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She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Readers might wonder what I'm referring to - the movie or Mae West. "She Done Him Wrong" is a Mae West product from start to finish, as she has all the best lines and steals every scene she's in. Plus, she's here recreating her Broadway stage success and even gets a writing credit on the picture.
As everyone has noted, this was the movie that made Cary Grant a star, and the scenes where the two are on screen together are the best in the picture. On hand are several familiar old faces, including Noah Beery, Sr. and David Landau. The picture won an AA nomination for Best Picture, remarkable in itself as this is an audacious movie for its time.
I thought that some of the acting was forced and unnatural, whether by accident or on purpose. The most egregious overactor was Owen Moore, who plays Mae's old flame who has 'taken the rap' for her and wants her to wait for him to be released. But Mae is the whole show and does some scenery-chewing herself. Her act is dated and exaggerated but is fascinating to watch.
Murder on a Honeymoon (1935)
The Odd Couple
Interesting casting; a dowdy British matron teams up with a wisecracking New York City detective to solve a mystery. Turns out it was a great idea, and you wish they could have made a whole series, like the Charlie Chans, instead of just three of them. And that is our loss.
Edna May Oliver is entertaining in anything she appeared in and the same goes for James Gleason. Together they are great fun and play well off each other, with neither giving any ground and holding their own as verbal sparring partners. "Murder On A Honeymoon" was even co-scripted by Robert Benchley and directed by Lloyd Corrigan - not too shabby on the credits.
The plot is a good one and you will be hard-put to guess the murderer. There is some plot contrivance toward the end of the picture, but if you're like me you'll just go with it. It's like that with many good movies that hold your interest throughout, a trademark of the way Hollywood used to make movies.
The Velvet Touch (1948)
Great story, great script, great cast. Until it appeared on TCM the other day I had never heard of "The Velvet Touch". It was released through RKO and was produced by comparatively unknown Independent Artists, and then presumably dropped out of sight - you can't find this picture in any format nowadays, but it deserves to be seen.
The script is the thing here, reminiscent of 'All About Eve" with the same type of crackling dialogue and one-line zingers. Can't find any fault with the cast as all fit perfectly into their parts, especially Rosalind Russell in the lead role and Leon Ames as her Svengali-like producer/nemesis. I thought Sidney Greenstreet as the Police Captain was a neat bit of off-beat casting and I hardly noticed his upper class British accent. Saving the best for last, as Claire Trevor put out another outstanding performance as 'the other woman'. She was one of our most underrated actresses and I can't think of one bad job ever turned in by this Westchester,NY native.
Can't think of a single flaw in 'The Velvet Touch". Nearly perfect filmmaking, which hardly ever happens anymore. This sort of Hollywood product was once the norm and is now the exception, in a medium which, sadly, has become form over substance.
Secrets of an Actress (1938)
"Secrets Of An Actress" is pretty much a routine soaper without much to recommend it - except that this one has a stellar cast trying bravely to put it over. The odds are stacked against them as the plot is hackneyed and predictable right up to the ending. There is nothing exceptional to the story, no real highs or lows and the best part of this trudge through the landscape is the background music.
In a review above, blanche-2 explains why Kay Francis, one of Hollywood's more glamorous and sophisticated 30's stars, found herself in this exercise in tedium. Ian Hunter and George Brent also must have been at loose ends and looking for something to do, but between the two of them and Kay Francis they are able to keep the lightweight story afloat. For my money the website has this picture very overrated.
Tugboat Annie (1933)
Stand By Your Man
I thought Marie Dressler was great and died too soon, and that's the main reason for my rating on "Tugboat Annie". She carries the picture and was better than she was in "Min and Bill", the one she won an AA for three years before. The narrative here is more a series of vignettes on the life of a tugboat skipper, strung together and concerning the same group of people. The plot seems disjointed and each episode is an end in itself.
What is really annoying is the presence, or rather the character played by Wallace Beery. He was adept at playing a big slob but he overdoes it in 'Tugboat Annie", so much so that you wish he would get washed overboard or that she would leave him ashore, preferably on foreign soil. There is no way anyone could put up with incompetence and irresponsibility of this kind. He plays an unabashed drunk who nearly ruins her financially, and the ending barely justifies his behavior to that point.
Robert Young and Maureen O'Sullivan are along for appearances but with little to do. But it is a chance to see one of the best comediennes ever to grace the Silver Screen and Hollywood was poorer for it when she passed on.
Three Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Thought "Gilda" was fascinating, and I'm glad I finally caught it. I like Film Noir and this was a good one, but I had some reservations. The plot was good and centers on the three principals in as tense a menage a trois as you will find on the screen. They tread a fine line between mutual jealousy and hatred and almost all of it centered around Rita Hayworth, who is breathtakingly beautiful in this movie. Having said that...
