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Jane Eyre (1934)
To Eyre is Human
JANE EYRE (Monogram, 1934), directed by Christy Cabanne, is another "poverty row" screen treatment taken from classic literature in the formatted style to the studio's own presentation to Charles Dickens' OLIVER TWIST (1933) starring Dickie Moore. While not the original screen adaptation to Charlotte Bronte's immortal novel, "Jane Eyre" consisted of numerous silent screen versions, one as early as 1913 starring Lisbeth Blackstone, another, retitled WOMAN AND WIFE (1917) with Alice Brady, and again (1921) in retained title featuring Mabel Ballin. For this first talkie edition, the title role goes to Virginia Bruce (1910-1981) on loan from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Bruce, a fine actress, is one who never really achieved the sort of movie stardom of a Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. Regardless of its merits and low-budget structure, JANE EYRE, in fact, didn't help nor hurt Miss Bruce's screen career, nor did it prompt any possibilities for other movie studios in remaking the Bronte story over and over again, namely the next-in-line remake, the oft-revived and admired 20th Century-Fox 1944 production starring Orson Welles (Rochester) and Joan Fontaine (Jane). For now, let's concentrate on this JANE EYRE from Monogram Studios.
Told through the passages of the novel, Jane Eyre begins with, "Chapter I, 'The cold winter wind had brought with it somber cold and penetrating rain.'" Jane Eyre (Jean Darling) is introduced as an child orphan living in the home and charity of her unsympathetic Aunt Mary Reed (Clarissa Selwynne) and her spoiled children, Georgiana (Anne Howard) and John (Richard Quine). John, a momma's boy, pleasures himself "disciplining" his cousin through unnecessary tactics of facial slaps and accusations of being a thief who had stolen one of his books. Because of her unruly outbursts for defending herself, Mrs. Reed soon deposits her niece to the Lowood Orphanage for Girls where Jane finds herself under the kindness of Miss Temple (Greta Gould) and strict disciplinary actions of its no-nonsense headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst (David Torrence). As the pages flip, skipping through various details of Jane's childhood, the story resumes with "Chapter X, 'I remained an inmate of Lowood's walls for ten years, eight as a pupil, and finally two as a teacher."' The adult Jane Eyre (Virginia Bruce), is shown as a humanly kind schoolteacher getting through to her pupils with kindness and understanding. Because Mr. Brocklehurst doesn't believe in her tactics, he immediately dismisses her. Jane soon acquires a new position, that of governess in the estate of Edward Rochester (Colin Clive). Though Jane enjoys her new position caring for Rochester's mischievous niece, Adele (Edith Fellows), and the fine companionship of Mrs. Fairfax (Beryl Mercer), the housekeeper, she's surrounded by strange surroundings and occurrences by night with the sounds of tormented screams from the far distance of the mansion, a mysterious fire in one of the rooms, and a strange figure roaming about, reasons known only by married servants, Sam (John Rogers) and Grace Poole (Ethel Griffies - a role she repeated in the 1944 version), but most of all, Mr. Rochester, who'd rather spare Jane from the outlandish details.
Other members of the cast include that of Aileen Pringle (Blanche Ingram, Rochester's snobbish fiancée); Lionel Belmore (Lord Ingram, Blanche's father whom Adele says resembles a walrus); Claire DuBrey (Bertha Rochester); and Jameson Thomas (Charles Crack).
For anyone quite familiar or in favor of either the 1944 Joan Fontaine version or the numerous latter theatrical and/or made-for-television editions to JANE EYRE, would be quite disappointed by this production. Though comparing with the others is inevitable, this JANE EYRE presents itself more like an early 1929 sound talkie than one made in 1934. The low budget qualities and musical background limitations would have been forgivable had it not been for the present structure of the film. Although quite a common practice for the screen treatment to stray from the book in favor of rearranging situations and characters to add more interest, JANE EYRE might have succeeded into at least an average product had the film itself been fully developed in both characters and plot. As much as Bruce, Clive and Fellows dominate in these proceedings, the cast support results to mostly extended cameos. A major character of John Rivers (Desmond Roberts) becomes a third dimensional one appearing briefly as a man running a charity mission who's gotten to know and love Jane enough to off her his hand in marriage. Rivers suddenly disappears, never to be seen again. While Leonard Maltin's TV and Video Guide clocks JANE EYRE at 67 minutes, it's curious as to whether the director's cut was originally longer at possibly 80 minutes, than the now circulating 62 minute edition.
Retaining Colin Clive (immortally known for his title role of Universal's 1931 edition of FRANKENSTEIN) in the role of Rochester, it's a wonder how JANE EYRE of 1934 might have succeeded had it been produced and distributed by major studios as RKO Radio with Katharine Hepburn (excellent choice); MGM (with Maureen O'Sullivan); Paramount (Elissa Landi); Warner Brothers (newcomer Jean Muir); United Artists (Joan Bennett) or even Universal (newcomers Jane Wyatt or British born Valerie Hobson), as possible casting examples for JANE EYRE.
Not as frequently televised as Monogram's OLIVER TWIST (1933), the long unseen JANE EYRE has become available over the years on either video cassette (1990s) and/or DVD format, the only method of getting to see how "it happened to Jane" as well as an opportunity in rediscovering Virginia Bruce in a rare leading screen performance and getting to hear her sing Franz Schubert's "Serenade" while playing the piano. (**)
Tom Sawyer (1930)
Mark Twain's Beloved Tom
TOM SAWYER (Paramount, 1930), directed by John Cromwell, is a highly enjoyable 84 minute juvenile comedy-drama adapted from Mark Twain's beloved story and immortal character, best described during the opening credits inscribed on a hard-bound book cover, "Tom Sawyer, the Immortal Story of a Boy." Of the many boy actors who could have assumed such an important role, the logical choice for its time was none other than former child star of the twenties, Jackie Coogan. Coogan, a notable young actor of who gained immediate success appearing opposite the legendary Charlie Chaplin in THE KID (First National, 1921), soon became as legendary to the silent screen as Chaplin himself through a series of starring roles in films for First National and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. By 1930, it was time for the now adolescent Coogan to either retire from the screen or attempt in the new medium of talkies. And what a great start for he to be seen as well as heard in this classic literary title role of Mark Twain's beloved Tom Sawyer.
