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Internes Can't Take Money (1937)
Doctor Kildare's Criminal Case
INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (Paramount, 1937), directed by Alfred Santell, is a medical drama based on the story by Max Brand, creator of the Doctor Kildare character. It also is the movie that introduces Doctor Kildare to the screen. Though many film historians believe Lew Ayres to be the original Doctor Kildare of the movies, it is an unknown fact that this first Kildare of the screen was actually played by Joel McCrea. With no Doctor Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore in the Ayres series) as his supervisor and mentor, nor setting at Blair General Hospital as depicted in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer series (1938-1942), this introduction to the noteworthy character is less hospital melodrama combining sentimentality and crime drama using two separate stories for two basic characters.
Following camera tracking to various medical rooms where young interns in clinics are taking care of patients and their needs, Jimmie Kildare (Joel McCrea) is introduced as a young interne at Mounview General Hospital making $10 a month treating a second degree burn on left forearm wrist of Janice Haley (Barbara Stanwyck), who later faints of malnutrition. Later that evening, Doctor Howard J. Pearson (Pierre Watkin), hospital superintendent, gathers his staff together for the dismissal of Interne Weeks (Lee Bowman), a friend of Kildare's, for experimental liver operation on a patient who has died. While comforting Weeks at the nearby bar, Janice enters to meet with Dan Innes (Stanley Ridges), a gangster. It is revealed that Janice is a widow of Jim Haley, bank robber who had taken her 11 month baby and hidden her someplace. Having served a two year prison term for not revealing information about her husband's criminal activities, Janice, now paroled, comes to the racketeer hoping for information regarding the whereabouts of her now three-year-old daughter. Innes agrees to help her for $1,000, which she does not have. In the meantime, Kildare encounters Hanlon (Lloyd Nolan), a racketeer who enters the bar only to keel over due to severe knife wound. Kildare secretly takes the injured gangster to the back room of the bar and off the record does an immediate operation to save his life. Later, Kildare receives an envelope with $1,000 cash from bartender known as "One Eyed" Jeff (Irving Bacon). When Janice learns Kildare's money she desperately needs to find her child, her attempt to steal the envelope fails. Kildare gives back the money to Hanlon only because the "internes can't take money." Coming to terms with hospital rules, Hanlon agrees to assist Kildare with any favors needed. When Kildare learns of Janice's history, he comes to Hanlon for assistance, at the risk of losing his own medical career if caught. Also in the cast are: Barry Macollum (Stooley Martin); Charles Lane (Grote, the gambler who must earn the money lost to Innes by acting as his butler); Lillian Harmer (Mrs. Mooney, the Landlady); Fay Holden (Mother Theresa) and Gaylord Pendleton (Interne Jones).
Being the only "Doctor Kildare" movie produced by Paramount and featuring Joel McCrea, this is a good introduction to the Max Brand character. It also marks the third of six screen collaborations of Stanwyck and McCrea, with INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY being one of their most underrated. Though Kildare is still the central character, the premise focuses more on the Stanwyck character, giving a standout performance and given extreme facial close-ups with realistic teary-eyedbuildup scenes that work with conviction. Stanwyck is most believable in her role of a desperate mother going through extremes searching for her infant child. Heartfelt moments include Stanwyck overlooking little sad looking three-year-old girls in orphanage, hoping one of them would be her very own daughter. Lloyd Nolan and Stanley Ridges give commendable performances as mobsters, with Nolan being more sympathetic through his tough guy image.
Unseen on commercial television since the late 1970s (notably WPIX, Channel 11 in New York City prior to 1973, and some showings on New Jersey's WTVG, Channel 68 (1976-1978), INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY, which has, to date, never been shown in cable TV, did become available in 1995 on video cassette and DVD in 2013. Regardless of crime melodrama, sentiment and medical issues, INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY is worthy screen 77 minute , thanks to its fine casting of actors and direction that rise above average script material. (***)
The Gilded Lily (1935)
Something About Romance
THE GILDED LILY (Paramount, 1935), directed by Wesley Ruggles, suggested by the story by Melville Baker and Jack Kirkland, is a delightful comedy starring Claudette Colbert in her first pairing opposite two young actors on the rise: Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland. Though Colbert had already starred in earlier comedies as THREE-CORNERED MOON (Paramount, 1933) and her loan-out assignment of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (Columbia, 1934), for which she won the Academy Award as Best Actress, THE GILDED LILY would actually be the start in similar themes such as this, several more opposite MacMurray up to 1948. Asnmuch as THE GILDED LILY is only a title, for which there is no such character in the story named Lily, and this being no relation to a 1921 Paramount silent starring Mae Murray of the same name, this is actually an original story about a working girl named Marilyn.
With an opening view of New York's Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, the story introduces best friends, Marilyn David (Claudette Colbert), a stenographer, and Pete Dawes (Fred MacMurray), a smooth talking newspaper reporter, sitting on a park bench where they meet every Thursday night at Bryant Park - he munching on a bag of popcorn with his shoes off, and she discussing about her future to one day meet the man of her dreams. Marilyn eventually does when she encounters Charles Gray (Ray Milland) at a crowded subway station involving a pushy subway guard (Edward Gargan). She rescues him from a fight leading to the street and her involvement with him - to a point of having him look for a job, an evening at Coney Island amusement park, a day at the beach and time together at the same park bench she and Pete meet once a week. Falling in love with her, Charles, actually Charles Granville, a British nobleman secretly visiting New York with his father (C. Aubrey Smith), the Lord of Donshore, resumes his incognito from Marilyn until he returns to England to break off his engagement with Helen Fergus. Assigned by his managing editor (Charles C. Wilson) to cover a story on the visiting Granvilles, Pete locates them boarding a ship bound for England to get the latest scoop. While reading Pete's article about them in the newspaper, Marilyn is both surprised and upset the nobleman to be her dream man. To capitalize on this romance, Pete builds up his story of desertion between Charles and Marilyn. After Marilyn quits her job and through Nate's (Luis Alberni) idea, Pete goes even further with his publicity stunt labeling Marilyn "The No Girl" singing and dancing at Nate's Gincham Cafe. Marilyn's celebrity status leads both her and Pete to perform in Southampton, England, where Marilyn and Charles meet once more. Others in the cast are: Eddie Craven (Eddie, Pete's photographer pal); Donald Meek (Mr. Hankerson, Marilyn's employer); Forrester Harvey (Hugo Martin, the innkeeper); Grace Bradley (Daisy); Tom Dugan (The Hobo); Ferdinand Munier (Otto Buische), and Warren Hymer (The Taxi Driver).
With some amusement bits involving Colbert's drunken scene and singing and dancing to the tune of "Something About Romance," the chemistry between her and MacMurray is evident from their very first scene together. Aside from this being MacMurray's first movie with Colbert, it was also his first important movie role that elevated him to leading man status, along with future films together with Colbert. Ray Milland, in a secondary role, would soon elevate to star stature himself, including his reunion pairing opposite Colbert in both ARISE, MY LOVE (1940) and SKYLARK (1941). While the pace for THE GILDED LILY slows up some near the end, the overall 80 minutes remains both likable and enjoyable production.
Quite popular in its day, followed by frequent television revivals from the 1960s to the 1980s, by today's standards, THE GILDED LILY is close to being forgotten and overlooked among classic film comedies. It did include cable televisions broadcasts on American Movie Classics (1990-91) and an unannounced presentation on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 5, 2010) to promote its DVD distribution together with other Colbert/MacMurray comedys (THE BRIDE COMES HOME and FAMILY HONEYMOON (1948)) in the box-set. THE GILDED LILY is no doubt the top of the list of its trio of comedies that should still be entertaining today as it was back in 1935. (***1/2 bags of popcorn)
Second Fiddle (1939)
SECOND FIDDLE (20th Century-Fox, 1939), directed by Sidney Lanield, reunites Olympic skating champion Sonja Henie with Tyrone Power (her previous co-star from THIN ICE (1937)), for the second and final time. A Hollywood story with original new score by Irving Berlin, which oddly enough did not produce any song hits, is probably one of the main reasons for this being overlooked and forgotten through the passage of time.
The story starts in 1938 with the best selling novel "Girl of the North" acquiring the screen rights by Consolidated Pictures for a movie version. A nation-wide talent search is formed with countless screen tests going on to 1939 to which actress is the right choice for the leading role of Violet Jasen. None seem to be just right until Jimmy Sutton (Tyrone Power), a smooth-talking publicist working under George "Whit" Whitney (Alan Dinehart), discovers Photo No. 436 of Trudi Hovland, a schoolteacher from Bergen, Minnesota, to be the girl with possibilities. Taking the next airplane to Minnesota, Jimmy meets with Trudi (Sonja Henie), unaware that Willie Hogger (Lyle Talbot), her boyfriend of three years whom she does not love, to be the one who secretly submitted her photo to the studio. Feeling she's no actress to assume an leading role major motion picture, Trudi turns down the offer to come to Hollywood for a screen test. However, the fast-thinking Jimmy talks her into going, accompanied by her protective Aunt Phoebe (Edna May Oliver), to take her leave of absence from school to see how it goes. Much to her surprise, Trudi wins the leading role as "Girl of the North." In order to keep her in Hollywood to finish the movie, Jimmy creates a staged romance between her and Roger Maxwell (Rudy Vallee), a singer and leading man, whose girlfriend, Jean Varick (Mary Healy), finds herself taking second fiddle to the man she loves. During the course of time, Jimmy finds himself playing second fiddle to Trudy as he slowly begins to realize his love for her. Also in the cast include: Minna Gombell (Jenny, the columnist); Spencer Charters (Joe Clayton); George Chandler, Irving Bacon and Maurice Cass. Specialties include The Brian Sister, the King Sisters, along with Stewart Reburn as Henie's skating partner and Dick Redman as Freddie, the little boy skater. While character actor Charles Lane is credited in the cast, only his familiar voice as the studio chief is heard numerous times via intercom.
Songs include: "An Old-Fashioned Tune" (sung by Rudy Vallee); "The Song of the Metro Nome," "The Song of theMetro Nome" (reprise/skating number); "Back to Back" (sung by Mary Healy); "When Winter Comes," and "I poured My Heart into a Song" (both sung by Rudy Vallee); "I'm Sorry for Myself" (sung by Mary Healy); and "I Poured My Heart into a Song" (skating sequence by Sonja Henie). Though the score by Irving Berlin didn't produce hits as "Cheek to Cheek," he did come up with a lively tune of "Back to Back" along with an interesting balled "I'm Sorry for Myself" sung in great voice by Mary Healy, a tune that makes one think of Ethel Merman had she sung this particular song herself.
Those seeing SECOND FIDDLE in 1939 would notice similarities to this story along with producer David O. Selznick's notable search for the role of Scarlet O'Hara in the Civil War epic of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Around the same time when 20th Century-Fox studio would acquire services of legendary singer, Al Jolson, past his prime, for a couple of secondary roles (ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE and SWANEE RIVER), the studio also contracted former vagabond lover, Rudy Vallee, in support singing a few songs as well. With Sonja Henie also playing a skating teacher would be an excuse for a couple of skating production numbers thrown in. Tyrone Power shows his flare for comedy as a publicity man, yet not performing in a fast-talking, speedy performance of Pat O'Brien of Warner Brothers.
With some star quality and lively story, it seems odd SECOND FIDDLE did have limited television revivals over the years. Other than distribution on video cassette in 1994, it did have its cable television broadcasts only so briefly as Cinemax (1986) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: February 9, 2012). Maybe not the classic as Henie's other films as SUN VALLEY SERENADE (1941), but worth viewing considering the assortment for its time a great number of "movies about the movies," and fine lighthearted comedy spoofing itself along the way. (***1/2)
The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942)
Judge Hardy's Family Values
THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1942), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the 12th installment to the popular "Judge Hardy's Family/Andy Hardy" series featuring series regulars of Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden, Sara Haden and Ann Rutherford. With the series success being more on star quality and family values, and sometimes an introduction to the screen of future major stars as Kathryn Grayson as ANDY HARDY'S PRIVATE SECRETARY (1941) or Esther Williams in ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE (1942), THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY is a stepping ground for Donna Reed. Though not her introduction to the screen, having few prior movies roles since 1941, it would be her showcase for her as a troubled teenager caught in the middle of her parent's divorce custody.
