Dynamite (1929) Poster

(1929)

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Historical/Hysterical
advixen8 April 2004
One of the best of the early de Mille works - given that most of those films featured the same stable of actors. You get to see the last glimpses of that Golden Age before the stock market crash led to the Depression (when a relay comprised of women rolling themselves along a track inside giant hoops passed for racing excitement, probably since horse racing, like alcohol, had been banned in the US at that time) Stunning costumes and Art Deco details (lucite and sequins and pincurls, oh my!) provide welcome diversion from the inconceivable plot - although the two female leads and their society set planning one's divorce so the other can marry the ex-husband is racy!

Of interest especially is the fact that you can recognize the stage training of many of the actors brought to Hollywood with the advent of sound, and how wooden previously silent actors can be when given voice. Also interesting is the characters' flagrant flouting of Prohibition, which still had 4 years left - after all, this was "pre-Code" Hollywood when there wasn't a censor to be found!

Most significant is the sound. The scene which annoys modern viewers is the chaos in the jailhouse wedding scene. However, this is one of the first instances of layered sound: the hammering of the gallows over the prisoner's singing over the wedding vows was a first for a medium that had gone talkie only a year & a half earlier.

So watch it for the details, not the drama
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10/10
De Mille's First Talkie
Ron Oliver2 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
An heiress plays with DYNAMITE when she marries a Death Row prisoner in order to inherit a large fortune.

In 1929 Cecil B. De Mille, perhaps Hollywood's most flamboyant director, went to work for the biggest Studio in town--giant MGM. During his brief sojourn there, De Mille would create three films--MADAM Satan (1930) & THE SQUAW MAN (1931) were the others. None could be considered financial successes, but each would be fine pieces of entertainment, unblemished by the mawkish acting or unnatural staging which often marred other very early sound pictures.

In DYNAMITE, De Mille mixes together the worlds of the indolent rich and the hard working poor, a combination capable of producing an explosion as powerful as any stick of nitroglycerin.

Kay Johnson turns in a wonderful performance as a very conflicted young woman who must decide between the two very different men in her life--with unavoidably tragic results. Her big scenes, as a sorrowful bride, a humiliated hostess, a ditsy cook, an accident witness and the victim of a natural calamity, are all played with great skill & complete command of the new, noisy medium.

Charles Bickford is very effective as the plainspoken, rough mannered coal miner whom fate suddenly thrusts into Johnson's world. His anti-hero stance plays very nicely against Conrad Nagel's portrayal of a fun loving playboy who adores Johnson, and who is given, in the movie's final moments, the chance to give his life some meaning during the suspenseful underground cave-in with which De Mille traps his three protagonists.

Julia Faye, a favorite actress of De Mille's who would have small roles in his films for decades, plays Nagel's extravagant, mercenary wife. A very young Joel McCrea appears as her boyish lover.

Movie mavens will recognize Russ Columbo as the singing inmate during the wedding scene; he would become one of America's favorite crooners before his tragic & mysterious death in 1934. That's also dear Mary Gordon, also unbilled, as Bickford's mining town neighbor.

De Mille turns his artistic wildness loose a bit during the party scenes of wealthy dissipation, showing how Johnson's idle friends spend their worthless lives.
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8/10
Cecil Be Spectacular
ptb-826 September 2007
Please also go into the external reviews on the IMDb for this extraordinary film and read the fascinating and informative page from 'moviediva'... this person/site offers excellent insights with great photos and production history not found elsewhere... this has been every time I find information from Moviediva... so thankyou whoever you are. MGM's exciting and technically innovative 1929 production DYNAMITE is exactly that... a moral fable of a vulgar wealthy woman and her immoral flighty glamor friends learning about the hard working honest poor side of life. This is all of course, an excuse for Cecil B De Mille then at MGM for three films to showcase the latest in talkie production methods. I agree with the other positive comments on this page that DYNAMITE is a 20s art deco masterpiece and an absolute feast of Jazz age wildness and lavishness. You will also find this level of breathtaking snazzy art deco 20s life in "The Divorcée" of 1929 and the 1930 Douglas Fairbanks film from united Artists "Reaching For The Moon".... each film absolutely essential for early talkie art deco astonishment for anyone who loves this early talkie period before The Depression stopped the party. DYANMITE is a good film with a compelling story... and the pre code language and sex topic at the peppy sports party (with the wheel race with the women spinning about) in the latest in art deco swimming costumes will re set your dial for 20s party frankness. See handsome Joel MacCrea as an almost-extra. This has been screening on a daily loop on TV in Australia so we can see it and examine it repeatedly. Well worth your time.
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8/10
Dynamite is Dynamite !
httpmom8 April 2004
I can't believe this was made in 1929! It would seem much later. 'Dynamite' was directed by Cecil B. DeMillle and featured Conrad Nagel, Kay Johnson, Charles Bickford, Julia Faye, and Joel McCrea.. Apparently it was DeMille's first talking picture!

