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The Merry Widow (1925)
The Mourning After
THE MERRY WIDOW (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925), personally produced, directed and adapted by Erich Von Stroheim, is a visually elaborate silent screen treatment to the famous 1905 operetta by Franz Lehar. Regardless of the story changes presented here, it is more Von Stroheim than Lehar, obviously. Overall, a rousing success upon release, this MERRY WIDOW ranks, along with THE BIG PARADE, of 1925, John Gilbert's most memorable roles, along with Mae Murray, a popular leading lady of the silent screen, whose name and films dating back to 1916, have been long unavailable, unseen and forgotten through the passage of time, in the title role.
The story, set in "Castellano, 'the city in the sky,' capital of the kingdom of Monteblanco, embraced eternally by the encircling White Mountains," opens with character development of royal characters King Nikita (George Fawcett), Queen Milena (Josephine Crowell) and Baron Sadoja (Tully Marshall) "whose millions are the power behind the throne." Prince Danilo Petrovich (John Gilbert) and Crown Prince Mirko (Roy D'Arcy), Army militant cousins, return home from the regiment. Having their ways of charm with women, Danilo and Mirko become interested in Sally O'Hara (Mae Murray), the "premiere danseuse" of the Manhattan Follies, whose troupe arrives at Monteblanco on their way to Castallano, staying overnight to perform for the royals. Becoming acquainted with Danilo, who keeps his royal background a secret, and Mirko, heir to the throne, Sally falls in love with Danilo, agreeing to become his wife. It's on her wedding day does Sally learn the truth through Mirko about Danilo, while Danilo is being held back and talked out of marrying Sally by Queen Milena because Sally is nothing but a commoner and not of royal blood. With Sally left at the altar, she ends up marrying Baron Sadoja, the rich, middle-aged cripple, whom she does not love. Upon his death on their wedding night, Sally becomes the country's richest widow, earning the alluring title as "The Merry Widow." As Mirko and Danilo attempt to win her back, they end up rivals, even to the point of dueling for her love. Others in the cast include: Edward Connelly (The Ambassador); Albert Conti (The Adjudant); Dale Fuller (The Chambermaid); with Sidney Bracey and D'Arcy Corrigan in smaller roles.
A lengthy production at 137 minutes, THE MERRY WIDOW is a merry affair, made enjoyable through its excellent organ scoring to Franz Lehar melodies as his iconic "Merry Widow Waltz," conducted by Dennis James. While its director, Von Stroheim, could have enacted the role of Danilo, John Gilbert is a satisfactory substitute. Aside from some lavish European style settings, castles, the Maxim cabaret with crowd extras in the Von Stroheim directorial mode, Gilbert's dancing with Mae Murray ranks one of its true highlights. Because THE MERRY WIDOW appears to be one of the very few movies in circulation, and available on DVD, to feature the frizzy-haired blonde Mae Murray, THE MERRY WIDOW would be a worthy rediscovery to her once popular legend and how she became known as The Merry Widow, whenever shown on cable television's Turner Classic Movies, where the 1925 original premiered in 1998.
In closing, THE MERRY WIDOW was revamped by MGM as operettic musicals: 1934 starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, and a 1952 Technicolor adaptation starring Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas, both retold very differently from the 1925 silent adaptation. Which of the three versions ranks the best certainly relies on anyone who's seen all three to decide. (***)
Woman of the Year (1942)
WOMAN OF THE YEAR (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1942), directed by George Stevens, marks a good follow-up for Katharine Hepburn's second MGM comedy, following her comeback performance for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) opposite Cary Grant and James Stewart. Needing worthy material to equal or surpass her MGM debut, Hepburn selected an original screenplay provided by Ring Lardner and Michael Kanin, with Spencer Tracy as her chosen leading man. With Tracy as her ideal choice, it not only proved favorable for both, but ended up as a start for a series of eight additional Tracy and Hepburn movies, with their last movie together in 1967. Though they are totally opposites, on screen and off, their chemistry shows in their initial pairing, featuring a grand mix of comedy and drama along with fine support by Fay Bainter and Minor Watson, also giving intelligent performances.
Set in New York City, Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy), a sportswriter at the New York Chronicle, competes with Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn), a female columnist working for the same newspaper. Because Tess, appearing on an "Information Please" radio program, suggesting that baseball be discontinued for the duration of World War II, Sam attacks her remark in his column. It is through their editor, Mr. Clayton (Reginald Owen) these two rivals meet face to face, causing attractions for both. To get Tess interested in baseball, Sam has her accompany him at the all-male press box, while later, Tess gets to have Sam attend her functions where he gets to meet some of her clients. Though Sam really doesn't fit in with Tess's company, with the exception of her aunt, Ellen Whitcomb (Fay Bainter), and her father, William Harding (Minor Watson), a diplomat of international affairs who both like Sam, he surprises everyone when he and Tess get married. It is through their marriage that has Sam come to realize he's taking second place to Tess's career, with indifferent ideas and responsibilities causing a friction in their lives. Co-starring William Bendix (Pinkie Peters); Gladys Blake (Flo Peters); Dan Tobin (Gerald); Roscoe Karns (Phil Whittaker); Sara Haden and Ludwig Stossel.
With unknown writers of Lardner and Kanin winning Academy Awards for their original screenplay, WOMAN OF THE YEAR presents itself as an original script idea never done before. Though Hepburn has played feminist characters before during her years at RKO Radio (1932-1938), her Tess Harding is as independent minded and stronger than before. Tracy's Sam Craig is much more likable, winning viewers attention and sympathy when trying to show his wife the sort of women she really is. One notable scene presents Tess's selfish traits when, after taking in Chris (George Kezas), a little refugee boy new to their household, that he could be left alone in their apartment for four hours without any adult supervision while she attends her "Woman of the Year" award. Feeling they have taken responsibility for the child, it is Sam who does the sensible thing by remaining with the boy while Tess attends the function by herself. Tess would eventually attain audience sympathy while attending the the wedding ceremony of her father and aunt, to truly understand the meaning of wedding vows. This scene alone, which is so well done, I feel, being a crucial scene that honored Hepburn an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress.
Lighter moments include Hepburn's attending her first baseball game with her huge hat coming in the way of the spectator sitting behind her; Tracy's attendance to a function where he sits opposite a man who doesn't speak any English; Sam and Tess's honeymoon unintentionally interrupted by Tess's friends and Sam's pals; followed by a extended and scoreless sequence where Hepburn's Tess tries to prepare breakfast for her husband knowing full well she can't even boil water.
Tracy and Hepburn, who play straight for one another, make a fine combination, amusingly and dramatically. Available on video cassette since the 1980s, and later on DVD, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, once a favorite on the late- night television, is broadcast, along with other Tracy and Hepburn films, on Turner Classic Movies cable television where their work can be seen and studied.(***1/2)
Secret of the Blue Room (1933)
Night of Terror
SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (Universal, 1933), directed by Kurt Neumann, is a murder mystery often mistaken for a horror film. Aside from starring horror legend, Lionel Atwill, the opening credits begin with the composition to "Swan Lake," the scoring that opened other Universal horror tales as DRACULA (1931), MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932) and THE MUMMY (1932). Of the three mentioned, SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM is the least known, let alone revived. Regardless of this being an overlooked item by many, Universal remade it again as THE MISSING GUEST (1938) and again as MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM (1944), the latter containing more humor than thrills.
Set in Germany at the old Eldorf Castle, the narrative begins at the stroke of midnight where the gathering of guests celebrating the 21st birthday of Irene Von Helldorf (Gloria Stuart), along with her father, Robert (Lionel Atwill), and her three suitors, Frank Faber (Onslow Stevens), a newspaper reporter; Walter Brink (Paul Lukas), a captain in the military; and Thomas Brandt (William Janney). Brandt, the youngest of the trio, gathers enough courage to ask Irene to marry him, but she doesn't take him seriously. Following an evenings entertaining of Irene singing "I Can't Help But Dream of You" on piano, the howling wind leads to a fright story told by Robert regarding the secret of the blue room. His retelling about the strange enactment that occurred twenty years ago when Irene was a baby, and to why the room had been locked up since then. With Paul, the Butler (Robert Barrat) in charge of its only key, the story begins with the death of Robert's sister, believed to have plunged to her death from the open window; followed four months later by his friend who was mysteriously shot to death with the door locked from inside; then a detective, spending the night in the room, found dead from something that caused his fatal heart attack. Interestingly, all deaths took place exactly at 1 a.m. Hoping to influence Irene he's no weakling, Thomas shows off his courage with hope of marriage by volunteering to spend the night in the blue room, with the other suitors doing the same thing on subsequent nights. With Thomas the first to spend the night there, accompanied by Blink, history starts to repeat itself involving similar circumstances along with a mysterious stranger in the house having attacking Irene. Brink immediately telephones his good friend, Commissioner Forster (Edward Arnold) to come and investigate. Others in the cast include Muriel Kirkland (Belle, the Maid); Russell Hopton (Max, the chauffeur); Elizabeth Patterson (Mary, the housekeeper); Anders Van Haden (The Stranger) and James Durkin (Forster's Assistant).
Resembling that of a film series involving famed movie detectives like Philo Vance or Sherlock Holmes, SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM contains no interesting camera angles in the James Whale method, nor real gruesome mood music for elements of surprise. Its brief storytelling of 66 minutes is routinely made murder mystery theme more interesting for its familiar cast members than anything else. Lionel Atwill always adds mystery to his character, whether he's guilty or not, while Gloria Stuart, best known for her performance in THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), offers typical heroine screams in frightful fashion, but not as much as Fay Wray in KING KONG (1933). Though SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM gets by in formula fashion, its only setback. Involving the secret of the first blue room murders remains a mystery.
Never distributed on video cassette, but available on DVD. SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (which ends with a good cast listing worth repeating to "Swan Lake" scoring) did get its rare cable television broadcasting on Turner Classic Movies as part of its Summer Under the Stars tribute to Lionel Atwill in August 3, 2018. For those familiar with Lionel Atwill's other notable 1933 releases of THE VAMPIRE BAT, MURDERS IN THE ZOO and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, and admirers to the "Swan Lake" composition, should find this movie worth viewing as well. (**)
A Free Soul (1931)
Their Own Desire
A FREE SOUL (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931), directed by Clarence Brown, based on the novel by Adela Rogers St. John, stars Norma Shearer in one of her classic movie roles from the early sound era. Having just appeared in THE DIVORCEE (MGM, 1931), A FREE SOUL was a worthy follow-up to her Best Actress Academy Award winning performance. Known to film historians as an early Clark Gable movie, at the time when he was playing mostly villains, the movie also features Leslie Howard as the romantic hero, and Lionel Barrymore, whose supporting role won him the Academy Award as Best Actor of the Year.