Resuming its standard location to the small town of Carvel, the story opens traditionally in Judge Hardy's courtroom where the judge (Lewis Stone) is handling a maritial separation case for Roderick O. (Harvey Stephens) and Olivia Nesbit (Frieda Inescort), whose young daughter, Melodie (Donna Reed), known to high school students as a "droop," wants nothing to do with them, even confessing to the judge that even she hates her father, leading to the judge to look deeper into the case. Next plot development shifts to Hardy's son, Andrew (Mickey Rooney), a high school graduate now working at Pete Dugan's (Joseph Crehan) garage, using his jalopy to help a stranded visiting businessman, Stewart Willis (Steve Cornell), to toll his car to the garage for service, only to unwittingly lose his customer who later accuses him of stealing his auto, and file charges. This only after Andy gets a ticket from a policeman for driving his car without license plates. In the meantime, the family gets together at the train station welcoming home their eldest daughter, Marian (Cecilia Parker) following her trip to New York City, only to find her personality changed to big city girl with culture snubbing Carvel. She encounters Jefferson Willis (William Lundigan), a man-about-town, at the station, unaware of his serious boozing habits. While Aunt Milly (Sara Haden) has no problems to speak of, it's her sister, Emily (Fay Holden) who becomes involved in a mail-order swindle of $61.60 which she must pay or the collection agency will assume charges against her. As a favor for his father, Andy gets talked into taking the lonely and embittered Melodie out for a good time. While she actually knows of his intentions, Melodie becomes his date anyway at the high school alumni dance where Harry Land (Todd Karns) become interested in her, and being the only one among Andy's friends not to get paid for dancing with her. Further problems arise when Melodie overhears something to want to leave Carvel and parents altogether. Others in the cast include Erville Alderson (The Bailiff); Georgie Breakston ("Beezy" Anderson), Betty Wells (Susie), Floyd Schackelford (Joe) and Junior Coughlan ("Red"). Interestingly, series regular, Ann Rutherford as Polly Benedict, Andy's girlfriend, would only get a few minutes into the story while the sentence for drunk-driving Lundigan's character would actually get settled by the judge into the next installment, ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE (1942).
Unlike the previous and very melodramatic effort of LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY (1941), THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY resumes to formula material with some humor with enough individual plot situations for one movie for its 95 minutes. Aside from a 15 minute segment involving individual family members of Marion, Aunt Milly, Andy and Mrs. Hardy getting to converse their problems with the wise old judge in his den, and the judge getting adjusted to the more modern slang terms, Donna Reed gets her moment assuming the role of two basic characters, that of a homely quiet and unpopular girl who spends time alone listening to opera , to an attractive down-to-earth girl with dynamic personality. Reed and Mickey Rooney would share another movie together, THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), though their scenes in that classic, and Rooney's best film, are limited.
Never distributed to home video, THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY often plays on cable television's Turner Classic Movies and available on DVD as part of the Andy Hardy collection for fans of the series. (**1/2)
Repeat Performance (1947)
Same Time, Last Year
REPEAT PERFORMANCE (Eagle-Lion Studios, 1947), directed by Alfred L. Werker, became this independent studio's initial attempt on a major motion picture. Taken from a 1941 novel by William O'Farrell, and starring Louis Hayward and Joan Leslie, REPEAT PERFORMANCE has often been compared to an earlier release of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (RKO Radio, 1946) starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, in a story set on Christmas Eve revolving around a man getting his chance to see how his life would have been had he not been born. For REPEAT PERFORMANCE, set on New Year's Eve, the central character here wants to relive her previous year so to amend any mistakes made resulting to her tragic outcome.
Opening with an off-screen narration (reportedly by John Ireland) who provides viewers what to expect: "The stars look down on New Year's Eve in New York. They say that fate is in the stars, that each of our year is planned ahead and nothing can change destiny. Is this true? How many times have you said, "I wish I can live this year over again?" This is the story of a woman who did relive one year of her life." The story begins minutes before the strike of Midnight for the New Year of 1947. Gun shots are heard and a woman, identified as Sheila Page (Joan Leslie), an actress of the Broadway play, "Say Goodbye," is seen standing in over her victim, Barney (Louis Hayward), her husband and drunken failed playwright, now deceased. With pounding on the door, the frightened Sheila runs out the back way into the crowded street of New Year's celebrators. Entering a crowded restaurant, Sheila comes to the table of her friend, William Williams (Richard Basehart), leaving his guests to be told elsewhere what she had done. As they leave for the apartment of Sheila's friend and producer, John Friday (Tom Conway) for assistance, Sheila makes a wish to herself wanting to relive 1946 all over again. Suddenly, Sheila finds herself transformed back in time, this time knowing what to expect yet hoping to prevent any mistakes leading to her husband's murder. Others in the cast are Virginia Field (Paula Costello, playwright); Natalie Schafer (Eloise Shaw, a socialite); Ilka Gruning (Mattie, the Maid), and Jean Del Val (Tony, the Waiter).
Often classified as a "film noir" with ingredients of murder and flashback, REPEAT PERFORMANCE is a different type of film noir where flashback isn't played for the benefit of its audience but the central character . This style could be labeled "fantasy noir" without the fantasy elements attached to it. This new premise is good enough to hold interest throughout its 93 minutes.
Regardless of Louis Hayward heading the cast, REPEAT PERFORMANCE is Joan Leslie's film from start to finish. Type-cast as girl-next-door types for Warner Brothers Studio (1941-1946), REPEAT PERFORMANCE was the sort of role Leslie needed to prove she could play mature roles with conviction. Though labeled by many to be her finest screen performance up to that time, her subsequent roles, often forgettable, failed to give her this same opportunity again. Interestingly, Leslie got to appear in its 1989 made for television re-title remake of TURN BACK THE CLOCK starring Connie Sellecca, with Leslie having a cameo playing a party guest. Louis Hayward makes due as her boozing playwright husband who falls clutches to another playwright (Virginia Field) of the theater. Tom Conway resumes his droll suave character type he had done for RKO Radio in the "Falcon" mystery series (1942-1946), while Richard Basehart (in movie debut) nearly steals the show as Leslie's closest friend and poet, William Williams. It is his character, who later realizes he's also living 1946 all over again, to be the one to come up with the result whether if destiny can be changed or will the outcome always remain the same?
Though REPEAT PERFORMANCE did have numerous commercial television broadcasts dating back to the 1950s, particularly New York City where it last played in June 1978 on WNEW, Channel 5, the film in itself did have limited cable television showings (Arts and Entertainment) in 1986 before disappearing from view for many years to come. With no known availability on video cassette, thanks to Turner Classic Movies cable for giving REPEAT PERFORMANCE its long overdue revival (TCM premiere: December 28, 2019) on its weekly series, "Noir Alley" as hosted by Eddie Muller with his very interesting insights on the movie and actors before and after the movie, with hope with future revivals or repeat performances to make this a better known product from the "film noir" genre. (***)
Pistols and Petticoats
DIXIANA (RKO Radio, 1930), adapted and directed by Luther Reed, was the studio's follow-up to its highly successful RIO RITA (1929) by reuniting its director with lead performers of Bebe Daniels, Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey and Dorothy Lee. Though John Boles appeared as Daniels' love interest in the the Florenz Ziegfeld stage musical of RIO RITA, this latest edition, an original premise with story and lyrics by Anne Caldwell, features baritone Everett Marshall in his place. Shifting settings from Mexico to the old pre-Civil War South, DIXIANA also repeats the final celebration event with filmed Technicolor process with lavish sets and costumes.
Set in 1840s New Orleans, the story opens with Carl Van Horn (Everett Marshall), whose father, Cornelius (Joseph Cawthorne), better known as the Philadelphia Dutchman, watching the slaves on his Southern plantation. Carl loves Dixiana Caldwell (Bebe Daniels), a circus performer at Cayetano's Hyppodrome, whom he wants to marry. After watching Dixiana perform for the audience, Carl encounters her rival suitor, Montagu (Ralf Harolde) who would rather pistol dual with him than lose the petticoat circus girl he loves. Regardless, Carl proposes and she happily accepts, taking her circus friends, Peewee (Bert Wheeler) and Ginger Dandy (Robert Woolsey) along with her to Carl's plantation for the festivity with his family at his plantation. Unfortunately, Carl's social-climbing stepmother, Birdie (Jobyna Howland) disapproves of both future bride and her "distinguished gentlemen" friends enough to insult them in front of guests. Not wanting to come between Carl and his family, Dixiana leaves with her friends to return to the circus, only to find herself working for Montagu and company at his New Orleans gambling house instead. As Peewee and Ginger are reunited with their old friend, Nanny (Dorothy Lee), Dixiana encounters Carl once more, finding him losing heavily at the gambling tables to his enemy, Montagu. Others in the cast are Edward Chandler (Blondell); and Eugene Jackson (Cupid).
Songs by Harry Tierney, Anne Caldwell and Benny Davis are as follows: "Mr. and Mrs. Sippi" (sung by Everett Marshall during opening titles); "Dixiana" (sung by chorus); "I Am Your Lady Love" (sung by Bebe Daniels); "Here's to the Old Days" (sung by Marshall); "A Tear, a Kiss, a Smile" (sung by Daniels); "My Generation: (sung by chorus/Daniels); "My One Ambition is You" (sung by Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee); "Dixiana" (sung by Daniels); "My One Ambition is You" (chorus, background score); "Dixiana," "No Matter Who Wins, I'm Lost" (sung by Daniels); "Dixiana," "Mardi Gras," "A Love Loved a Soldier" (sung by Robert Woolsey); "Mr. and Mrs. Sippi" (tap dance solo by Bill Robinson); "You Are My Guiding Star" (sung by Marshall and Daniels), "Here's to the Old Days" (instrumental) and "Dixiana" (finale). Of its handful of tunes "Here's to the Old Days" appears to be the film's best song while Bill Robinson's tap dancing being the film's other highlight.
Regardless of DIXIANA not being as successful as RIO RITA, possibly because of its lack of chemistry between Daniels and Marshall (who resembles Mexican actor Antonio Moreno), their scenes together are actually limited due to extensive footage more on the battling married couple (Joseph Cawthorne and Jobyna Howland), song numbers and the comic antics provided by Wheeler and Woolsey, particularly their gag involving participants picking up three cigars individually without saying "ouch."
DIXIANA would be Daniels' last musical for the studio before shifting to straight dramatic roles for RKO and later Warner Brothers before returning to a musical role in the now classic 42nd STREET (1933). Marshall on the other hand would appear in one more motion picture, I LIVE FOR LOVE (Warner Brothers, 1935) opposite Dolores Del Rio. Marshall might have had a chance in musical films, but disappeared after two movie roles to his resume. For the last Wheeler and Woolsey where they work as supporting players, they would star in a series of fine comedies for the studio (1930-1937).
For many years, it was claimed that the final 20-minute Technicolor sequence featuring Bill Robinson's tap dance solo was lost. When DIXIANA was sold to television (namely New York City's WOR, Channel 9 in November 1956), the movie played with the closing left unresolved. This incomplete print was later distributed to video cassette from Video Yesteryear in the 1980s. Fortunately, the Technicolor conclusion had been found, restored and surfaced in revival movie houses, and cable television starting with Turner Network Television (TNT) in December 1988, followed by American Movie Classics (1991-1993) and finally Turner Classic Movies (after 1994) before availability in full 98 minute glory on DVD. Though uneven in spots, DIXIANA is worthwhile rediscovery of musicals produced during the early days of sound. (** cigars)
Rio Rita (1929)
South of the Border
RIO RITA (RKO Radio Production, 1929), adapted and directed by Luther Reed, was one of two early screen musicals personally supervised and produced by Florenz Ziegfeld (the other being Samuel Goldwyn's WHOOPEE (1930) starring Eddie Cantor). A reworking of the 1927 Ziegfeld stage musical starring Ethelind Terry and J. Harold Murray, this RKO adaptation stars screen personalities Bebe Daniels (in her talking movie debut) and John Boles, supported by the comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey reprising their original stage roles. While there is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1942 update of RIO RITA starring another comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, with Kathryn Grayson and John Carroll in the Daniels and Boles roles, this original is often claimed to be more faithful and much better to the original stage treatment by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson.
