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Her Husband's Affairs (1947)
When The" Little Lady" is The Brains of The House
This somewhat black comedy is from the pen of Ben Hecht and may remind you a bit of his classic NOTHING SACRED although it's more in the tone of the Hepburn & Tracy films. Lucille Ball stars as a newlywed, newly retired from a successful career writing ad copy but now "just married" to her former co-worker Franchot Tone. Trouble is Tone was never quite the "ad man" his wife was and is hell bent to prove his worth to the company. When an eccentric scientist friend of his invents a new embalming fluid (to turn corpses into permanent glass statues!) he mentions as a side note, it can also be used for an "instant shave" on facial hair. Tone sees this use as his ticket to success and fortune and promotes it in a big time product premiere inviting dignities and the famous (including actor Larry Parks in a cameo as himself) to try the product. They all rave about it but the trouble is that it GROWS hair thicker and worse than before within 24 hours. The day after is a major fiasco for the corporation but it's Lucy to the rescue as she cleverly points out this "new" turn is perhaps an even bigger market - selling it to men bald or with thinning hair - and a new campaign starts much to her husband's irritation. (This particular plot twist the viewer can see miles away given supporting actor Edward Everett Horton is fitted with a very phony looking skull cap to play bald for the first several reels. You can see the edges lines of it on the small screen, can't imagine how obvious it was on the big screen). Determined to be back in the driver's seat, Franchot plots more behind the scene maneuvers which ends up having him on trial for the presumed murder of the professor.
The comedy is hit and miss but Lucy is always excellent and she looks a vision in some very attractive fashions. Tone is over the top at times but does well, the trouble is the brazen sexism of his character is more than a little unpleasant to latter-day viewers and likely to more than a few 1940's ones as well. There's also delicious irony with the movie's theme that Lucy is far more talented than he as "ad man" as the movie starts off with Tone twiddling with lots of unfunny shtick as he plots out his newest ad copy while that goes on for several minutes but Lucy merely raises her eyebrow in sleepy exhaustion as is far funnier showing - to no surprise of course - she's also his superior as a comic and an actor. Among the supporting cast Columbia character contractee Nana Bryant stands out as a socialite who can't help but take a discreet dip in the miracle product during it's premiere to rid herself of a touch of facial hair and lives to regret it.
The Greatest Question (1919)
Ludicrous Griffith Melodrama, Definitely one of His Lesser Films
"The Greatest Question" seems quite damning evidence for D. W. Griffith's detractors and their charges of overrated directing skills and his handling of minority characters. Lillian Gish is lovely in this but this is one of her less empathic Griffith heroines. Best known as Robert Harron's final film, his role isn't much and it's one of his least memorable performances. Ralph Graves is wasted in a bit part as his brother. Edward Wagenknecht tears into Josephine Crowell for overacting in THE FILMS OF D W GRIFFITH but I found her a believable if psychotic villainess, on the other hand Mama of the boys, Eugenie Besserer really chews the scenery on occasion and her slatternly husband (George Fawcett) is rather creepy but of course not as much as a the perv Crowell's married to (George Nichols) who lusts after underage Lil and earlier killed another young girl (witnessed by Gish's character as a child). Griffith's handling of concurrent scenes at different locations is just horrendous, worse than the most hackneyed silent serial and the scene with Besserer and Graves at the graveyard is just weird and poorly staged (most unusual is the mix of Christian fundamentalism and spiritualism though apparently not that uncommon in the late 19th and very early 20th century). The pastoral setting is lovely though, too bad it wasn't used for a genuine romance instead of this absurd little melodrama.
The Old Barn Dance (1938)
Not Enough Dancing - or Singing - in The Barn
Slight Gene Autry vehicle will be a disappointment to those hoping by the time it's a full-fledged country-western musical along the lines of similar "b" movies from the period. Gene stars as a cowboy who sells wild horses in auctions with his group from town to town, singing and entertaining the crowds to get their attention. A young woman whose father owns a small town radio station tries to hire him to help out her failing station as a tractor seller wants an act for him to purchase radio time. Gene is not interested, given tractors are competition for his horses, but the girl tricks Roy into signing a contract just to appear on the radio but not letting him know his slot is sponsored by the tractor salesman. Of course the tractor salesman is also a crooked sort who signs the locals to contracts they can't make payments for and the locals blame Gene (WTH?) and go to whup him, of course they can't but good guy Gene tries to right the wrong done in his name.
