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Sunday Punch (1942)
Not-bad MGM B
Metro trods a Warners-like path in this boxing B, trafficking in the ring and the underclass, and even importing Warners contractee Guy Kibbee,as a down-and-out manager who uncovers a possible find in a young Dan Dailey, a Swede in a Brooklyn boarding house, populated entirely by boxers, until Jean Rogers moves in. She's the niece of Connie Gilchrist, who runs the joint, and besides being a looker, she has a nice Ann Sheridan-like toughness. Dailey, who's charming, Swedish Chef accent and all, woos her, but she's more drawn to his sparring pal Bill Lundigan,leading to the inevitable climax where the two have to have it out in the ring. It moves at a decent clip, and the dialog's tastier than in some other similar yarns, thanks to Fay and Michael Kanin. Some good character actors line the periphery, like Sam Levene and Rags Ragland, and Dailey and Lundigan punch and fake and feint well enough. A perfectly OK time-waster, it turns up now and then on TCM.
Chicken Every Sunday (1949)
It's interesting to see the very mixed reception this 20th Century Fox Americana receives among reviewers. It's very typical of the studio's output around that time--nostalgic, suffused with old, cheap songs, sentimental, and you're never in much doubt as to whether Celeste Holm and Dan Dailey will end up together. They're a loving married couple in turn-of-the-century Tucson, and his frequent get-rich-quick schemes usually end in ruin, but he's popular with the townsfolk. And why wouldn't he be, with Dailey using every ounce of his underrated charm, reveling in private jokes and convincingly playing an errant but very loving husband. Holm rather overdoes her character's quirk of lapsing into Southern accent when asked to charm somebody (she's from an old Dixie family of means), but she completes Dailey as a couple in a way few screen couples do. Unlike some other reviewers, I found this marriage very persuasive and even touching, and though it's not a sterling supporting cast, there are a couple of standouts--Connie Gilchrist, always good for a laugh, is a hoot as a drunken mother-in-law to William Frawley. George Seaton and Valentine Davies intended this as a sort of follow-up to "Miracle on 34th Street," a love story for John Payne and Maureen O'Hara, but both were busy (Natalie Wood wasn't, and has a couple of scenes of cute). It wraps up quickly and not altogether credibly, but emotionally, it's very satisfying.
The Stranger's Return (1933)
MGM goes all 20th
A King Vidor Metro production, but it sure smells like 20th Century Fox, with its rural setting, leisurely pacing, and prosaic dialog--it's even based on a novel by, and co-screenwritten by, Phil Stong, who wrote 20th's "State Fair." Lionel Barrymore, wearing a fake beard that wouldn't fool an eight-year-old, is the patriarch of a successful Iowa farm, a Civil War vet (just barely--at 85, he'd have been 17 in 1865) saddled with a troublesome family he lives with, including a wonderful Beulah Bondi, as a calculating shrew. Granddaughter Miriam Hopkins, a divorcée, comes to visit from New York and falls in love with both the farm and married neighbor Franchot Tone, while hired hand Stu Erwin drinks and provides the modest comic relief. The writing's less than first-rate- -scenes just end, and there's more detail to the workings of farm life than necessary--but it's a quiet, touching character study, and Hopkins, often given to histrionics elsewhere, is restrained and appealing. The characters' dilemmas feel real, and the bittersweet ending resonates.
His Greatest Gamble (1934)
Pretty good, with some credibility stretches
A father-love story shaped like a mother-love story, with irresponsible but charming Richard Dix going through some plot implausibilities that would have tried Madelon Claudet or Madame X. As dad to the charming, unaffected Edith Fellows, he accidentally murders an unsympathetic old flame (implausibility #1), is sentenced to 15 years in French prison, easily escapes and travels to America (implausibility #2) and poses as his own brother (implausibility #3) to catch up with his daughter, who's now miserable, doesn't remember him at all (implausibility #4), and has been cowed by her awful mom into being a non-walking invalid (implausibility #5), all the while loving impoverished newspaperman Bruce Cabot. Dix sets everything aright, in ways that are similarly truth-stretching but do carry some emotional resonance, and Erin O-Brien Moore, a major stage star who didn't register a lot on film, is good as the uptight bitch he once married (implausibility #6). Dix is fine, and if the story doesn't make much sense, it's watchable and affecting. Nicely shot, too.
I Like Your Nerve (1931)
The kids are all right
Loose-structured little First National comedy is worth watching for its leads, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Loretta Young, who appeared together several times and were always charming. She's an heiress in a Central American mythical country who's being forced to marry an old coot to pay off a debt, and is sidelined by Doug, an American adventurer whose behavior now looks aggressive and uncharming, but at the time was considered attractive American hi jinx. It's a William Haines sort of character, meddlesome and trickstering, but folks took it for appealing back then. And he certainly makes it as appealing as possible. Boris Karloff turns up spouting butler lines, and some nice Ernest Haller compositions make it look more expensive than it is. A time waster, but an attractive one, with two young stars who know how to look and know what they're doing.
