Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
Chance at Heaven (1933)
Mocking rich folks
This might have been a stronger film without the Ginger Rogers character, definitely a darker one.
The true star here is Marian Nixon, directed by her future husband William Seiter; they'd marry a year later in 1934. She gives a great performance, looking sexy and beautiful while keeping her shallow character believable. I didn't think she'd have it in her after seeing her as the good girl in "Winner Take All" (1932) and "After Tomorrow" (1932).
The movie seems to be mocking the upper class, showing that their values are not only different from average Americans, but are also shallow, and even downright evil. All this is embodied in the character Nixon plays. Nixon tries to be a wife to average Joe Joel McCrea, but she's can't quite do it; she constantly calls on good girl Rogers to bail her out. I love how her failure is reflected in her dress; from the front, she looks like an average housewife, dressed in a flower-printed frock; from the back, her true self comes out -- she's completely topless, wearing short black bottoms, a sight only to be found in a pre-code movie. It seems clear that her only attraction to McCrea in the first place was physical/sexual. At the end, not only does she fail as a wife, she doesn't even want to be a mother; she gets an abortion and returns to her old life. Perhaps the abortion is a metaphor for the lengths that that class as a whole will go to preserve their privileges and fun.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Small town vs. the big city
To me, the main theme of this film seems not so much to be upper class vs. lower class, of rich vs. poor, but of the town vs. the city, of rural values vs. urban values. This is reflected in the very title; "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and, as he says, finds a jungle of magnificent buildings filled with people lacking any real nobility. This is a time honored theme in films of the 1920s and 30s, seen anywhere from silent films like "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (1927), to Warner Bros pre-codes like "Big City Blues" (1932) and Will Rogers vehicles like "State Fair" (1933).
Gary Cooper is often cast as an archetype. Here, he is the archetypal small town American who is filled with common sense, basic decency and a sense of fair play. He goes to the city and is taken advantaged of and mocked by jaded urbanites. His values seem so completely foreign to them that they eventually question his sanity and put him on trial.
Gary Cooper is great; the scene where Cooper discovers Arthur's deception is some of his best acting, completely naturalistic and real. Jean Arthur is amazing as well; the scene on the park bench with Cooper where she realizes Deeds has a lot in common with her own father and small town background is brilliantly played.
Unlike city folk, Deeds will help a neighbor in need. Reflecting his small town values, his plan for Depression relief is to create jobs in agriculture, giving people the chance to be farmers. Deeds would have been better off trying to create industrial jobs. Unfortunately, there wasn't any way for people with small farms operating individually to make much money then or now; agriculture in America has been in a rut since the 1920s. Like many Capra films, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" is a movie that looks backwards, not forward, expressing nostalgia for an America filled with small towns and prosperous farmers, an America that was gone forever in 1936 thanks to the influence of technology.
Stronger Than Desire (1939)
Good movie, better than the original
The movie flows better than the original. It also features quite a bevy of beauties in Virginia Bruce, Ann Dvorak, and Rita Johnson. All bring their A game to this B picture.
Rita Johnson made 3 B films with Walter Pidgeon in 1939. Their first film together, 6,000 Enemies, has Rita playing Pidgeon's put-upon love interest, unjustly imprisoned. After seeing her in that movie, where she acts all innocent, demure and heroic, this film was quite a revelation; she just smolders as a vamp, especially in the scene on the train.
Virginia Bruce made 2 B films with Pidgeon in 1939; I prefer this one to their other one together, Society Lawyer; the acting and story are better. Virigina Bruce was one of the most exquisite beauties of the era. She really shines here, giving one of her better acting performances.
Ann Dvorak steals the movie. She is here directed by her then husband. She really makes you feel her character, especially in the climatic courtroom scene. It was great to see her in a B film that actually showcased her talents. It's a shame she was relegated to B pictures by the late 30s; she could have done so much more.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
Better a mistress than a wife
This screwball comedy has a naughty little premise behind it. A man discovers he isn't legally married and decides not to tell his wife. He'd rather be with her as if she were his mistress and have sex without the benefit of marriage. He finds the idea to be thrilling and exciting. Why he does isn't addressed. Perhaps the idea of defying society's conventions, or maybe the idea of gaining more power over his wife; a man can easily dump a mistress at any time; a wife, there's a long, messy divorce to deal with. Also, there's the sexual element behind it too; presumably sex with a mistress is more thrilling than sex with a wife.