Following the title credits presented through pages of an open book, the film opens on a riverboat bound for St. Petersburg, Missouri, followed by scenery of the rural town, a couple of gossiping women and men gathering in the post office/ grocery store before the plot development of its basic main characters begin. Tom Sawyer (Jackie Coogan) is introduced as a barefoot boy orphan living in the home of his late mother's sister, Aunt Polly (Clara Blandick - Auntie 'Em in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), and his cousins, Mary (Mary Jane Irving) and little Sidney (Jackie Searle, a momma's boy and tattletale. Although the boy is clever in his ways of talking his way out of anything, he finds he can't talk his way out of the strict upbringing and the stern upbringing under Aunt Polly, who seems to favor Sidney over Tom. Tom's best friend is Huckleberry Finn (Junior Durkin), an orphan as well as an outcast. One of Tom's favorite recreation is playing pirates with his friends and getting even with Sidney. With the character introduction underway, a series of events leading to the day and the life of Tom Sawyer immediately follow: Tom spending his Saturday afternoon painting a long wooden fence as punishment ordered by Aunt Polly, and smooth talking his passing friends to do the work for him, thus, taking credit for it; picking a fight with a dude boy named Joe Harper (David Winslow), who, after having "nuff," becomes his friend; Tom meeting and falling in love with a new girl in town, Becky Thatcher (Mitzi Green), whose famous line to Tom later on is, "Why did you have to be so noble" after getting punished by his teacher (Lucien Littlefield) for something Becky did; Tom and Hunk at a cemetery past midnight where they see three other men and witnessing a murder of a Doctor Rafferty; Tom, Huck and Joe playing pirates at Jackson Island where a few days later, return home where they attend their own funeral at the church after the boys are believed to have drowned; Tom in the courtroom on the witness stand testifying the innocence Muff Potter (Tully Marshall), and naming the real killer; the cave sequence where Tom and Becky separate themselves from the classmates where Tom comes face to face with Injun Joe (Charles Stevens), and some unforeseen dangers to follow.
Other members of the cast consist of Ethel Wales (Mrs. Harper); Charles Sellon (The Minister); and Jane Darwell appearing briefly as the Widow Douglas. The popularity to TOM SAWYER lead way for an immediate sequel, HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1931), with basically the same leading players, including Jackie Coogan himself.
With the most recent screen adaptation to TOM SAWYER (Paramount, 1917) starring Jack Pickford thirteen years into the past, it comes as a surprise there wasn't more Tom Sawyer movies produced in the silent era as there were years after the advent of sound. David O. Selznick produced an excellent retelling to Mark Twain's story as THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938) starring newcomer Tommy Kelly in the title role. With that being close to a scene for scene remake to the Coogan version, it was also given the lavish Technicolor treatment as well. The story of Tom Sawyer would be told and retold many times after-wards, ranging from further theatrical and television adaptations, many with slight alterations, but often re-enacting basic factors lifted from both book and screen carnations.
Commonly shown on commercial television at least once annually during the 1960s and 1970s, TOM SAWYER slowly phased out of view after limited revivals on public television in the 1980s, turning this once renowned product into a now forgotten one, eclipsed by either the Selznick 1938 release or latter but newer adaptations as well. Regardless of its age, TOM SAWYER is still a timeless story the way Mark Twain intended it to be. While it lacks background music, super-imposing camera-work and good casting still make this a watchable item from the past. It's also worth a look for the teen-age Jackie Coogan, years past his prime as a child star, and decades before his numerous television roles, especially that of Uncle Fester in the weekly comedy series THE ADDAMS DAMILY (1964-66). (***1/2)
Oliver Twist (1922)
The Kid from England
OLIVER TWIST (First National Pictures, 1922), a Sol Lesser production, directed by Frank Lloyd, is another one of many screen adaptations taken from Charles Dickens' immortal story. Dickens himself described it best in a reprinted passage displayed during the opening credits: "When that tale was first published, I fully expected it would be objected to on high moral grounds. It set a very coarse and shocking circumstance that among the characters in my story, I had chosen from the filthiest, most criminal and degraded of London's population. The character of Sikes is a thief, Fagin a receiver of stolen goods, the boys are pick-pockets and Nancy is a prostitute. Yet I saw no reason, when I wrote the book, why the dregs of life, so long as their speech did not offend the ear, should not serve the purpose of a moral. In this spirit, I wished to show in little Oliver the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance and triumphing at last among what companions I could try him best."
In the now familiar story for anyone who's either read the literary tale or seen the latter screen or made for TV adaptations, the introduction begins with a woman, reportedly found lying on the street and taken inside a workhouse by a Mrs. Thingummy, having given birth to an infant boy. The mother dies, and the old hag, noticing an expensive looking locket in the dead woman's possession, takes it before arranging for the orphan to be raised in a workhouse. Nine years later, the boy, known to all as Oliver Twist (Jackie Coogan), living on charity along with other workhouse orphans, lives a cruel and abusive life doing two days work in one under strict supervision of Bumble the Beadle (James Marcus). When asking for more gruel/porridge for supper, as punishment, Oliver is confined to his room where the hungry boy dreams of food, glorious food. Later taken to Mr. Sowerberry (Nelson McDowall) where he's to work an undertaker's apprentice, Oliver is further tormented by Noah Claypool (Lewis Sargent), a fellow workmate, through comments said about his deceased mother. A fight ensues, causing Oliver to be put away in a gloomy room. Seeing a way out, he escapes and journeys towards London so not to be sent back to the dreaded workhouse. After seven days of begging for money and food, Oliver finally makes it to his destination where he meets Jack Dawkins (Edouard Thebaol), better known as "The Artful Dodger." Later introduced to Fagin (Lon Chaney) and placed in his Field Lane slum apartment for food and lodging, Oliver, now in the company of thieves, including Bill Sikes (George Siegmann), Fagin's henchman; and Nancy (Gladys Brockwell), Bill's woman; the boy is taught a game of stealing. Oliver is later arrested for stealing while at the same time a stranger named Monk (Carl Stockdale), with some possible connection to Oliver's family history, comes searching for him.
