Best Picture Nominees

Now that I have finished watching and reviewing all the movies that have won Best Picture, I thought it would be fun to watch as many of the Best Picture nominees as are available. There will be around five times as many films on this list so it is a much bigger project, but I'm promising from the start to keep the reviews much shorter on this list. After all, these movies didn't win!
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1.
7th Heaven (1927)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A street cleaner saves a young woman's life, and the pair slowly fall in love until war intervenes. (110 mins.)
Director: Frank Borzage
“ 7th Heaven – 1927

Spoiler Alert

This was a sweet movie. But more than that, it was a story that touched the heart. This was one of the first movies ever nominated for Best Picture, running against the winner Wings and a gangster film called The Racket. I can easily see why this film was nominated for Best Picture. It had everything a good and well-told story ought to have. It had a strong and handsome hero, a sweet and beautiful heroine, an evil villain, romance, and a triumph of the human spirit. In several ways, this nominee was a better film than Wings.

I mean, I understand why Wings won: The battle sequences were much more exciting and well done, and it had Clara Bow. But I felt that 7th Heaven had a deeper emotional content. The romance was so much more believable and well-developed. First of all we have Janet Gaynor as Diane, a woman who is regularly beat and abused by her absinth-addicted sister, Nana, played by Gladys Brockwell. When Nana attempts to murder her in the gutter, she is stopped by Chico, played by Charles Farrell. Farrell and Gaynor were actually in over a dozen movies together and they had a good on-screen chemistry. Farrell was a very attractive man, even by today’s standards. And while they went out of their way to make Gaynor appear plain and homely, they could not hide her amazing smile. Her face lit up like a light-bulb every time she turned it on. She was simply beautiful.

This life-saving intervention marks the beginning of the film’s romance and it was wonderfully portrayed. It was built up gradually which made it all the more believable and sweet. When the two finally declared their love for each other it was so beautifully done that it made me feel good just to be a witness to their happiness. Of course, World War I came in and parted the two lovers for years. In the end, Chico is almost killed, but Diane never loses faith, believing that he will return to her.

One of the great things they did was that as Chico is leaving to join the war, he tells Diane that every morning at 11:00 he will come to her and they will be together. Then every day at the same time they think of each other and in that way they are together. It was a sweet notion and made me smile.

Brockwell played a great villain. She was scary enough that whenever she was on the screen, she made me cringe and feel for Diane as she endured the abuse. And eventually, it is her love for Chico that gives Diane the confidence to fight back and drive Nana away for good. That was a very satisfying scene.

The battle sequences for the war were fairly well done, except for one thing which I felt was a little lacking: the use of scale models. At one point, there is a long line of French taxi-cabs that are commandeered to carry French soldiers to the front lines. The camera then gives us several wide angle shots as they are driving across a bridge while shells explode around them. The cabs very obviously look like they are matchbox cars on a fixed track. They make the entire shot look very fake.

But I must admit, the battle sequence with the flame-throwers was pretty cool. And I liked the fact that, even though most of the characters came home alive, none of them came home unscarred. Chico’s best friend Gobin, played by David Butler, lost an arm, and Chico himself was blinded, possibly for the rest of his life. Incidentally, I really liked the character of Gobin. Butler did a great job and was a pleasure to watch.

In the end, love proved stronger than the horrors of the war, and even though Chico lost his sight, Diane greeted his unexpected return with bliss and unfailing love. It was a feel-good ending, which is never a bad thing. Ah, sweet romance! ” - faltskog9
 
2.
Alibi (1929)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.0/10 X  
Chick Williams, a prohibition gangster, rejoins his mob soon after being released from prison. When a policeman is murdered during a robbery... (91 mins.)
“ Alibi – 1928

Spoiler Alert

This film was… confusing. The plot wasn’t terribly deep. It wasn’t overly sentimental or dramatic. It didn’t have any comedic content, and the acting was a little off, though I have learned that there was a reason for that. But it did have a few redeeming qualities. Alibi seemed to be trying too hard to be something it wasn’t.

OK, first let’s look at the plot. A man is released from jail. Suddenly he is at a table in a nightclub with two people who are introducing him to a beautiful young girl. They dance and enjoy each other’s company. Already we have problems. At this point there is no way to know who the two people are, who the beautiful young girl is, or why they are all sitting together at the nightclub with the ex-con. For that matter, we don’t know why he was in jail, or even his name. It just started the film off as confusing, making it a challenge to decipher who anyone was or what their role in the plot was.

The jail-bird was prohibition gangster Chick Williams, played by Chester Morris. The young woman was Joan Manning, played by Eleanor Griffith. The two people who introduced them were fellow gangsters Buck and Daisy, played by Harry Stubbs and Mae Busch.

The character of Joan seemed to be all over the place. She knows that they are all gangsters, but she naively believes that they are good people who are trying to be respectable. She even goes so far as to marry Chick and plans to run away with him. Oh, and she happens to be the police chief’s daughter. But then she lies to her new husband. But she really loves him. But then she gives him away to the “coppers!” Pick a side, Joan!

The script was a little trite and had the actors using language that a modern audience might not understand, making everything seem very dated. The term “copper” was thrown around like an insult. The characters were written as stereotypes and were pretty one dimensional. The gangsters were all liars and cheats, the young girl was sweet and innocent, the police were all clever and honest.

But once I learned who everyone was, and settled into the plot, it became easier and more enjoyable to watch. The character of the undercover cop Danny McGann, played by Regis Toomey, was particularly interesting. When dealing with his police co-workers, he was straight-laced and coherent. But when dealing with the mob, he acted the part of an over-the-top sloppy drunk.

But I have to mention his death scene. It was incredibly over-done and melodramatic. It took him forever to die after getting shot in the back by Chick. He is lying in a fellow police man’s arms and croaking things like, “It’s getting hard to see,” and “Goodbye, Tommy!” They actually started playing the Hawaiian ukuleles in the background as the sun set on Danny’s life.

However, after doing a little research, I have discovered why all of the acting was so over-done and, dare I say, a bit hammy. This movie was made right at the time when silent films were giving way to the talkies. There were several alternate scenes that were filmed so that the film could be released in both formats. The acting in silent films has to be done that way to display emotions without the use of spoken language. But unfortunately, that style of acting did not translate very well into a speaking movie.

Aside from that, the film was passable. The director, Roland West, did some interesting things with the camera, using unique angles and putting the camera on a rolling track for a few smooth motion shots. Add to that a few special effects that were fairly innovative for the time, and you have some minor technical achievements. But for my tastes, it didn’t hold up well, especially for a modern audience. ” - faltskog9
 
3.
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
An all-star revue featuring MGM contract players. (130 mins.)
“ Broadway Review of 1929 – 1929

Spoiler Alert

This is going to be a difficult picture to review, mainly because it wasn’t a movie. It was exactly what the title says it is. It is a review. It was a combination of Vaudeville acts, the Ziegfeld Follies, and the Jack Benny Show. It was a show of individual acts that ranged from tap-dancing to acrobatics, from comedy routines to Shakespeare, and from love ballads to ukuleles. There was no story, no plot, no cinematography, few set decorations, and what little artfulness there was came in the form of special effects like turning the image of the dancers to a negative image, or making it appear that a woman was climbing out of a man’s coat pocket.

However, to give fair credit, there were a wide range of costumes and directing choices that added interest. And there was at least one song that I recognized. Who knew that the song Singing in the Rain was a hit before the Gene Kelly movie? And there were also a lot of famous names that are still widely recognized today such as Joan Crawford, Charles King, Anita Page, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and Jack Benny. So I suppose this review will have to be a critique of the various acts that stood out to me, and the directing.

The review started out with a song and dance number by the dancing chorus. The sound recording quality was so antiquated that I couldn’t understand what they were singing about. Their choreography was simplistic and poorly executed. It was as if they hadn’t had much time to rehearse and precision was not their top priority. When the troupe of 30 or so dancers extended their arms, they were all at different angles. Every now and then, I could see a dancer who appeared unconfident about his moves. It just started the entire show off with an air of shabbiness.

Next, Jack Benny came on stage, acting as the emcee and spouting inane banter that was supposed to be funny. Unfortunately, the jokes were obvious and clearly scripted. I’m sorry, but a joke generally isn’t funny if you can see the punchline coming. Case in point: The Laurel and Hardy sketch. Their physical humor and sight gags were mildly amusing, but when a gigantic cake is brought out, what do you think is going to happen? Of course Oliver Hardy falls over and does a face plant into the cake. It only would have been funny if I hadn’t seen it coming.

Anyway, a very young Joan Crawford had a song and dance that wasn’t too bad, though it was a far cry from Mildred Pierce or allegations of Mommy Dearest. Also, Charles King’s singing was very polished in the song Your Mother and Mine. Comedian Cliff Edwards had a few mildly amusing bits and actually got the song Singing In the Rain.

There was an enactment of Romeo and Juliet’s Balcony scene that was filmed in Technicolor with Norma Shearer and John Gilbert. First it was played out straight, but then, played out a second time, using contemporary slang instead of Shakespearean language. For example, Juliet would say “Now listen boyfriend. You have a nice line of chatter, but how do I know you care for me in a big way?” to which Romeo would reply, “Julie, baby, I’m gaga about you. No kiddin’ Honey.”

Girl tossing was a favorite game during the acrobatic numbers which showed lines of men tossing young women back and forth like rag dolls. And more than one act featured men in drag. Then, in a memorable scene, a bunch of young women were lying in beds as if sleeping, when a host of dancers in truly terrifying masks hypnotized them, forced them to dance, and then supposedly dragged them off to a fiery abyss. Creepy. Beyond strange, and creepy.

But though most of the acts are pretty unmemorable for modern audiences, I know why this film was nominated for Best Picture, despite the fact that it had no plot. There were two reasons. First, it was one of Hollywood’s earliest examples of a feature length film that used sound. And second, the performers were some of Tinsel Town’s biggest headliners in 1929. The film had a budget of $426,000, and made a profit of $1.1 million, which, in those days, was a seriously hefty bundle of dough. So, good for them. But I won’t be watching it a second time. ” - faltskog9
 
4.
In Old Arizona (1928)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
A charming, happy-go-lucky bandit in old Arizona plays cat-and-mouse with the sheriff trying to catch him while he romances a local beauty. (95 mins.)
Director: Irving Cummings
“ In Old Arizona - 1929

Spoiler Alert

Here we have the first western that was nominated for the Best Picture award. Again, it was made right at the point where the silent era was dying and the talkie era was beginning. That being said, the actors were still acting the only way they knew how. They were making the big gestures and over-exaggerated facial expressions that were necessary for silent films. The subtleties of the new style of acting had not yet taken hold.

It starred Warner Baxter as the Cisco Kid, one of the most infamous criminals of the Old West. He was young, attractive and charming. But he also robbed stagecoaches at gunpoint and that sort of thing. Despite that fact, the film portrayed him as a sympathetic character. For example, he made a point of not stealing from any hard-working individuals. He only robbed businesses which could afford the losses. In fact, when it is revealed that some of what he stole belonged to a common man, he returned it to him with a smile, though he did so without revealing his identity.

He was a rascal who evaded the law, using nothing more than his wit and charm. He toyed with them, always maintaining his anonymity and making them look like fools. Even though he was technically the bad guy, the film portrays him as the hero.

But, all that being said, he had his one weakness, and her name was Tonia Maria. She was played by actress Dorothy Burgess, who incidentally was the worst offender of the “silent movie” style acting in the film. Tonia was a two-timing vamp who was selfish, devious and self-serving. Like most classic vamps, she used sex to get what she wanted, and it was the only way she knew how to behave when dealing with men.

The Cisco Kid was, however, crazy about her. He bought her things and professed his love for her over and over. But there was a fly in the ointment. The army officer charged with bringing in the Kid was Sergeant Mickey Dunn, played by Edmund Lowe. Tonia casts her spell on him and he is smitten with her, as is she of him, despite his arrogance and swagger.

Ah, the dramatic possibilities are endless. But suffice to say, that Tonia gets her just rewards in the end. She is accidentally killed by Dunn. You see, The Cisco Kid learned of her unfaithfulness and her plan to turn him in for the reward money. He engineered the accident and got away scott-free. But that’s alright, since by this point we have been captured by his charismatic charms.

The film was good in that it used authentic locations in Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, San Fernando Mission and the Mojave Desert. It also had the distinction of being the first talkie to be filmed outdoors, which at the time was a pretty impressive feat. In fact, the use of background sounds, which by today’s standards are taken for granted, such the sizzling of ham and eggs in a frying pan, or the rattle of a stagecoach as it rolls through the desert, were a novelty for the audiences of the 1920s.

However, the film’s biggest flaw was the pacing, which was pretty slow. The movie was just over an hour and a half long, but I think the story could have been easily told in less than an hour.

Interesting note: The original Cisco Kid was a fictional character created by O. Henry in his short story, The Caballero’s Way. He was supposed to be a 25 year-old desperado who killed for sport and was responsible for at least 18 deaths. In this film, he killed no-one. ” - faltskog9
 
5.
The Big House (1930)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A convict falls in love with his new cellmate's sister, only to become embroiled in a planned break-out which is certain to have lethal consequences. (87 mins.)
Director: George Hill
“ The Big House – 1929 / 1930

Spoiler Alert

This was a pretty average movie. It was not too long, but not too short. It had a bit of lead-up and a bit of action, though it was all a bit predictable. The acting wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. The characters were one-dimensional stereotypes, but they were fun to watch anyway. There was nothing that really made the film stand out as above average, but I still enjoyed watching it.

It starred Wallace Beery as its big name, though he didn’t play the lead. That honor was taken by Chester Morris, playing the part of Morgan, a prison inmate who is in jail for robbery. Beery plays his cellmate, Butch, who is serving a life sentence for multiple murders. At first, I was lead to believe that the leading man was Kent, played by Robert Montgomery, a law-abiding citizen who has been sentenced to 10 years for vehicular manslaughter while driving drunk.

Kent enters the prison as a scared young boy. As the prison is overcrowded, he is placed in a cell with Butch and Morgan. Butch tries to bully him, but Morgan helps protect him. Angry at the disgusting food, and his bleak future, Butch constantly talks about starting a big jail-break, but Morgan is always successful at talking him out of it.

The prison’s warden, played by Lewis Stone, lets Kent know that he can get his sentence reduced if he becomes a stool-pigeon. He endeavors to befriend Butch and Morgan who are the leaders of the inmates in an effort to learn Butch’s plans for breaking out. One day, Morgan’s parole is approved, but through an unfortunate series of events, Kent messes it up for him.

What follows is Morgan’s successful escape, his romance with Kent’s sister, his re-incarceration, and Butch’s attempt at a major prison riot and escape. The riot scene was exciting enough to watch, the slow pace of the film finally picking up for a few minutes. There were inmates and guards running everywhere, lots of machine gun fire, smoke, men getting shot, and tanks.

But I have to mention two things that made me roll my eyes. First was a little thing about an unnamed inmate during the riot sequence. He was the man who, after the prison guards were herded into a cell to await execution as part of Butch’s negotiation tactics, was given the cell keys. He is shot and falls to the floor, apparently dead. Morgan takes the keys and locks the cell, denying Butch access to the hostages. When Morgan takes the keys, he feebly reaches for them and the collapses. Then, several minutes later, when Butch arrives and demands the keys, he suddenly moves again, just enough to point in the direction in which Morgan ran. “Um… I’m not quite dead, sir!”

The other thing which I have to roll my eyes at is the speed with which Morgan’s sister, Anne, played by Leila Hyams, falls in love with Morgan, a man who she knows to be the dangerous escaped criminal. It just goes to show that women in 1929 were all powerless against strong, handsome leading men. And of course, her love inspires Morgan to “go straight” and give up his law-breaking ways. OK – suspension of disbelief.

But the film, despite its obvious flaws, was fun to watch. Beery’s performance, while nothing to write home about, was entertaining, and had a little bit of depth. He portrayed his character as slow, uneducated, and violent, with a complete lack of morals. He casually talks about men and women he’d murdered with the other inmates. His portrayal, if anything, made the movie interesting to watch.

But watch out for the film’s final scene. I say this, not for what happens in the story, but for how abrupt it is. I have found that there are many movies from the late 20s and early 30s that do the same thing. The main story ends, and there is about a minute and a half, if that, of epilogue before the “The End” appears on the screen. It happens so quickly that there seems to have been very little thought behind it. Once the main plot is ended, give a quick nod to closure, and we’re done! Roll credits! A little more of an engaging epilogue would have served this movie well. ” - faltskog9
 
6.
The Love Parade (1929)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
The queen of mythical Sylvania marries a courtier, who finds his new life unsatisfying. (107 mins.)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
“ The Love Parade – 1930

Spoiler Alert

The Love Parade starred Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald as the romantic leads. It is a musical in which Count Alfred Renard and Queen Louis of Sylvania marry, each for their own reasons. The count is a notorious womanizer and is recalled from his post in Paris, France after a string of scandalous affairs which included the Ambassador’s wife. He returns to Sylvania and is brought into the presence of the Queen. She is under pressure from her subjects to find a husband.

You can guess what happens next. Or can you? This film touched on a few themes that I was not expecting, such as the role of women in positions of power and how it can effectively emasculate the men who are with them. It also displayed the general attitude toward women in the 1920s. For example, it was believed that a woman, especially a woman of good breeding, was not a true woman unless she had a husband. That was the life fulfilling goal of many women.

But the character of Queen Louise purported to have no need of any man. She dreamt of romance or a lover, but had no desire to be ruled by a husband. She wanted to be in complete control. And when she gets what she wants, she treats him like nothing more than an obedient subject.

I suppose it might have been a bit of gender reversal. I suspect that many trophy wives feel the same way as Count Alfred must have felt: like a possession instead of a spouse. It devalues a person and wounds their self-esteem. Part of being a happy person is the basic human need to feel useful and productive. But this was taken away from the Count.

And, of course, this was a musical, so there was plenty of singing. Chevalier, as always is slick and charming, but I am beginning to see a disturbing trend with him. I recalled another performance of his from 1958, 28 years later, in Gigi. In that film he played a creepy pedophile who was supposed to just be a charming playboy in his 60s. Here he plays a womanizer who is supposed to be a charming playboy. I see a pattern. But that being said, I have to admit… he is quite charming. He has a very disarming smile that naturally makes you feel at ease.

There was also another minor character in the film that I really enjoyed watching. It was the Count’s personal valet, Jaques, played by Lupino Laine. He was cute and funny, intended to be the slapstick comedy portion of the film. He and one of the palace maids, Lulu, played by Lillian Roth, get to do the only real dancing in the movie. And it was their comedic dancing in the number Let’s Be Common, which showed off Laine’s somewhat acrobatic talents.

There was even a very humorous moment in the song Paris, Stay the Same, in which several dogs in the city began barking out the melody of the song. This tells me that the film, fortunately, didn’t take itself too seriously. It knew that it was a comedic musical and didn’t try to be too much else.

But in the end, I was left with a definite and defining message. When the Count, tired of being treated like a simple subject and ignored when he tries to exercise any political power as the husband of the Queen, leaves Louise, she realizes that she loves him too much to let him go. She basically hands him her kingdom, giving him complete political power and making him King instead of just the Prince Consort. And in doing so, she finds true happiness, reinforcing the notion that in order for a woman to be truly fulfilled, she needs a man to be in a position of power and control over her.

Obviously, it is a very outdated ideal. Apparently, these people never heard of concept of compromise. ” - faltskog9
 
7.
Skippy (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Skippy, the mischievous son of a wealthy doctor, meets Sooky in poverty-ridden Shantytown, and together they try to save Sooky's pet from a cruel dogcatcher. (85 mins.)
Director: Norman Taurog
“ Skippy – 1930 / 1931

Spoiler Alert

OK, where do I start with this one? This was a terrible movie that should never have been nominated for the Best Picture category. It was nothing more than a glorified episode of Our Gang that was dragged out to an hour and a half. It was stuffed full of annoying characters, bad acting, and an infantile plot. All this because it broke the cardinal rule of movie-making: Cute for the sake of cute is never cute. Never.

Let me set this up for you. Skippy is the character in a comic strip that was popular in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I found it interesting to note that the Skippy comic strip was responsible for several merchandising campaigns, the most notable of which is Skippy peanut butter. They should have stuck with the peanut butter, and left Hollywood alone.

Jackie Cooper played the title role and it was almost embarrassing to watch. Cooper was dressed in a costume that was specific to the comic strip, but which looked ridiculous on a live boy. It consisted of a white shirt with a very tall collar, a polka-dot bow that resembled an ascot, a pair of shamefully short shorts and a coat that hung down to his thighs. The coat covered the shorts and gave the appearance that Skippy was wearing a little girl’s dress. Top it all off with a silly hat that looked like it belonged on an Italian organ grinder.

So, putting the lead actor’s farcical appearance aside, let’s look at a few more fatal flaws in this movie. Child actors that could not act were used to drive the plot. Cooper did alright with the script he was given, but there wasn’t a single other child who was not annoying enough to make me nauseous.

There was Skippy’s best friend Sooky, played by Robert Coogan, who said all his lines ridiculously slowly. He opened his mouth far too wide to ever-enunciate and had an inflection that made him sound like he was reading his lines from a telephone book. There was the super annoying neighborhood girl, Eloise, played by Mitzi Green, who played the part of the village idiot. Every time she appeared on screen, she shouted a trademark, “Yodle-odle-odle-odle” to announce her presence. Eloise’s brother was the snooty know-it-all Sidney, played by Jackie Searl. I just wanted to slap the director, Norman Taurog for subjecting the public to this kind of annoying child behavior. And you could say, Well, they are just kids behaving like kids, but you’d be wrong! This was a display of kids behaving like an adult’s stereotyped version of children.

And the adults were all stereotypes and caricatures as well. They had no depth, no personalities, and nothing to make them interesting in any way. The plot revolved around Skippy and his friend Sooky as they tried to raise the $3 to buy a license for Sooky’s dog. But in the end, they failed. The dog was caught by the dog pound and put down. Great! Now we have bad child actors balling and crying! As if the movie wasn’t already annoying enough!

There was a sub-plot of Skippy’s father, played by Willard Robinson, who was a city health inspector. He wanted to close down the dirty shantytown where Sooky and his mother lived. But in the end, when he sees his son in tears over the death of the dog, his hard heart softens. He not only keeps the shantytown open, he buys Skippy a new bicycle. Never-mind that the ungrateful Skippy thoughtlessly trades the new bicycle for Eloise’s dog to replace Sooky’s dead one. And when the suddenly tender-hearted Dad sees Eloise’s brother, Sidney, destroys the bike by riding it into a tree, he smiles and says to Skippy, “It looks like I’m going to have to buy you another new bicycle.” What??

As I mentioned earlier, the film was nothing more than a glorified episode of Our Gang or the Little Rascals. I’m sorry, but those shorts were never funny, never cute, never endearing, at least not for someone with my modern sensibilities. The problem I always had with them was that they had children acting like grown-ups. It puts me in mind of the modern idea that sexy children are just disturbing. Skippy wasn’t trying to be sexy, but you get the parallel.

Jackie Cooper was nominated for the Best Actor Award for his performance, making him, at 9 years old, the youngest person ever to be nominated for the award. I liked him so much better in The Champ. I honestly see no reason why this movie should have ever been nominated for Best Picture. ” - faltskog9
 
8.
The Front Page (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
Hildy Johnson, newspaper reporter, is engaged to Peggy Grant and planning to move to New York for a higher paying advertising job... (101 mins.)
Director: Lewis Milestone
“ The Front Page – 1930 / 1931

Spoiler Alert

This was a pretty funny movie, and like many movies of its time, it was a boundary-pusher. It was innovative in it use of camera work and had a quick and exciting pace. It was a film that inspired the movie His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and a remake that re-used the title, The Front Page, in 1974 starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. A fourth version was made in 1988 called Switching Channels, starring Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner and Christopher Reeve. The movie itself was based on a Broadway play using the same name.

Those little facts alone are enough to tell me that the script is probably going to be a good one. Audiences really liked the story, as did I. Well, this 1931 version starred Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brian. It is a screwball comedy that centers around O’Brian’s character, Hildy Johnson, as he attempts to leave his job as a newspaper reporter to get married to Peggy Grant, played by Mary Brian. The trouble is that he is the best at what he does. His boss, Walter Burns, played by Menjou refuses to let him go. Burns is an unscrupulous man who will resort to blackmail, manipulation, trickery, and any other means at his disposal to keep Hildy in his employ.

The press room is in a building directly across from the jail house where a man on death row is to be hanged the next morning. Sheriff Peter Hartman, played by Clarence Wilson, is a moron who allows the convict to escape with his own gun. Of course, this is the biggest news story of the century and the troupe of news men in the press room go bananas. Needless to say, comedic hijinks ensues.

There was a lot that was happening and if I had any complaint, it would be that it was too fast. Specifically, the dialogue was often delivered so fast that I couldn’t understand what was being said. I’m sure I may have missed a joke or two. And there were plenty of jokes being told. Even by today’s standards, some of the jokes were pretty darn funny. The one that made me laugh out loud was a bit of a sight gag. The crotchety Sheriff is yelling at Hildy, who is kneeling with his back to him. The Sheriff says, “I’m going to send the bill to the Post tomorrow for all the wreckings that have been committed around here the last year. How do you like that?” Hildy replies, “That’s swell. You know what else you can do?” “What?” Hildy then stands by raising his butt into the Sheriff’s face and says, “Guess!”

At another point, I was surprised when another character flips-off the mayor. Even the very last line of the film is, “The son of a ***** stole my watch!” They actually bleeped out his harsh language. I just wasn’t expecting such a word in a film from 1931.

The actors really had to know their parts to be able to spit out the dialogue that quickly, so I have to give them all props for keeping up the break-neck pace. A few of them are worth mentioning in particular, though their roles could easily be overlooked. Frank McHugh played the part of “Mac” McCue, one of the reporters in the press room. He was cute and funny and he stood out to me as a good comedic actor. Peggy’s aged mother, Mrs. Grant, played by Effie Ellsler, was also very funny in a “Well, I Never!” kind of way. I smile just thinking about her character.

In fact, the writing was so good that each of the seven or eight newspaper men in the press room had a distinct personality. There was something about each of them that set him apart from his fellows. Each had a funny little comedic quirk that made them all memorable. Wonderful writing! But the two leads really did a fantastic job. Menjou and O’Brian had a great on-screen chemistry. They played off of each other as if they had been doing it for years.

And finally, I have to mention the innovative use of the camera. Director, Lewis Milestone, was able to create an effect that we see in modern movies all the time. He had a round table in the center of the press room. The camera would circle the table so that each of the men seated at the table would be seen at the right time to deliver his lines. It was very cleverly done. In another instance, as the news men were laughing at the Sheriff, the camera repeatedly zipped up to the ceiling and then zipped back down to the faces of the laughing men. Each time it came down, it focused on a different man, finally coming to rest on the face of the Sheriff as he became increasingly incensed. It was a simple effect, but I haven’t seen anything like it in any other movies from the early 1930s.

This was a fun movie with a fantastic plot and a wonderful and witty script. I give it two thumbs up! ” - faltskog9
 
9.
Arrowsmith (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
Based on Sinclair Lewis's novel "Arrowsmith". A medical researcher is sent to a plague outbreak, where he has to decide priorities for the use of a vaccine. (108 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ Arrowsmith – 1931 / 1932

Spoiler Alert

What can I say? This was not my favorite Best Picture nominee, so far. On the surface, this story had the potential to be a good one. It has several elements that a good drama should have. It has a bit of romance, a bit of drama, and a tragic ending that is supposed to stick with you after the movie is over. But the way it was handled didn’t really work for me. Here’s why.

The director, John Ford, made a film that had a pace which seemed strangely rushed and frantic. It felt choppy and inconsistent. I had already made this determination on my own, but when I did my research, I discovered that there was a reason for my assessment. Studio Director Samuel Goldwyn had hired Ford as the director on the condition that he refrained from drinking any alcohol during production. As a result, Ford sped up the filming as much as he could.

And it shows. A typical scene would have a character walk onto the screen, say his lines quickly, and the scene would end. The next scene would begin and the dialogue would be delivered, and the scene would end. Cut. Print. Next scene! Great! Cut. Print. Next scene! The odd pacing made me think that more time should have been taken to give the audience a chance to settle into the plot.

Ronald Colman played the lead, Dr. Martin Arrowsmith. He is a brilliant scientist that has everything he needs to launch a great career as a medical researcher. He has dreams and aspirations of becoming a giant in the field. But right before his career is about to take off, he meets the love of his life, Leora, played by Helen Hayes. His career is sidetracked and he becomes a simple country doctor, destined to live in mediocrity.

But so in love with her is he that within minutes of meeting her, he asks her out to dinner. Cut. Print. Next scene! By the time the first date is over, he has proposed to her. Cut. Print. Next Scene! They are unceremoniously married by a justice of the peace. Cut…

Leora should have gotten to know Martin better before tying the knot. True, she did love him, but he was overly-compulsive about his work, making a habit of ignoring her when he was in work mode. As a result she became lonely, miserable, and obsessive about spending time with him. When he gets a job as a true medical research scientist and is sent to the West Indies to combat the bubonic plague, she desperately follows him. At the behest of his heartless corporate employers, Martin begins conducting medical experiments on human guinea pigs.

While there, he meets a New Yorker who is stranded on the island. She is Joyce Lanyon, played by Myrna Loy. They share an attraction, for each other, but he remains faithful to his wife. Of course, we can see what will happen. Martin finds his cure, but he is too late to save Leora who has contracted the disease.

I mention all this to illustrate the greatest example of how truncated the movie felt, which occurred in the last few minutes. Because of his success at curing the plague, a great public reception takes place for Arrowsmith’s homecoming. However, he decides to become an independent researcher, away from corporate money and his boss’s shady ethical practices and demands. From out of nowhere, Joyce Lanyon shows up. She walks on-camera, says she is sorry for his loss, and implies that she wants to see more of him. He asks if she wouldn’t mind not seeing him for a long time. She takes this to mean that he is no longer interested, turns around, and exits just as quickly as she entered. Just like that. Cut! Print! Next scene!

But somehow, despite the hurried pace, the movie had a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes. I wonder how long it would have been if the pace had not been so frantic. I’m sure it could have been handled with more delicacy and subtlety than this. The pace just made the whole thing feel confusing and emotionless. Frankly, I don’t think this should have even been nominated for Best Picture. Though in its favor, it sometimes made interesting use of camera angles and lighting.

Cut! Print! Next scene! That was the last one? Thank God! Somebody get me a drink! ” - faltskog9
 
10.
Bad Girl (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
A man and woman, skeptical about romance, nonetheless fall in love and are wed, but their lack of confidence in the opposite sex haunts their marriage. (90 mins.)
Director: Frank Borzage
“ Bad Girl – 1931

Spoiler Alert

OK, this movie was like a mild form of torture. At first I was upset because I didn’t particularly like the two main characters. Then, when I began to see the good people underneath the hard and cynical exteriors, their inability to communicate with each other drove me insane and I found myself ready to scream at them! And even now, as I write this review, I am still having difficulty deciding if this is poor writing or incredibly effective writing. The story drew me in and before I knew what had happened I was really hoping to see the couple resolve their problems.

The film starts out with Sally Eilers playing the part of Dorothy Haley, a cynical woman who thinks that all men are players that are just trying to get fresh with a girl. She goes to Coney Island with her best friend Edna, played by Minna Gombell. While there she meets Eddie Collins, played by James Dunn, a man who thinks that all women are dizzy dames that want to control a man’s life. And there is our main cast.

Dorothy is immediately impressed that Eddie seems to have no interest in flirting with any girl. My problem with this whole set-up is that he is so disinterested and even mean that I don’t understand why she would want anything to do with him. But no, she is attracted to him and they spend the rest of the evening talking. They somehow hit it off, despite the fact that they are on the verge of arguing half the time.

I can actually get past that alright. But then, through a quick series of events, the two socially inept people agree to marry… the day after their second date. WHAT?!? But not to worry. As it turns out, they are very happily wed and Eddie goes out of his way to give her everything she could ever want. In fact, he gives up his dreams of owning his own business and spends every last dollar of his life savings to give her a nice big home with beautiful new furniture because he thinks it is what she wants.

The problem is that he never discusses anything with her because he is so socially stunted and bashful about how much he loves her. He surprises her with the new home. If he only would have talked with her, he would have learned that she was pregnant and willing to live in a smaller home so that he could use his money to start his business. So much hardship and angst could have been avoided in their story if only they knew how to talk to each other.

As an outside observer to their tale, I was about to start hitting my head against the wall every time they made their situation worse through their lack of communication. But then I finally figured it out. That was the point of the story. These two people are so socially insecure that the drama was about their inability to talk to each other. She was unable to express her true feelings for him out of fear that he would leave her. He was so embarrassed by his own feelings that he couldn’t even tell her he loved her.

But in the end, right when they are about to split up because each thought that the other didn’t want the baby, they discovered that the opposite was true. They were desperately in love with each other and they were both crazy about the baby. Finally, we are left believing that they are going to go on leading emotionally fulfilled and happy lives. But like many films that were made in the early 30s, the plot’s conflicts are all resolved within the last 90 seconds of the film. So while I got the relief that I was wanting, I had almost no time to enjoy it before the film ended.

I though Dunn was the best part of the film. Becoming a husband brought out the best in his character. He was so desperate to make his wife happy that he not only sacrificed his dreams, but did it with a genuine smile. He loved her so much, he actually went into a professional boxing ring and got beat-up, just to earn forty dollars to get her what she wanted. In moments like that he was adorable. If only he was able to tell her how much he loved her. It would have been nice if the film had ended with Eddie finally saying the words “I love you.” We all knew he did, but I would have liked to hear him say it.

Incidentally, the title of the film, Bad Girl, makes little sense to me. I don’t see how Dorothy was a bad person, just a bad communicator. And she was no worse than Eddie. In fact, the worst bad girl in the film was Dorothy’s friend Edna, and even she wasn’t so bad. She just liked to verbally spar with Eddie because he couldn’t stand her. But never-mind that. He warmed-up to her eventually, though the little quips continued.

Still, I enjoyed the film well enough. Its minor flaws were not enough to make me dislike it, but only after I understood what the film was really about. ” - faltskog9
 
11.
The Champ (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Alcoholic ex-boxer struggles to provide a good living for his son. (86 mins.)
“ The Champ – 1931

Spoiler Alert

Wallace Beery is a very good actor, but he isn’t a very good boxer… but we’ll get to that later. I just had to get that off my chest. The Champ is a film about a boxer who was once a World Champion of the sport, but has since declined into habitual drinking and gambling. The trouble is that he has a young son who thinks the world of him, despite being so often disappointed by him.

Beery plays the character of Andy Purcell, or just Champ. His 8 year-old son Dink is played by child actor Jackie Cooper, who was already a known face in Hollywood as part of the Our Gang Comedies. The two had a pretty good on-screen chemistry, though in my research, I learned that they didn’t get along so well off-screen.

The role of Champ was written specifically for Beery, and I had no problem at all with his performance, aside from the one I already mentioned. He played drunk well, which is a more difficult accomplishment than one might think. It is easy to play sloppy drunk, obnoxious drunk or rambunctious drunk. But playing a believably alcoholic drunk requires more subtlety and finesse. Beery played it well.

Now, I also have to say that I have never been terribly fond of child actors. Too often, child actors act the only they know how to act: cute. And cute for the sake of cute makes my skin crawl. But Cooper showed more than just cute. He actually displayed some real acting chops in his very demanding dramatic role.

There were several places in the film where he was required to cry which, even for adult actors, is not the easiest thing to do. My research did not uncover any horrible tactics used to draw out his tears, such as telling him that his dog was going to be shot, something that actually happened on the set of Skippy, traumatizing the child.

The plot is a simple one, and yet it is remarkably effective. The ex-champ, now loser, lives in poverty with his son, but wants to clean himself up for the sake of his child. But alcohol and gambling are addictions which he cannot overcome. The boy’s mother wants to take the kid out of the bad environment, but the boy loves his father too much to leave him. In the end, Andy tries to become a prize-fighter once again in order to provide for Dink. But after he wins the big match, his injuries are too much for him and he dies. The boy then has no choice but to live with his mother.

That’s it, in a nutshell. There are plenty of opportunities for the actors to shine. Alcoholism is never a light-hearted subject. Both Beery and Cooper showed some real emotional drama and turned in some pretty believable performances. Cooper did a remarkably good job with the climactic scene where his father dies. Even Linda, the mother, played by Irene Rich, did a good job with the small amount of screen time she was given. I also have to give an honorable mention to Linda’s rich husband Tony, played by Hale Hamilton.

But there were two things about the film I didn’t really care for. First was one actor in particular. Roscoe Ates played the part of Sponge, one of Andy’s drinking buddies. He played his part as an almost comical caricature. He hiccupped and stuttered his way through his scenes and hammed it up for the cameras. But he was the only one doing that, so it made him stand out when he was not supposed to. I have to ask if that was the fault of the actor or the director, King Vidor?

Second was the fact that Beery had no idea how to box. His wide sweeping punches in the ring would have been weak hits and would leave his entire body open to his opponent’s punches. It might have even injured his elbows. They should have gotten a professional boxer to teach him a few boxing basics.

Still, The Champ was a good movie. The pacing was a little slow, but acceptable, and the drama was very well done. Kudos to King Vidor for making a film that inspired filmmakers for years to come, even spawning a remake in 1979 starring John Voight, Ricky Schroder and Faye Dunaway. ” - faltskog9
 
12.
Five Star Final (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
The City Editor of a sleazy tabloid goes against his own journalistic ethics to resurrect a twenty year old murder case... with tragic results. (89 mins.)
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
“ Five Star Final – 1932

Spoiler Alert

This was a movie that was well-made and interesting to watch. It had some great emotional content, an interesting and unique story, and some pretty good acting from most of the cast. However, there was a definite flaw in the movie. This was 1932, and some, though not all, of the actors were still using those over-exaggerated facial expressions that had been necessary before the talkies. A few of the actors behaved like clowns while the rest of the cast behaved normally.

The movie’s big name star was Edward G. Robinson. He was great as newspaper editor, Joseph Randall. He had been in the business for a long time and wanted to earn enough money on which to retire. He gets a chance for a big score when his boss, newspaper publisher, Bernard Hinchecliffe, played by Oscar Apfel, tells him to dig up a story that had been laid to rest twenty years earlier, that of a secretary who had murdered her boss who had gotten her pregnant, and then refused to marry her. Though he is uncomfortable with the moral implications of his boss’s demand, he cannot resist the money involved.

The secretary’s name is Nancy Voorhees, played by Frances Starr. She has since remarried to a man named Michael Townsend, played by H. B. Warner. Nancy’s daughter, Jenny, played by Marian Marsh, is now grown and is engaged to Phillip Weeks, played by Anthony Bushell, the son of a high-class family. To dig up the dirt on Nancy, Randall sends out a few of his sleazy reporters, one of whom is Vernon Isopod, played by Boris Karloff.

And there’s the set-up. What follows is a film that is played out like a social commentary on the evils of tabloid journalism. The underhanded and unscrupulous lengths to which Randall and his reporters go to get their story is shown in a very negative light. They mercilessly invade the family’s privacy through lies, intimidation, and manipulation. They carelessly destroy the family, even to the point where Nancy and her husband commit suicide from the shame of the scandal.

The final scene in the movie was the best scene in the film. Jenny, distraught and hysterical over the deaths of her parents takes a gun to Mr. Randall’s office at the newspaper, intending to murder Randall and Henchecliffe for ruining her life. She screams at them, asking them over and over why they murdered her mother. Henchecliffe feels no remorse and wants the unfortunate girl to go away. Randall feels so much guilt that he admits to the murder. It was a surprisingly powerful scene that was a fitting climax to the film.

The stand-out members of the cast were, Robinson, of course, but also Frances Starr and Marian Marsh. Starr had a difficult role to play. She was caught between remorse, regret, fear, and hopelessness, and she really did a great job in her portrayal. She wasn’t over-the-top or one-note. Marsh really did a fantastic job, especially in that climactic scene. Again, she was deeply emotional without giving us too much. Well done, ladies!

Another lady who did a good job was Randall’s secretary, Miss Taylor, played by Aline MacMahon. She played the stereotypical sarcastic lady. She was like Randall’s conscience, making the cute wisecracks at all the right moments, and telling him that it was wrong for him to destroy the Townsend family just to sell more newspapers. MacMahon played her part well.

But as I mentioned earlier, I have to shake my head at the buffoonish, silent-era performances by some of the actors, two in particular. First was Harold Waldridge, playing the part of Arthur Goldberg, a company gopher who wants to be a reporter, and second was George E. Stone, playing the part of Ziggy Feinstein, the paper’s contest columnist. Everything was so overdone it was almost nauseating. True, they were not the only two, but they were the worst offenders.

One of the things that the film’s advertisements points out is that this is a pre-code era movie, meaning that it was made before the Hayes code was put into effect. It didn’t show any nudity, but it did make several bawdy references to making love, something that the Hayes code discouraged. And you have to really listen to some of the fast-pace dialogue to hear all the quick one-liners. And it would also help to be aware of some of the lingo that was unique to the late 20s and early 30s. ” - faltskog9
 
13.
One Hour with You (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
An unhappily married couple try to come between a happy one. (80 mins.)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
“ One Hour With You – 1932

Spoiler Alert

Here we are once again with Maurice Chevalier, but this time there is finally a significant difference in his character. In most other films in which I have seen him, he plays a playboy / womanizer. But here, it was refreshing to see him as a man who is incredibly devoted to his wife.

Chevalier plays Dr. Andre Bertier. He is very much in love with his wife, Colette, played by Jeanette MacDonald. The two are caught kissing in the park, which was apparently frowned upon. But they surprise the police officer by telling him they are married, and therefore are not doing anything inappropriate. But the officer runs them off anyway. Being a musical, there are even a few songs about how convenient it is to be married to someone you are so in love with.

The main conflict of the plot comes in the form of Colette’s best friend Mitzi, played by Genevieve Tobin. She is a woman who is unhappy in her own marriage and decides to steal Colette’s husband for herself. What follows is her attempts to temp him, and his refusals.

The director, Ernst Lubitsch, made some interesting choices when it came to telling the story. For example, at several places in the movie, the character of Andre breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience, giving them a cute and cleverly written explanation of how he feels about the events. He assures the viewers that he is in love with his wife and does not want to cheat on her, especially with her best friend. Of course, he does it all with that charming attitude and disarming smile. The cute French accent didn’t hurt either.

Also, in a scene where Colette and Mitzi, who have not seen each other in some time, first meet, they are both so excited that they start gabbing on like two clucking hens. Lubitsch had them speaking fast and talking over each other so that the conversation was nothing more than just an incoherent babble. It was a simple little thing, but it was not over-done or cheesy.

Now all that being said, there were a few things that I would have changed about the film which I need to mention. First, the movie opens with a little song sung by the local police at the station house about how spring in Paris is the time for lovers, and therefore, many people will be behaving inappropriately all over the city. This entire scene was unnecessary. Maybe the movie should have opened by simply showing the different couples necking in the park before focusing on Andre and Colette.

Another thing that I actually found slightly annoying was the spoken rhyme songs. There was several songs in this musical in which the actors didn’t sing at all. They would speak to each other with some light music playing in the background. At first you think that they are just delivering their dialogue. But then you start to realize that some of what they are saying is coming out in rhymes. Oh, this is a song! Except that there is no melody. Well, maybe they are just speaking… in rhythm.

Macdonald did a good enough job. She was, at times, amusing to watch, but at other times, like when she had to cry, her acting seemed a little fake. And I thought that the point of acting was to be believable.

