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Hollywood and Vine (1945)
Our vines have sour grapes.
There's a raisin in the sun over Hollywood, and the wrinkles in it show in the script of this PRC comedy where it is indeed a dog-eat-dog world for "Blondie's" beloved Daisy who manages to make it big a la Benji as the lost pooch becomes a screen star while its screenwriter owner tries to find it. Daisy's right under his nose at his very own studio where big boss Ralph Morgan is thrilled with his new star but not with missing writer James Ellison who is hiding out working as a soda jerk for the prissy Franklin Pangborn, turning his banana special into his biggest seller by adding a secret ingredient he overheard accidentally on a radio show. Small town waitress Wanda McKay is in town attempting to break into the movies, tries to avoid Ellison's advances, but finds out she can't resist a man with a dog. A few points are gained for the presence of familiar character actors like Morgan, Pangborn and Vera Lewis (very funny as an elderly landlady who confuses Ellison for her missing husband), but that's not enough to recommend it. The film culminates in a custody battle over the cute pup, but really, it's all a furry mess and ultimately instantly forgettable.
Rainbow Over Broadway (1933)
A pot of old makes its way over the rainbow where skies are blood red.
Mame Dennis and Vera Charles have nothing over on Trixie Valleron (Grace Hayes) and her old friend Queenie (May Beatty), two former showgirls from the days of "Floradora" who encounter each other years later when Trixie returns to New York to take on the headliner position of one of the fanciest cabarets in Manhattan. All that is missing is the cat screeching sound which made a claw-fest in "Roxie Hart" one of the funniest bitch fights in film history. Trixie certainly isn't a performer you really root to succeed because she has it in for her step-children (Joan Marsh and Glen Boles) who long to make it as songwriters. Trixie seems a bit embarrassed to have married into this family, but it is obvious that in spite of her pretentiousness, husband Lucien Littlefield loves her very much. Thanks to song plugger Frank Albertson, Marsh and Boles are able to get the break they deserve, but the stipulation for both Hayes and her hated step-children is that she sings their songs and that they write for her even though she claims to hate their music. Ironically, when she thinks it comes from other songwriters, she loves it.
Truly catty dialog makes this an extremely funny and fast-moving comedy with a few songs (and one production number with Hayes attempting to emulate Mae West) to pad out its shell of a plot. The dialog from the very beginning gives you the sense that the screenwriter didn't use a pen, and like Waldo Lydecker from "Laura", they wrote with a goose quill dipped in venom. As attention demanding as Hayes is, she is no where quite as annoying as her on-screen daughter, a helium voiced Gladys Blake who thank goodness Hayes doesn't become a "Mama Rose" to in order to push her into show business. When the reunion between Hayes and Beatty starts off gracious, you know that the fur between these two cats is going to fly once the wisecracks start, with a rivalry between them really over Beatty's husband, an old flame of Ms. Hayes. The one big production number at the end is very funny because Ms. Hayes doesn't seem to realize that there are chorus girls behind her (with fans) who are obviously half her age, so obviously much of the attention is on them, not her. Some of the plot points are never totally wrapped up (such as what happens with Trixie's old flame), but that is a minor oversight. So put on your boxing gloves, sharpen your claws, and keep the acid handy. It's going to be a bumpy ride from Kansas to New York, and there will be no stopping over in the land of Oz on the way.
What? We have children?
Mother and daughter don't get along; Neither do father and son. They are from a broken home, torn apart simply because father Robert Frazer and mother Natalie Moorhead have drifted so far apart that you can feel the invisible wall in between them. Frazer is so consumed with business that he barely ever makes it home for dinner, and by that time, Moorhead is too busy glamorizing herself up for a night at the club. He's fretting over her excessive shopping bills, and when a check she gave to charity bounces, she reveals she's had enough of his penny pinching ways. So the couple heads to divorce court, the judge grants custody of the son to the father and daughter to the mother. Years go by and each of the parents is told by their child that they blame them for the mess that their lives have turned into and that they do not want to see them ever again.
When brother and sister (Joan Marsh and Glen Boles) run into each other, not having seen each other since that fatal day of separation in court, it ends up being the worse day of their lives. Marsh has married a gangster, and Boles has been getting into all sorts of trouble with a blues singer. The siblings end up on trial for murder, and it is this trauma which brings the family back together as one broken unit for the first time in years. A moralistic tale of parent's responsibilities towards their growing children, the tale is given an opposite view of Frazer's law partner who has a son and daughter as well and manages to spend every free non-business moment with them. Of course, this makes it appear that every perfect family should have one daughter and one son, but then again, many Hollywood movies also showed parents who were actually old enough to be their child's grandparents, so the movie view of family is something which can't be taken seriously. It's either all good or all bad, but here, it is the bad which is the focus, and self-centered parents like Moorhead and Frazer must suffer horribly in order to grow up, while their now grown children must grow up overnight thanks to the neglect they felt in their childhood.