Set in San Francisco at the St. Francis Hotel, the story introduces Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore), a brilliant but hard-drinking criminal lawyer, having raised his daughter, Jan (Norma Shearer) since birth following the death of his wife. Educated at the finest schools, Jan has been raised by her father to become a free soul, or modern woman with a carefree attitude who can come and go as she pleases with no questions asked. While preparing his evidence in his chambers for racketeer and gambler, Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable), on trial for murder, Jan, engaged to marry Dwight Winthrop (Leslie Howard), a high society polo player, immediately becomes attracted to him. With Ashe winning his first case in three months, Jan begins seeing more of the now acquitted Ace without her father's knowledge. Ashe's knowledge is soon realized when approached by Wilfong wanting to marry his daughter. Following a raid at Ace's gambling House, Ashe is sent to the penthouse where he finds Ace and Jan together. Because of this, Ashe goes on a binge. To stop her father from drinking, Jan promises to give up Ace if he gives up the bottle. Following a three month mountain holiday in Yosemite, one breaks away from the promise of their own desire, forcing both to return to their former ways. When Jan returns to Ace, she learns the sort of person he really is, and through his force, refuses to marry him. After Ace is murdered, it is Ashe who breaks away from his alcoholic binges in a waterfront dive to sober up and defend the accused on trial. Co-starring James Gleason (Eddie, Ashe's assistant); Lucy Beaumont (Grandma Ashe); Edward Brophy (Slouch); Roscoe Ates, Francis Ford, George Irving and Sam McDaniel in smaller roles.
A FREE SOUL, at 94 minutes, is a fine mixture of father and daughter relationship, underworld theme and courtroom melodrama. For the first of their three pairings of Norma Shearer and Clark Gable (followed by STRANGE INTERLUDE (1932) and IDIOT'S DELIGHT (1939)), A FREE SOUL is notable for some of their steamy sequences, especially Jan on couch stretching out her arms telling Ace, "Come one, put 'em around me." As with James Cagney's early movie roles at Warner Brothers, the Gable character is abusive with women, ranging from shoves and slaps. Gable was even more mean and brutal to Barbara Stanwyck in NIGHT NURSE (Warner Brothers, 1931), but managed to break away from these sort of nasty roles to mustache he-man types women learn to love. Though an Academy Award winning actress and nominated for her performance for A FREE SOUL, Shearer's acting sometimes becomes more theatrical in the silent film tradition than in natural manner. Lionel Barrymore, his Academy Award winning performance, comes off best more for his climatic courtroom scene. Watch for it.
Because of several pre-code scenes that have kept A FREE SOUL from reissues, the movie eventually became available in revival movie houses around the 1970s, before televised a decade later, mostly on cable television as Turner Network Television (1989-1990), Turner Classic Movies (since 1994), followed by availability on video cassette and DVD. Remade as THE GIRL WHO HAD EVERYTHING (1951) with Elizabeth Taylor, William Powell and Fernando Llamas, it's the sizzling original to hold up better than the clean-up, quickly produced 69 minute remake. (***)
Murder on the Blackboard (1934)
Hildegarde Withers: After School Murder
MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD (RKO Radio, 1934), directed by George Archainbaud, returns Edna May Oliver as spinster schoolteacher turned crime solver, Hildegarde Withers, and James Gleason as her friend and inspector, Oscar Piper, roles they originated from PENGUIN POOL MURDER (RKO, 1932), also directed by Archainbaud. With successful crime sleuths as Charlie Chan or Philo Vance proving popular with movie audiences, Radio Pictures attempted a new series of its own, based on the magazine serial and characters created by Stuart Palmer. As the initial entry to PENGUIN POOL MURDER concluded with Withers and Piper contemplating marriage, this two year later sequel resumes with them as single individuals rather than a husband and wife team joining forces for another murder caper.
As the credits roll to the aerial view and underscoring to "East Side, West Side," of the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City and finally a classroom blackboard, the story gets underway at the end of a school day at 3:25 p.m., as Otto Schwitzer (Frederik Vogeding) a drunken janitor, starts his work day with his night's work as the students go home for the day. Plot development soon revolves around Jane Davis (Gertrude Michael), secretary to womanizing and married principal, Mr. MacFarland (Tully Marshall), wanting to have Joan accompany him for a movie and dinner. Joan's real romantic interest is with science teacher/ assistant principal, Addison Stevens (Bruce Cabot). Jane is also roommates with Louise Halloran (Barbara Fritchie), a music teacher, whose gun ends up in the hands of Jane while Louise is being blackmailed by Schwitzer, demanding she make amends for a bounced check from her he obtains. Hildegarde Withers (Edna May Oliver), a spinster schoolteacher, finishes her day by having her student, Leland Stanford Jones (Jackie Searle) remaining after school for gossiping about Louise Halloran and Mr. MacFarland. Hearing a noise in Halloran's classroom, Miss Withers looks about to find Miss Halloran's body on the couch in the cloak room. After sending Leland to get Inspector Piper (James Gleason), he and his assistants, Smiley North (Regis Toomey), Detective MacTeague (Tom Herbert) and Inspector Donovan (Edgar Kennedy), follow Miss Withersto the body only to find it has disappeared. Much to her surprise, Withers and Piper, both believing body and killer to still be in inside the school, find themselves involved in another baffling mystery following their recent Penguin Pool Murder case. Others in the cast include Gustav Von Seyffertitz (Max Von Immen, the coroner); and Jed Prouty (Doctor Levine).
Close to being slightly better or equal to the success of PENGUIN POOL MURDER, in which both movies keep audience guessing until its real surprise finish, MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD remains both entertaining and suspenseful during its fast-pace 72 minutes. Edna May Oliver and James Gleason make a grand team of crime solvers, with Oliver's Miss Withers always one step ahead of the Piper's theories. It's also Miss Withers who suspects the musical notes written on the blackboard by Halloran to be a clue to the killer's identity, hence its title. Thought mostly set inside the old public school building, there are some cutaways outside the school such as a hospital before summing it all up inside a diner.
While James Gleason gives a commendable performance, without Edna May Oliver, MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD would be just an ordinary mystery. Her quips and unique mannerisms provide humor and attention. Both Oliver and Gleason would team up one more time in MURDER ON A HONEYMOON (1935) before the Hildegarde Withers character was recast by Helen Broderick and later Zasu Pitts pitted against Gleason before the series of six installments would come to a close. As much as Broderick was agreeable as Oliver's substitute, Pitts would be all wrong playing Hildegarde, a casting error that could have been easily fixed by casting Pitts as Hildegarde's sister instead. Edna May Oliver could never be replaced. She's really one of a kind. (***)
Dancing Sweeties (1930)
Leave It to Cleaver
DANCING SWEETIES (Warner Brothers, 1930), directed by Ray Enright, based on the story "Three Flights Up" by Harry Fried, is neither the best nor the worst of the early talkies from 1930. In fact, it's an agreeable look back into the world of dance marathons. With a fine mixture of song interludes, humor and sentiment, it's the dancing sequences, which are a far cry from the latter musicals of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, that highlight this presentation. Starring Grant Withers, shortly before his declining years in "B" westerns and chaptered serials for smaller movie studios such as Republic, and the pert and cute Sue Carol, in her only Warners film, being names unfamiliar to contemporary audiences, yet satisfactory for their performances in a quickie drama such as this.
Following the opening titles featuring superimposing young couple's tap dancing feet with no underscoring, "With some people dancing is a pleasure ... and with some people dancing is a business ... but with some people dancing is life," the story gets underway at the Hoffman Parisian Dance Palace where a dance contest with a free public wedding is to take place. Bill "Kid" Cleaver (Grant Withers) is a conceited dancer with nine first place cups to his credit. The very night he's to dance with his partner, "Jazzbo" Gans (Edna Murphy), Bill takes an sudden interested in Molly O'Neill (Sue Carol), dance partner to his friendly rival, "Needles" Thompson (Eddie Phillips). Attracted by her beauty, Bill conveniently sends Needles away so he can dance with Molly instead. The upset Needles ends up dancing the marathon with Jazzbo, losing the contest to Bill and Molly. Because the bride of the public wedding walks out, refusing to marry an undertaker, Jerry Browne (Sid Silvers), manager of the palace, substitutes Bill and Molly instead. Regardless of being perfect strangers and having similar backgrounds in life, they go on with the wedding and new life together. After meeting their parents, Bill and Molly find a place of their own. Troubles arise when Bill begins to miss his freedom going to dance marathons with Jazzbo, only to scheme his way to step out without ruining his marriage.
Others in the cast include Tully Marshall ("Pa" Cleaver); Margaret Seddon ("Ma" Cleaver); Kate Price (Molly's Mother); Dora Dean and Ada May Vaughan (Molly's sisters, Nellie and Emma). Though sources credit Vince Barnett as Ted Hoffman, after repeated viewing, the actor playing Ted Hoffman for its first sequence, is played by Lee Moran. When Hoffman appears again during the wedding ceremony, he is glimpsed to be Vince Barnett. Maybe a mistake in the editing process.
Though not essentially a musical, some good tunes by Al Dubin and Joe Burke include its theme song of "The Kiss Waltz," first vocalized by Grant Withers, then by a male quartette, and finally by Sue Carol. This is followed by a "Hullabaloo" dance sequence before "The Kiss Waltz" is reprised one last time. With its repeated background play, naturally "The Kiss Waltz" is the movie's song plug here.
While Grant Withers gives a conceited performance in the manner of MGM's William Haines or latter Warner Brothers own James Cagney, he gives a sturdy performance, while Sue Carol, years before retiring from acting to become a talent agent, is sympathetic as well as likable. Sid Silvers offers some humor here, but there isn't enough of him except as master of ceremonies. Even for its short length (62 minutes), it gives the impression of being longer with possibly more songs and story that ended up on the cutting room floor. Regardless, DANCING SWEETIES is good enough for film historians to view and rediscover dancing sweetie, Sue Carol.
Available on DVD, DANCING SWEETIES can be seen once in a while on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (**)
The Scarlet Mistress
INSPIRATION (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931), directed by Clarence Brown, stars Greta Garbo in her third talkie, following her successful taking debut of ANNA CHRISTIE (1930) and similar titled ROMANCE (1930) also directed by Clarence Brown and co-starring Lewis Stone. Marking her fourth collaboration opposite Stone, with Robert Montgomery opposite Garbo for the first and only time, INSPIRATION improves somewhat over her previous romance drama in both tone and pace, yet not the classic as Garbo's latter successes as ANNA KARENINA (1935) and CAMILLE (1936). As with some of her early talkies, Garbo provides her typical role as a woman of affairs with inspiration for many men, but none are of any interest to she finds that chosen one who may or may not become her inspiration.
Following the opening titles to its theme song underscoring to "How Long Will It Last?" the story and screenplay by Gene Markey, set in Paris, France, begins with a function gathering held by Andre Martel (Lewis Stone) who, along with sculpture, Henri Coutant (John Miljan), author, Galand (Richard Tucker), and artist, Jouvet (Paul McAllister), drink a toast to their inspiration, Yvonne Valvarez (Greta Garbo), whom Lulu (Marjorie Rambeau) decribes as "The Eiffel Tower." Martel, a middle-aged man who loves Yvonne, prefers much younger woman to love and leave, including his latest mistress, the 18-year-old chorus girl, Liane Latour (Karen Morley), while Coutant, insanely in love with Yvonne, having lost his inspiration for sculpting after losing Yvonne's love. He has a new model, Odette (Judith Voselli), whose extremely jealous of Yvonne. Yvonne, bored with her surroundings, takes notice of Andre Martel (Robert Montgomery), a 24-year-old student and guest of the function. Before the evening is over, Yvonne leaves with Andre to his apartment where they become well acquainted. The following morning during breakfast, Yvonne comes to the conclusion her inspiration being Andre. When Andre learns of Yvonne being mistress to Vignaud (Oscar Apfel), whose apartment she passes as her own, and Normand (Theodore Von Eltz), currently in prison for check forging, he decides to leave her. However, Andre finds it impossible to forget Yvonne, even after his uncle Julian (Edwin Maxwell) and Aunt Pauline (Zelda Sears) arrange for him to marry Madeline (Joan Marsh), his former childhood playmate now grown up. Situations occur when, after meeting again, if they would be able to recapture their inspirational love they once had. Also in the case are Beryl Mercer (Marthe, Yvonne's Maid); Arthur Hoyt (Gardoni); Gwen Lee (Gaby)' and Sidney Bracey (The Waiter).
