|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||15 reviews in total|
This glorious Art Deco cocktail talkie from 1930 is possibly one of the top three masterpieces of set design of the early talkie era. An student of film set and costume design for this period - and any snazzy modernist look will alternately swoon, scream, almost faint and want to large-print every scene and set of what I celebrate as a sensational art deco dazzler. Produced in 1930and reflecting the wealthy marble chrome and velvet of the zenith of 1929 jazz design REACHING FOR THE MOON is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. Even in the gasp worthy shortened version I goggled at, it rates an 8 for the visuals alone. It would rate a perfect 10 out of 10 only if it were the full version with the obviously deleted scenes and songs. On the big screen of a twinkling deco palace and in a 35mm print this film must have had depression audiences feasting... and for the rest of us 76 years later we can only slump in deco-exhaustion at the deliciousness of every frame. Then there is a lovely story, well realised and well scripted of a big rich boisterous dude realising the depth of emotional wealth of a modern woman and the love possible. Gorgeous Bebe Daniels and robust virile Fairbanks share some genuinely moving and very believable on deck scenes as the ocean liner reaches port and post Wall St crash of 29 reality. But the costumes! the scope of the travel and life presented, the deco friezes, the hallways! their apartments! God Almighty! This is art deco heaven and I only wish that some day we can see a perfect print of this treasure box delight in it's original production length with all the songs and scenes. Show this to someone studying set design and they will never forget it. It also contains some hilarious risqué pre code sexual frankness this era is famous for.... especially Edward Everett Horton testing some love clinches on Fairbanks in the balcony hammock when the electrician arrives and is mortified to see the tuxedo junction happening between the giggling fellers.
REACHING FOR THE MOON (United Artists, 1930), written and directed by
Edmund Goulding, would be an interesting title best suited for a 1950s
science fiction movie about astronauts rocketing to the moon, but in
this instance, a lightweight comedy that takes place on board ship
shortly after the 1929 Stock Market Crash where its central characters
are a Wall Street wizard and an aviatrix. With a cast consisting mostly
of silent screen veterans, the main attractions are the leading players
Douglas Fairbanks, best known for his legendary swashbucklers as Zorro
and Robin Hood, and Bebe Daniels, whose career during the sound era has
overshadowed her popularity of the silent screen, thanks to the
frequent revivals of 42nd STREET (Warners, 1933) for which she is best
Following an overview (theatrical setting) of New York skyscrapers, the story opens at the Ritzbelt Hotel where two separate events are taking place: first a departure party for renowned aviatrix Vivian Benton (Bebe Daniels) in the Queen Room; and a dinner party hosted by Larry Day (Douglas Fairbanks) in the Wall Street Room. Vivian, daughter of a millionaire (Walter Walker), is secretly engaged to the stuffy British Sir Horace Partington (Claude Allister, with a catch phrase of "What a country"), while Larry, a carefree bachelor, thinks more of his job than women. Upon his departure, Larry bypasses Vivian, who shows an immediate interest in him. Jimmy Carrington (Jack Mulhall), one of Larry's employees, makes a bet that she cannot get his attention before she set sails for Europe the following day. Vivian takes that wager and gets to work. The next morning, Vi makes every effort to get past the secretary (Helen Jerome-Eddy) while posing as a Southern gal. Her influence works, leading her into Larry's office where she not only gets five minutes of his time, but an invitation to dinner at his 20th floor penthouse located on 380 Park Avenue, which so happens to be across the street from her residence. Before Vivian is set to arrive, Larry's servant, Roger (Edward Everett Horton) demonstrates his own method of making love to a woman while sitting on a patio swing, a scene that raises eyebrows from an electrician observing from afar. Wondering what has happened to her, Larry receives a telephone call from Vivian telling him how she has won the bet with Jimmy and is now sailing for England on the L'Amerique. She then asks him, "What are you going to do about it?" A victim of a practical joke, and overwrought over her laughter, Larry yanks the phone over to the floor and angrily replies, "I'll show you what I'm going to do!" And that he does once he and Roger go on board, with every effort to get his last laugh on her.
Basically a comedy reminiscent to the Ernst Lubitch style due to its risqué dialog and offbeat humor, REACHING FOR THE MOON came at a time when such romantic themes were becoming passé, especially those including songs. Based on a story with music by Irving Berlin, one of America's greatest songwriters, its opening credits promises a musical, but all that remains is the upbeat "Low Down" number set during a gathering among shipboard passengers. It's introduced by an up-and-coming Bing Crosby, re-prised by Bebe Daniels and the deep sounding vocals of June McClory. "Low Down" is underscored much of the time along with other themes that didn't make it to the final print. Aside from wondering how REACHING FOR THE MOON might have appeared with other musical interludes intact, what's also interesting is the way Fairbanks works his acrobatics, which he used so prominently in his silent film adventures, into the story, ranging from sliding down the pole from the sun deck to one particular scene where he takes Angels Breath, a drink prepared by his servant including Pocoraca, a wonder drug. Once he takes it, he becomes hyper, running and jumping happily all over the place, going out of control climbing the walls with laughter. By the time Vivian drinks it, she storms out from Larry's state room quite hostile and carefree.
