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Stranger in Town (1931)
Remember the Depression?
Chic Sale was a major Vaudeville star who also appeared on Broadway and in silent films. In this 1931 film from Warners, Sale made his feature-film talkie debut after a few shorts.
He plays Ulysses Crickle, a man who stops "going west" when he gets a boil on his butt from riding in a Conestoga wagon. He decides the start a town on the spot. Fifty years later, we see Crickle as the leading citizen of his Arkansas town. He's the postmaster and he owns the general store. His granddaughter (Ann Dvorak) comes home from business college, and everything seems fine.
But being 1931, things are changing fast. A chain supermarket decides to open a store in town, right across the street from Crickle's. The man sent to open the store (David Manners) falls for Dvorak and becomes Crickle's enemy. The chain store, being a big corporation, fights dirty to drive Crickle out of business. Crickle can't compete with their prices so he institutes a barter system so the locals can get food even when they have no money. Of course Manners is innocent of his company's shenanigans and helps Crickle beat them in the end.
Interesting 1931 looks at the rise of chain stores and how how they ruined local "mom and pop" businesses and also the barter system, which was a fact of life for many during the Depression.
Sale is quite good as Crickle in a role that could have been played by Will Rogers. Dvorak and Manners are good as the young lovers, though they don't have much to do. Other town folks include Noah Beery as Crickle's nemesis, Maude Eburne as the widow with romance on her mind, Raymond Hatton as the wiseguy, Lyle Talbot as the corporate man, and Ben Hall as the store clerk. J. Farrell MacDonald, Louise Carter, Jessie Arnold, Wilfred Lucas, Dorothy Vernon, and Margaret Mann also appear.
Border River (1919)
Edgar Jones in Maine
In the late 1910s and early 1920s Edgar Jones had a film studio in Augusta, Maine, where he made "north woods" adventure films about Canadian mounties and Maine lumbermen. These were mostly one- and two-reel films which Jones also produced and directed.
Earlier in the teens, Jones had been a Western star for Lubin studio in Philadelphia, where he was often teamed with Clara Williams or Louise Huff (whom he eventually married). At some point in the late teens or early 20s, Jones partnered with Maine writer Holman Day, who eventually took over the Augusta studio. Their collaboration culminated in the first feature film shot in Maine, the now lost RIDER OF THE KING LOG (1921).
Jones was able to attract well-known actors of the day to Maine to film in the woods and on the Kennebec River. Here we have Jones as Lt. Blunt, a Canadian mountie out to capture a gang of moonshiners, Ben Hendricks, Jr. as Jean Lamont and Carlton Brickert as Buck Dubuque (the IMDb credits are wrong). A very young Evelyn Brent plays the heroine torn between her lover for her brother (Brickert) and for Blunt (Jones).
Straightforward 2-reeler starts out at the intersection of Water and Bridge Streets where Jones is escorting a captured criminal across the Calumet Bridge (although story takes place in Canada). Plot involves murder, mistaken identity, and an escape across the river to Maine.
Best scene is the extended fight between Jones and Brickert. Worth seeking out.
Dream Street (1921)
Carol Dempster and Ralph Graves Star
Film takes place in London's Limehouse district and concerns a dancer (Carol Dempster), two brothers (Ralph Graves, Charles Emmett Mack), and assorted colorful characters who represent good and evil. Source material are stories by Thomas Burke, same author whose story gave us BROKEN BLOSSOMS and the Colleen Moore film TWINKLETOES, all of which have white girls "involved" with Chinese men.
Griffith seems to have filmed this one between WAY DOWN EAST and ORPHANS OF THE STORM and maybe there was overlap. Although it's hard to tell from such a draggy copy, the pacing of DREAM STREET seems erratic, the sets dreary, the acting uneven. But there are some brilliant moments. I don't dislike Dempster though a lot of people do. I think she was excellent in several other films. Here, the 20-year-old seems out of her depth, or maybe Griffith was directing her as if she were Mae Marsh or a Gish sister. Mack does far too much grimacing. Graves in many ways gives the best performance, one that seems to spin from stock character performance to brilliance.
Griffith must have considered this a major production and not just a filler between big projects. He filmed a talkie intro with himself and a couple of sound sequences (Graves singing and a dice game scene), which were only used in New York City theaters which were wired specifically for for the sound sequences. No other theaters saw/heard this innovation (six years before THE JAZZ SINGER).
Dempster's music hall sequence with dances seems extraneous. As the film winds to its climax, it's clear that the music hall could have been excised, tightening the plot and shortening the film.
The film does not rank with Griffith's several great films, but it's not the disaster that many seem to think it is. Dempster and Graves try hard and often succeed. This was Mack's first starring role in a feature film.
If you seek out this film, look for a copy that runs 100-110 minutes and avoid those that drag along to a 140minute running time.