While such a story could have gone to MGM leading ladies as Norma Shearer or Joan Crawford, INSPIRATION proves more inspirational for Garbo. With its Paris setting, thankfully, with her Swedish accent, she doesn't attempt a French accent. Having an outrageous hairstyle for certain scenes, much of the dialogue and familiar pattern of "You got to believe me!" which is said in other Garbo movies, to be said here. While her former leading men as Lew Ayres or Johnny Mac Brown from the silent movie days might have been featured here, the studio wisely chose the up and rising Robert Montgomery instead. With the exception of the opening function consisting if a Russian knife dance, INSPIRATION contains little underscoring and minimum humor during its entire 74 minutes.
Not counting some broadcasts on commercial television, INSPIRATION has had limited broadcasts on cable television, notably on Turner Network Television(TNT) in late 1980s, and Turner Classic Movies where it hasn't been shown since 2012. INSPIRATION was distributed on video cassette in 1990, but to date, not on DVD. It's Garbo's inspiration that keeps this movie from being forgotten and rediscovered again. (***)
Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958)
Return to Carvel
ANDY HARDY COMES HOME (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1958), a Fryman Enterprise Production directed by Howard Koch, returns Mickey Rooney to his iconic role of Andy Hardy and home studio of MGM. In a title role he originated in A FAMILY AFFAIR (MGM, 1937) starring Lionel Barrymore and Spring Byington, followed by fifteen subsequent comedy-dramas through 1946 featuring the recast Lewis Stone and Fay Holden, this latest installment not only resumes the outlook of the Hardy family for the first time since LOVE LAUGHS AT ANDY HARDY (1946), but an attempt to revive the movie series which actually put an end to it.
After receiving a telegram from her son, Andy, that he is coming home for a visit, his mother, Emily (Fay Holden), Aunt Milly Forrest (Sara Haden), sister Marian, Marion (Cecilia Parker) and his nephew, Jimmy (Johnny Weissmulelr Jr.) arrive at Carval Municipal Airport for a family greeting. Andy (Mickey Rooney), a popular teenager in his day, now married with two children living in Santa Monica, California, is a top executive in legal department for the Gordon Aircraft Corporation. As a favor to Mr. Gordon (Sydney Smith), the company president, Andy returns to Carvel seeking for undeveloped property for a proposed missile factory site, something that could have Carvel grow and prosper with plenty of employment. With the assistance of courthouse clerk Betty Wilson (Pat Crawley), he proposes buying land belonging to Thomas Chandler (Vaughn Taylor), offering him a set price. However, Chandler goes back on his promise with a higher selling price. With the help of his best friend, "Beezy" Anderson (Joey Foreman), he offers to sell him his Puddle Creek property at a lower cost. When news gets out, a petition is used to stop the deal by rezoning the property. Complications develop when Betty's jealous boyfriend, Jack Bailey (William Leslie) misinterprets her spending too much business time with Andy. With the arrival of his wife, Jane (Patricia Breslin) and his children, Andy Jr. (Teddy Rooney) and Marian, better known as "Cricket" (Gina Gillespie), for moral support, Andy feels betrayed by his friends, let alone the possibility of still being employed. For this production, four songs, written by Mickey Rooney and Harold Spina, are credited, including the opening theme song of "Lady Summer Night," "Ugotia Soda," "Unk WInk" and "The Octavian Song." Also in the cast are Jerry Colonna ("Doc"); Frank Ferguson (Mayor Benson); and Tommy Duggan (Councilman Warren).
With movie and later television reunions seldom doing well, ANDY HARDY COMES HOME is no exception. Yet for those who have become accustomed to the series at its prime (1937-1946), would view this reunion for nostalgic reasons, especially through film clips of MGM starlets who later prospered as major leading ladies as Judy Garland as Betsy Booth (who appeared in three entries in the series), Esther Williams's underwater kissing sequence with Andy from ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE (1942), and Lana Turner from LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), all featuring upscale 1950s style underscoring not used in the movie originals.
While Fay Holden, Sara Haden and Cecilia Parker retained their original roles, only the Beezy Anderson character earlier portrayed by Georgie Breakstone, was recast and enacted by Joey Forman. The now deceased Lewis Stone, as Andy's father, Judge James K. Hardy, is presented through a still photograph placed in the family study. It is through his photograph that Andy seeks guidance and strength to do what he thinks is right. Interestingly, for Andy's sister, Marian, her character is rather undeveloped. Now a mother to a giant-size teenage son (played by son of Tarzan screen legend, Johnny Weissmuller) there is no mention about her husband to whether she is a widow or divorced. Naturally there hasn't been any mention about Andy's older sister, Jane (Julie Hayden), since the series introduction of A FAMILY AFFAIR. It would be natural having Mickey's own son, Teddy, as Andy Hardy Jr., and wanting to have a man-to-man talk with him in the similar manner between Judge Hardy and son. Sadly, Teddy's performance, along with Jeanne Baird as Beezy's wife, Sally, somewhat weakens the proceedings through their lackluster acting. Gina Gillespie as Andy's daughter is very cute, however. Patricia Breslin was satisfactory as Andy's wife, Jane, but many familiar with the series would have preferred Ann Rutherford's Polly Benedict, Andy's girlfriend, to have returned and assumed her role of Mrs. Hardy instead.
While ANDY HARDY COMES HOME at 83 minutes is done in the style and tradition of television family shows (minus laugh track) as "Father Knows Best," it appears much of this dramedy with updates showing the Hardys watching television, for instance, along with new teenagers/characters just didn't jell in 1958 as it might have in 1948. Though this installment isn't really all that bad, it was probably best watching the older Hardy Family movies on late night television instead, indicating the sixteenth and final installment that nothing really stays the same. Never distributed on video cassette, ANDY HARDY COMES HOME has become available on DVD and occasional broadcasts on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (**1/2)
Johnny Come Lately (1943)
The Lady Takes a Chance
JOHNNY COME LATELY (United Artists, 1943), Directed by William K. Howard, stars James Cagney in his second independent venture outside his long term reign at Warner Brothers (1930-1942), with his first being for Grand National Pictures (1936-1937). Following his Academy Award winning performance as song and dance man, George M. Cohan in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942), it was time for Cagney to venture independently on his own merits. Under the presentation/ production by his brother, William Cagney, his first choosing for something against type is that of a good-natured vagrant drifting to a small town where his presence becomes an asset to an elderly woman, wonderfully enacted by Miss Grace George (not to be confused with Gladys George), a popular theatrical actress in her only movie. Though his name isn't Johnny, Cagney's character comes to terms of being called a "tramp," "vagrant" or a "Johnny Come Lately," yet a pleasant surprise from his usual New York City tough guy roles much beloved by his fans.
Based on the novel "McLeod's Folly," by Louis Bromfield, set in early 1900s in the town of Pittsfield, the story opens with character development involving Vinnie McLeod (Grace George), an elderly woman publisher/ editor of a local newspaper, the Shield and Banner, founded by her late husband many ago. She also lives in the home built by him called McLeod's Folly along with her niece, Jane (Marjorie Lord), a society editor at her newspaper, and Aida (Hattie McDaniel), her housekeeper. Vinnie is also known for using her basement to feed homeless drifters. Jane is in love with Peter (William Henry), son of W.W. Dougherty (Edward McNamara), a fearful big boss ruling both town and rival newspaper with intentions of running for politics. Vinnie refuses to write articles supplied by him to support his corrupt campaign. With her newspaper regarded old-fashioned and lacking funds for any updates, her luck changes when coming to the courtroom looking for news to witness vagrant Tom Richards (James Cagney), and about to be sentenced to a road gang by the judge. Having met Richards earlier in the park reading Charles Dickens' book, "The Pickwick Papers," she thus learns Tom of his newspaper experience. Without funds of new hired help, Vinnie takes a chance on Tom as both her boarder and $35 a week reporter. With staff members including Jane, Willie Ferguson, its only reporter for 35 years (George Cleveland), and his sister, Myrtle (Margaret Hamilton), Tom revamps and improves the newspaper. At the risk of Vinnie losing her establishment, mortgaged by Daugherty, and Jane losing Peter, she and Tom go on with their editorials on Daugherty while Daugherty has plans of his own.
The supporting players feature Robert Barrat (Bill Swaine, a state capital politician); Clarence Muse, Lucien Littlefield, Irving Bacon, Victor Kilian, John "Skins" Miller and Arthur Hunnicutt. Marjorie Main's semi-comical performance is a welcome presence as "Gashouse Mary" McGovern, owner of a social club who pays "protection money" to Daugherty.
Often claimed as a minor James Cagney movie, JOHNNY COME LATELY has quite a nostalgic feel from another era with underscoring by Leigh Harline. With this performance, Cagney further displays his fine acting ability as a simple guy both trusting and educated. He doesn't disappoint his fans with some good fist fights and gun shooting while battling with the bad guys. With Cagney heading the cast, JOHNNY COME LATELY rightfully belongs to Grace George giving a sincere performance that could have been enacted by either theatrical legend of Laurette Taylor or silent screen veteran of Lillian Gish, Her performance makes one wish Grace George appeared in a few more movies.
Being a lesser known Cagney drama of the 1940s, JOHNNY COME LATELY, which runs 97 minutes, has become available on video cassette (1990s) and later DVD. Although frequently broadcast on late night television from the 1950s to 1980s, JOHNNY COME LATELY has yet to have become a Johnny Come Lately on cable television. What a wonderful rediscovery both movie and Grace George would be whenever it should be televised again. (***)
Two Girls on Broadway (1940)
TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940), directed by S. Sylvan Simon, is a lightweight, updated partial remake to the ever popular Academy Award winner of THE BROADWAY MELODY (MGM, 1929). While the update could have been titled BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940, this latest edition as TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY, based on the original story by Edmund Goulding, is more of a second feature (74 minutes) and showcase for young Lana Turner. Supported by such screen veterans as Joan Blondell and George Murphy, it also displays Turner's rare ability as a singer and dancer, but soon proving her future success in the movies would be in dramatic roles instead.