Other members of the "all-star cast" include Aggie Herring (Mrs. Corny), Joan Standing (Charlotte); Esther Ralston (Rose Maylie); Taylor Graves (Charles Bates); and Eddie Boland (Toby Crackitt). Lionel Bellmore, who plays Mr. Brownlow here, would assume another role as Mr. Bumble in the 1933 sound adaptation to OLIVER TWIST (Monogram, 1933) starring Dickie Moore.
In spite of its age and this being a silent movie (with most circulating prints with organ score by John Muri, and you-tube edition with scoring that leaves impressionable thoughts of being played on a toy piano), this 1922 76 minute edition holds up quite well for film buffs, thanks to Lloyd's authentic direction of 19th century London setting believably captured on screen. Though it would be logical for Lon Chaney's bearded Fagin, giving that character actor Tully Marshall feel to it, to steal every scene he's in. He does, but many of the film's best moments belong to little Jackie. It's certainly hard to forget his sad face emotions capturing the essence of Dickens character, particularly one who's never experience happiness. Even in a courtroom scene where the accused thief is forced to stand on a platform as he fights dizziness and keeping his eyes open to what's happening around him, brings forth emotional pity, though not by his stern judges. Only when taken in by the wealthy Mr. Brownlow is he given that opportunity to find the true meaning of happiness and considering himself one of the family. After abducted back to the gang of thieves who strip him of his luxury clothing and revert him back to his former pauper looking appearance is quite an emotional experience for little Oliver, especially when in the clutches of the likes of Bill Sikes. No wonder Coogan became the most popular child actor of his time.
Once feared lost, a print was reportedly discovered in Yugoslavia around 1975. How fortunate to now have OLIVER TWIST available in our mist. Distributed to video cassette in the 1980s by Blackhawk and later Republic Home Video, it's latter distribution by Kino Video on VHS and later DVD format, with same organ scoring by Muri, contains some color tinting as well. After many years of obscurity, OLIVER TWIST was finally presented on cable television's TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES (TCM premiere: August 15, 2011) where it occasionally plays as part of its "Silent Sundays" festival. A worthy rediscovery of both film and Jackie Coogan from those wanting more. (***)
Oliver Twist (1933)
A Twist of Fate
OLIVER TWIST (A Monogram Special, 1933), directed by William J. Cowan, stars child actor Dickie Moore (courtesy of Hal Roach Studios) in his first leading role in a feature film presentation. As much as this Charles Dickens based story had been told and retold numerous times during the silent era, with notable screen adaptations being Paramount (1916) with Marie Coro (Oliver) and Tully Marshall (Fagin); and First National (1922) starring Jackie Coogan (Oliver) and Lon Chaney (Fagin), it would be a matter of time before the movie audiences would get some more OLIVER TWIST, this time with sound. While major movie studios as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, RKO or Universal might have started the trend of Dickens novels transferred to film, the interesting fact was that the aforementioned major studios were the ones to follow Monogram's poverty row distribution of 1933. Universal provided GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1934), while MGM produced two of the finest of Dickens 1935 adaptations of David COPPERFIELD and A TALE OF TWO CITIES, and three years later, A Christmas CAROL (1938), but this I.E. Chadwick's production for Monogram, very much on a low-budget scale, might prove worthy in spite of disappointing presentation.
Following the opening credits, the fade-in begins with an open book on the first page to CHAPTER 1 that reads: "Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons, it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning: there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small to wit, a workhouse, and in this workhouse, was born the item of mortality whose name is prefix on the title of that chapter." The story then revolves around a young lad named Oliver Twist (Dickie Moore), an orphan in 19th century England, raised by a Mr. Bumble (Lionel Bellmore, who played Mr. Brownlow in the 1922 version), who, on his ninth birthday, puts him to work in a workhouse. After running away from slave labor and deprived of more food to eat, he journeys towards London where he encounters the likes of various people, including the Artful Dodger (Sonny Ray), Fagin (Irving Pichel) and his gang of thieves consisting of Bill and Nancy Sikes (William Boyd and Doris Lloyd); Charlie Bates (George Nash); Toby Crackit (George K. Arthur); the kindly old Mr. Brownlow (Alec B. Francis) and his pretty niece, Rose Mayley (Barbara Kent), through some twist of fate would all become part of his life.
Though many feel Dickie Moore to be both miscast and way too young in the title role, this edition to OLIVER TWIST has become his most memorable, though not fascinating. Regrettably, his performance somewhat weakens the story through scenes involving him appear to be seemingly under rehearsed. Moore reads some of his lines with no expression, as if he's reciting them for the first time. In one scene he's scrubbing the brick floor of the dining room, slips down by accident, then smilingly looks towards the camera range, loses his smile, carries his water bucker and walks away. Brutal beatings are depicted by shadows of actors hitting of whipping the floor rather than their victims. The meeting place under the London Bridge at midnight involving Nancy, Mr. Brownlow and Rose as properly captured by moments of their shadows on the wall, but in spite of this being a secret meeting, Nancy should have conversed in a whispering fashion rather than loud enough for all, including one of Fagin's spies, to hear. It's hard not to notice where Moore's face, in close up, to be covered with watery tears, and next long shot, face to be clear and dry.
