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Gertrude Messinger is a Darling!!, 28 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Chester and Sidney Franklin had a special affinity with children and their children's pictures, "The Rivals" and "Let Katie Do It" won praise from D.W. Griffith who then commissioned them to write and direct a series of pictures designed to appeal to children. In the very early days films could be seen by everyone and because of the short running time (1 or 2 reels) it was easy for children to sit through the films without being bored or fidgety. But suddenly stories became not only longer but more adult and at times risqué in content so studios looked into putting together units that concentrated on films specifically designed for children. The Franklins were then approached by Winfield Sheenan on behalf of the Fox studios to work on a group of fantasy fairy tales of a scope and breadth never before thought of.

"Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" was a witty exuberant adventure story that walked a fine line between satire and social parody. The children enter so much into the spirit of things, wildly gesticulating and with such expressive faces (especially little Francis) obviously learned from watching emotive actresses such as Theda Bara, Norma Talmadge etc.

"Fie upon your love - you little pig with a moustache" says the Princess (Virgina Lee Corbin) who then declares she will never marry. That is before she sees Aladdin (Francis Carpenter) who retrieves her shoe - "and you can even put it on my little foot"!! The evil Prince (actually played by a little girl, Violet Radcliffe, who plays the part with all the gusto and sneers and gestures at her disposal. She always seemed to play the villain's parts but she died quite young, in her teens), manages to lure Aladdin into the cave to fetch the lamp but when he won't hand it over, the prince traps him in the cave.

The movie was so lavishly mounted with vast sets, elaborate costumes, even some trick photography - when Aladdin is racing to the palace a wall is no obstacle, he simply flies over it. In another part the evil prince is presenting his matrimonial claim to the palace - Aladdin, with his lamp, turns him into a fish peddler and his gifts become flapping fish!! Most adorable scene involves the Princess's little slave Yasmini (Gertrude Messinger, her brother Buddy plays Omar, the prince's equally bad henchman - at one time he pretends to be blind to lure the unsuspecting Aladdin into their tent and a pretty realistic fight takes place). Anyway Yasmini entertains with a harem dance - words can't describe it, wiggling hips, wiggling arms, little flying feet - one of the adult attendants gets the giggles and doubles over with laughter - definitely not in the script!!!

Every fairy tale has to have a giant or a genie and Elmo Lincoln (who soon became the first movie Tarzan) played the gigantic genie who appeared and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Francis Carpenter's career petered out in the early 1920s, Virginia Lee Corbin went on to flapper roles ("Bare Knees" etc) but also died young, in her early 30s and Gertrude Messinger appeared in a couple of Penrod films in the early 1920s but then went on to uncredited bits.

Night Work (1930)
Eddie Quillan Found a Way to Shine!!!, 25 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sally Starr was going to be MGM's answer to Clara Bow and she was very cute and snappy in "So This Is College"(1929) (a film that also introduced Robert Montgomery) but her part was not sympathetic (always a bad sign) and by 1930 she was already at Pathe (really down there). In "Night Work" she doesn't have much to do (and talks very fast) but Eddie Quillan does though and he runs the gamut of emotions in this feel good movie which has a bit of everything. Although a bit over long Eddie plays Willie, a peppy window dresser who hopes someday to make his mark in the department store where he works. He also doubles as a "fired man" - whenever a customer comes in with a complaint, Eddie is sent for as head of department to be told off and fired, leaving the customers with a happy glow!! He meets Mary Robins (Sally Starr) an assistant at the local orphanage who is in town to promote a sponsorship appeal. Eddie accidentally signs up, doesn't realise it is not a one off but finds himself really falling for cute little Oscar (Douglas Scott is adorable). Oscar's parentage is a mystery - he was brought to the home 4 years before on April 1st and according to the taxi driver, the shadowy woman offered him $50 to forget her and the ornate ring she wore. Hearing of this unusual story a wealthy businessman is convinced that Oscar is his grand child but that's all Willie needs to spur him into action towards getting the adoption fee.