With this being Fairbanks' best known talkie, REACHING FOR THE MOON was nearly forgotten until the wake of cable television and home video during the early 1980s. Aside from the outtakes of musical numbers, shortening the proposed 91 minute musical-comedy to 74 minutes, reissue prints that have been circulating, especially those presented on public television during the late night hours, are the 62 minute prints that eliminate Vi and Larry's acquaintance in his Wall Street office. Even at its near restored length that aired on American Movie Classics (1997-2000), REACHING FOR THE MOON continues to resemble a butchered movie with flimsy plot consisting of scenes and fade-outs coming in and out of nowhere. It's never even explained how the Larry Day character got on board L'Amerique after it sailed out to sea, or why a lady aviator would travel on a cruise ship when she could take her own private airplane? In spite of some setbacks, REACHING FOR THE MOON is occasionally entertaining, "fun," "wonderful fun," however starts to wear thin towards the end with some corny dialog spoken by Fairbanks.
The movie itself may not promise the moon, but for film buffs, a chance to reach for the stars, Douglas Fairbanks, Bebe Daniels (being a blonde this time around) and a very young Bing Crosby, in his second film role, whose popularity as an actor/singer was only two years away. (***)
While this film was apparently issued as a musical, there is really
only a single musical performance in the entire 66-minute version that
I saw, lasting only about 4 or 5 minutes. The original issue apparently
had more in it, and considering that it was Irving Berlin material,
it's a great pity that more of it didn't remain.
That being said, however, the single production number that does come along, 45 minutes into the film, is easily worth the price of admission. Not only is it the earliest extant film version of a Bing Crosby performance (and I swear he was wearing a toupee, even then!), but his solo piece was wonderfully supported by a second from Bebe Daniels, and yet a third, from a sultry-voiced woman who is no longer recalled, and all of it given life by a jazzy dance troupe not as performers, but as actual dancers. It projects the storied Jazz Age with marvelous resonance, and is a joy to watch.
Reaching for the Moon will never make anyone's list of top ten films,
but it is valuable piece of Hollywood History because it contains one
of Douglas Fairbanks's few sound films and it is the solo debut of Bing
Joe Schenck who was a partner of Fairbanks in United Artists got Irving Berlin to write an original score for this film and to do the screenplay. Fairbanks is a wizard of Wall Street who falls head over heels for aviatrix Bebe Daniels and chases after her on an ocean liner to England. Along for the ride is Edward Everett Horton who plays his butler/sidekick.
During production it was decided to scrap Berlin's score with only one song remaining, When the Folks High Up Do a Mean Low Down. Bing Crosby sang a chorus of it and then passed it over to Bebe Daniels and bit player June McCloy. At the time of the filming Crosby was appearing at the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with his Rhythm Boy trio.
Fairbanks was 48 when this was made and the athleticism that characterized his best silent films was a bit annoying here. But that's what his public expected of him. His role is the kind of part that Cary Grant could later play in his sleep.
Bebe Daniels is pretty much forgotten today. But she was a beautiful woman and had a great singing voice. If people remember her at all it was as Dorothy Brock who breaks her ankle in 42 Street and allows Ruby Keeler to walk on stage a youngster and come back a star. Soon after 42nd Street, Daniels left the U.S. with her husband Ben Lyon for Great Britain where as expatriates they became very big stars there.
Nothing fabulous about Reaching for the Moon, but it's a curiosity and a bit of history rolled in one.
Looking at this film it is impossible to understand why Douglas Fairbanks
never made it as a talkie actor. He really is splendid as a high-flying
businessman who gives it all up for love. Energy to burn and still striking
to look at (at 48 years old - he even has a shirtless scene) his star
presence is undiminished by words. But the words are actually pretty good -
the film is based on an Irving Berlin musical, but only one song remains
(and that is sung for no apparent reason in the middle of the film, by a
baby-faced Bing Crosby.)
Also good is Bebe Daniels as an aviatrix and especially fine is Edward Everett Horton as Fairbanks' valet. Their rapport and obvious affection for one another is very touching and provides for some great comic moments.
And the art deco sets are to die for!
At not quite 71 minutes, the version of this film that I have seen is even shorter than the theatrically shortened version listed by IMDb, although it does retain the Crosby footage. Perhaps the severe editing is one reason that I found this to be the most confused (and confusing) film of its period. We are given no clue as to why characters suddenly behave in a completely different way than they have previously conducted themselves, allegiances dissolve and reform for no apparent reason, and what might have made for an interesting plot twist (the introduction of drugs into a cocktail by Horton as valet) becomes no more than an excuse for Fairbanks's financial wizard to leap around his stateroom like a monkey playing football. Still, all the actors seem to be giving it everything they've got, trying to put the script across, and being able to see the three leads and Bing at the top of their games is the only thing that makes this movie watchable.