Aside from faults and goofs that might have been rectified before its theatrical release, as well as elimination of certain major characters from the Dickens novel, one of the stronger aspects for this production is Irving Pichel (courtesy of Paramount Pictures). Assuming a role previously portrayed by the legendary Lon Chaney a decade ago, Pichel offers an fine re-enactment as Fagin. Doris Lloyd's Nancy is believably likable and sympathetic while William Boyd (not the Hopalong Cassidy actor) is quite intense as the menacing villain who kills without mercy. He certainly must have gotten some hissing and booing from movie audiences back in the day for a scene where he attempts to kill Nancy's dog, Bullseye.
Contrary to movie remakes, it would be a matter of time before OLIVER TWIST would be retold on the screen again. Two superior adaptations followed, the 1948 David Lean British made production, and the 1968 Columbia musical adaptation to the Broadway play that won Best Picture of that year. Once watching those, it's often hard referring back to the Dickie Moore version, which, with slow pacing sans mood musical score giving it that early talkie 1929 feel, would be an endless 70 minute bore for contemporary viewers. Initially released in theaters with opening image of Charles Dickens on the book cover of "Oliver Twist," circulating prints replace that with different title placing Irving Pichel's name next to Dickie Moore's above its OLIVER TWIST title. Unseen on broadcast television since or about 1973, OLIVER TWIST, which has fallen to public domain, became readily available again in the 1980s on home video, cable television (CBN, Nickelodian's 1988-89 presentation of "Nick and Night" Movie) and public television (part of its weekly series titled SPROCKETS) before its latter transfer onto DVD, and so forth.
While this and Monogram's follow-up literary tale of Charlotte Bronte's JANE EYRE (1934) with Virginia Bruce are not perfect screen adaptations to become one of the family, it would be the major studios and made for television movies that would over the years transcribe these stories again, to much better results. (**1/2)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Matuschek and Company
THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940), produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, is a delightful tale of two store employees who don't get along very well, unaware they're carrying on a pen-pal correspondence through the mail that starts with "Dear Friend." Starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart for the third time together, following NEXT TIME WE LOVE (Universal, 1936), and THE SHOPWORN ANGEL (MGM, 1938), there's no doubt that this comedy-drama, based on the Hungarian play by Nikolas Laszlo, happens to be their finest collaboration thus far. Although a circumstantial love story from the viewpoint of its central characters, the filmy rightfully belongs to the owner of the shop around the corner, as wonderfully played by Frank "The Wizard of Oz" Morgan.
What's the story about? Opening title reveals: "This is a story of Matuschek and Company - of Mr. Matuschek and the people who work for him. It is just around the corner from Andrassy Street - on Balta Street, in Budapest, Hungary." The shop, Matuschek and Company, consists of various workers starting with its founder, Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan), a middle-aged man devoted to both his store and wife, Emma, of 22 years; and staff: Alfred Kralik (James Stewart), a nine year employee/salesman and Matuschek's most trusted and closest friend; Mr. Petrovitch (Felix Bressart), a happily married family man whose the very first to arrive ten minutes before the store opens; Pepi Katena (William Tracy), an errand boy with a squeaky voice; salesgirls, Flora (Sara Haden) and Ilona (Inez Courtney); and Ferencz Vadan (Joseph Schildkraut), a "yes" man who mysteriously arrives each day by taxi loaded with large money bills in his pocket and expensive wardrobe. One morning, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) arrives seeking employment. She successfully sells herself by selling an "O Tchonia" playing music box to a plump lady customer who mistakes it for a candy box. During the course of her six month stay at Matuschek and Company, Klara and Alfred find themselves constantly arguing, unaware that they carrying on a romance through the mail left in a post office box. Further complications arise as Alfred notices Mr. Matuschek to suddenly act indifferently towards him, even to a point of dismissing him before Christmas for no apparent reason.
Being an Ernst Lubitsch production where his traditional locales to his motion pictures having European backdrops, mostly Paris, interestingly THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is a sort of story that could very well have taken place anywhere at anytime. Following the pattern of remakes, the musical version retitled IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (MGM, 1949) starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, takes place at turn-of-the-century Chicago; while the most updated edition, YOU'VE GOT MAIL (Warner Brothers, 1998) with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, not only is set in New York City, but uses the internet as its means of communication between pen-pal writers. With the exception of European born actors, Joseph Schildkraut and Felix Bressart, along with label signs written in Hungarian, many of the other players are essentially Americans talking naturally without ant attempts using accents. Had director Lubitsch attempted on using European-born performers in leading roles as the two-time Academy Award winning Viennese born Luise Rainer as Klara, with Czech Francis Lederer as Alfred, for example, the outcome would have turned out entirely different and possibly not as successful as with the selected players as Sullavan and Stewart. Frank Morgan, best known for playing befuddled characters, is shown to best advantage here breaking away from his typical "Morgan style" for a more straightforward performance. Aside from serious performances from THE MORTAL STORM (1940), that reunited him with Sullavan and Stewart, and the much better known THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943) starring Mickey Rooney, it makes one wish Frank Morgan did more dramatic roles like these as opposed to the tailor-made double-talking bumbling characters he's done so often, even in his signature role as THE WIZARD OF OZ (MGM, 1939).
Being a versatile actor, Morgan, believably having that European presence through his thick mustache and old-style haircut, gives a performance worthy for an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. His key elements include moments of humor for not trying to influence his employees when asking for their honest opinions; his surprise reaction when discovering the error of his ways towards his trusted employee, Alfred; and a heartfelt moment when inviting his newest and youngest employee, Rudy (Charles Smith), age 17, living alone in Budapest, to have dinner with him on Christmas Eve. When Morgan isn't around, the concentration resumes on the feuding store employees, Klara and Alfred. One unforgettable moment includes a scene outside the café where Alfred looks through the window, after being told by his friend, Petrovitch, that his pen-pal, with only means of identification being a Leo Tolstoy book, "Anna Karenina," happens to be Klara. While he doesn't give away his identity, he does surprise her when stopping by her table, only to soon be insulted and hurt when angrily called an "insignificant clerk." Other scenes involving Klara and Alfred are both amusing and touching in the best Lubitsch style and tradition. A pleasing musical score by Werner Hermann during its opening and closing credits is also worthy of an honorable mention here. No wonder THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER has lived up to its expectations in recent years as an exceptional motion picture.