The screen adaptation basically consists of two separate storieson one: Captain Jim Stewart (John Boles)of the Texas Rangers is assigned to border trace Kinkajou, a bandit with a $10,000 price reward for his capture, dead or alive. Suspecting Roberto Ferguson (Don Alvarado) to be the bank robber, tracks him down to to the Freemont Cafe in Mexico. After leaving, a bank robbery takes place by which Kinkajou escapes without capture once more. Jim meets up with Roberto's sister, Rita (Bebe Daniels), residing on a ranch at the Rio Grande. Keeping his identity a secret, Jim falls in love Rita, making it difficult for him to place Roberto under arrest if captured. Rita, however, is loved by Russian General Ravenoff (Georges Renavent), whom she dislikes, unaware that he has abducted and hidden her brother away for reasons of his own. The subplot revolves around Chick Bean (Bert Wheeler) from New York with his personal representative lawyer, Ed Levitt (Robert Woolsey), arranging for his divorce arrangements from Kate (Helen Kaiser) so Chick could marry cafe entertainer, Dolly (Dorothy Lee). Upon his wedding followed by a Mexican honeymoon, Levitt informs Chick that he will be arrested for bigamy, after learning the divorce proceedings is not valid. Others in the cast are Eva Rosita (Carmen); Tiny Sanford (Tiny) and Lita Chevret (Louie's Wife), among others.
While the initial roadshow 141 minute version of RIO RITA, including opening and closing overture with intermission title card, prints currently in circulation are reportedly the strongly edited 103 minute version from its 1932 reissue. minus some song interludes and plot elements pertaining to the story. The song numbers (by Harry Tierney and Joe McCarthy) from the uncut version include are reportedly as follows: "Jumping Bean" and "The Kinkajou" (both sung by Dorothy Lee); "Sweethearts" and "The River Song" (both sung by Bebe Daniels); "Rio Rita" (duet by John Boles and Bebe Daniels); "Siesta Time" (sung by chorus); "Espanola" (sung by Robert Woolsey); "Are You There?" (sung by Dorothy Lee and Bert Wheeler); "The Ranger Song" (sung by John Boles and rangers); "You're Always in My Arms, But Only in my Dreams" (sung by Boles, reprised by Daniels, written by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arle); "The Spanish Shawl" (sung by Eva Rosita); "If You're in Love, You'll Waltz" (sung by Bebe Daniels); "Out on the Loose" (sung/ tap dance by Bert Wheeler, featuring overhead camera shot of chorus in the Busby Berkeley directorial style); "Poor Fool" (sung by Bebe Daniels); "Over the Boundary Line" (sung by chorus); "Sweetheart, We Need Each Other" (sung by Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee, reprised by Dorothy Lee and Helen Kaiser); and "You're Always in My Arms, But Only in My Dreams" (finale). Of its songs, "The Ranger Song" and "Sweetheart, We Need Each Other" are both tuneful highlights. Boles and Daniels are in fine singing voice while the comedy antics of Wheeler and Woolsey, including their drunken scene as they envision a naked woman, was humorous enough to be reworked into the Abbott and Costello 1942 edition. Some scenes are heavily underscored, causing the dialogue to be hard to hear and understand.
Reportedly the studio's biggest and most expensive production of that time, RIO RITA its shorter reissue suffers from missing footage that would have proven more favorable viewing with connected plot and character developments. For several years, I've avoided reviewing this particular title hoping that complete version of RIO RITA would become available for proper critique. According to an article in Variety printed in 1979, New York City's Museum of Modern Art obtained the complete print for its showing for its 50th anniversary tribute to RKO Radio. Sadly, I was unable to attend this screening, hoping for another chance at a latter date. Modern sources now claim the roadshow version is now lost with shorter version, available for viewing on cable television's Turner Classic Movies since September 1996, and DVD later on, to be the only one in existence. Fortunately, the Technicolor sequence taking up the final half hour set on the Pirate Barge remains intact.
RKO reunited Bebe Daniels with Wheeler and Woolsey (with Everett Marshall in for John Boles) again in similar style production with Technicolor finale of DIXIANA (1930), but results weren't the same. Regardless of its age and the film that introduced Wheeler and Woolsey to the screen, RIO RITA is a prime example to how the Florenz Ziegfeld musical must have been presented on stage. (***)
Show Boat (1929)
The Lady and the Gambler
SHOW BOAT (Universal, 1929), a Carl Laemmle Super Production directed by Harry A. Pollard, is a part-talking/part-silent screen adaptation based more on the dramatic story by Edna Ferber's book than the then successful 1927 Florenz Ziegfeld Broadway musical by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern. Remade most famously by Universal (1936) starring Irene Dunne and Allan Jones, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1951) with Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, no three editions are alike, all having both different outlook and visual styles of its own.
Opening title: "The mighty Mississippi - deep and moody," begins with the Cotton Palace Show Boat "bringing to the river folk the glorious world of unreality - the theater." As the public cheers the boat's arrival, Magnolia Hawks (Jane LaVerne), a child of show boat owners, Captain Andy (Otis Harlan) and Parthinia Ann (Emily Fitzroy), dances for the public against the objections of her stern mother, who dislikes show people. During the night of the show, Magnolia, hoping to someday become an actress, is caught imitating its leading lady by her mother, who punishes Magnolia with a spanking inside her room. Magnolia calls out the window for actress and dear friend, Julie Dozier (Alma Rubens) for both moral support and comfort. Overhearing Magnolia wishing Julie were her mother, the hurt and jealous Parthinia immediately dismisses Julie from the show, not before Captain Andy enters to have her go out to perform. Years later, Magnolia (Laura LaPlante) grows up to become a successful Show Boat entertainer, but finds it difficult keeping her leading men who constantly get fired by Parthinia after they find themselves falling in love with her. Captain Andy subjects Gaylord Ravenal (Joseph Schildkraut), a gentleman and non-actor, to become Magnolia's new leading man. Fascinated by her beauty and charm, Gaylord eventually elopes with her. Though Captain Andy approves of Gaylord, Parthinia simply refuses to accept him into the family, constantly arguing with him, even after Magnolia gives birth to their daughter, Kim. Some time later, after Parthinia becomes a widow and becomes in charge of the Show Boat, Magnolia and Gaylord, unable to cope with her anymore, buy out their interest of the show boat and, taking along their five-year-old daughter (Jane LaVerne), start a new life in Chicago. Because of Gaylord's compulsive gambling and losing all the earnings and wife's respect, causes a friction in their marriage, leaving uncertainties ahead.
Others in the cast include: Elsie Bartlett (Elly); Jack McDonald (Windy); and Edwards (Schultzy). With Jane LaVerne, playing both mother and daughter roles, being such an adorable child, Stepin Fetchi's Joe, the character who sings the famous "Ol' Man RIver," is reduced here to a cameo dub-singing a slow but dull song titled "Look Down That Lonesome Road." While many of the actors credited being properly cast, especially Laura LaPlante, Universal's top actress of the day, and Schildkraut's less sympathetic gambling husband, it's Emily Fitzroy as Magnolia's frightful mother who gets better attention here over the likable Otis Harlan's Captain Andy.
For anyone having seen the remakes and expecting on hearing its classic songs, would be disappointed. Also missing are the romantic subplots of half-black Julie Dozier and her white husband, Frank Baker; and black comic support of Joe and Queenie. Other than some tunes from the musical used as underscoring for the silent treatment, the existing two hour edition to 1929s SHOW BOAT opens with an audio overture of stage performers of the musical show, including Aunt Jemima singing "Hey, Fella," Helen Morgan's "Bill" and Jules Bledsoe's rendition of "Ol' Man River." Take notice the voice-over announcer, Otis Harlan, introducing Bledsoe's "Ol' Man River" does not occur, cutting straight to the opening titles instead. Virtually silent with original underscoring, it takes the story nearly a half hour before reverting to ten minutes of spoken dialogue set during a bad acting stage play and after. The second talking segment occurs a half hour after reverting to silent scoring and inter-titles. Unfortunately the surviving print's second talkie segment, lasting a good half hour, contains no audio (now lost) using some inserted subtitles in its place. The supposed banjo segment of LaPlante singing on stage is voiceless with no indication to what songs she is actually singing.
Reportedly lost with no prints to have survived due to MGM's acquiring the rights to both Universal editions for its basis for its 1951 Technicolor musical, both 1929 and 1936 adaptations have fortunately survived, with the long unseen 1936 version the only one of the Universal two being available on video cassette and DVD. Regardless of being incomplete both in audio and brief segments, at least Turner Classic Movies cable channel has brought back this original edition back from obscurity, where it has been shown since July 1995, a real curiosity for fans of both stage and screen editions to see for comparison reasons more than anything else. (***)
Judge Hardy and Son (1939)
Judge Hardy's Family Matters
JUDGE HARDY AND SON (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939), directed by George B. Seitz, the eighth in the now popular family series starring Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden and Sara Haden, its third 1939 series release and the last to label Judge Hardy's name in the title. Basically known to many as the "Andy Hardy" series, the opening credits not only resumes to subtitle this as "Judge Hardy's Family," but continues to have Lewis Stone's name listed first in the cast.
The story opens in Judge Hardy's (Lewis Stone) chambers in which a foreign born elderly couple, Gita (Maria Ouspenskaya) and her husband, Anton Volduzzi (Egon Breacher), a former night watchman, are in the process of losing their home and being in desperate need of financial help. The Volduzzi's have a wealthy daughter somewhere in Carvel, now a mother with a teenage daughter whom they haven't heard from in many years, to be the best possibly source of support. Hardy relies on his teenage son, Andrew (Mickey Rooney), who knows many young girls in the area, to possibly see if any one of them could me the missing Volduzzi, whose mother has married and now living under her married surname. In the midst of Andy's checking up with many young girls who may be a Volduzzi relation, Hardy's wife, Emily (Fay Holden), and her spinster sister, Milly Forrest (Sara Haden), prepare for a trip to Canada to be with their parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. However, Emily returns home prematurely very ill. Examined by the family physician, Doctor Jones (Henry Hull), she is diagnosed with pneumonia. The story shifts to heavy melodramatics as Hardy goes into worry, with Andy, in fear that his mother might be dying, driving through heavy downpousr to the other end of town get his sister, Marion (Cecilia Parker), back home for the family crisis.
Also in the supporting cast are June Preisser (Euphrasia V. Clark, the giggly blonde entering a contest on her essay on Alexander Hamilton); Martha O'Driscoll (Elvie Horton); Leona Maricle (Mrs. Horton);Margaret Early (Clarabelle V. Lee); Cliff Clark (Office Dan O'Shea), along with series regulars as Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Erville Alderson (Hardy's Bailiff) and Georgie Breakston ("Beezy" Anderson. Marie Blake, who appeared as Augusta McBride in LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), returns as the sharp-tongued housekeeper. Look for Rooney's real life father, Joe Yule, appearing as Munk, the tire man. What makes this entry interesting is seeing accomplished movie veterans as Henry Hull and Maria Ouspenskaya in fine support.
With 1939 being a busy year for Mickey Rooney, appearing in three "Andy Hardy" films, and two outside roles as THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, and the musical, BABES IN ARMS opposite Judy Garland, and its JUDGE HARDY AND SON co-stars as June Priesser and Henry Hull, Rooney was at the peak of his career. Containing plot elements ranging from light comedy to somber moments MGM style, JUDGE HARDY AND SON is standard and typical material. With Andy constantly bickering with his older sister, it's during the family crisis do they sentimentally show their love and how they truly feel about each other, this being one of the highlights. As MGM used this movie series as testing ground for its young starlets, few including Judy Garland and Lana Turner to have achieved super stardom, the young female co-stars for JUDGE HARDY AND SON featuring June Priesser, Martha O'Driscoll and Margaret Early would resume further careers at other movie studios. Forgotten by today's standards doesn't take away from fans of the series viewing this latest "Hardy Family" installment.
Part of the "Andy Hardy" package on DVD, JUDGE HARDY AND SON, along with others in the series, can be found broadcast of cable television's Turner Classic Movies. Next in the series, ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE (1940 featuring the return engagement of Judy Garland as Betsy Booth from LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938). (***)
Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942)
Judge Hardy and Son
ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1942), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the 13th chapter to the popular "Judge Hardy's Family" series that originated with A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937). Recurring series regulars resume their notable roles, including Lewis Stone (Judge James K. Hardy), Mickey Rooney (Andy Hardy),. Cecilia Parker (Marian Hardy), Fay Holden (Emily Hardy), Sara Haden (Aunt Milly Forrest), Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Addison Richards (George Benedict). This entry is notable more for its introduction of Esther Williams, who would soon win fame in swimming musicals starting with BATHING BEAUTY (1944).