I got lucky because they broadcast this on TCM the same week the classic movie channel premiered their recent biography 'Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic (2004)', another TCM film worth watching. It is devoid of the usual colossal cast and the behemoth type epic drama associated with most DeMille movies but am I ever glad I stayed up late for this one...the sets and costuming were pure eye candy! And while it is more simplistic than movies we think of as DeMille classics there are some remarkable scenes in this film including a glass walled bathtub with bath salts as big as the coal chunks mined out of the heroines'temporary' husband's work place. I'll not quickly forget the women's 'aero wheels' event during the sporting day at the country club. Could this have even been the inspiration to the wacky Busby Berkeley extravaganzas that didn't appear for at least another four years after 'Dynamite'? The costumes in this movie are museum worthy. There's also tremendous amount of Deco decor which is discriminating and sublime as a period piece.

The plot premise is rather sappy...spoiled rich kid falls for poor coal miner who teaches her a lesson in reality...where haven't we all heard that story before... but it's easy to forgive some minor flaws with this picture because visually it's too damn delicious to forget. The acting was decent and at times even humorous, especially amongst the love triangle. This relationship was obliging liberated given the era. And oh...the parties!

I also appreciate the lushness of a truly dynamic black and white movie from someone who understood how color translates when it desaturates. If I saw this movie when it premiered I would have marked it an 8 1/2 on a scale of 10.
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8/10
Now We Know How The Roaring '20s Roared
Patriotlad@aol.com9 April 2004
There is no doubt that this is movie, resurrected by the Turner Classic Movie network, which reminds us all that fine cinematic entertainment was being made at the very beginning of "the Talkies." The plot was fairly clever for that day and time, and it simply shreds conventions.

The in-between-the-lines context of this movie is also remarkable. Recall that Prohibition of alcoholic beverages had been in effect as a federal mandate for nearly ten years, and that many States had been "dry" with Prohibition for longer than that. But "the glittering society" depicted in this movie was positively soaking in booze. Clearly this movie was written and filmed well before the banking crisis of 1928-29 turned into the bank failures and bank runs of the early 1930s. The pace of the language, the styles, the ways of talking and relating expressed in "Dynamite" show the viewer -- now seventy-five years later -- that the Roaring '20s were very frenetic, indeed.

Prohibition was something for the small towns and rural areas, or so it was said, then. It came into being because activist female leaders made their case that drunken behavior and alcoholism were twin punishments on women and on their children. The majority of bad and abusive drunks in that era, 1880 to 1920, were men, of course. The ones who suffered from their abusive behaviors were their women and their children, or others in their families.

This is a movie which is all about women and men. The lead character, Buddy Derks, is about to be executed for a murder he didn't commit. In a drunken carouse, the young man who committed the murder assaults his drinking buddy with a knife, and this fellow in his turn shoots his friend, fatally wounding him. Before he dies, on the floor of the swank club where they're drinking, he confesses to the murder which Derks has been saddled with. Justice is swift, surprisingly so, and Derks is suddenly released from death row.

He goes then to confront the society 'dame' who paid him $10,000 to marry her, in a jail cell ceremony. The why and wherefore of this marriage of convenience are really extraordinary and that twist makes the movie worth seeing, alone. But suddenly the "dame" has a husband that she really does not want, and that's where the fun begins ....

Bickford is amazing in this movie. He clearly overacts, but it seems somehow so natural for him to do so. Everybody in this moving is either dancing or roaring, it seems, so now we know something about how the Roaring '20s roared !

This "Dynamite" is pure dynamite. TCM has done film buffs a great service by showing it all, and there's every reason to petition them to show it again and again, and not just in the middle of the blooming night !! This movie earned an * 8 * for my vote and I would have given it higher marks if the sound track was made more clear, all the way through. As it stands, it is a unique and appealing cinematic treat.

I recommend it most highly and without mental reservations.
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9/10
The merits of the inheritance tax ...
AlsExGal6 May 2012
... are clearly illustrated here in a tale that includes a fascinating look at the idle rich at the end of the roaring 20's who are so bored that they'll try anything for a thrill, owe their income to forefathers long dead, and basically play all night and sleep all day. But that's just the set-up for the real story.

