Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Fixer Dugan (1939)
Quite a diverting little B
Made during the downside of Lee Tracy's career, but he's wide awake in this B, and doing what he did better than anybody: playing a fast-talking, conniving, but likable con man. And this time, as a troubleshooter at a middling circus, he has more morals than usual. It's a compact tale of the young daughter of a trapeze artist who slips and dies, and gets sent to a girls' school (which, in another unexpected twist, isn't a bad place at all), though she'd much rather be back in the carny life, where she's looked after by her late mom's former rival. Virginia Weidler was always wonderful, no simpering aren't-I-adorable child star but a real actor, and she plays beautifully off Tracy, as does Peggy Shannon, whom I wasn't familiar with, but she's a spirited, appealing leading lady. The lion-taming scenes are expertly faked, and a diverting supporting cast of characters keeps turning up--I especially liked Irene Franklin, an esteemed former vaudevillian, as a hanger-on at the circus who keeps looking back on her glory days. It's loaded with atmosphere and has some good lines, and it's over in 68 minutes. Very enjoyable.
Wise Girls (1929)
An early MGM talkie, and how it shows, with awkward pauses, static camera-work, and technical glitches aplenty--at least twice, the camera focuses on a doorway for a full 15 seconds, just waiting for an entrance. It's a Broadway play, a not particularly successful one, written by and starring Nugent pere et fils, who had also done it on stage. The elder Nugent is an irascible paterfamilias in suburban New Jersey, and the younger is a plumber/architect wooing and marrying his flighty daughter, all the while loving the other daughter. It's stagy and slowish, but that's part of its charm--I felt like I was really watching a vintage 1920s romantic comedy as presented on stage, more or less. It's barely opened up, with few exteriors, but the cast is game, and Roland Young, as a deservedly spurned suitor, is already a master of the form. Not worth going out of your way to see, but if it turns up on TCM, and it does sometimes, it's a diverting hour-and-change.
The Last Flight (1931)
I think they meant for this to be a meaningful rumination on the useless postwar wounded, with Barthelmess, David Manners, Johnny Mack Brown, and Elliott Nugent as damaged flyers living useless existences in Paris and Lisbon. All four flit around Helen Chandler, a flighty heiress who talks in non sequiturs and has more shoes in her closet than Imelda Marcos. It has the tone of "The Last Time I Saw Paris" or "A Farewell to Arms." But it's shallow. This quartet seems to spend all its time flirting and drinking, and the talk's all small and doesn't go anywhere. Motivations are picked up and dropped; Barthelmess, furious at Chandler for no discernible reason, escapes to Portugal, then, as she follows him, he's suddenly delighted. Barthelmess does have the right kind of gravitas for this kind of part, and I always liked the gentlemanly David Manners, here a brooding playboy whose eye tic ruins his life. But it's very haphazardly put together. Helen Chandler can only end up with one doughboy, so three of the four are dispatched quickly and randomly before the fadeout. All the actors do their best, but they haven't much to play.
Torch Singer (1933)
Mother-love junk, but with one important asset
And that's Claudette Colbert, playing a not entirely plausible good-woman-turned-tough-cynic, who suffers, wisecracks, repents, and, most surprisingly, sings. That's clearly her voice taking on some decent Rainger-Robin songs, and it's a true, throaty, expressive contralto. Why didn't Paramount, which so often exploited the cheery, joie-de-vivre aspects of the Colbert personality, put her in more musicals? She's a natural. And she emotes touchingly in the soapier sections of this one, including a really devastating scene of her giving up her child. The story doesn't make a lot of sense, least of all the David Manners character, a Boston blueblood who is first portrayed as a rotter but turns out to be wonderful. Nor does Ricardo Cortez fit in easily, as Colbert's radio-manager boss; the script seems to want to suggest a romance for them, but never gets around to it. And the plot gymnastics toward the end, which are determined to give Colbert and Manners a happy ending whatever the cost to logic, are just impossible. Still, it's nicely pre-Code, never condemning Colbert for having a child out of wedlock, and quite a showcase for her many talents.
Universally ridiculed, and I liked it
Just the thought of "Katharine Hepburn as a hillbilly" automatically sends many viewers into hysterics, and it's indeed jarring at first to view her as Trigger Hicks, an innocent Ozarks miss who's an ungainly combination of religious fervor, antisocial behavior, unexamined but potent sexuality, and wisecracks. Take away all your predispositions about Katharine Hepburn, though, and she's quite good in it, doing a lot of acting with her eyes and singing in a far more resonant alto than she exhibited decades later on the Broadway stage. It's a "Tobacco Road"-like melodrama of misfits in the hills, with Ralph Bellamy and Robert Young as the smart-men-from-the-city who are interested in her, and it's from a 1927 stage play that didn't run long. (One of the stage actors, Sara Haden, repeats her stage role; also in the original company was a very young Natalie Schaefer, as the wife of the Robert Young character.) It's picturesque and thoughtful and really quite touching in examining how nonconformists cope in unfriendly surroundings, and the lack of background music and deliberate pacing make it seem less manufactured and movie-fied than many contemporary offerings. Give it a chance. However, a postscript: In the mid-1970s I had occasion to tell Miss Hepburn, as she was getting into her limo, "Miss Hepburn, one of your movies is on TV locally this week, it's called 'Spitfire.'" "'Spitfire,' 'Spitfire,' she mused. "Oh, God help us all."