The wife finds out and dumps the husband for trying to turn her into that kind of woman. She dates his law partner, a true Southern gentleman who's entirely prim and proper and would never think of touching a woman before marriage. In the end, the wife finds their relationship unfulfilling, especially when he does not resort to violence to protect her honor. She dumps him and turns back to her hubby, a "real man." It's interesting that the movie ends with the husband getting exactly what he wants, sex with his wife before marriage. In effect, despite his wife's long protest, he wins; he now takes her as his mistress. This is a sex comedy where the man entirely gets his way; his sex dream is realized.
Questions this film asks: does one really have to wait for marriage to have sex? Is it better to have a wife or a mistress? The film also offers insight into the different social standards of the higher and lower class, especially in the scene at the upscale nightclub where Montgomery is embarrassed to be with low-brow Jack Carson and the two low-brow dames Carson brings with him.
Overall, the cast is good, though the three principles all show signs of premature aging. It's interesting to watch movies of the early 40s and see what's become of stars from the late 20s and early 30s. Some are still stars, like Montgomery and Lombard. Others are fading to character status like Gene Raymond. He's almost unrecognizable in dyed black hair as the type of character Ralph Bellamy plays so well in films like "The Awful Truth" and "His Girl Friday"; it's a far cry from Raymond's leading man days of the early 1930s. Saddest of all is to see what happened to another leading lady of the late 20s, Betty Compson. A star from the great 1928 film "The Docks of New York," she's truly unrecognizable here as the beat-up, low-class hag Gertie.
Norman Krasna's script is serviceable, with a number of truly funny lines and scenes, mostly avoiding the sort of cliché-riddled, unfunny, idiotic cuteness that makes the 1943 film "Princess O'Rourke" so intolerable, a film for which Krasna inexplicably won the Academy Award for best screenplay. The first half of the film is the best half, before the focus shifts to Lombard and the boring Raymond. Hitchcock is serviceable too, though anyone could have directed this film. Obviously, Hitch didn't have the gift of an Ernst Lubitsch when it came to sex comedies. Neither did anyone else, and at least Hitch here makes no pretense as to having the "Lubitsch touch," unlike Billy Wilder, who failed numerous times in trying to recreate it, in movies like "Sabrina"(1954). "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" does deal with some domestic themes that Hitch is particularly fond of though, namely the battle of the sexes and the husband getting his way in the end.
Compromised film with a miscast Cary Grant
Coming a year after Rebecca (1940), this film pales in comparison, particularly in the art direction and production design. If they wanted to do a film with a similarity to Rebecca, just without the budget, the least they could have done was to keep the story daring. The original idea behind it, of a female murder victim telling her story, of how, "before the fact," she started to become dimly aware that her husband wanted to kill her, and that at the end, she was even complicit in it, is interesting. It's unfortunate the producers didn't stick with this original idea all the way to the end. Instead, the woman is not murdered and her husband is never a murderer!
As told on screen, the story has several holes, with the motivation of the characters not being fully explained. For instance, Joan Fontaine's character is supposedly so in love with Grant's; why then does she assume so quickly that Grant will resort to murdering his best friend? Sure, he's lied, cheated and stole, but murder? What benefit does murdering his friend give him? Apparently none, since soon after the deed, Fontaine finds out that Grant needs more money and is trying to borrow from her life insurance policy; she then assumes he will kill her! Overall, Fontaine's character and performance are less believable here than in Rebecca.
The main problem with the film is the casting of Cary Grant. Through the mid-40s, Grant was known for taking a number of odd roles, roles that were different from his usual screen persona, in an attempt not to be typecast. Sometimes, like in Gunga Din, he succeeded. Others, like in The Talk of the Town, he was merely all right. And still others, he didn't succeed at all. Suspicion falls into this latter category. Grant plays the dark side too broadly. He gives an almost bipolar or manic depressive performance. For the moments where he's supposed to be happy and charming, he's the typical Cary Grant; for when he's supposed to be mean and dangerous, it's obvious he's mean and dangerous; he just clams up and gives an evil eye. A little more subtlety would have helped. Perhaps still have him be charming while being mean and murderous?
But another problem was audience acceptance. Audiences probably wouldn't have accepted seeing Cary Grant as a mean murderer. The producers were fully aware of this; hence the compromised solution of making Grant innocent in the end.