Still, the movie was enjoyable enough to watch. As musicals go, the songs, such as they were, were pretty unmemorable. But the plot had a few left turns that kept pace flowing nicely, and Chevalier is always good on the screen.

Interesting quote: Police Officer: “You can’t make love here.” Colette: “Oh no, officer. My husband can make love anywhere.” Apparently kissing was known as making love in the early 30s. Not today! ” - faltskog9
 
14.
Shanghai Express (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A loose woman rediscovers a former lover during a dangerous train ride to Shanghai. (82 mins.)
“ Shanghai Express – 1931 / 1932

Spoiler Alert

This was a film which I instinctively knew I was going to enjoy and I was not wrong. It had everything a good film from the early 30s is supposed to have. It had a beautiful woman, a strong and handsome leading man, a cast of unique characters, murder, danger, intrigue, wit, drama, and a moral center. What’s not to love?

It starred Marlena Dietrich as Magdalen, though her stage name is Shanghai Lily, a professional courtesan with hidden depths and a flawless face. Playing opposite her was Clive Brook, playing Captain Donald “Doc” Harvey, our handsome hero with a chip on his shoulder. The two share a secret past in which they were both to blame in a bad break-up. And what was the main reason for their split? What was always the reason for break-ups in the 1930s and 40s? An unrealistic lack of communication.

It seems that a couple in love would rather split than express their true feelings. She should know I love her, even though I can never bring myself to say it. If he can’t tell what I am feeling, then I’m certainly not going to let him know. It defies logic. But I see it so often in movies and TV that I have to wonder if people actually think like this.

Of course, this leaves the couple apart from each other, but still in love, which is a good thing for Doc and Shanghai Lilly. It is their love for each other which sees them both through the conflict of the film. That conflict comes in the form of a Chinese revolution.

They, along with a colorful cast of stereotypes, board a train called the Shanghai Express. Eugene Pallette played Sam Salt, a man who is obsessed with gambling, and whose every single line was about betting. Gustav von Seyffertitz, a hypochondriac whose every sing line was about being sick. Louise Closser Hale played Mrs. Haggerty, a stuffy British woman, whose every single line was about being an uptight prude. And lastly, Emile Chautard as Major Lenard, whose every line was in French. Not one of these four characters had any significant contributions to the plot.

But before they reach their destination, they are stopped by the Chinese police so they can arrest a high ranking officer in the revolutionary army. If only the police had known that Henry Chang, the Commander in Chief of the revolution, played by Warner Oland, was also a passenger on the train, a lot of trouble could have been avoided. He makes arrangements for the train to be hijacked, at which time, his true identity is revealed. To get back his officer, Chang holds the Captain Harvey for ransom. Chang played a one-dimensional but competent villain.

The prisoner exchange is arrange, but Doc, in order to save Lily’s honor, punches Chang, humbling him. Chang decides to have the hero’s eyes burned out. But Shanghai Lily, in order to save her lover from this horrible fate, offers herself in exchange for his safety. Doc is confused by his sudden release and by Lily’s unexplained desire to stay with the evil Chang. But another train passenger, Lawrence Grant, playing the part of Reverend Carmichael, the man who sees sin everywhere, who is ultimately responsible for Lily and Doc’s reconciliation.

Strangely enough, it is the Shanghai Express’s final passenger, Hui Fei, played by Anna May Wong, who has apparently been raped by Chang, who saves everyone. In a fit of revenge, Hui murders Chang and everyone safely escapes on the train before anyone knows what happened. But even then, the two lovers cannot talk to each other, cannot explain the reasons for their actions, leaving Doc with the unfounded belief that Lily had been leaving him for Chang because she did not love him.

The two did a good job with the somewhat far-fetched script, and they were actually fun to watch. And I must admit that I was surprised with Marlena Dietrich. For some reason, I always just think of her as a pretty face without too much depth as an actress, but happily, I am always proven wrong. She created a memorable character and did it with finesse and skill. ” - faltskog9
 
15.
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An amorous lieutenant is forced to marry a socially awkward princess, though he tries to keep his violin-playing girlfriend on the side. (93 mins.)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
“ The Smiling Lieutenant – 1931 / 1932

Spoiler Alert

This was a strange film. Here we are with Maurice Chevalier again. Apparently he was a very popular guy back then. I think he was either a good friend of, or was under contract along with director Ernst Lubitsch. I seem to always see their names together. Again, Chevalier plays a man in the military, in a position associated with the monarch of some European country. Again, he marries into the royal family and is miserable. Hmmm… this is starting to sound very familiar. This film had these and other similarities to the film The Love Parade.

The plot was simple enough to follow. I’ve never seen a Chevalier film without a remarkably simple plot. So, here we go. This shouldn’t take long. Chevalier plays Lieutenant Nicholas “Niki” Von Preyn. He falls in love with Franzi, played by Claudette Colbert, the conductor of an all-female orchestra. But Niki is in the Emperor’s guard. While standing at attention for the arrival of a foreign King and his daughter Princess Anna, played by Miriam Hopkins, he smiles and winks at Franzi. But the wink is intercepted by the princes, who throws a crying fit because a commoner dared to smile at her. He is forced to marry the Princess to satisfy her honor, despite his love for Franzi. They go back to live in the fictional country of Flausenthurm.

Franzi follows them just to get a glimpse of her man as he is wed to the Princess. When a miserable and depressed Niki discovers that Franzi is near, he begins his affair with her all over again. Anna finds out and has Franzi arrested. The two women fight over Niki, and in the end, Franzi finds that she likes the other girl. She gives Princess Ana tips on how to be the kind of girl Niki likes, and leaves the country. Niki comes home to find the homely Anna transformed into a sexy, jazzy, cigarette smoking, silk clad girl. He instantly falls in love with her and the marriage is suddenly a happy one. Franzi who??? The end.

But that was the problem, I think. The plot was too simple and reinforced several ideals and stereotypes that are outdated for a modern audience. For example, the notion that it is not only acceptable for a man to cheat on his wife with a younger woman, but even expected. Then there is the concept that it is better to save face and live a miserable life than to admit a mistake and live a happy one. Of course, we also have the stereotype that all royalty, or one might say all rich people, are stuffy, old-fashioned, and spoiled.

But all that being said, I have to be honest. When the end of the movie arrived, I felt myself caring for Franzi’s character when she sacrificed her pride, her future, and her man to resolve the plot’s conflict. I thought Colbert turned in a great performance. The frivolous script didn’t give her much to work with, but she pulled it off well, giving it a deeper emotional content than it deserved.

And there was a scene near the end when I found myself laughing out loud. When Princess Anna has Franzi arrested and brought to the palace, she tells Franzi that she hated her and wanted to kill her. Franzi says the same back to the Princess. Anna slaps Franzi across the cheek. Franzi slaps Anna back. Then in unison, the two women fall onto the bed, sobbing their hearts out. Anna wipes her eyes and asks Franzi, “Did I hurt you?” “No,” Franzi replies. “Did I hurt you?” “YES!! WAAAAAHH!!!” This whole scene had me cracking up. Here we just had an early example of an on-screen cat-fight. This was easily on par with Joan Collins and Donna Mills. Eat your heart out, Linda Evans!

The movie was not a bad film, just one that I had seen before. I mentioned the movie The Love Parade. You see one of them, and you have seen them both.
And just as an afterthought, I have to mention a few things at which I had to role my eyes. First, they showed Claudette Colbert playing the violin. She very obviously had no skill in playing the instrument. Miriam Hopkins, on the other hand appeared to be quite adept at playing the piano. Second, someone needs to tell the script writer that it is acceptable to say “bravo” when applauding a male performer. When the performer is female, the proper term is “brava.” And finally like most other musicals from that era… wait! This was a musical? Yeah. The songs were just that memorable. ” - faltskog9
 
16.
42nd Street (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A producer puts on what may be his last Broadway show and, at the last moment, a chorus girl has to replace the star. (89 mins.)
Director: Lloyd Bacon
“ 42nd Street - 1933

Spoiler Alert

This film is an icon of the American Film Musical. It starred Warner Baxter as Julian Marsh, the harsh Broadway director who puts his heart and soul into putting on the best show of his career during the great depression, a risky move. With him was Bebe Daniels as Dorothy Brock, the aging star hired to take the lead in his show. George Brent played Dorothy’s love interest, Pat Denning. The inexperienced chorus girl who could dance rings around any other dancer was Peggy Sawyer, played by Ruby Keeler. And finally, Billy Lawler , played by Dick Powel, took on the role of the show’s leading man who falls in love with her.

From there, the plot is a little shallow, but that’s OK, because it is really secondary to the dancing. After all, first and foremost this is a dance show. Any time you put over 40 women who know how to dance and show off their legs on the stage at the same time, everything else is secondary. And that fabulous kick-line is the money-shot, what we all came to see.

And boy, does this film deliver. There were more legs in this movie than I could count. Ruby Keeler did a great job tapping her tootsies and singing her heart out. The big number in the show is the name of the film, 42nd Street. It is really an exciting number, both visually and aurally.

It is important to note that in 1980 this incredibly popular 1933 movie musical was turned into an actual stage show that won the Tony Award for Best Musical and became a long-running Broadway hit. It was revived again in 2001, winning another Tony Award for Best Revival, a performance, I was lucky enough to see. Obviously, the show has credibility and staying power.

One of the problems I have with most movie musicals of that era is that the songs are completely unmemorable. But that is part of the magic of 42nd Street. It has several songs that stick in your head and heart. There is the title song, of course, along with You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me and Shuffle Off to Buffalo. In my opinion, a memorable song or two is absolutely necessary to make a successful musical.

The plot, while deceptively simply (or maybe not so deceptive…) is fun and light-hearted. There are a few lines of the stereotypical catty nature of women in competition with each other, my favorite one being, “It must have been hard on your mother, not having any children.” But for the most part, the women were all ladies of integrity and honesty.

In that respect, it is always pleasantly surprising when the character of Dorothy Brock fractures her ankle the night before the opening performance, and the rich financer of the show wants to replace her with his new girlfriend Ann Lowell, played by a very young Ginger Rogers. She actually shows an uncharacteristic strength of character. She acknowledges that Peggy is a better dancer than any of them and actively gives up her chance of becoming a big star so that Peggy can play the part. She does this all for the sake of the show.

And you might think that Dorothy would hate Peggy for “stealing” her part, despite the broken ankle, but she visits Peggy before the show starts. With grace and kindness, she encourages the inexperienced actress and gives her advice on how to become a super-star. She says that she’d had her chance and now it was the younger girl’s turn. It left me with a nice feeling.

Dick Powel was particularly fun to watch. He was handsome and could keep up with Keeler’s dance steps easily. Keeler, herself did a fantastic job, and was a pleasure to watch.

One last thing that made little sense to me was a choice made by director Lloyd Bacon and choreographer Busby Berkeley. When they had the women on the stage of their show, they had them in the formation of a circle making moving patterns with their legs that nobody in the fictional audience would ever be able to see. Only a movie camera placed above the dancers looking down into the center of the circle would be able to see the intricacies of the choreography. It was a fantastic visual for the film, but made no sense in the fictional plot. ” - faltskog9
 
17.
A Farewell to Arms (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
An American ambulance driver and an English nurse fall in love in Italy during World War I. (80 mins.)
Director: Frank Borzage
“ A Farewell to Arms – 1931

Spoiler Alert

I was surprised by how much this movie sucked me in. I have never been overly sentimental when it comes to Hollywood films, but the passion of the romance portrayed in this film was done perfectly. It was strong without being overwhelming. It was dramatically desperate without being sappy. I unexpectedly found myself caught up in the romance and even a little teary at the tragic end.

The two big stars of the film were Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Cooper played the part of Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army during World War One. Hayes played Catherine Barkley, an English Red Cross nurse. They had a great on-screen chemistry.

I’ll say right off the bat that I have never been a huge Gary Cooper fan, but only because I have not seen many of his films. Also, I’ve always thought that everyone seems to go severely overboard when commenting on how attractive he was. I have always considered him to be pretty average in the looks department. But there were moments in this movie in which he showed an incredible emotional vulnerability which, I thought, made him more appealing.

Helen Hayes was also very pretty and acted her part well with a grace and poise that we rarely see in most modern actresses. She had an air of sweetness about her that did nothing to diminish the strength of her character… with one exception.

Someone needs to tell Lieutenant Henry that when a girl repeatedly says no, pushes you away and even slaps you across the cheek, then it is not OK to force her to make out with you. This shows a definite flaw in his character. But the weakness in hers is that after she slaps him for forcing her to kiss him, she immediately apologizes and asks him to try again. Either stick to your guns or don’t protest in the first place. Don’t make it seem like his bad behavior is your own fault!

But despite this rocky start, and despite the fact that Army regulations forbid such a romance, they both fall deeply in love. They steal every moment they can on the sly, all the while falling deeper and deeper in love, even going so far as to be informally married by the Army Chaplain, played very well by Jack La Rue when he finds out about their love and her subsequent pregnancy.

The only place where the plot was not exactly easy to follow was when Lt. Henry is on the front lines of the War. At some point he is captured by enemy soldiers, which then allows him to escape and become a deserter in order to run to his love, fearing that she is in danger.

His instincts prove to be correct. There are complications in delivering the baby, which is unfortunately stillborn, and in the end she dies in his arms. The scene is very cleverly done. In his grief, he lifts her from the hospital bed and turns away from the camera. The white bed sheet is draped dramatically, making it appear very much like a wedding dress. The image is that of Frederic holding the limp form of his fallen bride.

Frederic’s best friend and drinking buddy is a confusing character, but ultimately likeable. He is Major Rinaldi, an Italian surgeon, played by Adolphe Menjou. At first he doesn’t like that they are together. Then he doesn’t mind. Then he actively splits them up. Then he helps them be together. Then he intercepts their letters to each other to split them up again. Then when he learns of the baby, he helps them reunite once more. But he had a rather charming demeanor, so I liked him anyway.

There was one scene in the film that was done in an interesting way. When Frederic is wounded at the front, he is taken to the hospital. The director, Frank Borzage chose to show the scene from Frederic’s perspective. The camera is looking at the ceiling of the hospital as the gurney is wheeling from room to room. The heads of various officers and nurses pop into view and speak directly to the camera while Cooper’s voice can be heard responding to them. Then when Catherine enters the room and falls on him to shower him with kisses, for a few moments, all we can see on the screen is her giant eye.

But ultimately, I ended up liking the film. The war scenes were pretty chaotic and exciting with lots of explosions and falling soldiers. The romance was good and I was surprised with the quality of Cooper’s touching performance. Apparently, the film was based on an Ernest Hemmingway novel which was semi-autobiographical. So, from that, we can say it was loosely based on true events. If that is the case, it gives the film that much more emotional impact.

The film was remade in 1957 starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, though the remake was not nominated for the Best Picture award. It was also remade into a mini-series in 1966. ” - faltskog9
 
18.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Wrongly convicted James Allen serves in the intolerable conditions of a southern chain gang, which later comes back to haunt him. (92 mins.)
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
“ I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang – 1932 / 1933

Spoiler Alert

I was really pleasantly surprised by this Best Picture Nominee, though the title was enough to put me on my guard. I mean, I wasn’t terribly interested in a film about a chain gang. But I have to admit that I was focusing too much on the chain gang part, and pretty much ignored the fugitive part. In reality, the later had just as much prominence in the film as the former.

Paul Muni took the lead and he really did a fantastic job. His performance was delivered with a calmness and dignity that belied the horrible circumstances the character was forced to endure. He played the part of James Allen, a man who had aspirations of becoming an engineer, but who could not find work during the depression era. Penniless and homeless, he becomes unwillingly involved in a robbery and a murder. He is wrongfully sentenced to ten years hard labor as part of a chain gang in Georgia.

But he escapes and flees to Chicago. While there, he changes his name and gets a job as a laborer on a construction site. He eventually works his way up to become a prominent engineer and an upstanding member of society, just as he had wanted. But there is a fly in the ointment. He becomes involved with Marie Woods, played by Glenda Farrell. She discovers his secret and blackmails him into a miserable marriage so that she can ride his success and take his money.

When he threatens to leave her, she tells the authorities of his true identity. He tells the media about the true conditions of life as part of a chain gang. In an effort to clear his name and leave his past behind him, he agrees to return to the chain-gang for an agreed upon period of 90 days. But the Georgia authorities lied and failed to release him as promised.

I remember thinking that he needed to get the 90 day sentence in writing. But being a trusting man by nature, Allen did not. And really, that was what got him in trouble in the first place. He trusted another homeless man without questioning him. Well, to make a long story short, the Georgia Police refused to release him, so he escaped again. But this time he could not establish another public life.

He visits his girl, Helen, played by Helen Vinson, with whom he is in love, to say his final good-bye before disappearing into the shadows forever. She desperately tries to get him to stay, asking him, “How do you live?” James, unseen in the darkness, replies, “I steal.” This made for a rather profound and almost horrifying ending. Allen’s will to be free was not broken, but his ability to live an honest life, free from his past was destroyed. Happiness could never be his.

The pacing of the plot was actually very well done. There were plenty of times when it was slow enough to create a story that was meaningful and well told. But there was also plenty of action to keep the interest and excitement going. There was dramatic tension in the parts leading up to the two escapes.

The two women each did a fine job, but the real star was Muni. He was great as both the beaten criminal and the honest engineer. But there was one member of the cast who, from his first appearance on the screen, got on my nerves and made my skin crawl. It was the character of Reverend Robert Allen, James’ brother, played by Hale Hamilton. This guy seemed to be trying too hard to be a good actor, and the result was an overdone performance. He consistently over-pronounced his words and almost never stopped smiling, even when discussing a serious subject. He just came across as manipulative, controlling, and ultimately creepy.

It is interesting to note that this film actually had a bit of a cultural impact. It made audiences begin to question the legitimacy of the United States Legal System. In January of 1933, the film's protagonist, Robert Elliot Burns, who was still imprisoned in New Jersey, and a number of other chain gang prisoners nationwide in the United States were able to appeal and were released.

And finally, I have to mention that when I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang was nominated for Best Picture, it was up against 9 other films, including that year’s winner, Cavalcade. Honestly, if it were up to me, this would have given Cavalcade a run for its money. I thought it was a better film! ” - faltskog9
 
19.
The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Tells how King Henry VIII came to marry five more times after his divorce from his first wife. (97 mins.)
Director: Alexander Korda
“ The Private Life of Henry VIII – 1932 / 1933

Spoiler Alert

Based on the title, I was actually looking forward to watching this film. I have always had a passing interest in English history. However, about half an hour into the movie, I began to suspect that history and historical fact was not so important to the film makers. By the end of the film, I had come to the conclusion that this was not a film about history, but a film about how to have a happy marriage. It just used the story of Henry VIII as a backdrop. Here’s why.

This was a comedy! It was never intended to be a historical drama. The film starred Charles Laughton as King Henry. Laughton won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. Knowing that, I have to admit to being pretty disappointed. I wanted a historical drama, and I didn’t get what I wanted. But I suppose it was my own fault. I should have done my research before watching the movie.

He played the part of Henry VIII as a bumbling buffoon. He was clumsy and lecherous, and in the end just wanted a good woman to love him. Of course, as we all know, Henry had 6 wives. The first was Catherine of Aragon, but the movie completely skips over her, saying that she was a respectable woman whom he divorced. Second was Anne Boleyn, played by Merle Oberon, and the film starts out at her execution. Immediately upon her beheading, he marries wife number 3, Jane Seymour, played by Wendy Barrie.

After Seymour dies in childbirth, he marries his 4th wife, an arranged marriage to a German Princess, Anne of Cleaves, played by Laughton’s real wife, Elsa Lanchester. She does not want to be his wife, so in an amusing sequence, she makes faces to make herself appear ugly. He rejects her for her looks and gives her a healthy annulment settlement, which she wins by besting him in a game of cards.

Catherine Howard, played by Binnie Barnes is his 5th wife. But she has an affair with a member of Henry’s court and is executed. And finally, wife number 6 is Catherine Parr, played by Everley Gregg. She is portrayed as a nagging shrew who mothers him, smothers him, and finally leaves him alone. And finally we come to the biggest joke of the film. At the last, Laughton turns to the camera and breaks the fourth wall. He speaks directly to the audience saying, “Six wives, and the best of them is the worst.”

Before I knew this was intended to be a comedy, I thought it was a bad movie. Now, I have a different opinion. It was amusing enough, had a funny message, and a fine comedic performance by Laughton. In short, it makes sense as a comedy. Elsa Lanchester was also pretty funny to watch as she made ugly faces in the mirror, trying to get them just right.

That being said, I must acknowledge the historical accuracies that are surprising from a spoof or comedy. I would have expected the writers to take a little more liberty with certain events, but they kept a lot of things remarkably accurate such as the sequence of events and the personalities and motivations of certain characters.

There was only one very minor thing that I didn’t particularly care for: the costumes. They looked very... fake. I mean, Henry’s costumes were incredibly detailed (for that matter, Laughton looked amazingly like the real Henry VIII) but nearly everyone else had a costume that looked like it belonged in a school play… a grade-school play. There was very little detail and very little realism.

Aside from that one minor detail, the film worked as a comedy. I just wish I would have known that going into it. I would have enjoyed the movie much more. Upon reflection, there is one other thing I would have changed. After doing my research, I found that Henry’s first wife was originally his older brother’s wife. When Arthur died at age 15, Catherine of Aragon was expected to become Henry’s wife for political reasons. Henry was only 11 at the time. But this is a historical spoof. They couldn’t find anything funny to do with that? I can think of several things. ” - faltskog9
 
20.
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
In the Gay Nineties, a seductive nightclub singer contends with several suitors, including a jealous escaped convict and a handsome temperance league member. (66 mins.)
Director: Lowell Sherman
“ She Done Him Wrong - 1932 / 1933

Spoiler Alert

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. After all, it is the first movie I have ever seen with Mae West. Of course, we all know the kind of bawdy reputation she had. She was a woman who was known for her raw sexual prowess, quick wit, scandalous reputation, and yet, her classy persona. And let me tell you, she didn’t disappoint.

West was the clear star of this film, a film which, I have learned, is responsible for the saving of Paramount Studios. The Studio was on the verge of financial failure when She Done Him Wrong grossed over $2,000,000 on a $200,000 budget. It was full of sexual references and double entendres. Line after witty line was delivered masterfully by Mae and the audiences loved every one of them.

This was the film in which the famous line “I always did like a man in a uniform. That one fits you grand. Why don't you come up sometime and see me? I'm home every evening.” There were dozens of more great lines, too many to mention them all in this review, that were explicitly sexual references thinly disguised as flippant comments.

However, I will mention a few of my favorites. When Captain Cummings asks her “Haven’t you ever met a man that could make you happy?” She replies, “Sure, lots of times.” Another time she is told “I am Delighted. I have heard so much about you.” She smoothly replies, “Yeah, but you can’t prove it.” Or in another great line, she says, “I wasn’t always rich.” “No?” asks her maid. “No,” she says with a smile. “There was a time I didn’t know where my next husband was coming from.” And lastly, when an old woman says to her, “Ah, Lady Lou, you’re a fine gal, a fine woman.” She quickly retorts, “One of the finest women ever walked the streets.”

But on to the plot. The film was about Lady Lou, played by West, a singer in a saloon. Her crooked boss, Gus, played by Noah Beery, is in love with her. Her jailbird ex-lover, Chick Clark, played by Owen Moore, is in love with her. Every man she knows seems to be in love with her. All except for Captain Cummings, played by a very young Cary Grant, who runs the Salvation Army Mission. He admires her but is on a mission to bring down Gus and his criminal empire.

To make a long story short, Chick escapes from jail and comes for Lady Lou. Gus is brought down and arrested by Captain Cummings, who turns out to be a federal agent who had been after him all along. He also catches Chick and takes him back to jail. But once his job is done, he pretends to arrest Lou just so he can get her alone. As they ride off together in a cab, he slips a diamond engagement ring on her finger and proposes to her. Then he says, “You bad girl.” A delighted Lou smiles and replies, “Mmmm. You’ll see.” Romance was apparently pretty quick in those days.

Mae West looked fantastic. Her hour-glass figure was incredibly curvy and voluptuous. Her dresses were always sparkly and skin tight. In fact, she had to be sewn into most of the dress she wore. And, of course, we got to hear her sing some great and memorable songs for her act in the saloon. She sang A Man What Takes His Time and Frankie and Johnny, songs which are still being used in films today.

This was actually Grant’s 2nd film role and already his famous wit and personality were evident. He is always a pleasure to watch. He was young and handsome, and knew how to deliver those tricky lines with an easy, charming attitude, and a debonair smile. His lines always seem to just roll off his tongue.

I really enjoyed this film. It was entertaining and funny in a way that few movies of today even come close to. It is interesting to note that the script was based on a Broadway show that starred West called Diamond Lil. In order to get all the bawdy lines past the censors, the script was toned down considerably. But all the racy lines that made it into the film make me stop and wonder. What was the original Diamond Lil really like? It really must have been something to see. ” - faltskog9
 
21.
Smilin' Through (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
John has led a solitary life for thirty years since the death of Moonyeen Clare. But now Owens, a close friend... (98 mins.)
Director: Sidney Franklin
“ Smilin’ Through – 1932

Spoiler Alert

This was an adorable movie with some good acting, an interesting plot, and a sappy, happy ending. It starred Norma Shearer, Fredric March, and Leslie Howard. Shearer and March both played two different characters, present day characters and their ancestors. Howard played the same character but at different ages.

I read somewhere, and I’ll be honest – I can’t remember where, that the movie dealt a little with spiritualism and had a slight fantasy element. Howard played the character of Sir John Carteret. He is a bitter old man who has a dark secret in his past. He has spent 30 years pining for his lost love, Moonyeen, played by Shearer, who had been murdered at their wedding. He spends long hours in the garden where he had spent so many happy times with her before her death. The ghost of Moonyeen visits John and it is implied that he can actually hear her and have conversations with her. This is where the whole spiritualism aspect comes in.

Then one day, John is manipulated into becoming guardian to Moonyeen’s niece. He becomes a happier man as she grows into a beautiful young woman, Kathleen, played by Shearer. By chance, she meets and falls hopelessly in love with Kenneth Wayne, played by March. When Sir John learns of his identity, he becomes despondent and forbids Kathleen to ever see him again, threatening to disinherit her if she does. Apparently, Kenneth is the son of the man who murdered his beloved Moonyeen.

Of course, he forces Kathleen to promise that she will turn him away, a promise which she cannot keep. But Kenneth goes off to fight in a war that is never clearly identified. He is gone for 4 years, during which time he is emotionally and physically damaged. On his return, he turns her away because… well, it never really explained why, other than the fact that he could only walk with crutches.

Meanwhile, John is filled with hate for him, punishing him, and consequently Kathleen, for the sins of his father. Moonyeen’s ghost tries to get John to let go of his hate because it is getting in the way of her communicating with him. But so hateful is he that he cannot hear her pleas. But then Kathleen learns of his injuries and tells her uncle that she loves him anyway. John finally sees the error of his ways and tells her to go after Kenneth and marry him.

It is a cute enough story, though not terribly deep. But as I said, the acting was good, especially Shearer, who seemed to be able to shed convincing tears on cue. I liked March and Howard, both of whom were very young when this movie was filmed. The film is based on a well-loved play of the same name, written by Jane Cowel and Jane Murfin. In fact it was so popular that this was actually the second film adaptation, the first being a silent film made in 1922. Incidentally, the director, Sidney Franklin, was the very same man who directed the silent film version. In addition, a third film was made in 1941, this one being done as a musical starring Jeanette MacDonald.

As I think about it, there was really only one thing I would have changed about the film: its ending. The ending we got was alright, but I would have added a single scream that would have given the end a much more poignant climax, and would have completely changed the romantic, feel-good vibe.

So, John tells Kathleen to run to the train station to get her man. As he is waiting for her to return, he dies, and after 50 years of being alone, his spirit is finally reunited with Moonyeen. The two ghosts watch as Kathleen and Kenneth enter the gate and make their way towards the house. Then the camera follows the spirits as they get into a ghostly carriage and ride off to spend eternity with each other. But they ignored the fact that Kathleen is about to find John, her beloved uncle, dead. Just think of how that one scream in the background would have changed the ending, making it more meaningful and powerful. They could even have given a last wistful glance back at the world of the living before riding off to their everlasting bliss. But I guess that might have been too depressing for the audiences of 1932. ” - faltskog9
 
22.
Lady for a Day (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A gangster tries to make Apple Annie, the Times Square apple seller, a lady for a day. (96 mins.)
Director: Frank Capra
“ Lady for a Day - 1932 / 1933

Spoiler Alert

Lady for a Day was not a great or profound movie, but it was certainly a sweet one. It had a simple plot and feel-good ending. Right from the start, I was struck by the wonderful acting of May Robson. She played the part of a poor woman called Apple Annie. She was so good in the way that she played… well, slightly crazy. It was not overdone. On the contrary, she was incredibly believable.

She was called Apple Annie because her only income was made by selling apples on the street. But fortune smiled on her when she met Dave the Dude, played by Warren William, a gangster and con-artist who was very superstitious. He believed that as long as he bought an apple from Annie before each gambling bet or business deal, things would go his way. He refused to do anything without one of her apples. So when Annie was in trouble, the Dude went out of his way to help her. Way out of his way.

Her problem was that she had been writing to her daughter in Spain, telling her that she was a rich woman in New York high society. But when her daughter Louise, played by Jane Parker, becomes engaged to the son of a Spanish Count, her lie is certain to be exposed.

Robson was simply wonderful. The whole plot almost sounds like a shoe-in to be a comedy, and though there were some pretty comedic moments and funny lines, the character of Annie has the most dramatic moments of the film. She fears that her secret will be revealed and the shame that would certainly accompany such an exposure drive her deeper into depression and hysterics. You really feel for her in her dire straights.

But the Dude’s fear of losing his good luck charm prove to be the saving of Annie and her daughters dreams of marrying the Count’s son. He borrows a friend’s mansion, buys her beautiful clothes, pays a pool shark to pose as her husband, and hires all his mob connections to be her high-society acquaintances. But everything goes awry when he has to kidnap three news reporters to prevent them from investigating Annie’s rich alter ego, Mrs. E. Worthington Manville. Of course, when the reporters turn up missing the police get involved.

The plot was not overly complicated and the acting was pretty good. Warren’s right hand man, Happy McGuire, played by Ned Sparks, did a good job. I actually have to mention him here because he was also in another Best Picture nominee from 1934, Imitation of Life. I didn’t care for him in that film because he played a business man exactly like he played the gangster in this movie. He was fine as a gangster, but not so much as the honest business man.

Another stand-out member of the cast was Guy Kibbee, playing the part of Henry G. Blake, otherwise known as Judge Manville, Annie’s “husband.” He was smart, witty, cool under pressure, and quick with a smile. He was a very likeable character, and Kibbee did a fine job.

There was one scene in particular that stood out to me, in which the Count asks Judge Manville about Louise’s dowry. Blake tries to talk his way out of it, knowing that the Dude can’t afford a fifty thousand dollar dowry. As the two men are walking down the corridor of the mansion, they happen to pass a billiards room. Being the professional pool-hall shark that he was, he easily turned the tables. By the time their match was done, he has gotten the Count to pay for the dowry himself. It was quite amusing.

All in all, it was a good movie. In the end, Annie got to keep her secret and everybody got a happy ending. Of course, the movie was over before we saw Annie have to give back all the clothes and rented jewels, leave the mansion, and return to her poor hovel of a home. We all know that when the fantasy is over, she will be back on the streets selling her apples.

If you think about it like that, it is a depressing idea. But director, Frank Capra, let us all off the hook by leaving us our happy ending. By doing that, he also gave us a tiny sliver of hope. Maybe Henry Blake has fallen in love with Annie for real and is willing to take care of her. Who knows what might happen when the cameras stop rolling. ” - faltskog9
 
23.
Little Women (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Little Women is a "coming of age" drama tracing the lives of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. During the American Civil War... (115 mins.)
Director: George Cukor
“ Little Women – 1933

Spoiler Alert

This is the first adaptation of Little Women that I have seen and I have never read the book. So, the story is new to me. The film was based on Louisa May Alcott’s most beloved book of the same name. This was actually the third film adaptation of the novel, the first one being a silent film from 1917, and the second, another silent film from 1918. Two more film versions were to follow: one in 1949 and another in 1994.

It is a sweet story, but let’s be honest. It was as rather dull. There were never any real complications except for a death from weakness brought on by scarlet fever. There was no conflict, no bad guys, no one to blame, even, for the death. It made the story sad, but not terribly interesting.

The story follows the March family with Spring Byington playing the matriarch Margaret “Marmee” March. Her husband Robert is off fighting in the Civil War. The children are all girls, Margaret “Meg”, Josephine “Jo”, Elizabeth “Beth” and Amy, played respectively by Frances Dee, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Parker and Joan Bennett.

The daughters each have their own special slightly negative personality trait that they have to deal with, though the story is told mostly through the perspective of the second daughter, Jo. Meg is vain. Jo is a tomboy. Beth is shy. Amy is selfish. Aside from these little issues, the four girls are practically perfect in every way.

In the same respect, they each have their own special skill. Meg is a peace-maker. Joe is a writer. Beth plays the piano. Amy is an artist. The whole thing is starting to seem a little overly-fabricated. I guess what I am trying to say is that the characters were all pretty one-dimensional and slightly fake. But I’ll be the first to admit. That isn’t a flaw with the film. It is a flaw with the book.

If the sisters have any disagreements, they are always resolved quickly and sweetly. If anyone needs help, the girls are all going out of their way to do their part. Eventually, when they grow into young women, they develop romantic intentions with various men. But even then, there are few conflicts. The men they end up with are all perfect gentlemen who treat them perfectly. The relationships are all full of love and happiness.

Like I mentioned earlier, the biggest conflict in the film is when Beth gets sick with scarlet fever. Her first encounter with it does not kill her, but it leaves her severely weakened. Even that was handled gently. By the time she is ready to die, she is not only at peace with her impending death, but her family has had years to get used to the idea.

Aside from that, though, the biggest conflict in the film was when Aunt March takes Amy to Europe instead of Jo. Jo is in tears, but only for a moment. She is too happy for her sister to be upset about her own situation for long.

And speaking of Aunt March, once again, playing the crotchety old woman so well, we have Edna May Oliver. She was obviously typecast into this kind of a role, as she keeps popping up whenever a cantankerous old lady is called for. But she just does it so well!

So, nearly all of my review has been about the dullness of the plot. But I should also mention that the parts were all well cast and that the actors certainly did a fine job with the lack-luster material. Hepburn received top-billing, and she is always a pleasure to watch. But this was one of her earlier movies and I don’t think she stood out any more than the rest of the cast. But apparently her name was already enough to give the film a boost.

Like I said earlier, this was a sweet movie, but ultimately a dull one. Then again, it is one of those stories that is apparently immensely popular. It would have to be. How else would we have 5 separate movie adaptations over the years? ” - faltskog9
 
24.
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Elizabeth Barrett's tyrannical father has forbidden any of his family to marry. Nevertheless, Elizabeth falls in love with the poet Robert Browning. (109 mins.)
Director: Sidney Franklin
“ The Barretts of Wimpole Street – 1934

Spoiler Alert

I went into watching this film with no knowledge of what it was about. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the story. I was not expecting the heavy drama. It was drama that was uncomfortable to watch. It had to do with the real-life romance and subsequent marriage of two famous poets, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.

The film was marked as a big romance, and it certainly was that. But I found the bigger issue to be one of a family whose domineering and tyrannical father was so cruel as to willfully deny his children any happiness. He was manipulative and selfish in his dealings with them, using powerful guilt trips to cow his sons and daughters into obedience. I mean, the romance itself didn’t present the most prominent conflict to the plot. The film’s biggest tension was the father’s mean-spirited oppression of his children.

Norma Shearer played Elizabeth Barrett, a girl who is so ill that she is generally confined to her sick-bed. But she writes her poetry and exchanges letters with another poet, Robert Browning, played by Fredric March. It would all be a picture perfect romance, except for her father, played by Charles Laughton, is an ultra-conservative Christian, who’s self-righteous and supremely pious ways have long since turned to cruelty disguised as love.

Mr. Barrett terrorizes his children, both emotionally, and physically. He constantly tells Elizabeth that she is sick and that she will never get better. He keeps her in poor health so that she will always have to depend on him to survive. But when her relationship with Mr. Browning escalates to a point where they actually meet and the fall in love, she begins to realize the true nature of her father’s affections.

Love gives Elizabeth the strength to regain her health. She begins to realize that she can get better, and that her father wants to keep her sick so that she will never leave him. For me, the real drama of the film is Elizabeth’s character arc as she rebels against her father. In the end she decides to leave him, fully realizing that she will leave with nothing but the dress she is wearing. She runs into the arms of her lover, marrying him in a secret ceremony, and when she did, I applauded her. Her personal struggles for freedom interested me more than the romance, or her regained health.

Shearer’s performance was slightly melodramatic, and she made a little too much use of the over-exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions that actors had been using in the silent rea, though it wasn’t too bad. But aside from that, her style of acting was real and engaging. The role she played demanded a wide range of emotions and she seemed to pull them all off with ease. Fredric March also did a fine job, but I think that his performance was a bit overshadowed by Shearer. But he seemed passionate and sincere about his performance, so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on him.

Laughton did a good enough job, though with the exception of one scene, his character was pretty one-note. He played his one emotion, angry self-righteousness, very well. But I have to mention the one scene where that stolid mask was dropped for an instant. In it, Mr. Barrett confesses to Elizabeth how much he really loves her. The intensity of his affection for her borders on inappropriate and uncomfortable. He seemed to love her a bit too much, and possibly in an un-fatherly way. This incestuous aspect of his character was stronger in the original Broadway play upon which the film was based, but director of the film, Sidney Franklin, took all of that out of the script. However, Laughton was quoted as saying, “They can censor it all they like, but they can’t censor the gleam out of my eye.” And he was absolutely right because I certainly picked up on it.

And lastly I have to mention another wonderful performance. Elizabeth’s younger sister, Henrietta, played by Maureen O’Sullivan, was, for most of the film, even more rebellious than any of her eight siblings. She was generally the most vocal about her misery, living under the oppressive shadow of her father. She fell in love with a soldier and when her father found them out, she was told that she would not be allowed to marry him or even see him ever again, for fear of being completely disowned. O’Sullivan’s acting was, at times, nearly as powerful as Shearer’s.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but the depth of the drama was a pleasant surprise. I thought the entire cast did a great job. And knowing nothing about the story, I found myself really questioning whether Elizabeth and Robert would end up together, whether Elizabeth would find the courage to defy her father and leave him, and that is a credit to both the director and the script. Well done, everyone! ” - faltskog9
 
25.
Cleopatra (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
The man-hungry Queen of Egypt leads Julius Caesar and Mark Antony astray, amid scenes of DeMillean splendor. (100 mins.)
“ Cleopatra – 1934

Spoiler Alert

This was a big movie. It was a huge Cecil B. DeMille epic that starred Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, Warren William as Julius Cesar, and Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony. DeMille was famously known for the flamboyant spectacles of his films. Later in his career, he would go on to produce and direct other hits such as Samson and Delilah, the Best Picture winner The Greatest Show on Earth, and The Ten Commandments. It was beautifully and sumptuously designed with an opulent art deco style, and I think it would have been stunning as a color film.

Colbert, William and Wilcoxon all did a fine job in their respective roles. Colbert was beautiful, though if I am being honest, I have never liked her penciled-in eyebrows. They are frightening. And she didn’t look even remotely Egyptian. But putting that aside, she acted the part well enough. She had gravity and a sense of authority about her at the appropriate moments, though at other times she stopped being a queen and became a woman in love.

Wilcoxon was incredibly handsome, but only if he was shot from the proper angle. Otherwise he was merely good-looking. His acting was just fine, though. The scene that took place on Cleopatra’s barge, where she seduced Marc Antony with her exotic foods and dancing slaves, was a particularly fantastic sequence. Wilcoxon was able to portray a believable transition from anger to delight, and finally to lust, looking at the scantily clad dancing girls.

It was all a feast for the eyes and the wild and beautiful score by Rudolph Kopp helped propel the dancers into a frenzy of lust and passion. It was almost too much to take in. In a very sensuous sequence, Cleopatra has a team of hunky slaves in loincloths haul up a net from out of the sea. The net is carefully laid on the deck of the barge and when the ropes are released, we can finally see what has been “caught.” Six or seven naked women are in the net, each holding up an oyster shell filled with pearls and gems. Cleopatra and Antony scatter the jewels on the deck of the barge and all the slaves and dancers scramble in an excited rush to collect the discarded riches.

But then the whole scene was thrown into the realm of the bazar. A troupe of female dancers came out dressed in sexy leopard costumes, tails and all. They began having cat-fights on the deck, meowing, scratching and hissing at each other. They only stopped when a leopard tamer came out cracking his whip to force them into submission. Then they started doing cartwheels through three flaming hoops.

Flaming hoops on a wooden barge…

And while we are on that subject, it is interesting to note that this movie was made in 1934. The Hays code was just beginning to take effect, allowing DeMille to be much more risqué than he could be in his later films. He showed more naked female flesh in this movie than I was expecting. Cleopatra, wither flamboyant wardrobe, seemed to be always showing her midriff, though we never once saw her belly-button.

Ok, so we all know the story of Cleopatra, Julius Cesar and Marc Antony. Apparently no Roman man could resist her exotic beauty and charms. Rome is out to conquer Egypt and Cleopatra’s way of keeping her throne is to seduce Cesar. But then he is assassinated because of his love affair with a foreign queen. Then the Roman Senate puts Marc Antony and Cesar’s nephew Octavian, played by Ian Keith, into positions of joint rulers.

Antony goes to conquer Egypt, but Cleopatra seduces him as well. The Roman army abandons him and he takes control of the Egyptian army. The fantastic battle sequence showed a surprising amount of blood and horrific death. But in the end Cleopatra, who has truly fallen for Antony, goes to Octavian to plead for his life. Thinking that she has betrayed him, Antony commits suicide. Cleopatra finds him and he dies in her arms. With the Roman army breaking down the palace doors, the Queen shoves a snake onto her breast and dies of its poison.

The film was huge and grand. It was well acted and had a good story. OK, so we threw reality out the window for a bit, but that was OK, and not entirely unexpected. I just wish this film could have been made in color. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the 1963 Best Picture nominee with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. ” - faltskog9
 
26.
Flirtation Walk (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
A Musical-romance with Dick Powell as a private stationed in Hawaii who gets involved with Ruby Keeler... (97 mins.)
Director: Frank Borzage
“ Flirtation Walk – 1934

Spoiler Alert

Flirtation was a cute and enjoyable film that fit right into the style of the 30s. It starred Dick Powell as Richard “Canary” Palmer Grant Dorcy, an enlisted man in the U.S. Army. He is a moron. Opposite him is Ruby Keeler playing the part of Kit Fitts, the manipulative and self-centered daughter of the General. Together, they make for a delightfully romantic couple who must overcome class differences and the social conventions of the day to be together. Their story is set against the backdrop of two iconic places: the Hawaiian Islands and West Point Military Academy.

Now, you may ask why I call our main protagonist a moron. Let me explain. We first meet him as he is making fun of his superior officer behind his back. That, in itself isn’t so bad, but when he realizes that the officer is standing right behind him, listening to him, Dorcy doesn’t stop. He continues to make fun of him to his face. Of course, this lands him in hot water.

Then when the General’s daughter shows up, and manipulates him into disobeying orders, using the old “My father is the General, and you have to do what I say,” line, Dorcy is dumb enough to go along with it. The two have a romantic escapade, complete with a well-choreographed Hawaiian luau. They fall in love, despite the fact that Kit is somewhat promised to Lieutenant Biddle, played by John Eldridge.