Ordinarily I'm not that huge a fan of DeMille, but I found his first foray into sound, "Dynamite", a very good and innovative film. The actors don't speechify endlessly, the camera moves, and the story moves with it. Unlike many films from 1929 it's worth a repeat viewing for the entertainment value, not just the novelty of seeing an industry in transition.

That doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of an industry in transition on exhibit, but rather than inane musical numbers, De Mille uses sound appropriately and also employs largely unknown actors from the stage to keep the emphasis on the plot and in particular, the relationships. From the hammering of the builders of Hagan Dirk's gallows and the singing of "How Am I to Know" by a fellow death row prisoner played by Russ Columbo during the wedding scene, to the strange aero wheel race at the country club, to the playing of a particular song on the radio introducing a romantic moment, this film was an innovative technological marvel when it was first released. However, technological marvels fade with time, and what you do remember are relationships that hit home and are memorable. Many have already stated the outrageous premise of the plot. What is not outrageous and rings true after almost 85 years is how you don't get to pick who you love - it just happens and it can often be most inconvenient, and how heroes can be found in the strangest places and in people you would not think would be up to the task.

I'd recommend this one highly and not just to early talkie enthusiasts.
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Great first "talkie"
Ripshin8 April 2004
DeMille works wonders with his first "talkie," avoiding the complications most directors encountered during this transition period. The cinematography, sound and set design are excellent, and the acting toned down the over-dramatization that most early "sound" films wallowed in. Just view DeMille's "King of Kings," directed two years earlier, to witness the advancements being made in film at the time. From the elaborate Deco rooms, to a shanty neighborhood and mine shaft, DeMille puts on quite a show. My only complaint would be the opening courtroom scene, which definitely does NOT set the scene for the rest of the movie. I wonder if those "aero wheels" were indeed a trend in Europe at the time; obviously, the sport didn't catch on.
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10/10
Tribute to MGM
smyrna-326 April 2004
Thank you Irving Thalberg for the sterling scripts and Cecil B DeMille for your astute direction 75 years ago. I am assuming Thalberg was involved to some extent since MGM was involved. In all this time we haven't made any better movies. This competes with them all. My favorite movies were mostly made in the Thalberg era. I am so sorry your time (Thalberg) was so short lived. And, I still weep for the demise of MGM. MGM really did lose its shine when it lost Thalberg.

This story was complex. The sets were wonderful (I loved the mirror over the bar in the apartment, and the bathtub with the bowl of bath salts). Every actor - no matter how large their role - handled their part convincingly. Several small roles - the little sister, the judge, the girl next door in the mining town, the servants, etc., all deliver performances that make you pay attention. Many scenes stand out. The competition among the women in the 'circle' races (I never saw such contraptions). The little girl clinging to her brother (that little actress did a fine job). The fiance who really was likable and a real stand up guy. I was amused by kitchen scene. The 'modern' way of women dating each other's husbands struck me, and I have seen this as a plot line before in movies of that period. The 'speak easy' preoccupation with drinking lifestyle of the time is an education as is the portrayal of life in the lower classes. Of all the movies I've seen in this time period, I feel this one most closely clues us in on what life was like.
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6/10
The Coal Miner's Flapper
bkoganbing31 March 2009
In his memoirs Cecil B. DeMille got the idea for Dynamite which became his first all talking film after reading a small article about a man on New Jersey's death row who got married three days before his execution. What if DeMille reasoned, the execution was canceled and the two had to live with each other? What might be the consequences. From this germ of an idea, DeMille got his favorite screen writer and sometimes mistress Jeanie MacPherson to fashion a story for the camera. The result was Dynamite.

DeMille was doing the first of a three picture deal with MGM and his memoirs do talk about his having to deal with sound, in fact they read a whole lot like the scenes from a future MGM classic, Singing in the Rain. You ought to read them.

Charles Bickford is a coal miner on death row for a crime he didn't commit. His only concern is the care for his younger sister Muriel McCormac when he dies. He even offers to sell his corpse to medical science.

At the same time good time party girl Kay Johnson has a different problem. According to the terms of her grandfather's will, Johnson can't inherit until her 23rd birthday and at that time she must be a married woman, otherwise she gets zilch. The guy she's in love with is polo player Conrad Nagel who is married to Julia Faye who in real life was another of DeMille's mistresses. Faye always got parts of varying size in just about every DeMille production and in this one she's got one of her more substantive roles. She'll part with Nagel for a price, but in the meantime she's got young Joel McCrea on the side.

Johnson reads about Bickford's offer and pays him $10,000.00 for a prison wedding right their on death row. But wonder of wonders within minutes of the execution, someone else confesses to the crime and Bickford is freed. And he wants to exercise his husbandly prerogatives also.

