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|Index||16 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While Myrna Loy was in one of her sit down strike moods looking for
better scripts out of MGM, Rosalind Russell who Louis B. Mayer signed
as a backup to Loy got her chance at a lead in Rendezvous. Her
performance her was an object lesson to Loy from Mayer purportedly
saying I can always get another Nora Charles.
While I personally doubt that, there is no doubt that Russell filled in admirably in this espionage comedy/drama set in Washington, DC during the days immediately following American entry to World War I. And of course her leading man is William Powell.
The film is actually based on the real life American cryptography expert H.O. Yardley who wrote a book about our code room in the War Department of Newton D. Baker. Baker himself makes a brief appearance here played by Charles Trowbridge. Yardley worked there and Powell's character is based on him.
I doubt very much if Yardley got involved with a beautiful bubbleheaded heiress like Russell who's uncle just happens to be Baker's assistant secretary Samuel S. Hinds. Nor was he playing as secret agent to trap a beautiful German spy like Binnie Barnes.
Powell's a veritable James Bond, charming and debonair as always more hindered than helped by Russell as he was in the Thin Man series by Loy. It would do well to remember that there was no Thin Man series as such yet. There was only one Thin Man movie made at the time so Mayer had a bit more leverage with Myrna back then. And Russell was almost a newcomer herself having made her debut as a second lead in another Powell-Loy film, Evelyn Prentice.
There are some good performances here by Lionel Atwill from British intelligence who is compromised and killed by Barnes and from Cesar Romero from the Russian embassy working as part of the German spy ring. Barnes herself essays the role of the cool villainess with grace and style that was her trademark.
In fact for fans of Powell and Russell of which I am both, this is an entertaining and stylish film all around.
Meddlesome Rosalind Russell is positively grating in her first star billing,
continually disrupting the flow of the plot and detracting from my enjoyment
of the action. What idiot would spike the coffee of the chief cryptographer
with sleeping pills in the midst of his trying to decode a secret enemy
message with the lives of thousands of American troops hanging in the
balance? "I was just trying to get you to get some sleep," was her meek
response after the damage was done. And she continually does things like
that! I suppose it was meant for comedy relief, but it didn't work for me.
What was enjoyable was the persistent and methodical decoding methods used
before computers were invented, and the follow-up in the effort to break a
German spy ring, including an exciting but improbable ending. William Powell
gives his usual wonderful charismatic performance, with Binnie Barnes also
excellent as the femme fatale German spy and Cesar Romero very convincing as
her accomplice. All other acting was uniformly good, but why was
English-accented Henry Stephenson cast as a Russian ambassador?
Based on a book by Herbert O. Yardley, who was the head of the U.S. Secret Service during WWI, the film has an air of authenticity.
WILLIAM POWELL and ROSALIND RUSSELL have good chemistry here--although
Russell gets the short end of the stick with an annoying "comic" character
who disrupts everything in sight, including the plot.
The spy ingredients are nicely handled and there's a lot of behind-the-scenes decoding efforts going on in the World War I era that add interest to the storyline.
Nice to see Lionel Atwill on the good side for a change and Binnie Barnes is fine as a femme fatale heavily involved in the spy network. Cesar Romero keeps a poker-face as one of the ring members but is convincing enough in a minor role.
None of it makes for a great movie, but it passes the time quickly with an interesting glimpse of Russell before she perfected her comedy technique and Powell already at the peak of his comic timing. Cast includes Samuel S. Hinds and Charley Grapewin (Dorothy's uncle in 'The Wizard of Oz').
A rather uneasy mixture of comedy and suspense--but a stronger script would have helped considerably.
This is a so-so movie starring the wonderful William Powell. I swear
the man could have brought the phone book to life. It's a film about a
spy ring, breaking some codes, and finding the mole. Costars include
young, dark-haired Cesar Romero (by the time I knew who he was, he had
white hair), Binnie Barnes, Lionel Atwill, and Rosalind Russell in a
very early - and very annoying role. Russell is pretty (except for what
looked a clown costume turned into a woman's suit), and she was
certainly a masterful actress/comedienne of stage and screen. But this
was not a good part. In fact, as I was watching it, I thought, I wonder
if anyone else found this character - well, not very likable. The
character reminded me a little bit of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up
Baby, where Hepburn pursued Grant. But Katharine Hepburn played an
airhead, and Russell portrays a down to earth woman. Somehow, her
making a nuisance of herself with Powell isn't as fun as seeing Hepburn
Bottom line, it's just not a great script, but it is interesting to watch.