The story begins in Rome City, Nebraska, where Trooper One, Molly Mahoney (Joan Blondell), runs a dancing school for children along with Trooper Two, her kid sister, Pat (Lana Turner), Dismissing their class to listen to the radio program, "Oddities of the Air," as hosted by Mr. Boyle (Don Wilson), by which Trooper Three, Eddie Kearns (George Murphy), Molly's fiance, happens to be auditioning one of his composed songs with a song and dance. Eddie wins audience approval and a spot in Buddy Bartell's (Richard Lane) upcoming musical show. Telephoning the good news to Molly, he invites the girls to take the next bus out to join him for a possible audition. Upon their arrival, Molly and Pat do a song and dance for Bartell, whose main interest is more on Pat. To keep Pat under his employ, he offers Molly a night club job working as a cigarette girl. Regardless of this humiliation and wanting Pat to succeed in show business, Molly accepts the job. As Pat finds herself becoming more interested in Eddie during dress rehearsals, she decides to spend more time with her sponsor, Chat Chatsworth (Kent Taylor), so not to come between Molly and Eddie's plans for marriage. Problems arise when Molly discovers from Jed Marlowe (Wallace Ford), a reporter friend of hers, that Chatsworth is a womanizer with five ex-wives with intentions on having Pat as wife number six. Others in the cast include Otto Hahn (Ito); Lloyd Corrigan (Judge Hennessey); and Edward Gargan (The Policeman),
The distinction between TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY and THE BROADWAY MELODY are its acting and production numbers. Though the original 1929 had its merits of success, its over-the-top acting among the leading actresses (Bessie Love and Anita Page) along with brief production numbers consisting of cart-wheels and back flips by ensembles, both weaken the original for contemporary viewers. Blondell, in her role originated by Bessie Love, gives a more natural performance as does Lana Turner's carnation to Anita Page's kid sister performance. For being Turner's movie, it is Blondell who proves herself more of a real trooper than the others.
The production numbers, well choreographed by Bobby Connolly, consisting of "My Wonder One, Let's Dance" (sung by George Murphy); "Broadway's Still Broadway" (dance rehearsal dance with Lana Turner) and reprise of "My Wonderful One, Let's Dance" (performed by Murphy and Turner) are entertaining enough, but not as memorable in scoring as the 1929 original that produced such classic tunes as "You Were Meant for Me." George Murphy, like Charles King, displays good showmanship in the entertainment department, yet it was Murphy who lasted a lot longer as a movie actor than the heavily New York accented Charles King, whose movie career ended in 1930.
As much as TWO GIRLS ON BROADWA Y is not a scene by scene remake to THE BROADWAY MELODY, it does lead to a similar structure to the original. Never distributed on video cassette but available on DVD, both TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY and THE BROADWAY MELODY can be seen and compared whenever shown on Turner Classic Movies cable television. (**1/2)
A Royal Scandal
THE RISE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT, a/k/a CATHERINE THE GREAT (Premier Distributions Limited/London FiIms, 1934), directed by Paul Czinner, became Alexander Korda's production follow-up attempt in duplicating his earlier royal success of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (1933) starring Charles Laughton in his Academy Award winning performance. While this could have been titled THE PRIVATE LIFE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT, this and HENRY VIII each show the visual and historical Korda techniques quite popular with Depression movie audiences. This impressive and lavish scale production, consisting of mostly British performers, stars the American-born Douglas Fairbanks Jr., with the Viennese born Elisabeth Bergner in the title role. With Fairbanks' attempt in a costume drama made famous by his father, Douglas Fairbanks, of the silent screen, CATHERINE THE GREAT would become a step forward for both its leading players, especially Bergner under the direction of her husband, Czinner.
The story opens in Russia, 1745, in the hunting lodge of Grand Duke Peter (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.). heir to the throne. During his gathering among his friends and female companions, Peter is given news that his aunt, Empress Elisabeth (Flora Robson), in order for him to have an heir, has arranged for he to marry Sophia Frederica (Elisabeth Bergner). At first, Peter refuses to give up his carefree lifestyle and marry a perfect stranger. He changes his mind after meeting the shy Sophia, renamed Catherine by Elisabeth, and consents to the proposed marriage. Catherine soon realizes the sort of man she's married when Peter leaves her alone on the wedding night to have an affair with another woman. It is Empress Elizabeth who encourages Catherine to change her ways by helping herself be stronger and forceful. During the course of their marriage, Peter becomes jealous of Catherine with rumors of her affairs with seventeen lovers. Knowing this is a falsehood, Elisabeth advises Catherine to actually have one lover in order to gain Peter's respect. At Elisabeth's deathbed, she warns Catherine her fear for the future of Russia once Peter takes command, especially with the startling news that Peter is actually insane. Now on her own, Catherine attempts to plot against Peter before he plots against her. Co-starring Gerald D Maurier (Lecoca, Peter's advisor); Irene Vanbrugh (Princess Anhalt-Zerbat); Griffith Jones (Gregory Orlov); Joan Gardner, Lawrence Hanray and Clifford Heatherley.
Released the very same year as Josef Von Sternberg's Catherine the Great production of THE SCARLET EMPRESS (Paramount, 1934) starring Marlene Dietrich, John Lodge, Sam Jaffe and Louise Dresser, many often compare these productions, considering the fact that no two productions are exactly alike. While Fairbanks' Peter is tall and handsome, Sam Jaffe's Peter is presented much more differently more in the manner of the wide-eyed Harpo Marx style instead. Louise Dresser's Empress Elisabeth for THE SCARLET EMPRESS steals the proceedings from the leads, though presents herself more American than Russian through her presentation. Flora Robson's Elisabeth, however, speaks loud and forceful, adding to much attention towards her character who favors Catherine more than Peter. Elisabeth Bergner does her best as Catherine the Great, though many prefer Dietrich and the offbeat performance by Jaffe over Korda's production, a success at the box office, over the misfire of Von Sternberg's heavily scored and titled presentation. Regardless of their reputations over the years, both CATHERINE THE GREAT and THE SCARLET EMPRESS are worth viewing for comparison reasons, especially when one can catch them playing together on a double feature bill.
CATHERINE THE GREAT enjoyed frequent revivals over the years, from its early days of television in the 1950s to public television and video cassette distribution in the 1980s, to DVD and cable television broadcasts, notably Turner Classic Movies since 2011. Though one would wonder which of the two Catherine the Great movies is more accurate as a history lesson, it could be said that CATHERINE THE GREAT offers more of Peter than Catherine, while THE SCARLET EMPRESS offers more Von Sternberg's artistic style along with more background on Catherine from child to her rise to the throne. (***1/2)
Ceiling Zero (1936)
CEILING ZERO (Warner Brothers, Cosmopolitan Production, 1935/36), produced and directed by Howard Hawks, is an aviation drama staged and written by Frank Wead, author of the 1935 stage play starring John Litel and Osgood Perkins. Rather than featuring both Litel and Perkins to reprise their initial roles, the studio provided the then popular friendly rival team and best friends collaboration of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien. Following their earlier successes of HERE COMES THE NAVY (1934), DEVIL DOGS OF THE AIR (1935) and THE IRISH IN US (1935), the main distinction CEILING ZERO doesn't have is the common support by Frank McHugh in a role here enacted by Stuart Erwin in a convincing serio-serious performance. Basically a filmed stage play with several exterior scenes revolving air flying and outside airport activity, CEILING ZERO ranks one of the finest of the Cagney and O'Brien collaborations, thanks to good scripting, acting and fine direction of Howard Hawks.
Before the story gets underway, the opening title first explains the meaning of "Ceiling Zero - that time when fog, rain or snow completely fills the flyable air between the sky or ceiling and the Earth. Until recent years, no pilot dared to fly in ceiling zero weather." Set at the Federal Airlines in Newark, New Jersey, plot development focuses on Jake L. Lee (Pat O'Brien), a hard-driving field boss who must do what he has to do, ranging from firing those for not properly doing their job, or to later hire "Dizzy" Davis (James Cagney, sporting a mustache), an ace pilot under the better judgment of Al Stone (Barton MacLane), the company supervisor, With Jake and Dizzy being best friends for many years, he risks his career for his association with Dizzy. Dizzy isn't very well liked by his fellow flyers, especially Lou (Isabel Jewell), wife of "Texas" Clarke (Stuart Erwin), and by Tay Lawson (Henry Wadsworth), for forcing himself on Tommy Thomas (June Travis), a girl pilot whom he loves. Problems arise when Dizzy feigns illness to have Texas fly in his place in order to keep his date with Mary (Martha Tibbetts), one of his former girlfriends, now married Jake's wife. After Texas loses his life flying blind in ceiling zero, and being told off by Lou, Dizzy also risks losing both Jake's friendship and flying license as well. Co-stars include Craig Reynolds (Joe Allen), Richard Purcell ("Smiley" Johnson), Robert Light (Les Brogan), Addison Richards and Mathilde Comont. Garry Owen, not a very well-known character actor having appeared in numerous movie productions, stands out as Mike Owens, a former ace pilot reduced to shining door knows after a crackup that has deformed his speaking and memory ability.
With Cagney heading that cast, the film very much belongs to Pat O'Brien, whose supporting role is actually the lead. Cagney doesn't appear until 19 minutes into the story. His arrogant character comes similar to the latter Cagney-O'Brien collaboration of THE FIGHTING 69th (Warners, 1940) with similar results. Though CEILING ZERO doesn't contain better marque female names in support like Margaret Lindsay or a Glenda Farrell, the performances provided by the lesser known June Travis and Margaret Tibbets are commendable, especially Isabel Jewell coming off stronger than the major lead performers during its crucial scenes.
Ranked as one of the best of the aviation melodramas of the 1930s next to Hawkes own ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (Columbia, 1939), CEILING ZERO, which did have television broadcasts in the past, has become strictly limited. In the early days of cable television, CEILING ZERO played on Showtime (1987) and Turner Network Television (1989-1992) before its distribution to video cassette in 1993. To date, CEILING ZERO has yet to broadcast on Turner Classic Movies or distribution on DVD due to legal complications regarding this title and its remake, INTERNATIONAL SQUADRON (Warners, 1941) starring James Stephenson and Ronald Reagan. Maybe like the obscure NIGHT FLIGHT (MGM, 1933) with John and Lionel Barrymore, CEILING ZERO may be seen flying across the screen of TCM in the future. For now, one would have to rely on the out of print 1993 video tape to locate and view out of curiosity's sake. (***1/2)
That Certain Age (1938)
THAT CERTAIN AGE (Universal, 1938), a Joe Pasternak Production directed by Edward Ludwig, stars Deanna Durbin in her fourth leading role for the studio. Aside from being a noted winning film at the box office at the time of its release, it's also of interest with an impressive supporting cast headed by Melvyn Douglas and Jackie Cooper, along with once popular leading ladies as Irene Rich (who played Jackie Cooper's mother in THE CHAMP (1931)), and Nancy Carroll in support. The plot, taken from an original story by F. Hugh Herbert, may be a first in a series of teenage musicals made more popular in the 1940s, along with theme quite familiar due to similar stories produced either in motion pictures or television shows in later years.
The story revolves around Alice Fullerton (Deanna Durbin), a childhood sweetheart of boy scout leader, Kenneth Warren (Jackie Cooper), who intends on staging a show to help raise money to help poor scouts to attend camp. Alice is the daughter of Gilbert Fullerton (John Halliday), a newspaper publisher who invites war correspondent, Vincent Bullitt (Melvyn Douglas) to spend a few weeks at the guest house for peace and quiet so he can provide articles on current events in Europe. It so happens Alice has promised the guest house to her friends for show rehearsals and is advised by her mother, Dorothy (Irene Rich) to have it someplace else. Upon the arrival of Bullitt, who would rather be someplace else, Alice and her friends scheme to have Bullitt leave, but because Alice has become infatuated by this older gentleman, she has arrange for him to remain, much to the dismay of Vincent as well as Ken, who finds Alice not to be a good scout by not appearing in his upcoming show.