Formerly on video cassette since the late 1980s, and later available in the DVD format, for anyone looking for a bargain when it comes to shopping for a good movie with a Christmas theme, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER should make any customer satisfied without asking for refunds or exchanges the next time it's broadcast on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (***1/2)
Great Expectations (1934)
A Pip of a Story
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Universal, 1934), directed by Stuart Walker, became the studio's contribution to the current trend of classic literature captured on film. With Louisa May Allcott's LITTLE WOMEN (RKO, 1933) and Charles Dickens' oft-told tale of OLIVER TWIST (Monogram, 1933) having reached the screen, it would be a matter of time before other literary works would be retold in celluloid, particularly those by Dickens. Universal other contribution, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (1935) would soon join MGM's masterful adaptations with both 1935 releases of David COPPERFIELD and A TALE OF TWO CITIES, each outdoing all previous attempts on Dickens thus far, even to a point of earning Academy Award nominations as Best Picture, while the Universal carnations are literally well made, though not accurately retold from the book, they're close to being virtually forgotten.
As with David COPPERFIELD, GREAT EXPECTATIONS is told in two parts, first with its central character as a boy before moving forward to the same character as a man. Set in England during the 19th Century, the story opens in a gloomy churchyard cemetery where the sad-faced Pip (Georgie Breakston) visits the graves of his dearly departed parents and siblings. He is soon confronted by an escaped convict later revealed as Abel Magwich (Henry Hull) who, after learning his sister's husband, Joe (Alan Hale), is a blacksmith, asks him to meet him the following morning with food, drink and a file to break his chains. At home, Pip is mistreated by his older but stern sister (Rafaela Ottiano), upon being forced to drink the dreaded tar water, but is well liked by his good-matured brother-in-law, Joe. Sneaking out of the house to keep his promise to the convict with his sister's pork-pie, brandy and file, Pip, in turn, no longer fears the convict, but pities him. After his capture and arrest, and before being sent back to prison, Magwich, to assure Pip won't be punished for doing a good deed, tells Joe that it was he who stole his food and file. Pip then cries as he watches Magwich being shipped back to prison. Later on, hoping to acquire extra money, Mrs. Joe and Pip's uncle, Pumblechook (Forrester Harvey), arrange for Pip to become a part-time companion to the ward of the richest woman in the county, Jane Havisham's (Florence Reed). Aside from seeing the neglected mansion full of frightful surroundings, with a reception room and wedding cake covered by cobwebs, Miss Havisham, dressed in wedding gown, introduces the boy to Estella (Anne Howard). Estella, taught to dislike and mistrust all males, verbally abuses Pip to a point of tears, but after winning a fight with the neighboring Herbert (Jackie Searle), Estella, who still finds Pip to be common, allows him to kiss her. Years later, the adult Pip (Phillips Holmes), has grown to love with the sophisticated Estella (Jane Wyatt), regardless of her continued verbal put-downs. Through a lawyer named Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan), Pip finds that an unknown benefactor has arranged for him to rise from hard-working blacksmith to sophisticated gentleman of great expectations. A series of unforeseen circumstances based on "chance acquaintances" would soon take effect on his life.
Of the numerous screen adaptations of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, none come any better than David Lean's 1946 British-made production starring John Mills. While the 1934 version has never achieved the sort of lasting impression had it been produced by MGM rather than Universal, it's attempt, though well-conceived, has become the most overlooked and ignored of its screen adaptations. Henry Hull, who heads the cast, is generally a supporting role, the one whose character is unseen for a 40 minute stretch before reappearing again. His performance as the convict is excellent throughout. No problem there. Georgie Breakston does splendidly as young Pip, though, for playing a British lad makes no attempt of speaking with British accent. He briefly spoils it when using the American slang term of "ain't." Phillips Holmes role might have been better served had it been played by either a Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or Frank Lawton ("David Cooperfield"). Regardless, the resemblance between Breakston and Holmes are close enough to be physically the same character from boy to man. The same can be said of Anne Howard and Jane Wyatt. While Wyatt is acceptable as Estella, Anne Howard's poor acting and obnoxious overtones weakens the story. Valerie Hobson, credited last in the opening and closing credits as Biddy, is a character talked about but never seen mainly because Biddy was edited from the final print. Hobson not only appeared opposite Henry Hull in the now horror classic, WEREWOLF OF London (1935), but enacted the role of Estella in the 1946 remake. Francis L. Sullivan would also appear in the Lean production, reprising his original role of Jaggers. Other members of the cast include George Barrard (Compeyson); Eily Malyon (Sarah Pocket), and Philip Dakin (Bently Drummle). Try to locate the uncredited Walter Brennan appearing briefly as one of the convicts in the boat.
Seldom revived since the 1980s when presented on public television or on Chicago-based WGN-TV's Sunday afternoon presentation of "Family Classics" (Thanksgiving weekend 1988) hosted by Roy LeonardS Regardless of its 1998 distribution to home video, the 1934 version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS may not be great nor faithful adaptation to the Dickens book, but manages in getting by with whatever expectations it has during its 102 minutes. (***)
The Return of Frank James (1940)
The Outlaw's Brother
THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (20th Century-Fox, 1940), directed by Fritz Lang, is a continuation to the 1939 blockbuster hit JESSE JAMES (1939) starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda as the outlaw James brothers. Repeating its opening and closing credit score conducted for JESSE JAMES, along with its Technicolor splendor and location filming that served the earlier film so well, FRANK JAMES elevates Fonda from secondary character to top draw leading attraction. While this extension might have reused the services of JESSE JAMES director Henry King, it comes of a surprise in having, not Howard Hawks or John Ford whose best films happen to be westerns, but the European born Fritz Lang. Yet, under his watch, the result of THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES is every bit as good as the original.