I usually find frothy comedies this old to be a bore, but was somehow captivated by this one, probably initially because of the really startling beauty of Bebe Daniels (no I never had heard of her either). After she hooked me into the film, the wonderful chemistry between her, Horton and Fairbanks kept me on board. Really an entertaining hour and a half, and the period flavor is enthralling. Worth a see.
A dated but mostly pleasant comedy, "Reaching For the Moon" has a lightweight story that is carried by its stars, Douglas Fairbanks (in one of his few sound pictures) and Bebe Daniels. Fairbanks is Larry Day, a financial genius with very little social life. He becomes enchanted with Vivien Benton (Daniels), to the point where he abandons his business concerns - endangering his financial empire - to follow her on an ocean liner. Edward Everett Horton is entertaining as the valet who tries to help Day learn how to approach a beautiful woman. While dated in several respects, it is a good-natured story that moves at an agreeable pace, and it also features a singing appearance by a very young Bing Crosby. There is not a lot of depth to the movie, but it is a decent way to pass the time for anyone who enjoys vintage comedies.
Douglas Fairbanks was 47 years old when he starred in "Reaching for the
Moon," and in nine more years, he would be dead from a heart attack. He
had only two more starring roles after this, and ended his career with
only five movies since the advent of sound. While bickering with
Hollywood moguls is cited as the main reason for his early retirement
by age 51, his few "talkies" hint at his fading star.
No one could doubt his continued athleticism. In this movie, he showed some of the moves and agility that made him the king of the swashbucklers throughout the silent film era. But two things seemed to me to detract from his screen persona. First was his bombast and flamboyance. Surely, these were attributes in silent films when facial expressions and body movements were exaggerated to make up for the lack of sound. Fairbanks seems to be one of those early era actors who couldn't adjust to the less audacious acting. The second thing was his high-pitched voice. It wasn't effeminate, but its higher pitch did detract from the rougher masculine image of his leading role.
Bebe Daniels, on the other hand, had no difficulty transitioning from silent to sound film. She started as a child actress and had a long string of movies through the end of the silent era. She had a beautiful singing voice and had a number of good roles in musical films through the 1930s. She married actor/singer Ben Lyon in 1930, and in the late 30s they moved to England where they were a very successful husband-and- wife team on stage and on the radio.
This was also just the third appearance of Bing Crosby in the movies. Although his name had not yet appeared in any film credits and wouldn't until the following year, he did have one song in this shortened film version. It also was the first film with Irving Berlin's music.
The plot of this film is OK, but the script doesn't make it very convincing. Still, it is an entertaining film with some historical value as well. It gives us a picture of the Hollywood scene during the years of transition from silent to sound films. We see some of the stars of those early years. And, one more little note of history to me was the setting of the ship voyage during the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. Not many movies were made that had the great stock market crash in them. It's understandable that Hollywood wouldn't draw people to movies about depression, with the widespread depression that followed. But the treatment of the stock crash in this film gives it a nice added historical touch about an event that is rarely found in films of the mid-20th century.
This movie was supposed to be a musical, but by 1930 audiences had
tired of at least the "All Singing" part of "All Talking, All Singing,
All Dancing" movies. Virtually everyone's first talking picture was a
musical, and there just wasn't enough good music to go around. Theaters
were even putting up signs in the cases of movies that sounded like
they might be musicals with statements that read "This is not a
musical" so as not to repel audiences. This situation lasted until
In this case, the movie probably would have been much better if it had gone through with the originally planned musical format. The introductory titles show that the music was written by Irving Berlin, and the cast even includes crooner Bing Crosby, who was so good in "The King of Jazz" that came out that same year. Instead, there is only one musical number two-thirds of the way into the film, and that is the only place we get to see or hear Bing Crosby. On top of that, Bebe Daniels, the lead actress, was a much better singer than she was an actress. Thus making this a romantic comedy of sorts really took away from all that she could have brought to the movie.
What you're left with is a little bit more than a shell of a movie. It seems like nobody bothered to fill in the blanks left by the depletion of the would-have-been musical numbers. I give this movie six stars instead of five mainly because of the historical value. Douglas Fairbanks would make only two more movies after this one. Someone else has already mentioned the factor his voice played in the end of his talkie career. It is worth mentioning that his voice isn't outright bad, but it just doesn't match the swashbuckling image he had developed during the silent era. It's a higher pitch than what you're expecting. It is great fun to see him doing some of his trademark acrobatic moves during the film, and it's hard to believe a man of almost 50 could still be so agile and have such a youthful and vigorous appearance. Particularly entertaining is Edward Everett Horton as the valet. He had a good career in silent films, but he would do even better as a character actor in the age of talking pictures where dialogue really allowed him to shine as a well-meaning if somewhat befuddled character in a myriad of films. Also, various sets in the film show off some fine and interesting examples of 1930 architecture, and it is interesting to see how the early stages of the depression were interpreted by people at the time. In 1930 the stock market sell-off is still portrayed as a "panic" and a temporary set-back that has merely bankrupted a few high-rolling financiers.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|