Thus, with Grant, the film just wasn't allowed to fully realize its potential or original idea. The producers felt the audience wouldn't accept it, and they were probably right. Perhaps with a different actor in the role, say Ray Milland or Fredric March, the audience would have been more willing and perhaps the producers wouldn't have changed the ending of the film, or maybe they would at least have left it ambiguous as to whether Johnnie was a murderer and as to whether or not he did kill his wife. This would have been much more interesting than what we got.
Test Pilot (1938)
A weak film. To see its shortcomings, just compare it to Howard Hawks' "Only Angels Have Wings," a masterful film made a year later dealing with many of the same emotional issues. For example, compare the death scenes in the two movies; "Test Pilot" is not in the same league.
Clark Gable is too Clark Gable. He should have reigned in his persona a little more here; more subtlety in his character would have done the film a lot of good. But perhaps coming off of "Parnell," a good movie but a bomb at the box office where he did depart from his typical macho character, he was less willing to take chances. Here, he does his typical macho character to the hilt.
Myrna Loy is severely miscast as a Kansas girl whose backyard Gable uses for an emergency landing. She just looks too elegant, refined. Seeing her yelling and getting all excited at a baseball game just seems so out of character for her; an embarrassing scene. And like Gable, she over-emotes during most of the dramatic moments. Subtlety goes a long way; just ask Spencer Tracy.
Of the three stars involved, Tracy comes out the best. His acting is the most naturalistic. Too bad he doesn't have a character. Just what exactly is his character's deal? Why is he hanging around Gable so much, blowing kisses at him as he takes off, living with him even after he's married. Is he related to Gable or just gay?
I for one really don't like the pairing of Gable and Tracy. All three films they made together are weak (the first 40 minutes of "Boom Town" are good, but the movie quickly falls apart after that). In each, Gable is the unabashed, reckless, macho man, while Tracy is the morbid, grumpy, moral compass. Both actors deserve better and get better on their own. Perhaps "Test Pilot" would have been a much more satisfying movie with just Gable or just Tracy; with them together, it doesn't get off the ground. A disappointment, considering all the talent involved, in front of and behind the camera.
My Favorite Wife (1940)
An unnecessary do-over
"My Favorite Wife," uses the formula, the stars and the director of the hugely successful "The Awful Truth," and tries to do it all over again. Unfortunately, this time, it falls flat, feeling like exactly what it is, a rehash of a much, much better film. Instead of trying to do something different, we get the same story, slightly changed but with the same gags and plot devices. In both, there is a married couple dealing with a separation. In both, the wife tries to hoodwink a female paramour by adopting a weird accent. In both, the wife tries to convince the husband that nothing happened with a male admirer. In "The Awful Truth," the first half of the film was concerned with the husband's jealousy over another man; the second half with the wife trying to get rid of the inconvenient other woman. In "My Favorite Wife," this plot structure is simply reversed, the other woman comes in the first half, the husband's jealousy in the second. This is about as original as "My Favorite Wife" gets. Children are also added this time around, unnecessarily, serving to make everything feel more domestic and boring. The film ends appropriately, in a sad attempt to recapture the magic at the end of "The Awful Truth." It stages the scene in practically the same way. While "The Awful Truth" ended with a dignified Grant and Dunne finally getting together, "My Favorite Wife" ends with Grant in a Santa Claus suit, a fitting contrast between the two films.
Randolph Scott is wasted here, his role amounting to more of a cameo, less a full-fledged character. The reason he's in the movie at all is probably to make light of the rumors concerning his real-life relationship with Cary Grant (they lived together for a number of years). The film has Grant almost swoon at the sight of a shirtless Scott taking a dive, and later it has Grant sitting in his office, reliving the moment in his mind. And then there's the scene of Grant looking through women's clothing, holding them up to a mirror, while telling a doctor, "I have to go, he's waiting for me in the car!" Fun at the expense of Cary Grant's sexuality is probably the most interesting thing about the picture.
Overall, this movie is lifeless, a bankrupt attempt to recreate the success of "The Awful Truth." It repeats too many elements, and not very successfully. Watch "The Awful Truth" instead.
The Awful Truth (1937)
The cinematic context
There are a number of direct similarities between this movie and the 1935 Paramount film "Hands Across the Table," starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray. Both films have the main male character getting a fake tan from a sun lamp. Both have scenes where the male and female character are up at night in separate rooms, pacing up and down and wondering whether or not one should join the other. Both have Ralph Bellamy as the "other man," the "loser," certain to be dropped by the leading lady in favor of the star. In fact, Bellamy's character in this film is called "Leeson," which is how one would actually pronounce the last name of the director of "Hands Across the Table," Mitchell Leisen! (I was half expecting to see Bellamy bring out the wheelchair that he had in the earlier film!)