Then rest of the movie follows Dorcy as he makes one bad decision after another because he is so crazy about Kit. He tries to go AWOL and is talked down by his best friend, Scrapper Thornhill, played by Pat O’Brien, along with the stereotypical dumb grunt, Sleepy, played by Guinn Williams. Then he decides to win Kit back by going to West Point Academy, not to excel, but to impress her. While there, he meets new friends like Spike, played by John Arledge, and Oskie, played by Ross Alexander. One bad decision after another, all concerning Kit, culminates in Dorcy nearly getting kicked out of the Academy the night before graduation.

But remember, this is Hollywood in the 1930s, so whatever happened, love would conquer all. The happy couple ended up together in the end mostly because of the officer who was supposed to be the bad guy, Lt. Biddle. He was eventually man enough to realize that Kit loved Dorcy instead of him, and graciously stepped aside, allowing the two lovers to be together.

The film was presented as a musical, spouting 6 musical numbers. But I liked how the numbers were actually worked into the story. They were not gratuitous or part of the story, but at least they came at appropriate times. There was a song at the luau, and several when Dorcy was put in charge of writing a play to be performed by the Cadets of West Point. The tunes were light and fluffy, giving the film a pleasant air and a fun atmosphere.

But it was that light-hearted aesthetic which made the movie fun to watch. Yeah, the leading character was an idiot, but it was ok because the film wasn’t too serious or dramatic. The luau scene was elaborate and fun, and had the distinction of being filmed on the biggest set ever constructed at Warner Brother Studios at the time. And the scenes filmed at the real West Point Academy were visually interesting with the handsome cadets all marching in their pristine uniforms.

Powell, who was a very popular crooner in the 30s was handsome and fresh-faced. As it turned out, he was also a very capable actor. Keeler was a little one note, and though she was also known as a singer, I wasn’t impressed with her voice when put next to Powell. Fortunately, her singing was kept to a minimum.

If I had any real complaints, it would be the old movie trope in which men turn into cartoonish, blithering idiots whenever a pretty girl walks into the room, as if they had never seen an attractive woman in their lives. Sure, Keeler was pretty, but really… oh well. ” - faltskog9
 
27.
Imitation of Life (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Bea Pullman and her daughter Jessie have had a hard time making ends meet since Bea's husband died. Help comes in the form of Delilah Johnson... (111 mins.)
Director: John M. Stahl
“ Imitation of Life – 1934

Spoiler Alert

This was a movie that was done right. It was so well done, and I’ll be honest: This movie should have taken home the Oscar for Best Picture. It lost that honor to It Happened One Night, which was not one of my favorite winners. It starred Claudette Colbert, Louise Beavers, Warren William, Rochelle Hudson, and Fredi Washington.

It was a great film that had a definite stance on a serious issue, but it didn’t beat you over the head with it. It was simply a powerful story with a very loving and positive message. The characters were well written. They were good people, and yet they were each flawed enough to be completely realistic. I would put this film up there with other great movies like The Best Years of Our Lives and Marty.

It is interesting to note that Claudette Colbert seemed to have been the hot ticket in 1934. This was the third Best Picture nominated movie she starred in for that year. She was in Cleopatra, and the Best Picture Winner, It Happened One Night. And she really did a great job in each of them.

The story is about a widow, Bea Pullman, played by Colbert, with a child. She is struggling to make ends meet, struggling to care for her daughter, Jessie. By happy misfortune, she meets Delilah Johnson, played by Beavers. She is a colored woman with a daughter of her own named Peola. She is looking for a job as a housekeeper and a place to live. She asks to become Bea’s housekeeper for free in exchange for room and board.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I will mention the main points of the film. Peola is a child of mixed race. She is very light-skinned, fair enough to pass herself off as a white girl. She sees how colored children are treated and becomes embarrassed because of the color of her mother’s skin. She also learns to hate herself because of her true heritage. It was a very interesting take on the problem of racism. I’ve never seen another movie that deals with the prejudice in the same way.

The two women use Delilah’s family recipe for pancake batter to open their own pancake restaurant, become rich beyond their wildest dreams, and the children grow into young adults. Jessie is not the smartest girl, but she has a good heart. But Peola still has the same issues, though she is apparently very smart.

The movie had so much symbolism in the way it was filmed. The differences between white and black were very subtly shown. When the business takes off, Bea offers to buy Delilah a house of her own, but she doesn’t want to be parted from her. She begs to be able to continue to be Bea’s housekeeper, though they are both rich enough to have their own servants. The friendship between the two women is a strong one that was wonderfully written and beautifully acted. Colbert and Beavers each did a really fantastic job.

The adult Peola also had a pretty dramatic role. She was played by actress Fredi Washington. The scene in which she rejects her mother completely, saying that she wanted to be free to pass herself off as a white woman, was heartbreaking. Quite literally, as Delilah’s spirit is crushed. She takes to her bed and dies of a broken heart. Before dying she tells Bea her dream of a lavish and grand funeral. Let me tell you, the funeral scene was very dramatic and brought tears to my eyes, especially when Peola shows up and breaks down in tears. She is ashamed of her own behavior and cries for her mother who never treated her with anything but unconditional love.

Of course, I have completely left out a whole different side of the film, which was the relationship between Bea and her daughter, Jessie. The adult version was played by Rochelle Hudson. And a new man comes into Bea’s life. He is Stephen Archer, played by William Warren. But you’ll have to watch the movie yourself to get that story-line. The parts that dealt with racism were so much more interesting and meaningful to me.

And finally, it is interesting to note that like most films made in the 1930s, the cast credits are given before the beginning of the movie. But at the end, they are listed again with a little sign that said, “A good cast is worth repeating.” And this cast was very good. Like I said, this one should have won the Award for Best Picture. ” - faltskog9
 
28.
The Thin Man (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Former detective Nick Charles and his wealthy wife Nora investigate a murder case, mostly for the fun of it. (91 mins.)
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
“ The Thin Man – 1934

Spoiler Alert

The Thin Man was a fun movie. It was a murder mystery with a cleverly written plot and some memorable characters. Most notable was the reluctant investigator, Nick Charles, played by William Powel. He is really an interesting character. He is a man who married into money, retired from his job as a police inspector. He has a very biting and yet careless sense of humor which is actually part of his charm. He is a handsome mane with a ready smile and no ill will towards anyone.

Powel did a fantastic job and was fun to watch. But here’s the thing: The film is the first in the Thin Man franchise. The only problem is the title. The eponymous thin man is very specific to the murder mystery in this film. It has no bearing on any further movies in the franchise. You see, the film was so named because the first man to be murdered was thin and not fat, a critical point in solving the case. One could even call it “The Case of the Thin Man.” However, both audiences and critics alike kept referring to Powel as the Thin Man, so I guess it just stuck.

And yet there were 5 more movies in the franchise, each being called a variation of The Thin Man: After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home and Song of the Thin Man. Just bear in mind that the character of Nick Charles was not the Thin Man. The Thin Man was actually the character of Clyde Wynant, played by Edward Ellis and he was one of the murder victims. But it was his disappearance that started all the events of the plot. But never-mind that.

Opposite Powel was Myrna Loy, playing the part of Nora Charles, Nick’s socialite wife. She is witty and smart and a perfect match for Nick’s quirky sarcastic, devil-may-care attitude. The two of them often exchanged quick quips and witty jabs that sometimes gave the impression that they couldn’t stand each other. In fact, he often makes jokes that he only married her for her money. But it is completely clear they are hopelessly in love with each other. All that, and Nick’s constant and unrepentant drinking, is part of the movie’s charm.

The mystery of the plot was very cleverly written. Clyde Wynant disappears and his mistress, Julia Wolf turns up murdered. There are plenty of suspects and they each have a particular motive to want the demise of the victims. There is Mimi Wynant Jorgenson, played by Minna Gombell, Clyde’s jilted ex-wife. Cesar Romero played Chris Jorgenson, Mimi’s new husband who wants to extort money from Clyde. There was Clyde’s lawyer who had access to $50,000 in bonds that Wolf had stolen from him. There was Arthur Nunheim, played by Harold Hubber, a small-time gangster who also knew Clyde’s mistress. And there were several others, all of whom could have done it.

The reluctant detective is finally moved to solve the case because of the pleas of Wynant’s daughter. You see, most of the film, the murder case is really that of Julia Wolf, and the missing Wynant, himself, is the prime suspect. But Wynant’s daughter Dorothy, played by Maureen O’Sullivan, cannot believe that her father is guilty. She begs Nick to take the case.

The climactic scene in which the murderer and his victims are revealed was very fun to watch. Nick had gathered all the information that he could and invited all the suspects to a dinner party. Then he went through each one of them, spouting their various motives. But during the ensuing denial-filled conversation, the true murderer gave himself away. It was pretty funny that even Nick wasn’t even sure who the killer was until that point.

It was a fun movie and I enjoyed watching it. Apparently, audiences in 1934 did as well. But that being said, the movie didn’t strike me as Best Picture material. It was fluff. All the comically witty dialogue and the light-hearted feel took away from the poignancy of the murder investigation. It was a charming movie, but there was no seriousness, no danger. It was clever but not amazingly clever. It was funny, but not incredibly funny. It was engaging, but not terribly intense.

But it was enough for William Powel and Myrna Loy to appear in 5 more Thin Man films, which I suppose says something pretty good about the franchise. However, I found it interesting to note that the movie was filmed in only 12 days, only 5 months after the release of the book. But director W.S. Van Dyke pulled it off and made the film for a budget of only $231,000. Not bad, since it brought in around $1.4 million. ” - faltskog9
 
29.
One Night of Love (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.0/10 X  
Mary Barrett is an aspiring Opera singer who is taken under the wings of a famous operatic maestro, Guilio Monterverdi... (84 mins.)
“ One Night of Love - 1934

Spoiler Alert

This was a charming movie. It was a film about a girl with dreams of studying with the best voice teacher in Italy to become an opera super-star. It was certainly not a musical, though it had music as part of the plot. Back in the 1930s musical performances in films were immensely popular, but often times the music was rather unmemorable, especially for modern viewers like myself. More than that, songs just seemed to pop up without real reasons, other than that the director decided that it was time for another song.

But this film had several wonderful performances which showcased timeless classical arias from Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata, Carmen and Madam Butterfly. Playing the lead role of Mary Barrett was the real-life opera star, Grace Moore. Moore was a world-famous operatic soprano and musical theatre actress who had the nickname, the “Tennessee Nightingale.” The singing was always part of Barrett’s performances during her journey to become a great opera star.

And she was a truly talented singer, a fact to which I have to call special attention. As I am watching a lot of films from the era, I have found that many of the female singers who are featured in other musical films have very shrill voices. Maybe it was the popular style of the time, or maybe some actresses were hired for their looks and not their voices. Perhaps the sound recording technology of the time was not able to give an accurate account of treble voices. But Moore’s voice had a fullness and an ease about it that convinced me that her singing was no fakery. It was a genuinely good voice.

The character she portrayed was a young girl who dreamed of studying with the great vocal coach, Giulio Monteverdi, played by Tullio Carminati. Giulio’s problem was that he had a history of falling in love with his voice students. But after hearing Mary sing, he went out of his way to take her on as his pupil, on the condition that the subject of love never be approached. Everything was to be strictly work and study.

He trained her hard, driving her to the point of exhaustion and frustration. But in the end they both succeeded. She became the greatest opera star in Italy. But you can guess what happened next. Without realizing it, they had both fallen in love with each other.

Maybe it was a little predictable in that respect, but it was still delightful to watch. It was worth it just to see and hear Moore’s performances in Carmen and Madam Butterfly. I know very little about opera, but I know enough to spot a great performance when I see it.

I really liked Moore’s performance, but I also enjoyed Carmenati’s performance as well. His Italian accent was not an affectation and his style of acting was pretty realistic. He never seemed to be forced or nervous. I thought it was a rather honest portrayal.

Of course, there were other actors in the film, though Moore and Carmenati took the lion’s share of the screen time. Giulio’s vindictive ex-student and ex-love, Lally, was played by Mona Barrie. His pianist Giovanni, who turned out to be the film’s comic relief, was played by Luis Alberni. He had some pretty amusing moments. His housekeeper and Barrett’s assistant, Angelina, was played by Jessie Ralph. And finally, Bill Houston, the sweet young man in love with Mary Barrett, was played by Lyle Talbot.

They all did a fine job, but I still felt a little unenthusiastic about the whole movie. It was cute and charming but it was little more than fluff. It was neither too deep nor too serious. The plot was simple and easy to follow, though not terribly engaging. But that’s alright. Moore’s wonderful performances made up for it.

It is interesting to note that this was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Music Score, as this was the first year in which the category existed. Moore was also nominated for Best Actress, though she did not win. ” - faltskog9
 
30.
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Mimi Glossop wants a divorce so her Aunt Hortense hires a professional to play the correspondent in apparent infidelity... (107 mins.)
Director: Mark Sandrich
“ The Gay Divorcee – 1934

Spoiler Alert

This movie was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting a happy, feel-good musical, and for the most part, that is what I got. What I found disappointing was the lack of subtlety, memorable music and a plausible plot. I understood that a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would be a dance musical, and I have no problem with that. But most of the dancing had so little to do with the plot that it all seemed unnecessary.

Let me explain. The main character was a professional dancer named Guy Holden, played by Astaire. He has a chance meeting with the beautiful Mimi, played by Rogers. He falls instantly in love, though she does not return his affections. In fact, she rather dislikes him. But then things turn creepy as Guy actively stalks her. When he finds her, he gets in his car and a nice little high-speed car chase ensues. When he finally catches her, he traps her behind a phony “Road Closed” sign and forces her to talk to him. She repeatedly tells him to leave her alone, to stop pursuing her. She makes it quite clear that she is not interested and wants him to go away. But Guy is so in love with her that when she says no, he ignores her objections.

Mimi’s problem is that she is unhappily married and wants to get a divorce. She goes to an idiot lawyer because her husband refuses to grant her a one. His solution is to have her go to a hotel and stay in a room with a hired man while a private investigator comes and catches the two together, causing the husband to request a divorce from an unfaithful wife. Great plan, since the wife apparently has no rights when it comes to divorce. But the lawyer happens to be Guys friend and they all go to the same hotel. The rest of the plot, of which there isn’t much, is pretty predictable.

The original stage musical featured music by Cole Porter, but when it was made into a movie, only one of Porter’s songs was kept. It was called Night and Day, and in my opinion, it was the best song in the film. But there were a few other songs written for the movie. The most notable was a song called The Continental. It was a twenty minute dance number with singing that was pretty superfluous. At least this number started out in a good fashion, being a part of the plot. Guy and Mimi are watching the dancing hotel guests from their balcony. Guy says that he likes the music and wonders what it is called. Mimi says that it is The Continental. The two say that they want to go down to the dance floor and join the dancing.

They do, and we have another delightful little dance number. After a few minutes the pair completed their dance and the hotel guests applauded for them. But then dozens of dancers rush onto the dance floor and we are treated to another eighteen minutes of flashy dancing, matching costumes and meaningless music. The whole scene could have been over when Guy and Mimi were done dancing. It would have saved us a lot of time, and everyone would have been happier.

And as for the dancing itself, it was alright. Much of dancing was fairly simple formations, meaning that the costumes were all either black or white and the choreographer used that to create shapes and formations. All the black dresses form a line here. All the white dresses form a line there. Look: a big plus sign! Now move to position two! Look: a big equal sign! Now look at it spinning!

Of course, we really only came to see Astaire and Rogers dance. So I’ll comment on their dancing in particular. I’m sorry to say this, but Fred Astaire was not a very good actor, though he could dance. He knew all his moves, he knew all his steps, but his style seemed a bit jerky and frantic. He was a very thin, gangly sort of a man and when he danced his movements all looked a little forced. But then I watched Ginger Rogers dance. Her dancing was smooth and fluid. She glided across the floor like a breeze, though her energy, at times, seemed a little lacking.

But when the two of them danced together, it was like magic. They were both better together than they were separately. They moved as one being and were perfectly in synch. Those were the times when I stared at the screen in amazement. That was what audiences really came to see.

But I really don’t think this should have been nominated for Best Picture. The vapid story and Astaire’s equally vapid acting were not enough to warrant such a high honor. And besides… Gene Kelly was really a better dancer. ” - faltskog9
 
31.
The House of Rothschild (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
The wealthy Rothschild family undergoes prejudice from the anti-Semitic society they live within. (88 mins.)
Director: Alfred Werker
“ The House of Rothschild – 1934

Spoiler Alert

This was a very interesting movie on several fronts. I generally shy away from historical dramas if I don’t know anything about the real history. When I watch one, I have to do at least a small amount of research to see how historically accurate the film is. This historical drama follows the rise of the Rothschild family as it makes its vast fortune during the Napoleonic Wars.

It boasted no big names but it had a good story that caught my attention despite myself. It started out with George Arliss playing the part of Mayer Rothschild, the father of five sons named Nathan, Salomon, Amschel, Carl and James. The film shows Mayer as a Jew in the 1760s, in Frankfurt, Germany. He is an honest business man, except that he hides his wealth when the tax collector comes to call. The point is made that the Jews are treated with extreme prejudice that resembled Nazi Germany in WWII.

On his death-bed, Mayer instructs his sons to establish banks in the five capitols of Europe, Frankfurt, Paris, London, Naples and Vienna. Thus was the first international bank born. Each brother is very successful in his business dealings, each working together to build one of the largest financial empires ever created.

All this took place against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and as everyone knows, war is good for business. The five brothers became extremely rich when making loans to governments to support the war efforts. And while that is the main focus of the film, the concept of anti-Semitism is also a strong component.

The director, Alfred L. Werker did a very good job of building the tension. The story of the five brothers was a journey that was one of financial success, though there were also setbacks, risks and the possibility of complete and utter ruin. George Arliss also played the part of Nathan Rothschild, the man who opened the bank in London. Though he was the third son, the brothers elected him the head of the family business, so the plot focused on him. Arliss did a good job in playing both parts. In fact, I didn’t even know it was the same actor in the two roles until I did my research.

As I usually like to do with historical films, I did a little reading into the real-life events and found that they were pretty accurate, though they left out a lot of the details in order to present a dramatic interpretation of the events. The film did not say how the brothers established their banks, nor did it mention what they each did to become successful.

Instead, they threw a little sub-plot into the mix concerning Nathan’s daughter Julie Rothschild, played by Loretta Young. She fell in love with the Captain Fitzroy. He was part of the British military, an organization which was being controlled by men who oppressed the Jews, stole their business, and incited discrimination and even criminal activity amongst them. Julie was a completely made-up character. The real Nathan actually had 3 daughters, none of whom were named Julie. But this sub-plot played into the anti-Semitism subject.

Now, at the end of the film, they did something rather interesting, though it was never really explained why it was done. The final scene showed Nathan Rothschild kneeling before the King of England at a formal reception. Not only has he almost single-handedly funded England’s war efforts against Napoleon, but he has saved the British economy and financial empire from utter ruin. He has been made a Baron.

For some reason, this last scene was filmed in three-strip Technicolor. The gowns of the ladies attending the reception, the banners on the walls, the military coats of the gentlemen, everything was in full and vibrant color. It was nice to see a bit of color at the end, but why was it done? It didn’t really make sense with the story, unless they were trying to make it clear that a lot of time had passed since the previous scene. If they could do it, why didn't they do it for the entire film? If it was too expensive to do, why was it done at all? It left me slightly confused.

All in all, though, it was a good film and I enjoyed watching it. The acting was good, the plot was easy to follow and the pacing was engaging. For some reason, I hadn’t actually expected to like this one, but to my surprise, I really did. ” - faltskog9
 
32.
Viva Villa! (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
In this fictionalized biography, young Pancho Villa takes to the hills after killing an overseer in revenge for his father's death... (115 mins.)
Director: Jack Conway
“ Viva Villa! – 1934

Spoiler Alert

It is hard to love a hero who is a buffoon. That is the phrase that kept going through my mind as I watched this movie. On the one hand, I have grown to like Wallace Beery as an actor. On the other hand, I don’t think this was his best work. But I don’t think it was his fault. I would put the blame on the script writer and the director.

What I mean by that is the character of the Mexican hero, Pancho Villa, was portrayed as not only a moron, but a drunken criminal. I cannot believe that someone as utterly stupid as the character Beery portrayed could have done the things he did. In fact, in doing my research, I learned that the real Pancho Villa was a smart enough man. He accomplished what he did mostly by brute force. But he did it all for the poor commoners of Mexico. He was a ruthless man, but the people loved him.

Unfortunately, the writer and the director dropped the ball. They turned him into an idiot with a gun. It never really explained why he was so popular. It never went into how he was able to win all his battles. Instead, they showed how he was a drunk, a womanizer, and a fool. They also went out of their way to show how Pancho Villa was a bandit, first and foremost. He was a common thug and criminal, but because he had the biggest army behind him, might made right.

Next, a pretty important plot point was changed: the manner of Villa’s death. In the film, Villa was indirectly responsible for causing a woman’s death. He captured the home of Teresa, played by Fay Wray, and brought her to a private room so that he could rape her. But then she pulled out a gun and shot him in the wrist. His henchman Sierra, played by Leo Carillo, came in along with the woman’s brother, Don Felipe de Castillo, played by Donald Cook. Sierra tried to shoot the Don, but shot Teresa instead. Don Filipe vowed vengeance against Villa, and it was he who assassinated him in the end. This is all made up.

In real life, nobody is exactly sure why Villa was gunned down. The popular myth is that one of his Generals had betrayed him and he had made it his goal to exterminate the General’s entire family. Unfortunately, they got him first.

Now, as I say these things, I have to also mention that before the film started, they let us know that this account was fictional and not historically accurate. Because they did that, I can’t blame them for not being true to life. But all that means is that I can’t fault the film makers from not following history. That doesn’t excuse them for making a film that made fun of a Mexican hero in the first place. If I was a Mexican who revered Pancho Villa as a national hero, this movie would have been deeply offensive to me.

Now, something they did in the structure of the film was a bit annoying. Whenever there was a part of Pancho Villa’s story that they didn’t want to film, they would show a screen full of text saying what happened. I can understand this at the beginning of a film as set-up for what we are going to watch. Many films do it, especially historical dramas. But to constantly be propelling the plot by making us read about it instead of showing us just seems like a cop-out.

When they are riding to battle to capture a town, either show me the battle to let me see how the fight was won, or pick up the narrative after the battle and find some other way to let me know what happened during the fight. Don’t say “We are going to capture the town,” and then make me read about how the town was captured. That is why I went to the movies instead of reading the book.

And finally, everyone in the film spoke English. I have no problem with that. What I question is the fact that everyone else spoke perfect English, some with slightly British accents. But Villa and Sierra spoke with Mexican accents. However, Sierra was able to speak in complete sentences. Villa could only speak broken English, usually in one or two word sentences, as if he was still trying to learn English. That made no sense if we can assume that they are all speaking Spanish. It only served to make him sound like more of a moron. On top of that, Beery’s accent kept slipping every now and then.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t particularly care for this film and I think it all comes down to my earlier statement. It is hard to love a hero who is a buffoon. ” - faltskog9
 
33.
Alice Adams (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
The misadventures of two social-climbing women in small town America. (99 mins.)
Director: George Stevens
“ Alice Adams – 1935

Spoiler Alert

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this movie. It was entertaining, but in a very uncomfortable way. What I mean by that is that it was a movie that was supposed to be a romantic comedy. There was plenty of romantic drama, but there didn’t seem to be much comedy. It was there, but I think it was mostly based on incredibly awkward social situations.

The character of Alice Adams, beautifully played by a very young Katherine Hepburn, was a young girl in a poor family who was trying catch a husband. But because of her family’s lack of money, she resorted to lying as her means of attracting a man. She put on airs and tried to deceive the rich ladies and gentlemen into believing that she was as wealthy as they. When she meets Arthur Russell, played by Fred MacMurray, she starts in with her stories. But a relationship based on such lies can make for such an incredibly awkward situation when the lies are finally and inevitably revealed.

This was one of Katherine Hepburn’s early film roles. She had been in the Best Picture nominee Little Women two years previous, and so she was the hot ticket of the day. In fact she had won the Best Actress award two years earlier in a different film called Morning Glory. Her portrayal of Alice Adams earned her another Best Actress nomination.

But despite the fact that she was not yet the iconic star that she has become today, she was still delightful to watch. It is hard to say anything bad about her performance. Hepburn had a face that the cameras loved and a quick and witty personality that was utterly attractive. Despite Alice’s lies and the drama that they created, we loved her and rooted for her to make her relationship with Mr. Russell work. Every time one of her lies was revealed, she experienced not only the shame of the lie, but the shame of the poverty that the lie was supposed to have concealed.

And she really pulled off the drama masterfully. When she tries to get him to leave her because she is too embarrassed by the dinner party, which we’ll get to in a moment, the tears in her eyes were so real. I don’t know how she was able to hold them in her eyes so long without letting them roll down her cheeks. She really was wonderful.

But despite Alice’s many fabrications, Arthur falls hopelessly in love with her anyway. MacMurray was also a pleasure to watch. I have never been a huge fan of his, but he was young and very attractive. He had a certain kind of innocence about him that made his smiles seem warm and genuine. He was perfect in the role of the romantic lead.

Another academy award winner, though she did not win her award until 1939, was Hattie McDaniel, who played the small part of Malena. Malena was a colored maid who the Adams family hired for their dinner party. She was funny, especially when her little maid’s hat kept falling over her eyes. The party was Alice’s attempt to show Arthur that her family was wealthy enough to eat expensive food and have an expensive maid. But Arthur was no fool. He easily saw through the weak attempt to impress him.

The party was supposed to be funny, but I couldn’t help but seeing it as anything but pathetic. Embarrassed by her own family’s extreme poverty, Alice tried so hard, but simply didn’t have enough money to make the lie anything even close to convincing. The pretense was awkward for Alice, awkward for Arthur, awkward for Alice’s family, and even awkward for Malena. It was one of those situations where you just want to say, “Let’s stop pretending that we are enjoying ourselves and put an end to this farce.”

A little sub-plot that was mildly interesting was one in which Alice’s brother Walter, played by Frank Albertson, was a self-involved guy who could not hold a job, was friends with colored people, and even eventually stole money to help a friend with his gambling debts. Albertson was a handsome young man and did a good job. He was, on occasion, mean to his sister, though it was also obvious that he cared very deeply for her.

This was an interesting movie, and though I loved Hepburn, I’m not sure I would have nominated it for Best Picture. She deserved her Best Actress nomination, sure, but I wouldn’t put the film up on that level. ” - faltskog9
 
34.
Captain Blood (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
After being wrongly convicted as a traitor, Peter Blood, an English physician, is sent to exile in the British colonies of the Caribbean, where he becomes a pirate. (119 mins.)
Director: Michael Curtiz
“ Captain Blood – 1935

Spoiler Alert

This was a good movie, and as far as my research tells me, a pretty important one as well. This was apparently the film that revived the swashbuckling genre in Hollywood. It was also the film that really launched the careers of two Hollywood superstars, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It had a somewhat engaging plot, plenty of action, and a romance that took enough time to be believable.

Captain Blood was, of course, played by Flynn. He was a doctor who apparently treated the wrong patient, resulting in his arrest and his being sold into slavery. But after years of slavery, he escapes and becomes a pirate in the Caribbean. And I can’t help but think that this film alone was mostly responsible for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. I mean, I have been on that ride many times and while I was watching Captain Blood, there seemed to be several scenes, sets, and even characters that were taken directly from the theme park attraction. The trick though, is that the movie came out first, 33 years earlier. In my research, I could find no official connection between the two, but some of the similarities are pretty obvious to me. At the very least, Disney had to have been inspired by the film.

Flynn was, at that time, an unknown actor, and so the executives at Warner Brothers were taking a big risk in casting him. For that matter, de Havilland had only done 4 films before this one, so she was a bit of a risk as well. But it really paid off. The two had a wonderful on-screen chemistry. They were both young and attractive and did a great job of lighting up the screen.

The action sequences were very well done and exciting to watch. The ship battles were huge and complex. There were plenty of extras, guns and cannons firing, dangerous explosions and thrilling music. But after doing my research, I discovered something that I found a little disappointing. There were several shots in some of the battle sequences that were recycled! They actually re-used several shots from The Sea Hawk, a silent film from 1924. Doesn’t that seem a bit like cheating?

Other notable actors were in the film as well. Guy Kibbee played one of Blood’s pirates and Ross Alexander another. They both acted their parts well. Basil Rathbone played the part of Levasseur, a rival pirate. The sword fight scene was fun and well-choreographed. Apparently it was filmed in Laguna Beach, California, whereas nearly everything else was filmed on a sound stage.

That brings me to something else I didn’t particularly care for: the backdrops. They were very obviously painted. They really stood out in a film in which there was a special attention given to details. The costumes on the actors were superb. The big Spanish galleons that were constructed were very realistic. The sails, the rigging, everything was so well-done. But then the stationary painted clouds looked almost cartoony next to the actors. For me it was distracting.

The plot was a good one that I will go over briefly. Wrongly arrested and persecuted by British officials under King James II, Dr. Blood, Flynn, is sold into slavery and sent to Jamaica. While there he is bought by the British Governor’s niece, Arabella, played by de Havilland. Hey share a love-hate relationship, but the love eventually proves stronger. Despite this, Blood plans his escape. The town is attacked by Spanish pirates and he leads his fellow slaves on a raid to capture the Spanish ship.

He then turns to piracy and becomes rich, plundering any ship he can find. During the course of his adventures, he finds that Arabella has been abducted by a rival pirate band under the leadership of Levasseur. Blood wins custody of her in a thrilling swordfight. While taking her back to Jamaica, he learns that a new King has been established in England. He and his crew have been pardoned and he is now free to love his Arabella.

The plot is not terribly complex, but it kept my interest, mostly because of the lead actors. Flynn’s energetic performance was what really drove the movie forward and made it more than just a mindless action film. The director, Michael Curtiz gave the movie its action. The wonderful score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold gave it its epic grandeur. Rathbone gave the film it its danger. Flynn gave it its passion and de Havilland gave it its romance. It all combined beautifully to make a great swashbuckling film. ” - faltskog9
 
35.
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An English valet brought to the American west assimilates into the American way of life. (90 mins.)
Director: Leo McCarey
“ Ruggles of Red Gap – 1935

Spoiler Alert

I went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing about it. I had no expectations, no pre-conceived ideas. Based on the title, I thought it was going to be some kind of war film about a company of soldiers either attacking or defending a place called Red Gap. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ruggles refers to a British manservant, played by Charles Laughton, who is lost by his master in a gambling bet. As a result, he moves to the remote Western boomtown town called Red Gap, Washington, with his new employers. They are nouveau riche American millionaires, Egbert and Effie Floud, played by Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland. They are a crude and uncultured couple, which is in complete contrast to Ruggles’ refined European sensibilities.

You can see the inherent comedy just waiting to burst forth from such a set-up. The clash of cultures is simply rife with awkward moments, misunderstandings, and silly hijinks. And at first, that is how the plot played out. With only a few exceptions, the first half of the movie was fun to watch. The only thing that really bothered me was the extreme moronic and childish behavior of Egbert while he is in Paris. He was a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ as loud as he could and actually jumped on his American buddy’s back to play horsey in the middle of the Parisian streets. Adults who are not socially retarded do not behave like that.

But while I was rolling my eyes at that kind of thing, I was chuckling at Effie’s uneducated attempts to make herself sound cultured and refined. It is always funny when people make themselves out to be fools when they think they are being hoity-toity. As much as I didn’t like the character of Effie Floud, Mary Boland did a good job. We weren’t supposed to like her.

Charles Laughton did a very good job in the comedic role or Ruggles. When Egbert gets him drunk, he turns to a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ at the most unexpected moments. His sense of timing was spot on and he was a lot of fun to watch.

I also have to give a special thumbs-up to Charlie Ruggles. His portrayal of Egbert was nothing if not memorable. In fact, there were moments when he stole the show. When Effie took him to have his Western moustache trimmed against his wishes, she tricks him into looking the other way while the barber snips off his handle-bars. His response was to grab the scissors and do the same to the barber. And despite his drunken childish behavior, he was nonetheless charming in a strange kind of way.

However, the second half of the movie changed quite dramatically. Instead of a comedy of clashing cultures, it became a bit of a drama as Ruggles discovers that there is more to live than serving the needs of other people. He develops a sense of independence and learns to serve his own needs and desires. In our American mind-set, that is always a good thing. But there is a small part of me that can’t help thinking that there is nothing wrong with a life spent in service if you find that life fulfilling.

But it is gratifying to see the character of Ruggles blossom into an independent man who can make his own decisions and deal with the consequences on his own. We should all be so lucky.

There were a few other unmemorable subplots that failed to catch my attention. There was the fact that Ruggles’ former employer traveled to Red Gap to reclaim his manservant. Instead, the Earl of Burnstead, played by Roland Young, gets much more than he bargained for. While there, not only does he learn that Ruggles no longer wishes to be anyone’s servant, but he also meets a rowdy singer named Nell Kenner, played by Leila Hyams, and marries her.

The almost melancholy seriousness of the second half of the film climaxes in a scene in which Ruggles recites the famous Gettysburg Address, in which he reminds the folk of Red Gap that all men are created equal. He makes the significant point that a servant is no less a man than his master. I’m beginning to see why Charles Laughton was such a popular actor. ” - faltskog9
 
36.
David Copperfield (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
When David's father dies, his mother remarries. His new stepfather Murdstone has a mean and cruel view on how to raise a child... (130 mins.)
Director: George Cukor
“ David Copperfield - 1935

Spoiler Alert

David Copperfield surprised me but only a little. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting much more than a combination of an evening at Bob Cratchet’s house with Tiny Tim saying “And God Bless us, every one!” and Oliver holding up an empty bowl, saying “Please, Sir, I want some more.” And in that respect, I pretty much got what I was expecting. What surprised me was the caliber of the actors who did a wonderful job of making all the sappy dialogue palatable.

It is a well known fact that David Copperfield was Charles Dickens’ favorite character in all his writings. I’ll try not to go into the plot too much, though I will need to touch on a few key points. The film, like the book, follows the character of David Copperfield beginning at his birth. He is born to a widowed mother. His cantankerous Aunt Betsey, is played by Edna May Oliver, an actress who I am growing to respect more and more every time I see her on the screen. She comes on the scene like a whirlwind, bossy and demanding, though later in the film she turns into a beloved parent figure.

When his mother marries the cruel Mr. Murdstone, played by professional villain Basil Rathbone, who moves in with his bitter and angry sister, the young David, played by Freddie Bartholomew, is terrorized and beaten. And when his mother dies, he is sent away to become a child laborer in London. Bartholomew did a surprisingly good job. The studio wanted the role to go to their contracted child actor, Jackie Cooper, but thank goodness the director, David O. Selznick got his way.

Bartholomew was able to deliver the sappy lines convincingly. His crying scenes were not overdone or fake. He was believable in everything he did. While in London, he boards with the Micawber family. The family patriarch is played by W. C. Fields. Now, here I had a little bit of a problem. Fields turned in two separate performances. At first, he played the W. C. Fields from My Little Chickadee. He used the same comical voice inflections for which he was famous, and it took me out of the story. I’m no longer watching David Copperfield. Now, I’m watching a W. C. Fields comedy routine. But later on in the film, after he falls under the influence of Uriah Heep, he started playing the part with a seriousness that transformed him into a good dramatic actor.

And speaking of Uriah Heep, actor Roland Young did a very good job at being a devious and underhanded slime-ball. He oozed his way through every scene, making it obvious from his very first appearance that he was a bad guy.

The adult Copperfield was played by Frank Lawton. Lawton’s skill as an actor matched young Freddie Bartholomew perfectly. They had a very similar look, making the transition from child to adult very convincing. Lawton gave a wonderful performance that was filled with passion and emotion. When his child wife dies, his sorrow was natural and believable. It even brought a tear to my to see a grown man crying for such a loss.

I have to give special mention to Madge Evans who played Agnes, the woman he eventually ends up with at the end of the film. She was very attractive and did a great job of portraying the victim of unrequited love. Her performance had an intelligence about it that made her even more pretty, especially in light of the childish behavior of David’s first wife.

There was even a little action sequence that was exciting to watch, as Copperfield’s friend with a death wish dives into the ocean during a raging storm to rescue the crew of a sinking ship.

Yes, I have to admit that though the story was slightly bland, the excellent acting did a wonderful job of keeping my attention. ” - faltskog9
 
37.
The Informer (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
In 1922, an Irish rebel informs on his friend, then feels doom closing in. (91 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ The Informer – 1935

Spoiler Alert

At first, I wasn’t terribly impressed by The Informer. It struck me as a trite little film that was trying too hard to be dramatic. The result was an oppressive and dark movie with horror movie music and maudlin over-acting. But then I watched a short documentary about the film that was included on the DVD. This little feature helped me to understand what I had just watched, making me aware of what the movie was trying to do. My respect for the film and the way it was made went up several notches.

The main theme of the movie is the personal consequences of betrayal. It follows the journey of a man who shows a weakness of spirit and betrays his friend. The parallels to the biblical figure of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus are, at the very beginning of the movie, pointed out with a bible verse being shown on the screen. It references the thirty pieces of silver, the blood money given to the betrayer.

The movie boasted no big names. It was a British film that had a story based in Dublin, Ireland. The whole thing took place over the course of one night. Gypo, played by Victor McLaglan, is a big strong man who has been kicked out of the IRA, to his great shame and disappointment. He isn’t a very smart man. In fact, at times he is a drunkard who proves himself to be a bit slow. He is easily confused and consistently makes bad decisions.

Margot Grahame plays his prostitute girlfriend, Katie Madden. She is a woman who has led a hard life. She truly does love Gypo, though, and goes out of her way to help him whenever he needs it. Grahame actually stood out to me as a fine actress.

Gypo’s problems start when he sees a poster offering a reward of £20 for information leading to the capture of IRA member Frankie McPhillip, played by Wallace Ford. I’m actually surprised that they didn’t make the reward amount to be £30 to further parallel with Judas. Ford did a very good job, although his character was killed off after Gypo told the British police where he could be found. Frankie’s sister Mary, played by Heather Angel, and his mother Mrs. McPhillip, played by Una O’connor, who I remember from the Best Picture winner Cavalcade, watched in horror as he shot a police officer before they gunned him down.

The rest of the film follows Gypo’s emotional journey as he comes to terms with his betrayal. IRA officer Dan Gallagher, played by Preston Foster, who also happens to be Mary McPhillip’s love interest, heads an investigation that leads to a famous trial scene. In this scene, Gypo breaks down and confesses to being the informer. It was probably this scene which showed the Academy that McLaglen was worthy of the Best Actor award.

But I think the real star of the film had to be the director, John Ford. The documentary feature explained how the film was very innovative for its time. Noted specifically for the film’s use of lighting and shadows to create a dark and oppressive feel, Ford was honored with the Best Director award. It was actually an incredibly well shot film. The outdoor scenes were always foggy which made for a permanently mysterious and creepy atmosphere. The glowing street lamps gave everything an ethereal look.

There were shots that were back-lit so that only a character’s silhouette could be seen, creating a sense of surrealism. Whispered conversations took place where the conspirators’ faces were mostly in shadow. Moving camera sweeps gave some shots the feeling of depth. Add to all that a haunting musical score that drew you into the dread and doom of the plot, and you have a powerful film that tells rather dark and weighty story. Max Steiner also won the award for Best Music (Scoring).

I liked the movie well enough before understanding just how impressively innovative it was, but after watching the documentary, I began to realize that I was not giving it enough credit for its achievements. It lost the Best Picture award to Mutiny on the Bounty, which had its own merits, though I am pleased to say that this one was definitely worthy of the nomination it received. ” - faltskog9
 
38.
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Three British soldiers on the Northwest Frontier of India struggle against the enemy - and themselves. (109 mins.)
Director: Henry Hathaway
“ The Lives of a Bengal Lancer – 1935

Spoiler Alert

This was a strange little film. It starred Gary Cooper as Lieutenant Alan McGregor, a member of the Royal British Army based in frontier India. There was a certain amount of reality, a certain amount of fantasy, and in my opinion, a noticeable amount of misplaced idealism.

What I mean by that is that like many other movies I’ve seen, it seems to have an anti-establishment attitude that audiences seem to love. It is meant to be inspirational, putting things like love, compassion and even sentimentality above order, discipline and authority. The plot is pretty easy to follow. McGregor is put in charge of two new recruits, Lt. Forsythe and Lt. Stone, played respectively by Franchot Tone and Richard Cromwell.

All three officers are under the command of Colonel Tom Stone, played by Guy Standing. The Colonel is a military man, through and through and he was portrayed as a bit of a stereotype. He was stern, cold, emotionless, and one might even go so far as to call him heartless. In his efforts to not show any favoritism to his son, he overcompensates and treats him just a little more harshly than the others.

It is in this way that the film felt like it was against that kind of person, that kind of character. The point is really driven home in the latter half of the movie. Lt. Stone is captured by Mohammed Khan, played by Douglas Dumbrille. He is the evil leader of the Indian rebels. When the Colonel hears of his son’s capture, knowing full well that he is sure to be tortured and killed, he refuses to mount a rescue mission, as it would put the entire regiment’s lives at risk.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, good ol’ Gary Cooper steps up and calls him a cruel and heartless man. “How can you sit there and let your own son be killed, all for the sake of the regiment?” But I’ll be honest. I was on the Colonel’s side. Sure he had treated the boy coldly, which was bad. But the Lieutenant’s capture was his own fault. The boy was an idiot, disobeying orders, acting out and getting drunk. It was his own irresponsible behavior that put everyone at risk.

What was the Colonel supposed to do? Was he supposed to sacrifice all the men in the regiment to mount a futile rescue attempt of one idiot soldier? Of Course not! The military is cruel and heartless. They have no real blood in their veins, only ice water! But have no fear! The big heroes, McGregor and Forsythe do the “right” thing and go A.W.O.L. to rescue the boy. Never mind that they both get themselves captured as well. Yes, disobeying orders worked out pretty well for them, too.

Despite that, I thought that Cooper and Tone both did well in their respective roles. I wouldn’t say they were great, but they were good. Standing also did a good job as the stern Colonel. And lest I forget, the only woman in the film was a true femme fatale. She was Tania Volkanskaya, played by Kathleen Burke. Of course, we can’t forget how evil those Russians are. Her sole purpose in the movie was to seduce Lt. Stone so that he could be captured.

But it all works out for the best. In the end, Forsythe gets them out of their cell, McGregor dies being heroic, and Lt. Stone kills Khan, effectively ending the battle before the regiment can be slaughtered. Aside from that, the sets were good, and the costumes looked very authentic. The action sequences were all very well-choreographed and exciting to watch.

Well… most of them. I had to roll my eyes as I saw McGregor pick up a heavy Vickers machine-gun and shoot it while running over uneven ground during a chaotic battle. First, the way he was holding it, I can only assume that he would have third degree burns on his hands. Second, the kick-back from the weapon would have knocked him off his feet. But never-mind that.

And finally, one interesting thing about The Lives of a Bengal Lancer that I found in my research was that this was apparently one of Adolph Hitler’s favorite movies, which he saw three times. He liked this film because it depicted a handful of Britons holding a continent in thrall. That was how a superior race must behave and the film was a compulsory viewing for the SS. ” - faltskog9
 
39.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Theseus, Duke of Athens, is going to marry Hyppolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Demetrius is engaged with Hermia... (133 mins.)
“ A Midsummer Night’s Dream – 1935

Spoiler Alert

I loved this movie. I love Shakespeare’s playful story. I loved the brilliant costumes. I loved the fantastic sets. I loved Mendelssohn’s beautiful music. I loved the wonderful cast of actors. Well… with one exception, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The movie was very well done and I was thoroughly impressed.