Instead of the usual triangle, what we've got is a lover's pentagon. Obviously one of the men will have to be eliminated in some fashion, but who will it be? That is the crux of Dynamite.

Cecil B. DeMille did a lot of discovering here. Dynamite was Kay Johnson's motion picture debut and was Bickford's second film and first substantial role. DeMille personally selected both of them from the stage because of sound to be cast. As for Joel McCrea, in his memoirs DeMille says that McCrea and his daughter Cecilia went to Hollywood High School together and he remembered him as one of Cecilia's friends over at his house many times. McCrea had several bit roles in silent films before Dynamite, but this was his first part of substance. In the book The Films of Joel McCrea, McCrea states that he was forever grateful to DeMille for this exposure. It led to a contract with RKO and his first lead the following year in The Silver Horde.

The song How Am I To Know comes from this film and its sung during the scenes on death row by a young convict who was starting his all too brief career. Written by Jack King and lyrics by Dorothy Parker, it's sung by Russ Columbo who got his first critical notice after several other bit parts that year. Quite a staggering list of people for whom this was a key film.

It wouldn't be a DeMille film without a big bacchanalian party and and some spectacular special effects. DeMille could show debauchery on screen like no other usually followed by a sermon on living a clean and sober life and Dynamite is no exception. The jazz age scenes with Kay partying with her friends are good risqué before the Code stuff.

And the mine cave-in at the end is also well staged in true DeMille style. Even his severest critics always credited DeMille with handling spectacle like no other.

Dynamite is a film that's melodramatic, overacted as most early sound films were and definitely does not hold up well today. Still it's good for its type and as it turns out a key film in many lives.
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Incredibly Entertaining No Matter How Wild It Gets
Michael_Elliott7 June 2012
Dynamite (1929)

*** (out of 4)

Cecil B. DeMille's first talkie was the first of three pictures that the legendary director would make at MGM. The filthy rich Cynthia (Kay Johnson) needs to be married on her birthday or else she'll lose millions from her grandfather's will. The only problem is that her boyfriend (Conrad Nagel) is already married to a woman who doesn't mind her husband dating Cynthia but she refuses to marry him unless the money is right. On the other side of the tracks, convicted killer Hagon (Charles Bickford) is about to be put to death and offers his body for $10,000 so that his kid sister will be taken care of. Cynthia decides to marry the death row inmate so that she can be "married" on her birthday and since she'll be a widow soon after she can get back to her normal life. The only problem is that after the marriage the real killer comes forward and Hagon is set free.

Is that enough plot for you? DYNAMITE features enough plots for about ten different movies and everything I wrote above is just the opening forty-minutes and that leaves eighty-seven more minutes of craziness. This is without question an incredibly bizarre film but there's no question that it's highly entertaining on so many levels. One such level is that it's just downright nuts from start to finish and I just sat there watching it in a complete amazement that anyone could actually pull it off. DeMille proves what a genius he was by taking this outrageous stories and making them work. If any other director had tried this we'd laugh them right out of the theater. I'm not sure what DeMille's secrets were but he makes us care about the characters and their fate. It also doesn't hurt that we're given some excellent performances with Bickford leading the way as the tough coal miner. This is the type of role he could play in his sleep and he pulls it off wonderfully. Johnson is very believable and good in her part as is Nagel. Julia Faye plays his wife and we get supporting performances from Joel McCrea and William Holden.

DYNAMITE features some very campy moments including the scene where the killer confesses to the crime. I dare you not to laugh during this sequence. I also found it rather hilarious how casual the wife, her husband and the lover were at hanging out with each other. I think this threesome relationship is something that even Jerry Springer would roll his eyes at. Still, this is so entertaining that it really doesn't matter and it would make a great double feature with DeMille's other 1929 film, THE GODLESS GIRL.
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10/10
His year
kcfl-111 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Cecil B. DeMille was the first to accomplish a feat achieved by only one subsequent director: make the two best films of the year. Sidney Lumet did it both in 1963 ("The Panwbroker" and "The Hill") and 1997 ("Night Falls on Manhattan" and "Critical Care').

CB did it in 1929 with this film and "The Godless Girl." Watching Kay Johnson's character trying to cook (in high heels) was the funniest kitchen scene I've seen; often imitated, never equaled.

The mine cave-in featured special effects as astounding as the fire scene in "Godless." If "a gun hung on the wall in act 1 must be fired in act 3,"a song sung in a jailhouse wedding must be heard again when the two leads first realize they're in love.

With its sparkling repartee, "I laughed I cried," may be a cliché, but I did watching this masterpiece.
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10/10
Rich girl living a fast but empty life finds herself
angelo_tumbarello4 May 2012
This film was way too long! The art deco sets were fabulous. A scene where they were pouring tea from this exquisite tea pot into this fantastic cup made me envious.