Not an often shown film, nor a great one, this is worth your time if TCM ever shows it again. The plot is somewhat dated but nevertheless interesting -- code breaking and spy catching -- if you ignore some of the excesses that were probably added by Hollywood. Folding in comedy, drama, and action into what would probably have made an excellent military training film, we are left unsatisfied with the overall effect. Yet there is a hint of the "Thin Man" chemistry between William Powell and Rosalind Russell that brings a smile to your lips. Fair but I am not sorry that I watched it.
I think this film is a lot more enjoyable than did almost any of the other reviewers. They say the Russell character is annoying, and some even seem to blame it on the actress, rather than on the script, with one even claiming that she tries to steal the film from Powell. If you don't like it, blame the writer(s), but not the performers. I had never heard of this film before, had no knowledge that Russell was put into it as a Loy substitute or as a possible threat to Loy's status at MGM, yet almost the first thing that hit me about the film while watching it is what an excellent Nora Charles Rosalind Russell would have made. Up to the point of seeing this film, I had never even thought of anyone measuring up to Loy in that role, but Russell might well have done so. The character may be objectionable to some viewers, but the performance is perfect for what is being asked of her. Powell, of course, is standing on the top of Mount Everest in a role like this; nobody could ever touch him. But the whole cast is very good, most especially Binnie Barnes, who even only two years after THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, has already done a marvelous job of shedding her British accent, but we're so used to her as a fairly high-comedienne that it comes as a surprise to see her here as a somewhat sympathetic-but-still-ruthless villainess, and she's really quite perfect (as she had been as Henry's last choppee!). I thought this a most enjoyable film throughout, mainly for the performances, true, but also for its lightness of touch.
I enjoyed this movie - it wasn't a classic, but it was definitely a cut above the norm. The fascinating part was, in my opinion, seeing Rosalind Russell in a "Myrna Loy" role! It was like watching one of the Thin Man movies - seeing her interact with William Powell, speaking lines like Nora Charles, and even looking very much like Myrna Loy.
If you like William Powell enough (or another actor in this film) and its venue, you may flow with it. It is a weaker one to my view, and while not a throwaway, not really picked up by anyone in particular. The character Russell played was incongruous and annoying, though she was probably refreshing as a newcomer. There's a bit too much overdone flip and horsiness about her performance here and in a lot of her pictures, to my taste. Likely, it's a script flaw, but given the level of weight of the decoding project at hand, her stunts are incongruous at best. The fact that she had such easy access is also unbelievable, despite her connections by relation. Also, she doesn't really work with Powell's character. After about her third shenanigan, I think, that's it for her. He'll move on. But he trots right along and they end up together. What? That a man of his caliber would hook up with a loose cannon like that just really doesn't work. And they aren't believable together. Binnie Barnes' character, though the villainess, was easier to take down, being consistent and well enough done. This essentially war picture has its interest, but I can't say after one more run through, I would care to repeat. But I do hang onto my classics and after some time, enjoy going back for just the era and actors. One can always ogle the clothes if nothing else.
Most of these reviews mention how Russell was a poor replacement for
Loy. I didn't really make that connection as I'm a fan of Russell's
from My Girl Friday. She was much better in MGF, I will grant you, but
it didn't lessen my enjoyment of Rendezvous just because Loy was not in
William Powell plays Bill Gordon, a genius puzzle solver, who gets duped into becoming a code breaker for the Army by Russell's Joel Carter when America enters WWI. She is the niece of the Asst Secretary of War and uses her connections to get Gordon placed at a desk in Washington D.C. to keep him near. Its supposed to be cute and romantic, but it comes off as spoiled and cruel. Gordon then goes on to break an important spy message and leads him to a ring of spies operating in town.