Low budget but fun, this is a moralistic post-code movie with warnings that come over the opening credits. The script really isn't time specific, so the transitions from the early scenes to the episodes of ten years later look like they could have also happened the following week. Still, it's believably acted and spicy in dialog, flowing by in a speedy manner. This may not change the way parents raise children, or even change children from blaming their parents for their own problems, but it certainly gives an interesting view to an issue that has been going on ever since Adam and Eve had similar tragedies with their own children.
Discarded Lovers (1932)
Some men simply just can't take rejection.
The saying goes, "Vengeance has no fury like a woman scorned", but for this second string programmer, it is apparent that a man is the one plotting vengeance for being scorned. The vampy Natalie Moorehead is an egotistical film star who has broken one too many men's hearts, whether it be a soon to be ex-husband (and current co-star), an innocent young man whose affections she toyed with, and various other assorted victims of her sexual games. Even her current lover, whom she has promised to marry, might be a suspect. Like the same year's "The Death Kiss", much of this is on a Hollywood sound studio, and like that film, the atmosphere is truly unbelievable. While Moorehead was a great vamp (or second lead, depending on the role), it's very difficult to believe her as a top film star, as her tall stature and attempts to be more beautiful than she really was just never rings true. Her on-screen demeanor screams "bitch", and while she softened up in later films, her early talkies were not capable of showing her in any sort of a vulnerable light. A genuine lack of a believable motive also prevents this from becoming an intriguing mystery. Basically, those rejected by her should have taken it as a blessing. Fred Kelsey stands out among the co-stars, particularly because his detective is so stupid that you have to wonder if he was one of the Keystone Cops.
Hotel Continental (1932)
The party is over at this lavish hotel where destruction ain't so grand.
Like the Broadway theater in the Stephen Sondheim musical "Follies" about to be torn down to make way for a parking lot, the Hotel Continental is about to go way of the Hippedrome. The management of the hotel decides to throw a special party for their last night, which brings back a lot of the old guests who stayed there for special occasions, bringing back memories of royalty, former presidents and entertainers from various walks of the industry which we hear from a radio host narrating the festivities. While there are various small subplots going on, the major storyline involves "the boy embezzler" (Theodore Von Eltz) who just got out of prison and has checked in for the last night to find the stash of cash he hid there years ago. This brings on crooks who hire a former con-artist (Peggy Shannon) to trap him into revealing where the hidden treasure is. While romance blossoms between the two, various party goers go through their own situations, which includes one former guest who has had a share of bad luck, once the toast of the hotel, now a vagrant, and a drunk (Bert Roach) looking for his next snoot. A misunderstanding causes Shannon to believe that Von Eltz betrayed her with another woman, leading to her betrayal of him and a sudden act of violence which brings in the law to figure everything out. Suicide, shootings, accusations of infidelity and other issues add to the Auld Lang Syne feeling of this storyline which may not have been Tiffany's in budget (in spite of the studio name) but ultimately is satisfying, if not quite the equivalent of the more remembered "Grand Hotel". A fine supporting cast also includes Alan Mowbray and Henry B. Walthall, with a gripping conclusion that brings everything to a close with a great morale to the story.
Torture Ship (1939)
Ship of fools on the voyage of the damned.
Good intentions are the pathway to hell, and in the case of doctor Irving Pichel, he's on his way there with a one-way ticket. Certainly, the idea of experimenting on the criminal mind in an effort to change their ways seems on the surface like a good idea, but his methods really lead to madness-both his and his victims. Gathered together on a ship, Pichel has no idea that his so-called patients are determined to stop him, convinced that his experiments will leave them without memory and possibly crippled for life. The fact that vile law busters end up being the innocent here is certainly not leading the audience to sympathize with any of the characters, even if there are a few women aboard. Pichel's nephew (Lyle Talbot) happens to be the lieutenant steering the ship and ends up working with a few of the criminals to stage a mutiny. Convoluted and non-sensical, this becomes just so absurdly ridiculous that the audience just might end up wishing it over sooner than it is. Ultimately, the entire mess is so cartoonish that the only real torture is for the viewer to get through it.
The Tender Years (1948)
Sometimes sentimentality can make a point without being maudlin or cloying.
This superb family drama is equally important in 40's film history as all the other social issue movies. "The Lost Weekend" expressed a strong portrait of alcoholism. "Gentleman's Agreement" and "Crossfire" took film-goers into the dangerous world of anti-Semetisim and prejudice. "The Lady Gambles" showed us that even a strong woman like Barbara Stanwyck could find the pathway to addiction. The very funny Joe E. Brown took on a rare dramatic role here, playing a country parson who becomes involved in the rescue of a dog mistreated by a dog fight racket, risking imprisonment but fighting to prove his motives were sincere and especially fighting for the rights of so-called "dumb animals" to be treated gently and with compassion.