We’ll begin with the plot. It is a Shakespearean comedy, so we know that it is going to have a happy ending with a couple, or in this case three couples, getting married. I’ll give a very brief outline of the plot, just to put the story in perspective. The main conflict of the plot is the fact that Hermia, a young girl of Athens played by Olivia DeHavilland, wants to marry her handsome lover Lysander, played by Dick Powel. Her father wants her to marry Demetrius, played by Ross Alexander. Both men love the same girl. But Helena, Hermia’s friend, played by Jane Muir, is in love with Demetrius.

So, Hermia and Lysander run away to the forest and plan to elope. However, the forest is full of fairies and sprites. The Queen of the fairies is Titania, played by Anita Louise. She is quarreling with her husband Oberon, played by Victor Jory. Oberon’s faithful servant, Puck, played by a young Mickey Rooney, fetches a flower for him which acts as a love potion to be used against his wife.

At the same time, a troupe of actors comes to the forest to rehearse a play. Puck gives the most pompous actor, played by James Cagney, the head of a donkey. When the love flower is used on Titania, she falls hopelessly in love with the donkey. The love flower is also used on the four young men and women with wonderfully comical results. It is a delightful story and one that has stood the test of time since it was first written around 1590.

The costumes were simply amazing. I would have loved to see this film in color! The use of gossamer fabrics, wind machines, sparkles, and as much glitter as you can imagine combined to make beautiful and fanciful costumes that were as creative as anything I have ever seen. And it was obvious that the costumes were made for dancing as they flowed and swirled and spun with the dancers, making them all seem ethereal and graceful.

And the movie was astonishing in its use of special effects. Yes! Believe it or not, this was actually a 1935 special effects extravaganza! There were constant shots of blended film images and overlays. The use of shadows and sparkling lights were combined to remarkable effect. Every shot seemed to have shimmer and shine that turned the fake movie sets into a magical fairy kingdom.

One memorable shot had an image of dancing fairies as they ascended a gigantic spiraling ramp. That image was overlaid with swirling fog to hide the ramp, and set around a gigantic tree. The result was that the fairies seemed to be dancing around the tall trunk of the tree, climbing on a swirling path made of misty fog. It was beautifully done and pretty impressive for 1935.

Notable actors of the cast were Anita Louise and Victor Jory. They were wonderful as the monarchs of the Fairy Kingdom. They were regal and majestic, and yet wild and dangerous all at the same time. I especially enjoyed Louise’s performance.

But I have to mention one actor that really got on my nerves. I’m sorry to say it, but Mickey Rooney was impossibly annoying! I’ll fully admit that this might have been the director’s fault for telling Rooney how he wanted the part played. But he delivered every one of his lines with such forced merriment and shouted laughter that I just wanted him to die. I much preferred the 1999 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Stanley Tucci playing a much more reserved and yet lovable Puck. Rooney’s performance made the character seem ready for a strait–jacket and a room at the loony bin.

And lest I forget, the play within a play, Pyramus and Thisby, performed by Bottom’s inept troupe of actors was hilarious to watch. Sure, it was full of a more sight-gag based humor, but it was immensely fun, all the same. All in all, this was a delightful film and I really enjoyed watching it. ” - faltskog9
 
40.
Les Misérables (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
In early 19th Century France an ex-convict who failed to report to parole is relentlessly pursued over a 20 year period by an obsessive policeman. (108 mins.)
“ Les Miserables – 1935

Spoiler Alert

This film was a pretty dull movie, but only because I have seen two different movie adaptations and the stage musical several times. It is a very watered-down version of Victor Hugo’s novel about the trials and tribulations of Jean Valjean in a difficult time in history. He starts out as a tragic character who is sentenced to ten years of hard labor for trying to steal a loaf of bread to feed his starving niece.

Anyone who knows the stage musical knows that the story has some intensely dramatic moments, acts of cruelty, acts of generosity, moments of romance and disaster, death and despair, and at the end redemption and forgiveness. It is a plot that takes the audience to the heights and depths of their emotions.

However, this particular adaptation had so little emotional depth that I was amazed. So many things were changed from the original novel, which made it almost family-friendly. Here are a few examples of what I mean. In the novel, the character of Fantine loses her job at the factory. She is forced to become a prostitute and then sell her teeth and her hair to pay the Thenardiers for keeping her daughter. There is no mention of this degradation in the film. For another example, in the novel, Valjean pays the Thenardiers 1,500 francs to settle Fantine’s debts and buy the 8 year old girl. The sick and seedy character of Monsieur Thenardier is effectively removed from the story all-together. So there is no haggling for the girl at all.

The numerous changes from the original novel took most of the miserableness out of the plot. Did they think that the audiences of the 1930s couldn’t handle the sleazy aspects of the story? Did they think that their version was more palatable than the original novel? If they had to water it down that much, then maybe they shouldn’t be making the movie at all. But the story is so popular that there have been no fewer than 53 other film adaptations over the years done in various countries all over the world, and the hit stage musical.

I think the film’s flaws all come down to one thing which explains why they removed most of the content that they did. They took out everything that might hint at the character’s motivations. They either never went into why anyone did anything or they changed their motivations to fit their altered plot.

The two worst examples of this were Inspector Javert’s suicide, and the reasons for the battle on the barricade. In Javert’s case, they never explained why he jumped off the bridge, why he chose death rather than finally capturing Valjean. There was a very specific and plausible reason at which the film vaguely hinted, but if you didn’t know the novel, there was no way you could have understood why he killed himself. Second, and I think that this was the greater transgression, they changed the conflict at the end from the revolutionary uprising of the anti-monarchist republicans to a protest about the severe treatment of criminals in the justice system, specifically galley slaves like Valjean had been.

And finally, I’ll take a moment to comment on the acting. Fredric March played the lead as Valjean. He was handsome and did a very good job, though he sometimes appeared a bit small and frail when he was supposed to be remarkably strong from his years as a galley slave. Fantine, played by Florence Eldridge, is such a wonderful and tragic character, but they really dropped that ball with how much she was changed. The young Cosette, played by Marilyn Knowlden, was horrible. She was supposed to be a frightened and abused child. She didn’t seem to be either of those things. She fell into the child actor trap of playing cute for the sake of cute.

I didn’t care for the way Charles Laughton played Inspector Javert. He made the character emotionless when I think that the character should have been incredibly passionate, though misguided. The adult Cossette and Marius, played by Rochelle Hudson and John Beal were passable but unmemorable. Eponine, played by Frances Drake, was a character that was so changed from the original novel, that they should have just gone one step further and changed the name.

All in all, it wasn’t a horrible film, but it was so watered-down and changed that it was ultimately disappointing. ” - faltskog9
 
41.
Top Hat (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An American dancer comes to Britain and falls for a model whom he initially annoyed, but she mistakes him for his goofy producer. (101 mins.)
Director: Mark Sandrich
“ Top Hat – 1935

Spoiler Alert

Have you seen The Gay Divorcee? Then you’ve seen Top Hat. They were the same movie… literally. The two movies were ridiculously similar. They had the same plot, the same humor, the same cast of actors and the same dancing. The only things that were different about the two films were the costumes and the settings.

I was aghast that this film was nominated for Best Picture. I mean, sure, it was an entertaining film. But there wasn’t anything original about it. Once was enough when I watched The Gay Divorcee, which I enjoyed well enough. But there was nothing new here.

Let’s go over the similarities between the two films and see. They both starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the two leads. In this case the characters are named Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont. In both movies Astaire plays a professional dancer who is in town to do a show. While there he has a chance meeting with the beautiful Rogers. He falls instantly in love with her, but she emphatically rejects his advances. He pursues her relentlessly, all the while being rebuffed. He eventually he traps her in a situation where she cannot leave. He then dances for her, which makes her fall in love with him.

But then there is a misunderstanding which causes her to hate him, thinking him a cad or a philanderer. He is confused but continues to woo her. Eventually, the truth comes out. He is not only an honorable man with good intentions, but he is ready to dance with her to prove it. And thank goodness that in each film there is a new dance craze for them to showcase in a big dance number. The now-happy couple has resolved all the mistaken identities and misunderstandings. The final scenes for both films feature the two of them doing a happy dance together.

The rest of the cast was even the exact same people with only one exception. The Gay Divorcee had Alice Brady, though in Top Hat, the same role was filled by Helen Broderick. Aside from that, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore all returned to repeat the same roles with different names. Each character had basically the same function within the plot.

The two films were so similar. Even the big dance number in The Gay Divorcee, The Continental, was redone as The Piccolino in Top Hat. So here’s the strange thing. After seeing the first draft of the script, Fred Astaire reacted negatively, saying that it was too much like The Gay Divorcee. So a rewrite was done to make it different. Goodness! What must that first draft have been like?

So what were the differences? Well, the names were changed, the locations changed, the costumes changed and the music changed. Also, Fred Astaire’s acting was slightly better, though not much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Astaire is not a very god actor. But I’ll admit that, in my uneducated opinion, his dancing was noticeably improved. In The Gay Divorcee, he seemed gangly and his moves, while they were all there, seemed too stiff and jerky. He seemed meticulously practiced, but not very graceful, especially when paired up with Ginger Rogers, whose movements looked incredibly fluid and easy. But in Top Hat, Astaire’s movements seemed much more graceful and not as jarring.

I have to make special mention of the music. Top Hat featured the music of Irving Berlin. The song Cheek to Cheek was a good song that has proven to have staying power. It is still used in movies today. But while the rest of the score was good, it was ultimately unmemorable. However, in my research, I found that it was all very popular when the film was released.

And finally, I have to mention one last thing. I wouldn’t exactly call this a flaw. It was just a poor choice. In the number Cheek to Cheek, Rogers was wearing a dress that she designed herself. The dress was covered with ostrich feathers. Astaire hated it as it left feathers flying everywhere. Apparently it caused him to yell at Rogers who then broke down into tears. Rogers’ mother came charging in like a mother bear protecting her cub. Another night’s work by several seamstresses solved most of the problem, though stray feathers can still be seen flying from the dress in the final cut. ” - faltskog9
 
42.
Anthony Adverse (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
In 18th-century Italy, an orphan's debt to the man who raised him threatens to separate him forever from the woman he loves. (141 mins.)
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
“ Anthony Adverse – 1936

Spoiler Alert

Anthony Adverse was a film that was based on a novel of the same name, written by Hervey Allen. But I had to look it up. I would have sworn that it was written by Charles Dickens. It’s plot has all the earmarks of a Dickens novel. It has the poor young orphan boy whose life begins with misfortune. He ends up with a kindly benefactor who raises him to be an outstanding, hard-working young man.

He falls hopelessly in love with a girl who, for one reason or another, he cannot be with. As he matures, he acquires both friends and enemies. Eventually, after years of hard work, he gains a small amount of wealth and status. And just when it seems that he will get his girl, something happens to keep the lovers apart forever. The plot sounds so similar to that of David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations.

The movie starred Fredric March and Olivia de Havilland. March, of course, plays the lead, Anthony Adverse, so named because of all the adversity he began his life with. The young girl he falls in love with is Angela Giuseppe, the daughter of household servants. The master of the house, Anthony’s benefactor, who turns out to actually be his grandfather, is John Bonnyfeather, played by Edmund Gwenn. Unfortunately, to protect the lad from the evil Marquis Don Luis, the boy’s real father, played by Claude Rains, Bonnyfeather cannot claim the lad as his true kin.

When I think about it, it sounds a bit like a soap opera. But there were a couple of aspects to the film that I think set it above the common film. First of all, there was some good acting. March and de Havilland were both good, but I have come to expect nothing less from them. They were able to play the drama as well as the romance and it was all very engaging. De Havilland, especially in her final scene, was good, real tears on her cheeks as she watches Anthony leave her forever, knowing that it is her own fault.

But it is also difficult to find any fault with Claude Rains. He is always a pleasure to watch. I usually see him in good-guy roles, but here, he played the villain just as brilliantly. I liked how he showed a sort of tenderness to his young bride, but complete disregard for his servants. Then, when he found out that she was in love with another man, he carelessly killed him while she watched.

The period sets and costumes were spot on, and the loud and melodramatic music was appropriate for the romance genre. I liked the epic nature of the tale being told. And I also liked the ending, which was a little unexpected, but again, appropriate. Apparently, after Anthony returns from 5 dark years in Africa, not knowing if Angela was alive or dead, he comes home to find his wife in Paris. She has become three things: a famous opera star, the mother of Anthony’s son, and the mistress of Napoleon Bonaparte, played by Rollo Lloyd. Kind of hard for her to get out of that one. So, she leaves Anthony a letter and her son, saying that she is not in a position to be a good mother. “Surprise! He’s your kid now. Have fun in America. Bye!” I didn’t see that coming.

But the movie was by no means perfect. For something as linear as a biographical format, the film was a little too episodic. It had chapters that were clearly defined by breaks in the story. Text would be displayed on the screen to transition from one sequence to another, plot exposition that the filmmakers didn’t want to film. I understand that it made the passage of time easier, but there are other ways to do that, some of which were used quite competently in the film.

Also, the entire opening sequence, which told the story of Anthony’s parents and their forbidden love under the shadow of the Marquis, felt strangely rushed. It was as if there was a lot of back-story to tell and they wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. Scenes were clipped quickly, as soon as the dialogue was done, and the next scene would begin abruptly.

A small documentary feature about the making of the film, which was a rarity for a film made in 1936, revealed that the original book was over 1,100 pages long. But it also claimed that the movie was better than the book. That was a pretty bold claim, but I’m guessing it wasn’t really true. ” - faltskog9
 
43.
Libeled Lady (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A newspaper man, his jilted fiancée, and his lawyer hatch an elaborate scheme to turn a false news-story into the truth, before a high-society woman can sue for libel. (98 mins.)
Director: Jack Conway
“ Libeled Lady - 1936

Spoiler Alert

I’ll start this off by just saying that this was a fun movie. It was a well constructed story, it had good actors, good humor, and it was just plain fun to watch. It was a screwball comedy done in the style of other films like 1931’s Front Page, 1934’s The Thin Man, or even 1940’s The Philadelphia Story. I liked the characters, I liked the quick witted comedy, and I liked the fast and yet cohesive pace.

The movie’s 4 main characters were played by 4 big name actors, Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy. My favorite was William Powell because his acting always has a touch of playfulness to it that is a delight to watch. He seemed very at ease in front of the camera.

Tracy played the character of Warren Haggerty. He is a newspaper man who eats and breaths the business. The trick is that he is engaged to be married to his fiancee, Gladys Benton, played by Harlow. While she is waiting for him in her wedding dress, he is trying to find an excuse to get out of the wedding. As luck would have it, a terrible mistake made at his paper turned out to be just the thing.

The paper printed a story about the wealthy socialite Connie Alllenbury, played by Loy. It said that she was a husband stealer and that she broke up a marriage at a big social event. But the story was untrue, and thus we have out title. Connie ended up suing the paper for $5 million because of the libelous article, a lawsuit that would put the paper out of business. Haggerty’s solution is to find and hire an old friend who happens to be a current enemy, Bill Chandler, played by Powell. Chandler agrees to marry Gladys in a sham wedding, find Connie and become her friend, get himself into a compromising situation with her, and have the scene photographed. That way the libelous accusation would become true and the lawsuit would be dropped. Hijinks ensues.

The feel of the whole film is light-hearted and fun. In fact, I think it might be safe to say the screwball comedy might be the forerunner to the romantic comedy of today. During the course of the deception, Chandler falls in love with Connie and begins to do everything he can to protect her. In the end, all the characters are happily in love and the audience falls in love right along with them. The ending is one of those wonderful feel-good endings.

Powell and Loy already had a proven on-screen chemistry that worked in, amongst other things, the Thin Man series. They were fun to watch, especially in the end when all the lies started to fall away and all the truths started to be revealed. Tracy and Harlow also did a good job together as a different, yet no less believable sort of couple. All 4 of the leads did a great job.

Another actor in the film that was memorable was Walter Connolly, playing the part of Connie’s father, James Allenbury. He is a familiar face, who is always seen playing supporting roles but never the lead.

During my research (otherwise known as Wikipedia) I found that at the time the film was made in 1936, Powell and Harlow were an off-screen couple. Apparently Harlow wanted to play the role of Connie so that she and William would end up together in the end. Unfortunately for her, the studio had always intended that the film be a Powell and Loy vehicle that would boost the box-office sales. But at least they gave Harlow top billing. Harlow only made two more films before her death at age 26.

Incidentally, this nominated film was up against the Best Picture winner The Great Ziegfeld, which also starred William Powell and Myrna Loy. Obviously it was a combination that worked.

It is sad to say that movies like this just aren’t made very much any more. Today’s humor is usually either juvenile or vulgar, but rarely witty. It is its own brand of humor that can now only be seen in movies from the black and white era. And there was an innocence about it that was inviting and easy. Just like the characters in the movie, the audience ends up with a smile on its collective face. ” - faltskog9
 
44.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Longfellow Deeds, a simple-hearted Vermont tuba player, inherits a fortune and has to contend with opportunist city slickers. (115 mins.)
Director: Frank Capra
“ Mr. Deeds Goes to Town – 1936

Spoiler Alert

This was a quirky little film starring Gregory Peck and Jean Arthur. It is listed as a screwball comedy, though there was very little about it that I found funny. Screwball yes, but comedy?

Peck plays the title character of Mr. Deeds. He is a country simpleton with more good intentions than sense who inherits $20 million from a great uncle he never knew existed. To inform him of his good fortune, two men travel from New York to his two-bit little town of Mandrake Falls, Vermont. They are John Cedar and Cornelius Cobb, played by Douglass Dumbrille and Lionel Stander, Respectively. The first is a shady lawyer who wants the money for his firm. The second is an ex-newspaper man who is hired to keep reporters away from the inheritor. I actually really liked Stander as an actor and thought he did a good job.

The two men whisk Mr. Deeds away to New York where he proceeds to make a fool of himself because of his quaint and quirky country ways and sensibilities. And here is where I had my first problem with the plot. Sure a man can act silly if he wants to. But he had a habit of behaving like a child, and that was supposed to be the film’s comedy.

The filmmakers were basically saying, “Look how moronic the sweet little country bumpkin is being. Aren’t his ridiculous antics cute?” But then when his juvenile behavior turns out to contain just good ol’ country values and down to earth sense, he is depicted as being the smartest and sanest man in New York. I really had to role my eyes. No. Childish behavior is childish behavior and while there is a place for it, it is really hard to take those who use it seriously.

But as a screwball comedy, we have to have the romantic interest, otherwise Mr. Deeds cannot end up truly happy in the end. That is where Jean Arthur comes in. She is Louise “Babe” Bennett, an ace reporter assigned to get the scoop on the mysterious new multi-millionaire. Her scheme is to bump into him and lie to him, go out with him and get him to like her so that she can write her news stories. So what do you think will happen?

Well, it does. She falls for him and his honest country ways. For her, he is a refreshing change from all the evil liars she is used to in New York. But once she realizes she is in love with him, Cobb, who has also been won over by the upright Mr. Deeds, tells him who she is. Did you have any doubts?

Peck did a good enough job in the role. I just wasn’t terribly impressed with the role. Maybe he just seemed like a super nice guy that anyone would want to know to the audiences of 1936. He had an innocence about him that was as attractive as his face. He saw the world through that innocence and invited the audience to once again see everything with the same child-like wonder.

Jean Arthur did a good job and was pretty easy on the eyes as well. There was an easiness about her that showed through despite the hard-hitting reporter character that she was portraying. And I liked that they didn’t have her wearing any over-the-top costumes. She was a perfectly reasonable woman.

The film ended with a cute courtroom scene in which a pair of greedy relatives tried to have him declared mentally incompetent so that they could get control of the inheritance. Several minor characters from the film are brought in to serve as witnesses to prove the case. At first, Mr. Deeds, distraught over Babe’s betrayal doesn’t even try to defend himself. But during the trial, the truth is revealed. She does love him!

He finally starts to speak in his own defense, categorically poking holes in each witness’s attack. He proves that he is not only sane, but he is more mentally competent than anyone else thanks to those good ol’ country values and that down to earth sense. And there go my eyes rolling again.

All in all, it was an average and predictable film. I thought it no better than any other screwball comedy. In fact, I can think of others I liked even better. I guess I just have a bit of a higher standard when it comes to a Best Picture Nominee. ” - faltskog9
 
45.
Romeo and Juliet (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Young love is poisoned by a generations long feud between two noble families. (125 mins.)
Director: George Cukor
“ Romeo and Juliet – 1936

Spoiler Alert

I’m sorry to say it, but this movie was pretty horrible. The costumes were almost comical, the casting was ridiculous, the directing was questionable and the acting was terrible. In this review, I can only list what I though was wrong, and then try to find some redeeming qualities that saved the movie from being a complete disaster.

Of course, Romeo and Juliet is probably Shakespeare’s most famous play, though Hamlet may give it a run for its money. The incredible story of the star-crossed lovers is wonderful if it is treated with care and respect. However, this adaptation, directed by George Cukor, treated it in a nearly farcical manner, turning its characters into pale imitations of Shakespeare’s original intent. Wikipedia says that about 65% of The Bard’s play was cut. How close to the original intent could it be?

First, one of the worst changes made was the addition of Peter, played by Andy Devine. Peter was Juliet’s Nurse’s servant. But he should have been named the village idiot. He played the part of a bumbling buffoon. He spoke slowly as if he had a mental handicap. He was supposed to be comic relief where none was needed. During the opening sword fight in the street, he is shown as being so incompetent that he couldn’t get his dagger out of its sheath. Ha-ha… What a moron he is! Good Grief!

Second, the crazy costumes were almost laughable. Everyone wore glittery, sparkly costumes that belonged in a circus, not on the streets of Verona. The men wore their tights, but they were the ones with one leg of a solid color, the other leg in stripes or checks. Benvolio wore a tiny sporran with glitter and tassels in the place where a codpiece might have gone. Lord and Lady Montague wore outrageous outfits that looked like they belonged in a bad sci-fi movie. Lord and Lady Capulet’s costumes belonged in a bad fantasy film. The Prince wore a five-spiked Romanesque helmet that unfortunately looked right at home with the rest of the circus costumes.

Third, I’ll go over the casting. Romeo was played by Leslie Howard, which would have been alright if Romeo was supposed to be in his late 30s. The “young” Juliette, played by Norma Shearer, wasn’t far behind him. Mercutio, played by John Barrymore, was portrayed as a swishy fop who wouldn’t stop talking. Tybalt was played by Basil Rathbone. He is just played as a one-note hot-head who is itching for a fight. Shearer’s acting felt stunted, like she was constantly on the verge of stumbling over the language, though she was very pretty.

There were a couple of choices that Cukor made that had me a little baffled. In the scene where we first meet Juliet, we see the young girl feeding her pet fawn. The little deer had a sparkly collar around its neck. Then as her mother begins speaking to her, we see that Juliet is holding a white bow and arrow. What?!? Why? Is the young Capulet practicing her archery? That deer better start running!

Later when Romeo kills Tybalt, Rathbone falls off a short ledge. When he hits the ground, he spreads his arms out to his sides, raises one knee and poses… even though he is already dead.

And one last thing. Believe it or not, this one is with Shakespeare’s original script. So, Juliet wakes up in the crypt. Romeo and Paris both lie dead on the floor. Friar Lawrence is there to greet her. He says that the Prince and the night watch are on their way. They have to be away so that he can get her to a nunnery. Juliet says “Go, get thee hence, for I will not away.” Did the Friar not know think she might kill herself? Apparently not, or maybe he just didn’t care. We’ll never know. He leaves without another word.

So what did they do right? Well, they kept the basic story intact, which was the film’s biggest saving grace. You can rarely go wrong with Shakespeare. The nurse, played by Edna May Oliver, did a good job at staying true to the character. Friar Lawrence was good, for what screen-time he had. Apparently his part was greatly reduced from the original play. Really, I can’t think of any other mentionable compliments. ” - faltskog9
 
46.
San Francisco (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A Barbary Coast saloonkeeper and a Nob Hill impresario are rivals for the affections of a beautiful singer, both personally and professionally in 1906 San Francisco. (115 mins.)
“ San Francisco – 1936

Spoiler Alert

This movie, for the most part, was a fairly dull piece of work. It took place in, you guessed it, San Francisco just after the turn of the century in 1906. That, of course, was the year of the great earthquake that destroyed over 80% of the city and caused about 3,000 deaths. The film was an early version of the 1970s disaster film genre. It was the forerunner of movies like The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, The Towering Inferno in 1974, and Earthquake, also in 1974.

The problem I had with it was that the movie was advertised as being about the great disaster. Even the opening credits made it seem like the quake was a major part of the film. It wasn’t. The movie was about a classically trained singer named Mary Blake, played by Jeanette MacDonald. She is the daughter of a preacher who has come to San Francisco looking for a job at an opera house. Unfortunately, when a fire burns down the place where she gets her first job, she looks for employment in a gambling saloon called The Paradise.

The Paradise is owned by a confirmed atheist named Blackie Norton, played by Clark Gable. His childhood friend, who has become a Catholic Priest known as Father Mullen is played by Spencer Tracy. Father Mullen has been unsuccessfully trying to convert Blackie for years. When Mary Blake comes to The Paradise, Blackie falls in love with her, though he resists admitting it.

More dull and lifeless sub-plots follow, all of which are leading the audience on a slow journey that doesn’t really go anywhere. She loves Blackie. She doesn’t love Blackie. She leaves the Paradise to sing at the Tivoli Opera House. She comes back to Blackie and The Paradise. She leaves Blackie again. Blackie runs for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The film is about 2 hours long and the big climactic scene we have all been waiting for doesn’t come until the last 10 or 15 minutes. When the earthquake strikes, it comes from out of nowhere. At this point in the plot, Mary is engaged to the owner of the Tivoli Opera House, Jack Burley, played by Jack Holt. He has been trying to buy Mary’s contract from Blackie. But at the last, she switches sides again, deciding that she loves the corrupt Blackie.

But Blackie has had enough of her inconstant affections. He rejects her and sends her away. But as Burly leads her away, all you hear is Mary ask, “What was that?” before all hell breaks loose. The following earthquake montage was actually very impressive. Walls fell and buildings crumbled. Screaming people were buried and killed. Blackie is crushed by a ton of bricks.

An aftershock hits and the street cracks. Water and gas lines break. Fires erupt and the city burns. The entire sequence was fairly realistic and must have been difficult to choreograph. This is where I feel Gable showed some acting chops. He pulls himself out of the rubble with a bleeding head wound. His tuxedo is torn and tattered. He is in a daze as he wanders the ruined city searching for Mary. What he finds is dead and dying friends.

But it is a remarkably unscathed Father Mullen who leads him to the similarly unharmed Mary. When he sees her, he breaks down and falls to his knees in prayer, thanking God that she survived. Mary sees him and goes to him. Then, from out of nowhere, a kid runs into the survivor camp and announces that the fires are out. Everyone cheers and it is implied that Blackie is now a reformed man. Time to rebuild! Happy ending…?

I would have liked to see the earthquake happen earlier in the film. Then we could have seen how the surviving characters dealt with the tragedy. How the people of San Francisco dealt with the aftermath of the quake would have made a much more interesting and dramatic story. However, the singing of the popular songstress, MacDonald, contributed greatly to the success of the film. She sang the incredibly popular song, San Francisco, six times in the film. The tune sounded vaguely familiar to my modern ears, so I suppose it had a certain amount of staying power. But if it weren’t for that and the incredibly well-done earthquake sequence, the film would have been remarkably unremarkable. ” - faltskog9
 
47.
The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
The biography of the pioneering French microbiologist who helped revolutionize agriculture and medicine. (86 mins.)
“ The Story of Luis Pasteur – 1936

Spoiler Alert

It takes a strong man to stand firm in his beliefs when the world is laughing at him. Well, according to this dramatized version of this historical biography, Pasteur is just such a man. And the actor to play him on the screen has to be just as strong to make the character believable. Paul Muni once again proves himself to be an actor of talent and skill. He did a wonderful job as the famous scientist.

Everyone knows that Luis Pasteur was the French chemist that developed the process we know as pasteurization that eliminates deadly microbes from things like wine and milk. But I was not aware that he developed the vaccines that cured anthrax and rabies. I was also not aware that he was so ridiculed by his peers.

Of course, I understand that a little license probably had to be taken with history to make the story a little more dramatic. It is hard to tell. I read up a little on the real Pasteur and could only find information on his remarkable achievements. Very little is given regarding the social climate amongst medical practitioners of the time in France. All the Wikipedia article I read said was that it was not common practice for surgeons to wash their hands or sterilize instruments before performing surgery. However, in the film, Pasteur actually had fellow scientists calling him a quack and taking every opportunity to denounce him as a faker. I would think that if this was really the case, the article would have mentioned it.

Instead it mentioned all the schooling he went through, earning a BA degree. He became a Physics Professor at the college de Tournon at Ardeche and a Chemistry Professor at the University of Strasbourg. Three of his five children died of Typhoid, which motivated him to learn about and combat infectious diseases. Almost none of this was mentioned in the movie.

In the film, Pasteur had a daughter named Annette, played by Anita Louise. She married one of Pasteur’s professional supporters named Matel, played by Donald Woods. In reality, he had a daughter named Marie Louise who married a man named Rene Vallery-Radot. Based on these few things I could find, I suspect that there was a bit of artistic license taken with the film to make it more dramatic. The romance between his daughter and Matel added a bit of a love story to a film that otherwise had no romance at all. Thank you, Hollywood.

Aside from that, the major points in his story seemed to follow reality fairly well. One of the most important things was his treatment of Joseph Meister. A woman had heard of how Pasteur was developing a cure for rabies so she brought her infected son to his home, begging for his help. Pasteur had reservations about treating the boy without a medical license, knowing that if the boy died, he could be tried for murder. He had already successfully tested the vaccine on dogs but never on a human being. But as the boy approached death, he began giving him injections.

In reality, a licensed doctor who was one of Pasteur’s colleagues actually administered the injections under Pasteur’s direction and supervision. This led to his morals and scientific practices to come under scrutiny in later years, even after his death.

But that’s neither here nor there. Paul Muni did a fantastic job. In fact, he won the Best Actor award for the role. The character he played was a bit older than he, himself, was. But he played the scientist very believably. He even realistically portrayed Pasteur after his stroke. Other actors who stood out were Porter Hall as Dr. Rossignol, one of Pasteur’s main critics, Akim Tamiroff as a Russian doctor who supported Pasteur’s work and Anita Louise as Annette Pasteur.

Much like the 1937 Best Picture winner which also starred Paul Muni, The Life of Emile Zola, this was a dramatized biography which actually retained the key events of Pasteur’s story and took some liberties with the details. Imagine my surprise when I found that the two films were directed by the same man, William Deiterie. The format that was common to both films was a good one, but it ultimately made for a slow film. It was mildly interesting, but only because of the changes that were made to make it a more dramatic film. ” - faltskog9
 
48.
A Tale of Two Cities (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A pair of lookalikes, one a former French aristocrat and the other an alcoholic English lawyer, fall in love with the same woman amongst the turmoil of the French Revolution. (128 mins.)
Director: Jack Conway
“ A Tale of Two Cities - 1936

Spoiler Alert

I was thoroughly surprised by the quality of this film. Sure, the original novel is one of Charles Dickens’s most lauded works, but I have never read the book. In fact, the only exposure I have to the works of the author is David Copperfield, a Christmas Carol, and Oliver!, which is based on Oliver Twist. Each one of those books, and the subsequent films that were produced had several annoying common threads that always make me role my eyes. They all have a poor and suffering boy who has the heart and demeanor of an angel. All the adults are either pure evil, or unrealistically good. The bad guys always get their just deserts and the good guys end up embarking on a life full of familial bliss.

A Tale of Tow Cities had none of these qualities. For those who do not know, I’ll give a very brief outline of the plot. The story takes place in France in the late 1700s during the famous French Revolution. Lucie Manette, played by Elizabeth Allen, is a young woman who’s father has been imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years, and has finally been released. The evil Marquis de St. Evermonde, played by Basil Rathbone, is a noble who cares nothing for the plight of the poor. His nephew, Charles Darnay, played by Donald Woods, is a sympathizer who leaves France rather than be a part of the French Nobility.

While in England, he meets Lucie and her father who have also fled France. They marry and have a daughter. A friend of the family named Sydney Carton, played by Ronald Colman, is a lawyer. He is a fascinating character. He is brilliant, but he is also a drunk who has such low self esteem that he believes he deserves no better than a life of poverty and inebriation. He comes to believe that he could finally find happiness with Lucie, except that she is in love with Darnay.

When Darnay is tricked into returning to France because of a personal vendetta against his uncle, and therefore his family, Carton makes the ultimate sacrifice. He finds a way to go to the guillotine in Darnay’s place, in order to give Lucie happiness.

That is the short version. The story is much more complex and engaging than that, and I’m sure the book is even more so. It is so different than any other Charles Dickens story I have ever come across. There was action, intrigue, joy and sorrow. None of the characters were completely good or completely evil. They were all believable, and believably portrayed.

Ronald Colman, in particular, did a fantastic job as the man with the suffering soul. He had the potential for greatness in him that he could never realize. He was damaged in a way that was to deep to fully comprehend. The actor played the part very well. His use of facial expression, pacing and pathos were wonderful.

Another few actors who did a wonderful job were Blanche Yurka, Billy Bevan, Isabel Jewell, and one of my personal favorites, Edna May Oliver. Yurka played Madame Defarge, the French peasant who had a personal grudge against the Evermonde family. I loved how she was constantly going through the motions of frantic knitting with her needles, though it was obvious she wasn’t creating a single stitch.

Bevan was a British commoner who was a disreputable but loyal friend of Mr. Carton. Jewell played a small but memorable role as a French seamstress who is wrongfully sentenced to the guillotine for being employed by a nobleman. She was beautiful and wonderful to watch as she comes to terms with her impending death.

And then, there was Edna May Oliver. Goodness gracious! She was a busy woman in the 1930s. Here, she played the part of Miss Pross, Lucie’s devoted servant. When Madame Defarge comes to murder Lucie’s daughter as a descendent of the Evermond house, Miss Pross fights her and kills her in a surprisingly physical confrontation. Who knew the 52 year old actress had it in her?

This was definitely a film worth seeing. Like I stated earlier, it was such a wonderful departure from the Charles Dickens that I know. It was deeper and more suspenseful than I have ever known him to be. Well done Mr. Dickens! ” - faltskog9
 
49.
The Awful Truth (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Unfounded suspicions lead a married couple to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other's attempts to find new romance. (91 mins.)
Director: Leo McCarey
“ The Awful Truth – 1937

Spoiler Alert

Once again we are given a screwball comedy. This one stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Grant is always fun to watch, so I have to admit, I was pre-disposed to like this film. But the story left me a little flat. It wasn’t bad, but it was also no better than average, no better than any other screwball comedy.

The plot follows Grant and Dunne as Jerry and Lucy Warriner. They are a couple that is happily married, except that they have issues. The main issue is trust. Now, it seemed that the screen-writer may have been trying to give equal weight to both sides of the issue, however, I think he failed. I’ll explain.

Jerry Warriner is shown as devil-may-care, witty and charming. His wife is shown as honest, strong-willed and yet generally submissive. It seems like they are the perfect couple. But all the conflicts in the plot stem from the fact that Jerry has a suspicious mind and does not trust his wife. Right from the very beginning, we find the Jerry is lying to his wife about a trip to Florida. He is getting a fake tan to make her believe he was the Southern state. He buys a fruit basket full of oranges to give the lie more credibility.

He comes home to discover that his wife is away as well. His friends automatically suspect her of adulterous behavior. When she comes home, she tells her husband the truth. She was with her voice teacher and the car broke down. They spent the night in a hotel and came home when they were able. Jerry assumes she is lying.

But here is where I take issue with the plot. When Lucy catches Jerry in his lie, he gets angry and says, “Don’t change the subject!” He then jealously proceeds to accuse her of being the liar. The two agree to get divorced on the spot and the next thing we see is the two in court before a judge. But it seemed to me that the conflict was very one-sided. The film never explained where Jerry had actually been when he was supposed to be in Florida. So it is really alright for a man to be an adulterous liar, but if a woman even appears to be cheating, she is automatically guilty?

But remember, this is a screwball comedy, so the zaniness just goes from there. A few scenes actually had me laughing out loud, so in that respect, I suppose the movie did its job. Lucy’s voice teacher Armand Duvall, played by Alexander D’Arcy, shows up to speak to her about her voice recital that Jerry nearly ruined. Jerry shows up, so Armand hides in the bedroom. Lucy’s new boyfriend, Dan Leeson, played by Ralph Bellamy, arrives with his mother to apologize for doubting her honesty, so Jerry quickly hides in the bedroom. As Dan is trying to say he is sorry, we hear the sounds of a violent fight coming from the bedroom. Glass is being smashed, furniture is being destroyed. Sounds like falling pipes and crashing bricks, which belonged at a construction site could be heard as well. The fight is never shown, but Lucy, Dan, and Dan’s mother try to ignore the cacophony, which Lucy explains away as remodeling. Suddenly Armand sprints out of the room being chased by Jerry. As they race to the front door, Lucy’s Aunt Patsy, played by Cecil Cunningham dryly quips, “They forgot to touch second.”

But unfortunately, there just wasn’t very much that was special about the film that made it stand out as better than any other screwball comedy. In fact, if I am being critical, I might call it a little dull. Sure the dialogue was clever and witty, but that’s not enough to make it a great movie, as a Best Picture nomination should be. And as long as I am being completely honest, I have to mention the costumes. The movies have always been the perfect way for new fashions to be introduced to the general public. So every scene features the lead actress in a different outfit. But some of the fashions that they had Lucy wearing were frumpy and almost matronly, especially when looked at with a modern eye

In the end, as if there were ever any doubt, Jerry and Lucy are back together. They both realize that they are made for each other and are completely in love. But it is too late. The divorce proceedings become final during the ending scene. The movie ended by implying that Jerry was going to spend the night in Lucy’s room. But I thought a cuter ending would have had Jerry proposing to Lucy just after their divorce became final.

And finally, we could have done without the kooky cuckoo-clock sequences… But you’ll have to watch the film to understand that one. Honestly, I didn't get it. ” - faltskog9
 
50.
Three Smart Girls (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Three sisters scheme to reunite their divorced parents before their wealthy father marries a conniving gold digger. (84 mins.)
Director: Henry Koster
“ Three Smart Girls – 1936

Spoiler Alert

Here we have another screwball comedy. It is becoming apparent to me that the genre was a popular one in the 1930s and it is easy to see why. The screwball comedy is fluff. It has a happy ending and a light-hearted air about it. It doesn’t require you to feel too much or think too hard. The plot is clever but not complicated. The dialogue is witty and humorous. There is always at least one couple that you cheer for that will end up with each other.

But it also has another quality that is unique to the category. There is an element of zaniness and wackiness to it. The situations are farcical and over the top. The characters are ones that rarely exist in the real world.

Three Smart Girls is a perfect example. The film stars three young women as sisters in the Craig family. Barbara Reed plays Kay, the oldest of the siblings. The middle daughter, Joan, is played by Nan Grey. Deanna Durbin plays the youngest sister, Penny, though despite what the poster says, not in her film debut.

The three young women live with their mother, Dorothy Craig, played by Nella Walker. Their incredibly rich father is out of the picture. He lives in New York after having divorced the mother ten years prior to the story taking place. The three girls and their mother read a news article which tells of the father, Judson Craig, played by Charles Winninger, getting engaged to a beautiful woman of the New York upper-crust.

Here is where the zany element comes in. The mother begins crying when she reads the news. The saddened girls concoct a scheme in which they will fly to New York and break up their father’s engagement in order to get their parents back together. But really, think about it. Who in their right mind would actually do such a thing? A child might fantasize about doing something like that, but to actually put it into action? That can only happen in the movies.

I mean, the premise is cute enough for a lark, but realistically, it would never happen. For example, the kids have no idea why their parents split up in the first place, nor did the movie provide that information. What if the divorce had taken place because the father had caught the mother cheating? What if she had a problem with spending too much of her husband’s money? What if the father was an alcoholic? What if he had been an abusive husband? Or what if the answer was even simpler than that? What if the parents were just fine as friends, but had irreconcilable differences in a marriage relationship.

In embarking on their childish plan, the three girls were actually being incredibly naive and inconsiderate to both their parents. But then we wouldn’t have much of a movie. So they whisk themselves away to New York and descend upon their unsuspecting father, who hasn’t seen any of them in 10 years. His beautiful fiancée, Donna Lyons, played by Binnie Barnes is at first annoyed, and then angered by the three sisters’ shenanigans. And why wouldn’t she be angry. In the real world, she would have every right to be furious.

Fortunately, she is nothing but a common gold-digger. She is always ready to pounce on the richest man in her immediate vicinity. She is obviously the wrong woman for Judson to marry. But what if she had been a good woman who truly loved him? How would the sisters have known? The three “smart” girls would have destroyed their father’s happiness.

But fortunately, the plan was a success. Donna goes away and Dorothy comes to New York, though I found it interesting that upon seeing his ex-wife, Judson does not look terribly enthusiastic about the reunion.

However, along the way, two of the sisters find their own true loves, one of whom was played by the handsome Ray Milland. And the third sister (you guessed it), Penny, uses her exquisite voice to charm everyone, including Judson. She really did have a set of pipes! She sang beautifully and with a smile that wouldn’t quit, which was actually a bit surprising, since she was only 15 years old when the movie was filmed. Well done, Durbin!

The movie was ultimately cute and harmless, but it was also formulaic and predictable. A better screwball comedy would have had some kind of clever twist that would have caught the audience by surprise. The acting was good enough and didn’t raise any red flags. In fact, I particularly liked Charles Winninger. He was not the lead, but I felt his skills as an actor were far above those of his co-stars. ” - faltskog9
 
51.
Captains Courageous (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Harvey Cheyne is a spoiled brat used to having his own way. When a prank goes wrong onboard an ocean liner Harvey ends up overboard and nearly drowns... (117 mins.)
Director: Victor Fleming
“ Captains Courageous – 1937

Spoiler Alert

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. I think it was in large part due to the acting skills of young Freddie Bartholomew. MGM Studios advertised the film as a coming-of-age classic with exciting action sequences. I’ll actually give the film credit for one mildly exciting action sequence, but no more.

The film is based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling with Bartholomew playing the lead role of Harvey Cheyne. He is the son of a very wealthy single father, played by Melvyn Douglas. Harvey has little to no relationship with his father. Like many children, he has learned to be manipulative towards adults, and a bully to his fellow students at school. His behavior not only gets him into trouble, but makes him an incredibly unpopular young boy.

So, his father, in an effort to spend more time with his son, takes him along on a business trip. Unfortunately, he is too busy with his business to spend any real time with him. Through a series of events, Harvey falls off the side of the ship and nearly drowns in the ocean. Fortunately, he is rescued from the water by a lowly fisherman. He is Manuel Fidello, played by Spencer Tracy.

From here it is easy to see where the story goes. The fisher folk don’t care who the little brat is, nor do they care who his father is. Harvey learns to be a fisher and becomes a better person for it. He develops a deep bond with Manuel, a relationship he could never have with his father.

The story was handled well. It took its time establishing the relationship between Harvey and Manuel, giving the audience a chance to understand it and believe it. Not only is this to Kipling’s credit, but also to the film’s director, Victor Fleming. If this movie had been made today, it probably would have skipped over some of the more character driven parts and really played up the scenes with the action. But in the 1930s more attention was given to character development than modern movies. It is unfortunate, but movies are rarely made that way anymore.