That Dangerous Age (1949)
Myrna Loy and the Unlucky Opal
Myrna Loy stars as Lady Brooke in this British drama about a woman who accompanies her sick husband to convalesce in Italy, leaving behind her lover (Richard Greene). After a poison pen letter arrives, warning the husband (Roger Livesey) about his wife, Loy has to think past and makes up a story that Greene is actually in love with their daughter (Peggy Cummins). But things take a turn for the worst when both the daughter and the lover arrive in Italy.
Loy encourages Greene to go along with the charade while he's in Italy, but she doesn't count on two things: 1 that Cummins is secretly in love with Greene, and 2 that the opal necklace he gives her will prove to be unlucky.
Loy swallows a bitter pill when Greene, after being pushed into Cummins' company, falls for her. Back in London after Livesey has recovered, a cocktail party is thrown where Livesey's bitter and drunk sister (Margaret Withers) spills the beans (but not her drink) about Loy's relationship with Greene and all hell breaks loose.
The four stars are quite good in this romantic drama, though the ending may be a bit of a stretch.
Let's Make It Legal (1951)
Claudette Colbert Wants a Divorce
Forty-something Claudette Colbert (she was 48 at the time) is waiting for her divorce decree to become final. She lives in a beautiful home in southern California which she shares with her married daughter and her husband (Barbara Bates, Robert Wagner). He works at a local resort hotel with his father-in-law (Macdonald Carey) who keeps coming around the house to tend his roses and talk Colbert out of the divorce. He has a gambling problem.
The daughter (Bates) is a whiny, annoying little thing who wants mommy to wait on her, cook, and help with the baby. Wagner wants to move out, but Bates wants to stay to help her parents get back together. Enter millionaire Victor (Zachary Scott), a former rival for Colbert's hand.
Scott is about to land a big government appointment and has returned to his home town for publicity and moves into the resort where Carey is PR director. Also staying there is Miss Cucamonga (Marilyn Monroe), who's out for all the publicity she can get.
Of course Scott ignores Monroe and zeroes in on old flame Colbert, much to the annoyance of Carey. The divorce becomes final and Colbert announces she will marry Scott. Daughter Bates goes into a tizzy at the thought of losing mommy and having to set up her own home with Wagner.
What settles Colbert's mind in the matter is when she learns why Scott did not propose to her 20 years before and why Carey did. Will she really marry Scott or will she reconcile with Carey? Seems far-fetched by today's standards, but in 1951 divorce was still a big deal. The stars all do well here with Monroe notable in her "build-up" period with 20th Century-Fox. Colbert looks great though she's a decade older than her suitors.
Co-stars include Kathleen Freeman, Frank Cady, and Vici Raaf.
Bates' character is truly annoying and selfish and almost ruins the film.
Murder Without Crime (1950)
Dennis Price as a Landlord by Necessity
Dennis Price is a landlord by necessity, that is, he is forced to rent out rooms in his West End mansion and has a bickering couple (Derek Farr and Patricia Plunkett) upstairs. They are having an argument and she decides to leave him. After she leaves, he decides to drown his sorrows at a nearby bar where he meets Grena (Joan Dowling), a tart who lives on the same block.
Back at her place and very drunk, he decides he'd rather just go home, which infuriates her. She ends up following him home and they have a loud argument which turns physical and which Price downstairs can hear. Plunkett changes her mind and calls home in the middle of the mayhem. Grena has been killed.
What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game as Price enters the gargoyle-filled apartment, guesses what has happened, and decides to blackmail Farr.
Excellent thriller with more than a few surprises in the plot. The four actors are all excellent with Price and Dowling taking top honors. Also of note are the incredibly ugly Victorian apartment and lighting that creates a room of monstrous shadows and shapes.
The opening and closing narration is a little weird, but don't let it put you off this tidy thriller.
Evening Primrose (1966)
Anthony Perkins Could Sing
Odd mini-musical from Broadway giant Stephen Sondheim seems almost like an episode from "Twilight Zone." Story centers on a community of department store dwellers who hide during the day but come out at night and inhabit the store. Anthony Perkins pays a failed poet who stumbles upon this weird cult and falls in love (and finds his poetic voice) with the aged group's maid (Charmian Carr).
Several haunting songs highlight this outing with Perkins and Carr is good voice. The plaintive songs accent their new-found love and desire to leave the group and go outside. But no one is allowed to leave for fear of exposing the group and casting them all outside. Anyone suspected of leaving is gathered up by the "darkmen," another group that lives at a funeral home.
Perkins is a major surprise, showcasing a wonderful singing voice. Carr is also excellent as the maid held by the group against her will. Her "I Remember Sky" is especially good. Dorothy Stickney plays Mrs. Monday, the leader of the group who's been there for decades. Larry Gates is Roscoe and Margaretta Warwick is Bilby. Other old ladies include Margaret Bannerman, Dorothy Sands, and Margaret Barker.