The story begins one week before Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) is to leave his hometown of Carvel for Wainwright College. Andy has sold his broken-down jalopy to Botsy (Robert Pittard) and his pals at a $20 cost, the money Andy needs to get his car driven from New York so he could use it for college. While Andy doesn't get the money needed after sending over a check, and with only $18 in his banking account, his father, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) has problems of his own, trying a case outside his jurisdiction involving a widowed mother, Mrs. Stedman (Mary Currier) and her little boy, "Tooky" (Bobby Blake), with arm in a cast, involving an accident against a trucker working for the Lincoln Lumber Company. With high hospital expenses, if Mrs. Stedman doesn't win her case, she may lose custody of her home, making it more difficult for the judge to settle this case fairly . The judge also must settle a reckless driving charge against Jeff Willis (William Lundigan), in spite that his daughter, Marian (Cecilia Parker) very much in love with him. As for Andy Hardy's double life, to teach him a lesson following an argument, his girlfriend, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) has her visiting friend, Sheila Brooks (Esther Williams), a champion swimmer and college girl studying psychology, to win his affections and get him into trouble. More trouble arises with Andy Hardy trying to come up with an excuse to not have his father accompany him to his former college of Wainwright without hurting his feelings. Others in the cast include: Mantan Moreland (Prentiss, the Butler); Charles Peck (Jack); Arthur Space (The Attorney); Edward Gargan (The Policeman), and Susan Peters (Sue, the girl on the train).
With Judge Hardy and son taking up much of the proceedings, Marian has her limitations but it's both Mrs. Hardy and Aunt Milly having less to do this time around. Parker's Marian does help out Andy by giving him some sisterly advice on what he could and and do to a girl without being taken too seriously involving marriage. Esther Williams makes an impressive movie debut 20 minutes into the story with her shadowy image on the wall conversing with Polly Benedict, but comes in full view a little later, especially with her lengthy and scoreless underwater swimming pool and bubbly kissing with Andy Hardy. Though her scenes involved were somewhat limited for her screen introduction, even with limited acting ability, she was attractive enough to arouse attention for movie audiences. Other lengthy scenes include Andy teaching his father modern slang language teenagers use, the early morning doorbell and telephone ringing involving Andy and his newly awakened father, a serious man-to-man talk involving how Andy truly feels about having his father tag along with him to Wainwright College without hurting his feelings, as well as the judge amusingly having car trouble while trying to make it on time to the train station. Both Rooney (age 22) and Parker (age 37) have matured physically by this time, and manage to get buy playing characters much younger than themselves, especially Andy at age 18.
Standard 92 minute family comedy-drama that marked Rooney's only movie opposite Williams, the final appearance of Ann Rutherford in the series, and Cecilia Parker's last as well before returning for the reunion series finale, ANDY HARDY COMES HOME (1958). Formerly available on video cassette in the 1990s, ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE, also on DVD, often turns up on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. Next in the series, ANDY HARDY'S BLONDE TROUBLE (1944), which continues where ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE left off (nearly two years later). (**1/2)
The Little Giant (1933)
The Gent from Chicago
THE LITTLE GIANT (First National Pictures, 1933), directed by Roy Del Ruth, with original screenplay by Robert Lord and Wilson Mizner, stars Edward G. Robinson in his first movie comedy. Best known in playing tough guys in gangster roles, Robinson does a parody of his screen image in straight comic touch. Though his later gangster comedies as A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER (1938) and LARCENY, INC. (1942) were hilarious to say the least, THE LITTLE GIANT is Robinson in rare form without losing his dignity.
Following the opening credits to underscoring of "Chicago, Chicago, It's a Wonderful Town," the story fades in with calendar dating Election Day, November 8, 1932, where it is radio announced that Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt wins the presidency of the United States against Herbert Hoover in a landslide. It also marks a new beginning for America, and the end of the Prohibition era. At the Little Giant Social Club in Chicago is James Francis Ahearn, better known as Bugs (Edward G. Robinson), a tough beer baron, who decides pn going straight, paying off his mobster associates, including girlfriend, Edith Merriam (Shirley Grey) with a check for $25,000. and getting some culture in high society. Al Daniels (Russell Hopton), his best friend since boyhood and reform school days, remains with Bugs, with their next venture heading for Santa Barbara, California. Before their departure, Bugs pays a visit to his rival gang boss, Joe Pulido (Harry Tenbrook) to let him know he is leaving town and not being forced out of town. Registering at the Biltmore Hotel, Bugs and Al soon realize they don't fit in the social circle as the find themselves rudely ignored by the social elites. Bugs falls immediately in love with Polly Cass (Helen Vinson), a society girl, and through her decides to forget his next venture to San Francisco and make her acquaintance. Overhearing Ahearn is a millionaire in good standing by her deadbeat brother, Gordon (Donald Dillaway), Polly plays up to Bugs' affections while still carrying on a romance with John Stanley (Kenneth Thomson). To make further impression on the Polly's family, including business tycoon father, Donald Hadley Cass (Berton CHurchill) and his wife (Louise MacIntosch), Bugs rents a mansion from Ruth Wayburn (Mary Astor), a real estate agent, who, unknown to him, leases her home and servants in order to earn the money to pay off her deceased father's debts. After proposing to Polly and buying her father's Cass Bond Investment Company, Bugs learns from Ruth his financial error and the true facts about the Cass family, especially Polly, who has made a fool out him. Others in the cast consist of gangster character types as Dewey Robinson, Tammany Young, John Kelly and Ben Taggart, along with Helen Mann (Frankie), Leonard Carey (Inglesby, the butler) and Charles Coleman in smaller roles.
With several movies bearing the title of THE LITTLE GIANT, ranging from the Universal 1926 release featuring Glenn Hunter, and the 1946 comedy-drama simply titled LITTLE GIANT starring the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, this THE LITTLE GIANT is fun-filled 76 minute comedy, especially for Robinson fans. Memorable scenes include Robinson's venture in a polo match with the society swells, and his tender moment rehearsal love making with Mary Astor. Helen Vinson, in a role that might have gone to Claire Dodd, who specialized in playing cheating and conniving blondes, is convincing here as is Mary Astor as the former society girl trying to smarten up the ex-mobster from the clutches of the Cass family. Of all its cast members, naturally both Robinson and the frequent underscoring to "Chicago" get honorable mentions.
Distributed only on DVD, THE LITTLE GIANT did enjoy frequent commercial television broadcasts decades ago, ranging from Philadelphia's WPHL, Channel 17, and later WTAF, Channel 29, in the 1970s, to New York City's WNEW, Channel 5 (1978-1983) before becoming available in recent years on cable television's Turner Classic Movies (1994-present). Robinson may sure live up to his movie title as being little, but certainly has become one of cinema's giant as movie tough guys go. (***)
The Finger Points (1931)
The Power of the Press
THE FINGER POINTS (First National Pictures, 1931), directed by John Francis Dillon, based on the story by John Monk Saunders and W.R. Burnett, is a fine blend of newspaper story and gangster melodrama. Starring Richard Barthelmess, a popular silent screen actor of the 1920s, notable for his early performances in both director D.W. Griffith's BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919) and WAY DOWN EAST (1920), starring Lillian Gish, and subsequent starring roles of his own for First National Pictures, stars in one of his finer talkies of the 1930s. Though many of the sound films failed to recapture his success from the silent screen, THE FINGER POINTS is notable today more for his supporting players of Fay Wray ("KING KONG" (1933), and future top leading man of Clark Gable ("GONE WITH THE WIND" (1939), in a secondary role as a gangster.
The story begins on a train bound for New York City where Breckenridge Lee (Richard Barthelmess), a young reporter from Georgia, comes to The Press, "The World's Best Newspaper," looking for a job and better career. Presenting a letter of recommendation by Charles Davis of the Savannah Constitution to its managing editor, the impressed Mr. Wheeler (Oscar Apfel) offers Lee a job regardless of having no openings at present. Working under Frank Carter (Robert Elliott), the city editor for $35 a week, Lee soon makes the acquaintance of Marcia Collins (Fay Wray), "Queen of the Sob Sisters," and ace reporter, Charley "Breezy" Russell (Regis Toomey), both of whom would become his closest friends. With gang war on the rise, it's The Press to put a stop to it by having its reporters assigned to investigate and expose the crime wave in the city by putting them out of business. Lee's first assignment is to investigate the tip given to him on the Sphinx Club of 628 Riverside Drive. With this being the notorious Larry Hayes (Robert Gleckler) district, Lee gets to meet both Hayes and his chief informer of the mob, Louis J. Blanco (Clark Gable) with enough evidence to have this private club exposed as a gambling casino, putting it out of business with a police raid and arrests. Because of this, Lee is followed and beaten in a dark alley by a couple of hired thugs, placing him in a hospital with broken ribs. Returning to work following his release, Lee finds he's unable to pay off his hospital bills, and asks Carter for either a raise or an advance in salary, but is refused. Realizing he has to look out for himself, Lee comes to Blanco for financial support on a promise of not exposing his crime ring to the press. Marcia becomes suspicious of Lee for mysteriously coming up with large size of money he places in his savings account in the bank, while his editor becomes disappointed for he not coming up with any exclusive stories of criminal activities. Lee continues getting paid by the mob and asking for more to the Number One Crime Boss of the new gambling casino, The Waverly, but gets the pointed finger towards him if he should ever double-cross him with any newspaper exposes. Things go well for Lee until his pal, Breezy, comes up with enough expose on The Waverly to have as front page news without Lee's knowledge. Others in the cast include: Robert Perry and Lew Harvey (The Henchmen); Noel Madison and Adele Watson.
Overlooking the fact of some jump cut editing early in the story, THE FINGER POINTS at 85 minutes is fine newspaper/crime entertainment. While Barthelmess is convincing as a good-natured reporter who wises up with enough confidence to stand up to the mobsters, since they go by the motto, "they never kill reporters," it's Clark Gable, in one of his 12 movie releases of 1931, who's the center of attention. Even had Gable not become a major actor who drifted to obscurity, his performance here is good enough for anyone seeing this actor decades after its release to wonder "whatever became of him?" Fortunately his career would last thirty more years. Sporting a derby and minus his later famous mustache, Gable's forceful voice makes him both believable and likable as a tough gangster, a sort of role he commonly played during his early years in motion pictures. Though Gable never became a Warner Brothers stock player as James Cagney, for example, better roles were ahead of him at his home studio of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1931-1954). Fay Wray, assuming a role that could have gone to Mae Clarke, Marian Marsh or Joan Blondell, is quite effective as the gal reporter. The actor playing the Number One crime boss is uncertain, considering the fact that his face is never exposed, seen only from the back of his head and his pointed index finger towards the camera. That would have been an interesting cameo played by some notable actor of its day. Fine suspense conclusion with a couple of incidents reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's style of direction.
Never distributed to home video but on DVD, THE FINGER POINTS began to surface regularly in the late 1980s on public television before shown regularly on cable TV from Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1988-89 to Turner Classic Movies since 1994. That's the power of the press. (**1/2)
The Doorway to Hell (1930)
No Way Out
THE DOORWAY TO HELL (Warner Brothers, 1930), directed by Archie Mayo, is a neglected and forgotten gangster melodrama most notable by film historians for its early screen appearance (and second movie) of future movie legend, James Cagney. Heading the cast is another relatively newcomer to the screen named Lew Ayres. Having made his movie debut in 1929, and first credited role opposite Greta Garbo in her final silent melodrama, THE KISS (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929), Ayres would soon zoom to stardom as the German youth, Paul Baumer, in the Academy Award winning war drama, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (Universal, 1930). Before winning fame years later as Doctor Jimmy Kildare in the "Doctor Kildare" movie series (1938-1942) for MGM, Ayres, in his Warner Brothers debut, gets another chance in playing a role not relatively associated with his screen persona.