As in the Best Picture nominee of 1935, David Copperfield, Freddie Bartholomew did a really fantastic job for a child actor. He really showed a natural talent for acting and was believable. He handled a range of emotions from petulance to excitement to tears and sorrow very well. He did a great job in front of the camera, despite his very young age.

But for me, the real star of the film was Spencer Tracy. I have to start off by saying that I am not very knowledgeable about his body of work, but I have liked him in everything in which I have seen him. Here, he really turned in a great performance. He had to maintain a Portuguese accent, and though you could tell it was not a natural accent, he was at least consistent which made it acceptable. Spencer Tracy is a very good actor and he made Manuel into a delightful character that anyone would want to know, which made his death scene that much more impactful, both to Harvey and the audience.

Lionel Barrymore also did a wonderful job as the captain of the fishing schooner, Disko Troop. He was perfect as the crusty and yet gentle-hearted seaman. He ruled his vessel with fairness and compassion. His son, Dan, was played by Mickey Rooney. Rooney did a great job. I liked him much better here than as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In fact, though his role was fairly small, he played his part very believably and made the character a memorable one. Well done Barrymore and Rooney!

Unfortunately, the more I think about it, I more I come to believe that Manuel’s death was really caused by Disko’s obsessive competition with another schooner captain. You see, the two skippers were racing through the water and so Disko ignored the warnings regarding his damaged sail, which ultimately killed Manuel. Oh well…

But even that is only a minor complaint. I really did enjoy the film. It was a story that was well told and easy to follow. The acting was top notch and very believable. ” - faltskog9
 
52.
One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
The daughter of a struggling musician forms a symphony orchestra made up of his unemployed friends and through persistence... (84 mins.)
Director: Henry Koster
“ One Hundred Men and a Girl – 1937

Spoiler Alert

This movie had to potential to be a great screwball comedy. It had a good cast of characters, misunderstandings and mistaken identities. The only thing it didn’t have was a big romance. But somewhere along the way, the ball was dropped. Somehow, the movie came across to me as annoying. I had to think about it a little but I finally figured out why. Once again, Hollywood committed the cardinal sin. Cute for the sake of cute is never cute. Never. The rule was broken, though not blatantly. It was subtle. But that made the sin no less deplorable. Here is what I mean.

The film, as I mentioned, was a screwball comedy. It starred Deanna Durbin as precocious young girl, Patricia “Patsy” Cardwell. She is supposed to be the eager young girl with the pure heart of an angel. She is sweet and innocent. She is adorable and has an amazing voice. What’s not to love?

Her father is John Cardwell, well-played by Adolphe Menjou. He is an out of work trombone player who is trying to get an audition with the world famous Leopold Stokowski. When he is unsuccessful and the two are on the verge of being evicted from their apartment for not being able to pay the rent, he is lucky enough to find the dropped purse of a rich woman. He uses the money to pay his rent and lies to his daughter, saying that he earned the money playing for the famous conductor.

Patsy finds out about the lie and takes the purse and the remaining money to return it to its rightful owner. So far it almost sounds like a serious drama. But when she meets the kooky rich woman, Mrs. Frost, played by Alice Brady, a hair-brained scheme is concocted on a whim in which a full orchestra of 100 unemployed musicians will be sponsored by Mr. Frost, played by Eugene Pallette.

Hijinks ensues. Now it all sounds like a setup for a great screwball comedy, right? But here is the problem. Deanna Durbin was over the top in an unbelievably annoying fashion. The character of Patsy was supposed to be a smart, fast-talking young girl. But she took that to mean that she was just supposed to say her lines as rapidly as possible. The result was that she was hyper-excited and super-talkative. Not only that, the lied, schemed, intruded on private property, ignored rules, destroyed property, and generally made a criminal nuisance of herself in her efforts to make the idea of the unemployed musician orchestra work. How sweet does she sound now?

I just wanted her to shut up and slow down. Fortunately, every now and then, she did when it was time for her to sing. Granted, she had a beautiful singing voice, which the filmmakers did their best to showcase. But such juvenile behavior would never be tolerated in the real world. I just had to keep telling myself that it was a screwball comedy. It is supposed to be silly.

But then it hit me. The entire film had Durbin dressed in the clothes of a child. She had ribbons in her hair and small, frilly little-girl frocks. All that, combined with her already bright, youthful face and brilliant smile, made for an extravaganza of cuteness. Even her excited and exuberant childish behavior was supposed to make her appear even cuter. Ugh! I was on cute overload! Then when she sang with the voice of a woman, because her voice was so mature and developed, it seemed almost disturbing. Here I am, listening to her wonderful, full voice and looking at the image of a child on the screen. My brain had trouble reconciling the two.

The best part of the film was Leopold Stokowski. I myself am a musician and I know a true conductor at work when I see one. He was so realistic because he wasn’t playing a character. He was playing himself. Granted, maybe some of his actions and decisions were not very realistic, but he played them well for the purpose of the plot. I especially liked the part in the end where Patsy sneaks all 100 men into Stokowski’s private home and they start to play for him. As they play he tries to resist conducting them. But being the true master musician he is, he can’t help himself. His hands start moving of their own volition and before he can do anything about it, he agrees to conduct them in a public concert. And of course, Patsy gets to sing an aria with them to close the performance. Would this really happen? Of course not. But hey, it is a screwball comedy, so why not. Best Picture nominee, though? I would say no. It was just too… average in its execution. ” - faltskog9
 
53.
Dead End (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
The Dead End Kids, an unemployed architect, and gangster Baby Face Martin interact with an East Side neighborhood over one day and night. (93 mins.)
Director: William Wyler
“ Dead End – 1937

Spoiler Alert

This was a very odd movie, but I ended up liking it. It was a plain old drama, so right off the bat it was a refreshing difference from all the screwball comedies that I have been watching lately. Also, it was not a historical drama, which even further set it apart from its peers. Apparently the film was based on a successful stage play of the same name which was written by Sidney Kingsley.

In fact, right from the very beginning, I could tell that it was really a filmed version of a stage play. The set looked very stagey, which was not a bad thing. The entire plot took place in one dead end street in the slums of New York next to the dirty water of the East River. It was easy to see how a stage set would have been constructed, where the entrances and exits would be place. It gave the entire film a very intimate feel, as if you were there in a theatre.

Another stagey effect was the fact that not all the action took place on-screen. For example, when some street hoodlums took a rich kid into a warehouse to beat him up and steal his watch, they exited through the warehouse door and we never actually see the fight. But after some other characters have their little scene, we see the rich kid run back onto the stage in tattered clothes – just like we’d see it in a live theatre.

The film starred Humphrey Bogart as Baby Face Martin, a dangerous gangster who is on the lamb but returning to the neighborhood in which he grew up to visit his mother and an old girlfriend. The point is made that he has murdered eight men. But though he is the big name and star of the film, his character is really only a part of the tapestry that mad up the film as a whole. The film gives Baby Face no more screen time than any other character, though I will concede that most of the emotional content of the movie was centered around him.

The poor slum is the home of a number of other characters, each of whom has their own story, their own part to play in the tapestry. One side of the dead end street is the back of an apartment building that houses wealthy families. Because of renovations being done to the front of that apartment building, the affluent tenants must walk through the dirty slums to go out.

The poor hoodlums I mentioned earlier were played by a bunch of kids who all did a fantastic job. In fact, they all had done their roles on the Broadway show before the film. They did such a good job, they were officially named the Dead End Kids and they all went on to be in other films together but under different names like the Little Tough Guys and The East End Kids. The gang was made up of Tommy Gordon (Billy Halop), Dippy (Huntz Hall), Angel (Bobby Jordan), Spit (Leo Gorcey, T.B. (Gabriel Dell), and Milty (Bernard Punsly).

Each of the various stories going on were interesting in their own right, but my favorite was that of Baby Face Martin. He was tired of being a gangster on the run and was looking to find a girl to settle down with. But the old adage proved to be true. You can never go back. His mother, played by Marjorie Main, knew of his crimes and rejected him in a very touching scene saying, “I have no son.” Next he meets with his old flame Francie, played by Claire Trevor, and tells her that he wants her back. But even she rejects him, telling him that she is now a prostitute in the late term stages of syphilis. The depression that he experiences is understandable.

There was also a nice romance between Tommy’s older sister Drina, played by Sylvia Sidney and the local nice guy, Dave Connell, played by Joel McCrea. He is a struggling man who is hard working and educated. Drina loves him but he only sees her as a good friend. Dave has been seen spending time with a woman from the wealthy apartment building named Kay Burton, played by Wendy Barrie. The little love triangle is intriguing and was very well played.

All in all this was a very good movie. It stays with you and makes you think about it when it is over. And the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I enjoyed watching it. The tapestry that was created when all the different stories were put together was intricate and beautifully constructed. The acting was very good and the various stories were well told. ” - faltskog9
 
54.
The Good Earth (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
The story of a farmer in China: a story of humility and bravery. His father gives Wang Lung a freed slave as wife... (138 mins.)
Director: Sidney Franklin
“ The Good Earth – 1937

Spoiler Alert

This movie was pretty much everything I expected. I have never read the source material, written by Pearl S. Buck. I know the book is considered a classic, so I expected the story to be good. Also, the two lead actors were Paul Muni and Luise Rainer. I have seen both of them in other films, so I expected the acting to be good. And it was.

But if I had any complaints about the movie, it would be that Paul Muni was completely wrong for the part. The story took place in China, in a village in the north. Muni plays the poor farmer Wang Lung. The reason I say he was wrong for the part is two-fold. First, his face was too American. In a movie full of Chinese people with their Asian eyes, his wide, round eyes stood out like sore thumbs. Sure, he got the Chinese peasant haircut, but he still looked like an American.

Second, I was a little disappointed in his overall performance. He seemed to be trying to use a Chinese accent and adopt their cultural mannerisms. For example, when a Chinese native learns English, the speech patterns are sometimes jerky and the vocal inflections are a little off. Muni tried to emulate these traits, but he went a little overboard and his resulting accent sounded unnatural. And there were times when even that fell away and his natural speech patterns were revealed.

That being said, he still turned in a good performance, though I think an Chinese actor could have done the part more justice. Now, Luise Rainer was another matter. She was incredible as Wang Lung’s wife O-Lan. She not only looked the part, but her accent was not over-exaggerated. I would never have known the actress was not Chinese if I didn’t know the actress. And I wasn’t the only one who thought her performance was remarkable. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress that year for her portrayal of O-Lan.

The story is the tale of Wang Lung and O-Lan as they struggle through the twists and turns of fortune, both good and bad. They work hard and enjoy the benefits of good harvests, and they suffer together through famine and extreme poverty. But through it all, they have the land. The earth. At times it is bountiful and at times it is barren, but in the end it sustains them and lifts them up out of their lowly stations. It makes them rich and powerful in their village.

But as often happens with great success, Wang Lung changes and becomes a different man. He tends to forget that his success and wealth did not come only from himself but also from the hard work and devotion of his wife. And the gods, in his culture. He changed into a man who was unkind and hard. He turned into the kind of lord who he once despised.

But fortunately, he was redeemed. The gods sent him something that would ruin him, something that was the bane of every farmer. Locusts. I have to say that the scene depicting the locust swarm was incredibly well done. I was impressed with the cinematography and the realism of the spectacle. I’ve personally never seen a locust storm before, but I hear it can be pretty horrific. In that respect, I imagine that the film did such an event justice.

In the end, much of Wang Lung’s crops were defended and his fortune was saved. And as an extra added bonus, his time in the fields fighting the deadly swarm reminded him of where he came from. He remembered that he was a simple farmer at heart. It also put into perspective what was truly important in life. And what he found was that it was not material possessions, wealth, property, status or even fortune. It was family, honor and love.

The story told was a good one and the actors did a good job. Despite what I said about Paul Muni, he still turned in a competent performance. But for me, it was Rainer that really stole the show. She was mesmerizing to watch. The inner strength of her character was wonderfully portrayed. The only other actor of note was another American actor. Walter Connolly played Wang Lung’s good-for-nothing uncle. He did a good enough job, though the character was an annoying one. I must also give a special nod to the director Sidney Franklin for a job well done. ” - faltskog9
 
55.
In Old Chicago (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
The O'Leary brothers -- honest Jack and roguish Dion -- become powerful figures, and eventually rivals, in Chicago on the eve of its Great Fire. (95 mins.)
Director: Henry King
“ In Old Chicago – 1937

Spoiler Alert

How do I describe this film? Well, watch the 1936 Best Picture Nominee San Francisco and you have seen In Old Chicago. I would say that it was about 85% the same film. It had a few notable deviations but had a very similar plot.

Here it is, in a nutshell. There is a wealthy but corrupt business man who owns a saloon. He finds a star singer in a competitor’s saloon and steals her for his own show. The business man and the singer become involved in a rocky romantic relationship. He begins to dabble in politics to further his corrupt endeavors. She leaves him just before a huge catastrophe occurs which destroys the city. The disaster makes the two realize just how important they are to each other. The end.

That description could apply to both films very easily. But, I don’t want this review to be a long comparison between the two movies. Instead, I want to focus on how this was a good film, able to stand on its own two feet. In Old Chicago takes place in 1871, the year of the great fire. It starred Alice Brady as Molly, the mother of the O’Leary family. She was the stereotypical Irish mother who had the distinction of owning the infamous cow who allegedly started the great Chicago Fire.

Tyrone Power as Dion (pronounced as Die-on) O’Leary, played the corrupt saloon owner. He had two brothers, but the important one, Jack, was played by Don Ameche. He was a lawyer whose professional career was starting to take off. But corrupt Dion manipulates him into entering politics to achieve his own goals. However, Jack is a good man who, when elected as the Mayor of Chicago, strives to use his position to actually improve the city. This leads to conflict between the two brothers.

And finally, we get to the woman who Dion falls for. She was actually the best part of the film. She was gorgeous and had a beautiful alto singing voice. Alice Faye played the part of Belle Fawcett and she did a fantastic job. She was believable and honest in her performance. What was fascinating about the character of Belle was that she knew about Dion’s criminal behavior and actually helped him at times. In fact she only left him when he ended up betraying her to get what he wanted.

The plot was believable as it stood and the actors did a fine job. But as is usually the case when a movie depicts a historical event, I had to do a little research and find out how true to life the film makers were. I the case of In Old Chicago, I’m sorry to say, not very. But there were a few things that did stand as true.

First, the fire did start in a barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. But it was not started by a cow knocking over a lantern. True, that was a rumor which started while the fire was still burning, but in 1893, the man who started that rumor actually retracted his statement and Mrs. O’Leary was exonerated. Nobody really knows how the fire started and many theories exist, some of which sound pretty far-fetched. Whatever the cause, about two thirds of the city at that time was destroyed.

Second, the O’Leary family’s patriarch did not die in an accident with horses. On top of that, he and Catherine had only two children, not three: one boy and one girl. That son, James, was never Mayor of Chicago, but he did become successful as a gambler and saloon owner.

The big climax of the film, naturally, was the great fire. This was handled in a pretty spectacular fashion. In 1937, this was one of the most expensive films ever made. Director Henry King did an impressive job of spear-heading the whole thing. The fire was appropriately massive and ominous as it caught and grew with alarming rapidity.

But there was one thing which I felt he missed. He really shied away from showing any actual death, except for one, and even then, it was never actually shown. Jack’s death was handled as a dramatic plot point, making him a heroic and self-sacrificing figure. In truth, 300 people lost their lives in the conflagration. Not one of them was shown.

So what am I saying? The film was good… but not great. If not for Alice Faye, this would have been a very average movie, at least by today’s standards. ” - faltskog9
 
56.
Lost Horizon (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A plane crash delivers a group of people to the secluded land of Shangri-La -- but is it the miraculous utopia it appears to be? (97 mins.)
Director: Frank Capra
“ Lost Horizon – 1937

Spoiler Alert

This was a very ambitious movie for a number of reasons. I liked it even though large portions of it were pretty schmaltzy. It is the first Best Picture Nominee I have come across that I could categorize as a Science Fiction or Fantasy movie. It definitely had a supernatural quality about it.

It was about a group of people who are fleeing the war-torn country of China, specifically, the city of Baskul. However, my research tells me that Baskul is actually a city in modern-day Iran, not China. But never-mind that. As Robert Conway, played by Ronald Coleman, his brother George, played by John Howard, Alexander Lovett, played by Edward Everett Horton, Henry Barnard, played by Thomas Mitchell and Gloria Stone, played by Isabell Jewell fly away from the oncoming revolutionary army, they think their troubles are over. But unbeknownst to them, their airplane has been hijacked by a mysterious man.

He keeps them in the air for days, flying over mountain ranges. When the plane runs out of fuel, it crashes high in the Himalayas. With the pilot dead, the terrified passengers brace themselves for death. But as luck would have it, they are found by a group of men and taken to a hidden city in the mountains. Despite the bitter freezing cold of the mountain range, the city lies in a valley of sunshine and eternal spring.

And there begins the main body of the film. It is the legendary city of Shangri-La. The mythical city is, of course not real. It is a city known for its perfect peace, its utopian society, its air of calm tranquility. According to the film, it offered nearly eternal youth and vitality. Never-mind that it had plenty of aged inhabitants.

But what the film did so well, was that it kept secret whether the magic of Shangri-La was real or not. At the end, George convinces his brother that it is a lie. As a viewer, even I was convinced that it was a dream that couldn’t be real. The brothers leave and it isn’t until it is too late that they find that it was all quite true.

The film didn’t have any big special effects, no mind bending imagery. But the narrative was very well constructed, allowing the imagination of the view to fill in the blanks. Also, the great score by composer Dimitri Tiomkin was ethereal and other-worldly. The movie was filmed in black and white, though it was originally intended to be filmed in color. However, the use of black and white stock footage in scenes involving the Himalayas prevented director Frank Capra from doing this.

Now, here is something interesting about the film. Before the movie began, a message came on the screen to inform the viewer that no copy of the complete film exists. However, a complete copy of the sound-track was found. When the film was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 1973, the closest they could get to Capra’s original film was to show still shots of the speaking characters as their dialogue played out whenever the film footage was not available.

And that is just what happened. For a cumulative total of over 7 minutes, still shots and production photos of the actors in costume were displayed on the screen as their voice tracks continued playing. It was very cleverly done and greatly appreciated to have the complete narrative of the original script to remain intact.

Other notable actors in the movie were Jane Wyatt as Sondra Bizet, Ronald’s love interest in Shangri-La, H.B. Warner as Chang, their mysterious host and Sam Jaffe as the High Lama, leader of the mythical city.

It was actually very refreshing to see a movie in the list of Best Picture Nominees that was a true science-fiction film. It was thought provoking and insightful. However, the fact that it’s main message was of peace, contentment, kindness and brotherhood was not lost on me. The film came out in a time when WWII was looming on the horizon. I am not surprised that a movie with such an enlightened point of view was so popular.

Also, I have to add that the opening sequence on the airfield and the scenes that took place in the cold mountains of the Himalayas were particularly well done. Chaotic scenes like that must have been a real challenge for the director. Well done, Capra! Incidentally, a musical remake was done in 1973. It flopped horribly. ” - faltskog9
 
57.
A Star Is Born (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A young woman comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom, but achieves them only with the help of an alcoholic leading man whose best days are behind him. (111 mins.)
“ A Star is Born – 1937

Spoiler Alert

Color!! Yay Color!! This is the first Best Picture Nominee that I have seen that was filmed in Technicolor. It is a wonderful thing, but not as wonderful as it might sound. Color films were still new and unperfected. The colors were slightly off. They had problems with lighting. Shadows were difficult to work with. But it was color! True, the last few minutes of the 1934 Nominee, The House of Rothschild, was in color, but here we have the entire film!

The movie starred Janet Gaynor and Fredrick March as the two leads, Esther Blodgett and Norman Main. She was a small town girl with dreams of becoming a big movie star. He was a big movie star who had dreams of his next bottle of booze. Together they had an epic romance that was complex and subtle, passionate and tragic.

The plot followed Esther’s rise to stardom and Norman’s descent into alcoholism. The film was more dramatic than I had been expecting and the ending took me by surprise. It was sad and yet completely appropriate at the same time. The movie could not have ended any other way.

Ok, let me back up a bit. The movie begins as Esther is at home with her family, her bitter old crone of an aunt, her unsupportive father, and her wise old grandmother. Her aunt was played by Clara Blandick who, while I hated the character, I applaud the actress for making the character believable and effective. We weren’t supposed to like her. Blandick, of course was better known for her role of Aunt Em in The Wizard of Oz.

The kindly grandmother was played by May Robson. She was the kind of grandmother anyone would love to have. She was supportive, understanding, and full of good advice. She even had a few precious dollars to spare. When Esther tells the family about her dreams of stardom, grannie sends her on her way with her blessings. Esther gets to Hollywood, California and has little success finding work as an actress. She takes a job as a waitress at a studio executive party. Unfortunately, the Hollywood big-shots don’t even seem to see her as she serves hors d’oeuvres. But who is it that does notice her? Fictional Hollywood star Norman Main.

He falls for Esther and gets her a screen test with his good friend and producer Oliver Niles, played by Adolphe Menjou. The cameras love her and she becomes an over-night success. As her star begins to rise, Norman’s begins to fall.

I though both Gaynor and March did very well and they had a good on-screen chemistry. Gaynor was beautiful and was believable as a woman who sees her husband spiraling down into the depths of alcoholic depression. And March played a good and believable drunk. His performance was not too flamboyant or over the top. It was appropriately pathetic.

I also really liked Menjou. In fact, I like him in just about everything in which I see him. He has a kindly face and a calm, gentle demeanor that just makes the characters he plays likeable.

But I think that the main thing that audiences of 1937 liked about the film was the romance. It was a relationship in which each lover was willing to sacrifice themselves for the other. In the end, Esther was ready to give up her career as a movie star to help him through his alcoholism. When Norman learned of her decision to do so, he loved her so much, he gave up his life to ensure that she wouldn’t. It was truly a romance worthy of a Best Picture Nominee.

And finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention another actor in the film. He is an actor that I have never really cared for. Every time I see him on the screen, see that slow and moronic look on his face, hear that ridiculous voice of his, I have the urge to cringe. He is Andy Devine. But I must admit, I liked him in this film. He played Esther’s one and only friend Danny McGuire before she meets Norman. He just played a nice guy who was there to help Esther when she needed it. In my research, I learned that he was a very busy character actor whose career spanned from 1928 to 1973. I guess I’ll have to revise my opinion of him as an actor. ” - faltskog9
 
58.
Stage Door (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A boardinghouse full of aspiring actresses and their ambitions, dreams and disappointments. (92 mins.)
Director: Gregory LaCava
“ Stage Door – 1937

Spoiler Alert

Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of this movie. On the one hand, it had a really great cast with some good performances. The sets and costumes were spot-on and believable. The dialogue was quick and witty. But on the other hand, the plot was a little one-note and uninteresting. And finally, the climax of the film was not very realistic. I’ll explain.

First, the good things. How could you go wrong with a cast which included Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Gail Patrick and Andrea Leeds? Not to mention Lucile Ball, Eve Arden and Ann Miller in smaller roles. Hepburn played Terry Randall, a girl from a rich family who sets out on a mission to become a big Broadway star without the consent of her wealthy father. Rogers played the cynical Jean Maitland, an out of work actress with similar dreams of stardom. Menjou actually played a jerk for a change and did quite well. He was Anthony Powell, Broadway producer and cheating womanizer.

Hepburn was simply marvelous, as usual. She had such a unique look and attitude. She really was a great actress. The quick and catty dialogue reminded me of other films like All About Eve or The Women, except that Stage Door came first. Hepburn had her share of it, but Rogers got most of the quick lines and really had to keep her wits about her. She was gorgeous and talented, and a pleasure to watch. Gail Patrick, playing her ex-roommate Linda Shaw, was her main sparring partner.

Then there was the film’s tragic character, Kay Hamilton, played by Leeds. She had once been the toast of Broadway, but is now having just as much trouble finding work as the rest of the women. Leeds was good. She was depressing and difficult to watch, which was exactly what she was supposed to be.

As I mentioned earlier, Menjou’s character was unlike any other role I have seen him play. He is usually a good guy, but here, his character of Anthony Powell had a habit of finding pretty young actresses and giving them work in exchange for sex. He was appropriately slimy and detestable. He would get them drunk and try to make his move. But he would also leave himself an escape hatch. He would tell them he was married so that he would never have to commit to anything, and so that he could conveniently drop any girl with whom he grew tired. Ew!

So, here is the flip side. The plot was, for the most part uninteresting. There is a boarding house full of out of work actresses, though you rarely see any of them actually looking for work. Terry actually makes a point of mentioning it. All except for Kay. She is studying and trying to get a part in a new play that Powell is producing.

But the plot puts more emphasis on Powel and how he basically treats his women like glorified whores. And the girls are so desperate for a meal ticket that they allow it. All except for Terry. She refuses to drink his champagne, and rebuffs his advances. Eventually, because of the interference of her rich father, she gets the part that Kay is desperate to get. That’s about it until the end.

And then there was the climax of the film. Terry, who turns out to be a bad actress, is saved when a delusional Kay commits suicide. Suddenly, because she now has a touch of real grief in her life, she becomes such a great actress that blows away the critics. She is an instant success.

And here, finally, is why I call the ending unrealistic. A profound feeling of guilt and pain does not a great actress make, especially in less than five minutes. A bad actress is a bad actress, whether she is happy or depressed. Sure, Hepburn played the hell out of the part, but the fault was in the script writing. Sudden sadness does not make you talented.

I guess that I didn’t really dislike the movie, but I didn’t find it especially meaningful or profound. The acting was good, and I liked the quick witted dialogue, but the slow plot left me a little ambivalent. Still, it was enjoyable enough to watch. It just wasn’t one of my favorites. ” - faltskog9
 
59.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
When Prince John and the Norman Lords begin oppressing the Saxon masses in King Richard's absence, a Saxon lord fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla army. (102 mins.)
“ The Adventures of Robin Hood – 1938

Spoiler Alert

This was a fun movie. It had great characters, a great cast of actors, incredible and energetic action sequences and exciting music. But all that being said, I can also say that the whole movie is pure camp. It was utterly unrealistic and at times laughable. It was outrageous and over-the-top. And I loved every minute of it.

Errol Flynn led the cast as Sir Robin of Locksley. He, like every other character in the film, was a total stereotype. He was a flawless person and how could our hero be anything less? He was handsome, clever, chivalrous, heroic, altruistic, steadfast, brave, an expert sword fighter, a master of archery and smooth with the ladies. He was larger than life. But for me, that was his downfall. He was so utterly perfect, he was not a believable character.

And then there was the rest of the cast. Robin’s main squeeze, Maid Marion, was played by Olivia DeHavilland. She was beautiful, virtuous, smart, loyal, brave, daring and lovely beyond description. Prince John, played by Claude Rains, was vain, demanding, treacherous, greedy, conniving, devious and spiteful. Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone, was short-tempered, vindictive, manipulative, self-serving and dangerous. Friar Tuck, played by Eugene Pallette, was generous, jolly, loyal, bold and true. You start to get the picture.

People like that don’t exist in the real world. Everyone has both good and bad qualities. It is what makes us all human. But I know why they did it. The directors, Michael Curtiz and William Keighley were not trying to make a serious drama. They were making a light-hearted adventure film, and the actors all did a fine job playing out their parts, such as they were.

But when I think about it, the biggest reason I have to call the movie campy was the costumes. But again, I know why they did it. This film was in Technicolor, and as the techniques of this new medium were being pioneered, filmmakers took every opportunity to show off what they could do. And make no mistake, they used every color of the spectrum to miraculous effect.

The costumes were amazing, but again, unrealistic. Everything was clean and bright. The nobles each wore their own colors which were unique and dazzling. The ladies dressed in opulent gowns made of expensive fabrics. Even the attractive peasants were dressed in hand-crafted rags in brilliant colors. But seriously, I doubt that anyone in 1191 dressed like these people did. I imagine that clean, dyed fabrics were a luxury reserved for royalty. And did they even have sequins and rhinestones back then? I doubt it.

Mel Brooks had it right in his 1993 comedy, Robin Hood: Men in Tights. That title is in direct homage to the 1938 Best Picture Nominee. I think that every single man in the film, from Robin Hood to Prince John, wore bright spandex tights. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the evil Bishop of Black Cannons, played by Montague Love, was wearing tights under his priestly robes.

But all that being said, it was a true feast for the eyes. The Technicolor brilliance of the film was amazing. It really was amazing to see, though it was apparently a pretty expensive technology in the 1930s. But that wasn’t all. The action sequences were exciting to watch, especially the fast and furious sword-fighting between Robin Hood and Sir Guy. Though, again, you have to suspend believability at times. When I watched men leaping through the forest and could actually see them bouncing off of springboards or trampolines, I had to roll my eyes a little.

And lest I forget, the thrilling music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold won the Academy award for Best Original Score.

And finally, I have to mention one last thing. I think the filmmakers missed something in the scene in which Robin captures Sir Guy, though maybe they did it on purpose to show Robin’s care-free confidence. As Robin leads his adversary’s horse through Sherwood Forest, he makes light-hearted jests at Sir Guy’s expense. But he and his band of Merry Men made a fatal blunder. They had not taken away Sir Guy’s weapons!! As he was seated on his horse directly behind Robin Hood, one quick blow with his heavy mace would have ended the hero’s life and brought the film to a shocking and disastrous end. Robin would have never seen it coming. ” - faltskog9
 
60.
Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
This send-up of ragtime song and dance begins in 1915 San Francisco when society boy Roger Grant decides to pursue popular rather than serious music. (106 mins.)
Director: Henry King
“ Alexander’s Rag Time Band – 1938

Spoiler Alert

I have to admit that this movie surprised me. It was a fictionalized film about the beginnings of jazz music and its transition from ragtime into the swing movement of the late 1930s. On the surface, it was a pretty standard film. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl both become successful, boy gets girl back. The end.

But what surprised me was that despite its simple plot, I ended up caring about what happened to the characters. I’m not exactly sure why, but at the film’s climax, I was worried that the star-crossed couple might not find their ways back to each other. Director Henry King did a good job of weaving a fictional story around historical events. The characters were a little larger than life, as is normal for a light drama, but they were not over the top.

The movie starred Tyrone Power as the fictional Alexander, the band leader who popularized the new sound the people couldn’t get enough of. The woman who sang with him, by mistake at first, was Stella Kirby, played by Alice Faye. Her character was very loosely based on real-life singer Emma Carus who originally made the film’s title song popular.

When the two first meet, it was hate at first sight. But eventually, through the music of Alexander’s pianist, Charlie Dwyer, played by Don Ameche, the two realized that they were hopelessly in love and that they were destined to be together.

And there we had our three main characters. Of course, there is a little plot device of a love triangle, where Charlie is in love with Stella. They even go so far as to wed after Alexander and the singer separate because of a fight involving her blossoming career. They concoct a scheme to get whole band noticed by a Broadway producer who, unfortunately, only notices Stella.

Powers was good in his role. At times he was a good man while at others he was a real jerk. Having both good and bad elements to his character made him believable and therefore, easier to empathize with. Faye was also good, her character having the same light and dark qualities.

The one that really bothered me was Ameche. First, I had a problem with his character, and second with his acting. As to the character, he was too perfect a guy. Charlie was in love with Stella but came to understand that she was in love with Alexander. So what does he do? He meekly steps out of the way and allows them to be together. No jealously. No hard feelings. He even peacefully divorces her and helps her to be with her true love.

But the second problem was worse. Ameche’s acting style didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the cast. Everyone else acted like regular people, but Ameche acted like a creepy little crooner. Every line of dialogue was said in a low, soft voice like he was trying really hard to seduce someone. It was distracting and sometimes took me a little out of the story.

Another star in the film was Ethel Merman, playing the part of Jerry Allen. She became the band’s main singer after Stella left. Now, normally, I don’t really care for Merman, neither the characters she plays, nor her voice. But she surprised me on both counts. The character of Jerry Allen was a good natured and smart woman, especially in the scene where Alexander proposes to her. She admits that she had once had hopes of receiving his affections, but she was wise enough to know that he was in still in love with Stella. Not only does she refuse to marry him, she stays on as his singer and does a fantastic job. Sure, her brash belt was still there, but it had moments of softness that sounded great.

And this brings us, finally, to the phenomenal music. The score was written by Irving Berlin. Not only was I already familiar with the title song, I also knew several other great tunes like Heat Wave, Blue Skies, Easter Parade and A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody. Of course, the film’s scoring was done by Alfred Newman, but the songs were all Berlin’s. In fact, the story itself was written by Berlin as well. And I loved how none of the music was gratuitous. It was all part of the plot. The songs didn’t tell the story, but they were all part of it. All in all, this was a well-constructed movie. ” - faltskog9
 
61.
Boys Town (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Against all odds Father Flanagan starts "Boys' Town" after hearing a convict's story. Whitey Marsh comes there... (96 mins.)
Director: Norman Taurog
“ Boys Town – 1938

Spoiler Alert

Boys Town is the story of how a kindly priest named Father Flanagan, played by Spencer Tracy, had a dream of helping young homeless boys by creating a home for them. He got them off the streets and taught them how to lead upstanding and productive lives, to become respectable members of society.

After hearing a criminal on death row say that he never would have turned to a life of crime if he’d had someone who had cared about him when he was a child, the idea for Boys Town began. At first, I had a problem with the way Flanagan would take boys off the street and as soon as they were within the walls of the home, the boys instantly became model citizens. But there was a scene when the boys didn’t get something they wanted and their first idea was to go and steal it, showing that reform was not automatic. I liked that. Flanagan, of course, wouldn’t allow it.

When his home became too small for the number of young boys, they moved to a 200 acre stretch of land to start their own town which they, themselves built from scratch. Suddenly, the young hoodlums became a work force, several hundred boys strong. The film showed them working and building, but let’s get real. Most of the construction had to have been done by professionally skilled laborers.

This gets us about half the way through the movie. It was good, despite the fact that I had a small problem with Flanagan’s character. To get the money needed to build Boys Town, he was actually kind-of a bully. He used the poor boys and their terrible situations and stories to manipulate donors, put pressure on them and lay incredible guilt trips on them to get them to pony up.

But apparently it worked. Sure, Boys Town was constantly in financial trouble, constantly in danger of closing, and constantly under public scrutiny, but somehow Flanagan made it work. His biggest benefactor was Dan Frrow, played by Leslie Fenton. He was a wealthy business owner who allows Flanagan to strong-arm him into donating vast amounts of money to the Boy’s Town project.

The second half of the film introduces Mickey Rooney. It also breaks the cardinal sin of movie-making. Rooney played a young hoodlum named Whitey Marsh. He is the younger brother of federal criminal Joe Marsh, played by Edward Norris. Whitey is taken to Boys Town against his will. He tries to bully the rest of the boys into liking him, which, of course, doesn’t work.

He tries to run away several times but always ends up coming back. Eventually the clean-cut and honest young men of Boys Town win him over and he becomes a respected member of the Boys Town community. The end.

But the film went out of its way to have a sickeningly cute little boy who was only put there to pull at the heart strings of the viewers. His name was Pee Wee, played by Bobs Watson. He was small and very young. His high-pitched voice was annoying and made my skin crawl. His dialogue and his part in the overall plot of the film had that one singular purpose. He oozed cute out of every orifice and I wanted to strangle him. Cute for the sake of cute is never cute. Never.

But after all my eye rolling was done, I found that it was all, at least the important parts of the film, quite true. There was a real Father Flanagan who started a real organization called Boys Town to help boys who needed it. More importantly, that organization is still alive and thriving today, though it is now called Boys and Girls Town. After the film was over, the DVD had a bonus feature that was an infomercial about the organization. It gave a website address and phone number for those in need to get in contact with someone who could offer help to young men and women and their families.

Tracy and Rooney Both did their jobs well. Rooney was still 17 years old when filming took place and his skills as an actor were obvious. Tracey did a fantastic job and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work on Boys Town.

And just as a parting note, I thought it amazing how the honest young boys of Boys Town formed an angry mob on a moment’s notice. Really, how upstanding were they? Vigilante justice? Indeed! ” - faltskog9
 
62.
The Citadel (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Andrew Manson, a young, enthusiastic doctor takes his first job in a Welsh mining town, and begins to... (110 mins.)
Director: King Vidor
“ The Citadel – 1938

Spoiler Alert

This was a rather simple movie from a rather simpler time. It was the kind of movie that was specifically designed to make a statement. In this case, the statement was that the medical profession is a noble one as long as the practitioner’s motives remain pure. If you want to be a doctor, make sure you are in it to help the sick and the needy, not to make money. It is a great sentiment, but I just got beat over the head with it, and I don’t even want to be a doctor!

As such, the plot was shallow and uninspired, though I believe it’s heart was in the right place. But there was just no subtlety about it. It was not a scalpel. It was a sledge hammer. The plot was predictable in everything except the details. The characters were two-dimensional and predictable. The acting wasn’t bad, but the characters were simple and dull. I wouldn’t call it a horrible movie, but I would call it nothing more than average, not worthy of a Best Picture nomination.

Robert Donat, who I have seen play more interesting parts in better films, played Andrew Mason, an idealistic young Scottish doctor who accepts a position treating coal miners in Wales. Like many miners, a lot of them suffer from tuberculosis. He develops a passion for finding a cure, but his new and progressive ideas impress neither his superiors, nor his patients. They are only interested in sticking with the ineffective treatments that they know.

Undaunted, he begins doing research on his own with the help of his cookie-cutter and instant wife, Christine, played by Rosalind Russell. After having a professional conflict with her, and meeting her a second time by chance, giving him the opportunity to apologizes to her for the argument, he, on their third meeting, asks her to marry him. Of course, she accepts. Soon after, she is helping her husband in his research and the couple is happy.

But then, disgruntled miners ransack his personal laboratory because they think he is torturing guinea pigs. Andrew and Christine move to London where they live happily, but in poverty. Then Andrew begins to exclusively treat wealthy patients for minor ailments and becomes wealthy as a result. But as we all know, when a poor man becomes suddenly rich, he automatically becomes a jerk. He becomes a snob, mistreats his loving and loyal wife, and refuses to help his best friend, Dr. Philip Denny, played by Ralph Richardson.

Well, to make a long story short, the only way to snap Dr. Manson back to his old self is for Dr. Denny to fall off the wagon, get so drunk he can barely stand, and walk in front of a moving vehicle. Don’t worry, it happens off screen. Dr. Denny is taken to a hospital and goes under the knife of an incompetent surgeon. After he dies, Andrew instantly reverts to his old self. He begins to notice poverty and people in need everywhere. He is once again his former altruistic self and breaks the standard medical code of ethics to save the life of a friend’s daughter. He is then put on trial by his peers who want to take away his license to practice.

And here we come to the climax of the film. As with many films from this era, the climax comes very late in the game. The trial filled up the last 4 minutes or so of the film. During the last 3, Andrew goes into a speech about how important unconventional medical research is so important, citing scientists who were never officially doctors, like Louis Pasteur. He calls his accusers lazy hypocrites whose small-minded and short-sighted attitudes are causing the medical profession to become stagnant and unproductive.

Once the speech is done, he takes his wife by the hand and walks out of the courtroom, a changed man. We never get to see if the speech moved the men in the courtroom enough to save his career, though apparently the outcome didn’t seem to matter to the character. It was very preachy speech, but I can only assume that it was this closing speech that got Donat his Best Actor Oscar nomination. It was as if the entire film was just a set up for the speech.

There was another actor in the film who was so young that it took me a while to recognize him. Rex Harrison played Dr. Fredrick Lawford, the naughty physician who got Dr. Manson to start treating rich people in the first place. And while I’m at it, I have to give a special thumbs-up to Ralph Richardson for a job well done. Dr. Denny was a memorable character, and Richards did a good job playing a believable drunk.

On the flip side, though, the most annoying character in the movie had to be Dr. Manson’s first wealthy patient, Toppy LeRoy, played by Penelope Dudley Ward. The character was extremely one-note, but I don’t think it was her fault. It was just dull and lifeless writing for a minor character. ” - faltskog9
 
63.
Jezebel (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
In 1850s Louisiana, a free-spirited Southern belle loses her fiancé due to her stubborn vanity and pride, and vows to win him back. (104 mins.)
Director: William Wyler
“ Jezebel – 1938

Spoiler Alert

Betty Davis was a pretty hot ticket in 1938. She was a well-known and popular actress. But the film Jezebel propelled her into super-stardom. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress and I must say that she did a fantastic job in the role. She played the character of Julie Marsden, a strong-willed young bell in 1852, living in the South.

The character was not a very likable one. She was selfish, spoiled, petulant, manipulative, and vindictive. But she was also flawlessly beautiful, self-assured, confident, ambitious, and head-strong. And as a side note, I know some people who would love her character, which is a little sad. The problem with Julie was that, on the surface, she seemed to revel in the idea of having so little regard for anyone else that she rebelled against social customs, carelessly offending and hurting everyone who loved her.

Playing opposite her, however, was a good man. He was handsome and level-headed. Henry Fonda played Preston Dillard, a Southern Gentleman, at first engaged to Julie, but later separated from her after he finds out just how spoiled and childish she really is.

The best scene in the film is the Olympus Ball. Apparently, in the setting of the South in the Antebellum Era, a very specific code of conduct was expected. Any deviation from this code was enough to turn anyone into a social pariah. As an act of revenge because Preston refused to leave an important meeting to shop for a ball gown with her, Julie decided to wear red to the Ball.

Unfortunately, an unmarried girl wasn’t supposed to wear anything but white. Wearing a red dress would offend pretty much everyone. Her mother warned her not to do it. Her ex-boyfriend warned her not to do it. Preston warned her not to do it, telling her that such a brazen act of rebellion would hurt her more than anyone else. But Julie wanted to punish Preston for not bowing to her girlish whims, so she wore the red.

But Preston’s solution was a simple and appropriate one. He allowed it. He allowed her to ruin herself, socially. Not only did he take her to the Ball, but he forced her to stay. When the other offended girls actually cleared off the dance floor rather than dance on the same floor with her, she realized what an incredible blunder she had made. She was near tears and asked to be taken home immediately. But Preston was perfect as he refused to let her leave. And then, after a miserable night, he left her and traveled north. He left her as a social outcast, scandalized and alone. Loved it! And to be sure, the Olympus Ball was just the beginning of Julie’s horrible and self-serving actions.

Other actors in Jezebel who did a fantastic job were George Brent as Buck Cantrell, Julie’s ex-boyfriend, Fay Bainter as Julie’s Aunt Belle Massey, Donald Crisp as Dr. Livingstone, Preston’s colleague, and Margaret Lindsay as Amy, Preston’s wife, whom he marries after leaving Julie. Also, Spring Byington had a small supporting role of the annoying mother of one of Julie’s Friends. The cast really did a fine job, especially Fay Bainter. She was lovely and showed a range of emotions and concern over Julie and her self-destructive behavior, though it was obvious that the familial love was always there.

But the film was an obvious vehicle for Davis, herself. Apparently the director, William Wyler was known for doing as many takes as was necessary to get the shots and performances he wanted, which some say was why his films were so wonderful. The range of raw and real emotions that he was able to get out of Davis was powerful.

And it was the combination of so many little things that made her performance so dramatic. A slight tilt of the head, the expression on her face as the mind of the character twisted and turned, the perfectly timed pauses, the brilliant twinkle in her eyes, the highs and lows of her mental state, the way she was almost in touch with reality, but never quite. Everything was played to perfection. I may not have liked the character she played, but I love the way she played it. ” - faltskog9
 
64.
Pygmalion (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Shaw's play in which a Victorian dialect expert bets that he can teach a lower-class girl to speak proper English and thus be taken for a lady. (96 mins.)
“ Pygmalion – 1938

Spoiler Alert

You know, I didn’t particularly care for this movie, as much as I would have liked to. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by My Fair Lady, the 1964 musical, but Pygmalion seemed far too hurried to do the wonderful story justice. But I don’t want this review to be a big complaint about how the popular Broadway show was far superior in just about every aspect, even though it was. Instead, I’ll try to focus on Pygmalion for its own merits or lack thereof.