Filmed at the Stern Brothers department store in New York City. This was originally shown on ABC's "Stage 67" series. The ending is quite chilling.
Law and Disorder (1994)
Penelope Keith Can Do No Wrong
This failed TV series lasted only a year but Penelope Keith is very funny as the acerbic barrister who writes children's books on the side. Aside from her legal battles, she also bandies words with a bible-thumping prosecutor and a wise-cracking judge.
Oddly structured series opens with Keith taking a case and appearing in court, always opposed by a pompous bible-thumper (Simon Williams) and always presided by the same judge (Charles Kay). Other series regulars make no impression at all. At the halfway point, the judge delivers culinary opinions as to where the jury should eat lunch. Second half wraps up the court case in a tidy package.
Series seems bound by the unchanging story structure, and the parade of "funny" witnesses for and against whatever case is being tried. Keith, however, is very sharp and funny as she corrects the judge (and everyone else) about points of grammar as well as law. After the failure of this one, Keith immediately went into the excellent NEXT OF KIN series and had another hit.
La roue (1923)
This stunning 1923 silent film was restored by David Shepard and others in a print that runs nearly 4 hours and 30 minutes. The original film, directed by Abel Gance, was about twice that length, never released in the US except in a severely cut down print of about 2 hours.
The story, a "tragedy of modern times," is seemingly a simple one. Aman named Sisif (Séverin-Mars) rescues a baby girl in a train wreck and raises her as his own along with his son. She's known as a "rose of the rails" since the family lives in a squalid house by the railroad where Sisif is an engineer. As the years pass the girl, named Norma, grows to adulthood. Things get uneasy when Sisif realizes that he is in love with Norma (Ivy Close), and things turn to tragedy when his son Elie (Gabriel de Gravone) also loves her ... but believes she is his sister. Sisif plots to marry her off to a wealthy man to escape the impending disaster.
After Norma is unhappily married off, Sisif is injured in an accident and banished to a small mountain railway near Mont Blanc. He lives there with his son on the edge of a glacier but even in their isolation they cannot escape tragedy ... of their love of Norma.
The film is high art, operatic, Greek tragedy, and must be approached as such. The visuals are stunning. The composition and sets includes the smallest of details, and Gance uses close-ups, iris shots, fades, and rapid editing (borrowed from D.W. Griffith's masterpieces) to make this one of the most beautiful films ever made. The current version also includes tinting to enhance the emotional pitch of the film.
The performance of Séverin-Mars won't be to every taste, but his old-school acting style is similar to that of Emil Jannings. Without dialog, all he has are his body language and face. Shots are held to emphasize the emotional plight of the aging man. And you can see every thought he has in his face.
The other great performance is by Ivy Close, a British actress who also worked in European silent films. She resembles Norma Shearer and as with Séverin-Mars, her face shows every moment of joy and sadness. There's a stunning scene toward the end when she's asked to go to a village dance. She runs to powder her face and sees a gray hair, a line on her forehead. She's growing old. La Roue, the wheel of life, is turning, and Norma is growing old.
This superb restoration is accompanied by a beautiful and haunting score by Robert Israel, itself a symphonic work of great power. Séverin-Mars died soon after filming was completed in 1921. Gance did not complete and release the film until 1923. Ivy Close made a few more silent films in the late 1920s and retired from the screen.
This may be a film you only watch once in your lifetime, but you will never forget it.
From Another Time
CLAUDIA is an excellent film, based on a novel and Broadway play which starred Dorothy McGuire as a young and naive wife of an older man who lives in the Connecticut countryside. McGuire recreated her stage role in her film debut, which was a smash hit.
Claudia is a naive young woman who lives on a farm in rural Connecticut before WW II. The farm is isolated and has no electricity. Her major contacts with the world are her architect husband (Robert Young) and her mother (Ina Claire) who lives in New York City. She is devoted to both but is torn between living with her husband at the cost of being separated from her mother.
A few colorful characters breeze through her rural idyll. There's a roguish writer (Reginald Gardiner) who lives down the road and who makes a pass at her. And there's an opera diva (silent film star Olga Baclanova) who wants to buy the farm. These characters change Claudia and her relationship with her husband.
There are other changes coming to Claudia. She discovers she is pregnant just as she discovers a sad truth about her mother. Claudia adjusts to her world slowly but resolutely. It's called growing up.
Wonderful performances by all with McGuire center stage. Director Edmund Goulding had wanted retired superstar Marion Davies for the role of the mother. He knew she would add some star wattage to the cast. She would have been marvelous. Legend has it Davies' long-time love William Randloph Hearst could not bear the thought of his beloved Davies playing a middle-aged mother. She was 46 years old at the time. What a pity she bypassed the film.
The film instantly established Dorothy McGuire as a film star and was followed by a sequel CLAUDIA AND David in 1946.