Louis Ricarno (Lew Ayres) is a handsome young gang leader and Chicago underworld boss assisted by Steve Mileaway (James Cagney). Following the gangland killing of Whitey Eckert (John Kelly), Ricarno is questioned by Pat O'Grady (Robert Elliott), a police captain and also his friend, about the incident. Unable to get enough evidence to convict him, Ricarno, a beer baron, soon makes himself czar of the city districts. Aside from Napoleon Bonaparte being his true idol, Ricarno has an orphaned kid brother, Jackie Lamarr (Leon Janney) stationed at the Fairfield Military Academy. He is also in love with Doris (Dorothy Mathews), whom he later marries and gives up his life of crime, making Mileaway the new crime boss of his association. Honeymooning in Miami, and typing up his autobiography in his spare time, Ricarno is unaware that Doris has lost interest in him and in favor of one of his gangster pals. In the meantime, a gang war erupts, forcing Mileaway to try and get Ricarno to return and take charge. Making it clear he's given up the rackets forever, fellow mobsters, Midget (Edwin Argus) and Gimpy plan on getting him back by going to the military school to kidnap Ricarno's brother. Their plan fails, causing the boy's accidental death. Hearing of this, Ricarno returns to avenge his brother's death. O'Grady places Ricarno behind prison bars to keep him from committing any more crimes, but manages to make his escape through the doorway to hell with unexpected results. Others in the cast are: Kenneth Thomson (Captain of the Military Academy); Noel Madison (Rocco); Eddie Kane (Morton); and Al Hill (Jimmy Kirk). Look quickly for Dwight Frye, best known as Renfield in DRACULA (Universal, 1931), as one of the hoods with a great answer to a question. It's interesting to notice character actor, Charles Judels, billed second in the opening cast, unseen in the final print, while the unknown Dorothy Mathews, who remains unknown today, never to become one of the studios' roaster of popular blondes as Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell.
Not as famous as other gangster films produced by the studio, namely LITTLE CAESAR (1930) with Edward G. Robinson, and THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) starring James Cagney, THE DOORWAY TO HELL fortunately didn't type-cast Lew Ayres in gangster roles. Still in his youthful twenties with his then teenage facial appearance, it's hard to imagine anyone familiar with Ayres movie career seeing him as a tough crime boss. Contrary to how others may feel about Ayres cast against type or horribly miscast, in true essence, he does a fine job here and holds interest throughout its 78 minutes. Having matured physically by the 1940s, Ayres returned to Warners for JOHNNY BELINDA (1948) earning an Academy Award nomination for his excellent portrayal as the doctor who assists the deaf girl, wonderfully played by Jane Wyman (Best Actress winner). With James Cagney in a good sizable role, it would be a matter of time before he would assume the role as crime boss and other leading man roles where he truly belonged. With production values good and fine direction, THE DOORWAY TO HELL contains no underscoring, making this one of those rare instances where silence builds up more suspense than mood music.
Aside from catching this one on the afternoon movie on Philadelphia's WPHL Channel 17 around 1973, THE DOORWAY TO HELL began to surface further years later on public television in the 1980s, cable televisions Turner Classic Movies and eventually on DVD to assure its availability and learning the old slang term meaning of the day, "A handful of clouds." (***)
Her Husband's Affairs
HOUSEWIFE (Warner Brothers, 1934), directed by Alfred E. Green, is a domestic story known basically as a Bette Davis movie. Though Davis appears in it, star billing actually goes to her frequent co-star, George Brent, in their third movie together, while the title character goes to third-billed Ann Dvorak as Brent's housewife. Taking second billing under Brent, Davis' role, as the other woman, might have benefited better and favorably for type-cast vamps as Helen Vinson or Claire Dodd, considering the fact that the Davis role is actually secondary and lesser to Dvorak's major co-starring performance.
Plot development begins with the introduction of characters starting off their new day at the breakfast table. William H. Reynolds (George Brent) is happily married to Nan (Ann Dvorak), with a son, Buddy (Ronnie Cosbey), who collects stray dogs, and a housekeeper named Jennie (Leila Bennett). Though Bill has worked as an office manager for Sam Blake (Robert Barratt) agency for five years without a raise in salary, his brother-in-law, George Wilson (Hobart Cavanaugh), who works with Bill, comes in late mainly to improve himself looking for a new and better job. After acquiring a job that pays $10 more than his present salary, Nan feels Bill can do the same, but he lacks confidence in himself in spite of some great ideas that can advance himself with the firm. Entering the establishment is Patricia Berkeley (Bette Davis), formerly Ruth Smith, a successful copyrighter who has known both Bill and Nan during their high school days. Seeing how he's not fully appreciated by Blake, Bill quits. Under his wife's advise and extra savings, he forms an agency of his own called the William H. Reynolds Company. Though he gets Mr. Krueger (Joseph Cawthorne) as his first client, it's not enough for him to survive until Bill becomes more aggressive enough to get one of Blake's most prospective clients, Paul Dupree (John Halliday), a cosmetics manufacturer, to advertise with him instead, taking Patricia along with him. Through the passage of time, Bill's business prospers, with he and his family now living in a luxurious new home with servants, and Buddy being sent to military school. All goes well until Nan notices Bill is spending more time away from home and business in favor of Patricia. Others in the cast include Ruth Donnelly (Dora Wilson, George's wife); Willard Robertson (Judge Edwin A. Matthews); Jonathan Hale (The Doctor) and Charles Coleman (Bolton, the Butler). One song, "Costumes by Dupree" by Mort Dixon and Allie Wrubel, gets vocalized by Phil Regan as Mike Hathaway during a radio broadcast.
A mediocre assignment for future major lead actress, Bette Davis, who might have thought of this assignment as both formula and forgettable. Yet her smoking trademark is evident here but little else except a rare opportunity finding Davis playing the other woman. For this 69 minute production, the film overall moves swiftly more in favor of its featured players of Brent and Dvorak. HOUSEWIFE does offer Davis her second and final collaboration opposite Ann Dvorak, following THREE ON A MATCH (1932), starring Joan Blondell, which Dvorak's role was a lot more meatier than Davis' secondary and smaller performance. John Halliday, playing a rich bachelor business tycoon who finds out what he's been missing after witnessing the Reynolds family life with child, is believably done. Ruth Donnelly as Dvorak's sister-in-law seems a little miscast here, but her role in general is not large enough to hurt the story in any way. Ronnie Cosbey, whom the Dvorak character claims him to be "all boy," is likable as the little son. In spite some similar features, he's not the same little actor from THREE ON A MATCH, actually played by Buster Phelps, minus the curly hair. For the teaming of George Brent and Bette Davis, better roles, particularly DARK VICTORY (1939) were ahead of them. HOUSEWIFE'S sole purpose today is getting a glimpse of its three major actors early in their careers, particularly career woman Davis, better off playing the other woman than just a housewife.
Never distributed on video cassette, HOUSEWIFE often turns up on Turner Classic Movies as either tributes to either Brent, Davis or Dvorak, or broadcast in general showing the now many forgotten films of the 1930s worthy of rediscovery. (** dishes)
Front Page Woman (1935)
FRONT PAGE WOMAN (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by Michael Curtiz, is a newspaper movie, as indicated through its opening credits with assortment of front page newspaper views flowing across the screen. Starring Bette Davis and George Brent for the fourth time, FRONT PAGE WOMAN is actually their first in which they are the actual leading players competing of equal status vying for a good story. Though many claim the Davis role might have benefited better with type-cast sob sister types of either Glenda Farrell or Joan Blondell, Davis shows she can be just good a lady reporter than anyone else.
Ellen Garfield (Bette Davis), reporter for The Daily Star, is loved by rival ace reporter, Curt Devlin (George Brent), of The Daily Express. While Ellen is just another gal reporter to many, she wants to show she can be just as good a reporter than any man in the business, particularly Curt. One of her first big assignments is covering the execution of showgirl, Mabel Gaye at North Prison, for the murder of her lover. With Ellen feeling ill following the execution, Curt covers up for her, unwittingly producing both his and her story to both newspapers word for word. Spike Riley (Joseph Crehan), her editor, decides to give Ellen another chance to redeem herself by offering her another assignment, this time covering a four-alarm fire at the Granger Arms apartments. Unable to get through the police lines by Officer Hallohan (J. Farrell MacDonald), in spite that Curt and his photographer assistant, "Toots" O'Grady (Roscoe Karns) are able to get through to get their stories, Ellen soon notices Maitland Coulter (Gordon Westcott) escorting the injured Broadway producer, Marvin Q. Stone (Huntley Gordon) out of the burning building and into a cab hailed by Hallohan. Before taking off, Ellen overhears them talking about some mystery woman sneaking out the back way. Ellen's hunches lead her to the Plaza Hospital where she locates Stone, registered there under an assumed name of James Craig, who had died of a stab wound. With enough evidence regarding his murder, Ellen does some further investigating of her own by going after the mystery woman identified as Inez Cordoza (Winifred Shaw), and get herself a real good scoop before Curt or anybody else does. Others in the cast include: Walter Walker (Judge Ritchard); J. Carroll Naish (Robert Cordoza, Inez's brother); Dorothy Dare (Mae LaRue); June Martel (Olive Wilson), Addison Richards (District Attorney), Mary Treen, Selmar Jackson and Mary Foy in smaller roles. Interestingly, FRONT PAGE WOMAN did get a chance to have Glenda Farrell tackle the Davis role three years later as part of the "Torchy Blane" mystery series titled BLONDES AT WORK (1938) opposite Barton MacLane. Though Winifred Shaw is best known for her singing roles, FRONT PAGE WOMAN offers her a rare change of pace in a dramatic performance.
With Davis, still youthful and blonde, learning her acting craft from the bottom up, FRONT PAGE WOMAN offers her a good assignment assuming the role similar to her own personality - that of an ambitious woman needed to be taken seriously in what she does. Being a grand mix of drama with sappy dialogue, FRONT PAGE WOMAN is also fast-pace newspaper story with few lulls in between. For a Bette Davis movie, there is a long stretch where she's absent for ten plus minutes in favor of investigative reporting provided by George Brent and Roscoe Karns (the comedy relief). Though the "Toots" role could have been enacted by Warners resident "second banana" Frank McHugh, Roscoe Karns' interpretation as the photographer offers a different but welcoming feel for this production. One of the more memorable moments in humor that occurs both here and BLONDES AT WORK is during the trial where reporters overhear paper boys outside the courthouse yelling the headlines reading both "Guilty" and "Not Guilty" before the actual verdict is to be read aloud. It's interesting in movies such as this how quickly headlines with full stories go to press and on the news stands in bundles twenty minutes after story is called in to the quick rewrite rather as opposed to the following day.
Available on DVD, FRONT PAGE WOMAN, which used to broadcast regularly on commercial television's late show during the 1960s and 70s, can be found on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. The 83 minute production does overall offer a fine viewing of Davis and Brent a few years before their prime pairing of DARK VICTORY (1939), often hailed as their finest collaboration of eleven movies together. Read all about it! (***)
The Lost Squadron (1932)
THE LOST SQUADRON (RKO Radio, 1932), directed by George Archainbaud, is not exactly a full-fledged war story dealing with ace pilots captured by the enemy or one about a military search for a lost patrol. It's one about veteran war pilots who become stunt pilots in aviation movies. Richard Dix, a leading man for the studio, highly popular due to his Academy Award winning epic western CIMARRON (1931), heads the cast playing the captain who risks everything for those under his command, the very same men who happen to be his closest friends in both squadron and civilian life.
Taken from the story by pilot/author, Dick Grace (who also appears in the movie as one of the pilots), the story focuses on ace pilots stationed in France shooting enemies followed by crash landings in air battle during the World War. A treaty has been signed naming November 11, 1918, as Armistice Day. With the war over, Christopher Gibson (Richard Dix), a captain in charge of his command, gathers together with pals Lieutenant "Woody Curwood (Robert Armstrong), 'Red" (Joel McCrea) and airplane mechanic, Fritz (Hugh Herbert) for one last drink of liquor before heading out for civilian life. Back in the states, the men return to find life they had known is not the same: Red returns to Sharkley and Company to inquire about his old job, only to refuse his position when it means an employer friend of his with a baby on the way will have to be let go; Woody discovers he is now broke when his business partner embezzles his funds; and Gibson returns to Follette Marsh (Mary Astor), a stage actress and the girl he loves, only to find she has another suitor (William B. Davidson) and learning they now have nothing in common. The four men gather together with a clause to simply stick together. Through the passage of time, with newspaper headlines reading about war veterans victims of the Depression when seen on bread lines, Gibson, Red and Fritz, now hobos, bum a freight train ride to Los Angeles to locate Woody. They find him in Hollywood escorted by two ladies attending a premiere of "Sky Heroes," an independent aviation war movie directed by Arthur Von Furst (Erich Von Stroheim), starring his wife, Follette Marsh. With Woody doing well in the movie business, he unionizes his war buddies employment working with him as stunt pilots for the upcoming aviation movie under Von Furst's direction. Problems arise when the insanely jealous director discovers his actress wife's past romance with 'Gibby," leading to his "accidental" airplane crackups and dangerous aerial scenes intended for Gibson to put him out of the way. Others in the cast include Dorothy Jordan (Woody's sister, alias "The Pest"); Ralph Ince (Jettick of the Homicide Squad); Marjorie Peterson (The Stenographer); and Ralph Lewis.