He gets a second job as a night waiter at a ritzy club and this is where the musical interlude comes in. Marjorie "Babe" Kane was a cute singer in those early musicals, usually used as a specialty singer and often the bright spot in sometimes dreary films ("The Great Gabbo"). She did sound similar to Helen Kane but if you have ever heard Ginger Rogers in her early appearances ("A Night in a Girl's Dormitory", "Young Man of Manhattan") she had a similar style but one she had developed during her teenage years - she called it a "babytalk" style. Anyway Kane sounds more like Ginger!! She does a cute song called "I'm Tired of My Tired Man". There is also a dance contest where Willie is called on to do some fancy eccentric dancing with partner (Addie McPhail). Of course he hasn't told Mary any of this as she thinks he is an oil magnate - he big noted himself but his oil wells never came in!! When she finds out her heart is broken but all is not lost as it seems there was another baby bought in the same night - and he proves the long lost heir!!

Quillan juggled many styles - the goofy romantic, eccentric dancer, the crooner and the heart felt dramatic, proving that the stirring parts in "Black Legion" and "The Grapes of Wrath" were in him from the start. Also "Our Gang" member Shirley Jean Ricketts was one of the cute orphans.

Air Eagles (1931)
Terrific Title Wasted on a Pretty Hum Drum Movie!!, 23 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Would definitely not put this pot boiler alongside greats like "Hell's Angels" or "The Dawn Patrol" - my first thought was what a terrific title wasted on such a half baked movie!! It begins at a flea bitten carnival with the old "two guys in love with the same girl" refrain. The lucky one who has his affection returned is Otto (Norman Kerry) but it is clear he is a "no good nik"!! Eve (lovely Shirley Grey in one of her first movies, unfortunately she lacked that elusive star quality) is forced to hide their engagement and he introduces her to everyone as his cousin!! - that should ring alarm bells with her but it doesn't!! He and Bill are flyers from the war but he has taken the wrong road. It all comes out when the carnival plays Bill's home town, the three of them decide to stay and Bill finds there are jobs a plenty flying planes for the mines but when Otto sits for the test he realises his past won't bear close inspection. He then persuades Eve to "vamp" Bill's kid brother, Eddie, who has a huge crush on her and is all set to take a job in the mail flying corps. She wants him to take the dangerous mining job - Otto intends Eddie to land in a remote spot, then claim he has been robbed of the payroll. They will go 50-50 but it is clear Otto intends to kill Eddie and take off with it all. Eddie refuses backed up by Eve who has now fallen in love with Eddie.

And where is the star Lloyd Hughes?? - as good guy Bill he has a role he could play in his sleep. He could easily be dispensed with - he doesn't even get a look in with the girl. Otto and Eddie (equally colourless Matty Kemp) are duking it out for those honours. The aerial shots make up probably about 10 minutes of the actual movie. Most interesting member of the cast is Norman Kerry who had a pretty healthy silent career - he was leading man in three Lon Chaney specials "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Unknown" but he didn't much survive the talkies and this was one of his last. In the 1930s he went to France and joined the Foreign Legion so maybe he had a mysterious past!!

Romantic Garden Idyll, 22 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

May have been taken from a popular hymn "In the Garden", written the same year. Such a crisp, clear picture and because Thanhouser had the space, it is obviously filmed as the title suggests - in a garden. Little Marie Eline, "the Thanhouser kid", has a main part, as the old gardener remembers back to his first day, when he secretly sees "Master Jack" from next door give Marie a kiss. Years pass and Jack returns from college when Marie is sixteen but there is now a rival for Marie's affections, a friend of her father's who monopolizes her time. He is the cause of Jack and Marie's first real quarrel. They part for twenty years until Jack now has a desire to revisit the garden of happier times. Marie also has never married and has reopened the garden as a haven for all the poor children of the neighbourhood.

Marguerite Snow and James Cruze played the lovers, they were also married in real life, Harry Benham plays "the troublemaker", Leland Benham (his son) plays Little Jack and Helen Badgeley plays one of the poor children.

...from here!!, 19 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Originally conceived as a farce by its two authors, Ivor Novello and Constance Collier, it had a short run in the West End and longer in the provinces where Novello, who also starred, thrilled female fans by washing his bare legs after the rugby match!! The wit didn't transfer to the movie (only the title!!) the plot of which was so melodramatic it must have given Hitchcock, Novello and others of the sophisticated cast a bit of a laugh.