Gene has some good western numbers but this is a kind of silly story and the leading lady's actions seem as mercenary as the bad guy. The ending is surprising violent with at least one corpse and in Gene's action scenes toward the end are rather brazenly done by a stuntman who scarcely resembles him.
The Angel with the Trumpet (1950)
A Family's Affairs
Henrietta Stein is a young woman on the back side of twenty having a discreet affair with Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria in the 1880's. Their relationship is little more than a friendship to Rudolf although Henrietta is in love. 31-year-old Rudolf in fact openly confesses his love for a seventeen year old to Henrietta. Realizing their is no future with Rudolf, Henrietta accepts the proposal of Alt, a prosperous piano manufacturer. Rudolf commits suicide on the night of the wedding although his actions appear to be unrelated to the marriage.
Henrietta has a comfortable, settled life as Mrs. Alt but by the turn of the new century has become bored and is neglected by her husband. A Baron friend of Rudolf's whisks her away to a week of public if chaste romance which results in a duel fought between the Baron and Alt. The film then follows the family through two World Wars and a changing Austria.
This ambitious British film seems to be two movies tacked together, the first half seems to be a fictionalized period biopic along the lines of The Great Waltz but with the dawn of World War I for the section half becomes a Cavalcadesque family saga. The cast is very good, particularly Eileen Herlie although she absurdly ages in a period of six years (still having her youthful beauty in 1914 but becoming an old lady by 1920). This film has likely been seen by more American audiences in the past decade than in it's original release back in 1950 due to it's availability online and on public domain DVD releases. The movie looks a bit more of an epic than it really is with the lavish Alt home and the decades sweeping story but sets are somewhat limited and one can't help noting the cast is rather small for a film covering such a long period. This mix of history with fiction (the movie suggests Rudolf's suicide was due to his frustrations with his father and their differences on running the country) and undeveloped plot suggestions (there's a very light hint that Henrietta is pregnant with Rudolf's child at the time of her marriage to Alt but that story is never confirmed or acknowledged in the film) doesn't always work but it holds one's interest until the last reel if not quite succeeding in making one care about the characters.
Rainbow Over Broadway (1933)
A Midwest Family Feud Moves to Manhattan
This poverty row musical from the early 1930's headlines Joan Marsh, a starlet who often stunningly resembled Jean Harlow in publicity photos (though not so much here or in other movies) but actually her part is fairly secondary.
Don (Frank Albertson), a local boy who has made good in show business as a pianist at a lavish New York nightclub, is back in town and run into an old flame Judy Chibbins (Joan Marsh) who invites him to her home where she and her brother Bob (a curiously unbilled George Grandee) hope to interest him in some songs they have written. The Chibbins family is broke in part due to their widowed father (Lucien Littlefield) having married erstwhile Broadway star Trixie Valleron (Gladys Blake) whose expensive tastes have gone through the family fortune. The Chibbins kids openly despise Trixie and when she steals Don's focus during their song-plugging, singing their songs in a sentimental, "old" fashion rather than the jazzy melody the kids envisioned they blow up and Don skedaddles pdq rather than listen to more of Judy's wrath.
Back in New York the singing star of the club walks out in a snit with the owner, leading Don to recall Trixie and suggest her for the gig. He telephones Judy who is at first reluctant to given her dreaded stepmother the break but agrees when Bob wires funds for the whole family to come and promises to put her and Bob's songs into the act until a false name so Trixie won't reject them. Trouble continues in New York though when Trixie seems as much interested in socializing with old friends as with resuming her career and one predatory old pal in particular (May Beatty) may talk her out even attempting the comeback.
Although IMDb states the movie runs 72 minutes the film (available on DVD from Alpha) actually barely runs an hour and the American Film Institute confirms a 62 minute release although 72 minutes had also been alleged (one suspects the movie was cut pre-release to fit more easily into double bills; an introductory scene of Judy and Don running into each other in town is not in the movie but is mentioned in the synopsis quoted by AFI). This movie has an incredibly rushed feel like most short poverty row titles from the 1930's, the film's ending is so quick and unexpected it almost appears a final scene was cut as well but most likely this is just a typical super-fast poverty row wrap up.