Featured in the supporting cast are Jackie Searl (Tony, who appeared opposite Cooper in both SKIPPY and SOOKY (Paramount, 1931)); Peggy Stewart (Mary Lee); Charles Coleman (Stevens, the Butler); Grant Mitchell (The Jeweler); Addison Richards, Moroni Olson and Russell Hicks in smaller roles. Juanita Quigley, billed simply as the Pest, is amusing as Cooper's little sister, Elsie "Butch" Fullerton. Fans of Nancy Carroll, a popular leading actress for Paramount of the 1930s, now past her prime, would have to wait until the movie is nearly over before her first appearance in the story (lasting only under three minutes) as Vincent's reporter friend, Grace Bristow.
New songs by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh include: "That Certain Age" (sung during opening credits); "Be a Good Scout" (sung by Deanna Durbin, Jackie Cooper and scouts); "Waltz from Romero and Juliet," "You're as Pretty as a Picture," "My Own" (Academy Award nominee for Best Song of 1938); "Les Filles de Cadirz" by Clement Philibert and Leo Delibes; and "That Certain Age."
For this presentation, Deanna Durbin has reached that certain age of her career from peppy teenager in her feature debut of THREE SMART GIRLS (Universal, 1936) to an attractive young lady while still in her teens. Though the story is routine, it's more plot than musical for a Durbin movie, yet endearing at times during much of its 101 minutes.
Seldom seen on commercial television since the 1960s, THAT CERTAIN AGE eventually got some public television exposure in the 1980s before disappearing from view again. To date, this little known teenage musical has yet to be broadcast on cable television, but fortunately has become available for viewership on both video cassette and DVD formats to assure its rediscovery of that certain age gone by. (***1/2)
The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)
The World's Greatest Lover
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN (A London Film distributed by United Artists, 1934), produced and directed by Alexander Korda, stars silent screen legend, Douglas Fairbanks, in his final film role and only one produced outside of Hollywood. After Korda's success with the bio-pic of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (1933) that won Charles Laughton an Academy Award in the title role, Korda's next private life, that of Don Juan, did not become a biography of the great lover as it might have been. Instead, it became a costume comedy dealing with the Don Juan legend. Fairbanks, famous for his silent screen performances as Zorro, Robin Hood and The Thief of Bagdad, assumes the role originated by John Barrymore in DON JUAN (Warner Brothers, 1926). As much as Barrymore might have assumed the continuation of the role he originated, this Don Juan, not actually a sequel to the silent classic, is basically a rehash of the now aged lover of women wanting to now live a simple and quiet life.
The story begins in Seville as a singer (John Brownlee) vocalizes the "Don Juan Serenade" while bored and neglected wives soon become enchanted by a shadowy figure posing as great lover Don Juan, to grant them a flower, then having the husbands asking their wives, "Who was that man?" In actuality, the real Don Juan (Douglas Fairbanks), best known for having 903 affairs in two years, now middle-aged and married to Dona Dolores (Benita Hume), is having his secret affair with Antonia (Merle Oberon), a dancer of Passionate. After being advised by his doctor to give up his physical activities, the now older and tired Don Juan decides to retire from love making. In the meantime, Rodrigo (Barry McKay), a much younger man impersonating Don Juan, comes across a diary belonging to the great lover. and follows it to the letter. Rodrigo's masquerade is soon cut short when killed in a duel by jealous husband, Don Alfredo (Gibson Gowland), for romancing his young wife, Carmen (Joan Gardner). Wanting to put his past behind him, Don Juan attends his own funeral and retires to France in the guise of Captain Mariarco. During his six months in seclusion, during which time having read a recent published book titled "The Private Life of Don Juan," does Don Juan return to Seville to revive his legend as he world's greatest lover. By trying to prove the book to be nothing but a bunch of lies, Don Juan finds himself faced with situations even he could have never have imagined. Others in the cast include Binnie Barnes (Rosita); Melville Cooper (Leporello, Don's servant); Claude Allister (The Duke); and Heather Thatcher (The Actress).
While THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN has great potential, it didn't become the known classic as either Barrymore's DON JUAN nor Laughton's THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII. Production values and casting are first-rate, with Fairbanks as Don Juan, attempting to recapture his legend, being Fairbanks, attempting to recapture his former movie success of the past. Though he speaks well enough to have resumed his career for the next few years, by 1934, he was past his prime with his style of acting seemingly out of date. Audiences would soon focus on much younger swashbuckling types as Robert Donat as THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (United Artists, 1934) and Errol Flynn for CAPTAIN BLOOD (Warner Brothers, 1935). It is also the same Flynn who revived the Don Juan legend in THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (Warner Brothers, 1948), with plot bearing no connection to its prior predecessors.
Though circulating television and home video and DVD prints for the 1934 edition is usually clocked at 80 minutes, its presentation on Turner Classic Movies, where it premiered in 2012, is slightly longer at 86 minutes. Regardless of run times, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN is enjoyable, as British movies go. It's also a good end for the Fairbanks legends in a genre that had made him world famous a decade ago. (***)
The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (London Films Production Limited for United Artists, 1933), directed by Alexander Korda, is an entertaining old-style British production starring Charles Laughton that has also found great success in the United States upon release. It's great success even lead to its nomination for Best Picture, and a great win for Charles Laughton in his well-deserved Academy Award as Best Actor. Among its British cast, many become familiar faces in American films such as Merle Oberon, Binnie Barnes, Wendy Barrie, John Loder, Miles Mander, Claude Allister, William Austin, as well as Robert Donat, best known for his Hollywood edition as THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (United Artists, 1934). Though this production doesn't cover the entire life of the famous monarch, the film itself features enough background satisfactory for a brief history lesson.
Opening title: "Henry VIII had six wives. Catherine of Aragon was the first: but her story is of no particular interest - she was a respectable woman. So Henry divorced her. He then married Anne Boleyn. The marriage was also a failure - but not for the same reason." Rather than begin this biography of Henry VIII in traditional fashion starting with Henry as a boy, it starts off in 1536 with the preparation execution for Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon) for her infidelity, who, upon her being beheaded, finding her widower husband, King Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) marrying his third wife, Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie) the same day. Already a father of two daughters from both previous marriages, Henry finally obtains a son, but the loss of Jane from childbirth. In order to prevent a war and for political reasons, Henry is persuaded by Thomas Cromwell (Franklin Dyall) to marry the German princess, Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester). Though she appears to be one with little intelligence and not very attractive, she proves to be smarter than she appears by having Henry agreeing to her terms for divorce. Being a lonely monarch in his fifties, Henry acquires a much younger fifth wife, Catherine Howard (Binnie Barnes), but their appy marriage falters until Henry learns, to his dismay, that Catherine has been having a secret love affair him with Thomas Culpepper (Robert Donat), the king's personal courtier. Because of this, Henry has them both face execution. In 1546, at the suggestion of Anne of Cleves, the aged King Henry acquires a sixth wife, Catherine Parr (Everley Gregg), whom he describes, "Six wives. And the best of them is the worst!" Others in the cast include: Judy Kelly (Lady Rochford); Lady Tree (The KIng's Nurse); Frederick Cully (The Duke of Norfolk) and Lawrence Hanray (Archbishop Thomas Cranmer).
Of the five of six wives portrayed in this production, the performance given by Elsa Lanchester (Laughton's wife) stands out among the others. Her scenes are comedic and priceless, especially when being given the "facts of life" by the King as to how babies are born, along with she beating the king at a game of cards for half his kingdom. Merle Oberon's Anne Boleyn is surprisingly brief, but well played. During much of its 94 minutes, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII contains no underscoring except for title passages of time, opening and closing credits. Though production values are good, impressive scenes include a shadowy images captured on the wall involving the king wrestling his opponent, along with the king obtaining audience sympathy (and Academy Award nomination) as he cries like a baby after learning of one of his wives affair with a much younger man than himself.
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII has been anything but private for the monarch kind with his life retold years later as a British six episode 1970 production of THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY THE EIGHTH, later presented in the United States on public television around 1972, along with frequent television showings since the late 1940s, followed by public television and video distribution in the 1980s, cable television showings as Nickelodeon's Nik-at-Night Movie (1988-89); Arts and Entertainment and USA (1990s); American Movie Classics (1989-1994), Turner Classic Movies (since 2000), along with DVD distributions after 2000. Charles Laughton, who expertly played Henry VIII, reprised his role once more in YOUNG BESS (MGM, 1953) starring Jean Simmons. (***1/2)
Saps at Sea (1940)
Come Blow Your Horns
SAPS AT SEA (United Artists, 1940), directed by Gordon Douglas, marks the final Laurel and Hardy comedy under the presentation/production of Hal Roach. With title being a parody of Paramount's SOULS AT SEA (1937), it could have gone further by parodying Laurel and Hardy's own THE FLYING DEUCES (1939) as THE FLOATING DEUCES or BLOCKHEADS ADRIFT. What SAPS AT SEA offers is genuine slapstick comedy in the finest Laurel and Hardy tradition, with enough gags and clever scripting to make this as one of their best. SAPS AT SEA often resembles the comedy short subjects Laurel and Hardy had done so favorably in the 1930s. In fact, it brings forth two separate comedy shorts together to form one hour of pure madness with character types.
Stanley (Stan Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy) are close friends and employees in the horn testing department for the Sharp and Pierce Horn Manufacturing Company. Having four previous employees taken away to a mental hospital following nervous breakdowns, it's a matter of time before Oliver's nerves get the best of him listening to horn sounds day in and day out. Mr. Sharp (Harry Hayden), his employer, grands him permission to leave and seek treatment from his local physician. Following his diagnoses of Hornaphobia, Doctor Finlayson (James Finlayson) suggests Hardy take a rest cure on a sea voyage with strict diet of goat's milk. Not wanting to go out to sea, it is Laurel's suggestion to settle in a rented boat tied to the dock instead. All goes well until "Big Nick" Grainger (Richard Cramer), an escaped killer, eludes the police by hiding out on their boat and drifting it out to sea, he and Nick Jr. (his gun) holding Stan and Ollie, whom Nick addresses as Dopey and Dizzy, under his whim. Others in the cast include Charles Hall (the Desk Clerk); Eddie Conrad (Professor O'Brien); Mary Gordon (Mrs. O'Riley); Patsy Moran (The Switchboard Operator) and the cross-eyed silent film comedian, Ben Turpin, for one brief scene as the building superintendent. Though Turpin's role is only a cameo, many of the building problems are associated to his very mixed-up character, adding to the many hilarity to the story. Richard Cramer villainous style resembles is quite good, resembling that of Walter Long, another heavy in some earlier Laurel and Hardy shorts.