The fade-in begins with the closing minutes of JESSE JAMES where the wanted outlaw (Tyrone Power) gets shot in the back by his friend, Bob Ford (John Carradine) as his brother, Charlie (Charles Tannen) watches. Eliminating the eulogy given by Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) that closed the original film, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES opens its new chapter with newspaper headlines depicting the death of the notorious outlaw, and the disappearance of his brother, Frank James, after the Northfield robbery, now believed to be dead. Frank (Henry Fonda), however, isn't dead, but living a secluded farm life in the Ozarks under an assumed name of Ben Woodson. He's accompanied by the family farmhand, Pinky Washington (Ernest Whitman), and Clem (Jackie Cooper), an orphan teenager whom Frank had taken in following the death of his father. It is Clem who runs over to Frank with the news about Jesse James murder and the arrest of the Ford brothers. After learning the Fords were set free from the judge a half hour of the guilty verdict from the jurors, and having collected the $10,000 reward on Jesse, dead or alive, Frank breaks from his seclusion to take the law into his own hands by avenging his brother's killers. Along the way Frank and Clem, now acting as his tag-along sidekick, encounter Eleanor Stone (Gene Tierney), a reporter for the Denver Star, hoping for a good story or else her father Randolph (Lloyd Corrigan), owner of the newspaper, would send her off to college instead.
Aside from the tobacco chewing Henry Fonda playing Frank James, others reprising their original roles from JESSE JAMES include the ever reliable Henry Hull (Major Rufus Cobb, editor of the Liberty Weekly Gazette still using the catch phrase, "Shoot them down like dogs"); J. Edward Bromberg (George Runyan, the railroad detective out to expose Ben Woodson as Frank James); Donald Meek (McCoy, the railroad president responsible for having the Ford brothers betray their leader, Jesse, and arranging for their pardon); and George Chandler(Roy, Cobb's typesetter). New members of the cast include George Barbier (Judge Ferris); Eddie Collins (The Station Agent); Barbara Pepper (Nellie Blane, stage actress); and Victor Kilian (The Fanatic Preacher).
For Gene Tierney's movie debut, she gets no special introduction in the credits. Only her name comes billed second under Henry Fonda, which is an honor for any newcomer. A dark beauty with girlish sounding voice reminiscent in both factors to an early 1930s actress, Sidney Fox (best known for 1932s "Murders in the Rue Morgue"), Tierney doesn't play a love interest but one interested in reporting the news that's fit to print. She does quite well in her first try as a movie actress, and would improve with each succeeding movie before reaching her peak with LAURA (20th Century-Fox, 1944).
As with JESSE JAMES, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES, with original screenplay by Sam Hellman, toys with the facts, resulting to better screen entertainment. While the first hour depicts on Frank's vengeance on the Ford brothers, with a tense moment having the Fords acting on a stage play "The Death of Jesse James" observe Frank sitting in the theater box looking down at them, the second half shifts to courtroom proceedings with Frank accused of a murder and Major Cobb acting as his defendant. Though Fritz Lang may have avoided borrowing from Henry King's directorial style from JESSE JAMES, interestingly, the courtroom segment comes as a sheer reminder to John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939) also starring Henry Fonda, by using humor over tense action for the proceedings. Like King, Lang keeps the pace moving with exciting horseback chases and shootouts, something very much expected for any western.
Though the second and last of the Frank and Jesse James westerns for the studio, this wasn't the last depiction on their lives presented on screen. Lippert Studios independently produced two totally different adaptations, I SHOT JESSE JAMES (1949) and THE RETURN OF JESSE JAMES (1950), with the latter co-starring Henry Hull in a different character portrayal. Other numerous westerns on the Jesse and Frank James would follow for many years to come.
Distributed to home video and later DVD, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES consisted of cable TV broadcasts as Turner Network Television (1994-95); American Movie Classics (1999-2005); Fox Movie Channel, Encore Westerns, Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 27, 2012), among others. With this much television exposure, Frank James should become more legendary than his kid brother, Jesse. (***1/2)
Jesse James (1939)
JESSE JAMES (20th Century-Fox, 1939), directed by Henry King, stars Tyrone Power in the title role as the legendary outlaw of Missouri, Jesse Woodson James (1847-1882). Aside from Jesse James, there's his brother, Frank James (1843-1915) also taking the spotlight, perfectly played by Henry Fonda as part of "The Legend of Frank and Jesse James."
Released at the time when westerns were becoming full scale productions, with actors who've never appeared in westerns before now taking part of that genre, this one offered Power a chance to broaden his range from light romantic comedies, occasional costume dramas, or occasional musical to western setting where his guns do the talking. Rather than an accurate account on Jesse James, the writers mix fact and fiction instead. Taken from an original screenplay by Sam Hellman and Nunnally Johnson, with historical data assembled by Rosalind Shaffer and Jo Frances James, the "Forward" passage fills the viewer to what's to be shown: "After the tragic war between the states, America turned to the winning of the West. The symbol of that era was the building of the Trans-Continental railroads. The advance of the railroad was, in some cases, predatory and unscrupulous. Whole communities found themselves victimized by the ever-growing orge - the Iron Horse. It was this uncertain and lawless age that gave to the world, for good or ill, its most famous outlaws, the brothers of Frank and Jesse James."