THE LOST SQUADRON has the distinction of having three separate stories for one motion picture. It starts off like a war drama, becomes a movie within a movie, and finishing off as a murder mystery. Of the co-stars, the sixth billed Erich Von Stroheim, a former actor/director himself of the silent screen, notably for GREED (1923), gives a notable performance doing a parody of himself of a tyrant director with unlikable personality. Von Stroheim's sarcasms with critical outbursts toward his staff simply earn him that distinction of "The Man You Love to Hate." Mary Astor gives a fine performance as the woman with acting ambition. Sadly her character disappears long before the movie's finish. Robert Armstrong, a pilot with his love for flying and boozing, is routinely played. Joel McCrea, early in his career, is satisfactory as the handsome young pilot pal while Hugh Herbert, famous for his befuddled characters in comedies for Warner Brothers and Universal, offers a rare treat in a straight role with some doses of comic touches early in the story. Let's not overlook Richard Dix, the hero in both war and civilian life, who gathers enough attention and likability during its 79 minutes.
Distributed on video cassette in the 1980s, and later on DVD decades later, THE LOST SQUADRON had the rare distinction of being one of the true vintage RKO movies (prior to 1933) to continue its New York City broadcasts on WOR, Channel 9 (home of the RKO Radio film library) well into 1974, It was also broadcast around the same time with its dubbed Spanish prints for the Spanish TV station of WNJU, Channel 47 (Newark, New Jersey). Once shown regularly on cable television's American Movie Classics prior to 2001, THE LOST SQUADRON, along with similar theme drama about movie stunt pilots, LUCKY DEVILS (RKO, 1933) starring William Boyd, can both be shown occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. (***)
WINGS (Paramount, 1927), directed by William A. Wellman, became the studio's answer to World War themes following the success of THE BIG PARADE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925) starring John Gilbert; and WHAT PRICE GLORY? (Fox, 1926) starring Victor McLaglen. Each in theme dealing with the battlefront during the World War, WINGS went one up better by becoming the first Academy Award winning motion picture of the year. Clara Bow, who heads the cast, was by then an accomplished leading actress, yet, her performance is limited in favor for her two male co-stars, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen, both soon elevated to leading roles for the studio, along with Gary Cooper (as Cadet White), surprisingly with only one scene lasting two-three minutes, made enough of an impression to become not only a major lead actor for the studio but a two time Academy Award Best Actor winner as well.
Following an opening title, "To the young warriors of the sky whose wings are folded about them forever - this picture is reverently dedicated," the story gets underway in 1917 set in a small town introducing Jack Powell (Charles Rogers), a young mechanic whose sole interest in learning to fly. He is loved by Mary Preston (Clara Bow), the girl next door, but his sole interest is taking his little race car (called "Shooting Star" by Mary) he's been working to take a visiting city girl, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), out for a ride. Sylvia loves Jack's best friend, David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), son of the wealthiest family (Henry B. Walthall and Julia Swayne-Gordon) in town, but doesn't let Jack know it. War breaks out and the two men enlist. Before leaving, Sylvia's photo, initially intended for David, unwittingly goes into Jack's locket while David takes with him his little bear he carried around with him since he was a child, for luck. At the Aviator Examining Station, Jack and David go through excessive training under strict orders from tough superiors. They eventually learn the meaning of war battle as Jack, in an airplane labeled "Shooting Star," and David, fly out on their first dawn patrol. In the meantime, Mary does her civic duty as a Red Cross nurse ambulance driver in Paris. It is there Mary finds Jack, on furlough, at the Folies Bergere. Due to his drunken state, Jack fails to recognize her. After returning to active duty, friction arises between Jack and David over their love for Sylvia. Also in the cast are: El Brendel (Herman Schwimpf, a Dutchman who is true American); Gunboat Smith (The Sergeant); Roscoe Karns (Lieutenant Cameron); George Irving and Hedda Hopper (Mr. and Mrs. Powell). Quite memorable is Henry B. Walthall, leading actor of THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), as a wheelchair bound father whose facial expressions/throughs of his son going to war says everything without any use of words.
While the story between close friends loving the same woman is routinely standard, the aerial combat war scenes and airplane crashes are first-rate, thanks to director Wellman, having served in the World War himself, to be able to bring forth battle scenes as realistically as possible. Granted, these scenes are as lengthy as the movie (139 minutes) itself, but are well captured on film. While Clara Bow appears in the beginning and the end of the story, her character reappears in the midway point in Paris as a Red Cross worker. So not to forget she's in the movie at all, considering her absence during its long stretches, Bow's character gathers enough attention in a scene changing into glittering dress so to get the drunken Jack's attention away from a Parisian girl (Arlette Marchal). Aside from the aforementioned battle sequences, WINGS also comes up with some interesting camera angles, tracking and super imposing shots.
Many years after its release, WINGS started to gain recognition again. First in an episode of the television series, "Petticoat Junction" (CBS, 1968) titled "Wings" where Richard Arlen and "Buddy" Rogers guest starred as themselves coming to the town of Hooterville to attend the theatrical movie revival of WINGS. One scene has grocer, Mr. Drucker (Frank Cady) saying, "There's Coop," indicating Gary Cooper. Then in 1988, WINGS was distributed on video cassette accompanied by organ score by Gaylord Carter. The organ scored prints were presented on cable television's American Movie Classics (1990-1998), Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: January 4, 2008), and in the DVD format. It wouldn't be until February 2013 when TCM broadcast a restored WINGS with with new orchestral score, which is fine, but I still prefer the organ scoring.
As much as many silent movies had been remade as talkies, some bearing different titles, interestingly WINGS was never redone, even with updated plot of World War II in the 1940s. Yet, the theme elements were recycled numerous times, which may be one of the reasons some may claim WINGS hasn't aged well. Overlooking such handicaps, the aerial scenes of the air and the bonding of two friends make WINGS worthy screen entertainment for silent film lovers. (***1/2 Wings)
The Rich Are Always with Us (1932)
High Society Blues
THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US (First National Pictures, 1932), directed by Alfred E. Green, marks the Warner Brothers/First National Pictures debut of Ruth Chatterton, following her success in MADAME X (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929) and several other dramatic roles under the Paramount banner. Though briefly a stock player for Warners (1932-1934), her association would be short lived first in favor of Kay Francis (also from Paramount), then finally Bette Davis, who also appears in this production. As much as THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US is virtually a Ruth Chatterton film, many familiar with the title would associate it with Bette Davis, who actually plays a secondary role here opposite George Brent, her second of eleven films with him, and Brent's first of four opposite Chatterton, whom he would actually marry and leading to a short-lived marriage.
The story begins in 1900 where women are seen discussing the Van Dyke's birth of a daughter they call Caroline, "the richest baby in the world"; then to 1920 where gossips talk about Caroline Van Dyke's marriage to stock broker, Gregg Grannard, and finally 1930 where Caroline Van Dyke (Ruth Chatterton), "the richest woman in the world," is dining with Julian Tierney (George Brent), a novelist. As much as Julian loves Caroline, his feelings aren't the same with Caroline's best friend, Malbro Barkley (Bette Davis), who loves him. At the same time, Caroline's husband, Gregg (John Miljan) is seen dining in the same restaurant with his client, Allison Adair (Adrienne Dore). Later at a party, Caroline entertains Julian while Gregg spends much of his time with Allison. After Caroline catches Gregg kissing Allison, she then realizes her marriage is over, especially after having her woman to woman talk with Allison, who claims she can make Gregg happy. Going through divorce proceedings in Paris, Julian follows her there with intentions on marrying her, but takes the next airplane back to the states when he feels Caroline still cares for Gregg enough to help with his financial business matters. Though Caroline and Julian get together again, Allison, who hates Caroline, does what she can to scandalize her good name, showing Gregg the type of woman he married. Others in the cast include: John Wray (Clark Davis); Walter Walker (Dante); Sam McDaniel (Max);' Berton Churchill (Judge Bradsha); and Virginia Verrill (Singer of "Trying to Live Without You").
As much as Bette Davis excelled in playing unsympathetic characters in some of her later films as OF HUMAN BONDAGE (RKO, 1934), the meatier role here actually goes to Adrienne Dore, the young blonde who takes a woman's husband away from him and falls out of love for him after her marriage to him. Yet is is Davis who's career prospered for the studio while Dore drifted to obscurity. Yet, for a Ruth Chatterton movie, this production is agreeable high society material.
Short and sweet at 71 minutes, THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US is of sole interest of young Bette Davis early in her career. Yet it is a good way to rediscover its now forgotten star, Ruth Chatterton, best known for her oft-revived DODSWORTH (1936) starring Walter Huston, in one of her lesser known gems. Available on DVD and cable television's Turner Classic Movies should indicate films such as this are always with us. (**1/2)
The Ape (1940)
Keeper of the Lame
THE APE (Monogram Pictures, 1940), directed by William Nigh, may not be another movie variation to the classic KING KONG (RKO, 1933), or a story about an ape becoming a circus attraction, but something suggested on a play by Adam Hull Skirk starring Boris Karloff. Though Karloff is best known for his horror movies following his introduced role as "The Monster" in FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, 1931), he is also noted for playing either villains for which he excels, or kindly scientists so serious about his experiments that he is often misjudged for his outcomes. Following a series of related themes starting with NIGHT KEY (Universal, 1937), and subsequent others for Columbia, THE APE offers nothing new in plot variations where Karloff, sporting white hair, mustache, glasses and speaking in soft-spoken tone, being the main reason of watching this cliche ridden story supported by some unknowns who remain unknowns.
Following opening credits underscored by circus-style music with facial image of an ape in view, the story opens with the preparation for an upcoming circus coming to the town of Red Creek. A group of boys heading out for a swim, pass by a home belonging to Doctor Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff). Not well liked the towns people due to gossip about his patients dying on him, the boys gather together throwing stones at his house. Returning home by bicycle, the doctor chases them away. Regardless of his background and how the many would want nothing more than to force him to leave town, Doctor Adrian is actually a kind and gentle man whose wife and daughter died of polio years ago. The doctor takes an interest in the neighboring Frances Griffin (Maris Wrixon), a crippled 18-year-old girl living with her mother, Jane (Dorothy Vaughan). Because Frances reminds him so much of his late daughter, Adrian, having worked ten years with animals, hopes to someday find a cure to have Frances walk again. After Frances enjoys her evening at the circus with Danny Foster (Gene O'Donnell), Henry Mason (Philo McCullough), the circus trainer whose own father was strangled by the ape, abuses it out of spite. The angry ape grabs Mason, causing his injury followed by an accidental fire that burns down the circus. Mason is taken to Adrian for treatment by circus workers who soon go out to capture the ape. After Mason dies, Adrian uses his spinal fluid needed for a serum to use for Frances' treatment. After the bottle is dropped and broken, Adrian's home is attacked by the gorilla, but is stopped and killed by Adrian. With the ape out the way, a series of unexplained murders take place, many connected with the ape, a mystery that baffles the authorities. Also in the cast are Gertrude Hoffman (Jane, the housekeeper); Henry Hall (Sheriff Jeff Halliday); Selmer Jackson (Doctor McNulty); Jack Kennedy, with George Cleveland and Gibson Gowland in smaller roles.
With Boris Karloff heading the cast, many would assume THE APE to be a "horror" film. It is far from that, considering the fact that Karloff plays a father figure scientist to the young girl he wants to cure. His character is of no threat to her or any of the characters in the story. His only anger would be the gossip to his good name, and the misinterpretation to his accomplishments he tries to fulfill for the good of another. The Ape in question is of minor importance, yet, the sole purpose for the doctor's experimental purpose.