SAPS AT SEA is pure Laurel and Hardy slapstick from start to finish. The first half of the story is pure bliss of gags and routines. The second half simmers down somewhat dealing with the escaped killer before its much amusing climatic finish. While Hardy's nervous breakdown is associated to the constant blowing of horns, much of his nervousness should more be blamed on his good friend, Laurel, who unwittingly gets him in more fine messes than anything else in the story.
Had this been the final Laurel and Hardy comedy, SAPS AT SEA would have been a fine finish to their legacy. However, the team resumed their career for another five years for both 20th Century-Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, many of which Laurel himself considered to be mistakes in their careers. Thanks to frequent television revivals to their many comedies, including SAPS AT SEA, Laurel and Hardy are still regarded one of the greatest comedy teams of the classic movie era. (*** horns).
Parachute Jumper (1933)
The Flying Marines
PARACHUTE JUMPER (Warner Brothers, 1933) directed by Alfred E. Green, based on a original story by Rian James, stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in one of his final films for the studio under his original contract. Basically a Fairbanks programmer, this production is better known more as an early movie featuring future film star, Bette Davis. For their only collaboration together, Fairbanks and another contract player, Frank McHugh, play a couple of Marine flyers who become victims of unemployment, seeking ew jobs during those hard times during the Great Depression.
Following the opening credits to the underscoring Marine theme of "To the Shores of Tripoli," the story begins with newspaper clippings regarding Bandits Shooting Down U.S. Marine Plane in Nicaragua. Next scene introduces Marine flyers of Bill Keller (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and his pal, Tootles Cooper (Frank McHugh), having a grand time at a bar with several women. Moments later they are found and arrested by the air patrol, shortly dismissed from duty. Coming to New York City, Bill and Tootles answer an ad to work for the Universal Air Transport Company, only to find it an empty office currently out of business. Living in an apartment where Bill and Tootles are behind on their rent, and two months and having no job prospects, Bill, with only a fifty cent piece to his name, sitting on a park bench in Central Park, is approached by Patricia Brent, better known as Alabama (Bette Davis), an unemployed stenographer from the South. He soon treats her top breakfast and invites her to room with him and Tootles in their apartment. During the course of the story, Bill acquires a job as a parachute jumper, chauffer for Mrs. Newberry (Claire Dodd), a mistress to gangster, Kurt Weber (Leo Carrillo). After Weber finds Bill alone with Mrs. Newberry, rather than dealing with him, Bill is hired as Weber's bodyguard as well as becoming pilot, along with Toodles, to, unknowingly, fly narcotics to and from Canada. Weber also hires Alabama as his personal stenographer. It would be a matter of time before they realize Weber's profession, with difficulty breaking away from his crooked activities. Others in the cast include: Harold Huber (Steve Donovan); Sheila Terry (The Secretary); Thomas E. Jackson (Lieutenant Coffey); and George Pat Collins (Tom Crawley). Look quickly for familiar faces in uncredited roles as Walter Brennan (The Counter Man); Nat Pendleton (The Traffic Cop); Dewey Robinson and George Chandler in smaller roles.
Regardless of its title, there is very little parachute jumping for this production. At 72 minutes, it's acceptable viewing mainly due to sits well-pacing, fine performances and some pre-code situations, namely Frank McHugh using his middle finger on a passing driver refusing to give him a ride. Scenes for PARACHUTE JUMPER involving Davis and Carrillo were later clipped into another Bette Davis classic, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (Warner Brothers, 1962). Not as memorable as some other Warner Brothers programmers of the 1930s, PARACHUTE JUMPER is of main interest to film scholars watching both Fairbanks prior to his adventure movies and Davis shortly before her two time Academy Award best actress wins by the end of the decade.
Never distributed on video cassette, PARACHUTE JUMPER is often broadcast on Turner Classic Movies cable channel and available on the DVD format from the Warner Brothers archive collection. (**)
Wise Girls (1929)
A Doubtful Marriage
WISE GIRLS (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929), directed by E. Mason Hopper, is the screen version to the 1920s theatrical play "Kempy" by and starring the father and son team of JC. Nugent and Elliott Nugent, who also appear in this early talkie adaptation. Oddly retitled as WISE GIRLS rather than using a title that bears reference to the story like SHE MARRIED A PLUMBER, WISE GIRLS can be said to be a film record of the staged play that has surprisingly survived intact decades after its initial release.
The setting is set in "Lucyville, New Jersey, sixty miles from New York and sixty two miles from Atlantic City." The story focuses on the Bence family, headed by the retired and opinionated head of the house (J.C. Nugent), his wife (Clara Blandick), and three adult daughters, Katherine (Norma Lee), Ruth (Marian Schilling) and Jane Wade (Leora Spellman), wife of real estate agent, Ben (James Donlan). Kate, a free-spirited woman whose relationship with attorney Duke Merrill (Roland Young) ended two years ago due to an argument over her published book, "Angie's Temptation," reunite again, only to have another disagreement to have Merrill part company with her once again. Kempy James (Elliott Nugent), a 20 year old plumber of Hodges Plumbing Company, is hired by Bence to fix the pipes in the kitchen. His short time at the household soon goes to a different direction. After meeting with the family, and learning that Kate is the author of the book that inspired him to become an architect, Kempy goes off with Kate across the river to get married. After returning home, it comes as a surprise to everybody that not only did Kate married the plumber instead of the proposed Merrill, but the plumber never started the job he was hired to do at $4 an hour. If that isn't enough, Ruth shows more interest in Kempy than Kate, who now wants a career on the stage, much to the dismay of her father, now nearly going out of his mind.
Not quite as well known by today's standards due to its lack marquee names and unusual title, WISE GIRLS has fortunately survived intact at 98 minutes. Virtually stage bound with few cutaways to the outside home and closeups of facial expressions, WISE GIRLS gets by on its own merits through some witty dialogue probably transferred from the stage. Elliott Nugent's performance comes as a reminder to the style enacted by actor Eddie Bracken of the 1940s. Not only does Nugent sometimes resemble Bracken at times, but speaks almost like him in certain scenes. Had WISE GIRLS or KEMPY been remade in the 1940s when Bracken was at his prime, there is no doubt that Bracken would have been a perfect fit in the role.
WISE GIRLS also plays like a situation comedy of latter television shows of the 1950s, sans laugh track, especially with an unrealistic approach of someone marrying a woman he had just met. As in many 1929 releases that aren't categorized as musicals, WISE GIRLS is all talk and no action, something that would be dull and deadening for some, or a curiosity for others. While J.C. Nugent appeared on screen in character parts during the 1930s, his son, Elliott, gave up acting where he fared better as both playwright and director for both stage and screen. Aside from Roland Young and Clara Blandick becoming better known to many due to their continued film work in future years, its vintage age and casting of mostly forgotten and now unknown stage actors may be the main reason WISE GIRLS has seldom or never been revived on television broadcasts.
With no distributions on video cassette or DVD, WISE GIRLS (not to be confused with the 1938 comedy, WISE GIRL (RKO Radio) starring Miriam Hopkins), began to surface again first on Turner Network Television in 1988, followed by limited showings even on Turner Classic Movies since 1994. (**)
Nothing But Trouble (1944)
Cooking Up Trouble
NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1944), directed by Sam Taylor, stars the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a movie title that best described their style of comedy - nothing but trouble. For their final feature for MGM, and on loan from their current home base of 20th Century-Fox, NOTHING BUT TROUBLE may not come close to the style of comedies the team did best while under Hal Roach/MGM in the 1930s, but at least it is a slight improvement over their recent disappointing comedies they were doing at that time. Compare to the Chevy Chase 1991 edition to NOTHING BUT TROUBLE, this Laurel and Hardy edition is a comedy masterpiece.
Combining two stories that would eventually come together as one, the opening starts with Laurel and Hardy with a prologue set during the Depression era of 1932 "when jobs were as hard to find as a girdle on a welder." Stanley and Oliver come to the Lorrison Employee Agency where they wait on long lines looking for employment as chef and butler. Without any luck, they come to the decision of going elsewhere, overseas as to France, Italy and Japan where Oliver attempts to showcase his steak a la Oliver, but with no success. Twelve years later, 1944, "where jobs were as easy to find as a girdle on a welder," Stan and Ollie return to the United States where their wait among the crowds at the Lorrison Employee Agency is no different as it was in 1932. They do, however, get hired by Mrs. Elvira Hawkley (Mary Boland), a society woman looking for a cook and a butler to help prepare dinner for a visiting king and his uncle. The second story focuses on Christopher (David Leland), a teenage boy king from Orlandra accompanied by his uncle, Prince Saul (Philip Merivale) visiting the United States. Chris, who would like nothing more than to be like any other boy his age by going out freely and playing football. He is unaware that his uncle is arranging to have him accidently killed off so to place the blame on his political opponent. While walking in the park with his secretary, Roentz (John Warburton), who is in on the assassination attempt, Chris unwittingly disappears to play football with the other boys. Because the team needs referees, Chris talks Laurel and Hardy, returning home with groceries, to assist in the game. Because Oliver forgot to buy the main course meal of steak, Chris helps the twosome obtain a great piece from a lion's cage at the zoo. Upon their return to the mansion where Oliver prepares his steak a la Oliver, he and Stan find Chris hiding in the kitchen. Following the dinner where Mrs. Harkley and her husband (Henry O'Neill) entertain Chris's uncle, Prince Saul, Mrs. Harkley discovers Chris running from under the table, mistaking him for a street urchin. Laurel and Hardy get fired when Mrs. Harkley find the boy associated with them. Further trouble lies ahead when Stan and Ollie are accused and arrested for Chris's abduction, and more trouble when they learn what Chris's uncle intends to do with the boy.
Others in the cast include: Matthew Boulton (Prince Prentiloff); Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Flanagan); Robert Emmett O'Connor, Paul Porcasi, Robert E. Homans, Chester Clute and Joe Yule. Surprisingly, David Leland, in his only major role as the teenage boy king, and few movie roles to his credit, had died at the age of 16 in 1948. One wonders had he lived, would he had been MGM's answer to popular European imports as the British Freddie Bartholomew of the 1930s or 20th Century-Fox's Roddy McDowall of the 1940s.
Not quite up to the current comedies by Abbott and Costello, who make Laurel and Hardy seem to be a comedy team of the past, NOTHING BUT TROUBLE is a typical mix of sentiment and humor in the MGM mode. NOTHING BUT TROUBLE includes some amusing bits such as Oliver's attempt in cutting the steak at the dinner table. The climatic window ledge sequence which comes reminiscent to the Harold Lloyd comedies of the 1920, should have been a height of hilarity, but comes off forced and silly. Mary Boland is amusing as always, but one cannot help but wonder how that same role might have been pulled off had the deadpan Margaret Dumont, a popular foil in Marx Brothers comedies, been handled. For its 70 minutes, NOTHING BUT TROUBLE is often accepted as one of Stan and Ollie's finer comedies of the 1940s, especially by devotees of their work. (** steaks)
Weary River (1929)
Prisoner of Song
WEARY RIVER (First National Pictures, 1929), a Richard A. Rowland Presentation directed by Frank Lloyd, stars Richard Barthelmess, a popular leading of the silent screen, in this part-silent/part talking 90 minute production produced during the dawn of sound (1927-1929). Regardless of its name, WEARY RIVER is actually a title tune that bears no reference to a river that's weary. While Barthelmess shows great promise that would soon lead to his future in talkies, his singing would not become his forte, considering the fact that his vocalization was reportedly dubbed by another. Basically a crime-melodrama with mix of prison theme and music, WEARY RIVER is quite an entertaining product made entertaining most through its silent orchestral underscoring credited by musical director, Louis Silvers.