Powell is amazing as usual. The opening scene where Joel mistakes him for a Russian singer and Gordon plays along is vintage Powell. He had great comedic chops and timing. The code breaking scenes are fantastic as Powell conveys wit, genius, and tension as his character goes through the long hours and countless failures trying to crack the code. As I said, Russell has done better work. Her role is is to act as a ditsy foil to Powell and it doesn't work.
The supporting cast is brilliant. While Russell was a the weak link in her first major role, the rest of the cast does great work. Binnie Barnes and The Joker himself, Caesar Romero, as German spies are top notch. Lionel Atwill as Gordon's boss provides a looming presence. With a tighter script and less pratfalls from Russell, this could have been a wonderful spy drama. It seemed they tried too hard to shoehorn in the comedy instead of letting it develop naturally with the plot.
If you are fan of Powell's this is a movie that needs to be part of your viewing library. If not, focus on the code breaking scenes and its still a fun ride.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Rendezvous" is a 1935 MGM film that has William Powell doing duty
during World War I. The film is a mix of comedy, drama and action with
Powell's character uncovering an espionage ring in the nation's
capital. The comedy comes by way of his love interest, played perfectly
by Rosalind Russell.
Powell is Bill Gordon, a former news correspondent. While working in Asia, he filled his dull moments with studying and deciphering codes. He wrote a masterly work on making and breaking codes, and it was published under a pen name Anson Meredith. Now he's a lieutenant in the Army and just wants to get to France to do his part for Uncle Sam on the front lines. But, through a sudden encounter and romance with Joel Carter (played by Russell), Bill's future is changed.
When they first meet, Joel mistakes Bill for a Russian opera singer at an embassy party. In a hilarious scene, Bill plays it to the hilt with her and her facial expressions lead to many laughs. The next day, Bill sees Joel marching in a Woman's Suffrage parade. She's carrying a sign that reads, "I sent my sons to war. I want to vote." Bill asks if she has any grandchildren and she swaps signs with another woman. Some funny fisticuffs ensue when the police try to break up the parade because it doesn't have a permit. Later, Joel goes with Bill to catch his train, and a troop train pulls out while they are kissing. He said his train doesn't leave until the next day.
They have lunch and spend the day together. Bill tells Joel about his anonymous authorship of the code book. He doesn't know that she is the niece of the Assistant Secretary of War, John Carter. So, the next day at the train station, Joel and Bill kiss goodbye. But as Bill steps onto the train, an MP delivers new orders. He is to report to the War Department for his new assignment.
The rest of the story unfolds with intermixed scenes of espionage, romance and comedy. Binnie Barnes has a major role as Olivia, a German spy. Fine performances are given by a supporting cast that includes Cesar Romero, Lionel Atwill, Samuel Hinds, Henry Stephenson and Charley Grapewin.
This film also has some interesting scenes that recall early 20th century history. The sign atop the Park Hotel reads, "Your home in Washington, D.C. 500 fireproof rooms." That was a time when hotel and office building fires were quite common. Another scene shows telephone operators "patching through" a long distance call from Washington, D.C. to San Diego. Some seniors will recall the time that it used to take just to get a long distance through.
Most of Hollywood's leading men of sound motion pictures starred in war-related films in the first half of the 20th century. Some were action or battle films, others were in espionage or underground movies, some were in wartime dramas on the home front or in England, and some were in comedies. They were with the troops on the ground, at sea and in the air.
William Powell was in just a few such films in his career. He is probably best remembered for his role as Doc in the 1955 smash hit, "Mr. Roberts." That comedy and drama was set during World War II and is unique in that its top four roles were played by actors who had been or were to become leading actors in Hollywood. Besides Powell, it starred James Cagney, Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon.
Powell was a consummate actor who played a variety of roles. He is most known and regarded for his comedies, and for some comedy-crime roles he played. Most notable was his Nick Charles role with Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series of movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Three of his comedies are among the funniest and best comedies of all time. Besides this fine film, I recommend those for any serious collector's library. They are, "Libeled Lady" of 1936, "Double Wedding" of 1937, and "Love Crazy" of 1941.
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