I thought the three principals were presented as neurotic bordering on psychopathic as they try to one-up each other in incivility, glowering at one another and hurling veiled insults. The script fairly crackles with nearly-overdone noir dialogue, as snappy repartee and epigrammatic one-liners abound giving several scenes an artificial feel. The storyline reveals itself as the movie goes along, giving a little away at intervals until by the end of the picture it all comes together, which I thought was very effective storytelling. Some reviewers objected to the ending, which I didn't mind so much given all that had taken place up to that point. I just thought it added another surreal touch, in a movie that may be as far from reality as a movie can get.
Still, if you are a noir fan or just a movie fan, "Gilda" is not to be missed. It is not in a class with "Out Of The Past", perhaps the best of the noir genre, but is an example of what studio heads would consider superior noir. But studio heads are not earthbound like the rest of us.
Falls Apart At The End
I thought "Backfire" was an engrossing story, a noir told in flashbacks. The script was literate and had some snappy repartee customary of the genre. It was genuinely mysterious as injured war vet Gordon MacCrae searches all over Los Angeles for his missing buddy Edmond O'Brien. He comes across several dead ends and there seems to be no apparent answer for his predicament, or for a lead on the whereabouts of O'Brien.
Then came the ending. As so often happens in many movies, the screenwriters seemed stumped for a way to end their story, and resort to unsatisfactory circumstances that do not fit the rest of the plot and spring a ridiculous final scene on us that leaves us slack-jawed. They also leave us with unanswered questions and give us a chance at revenge via the IMDb website by awarding a lower rating than it was originally destined for.
Remember the Night (1940)
Fred And Barbara Make It Better
I think I was expecting something funnier or something more clever from Preston Sturges, and so I was disappointed in "Remember The Night". It's funny in spots but the storyline is too far-fetched and contrived for the website's present rating.
It starts off OK, as shoplifter Stanwyck is pinched shortly before Christmas and appears in a New York courtroom with Mac Murray as the prosecuting attorney. Here ensues a humorous scene, with Willard Robertson as the defense lawyer in what must be his best role. His long-winded and tear-jerking defense causes the trial to be put off until after Christmas, which means Stanwyck will have to spend the holiday in jail.
The plot here goes far afield. Feeling sorry for her, MacMurray bails her out, finds out she has nowhere to go and volunteers to drop her off at her home, which is a few towns away from his in Indiana - will wonders never cease, huh? The scene in which her mother disowns her is leaden and tough sledding, and doesn't fit with the general light-hearted theme of the picture. The picture could have lost me right there except for the star power of Fred and Barbara, who guide the picture through some more improbable circumstances until the improbable ending.
It plays like a romantic drama, and a pretty fantastic one at that. It is also not typical Sturges stuff. In the website notes it is remarked that Sturges was very displeased with the final cut, so perhaps some essential elements of the story were left on the cutting room floor. I have to think that is a regrettable fact, as this picture desperately needed a rewrite in several places.
A Boy And His Horse
A fairly routine story which telegraphs much of its storyline and is, by and large, an unremarkable horse story. But there is a difference in this one - this one stars Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood's brightest, most talented stars. And that makes all the difference.
Mickey is a track stableboy who loves the horse he is assigned, so much so that he buys the horse for a song when its owner gives up on it. He teams up with Wallace Beery, who turns out to be an ex-veterinarian but is now an alcoholic hobo. Together they turn the horse into a champion, with a few side stories thrown in for good measure.
Rooney and Beery play well off each other, two pros doing what they do best. Mickey can turn on the tears whenever needed and Beery could play a slob better than anyone. There are some good character acting alongside the pair, but those two make the picture go all by themselves. "Stablemates" is 'B' picture material with top shelf Hollywood actors.
Christmas in July (1940)
Enjoyed "Christmas In July" as it was funny but not uproariously so. The hero, Dick Powell, thinks he has won a 25,000 dollar prize for submitting the winning slogan for Maxford House coffee, but he really didn't - it was the result of a practical joke by some co-workers. The story hinges, then, on a mean-spirited prank, which for me took some of the fun out of the movie.
Dick Powell and Ellen Drew were the couple who had great plans but were brought down to earth when the hoax was uncovered. The best role in the picture went to Raymond Walburn as the bombastic, harried President of Maxford House and who had some of the best lines. Powell's character turns out to be a big-hearted, generous sort, with presents for as many neighbors and acquaintances as he could think of, which I felt made the joke even more heartless. I know, it was only a movie, but that's the way it struck me. De gustibus non est disputandum, as they say.