Based on the story by Courtney Ryler-Cooper, the plot introduces Jerry Larrabee (Richard Barthelmess), a well-known bootlegger, escorting his steady girlfriend, Alice Gray (Betty Compson) to the Literary Club (for Members only). He soon leaves Alice following a phone call to attend to business regarding Spadoni (Louis Natheaux), a rival gangster gunning for his territory. With an innocent bystander killed during a rumble, Jerry is placed under arrest by his friend (Robert Emmett O'Connor), a police sergeant, accompanied by a detective (James Farley). Jerry stands trial where he is sentenced to serve one to ten years at Laboring Prison. Going under the number of 46039, Jerry becomes a rebellious prisoner until the kindly Warden (William Holden) gives him every chance to change his ways. For Jerry to become a better person, the Warden advises the visiting Alice not to see him again, with the belief that it would be better for Jerry to break all connections with his past. During the course of time, Jerry becomes a songwriter who forms a prison band, broadcasting his latest composition "Weary River," broadcast over the WDCB Radio station, to much success, becoming well known under his new title, "Master of Melody." Upon his prison release for good behavior, Jerry becomes a vaudeville singer vocalizing his signature, "Weary River." Because of his prison record, Jerry finds it difficult adjusting to his new life on the outside, especially with temptation of returning to his life of crime for avenging on the man who framed him. Others featured in the cast are George E. Stone ("Blackie"), Raymond Turner (The Elevator Boy); Gladden James (The Manager); Lee Moran (The Hoofer); and Ernie Adams.
Aside from the tune "Weary River" being vocalized four times and underscored numerously (including during closing exit music) enough for viewers to become song weary before the movie ends, the performance given by Barthelmess and Compson are well acted, even if considered old-style by contemporary viewers. Barthelmess also sings briefly "Frankie and Johnny" along with another tune titled "It's Up to You." Based on the plot summary of a convict becoming a radio singer through broadcast hook-up from the prison, one cannot help but think about a similar themed story of SAY IT WITH SONGS (1929) starring Al Jolson. Had Jolson starred in WEARY RIVER instead, with he singing more songs that the oft-repeated title tune, it would have benefitted his performing style here more than the poorly written and his badly acted performance that has often labeled SAY IT WITH SONGS, regardless of some potential, to be Jolson's worst movie. Interestingly, Frank Lloyd was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for this and two other productions, DRAG (with Barthelmess) and THE DIVINE LADY (winner). William Holden (not the famous actor in later years) is commendable as the sympathetic warden while shadowy images of guards leading convict to his execution is well done.
Reportedly WEARY RIVER went through a long and tedious process of restoration in recent years, a challenge that paid off. Unavailable for viewing in decades, and with part-talkies seldom given any sort of revivals since its original release, WEARY RIVER resurfaced intact on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: August 24, 1997), and has become available on DVD for anyone interested in movies during its transformation from silent to sound. (***).
Love on the Run (1936)
Chasing Through Europe
LOVE ON THE RUN (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1936), directed by W.S. Van Dyke, stars Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, best known for their dramatic performances, in their only screwball comedy of their eight film team efforts. Co-starring Franchot Tone, then Crawford's off-screen husband and frequent co-star of her movies since 1933, including the Crawford, Gable and Tone collaboration to the backstage musical DANCING LADY (1933), appears as the secondary character and frequent foil to Gable's antics. As much as the material might have favored more in the performance of a Carole Lombard, Crawford demonstrated her ability in comedy, but not in the same league as fellow comediennes as Jean Arthur or Claudette Colbert. LOVE ON THE RUN has the distinction of being Metro's attempt for another screen variation used favorably for Gable and Colbert's 1934 Academy comedy, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, dealing with a reporter assisting a runaway heiress. For IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, it was a venture on a bus followed by a walking road trip. For LOVE ON THE RUN, it is a venture first in a stolen airplane, oxcart and a stolen automobile. Overall, LOVE ON THE RUN failed to recapture the classic comedy antics of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, regardless of its strong casting trio of Crawford, Gable and Tone, along with some familiar character actors in smaller roles.
Taken from a story by Alan Green and Julian Brodie, the scenario starts off in England where rival American reporter correspondents, Michael Anthony (Clark Gable) of the New York Chronicle, and Barnabas W. "Barney" Pells (Franchot Tone), of the New York Dispatch, are assigned to cover what they feel are tame assignments. Michael ends up covering the upcoming wedding of madcap heiress, Sally Parker (Joan Crawford), to Prince Igor of Taluska (Ivan Lebedeff), a fortune hunter, while Barney's assignment goes to Baron Rudolph Spandermann (Reginald Owen), a noted stratosphere flier, along with his wife, Hilda (Mona Barrie). Sally leaves Igor at the altar and returns to the hotel where the Baron is also staying. Michael follows Sally to get a story. After meeting the Baron through Barney, Michael goes to Sally's hotel room. Learning she despises newspaper men and wanting to live the simple and quiet life, Michael keeps his identity a secret and pretends to be a man wanting to help her. Through pilot disguises stolen from the Baron and Baroness, Michael and Sally break through the crowds in the hotel lobby, taking a cab to the location of the Baron's private airplane site and fly away. While on the plane, they find a map that exposes the Baron and spouse to be international spies out to obtain British fortification secrets. Aside from Barney chasing through Europe after Sally and Michael to Paris and then a train to Nice, Italy, the Baron and his wife end up doing the same to prevent the trio from being exposed for their espionage operations, to amusing results.
Others in the cast include William Demarest (Burger, the City Editor); Billy Gilbert and Charles Judels. The almost unrecognizable Donald Meek as the caretaker of the Fontainebeau Palace, a former residence of kings and queens of France, stands out a bit as a nutty caretaker who talks to his invisible dog and friends, thus mistaking Michael and Sally as King Louis and Madame De Maintenon.
Though LOVE ON THE RUN has potential for a classic comedy, most of the antics are either a hit and miss. What Gable does to Tone is a somewhat reminder of the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in the 1940s, which works out better for them than Gable and Tone. The results for Tone would gather more sympathy or more feel from viewers for being a fool for constantly believing and falling for Gable's trickery. With much chasing through Europe during its 80 minutes, the story takes time to get one song interlude, "Gone" by Franz Waxman and Gus Kahn, sung by an unknown/ uncredited vocalist.
Formerly available on video in the 1990s and later DVD, LOVE ON THE RUN gets its cable television broadcast run on Turner Classic Movies. (**)
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Night of the Living Dead
MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1935), directed by Tod Browning, is another studio contribution to the horror genre made popular most by Universal Pictures. Though Metro had produced products such as this one dating back to the silent era, many under Tod Browning's direction and featuring Lon Chaney, it's been noted that MARK OF THE VAMPIRE to be a remake to their collaboration to the currently lost LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). For this sound edition, it's more of a reminder of Browning's DRACULA (1931) that starred Bela Lugosi before shifting passages to a murder mystery. For anyone missing the opening credits and finding both Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill, both known Universal actors, in the movie, would obviously mistake this for a Universal production. While star billing actually goes with Lionel Barrymore in a supporting role with its secondary characters of Elisabeth Allan and Jean Hersholt assuming leading roles, the sole interest in viewing this today would be more of the third billed Bela Lugosi making his mark with his Dracula-like performance.
Set in a modern-day Czechoslovakia 1934 where the villagers and peasants are seen singing and praying, the next segment captures an old hag walking through the cemetery at night where a skeletal hand from the ground gets caught on her dress. The gypsies are in fear of the vampires living in a run down castle which happens to be near the estate of Irena Borotyn (Elizabeth Allan), who is soon notified by Baron Otto Van Zindan (Jean Hersholt) that her father, Sir Karell (Holmes Herbert) has been murdered in his bed. Doctor Doskil (Donald Meek) examines the body to find it had been drained dry of his blood along with marks found on his neck. Neumann (Lionel Atwill), a police inspector from Progue, refuses to believe the victim was murdered by the neighboring vampires. As much as he doesn't believe in the supernatural, he suspects Irena's fiance, Fedor Vincente (Henry Wasdsworth), with motive that he may obtain the huge fortune from Irena left by her father. In the meantime, Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his vampire daughter, Luna (Carroll Borland) creep through their castle and cemetery scaring the presence of Martha Leila Bennett), the new Borotin housekeeper, and her driver (Franklin Ardell). Sent by Neumann, Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore), an authority of vampire legend, arrives to save Irena from falling victim to Count Mora's trance. More mystery occurs when the deceased Sir Karol is believed to have been seen lurking about the estate playing organ music accompanied by Mora and his daughter. More confusion ensues, complicating the murder mystery even further. Other members of the cast include Ivan Simpson (Jan, the Butler); Michael Visaroff (The Innkeeper) and Egon Breacher (The Coroner). Take note that Jessie Ralph, billed on the opening credits as The Midwife, is not visible in the film.
Tod Browning, who directed Bela Lugosi in DRACULA (1931), does more of the same here, with improved elements for MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. Under a different studio banner, Lugosi's role couldn't be Count Dracula resurrected but another vampire character in the same manner with black cape, hypnotic eyes with added feature of bullet hole blood stain on his right forehead. Lurking rats, crawling spiders on gigantic webs and flying bats are visible, with howling wind sounds adding more to the chills and thrills. Lugosi's entrance accompanied by his vampire daughter is priceless. Carroll Borland, whose movie career was brief, sporting long dark hair, ghostly facial features and gown, with hypnotic presence enough to scare even a ghost, makes a lasting impact here. One brief scene capturing her flying in vampire bat form is an added plus. Lionel Barrymore's opening presence appears suddenly, as if his introduction and character development have been deleted.
The casting players could have been Elizabeth Allan as Mina Harker, Henry Wadesworth as Jonathan Harker, and Lionel Barrymore as Professor Van Helsing. Instead they become same characters sporting different names. The mystery portion with horror elements makes any avid horror film fan hoping to have LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, a lost film, to surface again for comparison reasons, especially those surviving still pictures of Lon Chaney is vampire garb to add more to its curiosity. For first time viewers, much of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a treat to behold, until its final minutes that would either please or disappoint, depending on how one feels.
Formerly available on video cassette in the 1990s, and later distributed on DVD a decade later, the atmospheric MARK OF THE VAMPIRE along with Lugosi's non-sequel THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (Columbia, 1943) would both be perfect viewing on a dark and gloomy Halloween night, or whenever either one or both turns up on Turner Classic Movies. (*** bats)
The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Dial "O" for O'Malley
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S (RKO Radio, 1945), a Rainbow Production as produced and directed by Leo McCarey, who also did the original story, is a sequel to the 1944 McCarey directed blockbuster of GOING MY WAY (Paramount) starring Bing Crosby as the easy-going priest in straw hat by the name of Father Charles O'Malley. His success not only won Crosby the Academy Award as Best Actor, along with McCarey as Best Director and GOING MY WAY as Best Picture, but THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S has both the distinction of being a sequel distributed by another studio (RKO) as well as the second movie to honor Crosby the Best Actor Academy Award for playing the same basic character. Aside from that, it unites him for the only time opposite Ingrid Bergman, the 1944 Academy Award Best Actress winner for GASLIGHT (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Repeating the same basic formula of sentiment, humor with some music used in GOING MY WAY, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S succeeds in every respect as a sequel better than its original premise.
