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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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
I'd seen this years ago on AMC and remembered little about it, but a revisiting on TCM reveals it to be a surprisingly solid, moving, adult romance. Sure, it's soap opera, and disconcertingly close to "Back Street" (or Capra's "Back Street" ripoff, "Forbidden"), and it's not helped by unexciting cinematography or a soupy, repetitive Victor Young score, like he's trying to be Max Steiner. What lifts it well out of the ordinary are the screenplay and the leads. Ketti Frings was a frequent adapter of literary works (she did the stage drama of "Look Homeward, Angel") who could plumb expertly beneath the surface; her co-screenwriter, Hal Kanter, was more of a sitcom specialist. Together, they probe with remarkable depth this illicit affair between a married industrialist and an unmarried chanteuse. These two behave like grownups, have real conversations on a variety of topics, with a surprising amount of Civil War history, of all things, mixed in, and say unexpected, witty things to each other. Shirley, who's superb, may not be a glamour gal, but it's entirely credible that the handsome Ryan, who underplays effectively, would fall for this intelligent, generous, questioning woman. There's a second couple, Marjie Millar and a not-very-good Alex Nicol, and you may wonder why so much time is being spent on them, but their narrative does complement the first couple nicely, and the other residents of Mrs. Leslie's boarding house provide color and contrast. Soap opera, yes, but I was moved, and ready for a second viewing not long after the first. Too bad Hollywood couldn't find more for the prodigiously gifted Ms. Booth to do, but this is one of her best roles, and you'll long remember her reactions, her delivery, and the way Daniel Mann lovingly lingers on her face.
One-third knockabout comedy, two-thirds weepie as mad Winnie Lightner gets top billing and chews up the scenery as Loretta Young's gal-pal, but is really incidental to the story and disappears for long segments. (She does get some good insults in, scrapping with fellow salesgirl Dorothy Burgess.) But the bulk of it is Loretta in distress, falling reluctantly for gambler Norman Foster, marrying him, quitting her job, getting pregnant, then throwing him out of the house when she mistakenly thinks he's returned to his gambling ways after getting an honest job as a garage mechanic. (Where'd he acquire the skill? No idea.) He returns at the darnedest time, just in time for a happy ending. The always dull direction of Ray Enright does nothing to enhance this, and it feels a little like two movies sewn into one one-hour feature, but Gregg Toland's cinematography is lovely, and Loretta in a quintessential suffering-Depression-gal role she played many times is worth watching.
Hoped-for wide-screen follow-up to "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," starring one of its stars, but it lacks the backing of a big studio, and how it shows. Jane Russell's the more Lorelei-like of the pair in this one, and she looks uncomfortable playing a ditz. Her fellow showgirl, a dubbed Jeanne Crain, is uninteresting, and the flaccid dialogue furnished her by Mary Loos is only part of the problem. The gals rush off to Paris, where they're wooed by broke agent Scott Brady and his seemingly broke pal Alan Young, and counseled by no less than Rudy Vallee playing himself, uneasily. He tells the gals about their elders, who were the wow of Paris 30 years ago, permitting several 1920s flashback production numbers. Having United Artists instead of 20th Century Fox behind this makes a difference, as does replacing a director of Howard Hawks's caliber with Richard Sale. And the score is mostly Rodgers and Hart standards, with only one new song. But hey, the Paris locations are lovely, the wardrobe screams 1955, and the lack of discipline can be fun. Where else will you see a production number built around "Ain't Misbehavin'", featuring Alan Young in a gorilla suit and a cannibal chorus? Some truly terrible ideas in this one, and some bad casting. And I had a very good time.