The movie starred Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle, a common, poor flower girl in London who has a chance encounter with an aristocrat who is a master of phonetics, Professor Henry Higgins, played by Leslie Howard. Higgins publicly humiliates and berates the girl for her uncouth Cockney accent and boasts that he could teach her to speak more genteel so well that he could pass her off as a proper lady.

Eliza gets the idea to go to the Professor’s house and hire him to teach her to speak properly in order to get a job which might lift her out of her extreme poverty. Staying with Higgins is a fellow phonetics scholar, Colonel Pickering, played by Scott Sunderland. While Higgins continues to treat Eliza like a dirty commoner, Pickering treats her with kindness and gentleness. Higgins decides to make good on his boast and agrees to teach the girl.

The performances from the actors were good enough, especially Hiller. However, I got the general feeling that the entire story was being rushed. Scenes and nuances that I felt could have been played slower for things like character development or plot believability were delivered quickly. At times the dialogue seemed to be rapid-fire or throw-away. Sometimes, the actors were delivering their lines so fast that I had a hard time understanding what they were saying.

For example, I think that the film needed to spend more time developing the relationship between Eliza and Higgins. When the end of the film arrived, I didn’t understand why Eliza would ever go back to him. The film never once portrayed him as being anything but abrupt, short-tempered, and often downright cruel to her. He treated her as a living doll that he could, at any time, tire of and discard. Had he shown her any modicum of kindness, then I could understand why she might return to him.

Also, the hardships of Eliza’s training were quickly thrown at the viewer with the use of a frantically quick montage. There was only one tiny pause in the montage that showed the terrible strain Eliza was enduring under Higgins’s strict tutelage. The film just made her forced training seem far too easy for her. She was even described as a quick student that could learn anything. And there was absolutely no portrayal of any strain to Higgins, himself.

Yet another example of how rushed the movie felt is in how the character of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s penniless drunk of a father, played by Wilfrid Lawson, was portrayed. He shows up for his first scene with Higgins, in which he extorts 5 pounds from him. Then he shows up at the end, dressed as a man of wealth. Barely two or three sentences quickly explains where his money came from, and then he is gone again. Never-mind the fact that the film never explained how he knew where Henry’s mother lived, or why he went to her house looking for Henry, or for that matter, why he would invite Colonel Pickering, a virtual stranger, to his impending wedding. And while I’m on the subject, why would Pickering have accepted the invitation?

One interesting difference between George Bernard Shaw’s original script and this film was the character of Aristid Karpathy, played by Esme Percy. The pompous phonetics expert, who was once Higgin’s pompous student, was written specifically for the film, though he was only mentioned in the play. He was neither understated nor over the top. I liked his character as an interesting plot device and comic relief at the same time.

But all that being said about the film, which would undoubtedly be credited to the directors, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, I have to give special nod to Shaw’s wonderful and captivating script. The things that the characters said were always meaningful and delivered in an interesting way. Shaw sure had a talent for clever quips and witty dialogue. However, I learned something interesting about Shaw, himself, that made me lose a little respect for him, as a person. Apparently, when he received an Academy Award for his part in the writing the screenplay, he was quoted as saying, “It's an insult for them to offer me any honor, as if they had never heard of me before – and it's very likely they never have. They might as well send some honor to George for being King of England.” What an egotistical jerk! ” - faltskog9
 
65.
La Grande Illusion (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
During the first World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from. (114 mins.)
Director: Jean Renoir
“ Grand Illusion – 1938

Spoiler Alert

Grand Illusion was a French film directed by acclaimed director Jean Renoir. Many have called it one of the best film of all time. Actor Orson Welles was quoted, saying that Grand Illusion was one of the films that he would take with him “on the ark.” Its dialogue was mostly in French with English subtitles, but there were also smatterings of German and English.

At first, I settled in, ready for a war movie. And there is no denying that it is one, of sorts. But I think it was an unconventional war film. There were no battle scenes, no chaotic sequences of death and destruction. But it had great acts of heroism, World War I soldiers struggling against impossible odds, and a very anti-war sentiment.

And you might ask, “What was the grand illusion?” The illusion was the idea that war is good for anything. Having said that, I completely disagree with the sentiment. I think that war, while it is a terrible thing, has a place in the world. It can foster social and economic changes where no other means will work. It can put an end to injustice and punish evil-doers. It can do things that no other force on earth is capable of doing. But Grand Illusion says that it can do none of these things. All war can do is to ruin lives, hurt the nations that fight them, and kill men.

The main characters are Captain de Boldieu, a French aristocrat played by Pierre Fresnay, Lieutenant Marechal, a French officer who had been born to the lower class, played by Jean Gabin, and Lieutenant Rosenthall, a noveau riche man of Jewish ancestry. The three men are captured by the Germans and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. While there, they meet the rest of the POWs and are welcomed into their ranks.

But here is where the main thrust of the film lies. Boldieu makes a point of remaining aloof. He sets himself apart from the rest of the men because he was born to the upper class. So while the film takes place in World War I, it isn’t really about war. It is about the differences between the classes and how the upper classes of both France and Germany dealt with the lower class men and with each other. The commanding officers on both sides of the war had a certain kinship with each other, despite being on opposite sides.

The lower class officers, while in the same situation as their aristocratic prison-mates, still bonded with each other and kept to their own classes. But another theme in the film was the idea that the time of the upper-class was ending. It was being replaced by the working class, and those of the upper class had to either acknowledge the new order or be left behind in a world that no longer existed.

Playing opposite Boldieu was the German commanding officer, Captain von Rauffenstein, played by Erich von Stroheim. The film spent considerable time following the discussions between the two men and pointing out their divergent opinions. Von Rauffenstein sees the inevitability of the rise of the working class, though he is a man who will always fight against it. He is depressed when he looks at his future, knowing that he will wither away and become a relic of the past. Boldieu gracefully accepts how the world is changing, but knows he cannot live in such a world. He has the courage to take what he calls “the better way out.” He sacrifices his life to allow the working class men to escape.


Then the story shifts gears and focuses on the futility and life-ruining aspects of war. As Marechal and Rosenthall flee across the German countryside toward Switzerland, they encounter a woman on a farm who is caring for her young daughter. Her name is Elsa and she is played by Dita Parlo. She shows the men how her husband and four brothers were all killed in the war. Ironically, they each died at a battle that was a great victory for Germany, showing how war is ultimately meaningless. Parlo did a fantastic job.

Of course, as the two soldiers stay with Elsa, she cares for them and they help her with the farm. Marechal and Elsa fall in love and when it comes time for the men to go, Marechal has second thoughts about leaving her. It was a touching and poignant romance that was handled very delicately. Well done Renoir. And well done on a very good movie. ” - faltskog9
 
66.
Dark Victory (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A young socialite is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and must decide whether or not she'll meet her final days with dignity. (104 mins.)
Director: Edmund Goulding
“ Dark Victory – 1938

Spoiler Alert

Dark Victory starred Bette Davis in a role that was not typical. First, the character she played, wealthy socialite Judith Traherne, was actually a nice person. I mention that because most of the roles she is best known for are vicious and mean. Second, it was not typical for a lead actress, especially one as big as Davis to take a role in which the character dies at the end. And third, the death was not one that was in any way spectacular or grand.

But that was the point of the film. Judith died of a malignant brain tumor. We learn that this will happen fairly early on in the film. But it was not a movie about a woman fighting against her own mortality. It was about how she and those who loved her came to terms with, and in the end, learned to be at peace with her unavoidable death.

George Brent played Dr. Frederick Steele, her physician, and eventually her husband. Whoa! Danger!! But I’ll get to that in a bit. Judith’s best friend and personal assistant was Ann King, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald. And there were a few more names that you might recognize rounding out the cast in smaller roles. Humphrey Bogart played Michael O’Leary, Judith’s stable hand, and Ronald Reagan played her wealthy playboy friend or drinking buddy. Yes, Reagan was quite handsome in those days.

As I mentioned, Judith was a nice person. True, she was a partier, but a fun one. She was generous and kind, though she had a tendency to drink and smoke too much. By today’s standards, drinking and smoking don’t make you a bad person, but in the 1930s they were considered hedonistic behavior. And for a woman to be a drinker and a smoker… scandalous!

But that was Bette Davis. She was nothing if not a rebel and a risk-taker, both on-screen and off. The trailer for Dark Victory used a catch-line that said “She’s EVERYTHING and woman can DARE to be!” Today we would just call her strong-willed, confident and independent. But Judith didn’t seem to have a mean bone in her body, at least not the way Davis played her.

On the contrary, I think her character had very believable and human reactions to everything that happened. I’ll explain. She has terrible recurring headaches and tries to ignore them. But when she starts having blurred vision and dizzy spells, Ann gets her to see a doctor. The doctor sends her to a specialist, Dr. Steele, and perfunctory tests are done.

At this point she is terribly afraid. She resists and is uncooperative. She is in denial that she even has a problem. Fear and denial sound to me like a normal reactions to me. But Dr. Steele gets her to cooperate and gets her to have brain surgery, which was a much more frightening prospect back then than it is today.

But during the surgery, Steele learns that her brain tumor is of a rare kind. It is definitely malignant and definitely terminal. Judith has around ten months to live. But here is where the good doctor proves to be a terrible one. His first reaction is to LIE TO HER!! Well, when her death comes, it will be swift and painless, so why tell her at all? Just let her live out her remaining days in total ignorance! Ann figures out that something is wrong and forces the truth out of him. But not to worry. She lies to Judith as well.

So, what do you think happens next? Judith and Dr. Steele discover that they have feelings for each other, and why not? Judith’s headaches are gone and she thinks she is cured. Of course, she falls in love with the handsome doctor who saved her life. And the horrible doctor plays into her obvious transference issues because he falls in love with her as well. Completely unprofessional!!

But just to add more drama, Judith snoops in her fiancé’s office and reads her own file. She learns the truth and now she gets angry with Steele and Anne. And she has every right to be! How would you react? But by this time she is too deeply in love. She forgives him and ends up marrying him.

The real meat of the film is that last third in which she comes to terms with the prospect of dying and is finally unafraid. She learns to live her life without fear and savor every moment as if it was her last. The ending, her ending, was quiet and unremarkable, except that in accepting death as a necessary part of life, she conquered it. And that… was her dark victory. ” - faltskog9
 
67.
Love Affair (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
French playboy Michel Marnet and American Terry McKay fall in love aboard ship. They arrange to reunite 6 months later... (88 mins.)
Director: Leo McCarey
“ Love Affair – 1939

Spoiler Alert

Love Affair was a mildly interesting story. It is supposed to be this great romance that everyone loves. They love it so much that it has been remade at least twice. First came 1957’s An Affair to Remember with Carry Grant and Deborah Kerr. Next came Love Affair with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in 1994. But this was the original film adaptation which starred Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne.

The film is about a famous French playboy, Michael Marnet, played by Boyer, who is on a slow boat to New York City where he is to meet his wealthy heiress fiancée. While on the ocean, he meets American singer Terry McKay, who is already engaged as well. But apparently, neither of them are terribly enthused about their impending marriages because, you guessed it, they begin a discrete love affair together. But what starts out as a light fling turns into true love.

So far, the plot is fairly straight forward. But here is what I found interesting. The two lovers actually used their heads and were not blinded by mind-blowing bliss. They both realized that their brief affair was not only wrong while they were engaged to other people, but impractical because neither of them had much money and he had never worked a day in his life.

I liked how the movie acknowledged that love is not enough to build a successful relationship. You must have common interests, common social dynamics, and equal temperaments. Both people involved must be at a place in their lives where a new long-term relationship is a viable option. Now, I know that I am being uncommonly idealistic, but the movie gave these things consideration, which I appreciated.

The two lovers made an agreement. They would part for 6 months, each to get their lives and relationships in order. If they were able to separate from their fiancées, and if Michael was able to successfully earn a living so that he could financially contribute to the union, they would meet at the top of the Empire State Building, which, at the time, was the tallest building in the world, so that they could turn their affair into a marriage.

To me, that gave the two characters a strong sense of honesty and integrity. But there wouldn’t be much drama if something didn’t go wrong, and when it came, I was completely blind-sided. Well, actually it was Terry who was blind-sided… by a car as she was running to the Empire State Building. The actual accident happened off-camera, so we didn’t see the collision, but the sound of screeching tires and screams was enough to get the point across.

But here is where the script-writers, and by extension, the characters, dropped the ball. First, as a small side-note, the evening after the accident, we see Terry in a hospital bed. The team of doctors are talking in hushed voices, saying that she may never walk again. Behind them we can see Terry’s flawless face and her perfect hair. The accident was enough to prevent her from ever walking again, and there were no scars no scrapes, and no bruises. OK, I had to roll my eyes at that.

But then, what she should have done if she had really loved him, was to contact Michael to let him know what had happened. But instead, she remains silent, letting him think that she had truly stood him up on top of the Empire State Building. Apparently she is too embarrassed by her injured state to return to him. So, Michael goes into depression because he thinks she no long loves him. He has already ended his relationship with the heiress, and on top of all that, his beloved grandmother has died.

Speaking of the grandmother, she was one of the best parts of the film. You see, while on the original voyage, while the initial affair was still going on, the boat stops at Maderia, home of Michaels Grandmother, Janou, beautifully played by Maria Ouspenskaya. There was a gentleness about her that was wonderful to watch, especially in the way she interacted with Michael. Well done Maria.

But back to the plot. When the two finally get back together, as we all knew they would, the relationship is now under the weight of Terry’s inability to walk. But true love conquers all. Michael loves her so much that he is ready to marry her and become her sole provider and caretaker. Sweet. Unrealistic and sappy, but sweet. ” - faltskog9
 
68.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An aged teacher and former headmaster of a boarding school recalls his career and his personal life over the decades. (114 mins.)
Director: Sam Wood
“ Goodbye Mr. Chips – 1939

Spoiler Alert

Awww… Aren’t old people remembering their pasts sweet? The answer is no. No, they are not. At least not for their own sakes. If you want a particular man to be thought of as sweet, then show me why I should think so. Why should I feel my heart strings being tugged at when he sees a young child smiling at him?

Yes, I know I am being slightly harsh, but therein lies my biggest problem with Goodbye Mr. Chips. Mr. Chipping, played by Robert Donat, is a Latin teacher, or Master, at an all boy’s academy in England. His career as an educator begins in an unmemorable fashion. It continues in an uninteresting way. And in the end, he has somehow earned the love and respect of students and teachers alike simply because he has been faithfully doing his unremarkable job for so long.

The film was as slow and unexciting as Mr. Chips himself. I think that the point was that he was supposed to be such a great teacher that he eventually becomes the best headmaster the school has ever had. The students are supposed to love him because he cares so much about the children he is inspiring and educating. The staff are supposed to respect him because he has gone out of his way to do an exemplary job as a Master.

The trouble is that the film didn’t spend nearly enough time establishing these things. There were a few scenes in which he is shown teaching in the classroom, but he wasn’t doing anything unusual or creative with his students. He was only shown sitting at his desk and telling students to translate Latin from a textbook.

The most interesting part of the film was how Mr. Chipping met his wife. He was pressed into going on holiday with a fellow Master. While hiking alone in the mountains of Austria, he meets another lone climber, Kathy Ellis, played by Greer Garson. They are stuck on the rocky cliffs together by a blanket of fog, during which time, they fall in love. The two are parted, but meet again in Vienna. After that, they are soon married.

But then the pace slows again as Mr. Chipping, or as his new wife calls him, Chips, returns to his teaching job. Mrs. Chips is unfortunately not around for long as she and her baby both die in childbirth, making the film take another slow turn. The pace is almost saved by World War I, but not quite. The film slows down again as the entire school mourns the loss of teachers and alumni whose lives have been claimed by the war.

All that makes it sound like I hated the film, but I didn’t. There were a few things I liked. For example, the acting. Donat won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year, beating Clarke Gable in Gone With The Wind. It was a well-deserved win. The character of Mr. Chips started out as a 25 year-old man and ended up as an 83 year-old. Donat convincing portrayed all the ages in-between with what seemed like ease.

Second, I thought it interesting how several generations of a single family were all played by a single child actor, Terry Kilburn. He actually played John Colley and Peter Colley I, II, and III. Kilburn is probably best known for playing Tiny Tim in the 1938 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. And third, one thing was done that I actually really liked. As the names of the fallen school alumni were being read, they made a point of naming one who had actually fought for the Germans with just as much sorrow and respect as had been given the Englishmen.

And in the end, the film was about nothing more than Mr. Chips as he remembered his past, thinking that his life had been a good one. He was happy because he was a well-respected man who’d never had children of his own, but that was alright because he’d had thousands of young boys over his 58 year career. They were all his children, in a way. His was a life of which anyone could be proud.

But I don’t get it, though. His happiness was not as poignant as it should have been because he didn’t really do anything significant other than teaching for a very, very long time. Unfortunately, the filmmakers relied on that just to say “Awww… Aren’t old people remembering their pasts sweet?” The answer is no. No, they are not. ” - faltskog9
 
69.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down. (129 mins.)
Director: Frank Capra
“ Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 1939

Spoiler Alert

Ah, Mr. Capra… You’ve done it again. And again. And again. I hate to say it, but if you have seen several other films directed by Frank Capra, you’ve seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In fact, this movie was almost an exact copy of previous Best Picture Nominee, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

First, the overall message of the film is the same. There are things in life that are more important than money. Second, anyone that has money is automatically corrupt and dishonest. And third, if anyone doesn’t have any money, he is quirky, honest, generous, and ultimately wiser than anyone else.

However, having said all that, I will also say that I know why Capra’s movies kept doing so well. It is because they stress the importance of All-American values that, by today’s standards, represent a time of innocence and integrity in our nation’s history. They promote clean Christian values and speak to those who share those values. And it doesn’t hurt that the guy always gets the girl in the end.

But what sets this one apart from the rest is really two-fold. First, it has James Stewart in the lead role. Stewart plays the title character, Mr. Smith, a country bumpkin that is something of a boy-scout leader. He believes in the inherent goodness of all young boys that can be nurtured by spending time in outdoor activities like camping and the like.

Second, this film came out in 1939, which of course, was the first year of World War II. The fact that it took place in Washington, was about a man fighting against evil and corrupt politicians and businessmen, and showed a whole lot of imagery that promoted American patriotism, was not lost on me. The Lincoln Memorial, in particular, was shown in great detail.

The afore-mentioned politicians and businessmen have a sneaky and dishonest plan to make a lot of money by destroying a nature reserve that happens to be Mr. Smith’s favorite camping grounds. In order to get the bill that will make this underhanded deal a reality, they need to fill a vacant seat in the Senate, using a stooge who will vote for the bill without knowing what he is voting for. But when Mr. Smith finds out what it will do to his nature reserve, he ineptly attempts to stop the bill.

The businessman is Jim Taylor, played by Edward Arnold. The politician that is in his pocket is Senator Joseph Paine, played by Claude Rains. Together they go out of their way to destroy Mr. Smith’s credibility and ruin his reputation. And they nearly succeed. But here is where our heroine comes in. She is a woman who knows how to play the White House game with the best of them. She is Clarissa Saunders, played by Jean Arthur. She is smart and beautiful, cynical and easily swayed by Mr. Smith’s innocence and naiveté. She is hired to be Smith’s secretary.

The main players all did a fine job. Arthur, in particular was a pleasure to watch. Of course, Stewart is always good in whatever role he plays. But there was a small supporting role that I really ended up liking. Thomas Mitchell played “Diz” Moore, an alcoholic news reporter that had a thing for Miss Saunders. He lent some extra humor to the somewhat serious nature of the plot. Also, Guy Kibbee played corrupt Governor, Hubert “Happy” Hopper.

The only thing I really had a problem with, plot-wise, was the fact that Smith was such an absent-minded man that he would not have been able to survive in the real world. He was stupid and rude and I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes. For example, when her first arrives in Washington, he catches one glimpse of the Capitol Dome, and is inspired to immediately drop what he is doing and leave the train station to go on a sight-seeing tour of Washington D.C. Never-mind that he simply walks away from all his baggage, leaving it on the floor of the train station. Never-mind that he keeps people waiting for five or six hours, not knowing where he is, what happened to him, or when he would turn up. Anyone that dumb needs constant professional care. I’m sorry, but if patriotism inspired him that much, he should have visited the Capitol earlier in his life. Oh, and someone needs to tell him that you cant go around town punching reporters in the face for willfully misquoting you. ” - faltskog9
 
70.
Of Mice and Men (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Two itinerant migrant workers, one mentally disabled and the other his carer, take jobs as ranch hands during the Great Depression to fulfill their shared dream of owning their own ranch. (106 mins.)
Director: Lewis Milestone
“ Of Mice and Men – 1939

Spoiler Alert

I went into this movie knowing very little about the plot – just enough, in fact, to know the personalities of the two main characters, but not much else. And as far as that went, the characters were so well written. I make that distinction because, yes, they were also very well acted, but the author of the original novella upon which the film was based, John Steinbeck, did an incredible job.

Burgess Meredith plays the part of George Milton. He is an intelligent and good natured man who cannot find a regular job because he has formed a special relationship with a half-wit with the strength of an ox named Lennie Small, played by Lon Chaney Jr. Lennie is a gentle giant. But there’s the rub. He is mentally handicapped. His mental capacity is no more than that of a child, and he is not smart enough to realize how powerful his adult body is. He also has a remarkably short memory span.

The nature of their relationship is one of brotherhood, companionship, and I think a platonic love that is hard to describe. It was very touching. The two men had been roaming the country as vagabonds, looking for work for so long that they grew to need each other in a very touching way. George needed Lennie to stave off loneliness and for physical protection. Lennie needed George to protect him from himself and to help him survive in a world he was not capable of understanding.

The plot follows the two men as they find work at a California ranch, hefting bags of grain onto trailers. There, they meet several characters: Candy, the old, one-handed ranch-hand, wonderfully played by Roman Bonhen, Slim, the quiet and serious-minded rancher, played by Charles Bickford, Curly, the hot-tempered and vicious son of the ranch owner, played by Bob Steele, and Curly’s emotionally damaged wife Mae, played by Betty Field.

Each of the characters had their own moments of great writing and character development that really made you understand and feel for them in special ways. Again, this is a testament to the great skill of Steinbeck, the original author. All, except for Curly, but his character’s personality and motivations are easy to figure out. He is a mean man who has a short-guy complex. He is a small guy with a chip on his shoulder the size of a mountain.

All of the actors did a fantastic job, especially the two leads. Meredith was surprisingly fantastic as George. I only know him from the films in which he appeared later in his life, movies from the 80s and 90s. I really only knew him as Mickey the boxing trainer from the iconic 1976 Best Picture winning movie, Rocky, and its sequels. But over his 60 year career, he was in many films, most of which I have never heard of. Lon Chaney Jr., of course, mostly became known for his monster movies like the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster. But his incredible portrayal of Lennie was done with real sensitivity to the character’s child-like mental and emotional state.

Betty Field also surprised me. At first, I thought of her character as an unlikable woman who brought all her troubles on herself. But near the end of the film, as she is talking to Lennie, we learn a little about her history and why she is married to Curly. Field’s acting actually made me begin to sympathize with her character. I still didn’t like Mae, but I don’t think I was supposed to.

Without giving too much away about the ending of the film, I will say that it was incredibly depressing and yet appropriate. On the one hand, it was the only way the story could have ended. But on the other, it left a few things open to interpretation. George’s fate was left unresolved. Would he go to prison, or would he be allowed to go free? Idealistically, I’d have wanted him to go free, but I don’t think it would have happened that way.

And finally, I have to make special mention of the film’s score. The music was wonderful and as I was watching the film, I thought that it reminded me of the music of the great American composer, Aaron Copeland. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was actually he who had written the score. I was not aware that he had ever done any film scores, but he did such a fine job that he was nominated that year for Best Original Score. ” - faltskog9
 
71.
Ninotchka (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A stern Russian woman sent to Paris on official business finds herself attracted to a man who represents everything she is supposed to detest. (110 mins.)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
“ Ninotchka – 1939

Spoiler Alert

This is the second film I have seen starring Greta Garbo. The first was the 1931/1932 Best Picture winner, Grand Hotel. There was no doubt that she was a stunningly beautiful woman, and she could act with skill and finesse. But Ninotchka has the distinction of being both her first comedy, and her penultimate film. But the problem for me is that it wasn’t terribly funny, or perhaps I should say that for me, there were very few funny moments, making it almost seem like Garbo’s performance was not very good.

However, that is not at all true. Her performance was just fine. It was the script by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch that didn’t quite work for me. The humor was largely political, having to do with Russia during the Stalin era. But I’m no history buff so many of the jokes were lost on me.

Three Russian men, Iranov, Buljanov, and Kopalsky, played by Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach, respectively, are sent to Paris, France to sell some jewels which were confiscated from the Russian Grand Duchess Swana, played by Ina Claire in the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Duchess, who now lives in Paris, learns that her precious jewels are in the city and she wants them back, considering them to be her own property, unlawfully stolen after the revolution.

But the three men become seduced by the free and easy lifestyle of Paris, which is in great contrast to the drab and oppressive society of their mother Russia. When they fail to complete the sale of the jewels, Ninotchka is sent in to get the men in line. Garbo played the part as serious to a fault and utterly humorless. She goes out of her way to remain stony and strict. But I think that this is where much of the political humor was supposed to be. I just didn’t know enough about the political climate of the era to get the jokes.

For example, I learned a few interesting facts from Wikipedia, which I will quote here. “The sly political jokes include Garbo saying: ‘The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians’ and there are a few well-placed jokes mocking the failed Soviet Five-Year-Plan.” If you don’t know about that failed plan, then the jokes are meaningless.

While Ninotchka is in Paris, she meets and falls deeply in love with the Duchess’s friend, Count Leon, played by Melvyn Douglas. The first moment which I found to be particularly funny was straight-up slap-stick humor. Count Leon is trying to get the hard and serious Ninotchka to smile by telling her jokes. He is completely unsuccessful. But when he trips and falls, knocking over a table, she laughs at him. He eventually laughs as well, his mission accomplished.

And once that dam is broken, her personality changes and she becomes just as seduced by the freedom she is enjoying in Paris as her three comrades. She buys herself a new and fashionable hat. She goes to a ball with Count Leon. She gets drunk on champagne, which happened to be another funny scene in which she drunkenly starts shouting Communist propaganda on the dance floor. But the entire thing falls apart when she passes out in her hotel room. The Duchess steals the jewels back while she is unconscious.

But then the movie turns serious again. Ninotchka returns to Russia, to her hard and dismal life. She loses her newfound freedom, her lover, and her happiness. But don’t worry. I won’t say how, but she is eventually reunited with the Count. Happy Hollywood ending. Garbo actually did a very good job. I especially liked her in the scenes after she returned to Russia. She showed some real emotion when dealing with the harsh conditions under the oppressive Communist Government. Douglas also did a good job, though he was clearly second fiddle to Garbo.

From Wikipedia: “The film was marketed with the catchphrase, ‘Garbo Laughs!’, commenting on Garbo's serious and melancholy image and implying she had not laughed or played comedy before. However her canon reveals this not to be the case. Although all her films were dramatic to this point, Garbo laughs heartily and often. In the most famous example, Queen Christina (1933), she disguises herself as a man and jokes with her co-star John Gilbert and others throughout the first half of the picture.” ” - faltskog9
 
72.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Dorothy Gale is swept away to a magical land in a tornado and embarks on a quest to see the Wizard who can help her return home. (102 mins.)
Director: Victor Fleming
“ The Wizard of Oz – 1939

Spoiler Alert

OK, here is one of the big ones. Of all movies ever made, this is among the most popular and beloved. It is timeless and fresh every time it is watched. It spans generations and is a jaw-dropping marvel of film-making, made even more impressive because it was a true fantasy that was made in 1939. It was Hollywood’s answer to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Everyone has seen this film. Even my friend who hates musicals saw it as a child. It skyrocketed Judy Garland into the realm of mega-superstar. Sure, it didn’t win Best Picture on Award night, but it was up against another one of the biggest movies in film history, Gone With the Wind.

So what is there to say about this movie that is so popular from generation to generation? I won’t go into the story much, because we all know the story. Nor will I go too far into the catchy and memorable tunes like We’re Off to See the Wizard, or If I Only Had a Brain. But what I will do is give an appraisal of some of the performances and then give a few minor flaws that occurred to me as I watched it again with a more critical eye than usual.

First and foremost, Judy Garland was so utterly perfect for the part of Dorothy Gale that it seemed like a match made in heaven. Thank goodness the front runner for the part, Shirley Temple, did not get the part. Garland’s voice was exquisitely lush and velvety soft in the movie’s biggest hit song Over the Rainbow. She was pretty but not sickeningly cute, and the voice that came out of her was mature and full and gorgeous.

Ray Bolger, originally cast in the role of the Tin Man, convinced the director, Victor Fleming, that the Scarecrow was the right part for him. Instead Jack Haley took the part of the Tin Man after Buddy Ebsen was nearly killed by the original silver makeup that used aluminum dust which coated his lungs, making it nearly impossible for him to breathe.

But my favorite of the four main characters has always been the Cowardly Lion, played by Bert Lahr. He brought such a wonderful and loveable personality to the character and a great sense of comedy as well. I can only imagine what a nightmare his costume must have been under the hot lights during filming, but he never showed any hint of discomfort on the screen. Well done Bert!

Of course, the title character, the Wizard of Oz, played by Frank Morgan, was also wonderful to watch. He just seem like such a likeable man. Billie Burke playing the part of Glinda the Good Witch of the North, had my favorite line in the entire film. When the Wicked Witch of the West says “You stay out of this Glinda, or I’ll fix you as well!” Her response is just perfect. She laughs and says, “Rubbish! You have no power here. Be gone before somebody drops a house on you!” The wicked witch suddenly looks up at the sky, cowering in fear. Classic!

And speaking of the Wicked Witch, Margaret Hamilton’s inspired performance was incredibly well done. I admit, her character was a little one note, but her every movement, the delivery of every line, and the aura of evil that Hamilton portrayed, all played into that one evil note splendidly.

And I have to mention the makeup. The version of the film that I watched was a professionally restored version in HD. The makeup and costumes, especially during close-up shots, were incredibly detailed and unbelievably well done, in particular, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. And lest we forget, the Flying Monkeys and the Munchkins looked amazing.

But there were a few superficial flaws that I will close with. First of all, and this is the biggest one for me, the fact that if the entire story that took place in Oz was, in fact, a dream, then when Dorothy woke up in bed at the end, saying that “there’s no place like home,” we still have to remember Miss Gulch. She still wants Toto put down. After all, she had a court order and a tornado would not deter the evil woman. Second, in the beginning, when Dorothy falls into the Pig Sty, she is pulled out without a spot of mud or dirt on her. Third, if the oppressed Munchkins had a military (remember the Munchkin soldiers in the white, yellow and green uniforms?), armed with rifles, why couldn’t they free themselves from the Wicked Witch of the East with a well-placed sniper? But like I said – superficial. It was still a great movie. ” - faltskog9
 
73.
Stagecoach (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A group of people traveling on a stagecoach find their journey complicated by the threat of Geronimo and learn something about each other in the process. (96 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ Stagecoach – 1939

I’ll say, right off the bat, that I am generally not a fan of Westerns. I don’t hate them, I just have never gone out of my way to see them. So when Stagecoach came up in the queue, I gave a little sigh and settled in for the duration.

But darn it if the film didn’t surprise me. The film could almost have taken place in any time period, but director John Ford was particularly fond of Westerns. Specifically, he was looking for a script that would make the movie’s main actor a star. And boy, did it work.

John Wayne was that star, and though he had been acting in Hollywood for around ten years, he was not as big a name as he was destined to become. He played the part of The Ringo Kid, a good natured man with a dark past. By today’s standards the character was a stereotype, but in this case it worked. In fact, every character in the film was a stereotype on purpose.

The movie was about a ragged group of strangers that were all put into a dangerous situation. The drama of the film was no so much the life-threatening hardships they faced, but the interactions between the characters. And it was brilliantly done.

Claire Trevor was Dallas, the hooker with the heart of gold, and The Ringo Kid’s main love interest. Andy Devine played the moronic Stagecoach Driver, Buck. John Carradine was Hatfield, the gambler with a sense of honor. Thomas Mitchel played Doc Boon, the alcoholic medicine man. Louise Platt was Lucy Mallory, the snooty woman who was pregnant and trying to get to her husband. George Bancroft played Marshal Curly Wilcox, the law man who is out to arrest the Ringo Kid. Donald Meek was the mousy salesman Samuel Peacock. And finally, the rich aristocrat who was secretly a crook, Henry Gatewood, was played by Berton Churchill.

The interactions between the different characters against the backdrop of the dangerous Apache Indians is what made the movie good. Each character had his or her own motives which drove them to make decisions that affected the entire group. They each had their own past and their own skills which either helped them all to survive, or put them all into further danger.

In particular, I really liked Doc Boon. He was an unapologetic drunk who sobered up when he needed to, but happily went back to the bottle with his work was done. He also had a bit of shared history and a soft spot for Dallas. He proved to be a good man, despite being inebriated most of the time. Thomas Mitchell did a great job playing the part.

Now, John Wayne was still fairly young when he was in Stagecoach, but you could tell he was an actor who knew what he was doing. He used facial expressions to show emotions and his dialogue to propel the story in a way that did not seem forced or fake. He had a good sense of timing and pacing. And like many actors in Hollywood, he was pretty easy on the eyes in his youth.

However, I will make mention of the character of Samuel Peacock. He seemed like a throw-away character. He had so little to do and not very much to say. He spent much of his time in the background. The film could have done without him except that he was a salesman who sold liquor, providing Doc Boon with the spirits he needed to stay drunk.

Another rough point was the romance between The Ringo Kid and Dallas. It seemed underdeveloped and came out of left field. But I guess the filmmakers wanted the final shot of the film to be the happy young couple riding off into the distance, a life of wedded bliss awaiting them.

You would think that the Indian attack would have been the climax of the film, but you’d be wrong. Sure, it arrived late in the movie, and one of the passengers of the Stagecoach was actually killed. But it was over quickly and there was still a gunfight ahead that was like the Ringo Kid’s personal battle. Of course, the romance made the shoot-out more intense, or was it the other way around? Either way it gave Wayne his own victory that the star of the movie needed to impress the audiences. And I was impressed as well… despite myself. ” - faltskog9
 
74.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A servant in the house of Wuthering Heights tells a traveler the unfortunate tale of lovers Cathy and Heathcliff. (104 mins.)
Director: William Wyler
“ Wuthering Heights – 1939

Spoiler Alert

Wuthering Heights didn’t surprise me, and I was honestly hoping for a surprise. Of course, it is based on the classic novel of the same name by Emily Bronte. It has been hailed as such a wonderful and dramatic romance story that it has stood the test of time as an enviable romance.

But I don’t understand why. I tend to take a bit of a logical view to life and emotions, but there wasn’t a single character in the story that had an ounce of common sense or emotional stability. They were each messed-up in their own way. I don’t know which was worse, the leading man or the leading lady.

However, that being said, I do understand why so many people love it. The plot follows the rocky romance between Heathcliff, a little over-acted by Lawrence Olivier, and Cathy, played by Merle Oberon. Their love is so intensely passionate that it is greater than life, greater than death, greater than everything in-between.

Some people consider such a mindless and overwhelming love to be the pinnacle of romance and the apex of desire. Who wouldn’t want to be loved with such passion? ME! That kind of love is dangerous and destructive. It is selfish and obsessive. Emotion is great and it feels wonderful when it is working in your favor. But when it is not tempered with logic and reason, it is wild and unpredictable.

Such is the case between our two lead characters. Heathcliff and Cathy are so in love with each other that they are blinded to how much they hurt the people around them and how much they hurt each other. But despite this, the two can’t stop what they feel. Cathy’s problem? “I love you! I hate you! I love you! I hate you! OK, I’m marrying someone I don’t really love.” Heathcliff’s? “I’m going to marry your sister-in-law just so I can be close to you.”

Oberon did a good enough job as an actress. She was beautiful and her long and dramatic death scene which showed off a bit of her talent as an actress. If I had any criticism, though, I would say that her performance as a wild and fiery woman was a little lack-luster. However, Olivier seemed like he was still acting on a stage and not in front of a camera. His display of emotions were too over-done and melodramatic. There was very little subtlety in his work.

More than them, I enjoyed watching three of the other actors who played supporting roles. David Niven has never disappointed me. He played Cathy’s love sick husband, Edgar Linton. Yes, that’s right. At one point she sends Heathcliff away and then blames him for leaving. As a form of rebellion or revenge, she marries Edgar. Niven played the part of the love-sick puppy with an ease and elegance that was believable. Edgar’s sister, Isabella was played by Geraldine Fitzgerald. Just like her brother, Isabella was just as love-sick for Heathcliff. But Fitzgerald had a bit more to do. We see her as an unhappy wife in Heathcliff’s home, knowing that he never loved her in return. When Cathy becomes sick, she hopes that the other woman dies so that Heathcliff might begin to love her.

And finally, I am happy to mention Flora Robson who played the part of Ellen, the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights. Robson’s character seemed to be the only one who used her head and her heart in equal measure. Though Robson did a very good job, I so would have loved to see Edna May Oliver in the role. She would have been superb.

In my research, I found that this film, directed by William Wyler, only used 16 chapters of Bronte’s 34 chapter novel. Two major points differed between the two. First, Cathy and Edgar’s daughter was removed from the film, as was Heathcliff and Isabella’s son. Second, in the novel, Isabella eventually leaves Heathcliff to be forever haunted by Cathy’s ghost. Sigh… I suppose the film was well made, but I just can’t get through Bronte’s story without rolling my eyes. ” - faltskog9
 
75.
All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
When lovely and virtuous governess Henriette Deluzy comes to educate the children of the debonair Duc de Praslin... (141 mins.)
Director: Anatole Litvak
“ All This, and Heaven Too – 1940

Spoiler Alert

Well, here we are in a new year and a new decade. We start off with All This and Heaven, Too, Starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. It was a period piece that took place in 1845, which is saying a lot. It took place nearly 100 years before the film was made.

It was a charming little story about forbidden love, utter lunacy, and murder. It had potential, but for me, it failed, and here’s why. The movie was about 2 and a half hours long, but it could have easily been told in an hour and a half. There was just so much build up and character development that didn’t all seem necessary.

OK, in brief, Mademoiselle Deluzy-Desportes, played by Davis, applies for a job as a governess in the house of Charles, the Duc De Praslin, played by Boyer. Charles’ rich but insane wife is the Frances, the Duchess de Praslin, played by Barbara O’Neil. She is mentally, physically, and emotionally abusive to her husband and children. She is obsessive, possessive, jealous, and emotionally unstable. Mademoiselle is hired to care for and educate the 3 girls, and the young boy.

The crazy wife takes an immediate dislike to the new governess, claiming that she is turning her children against her. Of course, Mademoiselle goes out of her way to try to bring them together, but the Duchess is not completely in touch with reality. On top of that imagined betrayal, she believes that the young governess is also stealing the affections of her husband. But as chance would have it, this one turned out to be true, though the growing affection between Charles and Mademoiselle is never acted upon.

In the end, the Duchess dismisses Mademoiselle and vows eternal hatred for her. In an anger and a madness all his own, the Charles murders Frances. Mademoiselle is arrested in connection with the murder, but Charles takes his own life before admitting his love for her, thus confirming a motive. She bravely denies her love for him and is released, though publicly disgraced. Still, she has the courage to go on with her life. The end.

Davis did just fine, though it was interesting to see her play a character that didn’t have a mean or vicious bone in her body. She seemed to be a victim in several different ways: a victim of love, a victim of hate, and a victim of scandal. But for me, her character seemed almost too sweet to be real.

Boyer was also alright, though he was supposed to be charming, and I didn’t find him so. But one thing about his performance that I liked was the fact that as melancholy and almost creepy as he was most of the time, he lit up in wonderful joy whenever he interacted with his children.

And speaking of the children, I have to mention something that really annoyed me. The older girls were just fine, but the little boy, Reynald played by child actor Richard Nichols, was getting on my nerves. Sure, the entire movie took place in France, and Boyer was the only one with a French accent, but Reynald’s words actually came out with a distinctly southern drawl. What?!?! Oh well.

I can forgive the children for not being able to pull off a French accent. But Barbara O’Neil didn’t even try. The character would have been more authentic if they had hired a French actress. Still, O’Neil played the emotionally unstable woman well. Her performance earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, though she did not win. Her death scene was actually chilling to watch.

To the screenplay’s credit, the long build-up to the end did have the effect of making the forbidden love between Mademoiselle and Charles believable. However, I still think it could have been done in less time. So, all in all, I’m not saying that All This and Heaven, Too was a bad movie. It was just a long, slow one.

And finally, I’d like to make special mention of the eldest daughter, Isabelle because she was played by an actress that would go on to have a long and impressive career. June Lockhart, who was best known for her television roles on Lassie, Lost in Space and Petticoat Junction, did a good job, and actually stood out to me as a better child actress than the others. ” - faltskog9
 
76.
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
On the eve of WWII, a young American reporter tries to expose enemy agents in London. (120 mins.)
“ Foreign Correspondent – 1940

Spoiler Alert

You can rarely go wrong with Hitchcock and Foreign Correspondent is no exception. First of all, the man was a genius. This movie had special effects, which I never saw. And that is the point of a special effect. If you notice it for what it is, it hasn’t done its job properly. He was great at casting and knew how to use the camera and the lighting to wonderful effect.

The DVD came with a few documentaries which I watched. One was about Hitchcock’s visual effects, but the other was about propaganda films during WWII. Both were interesting to watch and I learned a few fascinating facts. For example, during the second World War, the US Government never demanded that Hollywood make propaganda films, but it did ask very politely.

I only mention this fact because Hitchcock, while he grew up in England, was an American film maker. When the government wanted movies to promote involvement in the war, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitchcock knew that he did not want to make a propaganda film. However, many people consider Foreign Correspondent to be his most overt example of one.

I happen to think that they are right, but it was subtle most of the time, so I didn’t really notice it on a conscious level. The story took place right before the start of the war. American journalist, Johnny Jones, played by Joel McCrae, is given the assignment to travel to London and find out what was really happening, and whether or not there would really be war.

The point is made that he knows nothing of the events taking place in Europe, which is the singular quality that made him the right man for the job. His boss has him change his pen name to a more sellable one, Huntley Haverstock. He is to meet with Steven Fisher, head of the Universal Peace Party, wonderfully played by Herbert Marshall.

At an even in honor of Dutch diplomat Van Meer, played by Albert Bassermann, Haverstock meets Fisher’s daughter, Carol, played by Laraine Day. He immediately falls completely in love with her. When Van Meer is murdered in public, Carol’s friend Scott ffolliott, a British reporter played by George Sanders, shows up to help Johnny solve the case.

What follows is a wonderful and engaging spy story full of assassination attempts, overheard conversations, lies, deceptions, romance, car chases, a plane crash, and the start of a world war. The spy story was strong enough to stand on its own, meaning that it didn’t revolve around the beginning of the war. And yet, it was an ever present danger that loomed over the entire thing, casting its ominous shadow on each of the characters. The character of Jones is transformed from an apathetic average American to a passionate activist, doing his part to help the Allies in the world-wide conflict.

The final scene was the most overtly propagandistic. The war has begun and Jones is now doing a radio broadcast from a British radio studio. During his speech, sirens begin to sound and bombs can be heard exploding all around the studio. The lights flicker out, and still Johnny stays at his post, telling the world to become aware of what Germany is doing and urging his listeners to get involved.