Father Charles O'Malley (Bing Crosby) comes to his latest assignment as the new pastor at St. Mary's Cathedral and Parochial school, taking over from its previous pastor, Father Fogerty. Upon meeting with his new staff, ranging from housekeeper, Mrs. Breen (Una O'Connor) to Mother Superior, Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), Father O'Malley finds his new parish to be in financial trouble with Sister Benedict's prayer of faith of the new business establishment under construction across the street a perfect replacement for a new St. Mary's school, and to have its aging business tycoon, Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers) to have the building donated to them rather than demolishing the old school for a parking lot. Father O'Malley comes to the assistance of a troubled mother named Mrs. Gallagher (Martha Sleeper), whose musician husband, Joe (William Gargan) abandoned her years ago, and to have her adolescent daughter, Patricia (Joan Carroll) enrolled at the school until she gets back on her feet. During the course of the story where Father O'Malley and Sister Benedict have differences of opinion, and both trying to help Patsy's troubles with her failing grades, it's O'Malley who shows his compassion towards Sister Benedict by having to do something against her will without knowing the reason why. Others in the cast consist of Ruth Donnelly (Sister Michael); Rhys Williams (Doctor McKay); Matt McHugh, Edna May Wonacott and Eva Novak, among others.
Crosby resumes his likable portrayal introduced from GOING MY WAY, assuming his new philosophy to anyone needing his help by saying to, "Dial "O" for O'Malley." Memorable scenes are many during the course of 126 minutes, including Sister Benedict teaching a boy, Eddie (Dickie Tyler) how to defend himself against a bully, Tommy Smith (Bobby Fraco); the Christmas pageant with unintentional humor performed by little first graders headed by little Bobby Dolan; along with many heartfelt moments performed and wonderful performance by Henry Travers.
More dramatic in structure, with song interludes few and far between for a Bing Crosby movie. In fact, Crosby's first vocalization doesn't occur until 40 minutes from the start of the movie. Songs include "Aren't You Glad You're You?" "Oh Come, O Ye Faithful," "Gloria," "In the Land of Beginning Again" and "The Bells of St. Mary's." Though the new songs are favorable, only Crosby's rendition traditional Christmas songs and the title song come off best, especially the latter accompanied by nuns. Interestingly, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S falls more on Ingrid Bergman's character than Crosby's, with both first-rate performances. Though her Sister Benedict cannot always agree with Father O'Malley's reasoning, they are actually both alike in many ways - she going by the rules while he preferring to do what's best for others. The film's final moments between Father O'Malley and Sister Benedict is so well played and believable that this scene alone is worthy for both Crosby and Bergman's Academy Award nominations. Crosby would play a priest once more in SAY ONE FOR ME (20th-Fox, 1959), but not as memorable as his Father O'Malley.
Over the years, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S has become television favorite during the Christmas season, ranging from original black and white format or colorization in the 1980s. Formerly available on video cassette and later DVD, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S occasionally plays on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 25, 1997) for the enjoyment of young and old alike. (****)
The Golden Idol (1954)
Bomba's Hidden Treasure
THE GOLDEN IDOL (Allied Artists, 1954), Written, produced and Directed by Ford Beebe, based upon the character created by Roy Rockwood in the "Bomba" Books, marks the tenth installment of the "Bomba the Jungle Boy" adventures series starring Johnny Sheffield, and the second in the series distributed through Allied Artists. It also marks the return of Paul Guilfoyle, who appeared earlier in BOMBA AND THE HIDDEN CITY (Monogram, 1950), as the Emir Hassan. For this installment, Guilfoyle assumes a similar character under a different name, that as Ali-Ben Mamoud. As with THE HIDDEN CITY, his character rivals Bomba and wants to make him suffer as he made him suffer. Flashback sequences foretell what Bomba did to have Mamoud become his enemy, that along with underwater sequences and vine swinging scenes lifted from the earlier installment making those familiar with the series to believe they are watching THE HIDDEN CITY instead of THE GOLDEN IDOL, even when the results similarity different.
The story begins in the village where ivory hunter, Joe Hawkins (Lane Bradford), arrives by jeep to meet with Ali Ben Mamoud (Paul Guilfoyle), who hires the most craftiest hunter in all Africa to help him retrieve the lost idol of Watusi that was stolen from him by Bomba, whom he classifieds as "The Jungle Devil." Flashbacks foretell what took place leading to the taking of the golden idol and hiding it in a safe place only known to Bomba. It is not known until later by Bomba (Johnny Sheffield) revealing to his friends, Deputy Andy Barnes (Leonard Mudie), Eli (Smoki Whitfield) and their archeologist visitor, Karen Marsh (Anne Kimbell), to collect the golden idol for her museum in England, that the villainous Arab had abducted the Golden Idol from the native witch doctor friend of his in Tanganyika where he endured torture from Mamoud for its reward. In the meantime, Hawkins, accompanied by his own safari, schemes in capturing Bomba by befriending and taking him into his confidence. He gets his chance by rescuing Bomba from the claws of a villainous lion. After joining Bomba and his safari, Hawkins reveals his true character by holding Barnes, Eli and Karen hostage until Bomba is forced to reveal where the golden idol is hidden. Bomba, however, has ideas of his own. Supporting cast include Rick Vallin (Abdullah); Roy Glenn (Gomo); James Adamson (Ezekial), Don C. Harvey (Officer Graves) and William Tannen (Sergeant Reed). Bomba's pet chimpanzee, Nakimda, is also on board for both comedy relief and rescue purposes for those in need.
For a change of pace in the series, the female character assisting Bomba isn't a teenage girl accompanied by her father, but an older woman around in her twenties on an assigned mission. Another change in the series is having the close casting credits followed by the THE END title. Standard production with enough jungle chase scenes as a reminder to anyone who has seen THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (RKO, 1932) about a crazed man hunting man rather than animals as his prey. What a good Bomba adventure this would have been with similar story casting Bomba fighting for survival to keep from being killed by a fast shooting hunter. Paul Guilfoyle makes a fine advisory to Bomba as Professor Moriarty is to English sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Some good action scenes though low-budget production values prevent this from becoming a top movie edition, but not enough to label this as its worst either.
Available on DVD, THE GOLDEN IDOL, which was formerly presented on commercial television in the 1960s and 70s, followed by Turner Network Television in 1992, can be seen occasionally on Turner Classic Movies where it made its TCM premier March 3, 2012. Next installment: KILLER LEOPARD (1954) (**)
Going My Way (1944)
The Great O'Malley
GOING MY WAY (Paramount, 1944), Produced and directed by Leo McCarey, stars Bing Crosby marks one of his most famous movie character, that of Father Charles "Chuck" Francis Patrick O'Malley, a good natured priest who thinks more of others than himself. By the choir underscoring of its opening credits, this is not a religious movie, but a movie about two men of religion who happen to be priests with differences of opinion. It is not a typical Bing Crosby musical, but basically a dramatic story with song interludes to fit into Crosby's talent as a singing priest who happens to write songs. It's not a Christmas movie though there is a Christmas theme and song of "Silent Night" performed.
GOING MY WAY (not to be confused with Crosby's earlier musical, IF I HAD MY WAY (Universal, 1940)), is a heartwarming story written by its director, Leo McCarey, teaming Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald for the first time. Both actors were nominated for Best Actors for their performances. Though Crosby won, Fitzgerald had the distinction of being nominated twice for the same role in the same movie - Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, the latter for which he did win. GOING MY WAY was Crosby's breakthrough role, yet not breaking away from his easy-style character from previous musicals. He is more of a likable character whose presence changes the lives of those around him. Directed in the sentimental Leo McCarey tradition, the story and acting are leisurely paced sans music underscoring during its extreme length of 126 minutes. Regardless of its pros and cons, GOING MY WAY did become the Academy Award Best Picture winner of 1944, a sort of movie that wouldn't even be considered for any type of award today.
Set in New York City, the parish of Saint Dominic's has been going through overdue mortgages and bad management by Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), a pastor of 45 years (46 in October). Ted Haines Sr. (Gene Lockhart) of the Knickerbocker Savings and Loan Company, awaits to foreclose and close the parish if the debts are not paid. To help the aging priest, the bishop assigns a younger but more liberal priest, Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby), as his assistant, unbeknown to Fitzgibbon that O'Malley is actually in charge of the parish to help it become debt free. Along the way, Father O'Malley helps Carol James (Jean Heather), an 18-year-old runaway, succeed on her own as a singer, followed by officiating her marriage to Ted Haines Jr (James Brown), against the wishes of his father; turns a tough group of tough boys headed by gang leader, Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements), into a successful singing choir; and, with the help of his boyhood friend, Father Timothy O'Dowd (Frank McHugh) of Saint Francis Parish, to get his songs published with the assistance of Genevieve Linden (Rise Stevens), famed singer of the Metropolitan Opera Company, among other setbacks and turnarounds. Supporting players include: Porter Hall (Mr. Belknap, an atheist); Fortunio Bonanova (Tomasso Bozzani); William Frawley (Max Dillon); Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Herman Langerhankle); Adeline DeWalt Reynolds (Molly Fitzgibbon); and The Robert Mitchell Boys Choir.
With music and lyrics by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, new songs include: "The Day After Forever," Franz Gruber's "Silent Night," "Too-Ra-Lou-Tra- Loo-Ra" (by J.R. Shannon); REcital and Habanea from Georges Bizet's CARMEN (sung by Rise Stevens); "Going My Way," Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" (wonderfully sung by Crosby); "Going My Way" (reprise by Rise Stevens and choir boys); "Swinging on a Star," and "Too-Ra-Lo-To-Too-Ra." While the slow-moving "Going My Way" gets a couple of plugs, the more upbeat "Swinging on a Star" naturally becomes the Academy Award winner for Best Song, along with Leo McCarey as Best Director.
Formerly available on video cassette with cable broadcasts on The Disney Channel (1995-1997); American Movie Classics (1994-1999) and Turner Classic Movies (since 2002); GOING MY WAY can be found on DVD with another Crosby classic, HOLIDAY INN (1942) on its flip side. On a personal level, its sequel of THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S (RKO Radio, 1945) directed by Leo McCarey, starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman, set in a parish run by nuns, should have been on the flip side instead.
Though GOING MY WAY rightfully belongs to Crosby and Fitzgerald, together or through individual scenes, there's a seven minute gap where the plot breaks away from these two opposites devoted to Gene Lockhart, James Brown and Jean Heather.
While Crosby and Fitzgerald reunited in WELCOME STRANGER (1947) and TOP O'THE MORNING (1949), GOING MY WAY is their most memorable collaboration. Later the basis of a now obscure and forgotten television series in 1962 with Gene Kelly (Father O'Malley) and Leo G. Carroll (Father Fitzgibbon). With GOING MY WAY and THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S both classics from the 1940s, both include the sentimental quality of style in movies long missing from today's generation. (****)