The initial part shows Ivor as Robby Berwick, a school captain and star footballer at an exclusive English boarding school. He is lured into a threesome involving his best friend Tim, a scholarship boy and a grasping waitress Mabel (shades of "Of Human Bondage"). When Mabel finds herself pregnant she makes a fuss at the school and picks out Robby as the father (even though it is really Tim) as she sees his wealth as a bonus. He promises never to break his trust as Tim cannot afford to be expelled. The nicest scene in the movie for me is when Robby is left in charge of the little shop, a boy comes in with a halfpenny and Robby sells him a box of chocolates, next thing all his little mates are at the door waving halfpennies - very funny and a chance for Ivor to have a bit of fun.

Alfred Hitchcock finds a way to add some wonderful touches - his title "the world of make believe" shows Robby, thrown out of home, is now working as a waiter. The couple move from the table and he then discreetly pockets what looks like a wallet but suddenly the camera moves back and you find Robby is a waiter - in a play, the two he was serving are the stars and elusive Julia has once again forgotten her cigarette case!! Isabel Jeans just sparkles as the money hungry Julia, she thinks Robby is a sweet boy but Archie (Ian Hunter) is the one who pays the bills - that is until Robby comes into a 30,000 pounds inheritance, then suddenly the society pages carry photos of Robby and Julia, his wife. She still hasn't given up Archie and both of them continue to bleed him dry until ..... his inheritance exhausted he becomes a gigolo!!

It is when Robby can't go any lower that Hitchcock is able to experiment with unusual shots - a descending escalator to show his downward spiral, dream sequences, intensified by his delirium, that blur all the people who have bought him down sitting at a table playing cards. Perhaps the finest of all (in my opinion) a montage of super imposed images starting with the squalid lanes of the East End, then each street getting a little bit neater and nicer until Robby is back in his own gentrified surroundings.

An excellent film that shows some innovative Hitchcock touches.

"You'll Learn to Like the West and Love Me", 17 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the early 19 teens westerns were far from the "poor relations" they came to be regarded in the late 1920s, 1930s etc, when an "outdoor special" sent a chill through many an "over the hill" star's heart. Back in the early times they were a sure fire way to build popularity and fame and a noted stage actor like Dustin Farnum found himself in the front ranks of the newly emerged star system because of his portrayal in "The Squaw Man" and "The Virginian" - both specials and definitely not B grade oaters. "The Virginian" had had a reasonable run (138 performances) at the Manhattan Theatre, 1908 with Dustin Farnum recreating his stage role in Cecil B. DeMille's stunning 1914 film.

One of the reasons the film flowed so smoothly was the involvement of Owen Wister, who not only wrote the original book, he was also involved in the stage production. Farnum plays "the Virginian", a free spirited cowboy whose natural leadership qualities make him instantly popular when he rides into Bear Creek. He finds an old friend there but Steve has been recruited by Trampas, the town renegade and bully who doesn't have to try very hard to convince him of the merits of being an outlaw. Bear Creek has another new resident - Molly Wood a struggling music teacher who feels the Great West will give her more opportunities but her high hopes are almost dashed when she has to grapple with a drunken stage coach driver who then, to save face, starts to circulate lurid stories about her in the town!!

She is given a town barbecue in her honour and it is there that the Virginian hatches one of his practical jokes - to mix the babies up so the parents will take home the wrong children - hilarious!!! Needless to say the joke doesn't go down too well - especially with Moly who is beginning to regret coming to such an uncouth place. He tells her - "You're going to learn to like the West and love me"!! Suddenly things turn dramatic - the cattle rustlers are rounded up - Steve amongst them, he leaves a farewell note to his pal, "Sorry Pard, if I try to appeal to you, I'll end up being a baby"!! Trampus is not amongst them, he has skipped out like a coward but it is Steve's note that leads the Virginian to the villain and the shoot out in the lone town at sunset.

Winifred Kingston who played Molly eventually married Dustin Farnum.