I mentioned the special effects earlier, but I’d like to go into two of them that were amazingly done in innovative ways that surprised me for a movie made in 1940. First, there was the scene where a car drove off into the distance in a field containing two windmills. But apparently, the background was a matte painting. What really sold the illusion was the fact that the windmills were turning! How was that done? Easy. The turning windmills were stuck through the painting. The cars were filmed driving away from the camera, and the painting was composited over the studio lot or wherever the car was being filmed.

Second, was a shot from the cockpit of an airplane as it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. For this shot, a mock-up of a cockpit was built. In front of it was a rear-projection screen made of rice paper playing footage of a stunt pilot diving straight at the water. Right when the plane would have hit the surface, water was shot through the screen and into the cockpit. It happened so quickly and was timed so perfectly, that you didn't see the paper screen being ripped apart. Genius. ” - faltskog9
 
77.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A poor Midwest family is forced off of their land. They travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the Great Depression. (129 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ The Grapes of Wrath – 1940

Spoiler Alert

This is one of those films which I expected to be good and I was not disappointed. It was historically accurate, though it was fiction. It was serious and dramatic with moments of tenderness and deep emotion. The acting was very good and the story was engaging. It takes place during the era of The Great Depression and is almost like a snapshot of the terrible period of American history. And it was made at a time when movies were generally fantasies about rich and beautiful people. Director John Ford took us in the opposite direction.

It starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, a man who has just gotten out of prison. He returns to his Oklahoma farming family only to discover the house in which he grew up to be deserted. He runs into Jim Casey played by John Caradine, an ex-preacher who is now a homeless vagabond. Together they find Tom’s family staying at an uncle’s home. They are about to pack up everything they own and move to California where there was supposed to be work.

Here we meet his extended family of twelve. Most notable are his mother and father, Ma and Pa Joad, played by Jane Darwell and Russell Simpson. They all did well and really seemed like authentic people of that time period.

Fonda himself did a great job. He had an intensity about him that was subtle and yet effective. There was a keenness in his eyes and a passionate edge to his acting. His character was a difficult one to figure out completely. On the surface, Tom Jaod just wanted to be left alone to take care of his family. But underneath, and not very far underneath, there was a man who was not opposed to violence to defend what is right or attack what is wrong.

But it was his mother that was the real powerhouse. Jane Darwell’s portrayal of Ma Joad earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year, and I think she really deserved it. Ma Joad was the glue that held the family together. She was strong and determined to keep everyone going. She took everything the world had to give, all the hardships, the pain, the sacrifices, and all the grief, and she never let it beat her. She did what she had to do to make sure that the family survived.

The first time I really saw her skills as an actress shine was in a simple and yet startlingly touching scene when the Joad family is preparing to leave their farm. She is taking old mementos, photographs, and postcards that spoke of happier times and burning them. It was like she was letting go of the past in order to prepare herself for an uncertain future. At one point she finds a pair of fancy earrings that you would never see on a poor farmer’s wife. Obviously, she had worn them in her youth, a time when there was plenty of work, plenty of food, plenty of gaiety and laughter. She holds them up to her ears and looks into a mirror, remembering, but you could just see the heartbreaking sadness in her eyes.

Along the way to California, both Grandma and Grandpa Joad die and the children often go without food. Not only was the nation facing financial difficulties and hellish dry weather that prevented crops from growing, but it also faced incredible social injustices. Rich people ate well and cared nothing for the poor and starving people. They were treated like animals and forced to live on scraps.

And when people like Jim Casey tried to speak out against the social injustice, those in authority went out of their way to silence him… permanently. Tom sees Jim murdered and retaliates by murdering someone himself. He escapes unseen and returns to his family. But eventually the law catches up with him, so he does the only thing he can do. He leaves.

The scene in which he says his last goodbye to his mother was particularly well-acted. But it was Ma Joads little speech at the end that really caught my attention and bears repeating here. She said, “I ain't never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn't have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared.... Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain't no good and they die out, but we keep a-coming. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out, they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, cos we're the people.” ” - faltskog9
 
78.
The Great Dictator (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
Dictator Adenoid Hynkel tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution from Hynkel's regime. (125 mins.)
Director: Charles Chaplin
“ The Great Dictator – 1940

Spoiler Alert

This was a remarkable and important film on a number of levels. It was the heavily political nature of the film and its complete lack of subtlety that was the key to its success. It is billed as a comedy/drama starring, written, produced, scored and directed by Charlie Chaplin. It is also notable that this was Chaplin’s first talking film, which surprised me because it was made in 1940. Talkies had become the norm in the late 1920s, so what was Chaplin doing making silent films for over ten years after they had gone out of fashion?

The film was an obvious parody of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Regime. But it was rather unique as a Best Picture nominee. It was a comedy. But it wasn’t just any kind of comedy. By today’s standards, it was like a combination of several well-known styles: The Three Stooges, Chaplin’s silent films, of course, Monty Python, and a healthy dose of the Zucker Brothers. It had some really funny moments that had me laughing out loud.

Chaplin played two characters, the Jewish Barber and The Phooey (Furher), Adenoid Hynkel. I’ll start with the Barber. The character has often been compared to Chaplin’s immensely famous character from his silent films, The Tramp. There has actually been some debate as to whether or not the character was The Tramp, of at least a version of him. Chaplin denied that they were the same, but the similarities are hard to ignore. They each had the same look and even some of the same mannerisms. The Barber is a bumbling soldier fighting for the Central Powers during WWI. He saves the life of a Tomanian soldier, Commander Schultz, played by Reginald Gardiner. After doing so, he develops amnesia for ten years.

The Barber’s love interest is Hannah, a Jewish washer-woman, played by Chaplin’s wife, Paulette Goddard. On the one hand, she was sweet and shy, but on the other, she was not afraid to fight the Storm Troopers oppressing her people. She was very pretty and did a good job.

Adenoid Hynkel is the Tomanian dictator who goes out of his way to oppress the Jews. Chaplin portrayed Hynkel as a complete buffoon. In remarkably accurate Hitler style, he gives fiery speeches to his cheering supporters. Most of what he actually says is gibberish which is punctuated with recognizable words like wenerschnitzel, sauerkraut, Leberwurst, and blitzkrieg. From what I have read, these speeches were improvised by Chaplin.

In particular, there was a fantastic scene in which Hynkel dances to the Overture of Wagner’s Lohengrin with a balloon globe, which he tosses and spins on his finger. The dance is elaborate and flamboyant. It is representative of his fantasy about being the dictator of the world. At the end of the dance, the balloon pops in his hands.

In a surprisingly memorable performance, Jack Oakie plays Hynkel’s rival, Benzino Napoloni, Dictator of Bacteria. This was an obvious parody of Mussolini. The comic scene between the two tyrants that ended in a food-fight over who got to invade and conquer the neighboring country of Osterlich was particularly funny.

The film and Chaplin’s portrayal of Hynkel was incredibly bold. He was openly making fun of one of history’s greatest monsters before much of the world believed that he was a monster. America didn’t even get involved in WWII until 1941. Many people knew of the Nazis but didn’t believe that they represented any real kind of threat. Chaplin’s film was his attempt to raise public awareness. He was encouraged by President Roosevelt to make the film as propaganda. And like I said, there were some very funny moments.

But at the end of the film, all thoughts of comedy were abandoned. Because of their similar looks, the Jewish Barber and Hynkel are mistaken for each other. Hynkel is arrested by his own Storm Troopers and the Barber is made to give a speech to the masses. Chaplin speaks directly to the people of the world in a 5 or 6 minute speech, telling them not to give in to the tyrants and dictators of the world. He says that love and kindness toward ones fellow men is a goal to be strived for. It was actually a very bold statement at a very dangerous time in the world’s history. ” - faltskog9
 
79.
Our Town (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Change comes slowly to a small New Hampshire town in the early 20th century. People grow up, get married... (90 mins.)
Director: Sam Wood
“ Our Town – 1940

Spoiler Alert

I have to admit, right off the bat, that I had a slightly biased opinion about this film before going into it. The reason is that before it was a movie, it was a play, a play that was good enough to survive until modern times. And when I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to be in this play. I remember it as being so full of itself and almost silly at times that I never really took it too seriously.

But that was me, looking at the story through the eyes of a teenager who didn’t really understand the point. Now, having seen this film as an adult, with 25 or so more years of life experience, I can easily say that I get it now. Sure, the plot was a little slow, but it had a definite message and a point of view that was poignant enough to reach my heart and make me think. The gorgeous score by composer Aaron Copeland didn’t hurt either.

Watching the film also had the added benefit of making me remember the stage production in which I played the part of Howie Newsome, the Milk Man. It was a small part, though not the smallest, and I couldn’t help but pay special attention to the actor who played him in this film, Stuart Erwin. I approved of his easy and relaxed performance. Also, the character of the Stage Manager, played by Frank Craven, did a good job narrating the story and guiding the audience through the portrait of the small American town of Grover’s Corners.

But the mail plot focused on two neighbors: The Webb family and the Gibb family. More specifically, it focused on six individuals. The parents of each household and their oldest children. Fay Bainter played the part of Mrs. Gibbs while wonderful character actor Thomas Mitchell played her husband Dr. Gibbs. Their son George Gibbs was played by a very young William Holden. Mrs. Webb was played by Beulah Bondi, with one of my personal favorites, Guy Kibbee, playing her husband. Their daughter was played by Martha Scott.

These six people did a great job and together they made up the heart of the film. The plot is slow but not plodding. The characters are well written, which is a testament to the original play’s author, Thornton Wilder. They each have their own personalities. The first two thirds of the story follows the two young children, Emily and George, as they grow into adulthood. They fall in love and eventually marry.

Then, while giving birth to their second child, Emily dies. The final third of the film, enters the graveyard and looks in on the afterlives of the characters who have died over the years. This is where the show becomes very serious and insightful, telling the audience to treasure every moment of life. Not just the special times, but every moment of every day. Treasure the people you love and never forget how wondrous the miracle of life really is. The days of life are fleeting and should never be taken for granted. According to Wilder’s script, it is only the dead who understand this concept. When Emily tries to relive a day in her life, but finds it too painful to bear.

Now, here is where the film deviates from the stage play. In the film, it is shown that Emily’s death was just a near death. She wakes in her bed with her newborn baby and her adoring husband at her side. In other words, she lives.

But the ending of the original play was quite different. To demonstrate this difference, I will quote the Wikipedia article which said it quite eloquently. “Emily decides to return to Earth to re-live just one day, her 12th birthday. She finally finds it too painful, and realizes just how much life should be valued, "every, every minute." Poignantly, she asks the Stage Manager whether anyone realizes life while they live it, and is told, "No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some." She then returns to her grave, beside Mrs. Gibbs, watching impassively as George kneels weeping at her graveside.”

Oh my goodness! Tear my heart out!! But if the film had any failings, it was this audience friendly ending. The image of George weeping at Emily’s grave is so much more meaningful, powerful, and yes, even disturbing. It is an ending that sticks with you and really makes you think about the nature of death and mortality. Never-mind that Thornton Wilder, himself, helped the film’s producer Sol Lesser to create these changes. If you ask me, it should have been left alone. ” - faltskog9
 
80.
The Letter (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense, but a letter in her own hand may prove her undoing. (95 mins.)
Director: William Wyler
“ The Letter - 1940

Spoiler Alert

I went into this film knowing very little about it. I knew that it starred Bette Davis, but that was about it. But I made the mistake, or so I thought, of logging-on to Wikipedia to read the production notes. There wasn’t much to write about there, but one thing I saw caught my attention. There was a picture of Bette Davis pointing a gun at a man who appeared to be dead on the ground.

Aaargh! I just spoiled the plot for myself. Davis’s character was obviously a murderess! But as luck would have it, that picture gave away absolutely nothing because it was a still from the first minute of the movie. Nothing about the plot was given away prematurely.

The film starts off as Leslie Crosby, played by Davis, shoots and kills a man on the front porch of her house somewhere in the tropics. Not only does she murder him in full sight of several witnesses, she empties the gun and continues trying to fire after the tell-tail click can be heard.

And there I sat, ready for a murder mystery or a who-done-it. But instead, the story followed Leslie as she is interrogated by the police, arrested and made to stand trial. The question wasn’t whether or not she killed the man, but whether or not the shooting was pre-meditated.

Leslie’s initial story had been that the victim, Geoff Hammond had tried to rape her and that she had killed him in self-defense. Her adoring husband Robert, excellently played by Herbert Marshall, believed her innocence without question or doubt. At first, so did the police, but the mysterious appearance of a letter written from Leslie to Hammond on the night of the murder changed everything.

The film’s director, William Wyler, did a fine job of making the audience doubt her story as well. However, I had my doubts even before the arrival of the letter. There was one thing about her story that didn’t hold water for me, and I understand that I could only make this argument as an outside observer. Her story was that they had struggled as he tried to force himself on her. But when she had initially been shown shooting Hammond, her hair was perfectly in place and her loose robe wasn’t even the slightest bit disheveled. If they had struggled as Leslie had claimed, she would have been rumpled.

But what gave away her true motivations were the contents of the letter and the identity of the letter’s owner. That woman was Mrs. Hammond, the deceased man’s widow, played by Gale Sondergaard. Portrayed as a dangerous dragon-lady, complete with dark and ominous music whenever she appeared on the screen, she was the one who had possession of the letter which was an invitation for Hammond to come to Leslie. You see, the two had been having an affair which Hammond was trying to end.

The plot was actually an engaging one and it kept my interest quite easily. The lengths to which Leslie and her attorney, Howard Joyce, played by James Stephenson, go to in order to obtain the letter from Mrs. Hammond, the trial, and Leslie’s inevitable downfall were all believable and satisfying to watch.

Keep in mind, though, that this movie came out in 1940. The Production Code Administration was still in control of American-made films. According to them, a woman who committed adultery and/or murdered anyone in a film could not go unpunished. Apparently the original draft of the script had Leslie getting away with her crime of passion. However, the PCA rejected the screenplay and refused to allow the movie to be made until a new ending was written in which Leslie is killed, thus punishing her. Another little change that I found interesting was that Mrs. Hammond, Leslie’s eventual murderer, was originally Hammond’s Chinese mistress. However, the Hayes Office had the character changed to Hammond’s Eurasian wife. Never-mind the fact that the film ironically ended with a murderess going unpunished.

Davis played her part well enough, though her performance was nothing to write home about. The actor that really caught my attention was Herbert Marshall. He played his part with some real depth and believable pathos, especially in the end when the truth about his wife is revealed to him. Add to that the plot point that all his life savings were gone because they were used to purchase and bury the incriminating letter before the trial, and you not only have a weighty character, but an interesting plot as well. ” - faltskog9
 
81.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
When a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself. (112 mins.)
Director: George Cukor
“ The Philadelphia Story – 1940

Spoiler Alert

This was a screwball comedy done right, plain and simple. It starred Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart at the three leads. They each did a fantastic job, although if I had to pick one of the trio to be a weak link, it would have to be Stewart. Grant and Hepburn both have such strong and captivating personalities. They draw focus without even trying. But Stewart played his character as he played most of his characters in other films, quieter and softer-spoken. Next to Grant and Hepburn, he sometimes seemed to fade into the background.

The story was about a rich Philadelphia socialite named Tracy Lords, played by Hepburn, who was engaged to be married to a nouveau riche “man of the people”, George Kitteredge, played by John Howard. But the situation is complicated by a scheme hatched by her ex-husband, Dexter Haven, played by Grant. He is a wealthy playboy on the same social level as Tracy. He, along with sleazy Spy Magazine publisher, Sidney Kidd, have the means to blackmail Tracy’s family, thus tarnishing the family name.

Kidd wants an article covering the impending wedding. Dexter seems to want something else. The two enlist the help of Mike Connor, a talented author who is reduced to writing for the disreputable magazine in order to pay the bills, played by Stewart, and a photographer who is secretly in love with him, Liz Imbrie, wonderfully played by Ruth Hussey.

So there’s the set-up and hijinks ensues. The script and the dialogue is clever and witty. The characters are real and entertaining. They each have their flaws and their endearing qualities as well, making them complete characters. The cast of supporting actors was perfect, especially Ruth Hussey, who stood out to me as a great actress with a wonderful sense of comedic timing. In fact Hussey was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, though she did not win.

In all, the film was nominated for 6 awards, though it only won two. Stewart took home an Oscar for Best Actor, as did film’s screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart. In my research, I learned that Stewart didn’t expect to win the Award and was not planning on going to the Award Ceremony. However, he was contacted and strongly advised to attend.

The film was delightful to watch and easy to enjoy. It had something that many great films from that era of movie-making had. It had the flavor of high-society. People have always loved seeing films about wealth and style. The Philadelphia Story had that in spades. In the words of Stewart’s character, Mike Connor, “The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.” Truer words were never spoken.

One of the things that make this movie such fun to watch is the quick-witted banter between the characters. The actors spouted their tricky dialogue with what seemed like ease. But it was the back-and-forth quips and bickering between Hepburn and Grant that really took center stage in my book. The two of them had a natural on-screen chemistry that was captivating.

Another fun thing about the dialogue was the little snide background comments from characters who were not engaged in the main conversations taking place. For example, Tracy and Dexter would be talking in a room full of people, but Liz would throw in a quick little snapper, playing off what they were saying. It was well done and kept the audience on its toes. It also had the benefit of reminding the audience that there were other people in the scene.

Now, though this is a screwball comedy, there were a few moments of real heart that seamlessly fit into the fabric of the film. One of the several reasons why Tracy and Dexter had been divorced was that Tracy was such a blue-blood with her nose in the air, such a spoiled rich girl, that she had no tolerance for imperfections in anybody, least of all herself. Nobody could ever live up to her standards.

But as all comedies do, it had a happy ending. Everybody ended up with the right people, making all the funny zaniness worth it. The movie had a feel-good ending and made me smile. So well done. ” - faltskog9
 
82.
The Long Voyage Home (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Aboard the freighter Glencairn, the lives of the crew are lived out in fear, loneliness, suspicion and cameraderie... (105 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ The Long Voyage Home – 1940

Spoiler Alert

This was an average movie that had a very poignant ending. It was an ending that put me in mind of the 1967 musical, Hair, but I’ll get to that in a bit. One man goes to death in the place of his friend. The film starred John Wayne and Thomas Mitchell. Wayne was passable, but only barely. Mitchell, as always, was fantastic.

First, I’ll talk about why John Wayne didn’t do so well. It was the wrong role for him. He played the part of Ole Olsen, a Swedish sailor aboard a British cargo ship called the SS Glencairn. He was supposed to be the strong, silent type, the kind of character that John Wayne was known for. He was the honest farm-boy that had a good heart and a clear head.

Everything was just fine until he had to speak. His dialogue was written in broken English, as if he didn’t have a full grasp of the language. But on top of that, they also tried to give him a Swedish accent. Wayne’s accent was terrible and, though I am sorry to say it, he came off as sounding like someone who is mentally challenged. It took me out of the story at a time where it was crucial to be invested in the plot.

Thomas Mitchell, on the other hand, portrayed the character of Driscoll, an Irish man who had lived the life of a sailor for many years. He seemed to hold the position of the unspoken leader of the tight-knit crew. He was a little low on smarts but big on heart. When there was a problem, it was Driscoll to whom they all turned.

Mitchell was also given a heavy Irish accent, which he delivered perfectly well, never letting it slip or sound forced. He had the big emotional scene in which his long-time shipmate died, giving me one of the longest death scenes since Regis Toomey’s in the 1928/1929 Best Picture Nominee, Alibi.

Though there didn’t seem to be a lead character who was clearly defined, the plot revolved around Ole’s final voyage as a sailor before returning to his family in Stockholm. Of course, what would a movie made in 1942 do without the threat of the Germans ruining everything? While sailing from the West Indies, to Baltimore, and then on to England, they encounter deadly weather and German fighter planes, each of which claims the life of a crew member.

The real surprise came, like I mentioned, at the end, and here is where I was vaguely reminded of the ending of the Broadway Musical, Hair. The Glencairn finally arrives in England and the crew goes ashore, determined to a man not to go to sea again after their dangerous voyage. As they are walking away from the docks, the captain of another ship calls down to the sailors , saying that they are short a crew-man and asks for a volunteer.

Driscoll recognizes the ship, the Amindra, and says warns the men to stay away, saying that he had once sailed with the ship and was treated horribly by its cruel Captain. They laugh and walk away. They find a bar and spend their money getting drunk. During the revelries, Ole is drugged and kidnapped by the men of the Amindra.

When the inebriated crew of the Glencairn learn of his misfortune, they raid the ship, led by Driscoll, and rescue Ole. But as they are leaving, Driscoll is knocked unconscious and left behind in the confusion. The Amindra has its extra crew man and leaves port. The next scene is of the men, minus Ole, boarding the Glencairn with their heads held low. A newspaper is dropped into the ocean, revealing that Amindra was sunk by German torpedoes and that there were no survivors.

The ending was profound in its own way, but I felt like the rest of the movie took its own sweet time getting there. The sub-plots of Smitty’s alcoholism and tragic death, and of the Glencairn’s final cargo of dynamite had only a vague relevance to the main plot, of which I admit, there wasn’t much to begin with. However, I did like the different and distinct personalities of the individual members of the crew. I liked the obvious bonds of friendship that existed between them. But though those relationships enhanced the plot, they could not create it.

Two other actors whom I enjoyed were Barry Fitzgerald and John Qualen, playing the parts of the steward, Cocky, and deck-hand, Axel. Both men stood out to me as good actors portraying likeable characters. Also, there were a few scenes in which Ian Hunter, playing the part of Smitty, got to do some dramatic brooding, bringing a small amount of pathos to otherwise dry script.

But Best Picture nomination? I’m skeptical. ” - faltskog9
 
83.
Kitty Foyle (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Kitty Foyle, a hard-working white-collar girl from a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania low, middle-class family, meets and falls in love with young socialite Wyn Strafford but his family is against her. (108 mins.)
Director: Sam Wood
“ Kitty Foyle – 1940

Spoiler Alert

I knew next to nothing before going into this movie and I was pleasantly surprised by two things in particular. First was the wonderful performance of Ginger Rogers in the title role of Kitty Foyle. Second was the mature nature of the plot. This was a movie that had several prominent themes, one of which was the role of a new kind of person in the 1930s, the single working woman.

The film started off with a cute but insightful little bit about how women were treated around the turn of the century. They were, in general, attractive things to be put up on pedestals. Men would stand when they walked into the room and offer them their seats on the trollies. They would marry them and take them to a house which they would have little reason to ever leave except to shop and visit with their other female friends.

But as the world progressed, things changed. No longer did men treat them as ladies, but as women, if I might make the subtle distinction. Women became independent and wanted to be treated as equals, and they got what they wanted. They were ignored on the bus and nobody stood when they entered a room.

Kitty Foyle was a woman from a lower class family who got a white collar job to take care of her aging father. But though she was good at her job, I noticed that she still held the position of the secretary, the subordinate role. The gender and class roles in the workplace were more equal than they had been in the past, but still not truly equal. And she dealt with a problem that any modern viewer can clearly see still exists today. She was treated as a sexualized object by her male boss, in this case, Wyn Stratford VI, played by Dennis Morgan.

And though women, in general, were moving away from the idea that a husband was necessary for a successful life, it was a notion that was still rather prominent. A great quote from the film which epitomizes the idea is this: “What’s the difference between men bachelors and girl bachelors? Men bachelors are that way on purpose.” Even though Wyn treated Kitty in a way that would be considered blatant sexual harassment in today’s world, she allowed it and even said yes when he asked her out on a date.

Now, here is where the movie took a bit of a left turn. It began to focus not on the position of the working woman, but on the difficulties of Kitty’s romantic life. Wynn loved her but could not be seen with her around Philadelphia, where his snooty upper-class family and friends lived. And the film took it in an interesting direction. Wyn loved her enough to actually defy his family and marry her. He was actually ready and willing to give up his life of privilege and all his wealth, and move to New York to be with her. But she knew that to do so would make him unhappy, so she left him, choosing to be alone rather than forcing him to give up his inheritance.

She meets a common man, Dr. Mark Eisen, played by James Craig, who is as poor as her, but who falls hopelessly in love with her. She doesn’t seem to love him at first, but she continues to see him. Well, you can see how the plight of the single working woman in society has nearly been forgotten, overshadowed by the Hollywood love triangle. Will she end up with the man she loves or the man who loves her?

Rogers was incredibly good and she actually won the Academy Award for Best Actress that year. Most people know her from her dance musicals and her association with Fred Astaire. But here she proved that she was even more talented an actress than anyone knew. She was particularly good in portraying the character’s pregnancy and the stillborn child.

The two men, Morgan and Craig, did just fine, but in my eyes, they were both overshadowed by Rogers. Morgan was very handsome and had an adorable smile. Kitty’s two roommates, played by Mary Treen and K. T. Stevens, were there for a bit of comic relief and also to help illustrate the difference in the social classes between Wyn’s upper-class lifestyle and Kitty’s lower class one.

This was a good movie and I enjoyed watching it. Rogers was a delight to watch, proving that she was much more than just a good dancer. She truly was a Hollywood starlet and a darn good actress. ” - faltskog9
 
84.
Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Edna marries Texan Sam Gladney, operator of a wheat mill. Edna discovers by chance how the law treats... (99 mins.)
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
“ Blossoms in the Dust – 1941

Spoiler Alert

This was a heavy-handed movie with a plot that, especially by today’s standards, was pretty ridiculous. But it was based on a true story. It was about the career of a woman named Edna Gladney. Who was Mrs. Gladney, and what did she do? She was a woman who lived in the late 1800s, and was a powerful advocate for children’s rights. She ran day-care nurseries, adoption agencies, and child care services. She, herself, had been born of a woman who was not married, and thus had to live with the stigma of being an illegitimate child. This led her to fight for important legislation changes in the state of Texas to have the word illegitimate removed from birth records and legal documents.

But according to the film, Edna Gladney, played by Greer Garson, was a woman who was deeply affected by her adopted sister’s suicide. Unfortunately this was the most contrived and unbelievable part of the whole film, but it was made out to be one of the main driving forces of her career. That, and the fact that her own child died in an accident at a very young age.

These two things were completely fictitious and it felt like it. Let’s look at them both, one at a time. The movie began as a young Edna and her sister, Charlotte, played by Marsha Hunt, were preparing to marry their fiancés. The entire opening sequence had my eyes rolling because the mood and the dialogue was laughably sappy. “I love you, my dearest sister.” “And I love you for loving me!” “And I am ever so happy to be in love!” “Oh, my darling, so am I!” “Isn’t being in love so lovely?” Ugh!

Charlotte’s fiancé’s parents, seeing the birth records that were needed for their son’s impending marriage, find out that before being adopted, Charlotte’s mother had not been married. Oh, the scandal! But though they oppose the wedding, their son loves her enough to ignore her shame. But Charlotte, within moments of her perspective mother-in-law’s admonition, goes to her room and blows her brains out. Don’t worry. It happens off-camera. Really? Was the stigma that shameful?

Second, Edna meets Sam Gladney, played by Walter Pidgeon. “Hi. You don’t know me, but I’ve decided that you are going to leave your fiancé and be my wife. Why? You just are.” And it worked. And there I sat, rolling my eyes again. So they are deliriously happy and rich for a while, but after their son is born, the doctor says that she cannot have any more children. Then, when the young boy is killed in an accident, Edna becomes a cold and passionless woman. That is, until Sam brings home a foundling girl and convinces Edna to adopt.

But after that, the rest of the movie was hard to watch because it shamelessly broke the cardinal rule of movie-making. Cute for the sake of cute is never cute. Never. There was a long stretch in the film that just showed babies. Babies laughing, babies crying, babies sucking on their fingers, babies sleeping, and babies doing anything that might make them look cute. And they only did it to pull at the heart-strings of the movie going audiences.

In the final part of the movie, the memory of her sister Charlotte inspires Edna to fight the Texan Congress to get the word illegitimate taken off of birth records. She is opposed by evil, hoity-toity old ladies who care more about proper breeding and status than about innocent children. This may have been true, but I was bludgeoned over the head with the message. The impromptu speech Edna delivers to the politicians was ridiculously contrived to be inspirational and moving.

“Life can be made so much more beautiful by love, by sympathy, and Understanding than it ever can by intolerant rules, and laws, and regulations. I’ve seen hearts broken. I’ve seen a pure and innocent young life destroyed by the inhumanity of this… this man-made law. For it IS man-made. God has placed no dishonor on these innocent and helpless victims. Oh, believe me gentlemen! There are no illegitimate babies. There are only illegitimate PARENTS!” Cue the wild cheering. Wow. She might be right… but wow. Preachy and heavy-handed.

Aside from that, there were a few uninteresting sub-plots that were all contrived to drive home different aspects of the same point. Oh, and they treated black people as nothing more than ignorant, buffoonish servants, showing how wonderful it was to be rich and white. ” - faltskog9
 
85.
Citizen Kane (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance. (119 mins.)
Director: Orson Welles
“ Citizen Kane – 1941

Spoiler Alert

Everybody I talked to said that Citizen Kane was the greatest movie ever made. I read on Wikipedia that “Citizen Kane was voted the greatest film of all time in five consecutive Sight & Sound’s poll of critics until it was displaced by Vertigo in the 2012 poll. It topped the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years … 100 Movies’ list in 1998, as well as AFI's 2007 update. Citizen Kane is particularly praised for its cinematography, music, and narrative structure, which were innovative for its time.”

And there’s the trick. For its time. In 1941, and for many years after, I imagine that was true. But the film is now 73 years old. Am I to think, then, that in the last 73 years, not a single movie has been its equal except Vertigo? Of course not. I find that to be a silly notion.

But like I said, in 1941 it very well might have been the best film ever made, even though it LOST the Best Picture win to How Green Was My Valley. But never-mind that. I think it should have won.

But all its stigma aside, it was a very well made film. It chronicled the life of Charles Foster Kane, played by Orson Wells. He was a very good actor for such a young man, but it was his innovative genius as a director that really made him stand out. He was apparently doing things that had never been done before in film. But that was nothing new. Hitchcock was a genius who was doing some pretty amazing things behind the camera as well. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Hitchcock was a better director and made more interesting and captivating movies.

The film starts as Kane is on his death bed. He utters the enigmatic word “Rosebud…” He is one of the wealthiest man on the planet, one of the most eccentric, and near the end of his life, one of the most reclusive. The film then tells the story of his life as a reporter for a magazine interviews the people who knew him best to learn what his final word meant. Who or what was Rosebud?

The interviewer, whose face is never shown, speaks to Kane’s best friend, his lawyer, his manager, his second wife, his first wife having died in an automobile accident along with his son, and his butler. He gets a very good sense of who the legendary man was, but learns nothing about the meaning of the strange last word.

His best friend, played by Joseph Cotton, told most of his story. He told about his rise from a rich college dropout to a rich newspaper tycoon. Apparently it was very telling of the man that his original goals were noble and righteous, championing the rights of the common man. But as power corrupted him he became hard and tyrannical. I though Cotton was the weakest member of the cast. As the young man, he was just fine. But as the old man giving the reporter his interview, he didn’t act very… old.

His manager Mr. Bernstein, played by Everett Sloan, did very well in his role and was also a likeable character. He was loyal and honest, which made him appealing. Kane’s first wife, Emily Monroe, was played by actress Ruth Warrick. She was particularly good in the scene where she left Kane.

But the best actor in the film had to be Dorothy Comingore, playing the part of Susan Alexander, Kane’s second wife. Her part was complex and tragic. Comingore played it with depth and dramatic flair. The scenes where she is being interviewed were incredibly well acted. The character was nearly drunk enough to pass out, which must have been difficult for the actress to believably portray.

And in the end, we learn what the magazine reporter never does. We learn what Rosebud was and what it represented. In the very last scene of the film, as the reporter goes away disappointed, we see piles of junk, the flotsam and jetsam of Kane’s vast and wealthy existence. Among the various items being thrown into the fire is a child’s sled. On the sled’s surface is the painted word “Rosebud”

So what did it mean? Well, it represented the only time in Kane’s magical charmed existence when he had been truly happy, when he was a child, before coming into his vast inheritance. Wells was making the unbelievably subtle point that neither money, nor power, nor position are as important as innocence and happiness, which, in the end, is all Charles Foster Kane ever wanted. ” - faltskog9
 
86.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Boxer Joe Pendleton dies 50 years too soon due to a heavenly mistake, and is given a new life as a millionaire playboy. (94 mins.)
Director: Alexander Hall
“ Here Comes Mr. Jordan – 1941

Spoiler Alert

Well, I’ll start off by saying that this was a movie that had the potential to be good, but it just wasn’t. The plot was, without putting too fine a point on it, dumb. It just seemed like they were making things up as they went along. Circumstances and characters did things that didn’t make sense except to make the plot convenient. It left me rolling my eyes and shaking my head in disbelief.

But it was a fantasy movie, so I really need to cut it a little slack. After all, fantasy films are allowed to make up their own rules. But this film, dare I say it, was not very realistic. It contradicted its own rules left and right, and left loose threads at the end that stuck in my craw. I’ll explain.

The film starred Robert Montgomery as Joe Pendleton, a boxer who has a shot at the world championship title. He is flying to New York to prepare for the fight, piloting his own one-man plane, when a malfunction causes the plane to crash. In order to save Joe a painful death, Messenger 7013, an inept angel who is new to his job of collecting souls, played by Edward Everett Horton, takes Joe to heaven before the plane hits the ground.

But that was the snafu. Joe was not fated to die in the crash. Already, I am not liking the basic concept of the plot. In my biased opinion, angels don’t make mistakes. But never-mind that. Remember, fantasies can make up their own rules. So Messenger 7013 takes Joe to his supervisor, Mr. Jordan, played by Claude Rains. Mr. Jordan decides to return Joe to earth, letting him inhabit the body of a person who is about to die since his own body was cremated. But Joe is so obsessed with boxing that he refuses to accept any body that is not in perfect physical condition, as his own had been. Joe turns down hundreds of candidates.

This causes Messenger 7013 to become so irritated with him that the two develop a hateful relationship. Angels do not hate. But never-mind that. Infinitely patient, but showing signs of frustration and fatigue, Mr. Jordan takes him to the home of a millionaire who is about to be murdered. The doomed man is one Mr. Farnsworth. Joe reluctantly agrees to take the body, but only after he sees how evil the murderers are, and how the shady millionaire was victimizing the beautiful young girl, Bette Logan, played by Evelyn Keyes.

It is implied that the murderers, Mrs. Julia Farnsworth, played by Rita Johnson, and Tony Abbott, Farnsworth’s secretary, played by John Emery are having an affair. And finally, the last notable member of the cast, Joe’s boxing manager, Max Corkle, who he contacts as the millionaire Mr. Farnsworth, and to whom he reveals his big secret, is played by James Gleason.

I don’t know. There were just too many silly ideas like how he was able to hold on to his saxophone which should have been in the wreckage of the plane crash with his dead body. But he has it in heaven, and it mysteriously appears in his hand when he takes over Farnsworth’s body. Then when he loses that body and goes into another one, he still has it.

Then when Joe tells Corkle where Farnsworth’s body is, after Julia and Abbott murder it a second time, Corkle tells the police. And the police never even question how he knew where the body was hidden? He would have been a suspect! Forget the fact that Corkle now had concrete knowledge of the afterlife.

Then there was the point that Farnsworth was a banker. Joe didn’t know the first thing about banking. He would not have been able to pass himself off as a banker. He wouldn’t have fooled anybody. For that matter, he was generally portrayed as a man who was a little low on smarts. What was he doing flying an airplane in the first place?

I can forgive a lot in a film, but this movie just had too many faults for me. I couldn’t get over them. But like I said, the overall concept was a good one. It was just the execution that was poor. However, it wasn’t the actors’ faults. It was the script writer. I can’t explain why Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller’s script was so highly praised, even going so far as to win Oscars for Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Screenplay. I’m sorry but they wouldn’t have gotten my vote. ” - faltskog9
 
87.
The Little Foxes (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
The ruthless, moneyed Hubbard clan lives in, and poisons, their part of the deep South at the turn of the 20th century. (116 mins.)
Director: William Wyler
“ The Little Foxes – 1941

Spoiler Alert

Once again, Bette Davis plays a mean and vicious woman who is willing to stoop to murder to get what she wants. True, she does a good job with such a part, so I guess I can’t blame her. There was the Letter and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, just to name two. Sure, Davis played many other kinds of characters, but these seemed to be some of her more memorable roles. But even parts that didn’t require her to be a murderess seem to have had an acerbic edge that one could call a recurring theme in her career.

In The Little Foxes, we see her play Regina Giddens, a Southern aristocrat who struggles to gain wealth and power. However, as a woman in the early 1900s, she is completely dependent on her husband for her financial security. Her husband, Horace, played by Herbert Marshall, who also played her husband in The Letter, is a sick man who is being treated for a weak heart. Their sweet and innocent daughter, Alexandra, played by Teresa Wright, is a good girl who seems to be uninfluenced by her parents hateful fighting and her mother’s selfish scheming.

When Regina attempts to go into a lucrative business deal with her two brothers, Ben and Oscar, played by Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid, respectively, Horace refuses to give her the funds to complete her part of the transaction. They fight even more. Anyway, to make a long story short, Oscar’s son Leo, who works at a bank, is able to steal railroad bonds from Horace’s safety deposit box, thus obtaining the money they need in a way that shuts Regina out of the deal.

Horace learns of the theft and tells Regina that he will claim the stolen bonds to be a loan, ensuring that Regina will have no part in the deal. But he has a heart attack before such a claim can be made. Regina, sees the heart attack happen, and through deliberate inaction, allows him to die. She uses her knowledge of the theft to blackmail her brothers into giving her a seventy-five percent share of the business deal. Alexandra figures out what Regina has done and leaves her, wealthy, but alone.

So here is what I can’t figure out. I’d call that murder, even though she did not cause the heart attack that killed her husband. How did the Hays code let her get away with it? It was cold and calculated, and perhaps even pre-meditated. How was the character allowed to get away with it without being punished for her evil inactions?

Anyway, there were several performance that I’d like to mention as being noteworthy. Charles Dingle's portrayal of the shady businessman, Ben, did a good job of playing sin with a smile. Even when he is bested by his sister in the end, his smile and gracious Southern manners in the face of his defeat was charming and well played. I also liked Herbert Marshall’s portrayal of Horace. I have never seen him in a role that I didn’t enjoy, and this was no exception.

But one of the more dramatic characters in the film was Birdie Hubbard, Oscar’s physically and emotionally abused wife, played by Patricia Collinge. The scene in which she has her drunken breakdown, in which she admits to not liking her dishonest son, Leo, was not exactly deep or gut wrenching, but it was a little island of unexpected emotion in an otherwise cold and dispassionate film. But I got it. I understood that the lack of emotions in the three siblings was a plot point. Either way, Collinge did a good job with her role. We had already seen her husband strike her across the cheek so we can at least sympathize with her when we see her drink herself into such a powerful confession.

But Davis, of course, was their big star, and it was she whom the audiences loved to watch on the big screen. I thought Davis did a competent job, but I felt that she could have done better. In my research, I found that the movie’s director, William Wyler, had instructed Davis to see Tallulah Bankhead play the part in the 1939 Broadway production. Not wanting to be influenced by Bankhead’s performance, she reluctantly agreed. Bankhead had portrayed Regina as a victim forced to fight for her survival due to the contempt with which her brothers treated her, but Davis played her as a cold, conniving, calculating woman. Maybe Davis should have followed her lead, though in later years, Davis praised Bankhead, and blamed Wyler for the different interpretation of the part. ” - faltskog9
 
88.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette. (100 mins.)
Director: John Huston
“ The Maltese Falcon – 1941

Spoiler Alert

This was a fun movie to watch. I’ve never been a huge Humphrey Bogart fan, but it seems like he was made for this kind of a role, a gum-shoe private investigator who is not afraid to step on the wrong side of the law when it suits him. Fortunately, he is a good guy at heart, so in the end he always does the right thing. It just isn’t always clear what the right thing is.

This is a classic example of a genre called film noir, and is actually the first time I have ever seen one. It is a film that made full use of all the old character clichés: the private dick, the femme fatale, the smooth criminal mastermind, the nervous henchman, and the true-blue secretary.

Each has a place in the story and they always show up when you least expect them. Bogart plays the lead, Sam Spade, the private investigator who is good at what he does. He walks into his office to find the beautiful Mary Astor, playing the part of Brigid O'Shaughnessy, waiting in his office, doing her best to look both sexy and innocent at the same time.

She tells her story and hires Sam and his partner Miles Archer, played by Jerome Cowan to find her sister. Archer tails the man the sister is supposed to be with, but gets murdered by a mysterious figure. This plot point has the effect of making the case personal to Sam, though he doesn’t seem very distraught about his partner’s demise.

The following plot has more twists and turns than any other Best Picture nominee I’ve ever seen. The pace was fast and never let up. Enter the mysterious henchman Joel Cairo played by Peter Lorre and his nefarious employer Kasper Gutman played by Sydney Greenstreet. Gutman’s hit-man is a very cold-hearted, hot-tempered young man named Wilmer Cook, played by Elisha Cook Jr.

The whole point of the case is finding a priceless statue of a falcon. The mystery and mystique of the fabulous object is heightened when its back-story is given. It consisted of an ancient and royal gift of tribute, a solid gold falcon, being given from one kingdom to another which, when being transported by boat, was stolen by pirates. It then showed its golden head in several obscure moments over the years, during which time it was covered in a black lacquer. Where was the bird? Who had it? How much would people pay to obtain it? Who would be killed while trying to get it?

Sam Spade was a character that was an expert on looking out for himself, as any good detective should be. And yet, he wasn’t a flawless character. It was implied that he had been having an affair with his dead partner’s wife. He was no stranger to alcohol, and he seemed to have the emotional range of a doorknob. But despite that, there was even an unprofessional love story going on between Spade and the dangerous Miss O'Shaughnessy, though I must admit that I could have done without that little tidbit of a sub-plot.

As far as the cast went, they all played their parts well, but I have always had a soft spot for Peter Lorre. He was a wonderful character actor, usually taking the supporting roles. But he had a unique look and a distinct Austro-Hungarian Jewish accent that was undeniably his own. Even though he was one of the bad guys, I liked his character, though as a henchman, he was pretty inept, especially when pitted against the dashing Sam Spade.

The film contained plenty of suspense, misdirection, and intrigue. Even the climax of the movie was a fake-out. When the statue finally makes its appearance on the screen, we learn that it was a forgery of the real statue all along. It was a worthless mock-up! All the lies, all the murders, and all the betrayals meant nothing. And really, I was a bit disappointed, myself. It was a let-down when the big reveal was another deception.

But it was a necessary plot point to get to the proper ending. Spade’s name is cleared and he sends all the criminals to jail, including his love interest, Miss O'Shaughnessy, who turned out to be his partner’s murderer. He even implies that he would consider waiting for her to get out after a probable 20 year sentence. Of course… noble and forthright to the end. Thank you Hollywood. ” - faltskog9
 
89.
Sergeant York (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A hillbilly sharpshooter drafted in WW1 despite his claim to be a pacifist, who ends up becoming a war hero. (134 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ Sergeant York – 1941

Spoiler Alert

Shameless!! This was a shameless example of a war-time propaganda film! It was pure and unadulterated, pro-war, patriotic, join the army propaganda! And darn it if it wasn’t a pretty good movie as well!