The sinister head of the dog fight tells the young boy working with him that "dumb animals" aren't like human beings. They don't have feelings, and therefore can be mistreated without repercussions. The poor dog who is practically mauled to death in the ring is then whipped unmercifully, taking off and hiding underneath Parson Brown's house. Brown's animal loving son (Richard Lyon) is able to calm the poor pooch down, even with a meddling little girl standing in his way (fortunately she disappears after this sequence), but the law stands between him making the dog officially his and returning it to its cruel but lawful owners for further mistreatment.
Given a low rating (**) by Leonard Maltin, this is a much better film than that, perhaps one of the first movies to take the issue of animal abuse to such a dramatic level. Brown, with his wide mouth, could create laughs with just the short answer of "no" (or even more with his trademark yell), but all of that is gone here, his sentimental preacher certainly not a perfect man, but yet an every man. This is the type of role that would have fit Fred MacMurray or Henry Fonda perfectly, but the surprise is with Brown's casting. He is excellent, and Lyon is quite the young actor whom you will root for all the way. James Millican provides a multi-dimensional range as the villain, not totally evil, but certainly hissable in the way he treats the dogs he uses for ill-gotten gains.
Among the supporting cast is Josephine Hutchinson as Brown's loyal wife and Noreen Nash as the local Sunday school teacher who is engaged to the local D.A. (Charles Drake), forced against his own beliefs to prosecute Brown for larceny. Some people might find the use of the phrase "dumb animal" offensive, but it is utilized in a way by smart people like Brown to show that little by little, people do wake up to important issues, and need to be shown (particularly by that animal) that they are just as smart as the sometimes not so smart human beings. A cute little baby goat threatens to steal some of the scenery, and when the abused pup and the goat affectionately share a dish of goat's milk, the urge to say "ah..." will take over you instantly.
In His Steps (1936)
Fathers don't know best, especially when it comes to their children being in love.
Released on DVD as "Sins of Children", this powerful drama takes two of MGM's rising teen stars, Eric Linden and Ann Rutherford, and casts them as lovers who escape the wrath of feuding fathers, former business partners who now hate each other. Linden's father cheated Rutherford's dad out of control of his bank, and while their relationship had progressed from childhood sweethearts to being engaged with their parent's blessing, it is now condemned by them. Not wanting to be torn apart because of their parent's hatred of each other, Linden basically kidnaps Parker and after much persuading, convinces her to marry him thanks to their old pals, justice of the peace Roger Imhof and his wife, Clara Blandick, who have been like surrogate parents to them. They hide out working on their farm, learning how to stand up for themselves. But with Rutherford's ailing mother (Olive Tell) on her death bed, it is very apparent that they must go back and face the consequences. In court, Linden faces possible jail time for Rutherford's abduction, and the couple must convince the court that their love for each other is more powerful than any law which tried to keep them apart.
Amazingly easy to take in spite of its obvious sentimentality, this is a mixture of comedy and drama which shows that seemingly spoiled rich kids can make a go of it and learn to thrive on their own without help from their family estates. Linden and Rutherford are totally likable, much smarter than their feuding fathers, while Tell goes from accepting mother to vindictive in-law who uses her illness to try and keep the lovers apart because of her resentments towards Linden for taking "her baby" away from her without her permission. Blandick, the wonderful character actress who entered screen immortality through playing Aunt Polly in the first "Tom Sawyer" film to playing Auntie Em in "The Wizard of Oz" (and years later entered another form of immortality by committing suicide), is the heart and soul of the film, lending the couple a family ring and totally supporting them even though she is aware that Linde broke the law. Harry Beresford is another excellent presence in this film, sort of a moral conscience whose silent presence suggests that he's some sort of Godly spirit meant to bring around understanding for what the two lovers have gone through.
You can't help but feel the struggles these two youngsters go through in their efforts to be together, but their love for each other is the type that will survive because they were obviously meant for each other. Their efforts to succeed on the farm (Rutherford hysterically trying to cook a goose and Linden doing chores around the farm) are light-hearted and take the film into a sweet, sentimental structure that is never cloying or soapy. The final scene in court wraps everything up neatly and satisfactorily, providing lessons to the prideful adults who have obviously forgotten the seriousness of young love as a result of their own embittered hurts. Seriously one of the best poverty row dramas of the 1930's, and even one of the best films of 1936 in spite of the fact that it flopped in its initial release but succeeded under another title ("Sins of Children") the following year. Franklin Pangborn has a nice, unbilled cameo as the flustered clerk who provides the young couple with their marital license.