Night Beat (1931)
Patsy Ruth Miller's Appearance is All Too Brief!!, 14 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This little pot boiler was the last film appearance but one of the actress who had charmed the public as Esmerelda the dancing girl in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"(1923) and who also had the dubious title of "The Most Engaged Girl in Hollywood" in the 1920s - Patsy Ruth Miller. The plot, unfortunately, didn't stand or fall on Patsy's appearance as Eleanor, D.A. Marty's girl but who falls for his army buddy who has re-invented himself as a gangster wanting to take over a rival's territory. She has about three scenes but she's still nice to watch and makes you wonder why she dropped out after this one!!

By the end of 1931 and with dynamic films like "Little Caesar" and "The Public Enemy", the F.B.I. was desperate to crack down on the glamorization of gangsters and tried to show that police work could be just as exciting. It didn't work - until Cagney and Robinson got into uniforms but lost none of their pugnacity. This was an okay movie - nothing special. Walter McGrail plays D.A. Marty who, when requesting a meeting with big time crime boss Johnny Mollino, realises it is his old army buddy who has turned to crime. As played by breezy Jack Mulhall it is not a stretch of the imagination when he happily decides to go undercover after he is appealed to by Marty. At first it looks like a double cross as Mollino uses his position to gun down his old he on the square?? By the end all will be revealed. In a plot device that must have been stolen from "The Racket"(1928), the "Big Boss" goes to the head of the police force to get Mollino, who is now acting as a fully fledged policeman, transferred to the sticks but Mollino then gets a tip off about a jewellery heist that is about to take place in his neighbourhood.

I agree with the other reviewer, it was interesting to realise how esteemed Mussolini was, early in his career. The opening sequence in which a fiery business owner comes to the police station to report on a protection racket - there is a lot of talk about Mussolini having the right idea etc!!

"From the Great Broadway Stage Success"!!!, 12 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

...the credits trumpeted, maybe hoping no-one would notice that the play had already come and gone!! Hardly a success at only 28 performances, it starred Jessie Royce Landis as Elsie Manning, the actress who wants to give up the stage for marriage.

It made a pretty interesting film whose Agatha Christie style plot was a lot better than many of the "let's make it up as we go along" potboilers of the day. Lora Baxter had the lead and while she did come across as stagey, I was surprised to find that this was her only film. She is giving up the bright lights to marry Horace but she still has a former flame waiting in the wings. He is Jim Nichols who would have loved to marry her but has never been able to secure a divorce from his wife. When Jim takes a bad turn and dies, all her friends rally around to take the body to the local sanatorium to avoid a scandal.

Events take an interesting turn with the arrival of sinister Dr. Gruelle (Leo Carillo brings his usual comic quirkiness to the role and really lifts the film) - he is the supposed owner of the hospital but he is more intent on extorting money from distraught Elsie as she learns that Jim was poisoned and everything points to her!! Gruelle is willing (for a huge lump of money Jim has left her in his will) to cover up the evidence of foul play so his death will officially be seen as heart failure. He then summons icy Mrs. Nicholls to the flat - playing them off against each other as he tries to appeal to their baser instincts. Elsie is not having a bar of it but Mrs. Nicholls confesses that there is someone she is now seeing (if so why wouldn't she divorce Jim!!)

Leo Carillo is the only name in the cast - the rest were from the stage. Taylor Holmes was the father of Phillips Holmes who had made a name for himself in films, Lora Baxter's biggest stage success was as Cecilia opposite Leslie Howard in "The Animal Kingdom" - unfortunately for Lora, Myrna Loy was given the part in the film version and never looked back. Also Lora never got another part of note on Broadway and died in her mid 50s.

The Flaming Youth Who Thought!!, 10 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

B.P. Schulberg decided to give 29 year old Dorothy Arzner a chance at directing a top Paramount production featuring Clara Bow. Charles "Buddy" Rogers was asked how he would feel being directed by a woman and "nice guy" Rogers replied that he'd be happy that anyone wanted to direct him!! Arzner came completely under Clara's spell - she thought Clara was a complete natural and understood every emotion she was asked to exhibit. She couldn't understand how someone with no formal training could have such infallible instincts into what worked and what didn't. Arzner said "they called Clara the "flaming youth", well she was the flaming youth who thought"!!! For all that though, "Get Your Man" was more of the typical "It" formula - sort of an "It Girl Goes to Paris"!!!