Gary Cooper played the role of the famous WWI hero Sergeant Alvin York. But the first hour and 45 minutes of the 2 hour and 15 minute film took place before our hero even joined the military. But believe it or not, this was the secret to the film’s success. I was expecting a war film, but it really wasn’t. It was a portrait of a war hero. The fact that the movie spent so much time developing his character, making the viewers familiar with his personality and giving them insights into the reasons for his actions during the war, made those actions so much more meaningful and amazing.

The film was based on the diaries that the real York kept. I did the research and found that for the most part, the film remained very historically accurate. There were a few details that were changed, like the size of his family and that kind of thing, but nothing very crucial. I actually wondered if all the hubbub about his fame and popularity after the war were over-inflated for the cameras. But I found that they were remarkably understated. Not only did everything in the film actually happen, but so much more, that it would take another two hours in the form of a documentary to cover all the honors and praise that was heaped upon the real York.

The story is actually a very basic one which I should be able to sum up in short order. A young and wild Tennessee hillbilly named Alvin York is a drunk and a troublemaker. He falls in love with a girl and tries to clean up his act to gain her affections. She accepts him even though he has nothing in the way of property or money to offer her. He fails in his plan to acquire his own farm and is nearly killed by a lightning bolt during a storm. He turns to religion and becomes a devout believer in the teachings of the Bible.

He is drafted into the army to fight in France during WWI. He wrestles with his conscience on the subject of killing, but when the big battle starts, he decides that more lives can be saved by killing German soldiers. He kills as few as possible and finds a way to take 132 of them prisoner. He becomes the most highly decorated American war hero ever. Noble to the end, York turns down all of the offers of money and fame. But when he returns home, he accepts a hefty gift from the state of Tennessee. Not only did they buy him his farm, they built him a big house as well. The end.

Of course, those are just the barest bones of the plot, but like I said, it was so well done, and it was a perfect role for Cooper. Cooper made me like the character even when he was being an irresponsible ruffian. Now that I have seen several movies starring Cooper, I am beginning to give him some well-earned respect as an actor. I’m starting to understand why he was so popular.

Other actors in the film who did a good job were Walter Brennan as Pastor Pile, York’s friend and mentor, Joan Leslie and Gracie Williams, York’s love interest, Margaret Wycherly as Mother York, Stanley Ridges as Major Buxton, York’s commanding officer, and George Tobias as “Pusher”, York’s Army buddy. And just as a side note, a very young June Lockhart played Rosie, York’s younger sister.

I have no real complaints about the film, except to be nit-picky. The scene of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which took place on October 8, 1918, was very well done. The depiction of battle and slaughter were exciting to watch. American soldiers were being killed left and right, again true to reality. The one thing I didn’t like is how the dying men died. It was the only unrealistic thing about the film. In order to draw the viewer’s eyes, the men who were being gunned down would each perform the same hokey death move. They would arch their backs, throw an arm up into the air, throw back their heads, and display a look of agony on their faces. It was as if they were children being shot in an imaginary game of cops and robbers. This death move was so choreographed that it almost looked like ballet.

But other than that, it was a very good and enjoyable film to watch, made even more so because of its historical accuracy. Well done Sergeant York! ” - faltskog9
 
90.
Suspicion (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A shy young heiress marries a charming gentleman, and soon begins to suspect he is planning to murder her. (99 mins.)
“ Suspicion – 1941

Spoiler Alert

Alfred Hitchcock does it again. This time he does it with Carey Grant and Joan Fontaine playing his two leads, Johnnie Aysgarth and Lina McLaidlaw. He is a rich, handsome, young, playboy who has never worked a day in his life. She is a well brought up, but sexually repressed young lady. When the two of them meet, sparks fly and the quick marriage that follows starts off wonderfully. But then, the cause of many failed marriages, money, rears its ugly head, specifically, the fact that he has none.

Johnnie only knows how to live on borrowed money, building up sizeable debts and sometimes resorting to criminal behavior like embezzling from his cousin. He also has a reputation as a compulsive gambler, a fact that Lina only learns after their vows are taken. He knows how to spend money, but not how to earn it. They start having financial problems almost immediately. But this was the 1940s, and a woman would never leave her husband for such a paltry thing. Never-mind the fact that he betrays her, lies to her, treats her horribly, and has no respect for her or her parents. All this and yet she loves him anyway.

It doesn’t take long for the title of the movie to become apparent. She becomes suspicious of everything he does. She doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him. Johnnie’s closest friend is a rich, tender-hearted, bumbling, and endearingly naïve man named Beaky, wonderfully played by Nigel Bruce. Beaky spills many of Johnnie’s secrets and lies to Lina, telling her not to be concerned with his dishonesty. That’s just Johnnie. Lina learns to care for Beaky as a dear friend.

As the film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, I was expecting something of a suspense thriller. The plot certainly had plenty of good build-up for it. But I didn’t really get what I wanted until the last half hour of the movie. For that reason alone, I would say that Suspicion was not one of Hitchcock’s best films. But that is like saying that a nine is not as good as a ten. It was still good. All that build-up was done well and made the end more suspenseful.

And here we arrive at the moment when Suspicion dropped the ball. The end. But it wasn’t Hitchcock’s fault. I think that the article I read on Wikipedia said it best and so I’ll quote it here. “Suspicion illustrates how a novel’s plot can be so altered in the transition to film as to reverse the author’s original intention. As William L. De Andrea states in his Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994) Suspicion ‘was supposed to be the study of a murder as seen through the eyes of the eventual victim. However, because Cary Grant was to be the killer and Joan Fontaine the person killed, the studio – RKO – decreed a different ending, which Hitchcock supplied and then spent the rest of his life complaining about.’ Hitchcock was quoted as saying that he was forced to alter the ending of the movie. He wanted an ending similar to the climax of the novel, but the studio, more concerned with Cary Grant’s ‘heroic’ image, insisted that it be changed.”

Yup, he was supposed to kill her for the money he would get through her insurance policy. But instead, it turned out that he was going to kill himself rather than face a prison sentence for his embezzlement. In doing so, he would also free Lina from a marriage to a loser husband. But no, she loves him so much that she convinces him to take his just punishment, go to jail, and she will work through the hard times with him. How very noble of them both.

You see, Hollywood once again makes the point, at least in this film, that love really does conquer all. But the original novel’s ending was better. He murders her, she allows it because without his love, she would rather be dead, and he gets away scot-free. In fact, in the original book, Johnnie is a much darker character. He is actively involved in the death of Lina’s father, and he has several affairs outside of his marriage, one of which is with the maid, Ethel, in which the poor girl gives birth to Johnnie’s illegitimate son.

But for all its faults, Suspicion was ultimately a good film. I got sucked in by Hitchcock’s masterful skills as a director. Was Johnnie really guilty or were Lina’s suspicions all in her head? Was he going to murder her, or was he planning something else. Not knowing what was in the original novel or how Hitchcock was forced to change things, I was kept guessing right up to the very end. I liked the movie, despite its relatively weak ending. ” - faltskog9
 
91.
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
The spoiled young heir to the decaying Amberson fortune comes between his widowed mother and the man she has always loved. (88 mins.)
Director: Orson Welles
“ The Magnificent Ambersons – 1943

Spoiler Alert

I have a lot to say about this film which was directed by Orson Wells, some of it good, but most of it bad. I had a difficult time enjoying it. The biggest problem was that I didn’t like any of the characters. It was about a family in the final days of the horse-drawn carriage that was so wealthy that they felt entitled to be mean to everyone, even those they professed to love.

It was based on Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same name. Directed by Orson Wells, who we remember from his cinematic triumph Citizen Kane from 1940, the Magnificent Ambersons was a dark and depressing film. Some of his stylistic choices seemed to be an attempt to be too deep and dramatic. The result was a movie that took itself way too seriously. There was no joy in it at all.

For example, he would cut off scenes too quickly, making the scene changes abrupt and jarring. He made a lot of the lighting very dim and sometimes downright dark. He made use of heavy shadows which sometimes made characters difficult to see clearly. He used camera angles that looked up at the actors, as if we, the viewers were small and insignificant to them.

The cast was headed by Tim Holt, playing the part of George Minafer-Amberson. Because he was raised by a mother who spoiled him and a father who never disciplined him, he learned that there were never any consequences for his actions. He had no regard for anyone, least of all his own family. He thoughtlessly said whatever his selfish whims dictated and couldn’t understand why his words hurt anyone’s feelings.

His mother, Isabel, played by Dolores Costello, was selfish, weak-willed, and all but oblivious to the world around her. Living in the Amberson mansion along with them, even after the death of George’s father, was Aunt Fanny, played by Agnes Moorhead. She was prone to manic fits of the “poor me” syndrome, a true agony aunt. Also living in the mansion was Uncle Jack, played by Ray Collins. He was sort of a grumpy old codger who didn’t have much of a personality at all.

You begin to get the picture. I didn’t like any of the characters and so had a hard time identifying with any of them. George would say things that would insult people right to their faces, and what made it worse was the fact that nobody ever really called him on it. They even made a point of saying “It’s OK. It’s not his fault he is so mean. It was the way he was raised, after all.”

But there was a slight breath of fresh air in the beautiful face and pleasant personality of the girl George fell in love with. She was Lucy Morgan, played by Anne Baxter. At first, she was fascinated with the carefree young aristocrat, but eventually, she realized just how much of a jerk he was. When he tried to make her feel bad by saying that he was going away and would probably never see her again, her response was wonderful. She casually and cheerfully said, “OK, have a nice life.” Good for her.

As the Amberson’s wealth dwindled, Lucy’s father Eugene Morgan, played by Joseph Cotton, an inventor, and Isabel’s love interest, became wealthy, developing an automobile business. The film tried to examine the social implications of the rise of industry, but I think it missed the mark. It just made the point that George didn’t like cars or the people who were in favor of them. But even that concept was overshadowed by the fact that the main proponent of automobiles was the man who was replacing his dead father in his mother’s affections. It just made the intended social commentary turn into George being childish and angry because Mommy loved Daddy and should never love anyone else.

It is interesting to note that Wells tried to drastically change the ending from the source material, making it darker and more depressing. However RKO Studios sent Wells out of the country to work on another film and while he was gone, they re-shot and changed the end back to the happier ending that was in the novel. The Amberson’s money is all gone and George is forced to get a job to care for Aunt Fanny. He is hit by a car and breaks both his legs. He apologizes to Eugene for destroying his relationship with Isabel, thus implying that he is now a good person. No! Wrong! A lifetime of being a jerk is not wiped away by one apology, given only because his legs have been broken. Bad author!! Wells’ ending was probably better. ” - faltskog9
 
92.
Kings Row (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
The dark side and hypocrisy of provincial American life is seen through the eyes of five children as they grow to adulthood at the turn-of-the-century. (127 mins.)
Director: Sam Wood
“ Kings Row – 1942

Spoiler Alert

Ah, Kings Row, the town with its own special kind of crazy. Kings row was a movie that, on the surface, it is the story of a group of childhood friends that grow into adults. But the seeds of problems that are planted in the children come into flower as they mature. Specifically, the film focuses on five individuals – two boys and three girls.

The main protagonist is wunderkind Parris Mitchell, played by Handsome Robert Cummings. Super smart, super talented, and super nice to boot, Parris falls in love with deeply troubled Cassandra Tower, played by Betty Field. Parris’s best friend is Drake McHugh, a wealthy playboy, played by Ronald Reagan. At first, Drake’s big love interest is Louise Gordon, played by Nancy Coleman. But when her parents disallow the relationship, Drake turns to and falls in love with low-born, but beautiful, Randy Monaghan, played by Ann Sheridan.

What was actually wonderful about the characters was that they were each very well written. They were all genuinely nice people, especially the boys. They were honest, fine, upstanding individuals. They were good to each other and respectful to their superiors. They were easy to like, which in turn, made the movie easy to like. But life is not always fair. Sometimes, bad things happen. Sometimes, bad people do bad things, and sometimes plain bad luck strikes.

But here is why I say that Kings row is a town with its own kind of crazy. There was some evil and sadistic things happening around this small group of incredibly nice people. These are things that, honestly, the movie did not, and could not, do a sufficient job of fully explaining. The pesky Hayes Code took a very controversial novel that had some very seedy aspects, and watered it down so much that the underlying dirt was made virtually invisible. If it hadn’t, I don’t know if audiences of the 1940s would have loved is so much, though by today’s standards, it would have been a fantastic drama.

First of all, Cassandra’s father, Dr. Tower, played by a favorite of mine, Claude Rains, seemed to be a benevolent father figure to the naïve Parris. But when Cassandra was very young, he mysteriously took her out of school and kept her locked behind closed doors, allowing her virtually no contact with the outside world. The film never really explained why. It implied that she showed signs of dementia, like her deceased mother. But when Parris started seeing her behind her father’s back, she turned out to be crazy and frantic, the kind of crazy that was a step away from a straight-jacket. She was desperately afraid of her father. My research told me that in the original novel, her father had been habitually molesting her since her mother’s death. Ah, now it makes so much more sense!!

Then there was something that I got a sense of while watching the film, but I dismissed it as an innocent 1940s sensibility. There were a few scenes between Parris and Drake that looked a little more intimate than best friends. But come to find out, the novel had a definite homosexual theme that I believe could only have existed in that particular relationship. But the Hayes Code said “Not on our watch!”

The novel also portrayed Drake’s character as more sexually promiscuous than the film. The movie implied it, but was never explicit about it. And finally, there was the euthanization of Parris’s grandmother, beautifully played by Maria Ouspenskaya, carried out by Parris, himself. The Production Code Authority, which administered the Hays Code, once again said “For the good of the movie-going public, we say no!”

But the one that the movie got away with was the sadistic butcher of a doctor who performed unnecessary operations to fulfill his own sense of justice or possibly even to satisfy a sick passion. He was Louise’s father, Dr. Gordon, a man who didn’t approve of Drake as his daughter’s love interest. So when Drake was mildly injured, he amputated both of his legs, making him an invalid for the rest of his life.

Reagan actually turned in a spectacular performance, one that turned him into an overnight success. He was all set up for super-stardom as a Hollywood actor, but it just so happened that he was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in WWII. Most critics say that Kings Row was the best performance of his career, not counting his Presidency. ” - faltskog9
 
93.
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
The story of the life and career of the famed baseball player, Lou Gehrig. (128 mins.)
Director: Sam Wood
“ Pride of the Yankees – 1942

Spoiler Alert

Gary Cooper takes the lead again, this time in a film based on the life of baseball legend, Lou Gehrig. I’ve never been a big fan of the sport, but even I know a great player when I see one, or at least see an actor playing him on the screen. Gehrig was apparently one of the greats. He was more than just a sports super-star. He was apparently a model example of what a fine, upstanding, American citizen should be. He was kind, generous, honest, loyal to his wife, and good at the sport.

But we all know tragedy that took him out of the game after 16 years as a professional athlete. He contracted a disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1938. The debilitating illness was not common knowledge at the time, and since then, owing to the fact that he was such a famous public figure, the disease has been named after him. Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder which causes increasing weakness due to muscles that atrophy. Death is usually cause by the weakening of the muscles needed to breath. Most people with Lou Gehrig’s disease show symptoms in their 60s. Lou died from the disorder at the age of 37.

OK, enough of the biology lesson, and on to Cooper’s performance. I’ll be honest. I have developed a modicum of respect for Gary Cooper as an actor, but I am beginning to get tired of seeing him play the insanely naïve country bumpkin with the heart of gold. Sure, that was the character of Gehrig for most of the film, but come on, Cooper. Branch out and try something different. But I suppose it wasn’t his fault. He produced what the movie-going public of the 1930s and 40s wanted to see, and the studios went out of their way to see that he did. They would never cast him in a darker role, such as a murderer. Studio execs thought that it would ruin his image and cause bad box office results.

That being said, Cooper did just fine. As far as my research could tell me, he remained true to the real-life Gehrig. I was entertained by the film, but I think that the end fell pretty flat, and here’s why. I think that the two most inspirational things about the life of Lou Gehrig were his phenomenal career as a professional baseball player, and his positive attitude in the face of his illness.

However, the film was roughly two hours and ten minutes long. But if you could separate the normally flowing narrative into its different subplots, I’d estimate that it spent about 20 minutes on his childhood and college years, an hour on his career, 40 minutes on his romance and marriage, and 10 minutes on his illness. In fact there was a completely unnecessary scene in which he is out on a date with his girl, during which the audience is treated to the stage show that the couple is watching. About 7 or 8 minutes of singing and dancing that had nothing to do with the plot whatsoever, could have been cut from the movie and nothing would have been lost.

The wonderful Teresa Wright played his wife Eleanor. She is a great actress that I never tire of watching. As usual, she was incredible, and she was able to handle both happy scenes and the sad ones with equal depth and sensitivity, though it was the later scenes that allowed her talents to really shine.

The film did a good job of getting a lot of the details of the real Gehrig’s life right. But one change that was made to make the movie more dramatic than reality, was that the film had Gehrig hiding the prognosis of his illness from his wife. But she was no dummy and figured out that he only had a few years left to live. Knowing that he didn’t want her to know, she pretended that she was ignorant of the severity of his condition. They ended up lying to each other. In reality, she was right there with him, supporting him and caring for him until the end. The sub-plot of lies in the last few minutes of the movie seemed to cheapen things for me.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the fact that the real Babe Ruth, another baseball legend who played with Gehrig, played himself in the film. He did a good enough job, mostly because he didn’t have to act much, but it was interesting to see him try. And lets fact it. He was not an attractive man. Maybe they should have cast Wallace Beery.

I’m giving Pride of the Yankees a mixed review. Cooper did his same old shtick, but did it well. Wright was amazingly good, as usual. But I think that less time should have been spent on Gehrig’s romance with Eleanor, and more time should have been devoted to his illness. It would have been a better and more dramatic film. ” - faltskog9
 
94.
49th Parallel (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A WW2 U-boat crew is stranded in northern Canada. To avoid internment, they must make their way to the border and get into the still-neutral USA. (123 mins.)
Director: Michael Powell
“ 49th Parallel – 1942

Spoiler Alert

OK, this was obviously a shameless war-time propaganda film. But oh, it was so much more than that. It was a mere breath away from a plain and simple public service announcement. It didn’t even try to hide the fact from the viewing audience. The movie had a message that was shouted out loud and clear. Nazis are every bad thing you can imagine, but worst of all, they were utter morons.

The film was about seven crew members of a German U-boat who become stranded in Canada, specifically in the Hudson Bay. It becomes their goal to make their way south to the 49th parallel, otherwise known as the U.S. border, because the United States was still neutral territory. Once there, they would be turned over to the German Embassy and presumably freed.

At least, that was the plan. Over the course of the film, 6 of the 7 Nazi sailors are either captured, killed, or even executed until only one remains. That one is the commanding officer, the fanatical Hitler supporter and the dumbest one of them all. And at the end, the climax of the movie, the question is brought up. Will the Americans allow him to go free, or will they take a stand against the Nazis? What do you think happened?

Fortunately, the story was cleverly written. If it hadn’t been, the movie would have just been a thin and vapid plot woven around one admonition after another, all with a single purpose: to get the United States involved in the war. Granted, history tells us that it was the right thing to do, but there was a complete lack of subtlety about it.

The lead actor was Eric Portman as Lieutenant Ernst Hirth, the Nazi officer who almost made it across the border. He was the biggest Nazi fanatic of them all. But he was portrayed as pretty dumb. For example, the group of men made their way into a town populated by German Canadians. The people lived lives of peace and harmony, both with the land in which they lived, and with each other. Because their community was so remote, they felt very distant from the war and led their lives without fear or trouble.

Lieutenant Hirth was so crazy that he stood up in a town hall meeting and tried to convince the Germans Canadians that they were living under the oppressive rule of the Canadian / British government. In a fiery Hitler-like speech, he shouted things like, “Join with us, brothers, and we will give you freedom!” And I thought to myself that it was like the fisherman telling the fish, “If you let me catch you, I’ll give you all the water in the lake!” How stupid was this guy? But I guess that was the point. He was a fanatic for whom logic rarely entered the picture. But not only did his speech fail to convince the people to join the Nazi cause, he also let everyone know that he and his men were the Nazis that had been murdering people. Dummkopf!

The film also sported a couple of other really big Hollywood names who agreed to be in the film for half their normal pay because they believed in the importance of the film’s message: Sir Lawrence Olivier, who was still riding high from his acclaimed performance in Wuthering Heights, and Leslie Howard, who was in Gone with the Wind only two years earlier.

Now, before I move on, I have to mention something that I noticed, and which critics of the film apparently noticed as well. Olivier was horrible. His French Canadian fur-trapper accent was over the top, as was his performance in general. I couldn’t get over how he was making his dialogue sound like a farcical parody of a French accent.

The 6 Nazi soldiers who seemed like they were being picked off, one by one over the course of the film were all stereotypically cruel, petty, heartless, and murderous. They killed without compassion or remorse in the name of the Fuhrer and his Reich. All of them, that is, except one. He was Vogel, wonderfully played by actor Niall MacGinnis. He is the one who went native. While in the peaceful Hutterite community outside of Winnipeg, he fell in love with their easy, peaceful way of life. For this, Lieutenant Hirth executed him for trying to leave the Nazi party and betraying the Fuhrer. His part was well written, though tragic.

And finally, at the last, in the scene in which Hirth has made it across the border onto U.S. soil, sure that he has won, the American border patrol is able to send him back to Canada on a technicality, proving once again that the smug Nazis are dumb and can be easily out-smarted. Please join the war effort. ” - faltskog9
 
95.
Random Harvest (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An amnesiac World War I vet falls in love with a music hall star, only to suffer an accident which restores his original memories but erases his post-War life. (126 mins.)
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
“ Random Harvest – 1942

Spoiler Alert

I must admit to having my doubts about this one. Before watching the film, I read only the following synopsis: “Wounded World War I soldier Charles has no memory of his past, and when he meets Paula, he's certain she's the one for him. They marry, but Charles is hit by a car, regains his memory of his life before Paula, and loses all memory of Paula. He returns to his wealthy relatives, and a desperate Paula takes a job as his secretary to be near him in this tragic romantic drama.”

The first thought that came to me was that complete amnesia caused by head trauma is an extremely rare thing. Second, more head trauma can only cause more damage to the brain, not produce a miraculous cure. Third, the complete amnesia would have to effectively occur twice if he completely forgets the “second” life he created for himself after the first injury. The entire scenario just sounded utterly farcical.

But I watched the film anyway, deciding to give Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson a chance. As long as you can throw reality out the window, you will be able to enjoy the film. Coleman and Garson both did a good job with the script they were given. After all, the movie wasn’t about the scientific nature of extreme brain injuries and the long term effects of retrograde amnesia.

It was a romance, first and foremost. And as romances go, I liked the way their relationship was slowly built and gently portrayed. By the end of the movie, I found myself emotionally invested in the characters, hoping that they would find their ways back to each other. Of course, they did, though only seconds before the movie ended.

In particular, I liked Ronald Coleman’s performance as the amnesic Charles Rainier, especially in the beginning. The way he seemed to struggle with confusion, emotional stress, and social anxiety was particularly well acted. After meeting Paula, played by Garson, he begins to slowly gain the confidence he needs to face the outside world again, though it didn’t happen all at once. If I had any complaints about him, it would be that he seemed just a little too old for the part, but it didn’t bother me that much.

Garson also did a fine job. She was gorgeous and had a magnificent poise about her. However, I have a little problem with her character. Garson acted the part just fine, but the writer needed to explain things a bit more to make Paula’s willingness to abandon her career for a stranger who can barely bring himself to speak to her, let alone anyone else. Did she have a history of having a soft spot for men in need of help, or was it simply love at first sight? Why did she feel such a strong emotional connection with this man whom she had just met?

After watching the film, I did a little more research, and found that there were several significant changes between the original novel, written by James Hilton, and the film. Only one of these changes had any bearing on the character of Paula, and it is a pretty understandable one. In the novel, it isn’t revealed until the very end, that Paula and Margaret Hanson are the same woman. Such a thing couldn’t be done in a movie because the audience would see the same actress in both roles.

But I’ll be honest, I think that this change improved the story dramatically. As the audience, we are aware that they are the same woman, and thus we see exactly what kind of emotional roller-coaster her character has to go through as Charles’s secretary and then political wife, before Charles finally remembers her as Paula in the end. It made me feel for her character so much more deeply than I would have had I not known.

Another change was concerning the character of Kitty, played by Susan Peters. In the film, Charles remembers who he is and forgets Paula and his baby. He meets and nearly marries a young woman named Kitty. But less than a day before the wedding, she looks into his eyes as he hears the music played when he had wed Paula. Though he cannot understand why the music sounds so familiar to him, he nonetheless feels that there is something still missing in his life. In his eyes, Kitty recognizes the doubt and longing for something that isn’t her. She calls the wedding off and leaves him. In the novel, she still leaves him but is also subsequently killed off.

I enjoyed the romantic aspect of this film, and I thought the two leads both did a good job. Just remember that reality needs to be left behind. The name of the game is, “suspension of disbelief.” And just as an afterthought, suspension of disbelief is a phrase that can also easily apply to Greer Garson’s dancing in her stage show. We can pretend that she was a good dancer for the sake of the plot. At least she had great legs and a short skirt. ” - faltskog9
 
96.
The Talk of the Town (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
An escaped prisoner and a stuffy law professor vie for the hand of a spirited schoolteacher. (118 mins.)
Director: George Stevens
“ Talk of the Town – 1942

Spoiler Alert

Here is another example of a film that I watched without knowing anything about the plot. All I knew was that it starred Carrey Grant, and that was good, because I generally like him as an actor. He has a very carefree charm and a disarming smile. I knew that it also had Ronald Coleman who has done a fair bit of acting in previous Best Picture nominees like A Tale of Two Cities and Lost Horizon.

But I’m sorry to say that this, without putting too fine a point on it, was a very dumb movie. The plot was ridiculous, the character development was non-existent, the characters themselves were all morons and completely un-believable, the acting was iffy, at best, and the directing was horrible. How this ever got nominated for the coveted Best Picture award is beyond me. I know, those are some pretty strong words, but I can site example after example to illustrate why everything I said is true. But where to start?

OK, I understand that the film was trying to be a screwball comedy, but it took itself far too seriously for that. I couldn’t say it was a drama because it was too farcical and silly. It had small moments of being preachy and even smaller moments of being suspenseful. I don’t think the director, George Stevens, really had a clear idea of what kind of film he was trying to make. And the only clear message that I got out of the film was that it was a philosophical study of the age old argument between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. But even that point was muddled. Add to that the fact that there was an obvious line flub or two that were not edited out or re-shot. It just looked to me like poor directing.

Carrey Grant played escaped convict Leopold Dilg. Dilg was supposed to have been a smart man who made a habit of using his head to think with his heart, if that makes sense. In other words, he was an intellectual who had passionate views about how there are times that strict adherence to the letter of the law is cold and unfeeling to the human beings it is supposed to protect. Laws are detrimental to society when they are not tempered with compassion.

Coleman played Professor Michael Lightcap, a scholar of the law that believed in strict adherence to the letter of the law, even if doing so might convict an innocent man to death. Without such a staunch attitude, society would crumble into utter chaos. When Dilg hides in the attic of a house which the Professor has rented, the two opposing sides clash.

But I’ll need to back-up for a moment, lest I forget Jean Arthur. She played the woman from whom the house is being rented, Nora Shelly. She knows of her childhood friend, Dilg, who is hiding-out in the attic.

OK, here is where the plot and the characters really started to stand out as preposterous. Dilg is supposed to be an escaped convict and there is an active man-hunt under way. He behaves as if he is on a summer holiday. He wakes up and stands at his window slapping his chest, smelling the air of a free man. Wrong! He is on the run from the law! A smart man would avoid windows! Then, he reveals himself to Professor Lightcap, posing as the gardner. Of course, there is no way Lightcap might see his picture on the front page of the local newspaper, right?

Miss shelly was just a dumb woman with a penchant for lying from the very beginning, though both men inexplicably wanted to marry the bimbo by the end of the film. The only explanation I can think of for that is that the studio wanted their romance, and they got it, whether it made sense or not.

And the character of Lightcap was the most farcical one of all. During the film, he is informed that he is going to be asked by the President of the United States to become the next Supreme Court Judge. He has a spotless record behind him, and all he has to do is avoid scandal until he gets his appointment. So what does he do? Because he grows to like both Dilg and the lovely Miss Shelly, he lies to the police, investigates Dilg’s bogus case, finds him innocent, and helps him avoid being caught by the police again.

But that’s not all. He also becomes an armed vigilante, captures the real criminal at gunpoint, and forces him into the courtroom during Dilg’s mock trial. To get the attention of the angry mob that is out for Dilg’s blood, he FIRES THE GUN IN THE COURTROOM! HE IS STANDING A FEW FEET AWAY FROM THE JUDGE! WRONG! WRONG! He would be probably be tackled by armed security guards, arrested and his career as a Supreme Court Judge would be at an end before it even started. But you know that would never happen in Hollywood-land! He is appointed anyway.

A good screwball comedy should still have its roots firmly based in reality while strange and farcical things happen. It allows the characters to react to zany situations believably. This wasn’t even close. Oh well. They can’t all be winners. ” - faltskog9
 
97.
Wake Island (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
December, 1941. With no hope of relief or re-supply, a small band of United States Marines try to keep the Japanese Navy from capturing their island base. (87 mins.)
Director: John Farrow
“ Wake Island – 1942

Spoiler Alert

This was a film of contradictions. There were some really awesome things, but at the same time, there were some incredibly stupid things. Some of the characters were great while others were idiotic. Some were characters and others were caricatures. But overall, the filmmakers told a good story. The scenes of war and battle were exciting enough and well-executed.

The film is a war film that told a fictionalized story of the men who defended Wake Island, a tiny island in the Pacific near Guam and Hawaii. It was occupied by American forces at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the narration at the beginning of the movie, the filmmakers went out of their way to announce to the audience that the events in the film are as accurate as they could be, and except for the ending, they were pretty accurate.

According to the film, the same day as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese sent ships and fighter planes to attack Wake Island. The men defending the island really proved their superior toughness as they defended the military outpost, one attack after another, day after day, week after week. They withstood everything the Japanese forces could throw at them, fighting to the death to the last man.

However, in reality, there was only one bombing on December 8, one battle on December 11, and the American surrender on December 23. Though the defending garrison really put up an incredible fight, they were overwhelmed by superior numbers. They repelled several ground assaults before being overrun. But by the end of the battle, the Americans had no choice but to surrender.

Now, here is what was really impressive about the real battle. According to Wikipedia, “The American casualties numbered 52 military personnel and approximately 70 civilians killed. The Japanese losses exceeded 700 dead with some estimates ranging as high as 1,000. Wake’s defenders sank two Japanese destroyers and one submarine, and shot down 24 Japanese aircraft.”

Granted, a lot of that was shown, though the impressive numbers were not. The film spent too much time trying to humanize the plot. Instead of concentrating on the exciting fighting or the real aftermath of the conflict, they gave us the stories of 4 different men. There was the vapid story about Pvt. Randall, a dumb brawler with a patriotic heart, played by William Bendix, and his friend, Pvt. Doyle, played by a very young Robert Preston. There was the story of the civilian construction worker, Shad McClosky, played by Albert Dekker, a man who wouldn’t take orders from any military personnel, but showed his true red, white, and blue colors when the fighting started. And finally there was the story of Major Caton, played by Brian Donlevy, the officer who shouldered the burden of command and inspired his troops to achieve greatness.

Randall’s story wasn’t believable. He was a former wrestler whose answer to every personal conflict was to start a fist fight, and Doyle wasn’t much better. The real Marine Corps would not tolerate that kind of behavior and he would be arrested after the first incident. McClosky’s story was more palatable. Sure, he was a civilian, resistant to taking orders, but when it came down to it, he died fighting like everyone else. But it was really the character of Major Caton that gave the film its best drama. As the commanding officer, it must have been difficult to stand strong in the path of the enemy, knowing that defeat was a certainty. Donlevy did a great job in the roll, giving the performance a sense of gravitas and unwavering patriotism.

I mean, think about it. The film was released in 1942. WWII was still in full swing. The real events of Wake Island had only taken place 9 months earlier. This film was meant to inspire people to support the war effort, plain and simple. If I had any complaints about the movie, it would only be about something that offended my modern sensibilities, though in 1942 it must have been effective as anti-Japanese propaganda. The Japanese people were portrayed as sinister, evil villains. I found myself rolling my eyes at Rudy Robles’ portrayal of Triunfo, the Japanese ambassador who professed peace with his exaggerated squinty eyes and buck teeth. ” - faltskog9
 
98.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A film of the life of the renowned musical composer, playwright, actor, dancer, and singer George M. Cohan. (126 mins.)
Director: Michael Curtiz
“ Yankee Doodle Dandy – 1942

Spoiler Alert

This was another example of a shameless propaganda movie. As films go, it had its good points and its bad points, but was completely unapologetic about all of them. James Cagney played the leading role of George M. Cohan, about whom the film was made. It was a both a biography and a musical about the man who is often called the father of the American Musical Comedy.

Cohan started performing at a very young age as a singer and dancer on the stages of Vaudeville. He was clearly a talent to be reckoned with, often out-shining the other three members of The Four Cohans, his father Jerry, played by Walter Huston, his mother Nellie, played by Rosemary DeCamp, and his sister Josie, played by Cagney’s real-life sister, Jeanne Cagney.

It is also clear that he has an ego to match his talent. His boasting and bravado is so out of control that he ruins one opportunity after another for his family to move on to better stages. During his teen years, he meets, falls in love with, and nearly ruins the career of the beautiful Mary, played by Joan Leslie. Despite this, they marry, giving her the opportunity to bring his ego in check. That accomplished, his career takes off.

He partners up with playwright Sam Harris, played by Richard Whorf. Their collaborations are very successful and they both become very rich men. Eventually, The Four Cohans break up their act and George goes solo. He continues to write one hit song after another, many of them, like the song Yankee Doodle Dandy, having very patriotic themes. More fame and more money comes his way. WWI arrives and he writes patriotic anthems that inspire the nation.

In the end, his partnership with Harris dissolves amicably, both men ready to go their separate ways. George retires with his wife to live in the country, away from the public eye, that is, until Harris asks him for help by starring in his latest play. He accepts, and returns to the stage. And that’s the movie, in a nutshell.

But here’s the trick. The entire movie actually started with that performance, in which he played the current President, FDR. After the opening night’s curtain falls, he is mysteriously summoned to the White House by the “real” Roosevelt and asked to tell the story of his life. So the movie is really a flash-back. I didn’t mind that so much, except that the actor who played President Roosevelt got on my nerves. His lines were all delivered like the voice-over guy that you hear on all the action trailers of movies in the 1930s and 40s. His tone and inflection stood out to me as unnatural and distracting. Apparently, impressionist Art Gilmore provided that voice, which makes me wonder if FDR really sounded like that. If he did, I just want to hear the former President say, “Come see the greatest film of the year! Thrills, chills and spills!”

And while I’m on the subject of things that I didn’t like about the film, I have to mention Cagney himself. I’ll admit that this is the first movie I have ever seen starring James Cagney, and I have to say that I didn’t particularly care for his dancing style or his singing style. However, I learned that not only was it not his fault, he actually did a remarkable job.

Here’s why: Cagney’s dancing looked a bit ridiculous to my modern eyes. There was a bit of tap, which I didn’t mind, and a lot of moves done where he bent forward at the waist without bending his knees. It was a style that made him appear to move like a marionette puppet without strings. It made his dancing look stiff and jerky. His singing was also very minimal. He spoke his way through most of the songs in an annoying, high-pitched voice.

But in my research, I found that he was, in both ways, imitating the real George Cohan’s style. Apparently he imitated the famous vaudeville trained performer very well, so I have to give Cagney’s performance my approval, even though I didn’t care for the style itself. In fact, Cagney won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year.

Aside from that, I liked Richard Whorf and Jeanne Cagney. They stood out to me as good actors in their respective roles. I also liked a number of the songs, which were, for the most part, the songs that the real George Cohan was famous for writing: songs like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Over There, While Strolling Through the Park One Day, and You’re a Grand Old Flag. The film and the songs were designed to overflow with patriotism. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt a little forced, but I guess I can be forgiving. After all, the production on the film had barely begun when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. ” - faltskog9
 
99.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
During the Spanish Civil War, an American allied with the Republicans finds romance during a desperate mission to blow up a strategically important bridge. (170 mins.)
Director: Sam Wood
“ For Whom the Bell Tolls – 1943

Spoiler Alert

On the one hand… Yay Technicolor! On the other, maybe we should hold off until we get it right. I know how completely irrational that statement is. After all, they would never have gotten it right without going through these beginning steps. It was a necessary process that had to happen before the art of color films could become what they are today. But all that being said, there were definitely issues with the color.

Just as in the 1937 Best Picture nominee, A Star is Born, everything was too dark unless it was being filmed in direct sunlight. Much of the film took place either inside a cave or during the hours between dusk and dawn. It seemed that the filmmakers didn’t really understand the concept of backlighting. There were times when the actors were nearly too dark to see, though the mountains in the background stood out like a photo-negative.

The film starred Academy Award nominee veteran, Gary Cooper as Roberto Jordan, an American fighting in the Spanish Civil War during the late 1930s. He is a demolitions expert who is assigned to blow up a strategically valuable bridge. He is ordered to meet with a republican guerrilla unit in the mountains surrounding the bridge three days before the deed is to take place. It is supposed to coincide with an air raid by the Soviet Union.

So far, it sounds like an exciting concept that promises plenty of action and suspense. But I think that Hollywood must have had a hand in what the majority of the film spent time on. Living with the rebels in their cave is Maria, played by Ingrid Bergman. She is a young girl who had been gang raped by men of the fascist coalition at the outbreak of the war.

Bergman did a fantastic job portraying the emotions of the damaged Maria. The scene in which she tells of the deaths of her parents, the humiliation of having her head shaved, and the rape was surprisingly well done. I really felt for her character. But her failing was her accent. She was supposed to be Spanish, and she tried to play her part with an appropriate accent, but her dialogue came out muddled and inconsistent.

However, I’m sorry to say that I thought Cooper to be the film’s weakest link. I have a feeling that one of the things that made him such a popular actor was his ability to portray the strong, silent type. He displayed little emotion and always did the right thing, no matter how difficult. But in this role, I wanted to see something more. An actor needs to know how to use his facial expressions to make the emotions of the character clear to the audience. Sure, one could go overboard, as was necessary in the silent era of film making, but his performance was like the opposite extreme. He was so stone-faced that I got nothing from him at all.

On the flip-side, I really liked two other characters that were integral to the plot. The leaders of the guerrilla unit were Pablo and his common-law wife, Pilar, brilliantly played by Akim Tamiroff and Katina Paxinou, respectively. They both did such a fantastic job that in my book, they completely made up for Cooper’s lack of emotion and Bergman’s bad Spanish accent.

Pablo was the weak-willed drunkard who led the rebel band. Pilar was the homely tower of strength that wrested control from her traitorous husband. At first I didn’t like Tamiroff, but I eventually realized that it was his character that I didn’t like, and that the actor did a wonderful job of playing the bad guy role.

But it was Paxinou that really stole the show or me. She was strong, wise, practical, passionate about her position in the war, and able to kick butt with the best of them when the fighting started. The actress was really memorable and her performance was amazing. In fact, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year, an honor that was well deserved.

The first two-thirds of the movie dealt with Roberto’s integration into the guerrilla camp, the romance between Roberto and Maria, and Pablo’s various betrayals. Everything was character driven, and not much really happened. But the final third of the movie really kicked up the action. There were gun fights, air raids, tank battles, and, of course, an exploding bridge, which was exciting to watch.

And as a little afterthought, I need to mention the character of Rafael, the devil-may-care gypsy member of the guerrilla rebels, played by Mikhail Rasumny. He played a very fun and likable roll. After all, he was the comic relief and had some amusing moments. However, the manner of his death ultimately made him out to be a moron. Watch the film and you’ll see what I mean. ” - faltskog9
 
100.
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
An old roué arrives in Hades to review his life with Satan, who will rule on his eligibility to enter the Underworld. (112 mins.)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
“ Heaven Can Wait – 1943

Spoiler Alert

This was Ernst Lubitsch’s first color film and he really did a fine job. Not only was it good to see a competent example of an early color movie, but it had a cute plot that didn’t take itself too seriously, and a good cast of actors. The main protagonist was played by a young Don Ameche. Opposite him was the beautiful Gene Tierney, with Spring Byington, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, and Eugene Pallette rounding out the supporting cast.

The film was a farce that doubled as a romantic comedy. The characters were silly and the one-liner jokes were plentiful. The whole thing started out in a way that made it instantly clear that that the humor would not be very intellectual, nor would it be remotely realistic. As soon as the annoying old biddy got sucked down to hell for being “naughty” and showing off her old lady legs, I knew I was in for an enjoyable and light-hearted movie

Ameche played Mr. Henry Van Cleve, a kind old man who arrives in Hell’s reception area, asking to be admitted. The receptionist, His Excellency, played by Laird Cregar, asks Henry why he should be allowed to go to hell, as if it is the hot-spot of the afterlife. “Would you be good enough to mention, for instance, some outstanding crime you’ve committed?” Henry responds, “Crime? Crime? I’m afraid I can’t think of any, but I can safely say my whole life was one continuous misdemeanor.”

What he means is that he believed himself to be a womanizer, which, of course, was not at all true. But this is a farce, so we’ll go with it. Then the main story begins as he tells his life’s story. In fact, Henry leads a fairly blameless life, but dates a lot of different girls when he reaches his young adulthood. He develops a habit of hanging out by stage doors and carousing with actresses, which is scandalous, because everyone knows what kind of women those actresses are.

But when he meets the love of his life, Martha, played by Tierney, his womanizing seems to stop. In fact, he is so crazy about her that he steals her out of her own engagement party and carries her off to elope, much to his cousin the groom’s chagrin. The two marry and spend many happy years together. In the end, she dies of some unknown illness, which the film glosses over in the space of five or six seconds.

Henry, now an old man, returns to his old ways, carousing with younger women and actresses. He dies at the ripe old age of seventy. Hell’s receptionist turns him away for having led too good a life, saying this his wife and beloved grandfather are waiting for him in “the other place.” The end.

The film was cute enough, and even had a few great moments that had me laughing out loud. For example, a quick line delivered from Grandpa Van Cleve, Henry’s Grandfather and mischievous kindred spirit, wonderfully played by Charles Coburn, as he listens to the story of how Henry had been misbehaving. He had apparently dropped a nickel into the cleavage of an aristocratic old lady as he was trying to impress a young woman. Grandpa said something like, “I know Mrs. Alister. We’ll never see that nickel again,” implying either that Mrs. Alister was such a money-grubber that she would never return it to Henry, or that Mrs. Alister’s cleavage was so voluminous that nobody would ever find it. Either way, I was left laughing.

Now, there was one thing about the plot that I was a little unsure of. At one point in the film, after the main couple had been together for ten years, Martha leaves him over suspicions that he had been cheating on her. But when it came to that, it was unclear whether he actually had or not. She had found a receipt for an expensive bracelet and said that she had never received the jewelry. It implies that he had cheated, but the film also went out of its way to show how head-over-heels he was for her. If that was the case, cheating would be out of the question.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Spring Byington playing the part of Henry’s mother, Bertha Van Cleve. She was silly and blithely ridiculous. The fact that her son was not feeling well caused her to go into fits of wild tears as if the boy was dying. As it turned out, he wasn’t even ill. He was just love-struck, as any young man might be. Her boohoos got even worse when she found out he was in love with one of those horrible stage actresses. Byington always does a good job.

The movie was delightful to watch because on top of all the good things I have already mentioned, it didn’t take itself too seriously. There were sad parts but they were not dwelled upon. The light-hearted atmosphere and the happy ending were a great contrast to all the serious dramas of the early 1940s, which was, of course, the WWII era. ” - faltskog9