"Gloriously vulgar," says the book "The MGM Story," and that's as good a description as any of this enormous MGM musical, directed (rather anonymously) by Robert Z. Leonard, who had helmed "The Great Ziegfeld," with musical numbers--which, typically for him, could never be contained on an actual stage--by Busby Berkeley. Though set in the 1920s, when the Follies reigned, the costumes are thoroughly 1941, and the songs--including Roger Edens' "Minnie from Trinidad," which could never have been a Twenties tune--sound thoroughly contemporary. It's a long film by 1941 MGM standards, and that's to contain acres of story about three Ziegfeld girls: the nice one (Garland) who loves her dad and limits her romantic life to chaste chocolate malts with Jackie Cooper; the glamorous one (Lamarr) who's mooning over Philip Dorn while considering an affair with Tony Martin, who's married to Rose Hobart, who has one nice scene; and the weak, fast-living one (Turner), who drinks her way to the bottom. Her boyfriend, Jimmy Stewart, is oddly cast, in a sort of Cagney role; he's fine, but the fistfights and Brooklynite dese-dem-dose readings don't fit him that well. Capable character actors loom everywhere, from Ian Hunter to Charles Winninger to Eve Arden, the dialog's crisp and idiomatic, and the MGM morality--good things happen to good people, essentially--is amusingly pronounced. Not a great flick by any means, but a prime example of what lavish, diverting mass entertainment looked like in 1941.
Gently adapted from James M. Barrie's "Alice Sit-By-the-Fire" (and in honor of Barrie, the scriptwriters even work a "Peter Pan" joke in), this is a smooth sitcom with attractive turn-of-the- century period trappings and a cast working near its peak, surely guided by Paramount's elegant comedy director Mitchell Leisen. Joan Fontaine, happily married to John Lund (never an interesting actor, but more chipper than usual here) but a can't-help-it flirt, has been making the rounds with the boys while staying with Lund, who's a doctor to workers building the Panama Canal. The pair return to their stately Greenwich Village digs to reunite with their three kids, most prominently teen daughter Mona Freeman (who's delightful), who suspects Fontaine of cheating with family friend Peter Hanson. No great surprises, but much amusement, including a terrific opening-sequence of two of the kids viewing a "scandalous" Broadway play, featuring a posturing Gertrude Michael doing a great Ethel Barrymore parody. Part of a great wave of circa-1900 nostalgia romps that studios were churning out around then--"Life With Father," "Chicken Every Sunday," "Excuse My Dust," etc.--this one's unpretentious and fast-moving. Not shown a lot, but worth tracking down.
So huffs Bette Davis, in a high affected voice, as the shallow Mrs. of Claude Rains' stately Jewish banker, as she realizes--too late!--that she has a responsibility to the good man who genuinely loves her. Based on a story by "Elizabeth," whoever that was, this is a luxe Warners melodrama designed to show off Bette. She's good, but doesn't show a great deal of range here, hampered by a screenplay that limits her to vain and stupid. It's also not entirely credible that her face would be the one that enraptures all of New York from approximately 1914 to 1935, and the picture's severely hampered by a musical score--by Franz Waxman, whom I usually like--that underlines everything and removes whatever subtlety there might have been. The glory of the film is Rains, who artfully underplays, and some fun supporting actors turn up--John Alexander, George Colouris, even Dolores Gray in one plot-unrelated bit. The Warners trappings are lush, and Vincent Sherman's direction is a little slow, but that's not a bad choice for this soapy material.
George Arliss, pursing his lips and sneering and maintaining a dignity-through-deviltry poise, is the Brit-hating rajah in this high-flown adaptation of a silent in which he also starred. By today's standards, it's both melodramatic and hilariously racist, with the rajah and his subjects being both polite and murderous to three Brits who have crash-landed in the Himalayas and are about to be sacrificed for the concurrent deaths of three of Arliss's subjects. H.B. Warner and Ralph Forbes indulge in amusing early-talkie overacting, and Alice Joyce at least manages some minimal poignancy as the grieving, about-to-die mother of two kids she fears she'll never see again. It's typical of this early 20th century Western-centrism that Arliss's proposition to her--become my wife, and I'll spare your life--is a fate worse than death, and that she and Forbes, the pilot who crashed, belatedly confess their love for one another, for no discernible plot reason. The early-talkie recording and pacing are uncertain, and the ooga-booga natives are offensive. But is it fun? Oh, yes, mostly for the wrong reasons.
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