As the opening (and later closing) titles begin to roll using the same underscoring borrowed from Tyrone Power's earlier success, IN OLD CHICAGO (1937), the story, set in Liberty, Missouri, fades in with Barshee (Brian Donlevy), a representative from the St. Louis Midland Railroad, and his three assistants, going from farm to farm informing its landowners of a railroad coming through their property with the government to confiscate it and owners getting nothing. In "good faith," Barshee offers them a dollar an acre. Anyone refusing to believe his scare tactics and sign over their property to him, Barshee's men use their methods of "persuasion." This is not the case as the men approach the farmland of widow woman, Mrs. Samuels (Jane Darwell). Her son, Frank (Henry Fonda), comes to her aide when he finds she's being peer pressured to sign and not to bother seeing a lawyer. A fight ensues between Frank and Barshee, with Jesse (Tyrone Power), the other son, standing guard holding his rifle on the other men until the Frank is finished with Barshee. After the intruders get forced off their land, the James brothers form a meeting with neighboring farmers to fight for their rights and acquire enough money for a lawyer. In the meantime, Barshee gets a warrant from the sheriff to have the James boys arrested for assault with attempt to kill. Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull), editor and publisher of the Liberty Weekly Gazette, whose daughter, Zerelda (Nancy Kelly), loves Jesse, runs over to the farm to warn the boys to advise them to hide in the mountains, which they do. After Barshee comes to arrest the brothers, an accident on his part takes place, causing the death of their sickly mother. This incident soon starts Frank and Jesse James' vengeance against the railroad, followed by train and bank robberies that lead to their rise as wanted outlaws. Will Wright (Randolph Scott), United States Marshal, is hired by railroad president Mr. McCoy (Donald Meek), to have the James gang, consisting of Bob (John Carradine) and Charlie Ford (Charles Tannen), arrested and put in jail. Easier said than done.
Others members of the cast include J. Edward Bromberg (George Runyan); Slim Summerville (The Jailer); Ernest Whitman ("Pinky" Washington, Frank and Jesse's loyal farmhand); and little John Russell (Jesse James Jr.). Keep a sharp eye for the bearded Lon Chaney Jr. playing one of Jesse's gang members; and Gene Lockhart in a cameo as a bearded citizen commenting on Jesse James' Wanted-Dead or Alive sign with $1,000 reward.
Of the many movies dealing with the legend of Jesse James, including the long forgotten 1927 silent edition starring Fred Thomson for Paramount, this edition is obviously one of the best. Whether the film toys with the facts or not really doesn't matter. There's plenty of action-packed excitement ranging from robberies, chases and humor to keep this 106 minute product from being anything but a disappointment. Power may seem all wrong at in his title role, but as the film progresses, he convincingly changes from boyish farmer to mustached hard-hitting outlaw. Fonda on the other hand, is excellent as his brother Frank. Sporting a heavy mustache himself, he nearly draws more attention from Power with his interpretation of a soft-spoken, self-confident spitting tobacco chewer who, in one memorable scene, has a brother-to-brother talk to Jesse about his mad ways and treatment towards one of his friends, even at the risk of getting shot himself. Nancy Kelly, still new to the movies in leading lady capacity, makes a fine "Zee," the woman who loves and marries Jesse, becoming his long-suffering wife, while Henry Hull hams it up with his constant catch phrase of "Shoot them down like dogs." Another bonus besides Randolph Scott in fine support is its rich full Technicolor along with its reported actual location filming in and around Missouri.
One of the most televised of the Power and/or Fonda movies, JESSE JAMES, distributed to home video and later DVD, was also broadcast on numerous cable TV networks, including American Movie Classics (1999-2003); Fox Movie Channel, and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: August 25, 2012). Highly recommended viewing along with its sequel: THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940) once again with Henry Fonda. (****)
Some Like It Hot (1939)
Meet Nicky Nelson
SOME LIKE IT HOT (Paramount, 1939), directed by George Archainbaud, stars the now legendary comedian, Bob Hope, in one of his lesser known movie projects with a classic movie title. Bearing no relation to the 1959 Billy Wilder United Artists comedy, SOME LIKE IT HOT, starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in a story set during the roaring twenties about a couple of hapless musicians who, after witnessing a gangland killing, elude gangsters involved by disguising themselves as women in an all-girl band. No doubt that sort of story would have been ideal Bob Hope material. Instead, this SOME LIKE IT HOT is a minor musical with an entirely different screenplay. Aside from being Hope's third collaboration with vocalist, Shirley Ross, SOME LIKE IT HOT is also a notable for one of the few film roles of famous drummer, Gene Krupa, who not only acts but gets his chance twirling his sticks in a couple of drum soloing interludes.
Set mostly at an boardwalk arcade, Nicky Nelson (Bob Hope) is a small time carnival promoter of Nicky Nelson Enterprises with Gene Krupa and his Orchestra as his assistants. For five years he's talked his way in and out o situations, but have never succeeded to the top of his profession. Outside of office of Steve Hanratty (Bernard Nedall), agent for the City Pier Amusement Company, Nicky encounters Lily Racquell (Shirley Ross), a talented singer who has just lost her job. The two team up, but Nicky loses both his orchestra and vocalist after Lily discovers Nicky gambled away her diamond ring and their signature song to Hanratty. Under Hanrity's management, Krupa and Lily perform to great success at the Paradise Pavalion while Nicky, feeling he can go it alone, finds himself on a downward path.
Being the swing band era, with the catch phrase of "hot" as part of the language used amongst band players, "hot" songs used in this production include: "Some Like It Hot" (sung by Rufe Davis, Jack Smart and Harry Barris, played by Gene Krupa and his Orchestra); "The Lady's in Love With You" (piano playing by Bob Hope); "Who Done It" (performed by the Krupa Orchestra); "Some Like It Hot" (sung by Shirley Ross); "Heart and Soul" (Gene Krupa and his Orchestra); and "The Lady's in Love With You" (sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross).
Having both introduced the Academy Award winning tune to what's become Hope's lifelong theme song, "Thanks for the Memory" from THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938, followed with "Two Sleepy People" for THANKS FOR THE MEMORY (1938), a natural title. Hope and Ross resume their fine chemistry with this film's best song, "The Lady's in Love With You." While Hope and Ross could have resumed promisingly as a screen team, this was to be their last together.