(I coveted that tea pot.) The costumes were great.(One scene at a country club the black and white costumes were eye popping.) The plot has some excellent twists and turns. I liked the death row marriage. But on the whole the movie is not a very believable melodrama.(You can' have everything.) The coal mine cave in was GREAT.(This was a wonderful action scene and it made the whole film worth watching.) I loved Kay Johnson performance very much.(Small world story: three days ago I looked up her son James Cromwell on IMDb.)

ciao>>Angelo
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7/10
An early talkie
sdave759629 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Dynamite" released in 1929, in the early days of sound film, has been shown on TCM a few times. Kay Johnson plays a woman who must marry within a certain time frame to inherit millions. She desires to marry her lover (Conrad Nagel) but he is already married. Out of desperation, she married an imprisoned man, who has been scheduled to be executed (Charles Bickford). The problems start when Bickford is freed from prison (he has been wrongly accused) and enters Johnson's life again. She is at first horrified; she has also made a deal to pay off the wife of her lover for a divorce. It all gets quite complicated, with Kay Johnson torn between marrying her lover and now a husband she doesn't know. Bickford gives a rough performance as a coal-miner, far from the wealthy jet-setting life Johnson leads. The film descends somewhat into silliness, as these two opposites try to live together. A word about the performances: Kay Johnson does an admirable job, playing a complicated woman, and seems to handle the new sound medium fine. What a shame she never had much of a career. Bickford is good, and he would go on to have a long career, playing pretty much the kind of working-class man he does here. Oddly, this film is directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and it seems to bear no resemblance to his previous epics. Perhaps he was struggling with the adjustment to sound as well. DeMille had gone to the newly formed M-G-M studio, and they were a studio just on the cusp of being the Tiffany of all the movie studios.
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8/10
Far different from the sort of stuff DeMille was known for in later years--and that's a plus.
MartinHafer21 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
While the plot of "Dynamite" is hard to believe, it is really interesting and nothing like the dull epics the director (Cecil B. DeMille) would become known for making. The film begins with a group of rich jerks--the type who love parties but don't make anything of themselves and have little regard for others. They are smug and superior...and have absolutely no reason to feel superior to anyone. One of these rich jerks, Cynthia (Kay Johnson), is in love with a married jerk, Roger (Conrad Nagel). Roger's wife really doesn't care--all she wants is a good settlement. Here's the rub--Roger doesn't have any of his own money and his wife-to-be is expected to buy off the wife--otherwise she won't grant him a divorce. While Cynthia is more than willing, she cannot, as her fortune is tied up in a will with an interesting clause--Cynthia can't touch the money until she is married. And, she can't marry Roger until there's a payoff. So, to get around this, Cynthia finds a man on death row and marries him--knowing that in a few days he'll be dead. Then, she'll inherit the money, pay off the wife and marry Roger. So far, so good. The marriage goes off as planned but soon a monkey wrench is thrown into the works--a man confesses to the crime for which the guy (Charles Bickford) in about to be executed! So now, Hagon (Bickford) is STILL married to Cynthia and Cynthia cannot marry Roger until both marriages are dissolved.

The scene where Hagon arrives, quite unexpectedly, on his wife's doorstep is priceless. She has no idea he's not dead and she is about to have a party. Hagon won't leave--as far as he's concerned, he IS married! So, he stays. And, when Cynthia's party guests arrive, Hagon is horrified to see that they're all a bunch of worthless jerks--jerks who drink and party to excess but otherwise are vacuous idiots. He's so burned up by this crowd that he explodes--and throws them out of HIS house!! Although he isn't the least bit apologetic towards Cynthia for doing this, he does realize the marriage cannot work and agrees to leave as well as a divorce. So far, this is a VERY complicated and unusual plot. What's to become of Cynthia, Roger and Hagon? See the film and find out for yourself. There's much more to it and my description only covers the first half of this very unusual film.

While what follows is a bit predictable and a bit overly melodramatic for my taste, it still is a pretty good film---particularly for 1929. Most 1929 films have not aged well--due to poor sound quality (since sound was so new the people making films didn't know how to use it AND the equipment was lousy). Most of these films are just too stilted and talky. However, compared to the films of the day, I must admit that DeMille was very, very good and the overall product is quite nice. For today's audiences, I'd rate it a 7. Compared to other films of the era, a 9. So, an overall score of 8 seems reasonable. I was particularly impressed because unlike most of the later DeMille films, this one emphasized characters and had a lot more depth than his huge spectacles.
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