Maris Wrixon, a young starlet for Warner Brothers about this time, gets her rare chance playing a central character in a motion picture. Though Karloff's character and plot may sound similar in manner to his other works as in Columbia's THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939), BEFORE I HANG (1940), THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES (1940) or Universal's BLACK FRIDAY (1940), maybe this was the studio's way of reinventing and improving its own scientist-related themed experiments. Clocked at only 62 minutes, the film's only debit is its continuously repeated same underscoring. While THE APE is far from the best or worst of this kind (being the sort of movie that could have starred Lionel Atwill or George Zucco in the lead), it's something that holds up better than most, thanks to Karloff's sincere performance that rises above its routine script.
A public domain title, THE APE was distributed by various distributors on both video tape (in 1980s) and years later, the DVD format. Cable television broadcasts consist of Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1991, and Turner Classic Movies (since July 14, 1997) consisting of reissue print title opening and closing from Monarch Studios as opposed to its original distributor, Monogram Pictures. (**1/2)
Black Fury (1935)
One Against the World
BLACK FURY (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by Michael Curtiz, stars Paul Muni in another one of his neglected movie gems. Reportedly based on an actual 1929 incident involving a coal miner's strike, BLACK FURY reproduces both incident and play, "Bohunk" by Harry R. Irving featuring Muni playing an accented speaking, uneducated coal miner of a small mining town who helps form a strike without knowing it. Supporting him is Karen Morley, his co-star from SCARFACE (United Artists, 1932), formerly of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, featured in her only film role for the Warners studio.
Set in Coal Town, Joe Radek (Paul Muni), a Slavik born coal miner, lives with his best friend, Mike Shemanski (John T. Qualen), his wife, Sophie (Sara Haden), and children, Agnes (Edith Fellows) and Chris (Mickey Rentschler). Aside from both men working together, Joe deeply loves Anna Novak (Karen Morley), whom he plans to marry after saving up his earnings for a farm. Though she cares for Joe, Anna hates her coal mining town existence and would want nothing more than to get away from it. During a dance function at Slovak Hall, Anna breaks away from Joe long enough to be with Slim Johnson (William Gargan), the company cop, to tell him how she feels. Due for a job promotion in Pittsburgh, Anna asks to go away with him, but Slim, also good friends with Joe, feels it be better to wait awhile before breaking the news to him. The following morning, however, Joe is given a farewell note written by Anna found in her bedroom. Angry and upset, Joe gets himself drunk at the local bar. In the meantime, Steve "Chip" Croner (J. Carroll Naish), a new employer, working secretly under Henry B. Jenkins (Purnell B. Pratt), has already stirred up trouble among the miners for going on strike for better wages and working conditions. Because Joe is highly respected among his friends, Chip uses him to follow up his plan for a strike, and forming a union run by corrupt leaders. Because of his association with Chip, and made president of the union, Mike has Joe leave his home. Joe is then blamed for riots and miners losing both their jobs and homes. After Mike is beaten and killed by a corrupt union cop, McGee (Barton MacLane), Joe comes to his senses to form his very own one man war against this corrupt organization.
Aside from Karen Morley, it is also interesting spotting Muni's other SCARFACE co-stars as Vince Barnett and Tully Marshall in minor supporting roles. Other supporting players include Ward Bond, Akim Tamiroff, Samuel S. Hinds, Wade Boteler, Effie Ellsler and Addison Richards. For Muni's role of a Slavik coal miner who's catch phrase is: "You bet your life," this is something of a welcome challenge for his acting range, right down to nearly sounding like Austrian actor, Oscar Homolka from I REMEMBER MAMA (RKO, 1948).
In an introduction note about BLACK FURY by the late Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies, he went on to say of how Muni prepared himself for the role by spending time around actual coal miners to get the feel for his character living among poor surroundings. The final result is Muni giving a standout performance in a plot quite unlikely for 1935 audiences. Karen Morley serves the film well as the girl looking for a better way of life, while Barton MacLane makes his presence known by once again playing the bad guy.
Unlike Muni's prior film roles of THE WORLD CHANGES (1933), HI,NELLIE (1934), BORDERTOWN (1935) and DOCTOR SOCRATES (1935), BLACK FURY was singled out, along with I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932) to be commonly shown on commercial television from the 1960s to 1980s. New York City's WNEW, Channel 5, aired BLACK FURY frequently between 1975 and 1983. Nearly forgotten among Paul Muni's filmography, BLACK FURY has become available on video cassette (Key Video) and DVD. Cable television broadcasts consisted of Turner Network Television (1989-1993) and currently Turner Classic Movies (since 1994). Regardless of availability, BLACK FURY remains an underrated and sadly neglected motion picture that's actually better than expected. "You bet your life!" (***1/2)
The World Changes (1933)
The Good Earth
THE WORLD CHANGES (First National Pictures, 1933), directed by Mervyn LeRoy, would be the studios' answer to the Academy Award winning "through the ages" saga of Edna Ferber's epic tale, CIMARRON (RKO, 1931) starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, along with its similar theme to Richard Dix and Ann Harding in THE CONQUERORS (RKO, 1932) and Edward G. Robinson and Bebe Daniels for SILVER DOLLAR (Warners, 1932). THE WORLD CHANGES turned up to be an exceptional tale that, regardless of an impressive cast headed by Paul Muni, ranks one of those forgotten sagas (with some new passage elements introduced by title year superimposed over the rotating Earth), that deserves to be recognized.
The story begins in 1856 where Orin Nordholm (Henry O'Neill) and his pregnant wife, Anna (Aline MacMahon) are seen traveling with their wagon pulled by horses through unclaimed open spaces of Dakota Territory where Anna wants to stop and make this untouched area their home. Giving birth to a son they name Orin, the Nordholms build their home and develop the farmland with livestock. Living a isolated lifestyle, they soon welcome the Petersen family, Fred (Willard Robertson), his wife (Anna Q. Nilsson), son, Otto (Mickey Rooney) and their infant daughter, Selma, on their way to California. The Petersen's instead settle down and become their new neighbors in the area that's to be called Orinville. Following events that take place in 1867 and 1877, the Nordholms have high hopes for their now grown son, Orin (Paul Muni), to marry his childhood sweetheart, Selma (Jean Muir), but Orin has plans of his own. After encountering Buffalo Bill Cody (Douglass Dumbrille), Orin decides to leave Selma and his farm living existence for adventure in the outside world. After meeting with James Claffin (Guy Kibbee), a cattle buyer, Orin organizes cattle drives and forms "ice boxes on wheels." He eventually becoming partners with Claffin and president of Nordholm and Company in Chicago. By 1879, he marries Claffin's daughter, Virginia (Mary Astor), which produces sons, Richard (Tad Alexander) and John (Jackie Searle). By 1893, Orin becomes known as "the meat king of the world," but in spite of his successful business, the social-climbing Virginia looks down on her husband's profession. By 1904, the world begins to change for Orin as Virginia slowly goes insane and his adult sons, John (Gordon Westcott) and Richard (Donald Cook) preferring not to follow in family tradition. Richard marries Jennifer Clinton (Margaret Lindsay), who's just as snobbish as his mother was, settling in New York City while John prefers to get money the easy way by not working for it. Anna, a widow in her 90s, leaves her Orinville farm with Selma's granddaughter, Selma II (Jean Muir), to attend the wedding of a great-grandchild, only to find the three generations of Orins family to be nothing but disappointments to her. The world changes even further for the Nordholm's following a 1929 Stock Market Crash. Others in the cast include Patricia Ellis (Natalie Clinton); Theodore Newton (Paul Nordstrom); Alan Dinehart (Ogden Jarrett); Arthur Hohl (Patterson); William Janney (Orin Nordholm III); Alan Mowbray (Sir Philip Ivor), Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Clinton), Samuel S. Hinds, Sidney Toler and countless others.
While Paul Muni might have followed up his prior success of I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932) with another social melodrama, THE WORLD CHANGES provided Muni not a repeat of previous movie roles but a move forward to something best suited for his talent. It allowed Muni's character to age considerably from blondish youth to very old man with white mustache, glasses and bushy eyebrows. Under heavy make-up, Muni is almost unrecognizable (looking almost like silent movie actor, Lon Chaney). Mary Astor stands out in her one terrifying scene, sporting shoulder-length hair and no make-up, and going insane. In spite of this being a showcase for Paul Muni, it's Aline MacMahon, who is also allowed to age from young to aging great-grandmother, giving a standout performance that's most remembered long after the movie is over.
Fortunately not a two-hour plus epic scale as CIMARRON, THE WORLD CHANGES, at 91 minutes, is satisfactory entertainment. Over the years, it had limited television revivals, including Philadelphia's WKBS, Channel 48 in 1974, along with cable television's Turner Network Television (1989) and Turner Classic Movies (since 1994) often as part of Paul Muni tributes. A worthy look of old-style "through the ages" film-making sagas indicating as how the world changes. (***)
Dr. Socrates (1935)
The Crime Doctor
DOCTOR SOCRATES (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by William Dieterle, taken from a story by W.R. Burnett, stars Paul Muni in another one of his lesser known films of this period. Returning him to crime melodrama, Muni doesn't play a hooded gangster as he did in SCARFACE (United Artists, 1932), but a small town doctor (sporting mustache) who innocently becomes involved in treating gangsters. It also marked Muni's second and final role opposite Ann Dvorak, his co-star from his now classic SCARFACE.
Set in Big Bend (Ohio), "the biggest little city in Wayne County," the story opens with its residents discussing the latest crime caper committed by noted gangster, "Red" Bastian, from their local newspaper. Lee Caldwell (Paul Muni) is introduced as a new medical doctor from Chicago who is not well-liked by its residents, especially its long-time town doctor, Ginder (Robert Barrat) who labels Caldwell "Doctor Socrates" for his love for Greek philosophy and his reading of "The Republic of Plato." Returning home from the drug store, Caldwell, accompanied by his elderly housekeeper, "Ma" Ganson (Helen Lowell), finds he has visitors, fellow doctor friends from Chicago, McLinty (Samuel S. Hinds) and Dick Burton (John Eldredge). They each feel Caldwell, a brilliant surgeon, is wasting his time in this small town and want him to come back with them. (Caldwell's background is revealed as one trying to forget his past and death of his fiancee due to an automobile accident for which he takes responsibility). Regardless of being heavily in debt, Caldwell is set on staying in Big Bend. Before heading for bed, Caldwell answers a knock on the door, visitors being "Red" Bastian (Barton MacLane) and his gun moll, "Muggsy" (Mayo Methot), who come for treatment of Bastian's gunshot wound. Caldwell treats the wound at a point of a gun. Though he refuses a fee, Bastian leaves him a $100 and goes on his way. The next day, Bastian and his mob, driving down the road, pick up Josephine "Jo" Gray (Ann Dvorak), a hitchhiker on her way to California, with intentions of having her dropped off in Carsonville. Jo never makes it to her destination as Bastian and his mob stop to rob a bank in Big Bend. She makes her escape only to get a gunshot wound in the process. Caldwell comes to her aid and takes her to his home for treatment. He refuses to have her leave with the police while under his care, especially since she is believed to be part of Bastian gang. Caldwell becomes romantically interested in Jo, with plans of possible marriage. After reading about Jo in the newspaper, Bastian abducts her from the kindly doctor. Caldwell faces further complications when he is accused of being connected with Bastian when the $100 bill he used to pay his debts turns out to be one of the bills in connection with one of the bank robberies. Others in the cast include: Hobart Cavanaugh (Floyd Stevens, the druggist); Henry O'Neill (Greer); Grace Stafford (Caroline Suggs, the troubled girl); Olin Howland (Catlett); Marc Lawrence and Grady Sutton, among others.
Though not as famous as other crime capers featuring Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney, Paul Muni is acceptable as a good doctor of a small but gossipy town who falls victim to aiding gangsters. Barton MacLane, who seems to be type-cast in playing mob bosses as he did opposite James Cagney and Ann Dvorak in 'G' MEN (1935), performs his same task here as well. William Dieterle, would later direct Muni in his more prestigious productions of THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (1936) and THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937), keeps the pace moving during its 74 minutes. Look for a little inside humor of Paul Muni reading a book about Louis Pasteur in one scene - possibly a little hint to his next movie project to follow. Remade as KING OF THE UNDERWORLD (Warners, 1939) starring Humphrey Bogart (gangster) and Kay Francis (lady doctor), the remake also casts John Eldredge (who appears in one scene in DOCTOR SOCRATES) as Francis' doctor husband, with James Stephenson in the male counterpart to the Dvorak hitchhiking role.