Others appearing in the cast include Una Merkel (Flo Saunders); Frank Sully (Sailor Burke, the living corpse) Clarence Wilson (Mr. Ives, better known as "Beagle Beak," the landlord after Nicky's back rent); Bernadine Hayes, Richard Denning and Tiny Wayne Witty. Regrettably, Merkel, as Sailor Burke's love interest, is given little to do what normally calls for some good comic support.
Previously filmed as SHOOT THE WORKS (Paramount, 1934), with Jack Oakie, Dorothy Dell and Lew Cody in the Hope, Ross and Nedall roles, this latest edition, based on a play, holds up better primarily due to the early screen presence of Hope. For anyone familiar with Bob Hope's style of comedy, SOME LIKE IT HOT offers little or nothing by way of his typical ad-libs or Hollywood in-jokes that have served him more favorably later in his career, especially those wacky "Road to" comedies in the 1940s opposite Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Hope does have some moments with funny one-liners, but overall plays it straight. One thing that fits the Hope persona here is his method of meeting the girl (Ross), winning her over with some kissing within a very short time span. How he works fast!
Available for many years under its new title, RHYTHM ROMANCE, so not to compete with the Billy Wilder classic (interesting Paramount didn't lose the title rights to Martha Raye's THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1940) to Loretta Young's 1947 edition of the same name) and not shown regularly on either commercial and/or public television since the 1980s, this 64 minute product has become available to home video in 1999 through MCA Home Video as part of the Bob Hope Collection. As for cable TV, its only know broadcast in recent years was on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: July 16, 2008) where it played part of TCM's tribute to "Big Band Music in the Movies."
Though SOME LIKE IT HOT/RHYTHM ROMANCE may not be so hot by Hope standards, it's an interesting look at the young comedian shortly before reaching his peak of success, the vocalizing of Shirley Ross, and the drummer boy himself, Gene Krupa. (**)
Beauty and the Boss
IT (Paramount, 1927), a Clarence Badger and Elinor Glyn production, directed by Clarence Badger, stars silent screen legend Clara Bow(1905-1965) in her most famous movie that has forever personified her as "The 'It' Girl." And what is IT? Well, not the terror from beyond space. The single pronoun is best described by its author, Madame Elinor Glyn, in its opening passage following the opening credits: "IT is that quality possessed by someone which draws all others with the magnetic force. With IT, you win all men if you are a woman - and all women if you are man. IT can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction." With Clara Bow in the picture and based on her current character roles, it's no doubt a physical attraction for her latest leading man, that being Antonio Moreno.
The story of IT opens at Waltham's, the world's largest store. Cyrus T. Waltham (Antonio Moreno) is first introduced as the new boss of the department store establishment, which has been turned over to him by his father while away in Herrin, Illinois. He's soon congratulated by his closest friend, Monty Montgomery (William Austin). As they tour the store for inspection with other business associates, Betty Lou Spence (Clara Bow), salesgirl in the lingerie department, immediately becomes attracted to her new boss. She does her best to be noticed by him, unaware at the time that he's engaged to Adele Van Norman (Jacqueline Gadsdon), a society girl he has known for many years. Learning that Mr. Waltham is going to be at a social function at the Ritz, Betty influences Monty to be her escort there. While at the gathering, Waltham has the pleasure in meeting and talking to Elinor Glyn, author of her latest magazine story, IT, which she describes as "self-confidence and indifference as to when you are pleasing or not." Before the night is over, Waltham finally notices Betty, much to the dismay of Adele. He's even more surprised the next morning to find the stunning girl works in his store. After an evening together at Coney Island, the two find themselves physically attracted. As things begin looking brighter between boss and employee, complications arise when Waltham is lead to believe Betty to be a single mother with an infant son, when in reality shares her tenement apartment in the poor district of Nolan Street with Molly (Priscilla Bonner), a woman bearing that distinction. With Waltham now acting indifferently towards her, does this mean Betty won't be entitled to her bonus check?
With Clara Bow having a long range of screen credits dating back to 1922s DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS (1922) where she took support under forgotten marque names of Marguerite Courtot and Raymond McKee, no other movie title personifies her best as the one called IT. It may not be her very best film, but her most famous of movie titles. Based on the material presented, IT can be classified as typical Bow formula, poor working girl meets society man. Her character of Betty Lou may be a flirt with the men, but kind-hearted and caring when it comes to helping a friend like Molly. Little is described about Molly except that she's a single mother in need of a friend during her time of need. Antonio Moreno, who sometimes resembles fellow actor, Warner Baxter, in certain scenes, is best described as strong and serious-minded businessman, but weak when it comes to women, especially the flirtatious young flapper. William Austin offers some good comical moments in the Edward Everett Horton manor. Others in the cast include Julia Swayne Gordon (Adele's Mother) and Lloyd Corrigan. Look quickly for a young Gary Cooper, in a minor role as a News Dispatch reporter in a scene involving Bow and a couple of unruly old social workers. It would be his next film, WINGS (Paramount, 1927), also starring Bow, that helped elevate Cooper to popular leading man status along with two Academy Awards in the distant future.
For years, IT have been available through prints from the Paul Killiam FIlm Collection with fine piano scoring by William Perry first presented to public television around the 1980s along with distribution to home video from Blackhawk Films and years later, Kino Video in both VHS and DVD formats. Cable television broadcast history consists of Arts and Entertainment (1987-88, with commercial interruption); American Movie Classics (1997) and Turner Classic Movies. Turner initially presented the 70 minute Killiam copy of IT since 1995. It wasn't until around 2003 when TCM began using prints of IT from the Thames Collection with orchestral scoring by Carl Davis. On a personal level, I very much prefer the one with the William Perry piano score.
While there's enough IT to go around, ranging from cameo by its author (Glyn) to the gathering on a cruise ship called ITOLA, there's no IT more satisfying than the 'It' girl herself, Clara Bow. Without her, IT would have banished to obscurity along with many long forgotten silent films of the past featuring many great names of the past, including Clara Bow herself. (***)