walter Byron, Arthur Hoyt, and especially Ned Sparks delivering the goods. It is especially nice to watch the great Lew Cody looking and playing so well. Marceline Day gets a chance to be rather rotten and haughty before diving into more typical simpering Day territory, the difference here is that she asked for it this time! And who's gonna save her? Evelyn Brent is forced to step back into her past, which she wears like a gorgeous beaded gown, and she takes the bulls by their horns. Don't stand in this woman's way! [Brent's wardrobe is especially good in this one, too.] I hope you can find a copy of this gem, we saw a rare screening up at the annual Bay City/Saginaw show, and it was an audience favorite.