Maybe the similarities in the two films lie with Viña Delmar? She's identified as being on the writing team for both. In a way, "The Awful Truth" is a more comedic, more zany re-working of "Hands Across the Table." Instead of Fred MacMurray trying to put one over on his fiancé with the help of manicurist Carole Lombard, in "The Awful Truth," it's Cary Grant trying to put one over on his wife Irene Dunne who in this case is now in on the gag.
"The Awful Truth" is the stronger film mainly because of the director and the actors. The material isn't taken too seriously. The improvisation that reportedly took place on the film works in playing up the extra light touch. It also gives the movie a kind of energy and a feeling of spontaneity that "Hands Across the Table" and other studio films from this period lacked. With "The Awful Truth," each scene feels like a moment.
One other interesting note: At the end, it seems likely that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne will now spend the night together in the one room on the one bed. But, as they mentioned, their divorce is official at midnight! They're going to wake up and not be married! Where was the Production Code here? Where's the reference to calling up a preacher to hurry over and remarry them quick, or to waiting until tomorrow to do the deed, after getting re-hitched? My goodness gracious!
Sob Sister (1931)
Sex before marriage ain't no sin
This is a good movie, with likable actors playing likable characters. Minna Gombell is in top form as a noisy friend, and James Dunn is quite amiable. Linda Watkins steals the show as the female lead. A pretty blonde with short, finger-waved hair, she is quite appealing and very engaging, displaying a persona both fragile and tough. She bears a passing resemblance to Helen Chandler. It's a shame she didn't make more movies in the 1930s.
What's most surprising about this film is it's frank treatment of the relationship between Watkins and Dunn, particularly their sexual relationship. Dunn and Watkins are both reporters who live in the same apartment house. He visits her each morning for breakfast over the course of a few weeks. They start to fall in love, with each contemplating marriage, though Dunn believes it wouldn't work because Watkins is too much of a "sob sister," so attached to her work that she'd miss it and would become bored if she ever married and became a housewife, a woman who'd have to quit her job and devote herself completely to taking care of the household.
Returning to the apartment house late one night after covering a story, Dunn invites Watkins to his apartment where they eventually embrace and the screen fades to black. The next scene has Watkins straightening her hair and clothes, while the noise of a shower runs in the background. She leaves Dunn a note taped to the mirror saying "no regrets."
What's even more remarkable is that the movie doesn't shy away or forget the fact that the two had sex. Through a misunderstanding, Dunn comes to believe that Watkins slept with him in order to steal material he had on a story. He calls her cheap and she's shocked that he'd think her capable of that. She slept with him out of love. It's really surprising to find a movie from this period dealing so frankly and clearly with the motivations behind a couple having sex!
The movie ends with all misunderstandings cleared up and the couple married. There seems to be no ill effects from them having had sex before marriage. Watkins is not demonized in any way because of the sex; after it occurs, she is still treated as the heroine in the picture and her character is not looked down upon whatsoever. The movie seems to imply that sex before marriage, at least between those who love each other, is OK, even inevitable, quite a forward and frank attitude for 1931, an attitude that would soon be banned from pictures for close to forty years.
Film noir, Frank Borzage style
To me, this film seems more like a homage to Frank Borzage, especially his film from 1933, "Man's Castle," with Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young. The two leading characters are the same as in the Borzage picture, as is the basic gloomy setting, which, through the development of the characters' love, turns luminous. In both, the lovers start out desperate and lost. They ultimately find meaning in a meaningless world only in each other. "Moontide" can be seen as "Man's Castle" done after the Code. The relationship between Gabin and Lupino is the same as the relationship between Tracy and Young in "Man's Castle," except special care has to be taken to emphasize the fact that Gabin and Lupino have not slept together, and are in fact getting married forthwith. For me, the homage to Borzage is what gives "Moontide" its charm. The film noir aspect of the film, by contrast, feels as if it was clumsily tacked on, almost as afterthought, and to me is to the film's detriment.
Lupino is solid as always, and Gabin is good. He's sort of channeling Maurice Chevalier here, but without Chevalier's looks. Perhaps his looks, more akin to a supporting character, doomed his chances in America to become a leading star; that and the fact he was reportedly difficult to work with.