Portia on Trial (1937)
When it comes to love and motherhood, all women are on trial.
Just think of mother love movies of the 1930's: "Confession", "Madame X", "Imitation of Life", "The Life of Vergie Winters", "Mother Carey's Chickens", etc. Dozens of them....sacrificing mothers, presumed dead mothers, secret mothers, murdering mothers, mothers on trial, and now, mother defending the might-have-been stepmother in this Republic version of the Faith Baldwin story where all is revealed in a remotely short running time. Like Fanny Hurst, Faith Baldwin was a woman's writer, many of her Cosmopolitan stories ending up on the screen starring many of the glamorous stars of the day. Here, the mother, lawyer, and revealer is Frieda Inescort, a second lead of major studios who got a rare lead in a not bad soap opera playing a rather tough character who utilizes her own past to defend the woman who has taken her place with the man (Neil Hamilton) she once loved and might take on the role she never had the opportunity to be: the mother to Hamilton's love child.
All this is revealed pretty early on, but it's the story unfolding which keeps the mystery of why Inescort never got to become Hamilton's wife. The typical domineering wealthy patriarch (Clarence Kolb) had his own reasons for claiming his grandson and keeping Inescort and Hamilton apart, and even years later, he still despises her. He's not pleased at all when she shows up at the engagement party of Hamilton and fiancée Heather Angel, and it soon becomes obvious to Freida that Kolb is up to his old tricks with the fiancée. So when Angel ends up as a defendant in a murder trial, it's a reluctant Inescort who must reach back into her past and find the right defense to make amends with the past and right the wrongs done to her. There's a nice cameo by "Dead End" kid Leo Gorcey as one of Inescort's clients which shows the opposite side of what he played in all those late 1930's "tough kid" movies before the "Bowery Boys" series turned him into the world's oldest juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold.
There's approximately a reel of film missing from the DVD release of this Republic studios women's picture, but the structure of the story is still easy to follow. This is a film about forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation. Top-billed Walter Abel plays the D.A. in love with attorney Inescort (even though they are often on other sides of the bar)but this is Inescort's film all the way. It's pretty lavish by Republic standards, but history has shown that even amongst their many "B" westerns, Republic had an excellent art department, producing a few "A" pictures each year that were the equivalent technically in comparison to the five major studios. This is one of the few Republic films that was "top of the bill", warranting an excellent poster and thorough advertisement coverage in many a Hollywood fan magazine. A restored version of this would be an excellent addition to classic films which are being re-discovered and might even take its rating up a notch or two.
Alimony Madness (1933)
Squashed like the bug she is, justifiable homicide or the ruthless actions of a clawing tiger woman?
Second wife kills first wife. What's the story? That's what New York society wants to find out in regards to promising architect Leon Ames (billed as Leon Waycoff), his first wife (Charlotte Merriam) and the black widow on trial, former "Dracula" victim Helen Chandler. Through flashbacks, Ames' past with both wives is examined, with Merriam the most obvious little golddigger, spending Ames' money even before he earns it. He's a rising architect with society matron Blanche Friderici having just hired him for several prominent assignments. But his incoming cash isn't enough for her, leading to divorce court and him agreeing to pretty much every demand she makes. He is paired with Chandler to pretend to be "the other woman" in order to save his soon to be ex's reputation even though it obviously doesn't warrant saving. Soon, he's in court for unpaid alimony, a rather creepy warrant server following him everywhere (with a very sinister tilt of his hat every time they encounter each other), but Chandler has remained devoted, their initial encounter turning into love. Like the second Mrs. De Winter from "Rebecca", she's an innocent in spite of the way they met, and a refreshing change for Ames. They marry, but like a thorn on a beautiful bouquet of roses, Merriam remains a threat. When tragedy strikes the happily married couple thanks to the first wife's interference, Chandler takes shocking, drastic action which leads to her ending up in court, in black, and defending her very existence.
Some drastic over-acting by Chandler weakens this potentially delighftul pre-code women's picture which seems to be more from one of the major studios than one of the poverty row studios. Merriam gives her all to a performance of such selfishness, catering more to her spoiled dog's needs than the rising tragedy in her ex-husband's home, and certainly determined never to ease up. Merriam's portrayal of a "wronged wife" leads Fredirici to drop her account with Ames because of the scandal involved which makes it impossible for Ames to pick up any additional clients. There's a chill in the air in the confrontation scene with Chandler, Merriam and her pooch, accelerated by the medical bill for Merriam's pup (named "Baby") as Chandler has just undergone one of the worst tragedies a woman can imagine. This is a fun pre-code soap opera, a bit more elegantly made than a lot of poverty row studio fare, even if some of Chandler's acting (and that pesky warrant server) are more than just slightly annoying.