Ann Carver's Profession (1933)
Don't get ambitious, girls
Not-bad '30s melodrama-romance, with newlyweds Gene Raymond and Fay Wray negotiating the strains of early marriage. He's a college football star turned architect, and she just passed the bar exam but apparently would rather be a Dear Little Housewife. When the economic going gets a bit rough and a case falls her way, she takes it (and it's quite a provocative case for 1933, involving a mixed-race relationship), wins it, and is soon a busy lawyer and media darling. She commits the unpardonable sin of ignoring her husband, who becomes a nightclub crooner (and Gene Raymond can't sing much) and takes up with a floozy co-worker... Neither of the leads is much of an actor here, but it holds one's interest, that is, until the end, when Fay sees The Error of Her Ways and decides professional achievement is a hollow ambition for one of her sex, what really matters is being a mother and housewife. That's where the morality was in 1933; today it's odious.
Wild River (1960)
A flop, and I can't imagine why
Lee Remick's own favorite among her movies, and fine late Elia Kazan, this historic romance of the TVA and progress vs. tradition is beautifully crafted, gorgeous to look at, exquisitely acted, and quite frightening in its depiction of potential mob violence. Cleverly adapted from two books by Paul Osborn, it takes its time spinning out a gripping tale of a government agent (a restrained Montgomery Clift, his private life a wreck, but none of it shows on screen) trying to evict a stubborn, proud old woman (Jo Van Fleet, magnificent; Shirley Jones won over this? Really?) from her island so it can be flooded and power brought to all those poor Tennesseeans. He enlists the aid of her widowed-mom granddaughter, Remick, and the relationship between her and Clift is wonderfully ambiguous and rich. It's intelligent, moving, and convincing, and nobody went to see it in 1960. Very worth seeking out.
The Lady of Scandal (1930)
Dull, primitive early talkie from a Frederick Lonsdale stage success. The camera's nailed to the floor, the sound's iffy, and the performances and attitudes aren't just from another era, they're from another planet. Ruth Chatterton, never saying "terribly" when "teddibly" will do, is the stage actress (she does a musical scene, and if that's not her voice, it's a good double) who's looked down on by the family of the Brit gentleman (Ralph Forbes, boring) who wants to marry her. So she conveniently falls in love with his pal Basil Rathbone, also uninteresting, and the matter gets sorted out in clipped accents. Ruth's supposed to be self-sacrificing and appealing but she's haughty and supercilious, and the pacing's glacial. You don't care about these upper-class twits, and it's a relief when it's all ironed out. Marginally compelling as an example of movies learning to talk, but it's really, really stagebound, and director Sidney Franklin lingers over every stilted word as if it were Scripture.
Back Street (1932)
Straightforward adaptation of the Fannie Hurst novel that dates rather badly. Irene Dunne, understated and excellent, is the unfortunate good-time (but not that good-time; as she quite explicitly states to George Meeker, she doesn't put out) gal of Cincinnati circa 1900, she has the misfortune to meet an up-and-coming, and already engaged, John Boles, and ends up being his back-street mistress. It's refreshingly pre-Code frank about such things, and some good character actors--Walter Catlett, Jane Darwell--turn up in small roles. I also liked Meeker as the nice guy who loves Dunne, but just isn't interesting enough to make her want him back. The trouble is, and it mustn't have been as evident in 1932, is that Boles's character is such a jerk. Time and again he'll say something insensitive, or do something insensitive, to her, then beg for an apology, and get it. He's not worth wasting a life over, and her motives are somewhat unclear. Still, it's a solid '30s soap. I like the 1941 Margaret Sullavan version better, but this one's miles ahead of the Susan Hayward, and less susceptible to unintentional laughter.
The Cobweb (1955)
A movie about drapes. No, really
A lush loony bin is the setting for this widescreen nonsense about whose drapes are going in the library--the cheap ugly ones ordered by Lillian Gish (who's uncharacteristically over the top), the elegant ones ordered by Gloria Grahame (as the shrieking and unfaithful wife of loony bin shrink-assistant director Richard Widmark), or the ones designed by sensitive inmate John Kerr. Truly, most of the movie is spent on the drapes. Meantime, loony bin head Charles Boyer pursues Grahame as Widmark contemplates an affair with fellow doctor Lauren Bacall (not an actress I admire, but she underplays effectively here), while Kerr romances fellow inmate Susan Strasberg (he takes her to "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," whose closing-credit music we can recognize), inmate Oscar Levant comments sarcastically on everything, while director Vincente Minnelli, not for the first time, devotes far more attention to his widescreen compositions and colors than his cast. It's badly written and unconvincingly resolved--the Widmark-Grahame marriage, which looks headed for the rocks throughout, is suddenly repaired with two lines of dialog, and Bacall just accepts that she and Widmark are going nowhere, and Kerr, who's bolted off into a cornfield and threatened suicide when his drapes are rejected (!), just turns up. Psychiatry was trendy in 1955, and I guess audiences were mollified by the thought that it could solve as many problems as it appears to here, but this is a slow and unpersuasive melodrama. About drapes.