They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)
Whodunit with a full roster of old MGM players in support of James Garner, who's a rather nasty police chief we're supposed to like because he's James Garner. He does bring a lot of his personal charm to this murder mystery involving a small coastal California town, a possibly homicidal Doberman, and some twisted sex play. But there's an acid atmosphere, and it's dully shot and directed. Katherine Ross, as a veterinary technician who becomes Garner's love interest, is profoundly uninteresting, and among the supporting players I liked Ann Rutherford as a clueless but salty secretary and June Allyson (not playing a sweetie for once, and she's good) as
a woman with secrets. The small-town, everybody-knows- everybody atmosphere is nicely maintained, and Hal Holbrook, as always, brings major acting chops, in this case to an underwritten part. But Garner's character, forever ramming his police car into something deliberately or threatening violence against his girlfriend or a local sheriff (Harry Guardino with an amusing '70s mustache), isn't that easy to root for.Also, it's just the period, but it's a casually homophobic piece. The plot involves lesbianism, and we're supposed to find the suspected miscreants that much more awful for being lesbian. And during one seduction scene, Ross asks Garner why he isn't married and he jokingly replies, "I'm a faggot." And that's supposed to make him endearing and amusing and clever. Nasty times, children, and we've come a long way.
The Heat's On (1943)
No, it isn't
A real dog, independently made by Gregory Ratoff but released by Columbia, from a script that could have been written on the back of an envelope, about Broadway producer William Gaxton trying to keep Mae West in his show, which is actually a Latin American revue featuring lots of Xavier Cugat. Mae is, as many have noted, allotted insufficient screen time, and when she's on, her lines mostly thud; plus, she looks at the zaftig side, and understandably bored. William Gaxton was a huge star on the stage, originating roles in such notable musicals as "A Connecticut Yankee," "Anything Goes," and "Of Thee I Sing," but he's a blank on film; he's somewhat better, in a similar role, in "Best Foot Forward" the same year at MGM. Victor Moore, a frequent stage partner of Gaxton's, does his usual bumbling- inarticulate-hick thing that some people find charming, and sings an absolutely dreadful song about victory gardens that can't even have had much impact in 1943. The songs are by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn and other hands, but they're dull, and the supporting cast is no- name, though Lloyd Bridges turns up as the ingenue's GI sweetheart, and Hazel Scott has a couple of specialty numbers that show her off to decent advantage. There were lots of barely- plotted B wartime musicals such as this, but most don't get shown, either through rights tangles or sheer disinterest. This one shows what a haphazard genre it was at the time.
Lucky Me (1954)
Fairly expensive Warners musical, the then-novelties of which are a) CinemaScope and b) location filming in Miami, which does look '50s-luscious. These are tied to a very tired screenplay about superstitious Doris Day and her pals Phil Silvers, Nancy Walker, and Eddie Foy Jr. going from revue work to kitchen work to Broadway, courtesy of songwriter Robert Cummings, whose songs all sound like second-rate Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster. Much talent that had just turned out "Calamity Jane"--Day, Webster, Fain, choreographer (and here director) Jack Donohue, screenwriter James O'Hanlon--worked on this one, but it's nobody's best work, though Doris is as spirited and golden-voiced as ever, and you don't really want to see her end up romantically with someone as uninteresting as Robert Cummings. Silvers and Walker certainly deserved better material, and Donohue doesn't know how to pace a plot, even one as fragile as this. Martha Hyer is another casualty, overplaying Cummings' shrew of a girlfriend, and the other supporting players are no-name. It's worth sitting through once for a couple of nicely staged numbers (especially the opening) and some alluring glimpses of Florida, but it's the Warners musical at its most labored and uninspired.
Should Ladies Behave (1933)
Quintessential Lionel and Alice, and not bad
Lionel Barrymore largely made a career out of playing gruff, grumpy anhedoniacs; Alice Brady made hers out of playing flighty upper-class twits. Both were capable of other things, but in this pleasantly pre-Code romantic comedy from a Paul Osborn play, both drag out their usual bags of tricks. He harrumphs and lets his facial muscles sag and crosses his arms, and she giggles and defies logic. They're an unhappily married late-middle-age couple whose daughter is about to be swept up by the cad Brady remembers loving 20 years ago, who is now having an affair with her sister. It's pretty frank about all the adultery, and there's a bracing twist ending. One wants a more dashing rake than Conway Tearle, but Katharine Alexander is amusingly tart and Eve Arden-ish as the sister, and Mary Carlisle is fine as the naive young miss. Casual racism and an insipid Freed-Brown song dot this fun nonsense, and there are serious moments of actual truth scattered about it--loved the scene where Brady finally must Be a Mom, and she steps up to the plate admirably.
The Sundowners (1960)
The story of a marriage
Absolutely lovely movie, leisurely, diverting, full of character, in dazzling Technicolor, featuring beautiful Australian locations and a perfect Dmitri Tiomkin score. But first and foremost, a study of an imperfect but very worth-maintaining marriage. Watch how Mitchum and Kerr (who had enjoyed working together on "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison") react to each other, their body language alone speaking volumes, their eyes speaking more. Their accents are secure, too, and Michael Anderson, Jr., as their son, is no cloying kid actor but a real actor, natural and intuitive and quite believably their progeny. No real villains in this one and not a great deal of story, but a gorgeous series of set pieces, touching and winsome. A full meal.