I agree with all the reviewers here - Clara was a marvel and could make the most inconsequential film seem like something really special - and this film had no hidden meaning. These "by the numbers" formula films were getting too frequent and Clara must have been getting pretty fed up when her adorable cuteness was milked for all it was worth. In fact the first 15 minutes is a lovely "chase" through Paris with Clara as Nancy Worthington, a lively American girl who is spending her first unchaperoned holiday in the City of Love! She keeps bumping into Robert (Rogers) who has been sent to Paris to get the family pearls re-strung, there are hi-jinks at the Paris wax works and they find love at last. Apparently as part of the missing footage Nancy and Robert find themselves locked in the wax works overnight!!

There are a couple of missing reels but not enough to confuse the viewer. The next scene shows Robert back home and eager to break his engagement - yes he and Simone (lovely Josephine Dunn) have one of those old family engagements that was made official when the two were children. But, surprise!! surprise!! Nancy is already there (the missing reels showed her chasing him to his home without his knowledge and being involved in a motor accident!!). Simone is also not keen on the engagement as she also loves another - Henri!! As Nancy advises her "turn Robert back in circulation and get your man"!!

All this still hasn't stopped Nancy from inventing a fiancé of her own - Tommy Cushion!! - one of the Cushions from Davenport!! By the end, the French style farce has evolved into slapstick with a riotous bedroom romp, so Clara can get rid of a real fiancé, this time the Marquis de Villenue and take her own advice to "get her man"!!!

The Soulless Girl, 9 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Clive Brook would have looked back very fondly on "The White Shadow" - even though by 1924 he had cemented his standing (with 30 films) as one of Britain's top film stars, it was the three films he made with Betty Compson when she came to England, that made Hollywood send for him and for the next few years he never looked back.

Alfred Hitchcock may have had a hand in this film but the director, Grahame Cutts, was pretty undistinguished except for the notorious "Cocaine"(1922) made at a time when a few drug scandals had made their way onto the front pages of some British newspapers. Clive Brook as an American was not any more hilarious than Betty Compson playing a wealthy British girl in this romantic drama of soul possession (but unfortunately that's all in the missing reels.

In fact Miss Compson plays twins - she is fun loving Nancy Brent returning home to Devon after finishing school and striking up a shipboard friendship with American Robin Field (Brook). There is a lot hinted at in the titles - Elizabeth, Nancy's mother, has marital woes to do with her husband's increasing dependence on alcohol. Robin, whose time seems to be his own, goes to Devon hoping to meet up with Nancy and he does but, just for a laugh, she sends her twin sister, Georgina, in her place and hides behind a tree to see the results. Behind Nancy's high spirits is a reckless abandon and a perverse pleasure in hurting the person who loves her best. She treats her father with contempt but she is still his favourite and when she runs away, he follows trying to find her - and both disappear.

The titles point out that Nancy is the soul-less one, Georgina has goodness enough for the two of them. When their mother dies, in a lovely shot as the sunlight streams through a church-like window, Georgina goes on a quest to London to find her missing sister. There she meets Robin who mistakes her for Nancy (in order to protect her sister's reputation she goes along with the ploy and pretends to be Nancy) but even though they both fall in love, he misses the fun and gaiety that the real Nancy had in abundance. Enter Louis Chadwick, Robin's friend. Henry Victor was just as much of an international actor as Brook, just not as big a star. His most famous role would be as "Hercules" in Tod Browning's "Freaks"(1932). Seeing him introduced as "Robin's young friend" is a stretch of incredibility as he looks at least 40!! Anyway, he is there to warn Robin about Nancy who he has seen frequenting the notorious Paris café "The Cat Who Laughs"!!

Yes, it is Nancy who now goes by the name of Cherry and has gone to the sordid Bohemian dive to sing, dance and gamble and now the old father makes his appearance as a vagrant who has lost all reason. He and his daughters (Georgina had overheard Louis talking and fled to Paris in the hope of finding her sister) meet but neither sister recognises the old tramp as their father. That's where the film ends and unfortunately it is in the missing reels that the meaning of the "white shadow" is discovered and the theme of soul possession becomes clear. As a complete film it may have been Grahame Cutts moment of cinema glory but as it is.....

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