Never distributed on video cassette, both DOCTOR SOCRATES and its remake, KING OF THE UNDERWORLD, often appear on cable television's Turner Classic Movies for evaluation or comparison purposes. (***)
Hi, Nellie! (1934)
This Man is News!
HI, NELLIE! (Warner Brothers, 1934), directed by Mervyn LeRoy, is an interesting newspaper story starring Paul Muni in his third film for the studio. Having achieved great popularity in the title role of I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (Warners, 1932), also directed by Mervyn LeRoy, HI, NELLIE not only has the distinction of being one of Paul Muni's lighter films of the period, but also the movie that reunites him with his CHAIN GANG co-stars as Glenda Farrell, Berton Churchill, Douglass Dumbrille and Edward Ellis. While CHAIN GANG has remained a classic thanks to frequent television broadcasts throughout the years, HI, NELLIE! is rarely shown and discussed among Paul Muni's resume of movie credits. Often classified as a comedy, it's far from a laugh-out-loud one in the screwball sense, but more of a grand mix verbal humor with melodrama and mystery combined.
Plot Summary: Samuel M. Bradshaw, better known as "Brad" (Paul Muni), is the pipe-smoking managing editor of the Time Star whose working desk is usually filled with paper note clutter. Also at the newspaper establishment are Harvey Dawes (Douglass Dumbrille), the city editor; "Shammy" McClaw (Ned Sparks), Brad's associate; Mr. Durkin (Donald Meek), the oldest copy boy of forty years; Fullerton (Hobart Cavanaugh), a reporter who's always asking Gerry Krale (Glenda Farrell) out for a date, but never gets anywhere. Gerry happens to be the "advise to the lovelorn" columnist known to all as "Nellie," a job title she hates. With the latest news of a bank closing due to a half a million dollar shortage, and Frank J. Canfield, head of the government investigating committee mysteriously disappearing, Brad, who finds no evidence against Canfield, writes nothing about the story as a front page spread as rival newspapers have done. For this, the Star's publisher, John L. Graham (Berton Churchill) has Brad fired. Because Brad has a contract with the Time Star where he cannot quit or get fired, the only thing that can be done is demote Brad to Gerry's old job on the "Hi, Nellie!" columns, with Gerry promoted to a better job. Having his pal, Shammy (Ned Sparks) continue to investigate the Canfield story, Shammy comes up with enough evidence to have Brad join forces with him on further investigations to prove Brad's intuitions are correct, followed by unsuspecting results. Also in the cast are: Robert Barrat (Beau Brownell, gang leader); Dorothy LeBaire (Rosa Martinello); Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Canfield); George Meeker, Frank Reicher, Sidney Miller, Harold Huber and Allan Vincent.
HI, NELLIE! must have been successful enough for Warners to remake this more than once, as LOVE IS ON THE AIR (1937) with Ronald Reagan; YOU CAN'T ESCAPE FOREVER (1942) with George Brent, and THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (1949) starring Wayne Morris. Yet it's the 1934 original that succeeds most due to LeRoy's fast-paced direction set in the newspaper world. While Glenda Farrell, who specialized in newspaper material playing the categorized term of "sob sister" as in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) followed by subsequent "Torchy Blane" movie series (1937-1939), her role as "Nellie" offers some amusements, but not enough action in the manner of the dominating Paul Muni character, who's the sole attraction here.
For anyone familiar with Paul Muni's acting style as a prestigious actor in such landmark films as THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (1936), THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937) and JUAREZ (1939), HI, NELLIE is a little movie (75 minutes) that offers more of Paul Muni's character than the character behind the heavy make-up of historical figures. Aside from never playing the same type of character twice, Muni would go on for developing his craft in challenging roles as his two 1935 releases of accented speaking characters as the Mexican lawyer in BORDERTOWN or Swedish bo-hunk in BLACK FURY before finding his mark for which he very much prefered rather than those that suit him best.
Though not the best movie title depicted, HI, NELLIE!, which could have starred the likes of a James Cagney or Lee Tracy in the cast, ranks one of the finer, yet most underrated newspaper stories of the 1930s that can be seen and rediscovered occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. (***) -30-
Painted Faces (1929)
The Crime Nobody Saw
PAINTED FACES (Tiffany-Stahl Studios, 1929), directed by Albert S. Rogell, stars comedian Joe E. Brown in one of his early film roles. Though best known for his comedy works, especially those movies produced for Warner Brothers in the 1930s, for anyone familiar with the Joe E. Brown style, would find PAINTED FACES a disappointment mainly because Brown isn't funny. That's not to say Brown isn't funny in a sense of not really being funny, but actually playing a serious role with no comic touches involved.
Set in New York City's theater district, the story begins with backstage preparations for an upcoming show as stagehands work on props along with actors coming in and about their dressing rooms. Entering the theater are Buddy Barton (Barton Hepburn) and Lola Barnes (Dorothy Gullliver), a song and dance team engaged to be married. On the same ill is Wally Roderick (Lester Cole), a fresh actor who has made advances on Lola. At first Buddy decides to leave the theater, but although Lola convinces him to remain, he tells her if Roderick gets fresh with her again, he will "get him if it's the last thing I'll do." Later that night as Lola is performing on stage, gun shots are heard in the background. A crowd gathers backstage with Buddy standing there holding a gun with Roderick in his dressing room dead on the floor. Though Buddy claims he didn't kill Roderick, he is arrested anyway, put on trial and awaits the jury to deliberate his fate. With the foreman of the jury (Purnell B. Pratt) having the jurors place their deciding votes inside the passing hat, all but one juror writes his "Not Guilty" verdict. The lone juror turns out to be Herman (Joe E. Brown), a circus clown by profession, who feels Barton is innocent because this is a crime nobody saw. Five days pass, with Christmas day fast approaching, the eleven jurors still stand on their decision of guilty, while Herman's decision continues to cause the other jurors to become restless and angry. To abide his decision, Herman gets the jurors to sit down and listen to his story as to why he feels Barton to be innocent. Others in the cast are: Richard Tucker (District Attorney); Mabel Julienne-Scott (Mrs. Warren); with William B. Davidson and Jack Richardson in smaller roles. Songs heard in this photo-play include: "Bashful Baby," "If I Had You" and two reprises of "Somebody Like You."
After getting through the film's first ten minutes with plot development and backstage murder story, one tends to forget Joe E. Brown is actually in this movie. He's finally seen after the trial sequence followed by twelve jurors entering the deliberation room. One of the biggest surprises is not that fact that Brown's not the subject matter on trial for murder, but an accented speaking juror of Dutch background. The only scene pertaining to the Brown comedy style comes when he has the angry jurors smiling and laughing a bit while showing what he does professionally. The "painted faces" title only comes through the flashback sequence with Brown in clown attire and facial painting. While the first half of the story set in the jury room holds great interest, the flashback sequence revealing Herman's background as Beppo the Clown slows its pacing a bit with melodrama and pathos with Herman acting as surrogate father to his deceased friend's daughter, Nancy (Helen Foster). She then returns to him after being away in school to get herself involved with a man Herman feels to be all wrong for her.
PAINTED FACES offers a grand mix of two separate stories in one that would make one immediately think about its two sources involved - a 1923 Broadway play or screen adaptation of POPPY (1936) starring W.C. Fields, to the much later 12 ANGRY MEN (United Artists, 1957), a jury drama starring Henry Fonda. As much as Brown was a well-known comedian in his day, after getting adjusted to his accented speaking character in PAINTED FACES, he shows how convincingly he can be as a serious actor without provoking unintentional laughter by contemporary viewers.
With so many backstage themes hitting theaters in 1929, at least PAINTED FACES offers some originality to hold interest, especially with Joe E. Brown in an offbeat role. For being an independent production by Tiffany-Stahl, PAINTED FACES fortunately has survived. Though sources claim this to be 75 minutes at length, circulating prints available on DVD is five minutes shorter. Regardless of length and weak moments, PAINTED FACES is certainly both a rare treat and interesting film from the early days of "talkies." (** clowns)
The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Divorce American Style
THE PALM BEACH STORY (Paramount, 1942), written and directed by Preston Sturges, may possibly be the studio's answer to THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940) starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. While THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a sophisticated comedy about divorce and reunion, THE PALM BEACH STORY is very much screwball comedy dealing with the same subject, only faster and funnier. Under Preston Sturges' masterful direction, whose previous comedies, including 1941 releases of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS and THE LADY EVE, have become true classics, THE PALM BEACH STORY, starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea, is another comedy classic, in many ways, par excellence. With Colbert and McCrea having worked earlier in a melodrama about mental illness titled PRIVATE WORLDS (Paramount, 1935), many of the scenes for their second and final union on film are not only superb, but nearly stolen by its supporting players of Mary Astor and Rudy Vallee in exceptional performances.
The film starts off with the opening credits super imposed over the prologue as a French maid on phone with minister at the church awaiting for the bride and groom to arrive. As the titles roll with freeze-frame, Colbert's character is seen bound and gagged in the closet while her other character (obviously her twin sister), in a bridal dress, runs off by taxi to her wedding event, also revealing the actions of McCrea's character also rushing to the church. They finally get together, kneel down as the minister performs the ceremony. Lettering soon hits the screen reading, "And they lived happily ever after. Or did they?" Moving forward from 1937 to present day 1942, plot development opens at 968 Park Avenue in New York City where the apartment manager (Franklin Pangborn) walks with an elderly couple (Robert Dudley and Esther Howard) through an apartment of tenants about to be vacated for non-payment of rent. The old man, known as The Weenie King, a self-made millionaire, meets with tenant, Geraldine "Gerry" Jeffers (Claudette Colbert). After learning of her financial situation, he offers her $700 to get her out of debt. Her husband, Tom (Joel McCrea), a struggling civil engineer trying to interest clients on his suspended airport project, misinterprets his wife's story on the money offer by this old hard-of-hearing man who happens to love birds. Tom is also surprised to learn that Gerry feels she's been a burden on him and wants to get a divorce so he can become a success on his own. As much as he still loves her, Gerry leaves for Penn Station for the next train to Palm Beach to get her divorce. Without money, suitcase and train ticket, Gerry becomes a mascot to millionaire members of the Quail Club, leading to her acquaintance with John D. Rackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), one of the richest men in the world, sleeping in a lower berth. In the meantime, Tom, having met with the Weenie King who learns of his situation, is offered enough money to go on the next airplane for Palm Springs and get his wife back. As John has helped Gerry financially with a new wardrobe, he hopes to marry her after her divorce. Situations become more complex with Gerry's surprise visit from Tom in Palm Beach. Having already made the acquaintance of John's oft-married sister, Princess Maude Centimillia (Mary Astor), Gerry passes Tom as her brother so he can go with Maude and she with John, followed by unexpected results. Others seen in the cast are Preston Sturges stock players as: William Demarest, Robert Greig, Roscoe Ates, Dewey Robinson, Frederick "Snowflake: Toones, J. Farrell MacDonald, Alan Bridge, among others.
Aside from being one of Colbert's top comedies, with McCrea in his usual straightforward manner, Rudy Vallee, former singer on radio and movie musicals, begins his long range of stuffy character performances who goes by his moto, "tipping is un-American." Vallee's character (coming 40 minutes into the story) is certainly worthy of a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, which he never got. Though playing it straight, he does manage to break into song in one scene for "Good Night, Sweetheart," as a sheer reminder of Vallee's vocalizing days as "The Vagabond Lover." Mary Astor, who gets the final half hour of the story, sporting blonde hair this time around, is exceptional in her offbeat performance as a chatterbox talker and flirtatious woman (having three divorces and two annulments) who goes after anything in pants. This is Astor cast against type, and she's great here. Sig Arno as Toto, Maude's bumbling rejected suitor, is also memorable, especially through his jealous facial gestures and pratfalls.
THE PALM BEACH STORY is one of those certain comedies that can be seen repeatedly without any loss of interest. Clocked at 88 minutes, there's not a single moment of wasted material, making this comedy at its best. Formerly available on video cassette and once broadcast on American Movie Classics (1992-1998), the film, later available on DVD as part of the Preston Sturges collection, turns up often enough on Turner Classic Movies where it's been showing since 2002. Highly recommended viewing. (***1/2)