Lead Grace Hayes was a vaudeville star of the 1920's who made occasional minor appearances in films during the 1930's. She generally plays her role as a haughty Hedda Hopperesque matron although curiously as a performer she is a brazen Mae West impersonator, singing one number in an exact replica of one of West's costumes from She Done Him Wrong with mannerisms, blonde wig, and decked in rhinestones, even brazenly quoting one of West's trademark lines "How 'm Doin'?" after the song. Snob she may be she is more appealing than her stepchildren whom the movie seems to side with yet they are remarkable obnoxious, rude adult brats who would be right at home in a 21st century reality show. Glenn Boles plays the baby brother of the family (twentyish); he's best known by buffs by being one of Moss Hart's real life boy toys in the 1930's (he went on to a distinguished career as a psychologist).
The movie's best scene is the encounter with Trixie's old "pal", the obviously much older "Queenie" played by character actress May Beatty who is supposed to be a contemporary of hers but looks almost old enough to be her grandmother. This is the largest part I've ever seen May Beatty in (she usually played bits) and she's a lot of fun if a most improbable ex-showgirl from just a generation ago. The songs are remarkably pleasant for such a cheapie and the cast does well but it appears the screenwriter ever heard of the concept of a second draft.
Rock n'Roll's First Lady Gets Her Due
Wanda Jackson is a legendary country singer who is now most widely famous for her somewhat brief career as the first woman to record rock n'roll music during the mid and late 1950's. These records, while only modestly successful at the time, have given her an international cult following for decades, a following that amazing has grown larger with every new decade so much so that for the past 25 years Wanda has almost exclusively performed as a "rockabilly" artist to enthusiastic crowds around the world. Some of her famous fans include Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, both of whom are interviewed for this documentary on her life and career. Wanda started out as a teenage country-and-western local radio singer in the early 1950's gradually growing to become fairly well-known but when newcomer Elvis Presley started performing on the country music scene he strongly encouraged her to join him and several other southern youngsters in singing a new genre of music, rock-and-roll. After first reluctant, Wanda jumped in with gusto before long and recorded a sizzling series of records for the Capitol label that still hold every bit of their impact over a half century later. Wanda and her husband-manager are interviewed (there's an amusing story on how they met, he was dating her best friend country star Norma Jean and Norma asked Wanda to "look after" Wendell while she was away in Nashville) as are her children and several fans, including people in the industry. This documentary ends with a fairly strong campaign to get Wanda in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which happily happened not that long after the film's release in 2008.
I'm from Arkansas (1944)
Eighteen Little Piggies
I'm From Arkansas is what is is, a lowbudget "B" ("C", really) comedy-musical clearly made for rural southern audiences and likely not seen that much outside of that region. Hillbilly bed-and-board owner Maude Eburne's prized pig manages to knock out eighteen young-uns in one pregnancy that manages to become novelty news across the country (read the headlines, one is a good joke in reference to the smash comedy The Miracle of Morgan Creek, released earlier that year). A gregarious manager of a small-time singing act decides to bring the girls down to Arkansas on the presumption they can somehow get tied into the spotlight. Brassy Iris Adrian is the most cynical of the gals and when she mistakes Bruce Bennett (a major radio bandleader back in his hometown for a vacation) for a local rube, he decides to milk it and play the hick while romancing her.
Slim Summerville starred or was featured in scores of rural comedies for over a decade when this film was released, his earlier ones were for the major studios and had bigger budgets. Near the end of his career (he passed away in 1946), he is top-billed but has less screen time than either Bennett (surprisingly billed fourth when he was only a few years before considered possible major star material) or the always enjoyable Ms. Adrian, in the main lead, and the only truly starring role I can recall seeing her in (her specialty was snappy costarring small parts, even bits). Maude Eburne is a delight as always as "Ma" (one surprise later plot turn is Summerville's ardent pursuit of Eburne in marriage, he's always on her property so probably the major viewers presumed they were a long-married couple). Country music great Jimmy Wakely has a few nice numbers (including the legendary hit "You are My Sunshine" made famous by another Jimmy, Jimmie Davis), 50's pop star Mary Ford is in Wakely's girl group, and country star Merle Travis can be spotted in Bennett's band. Not a great comedy by any means, but a pleasant time killer.
Doughnuts and Society (1936)
Maude Eburne at Her Best
DOUGHNUTS AND SOCIETY is a surprisingly good comedy-drama from Mascot Pictures that looks to have a rather impressive budget for a "B" from poverty row. Obviously an attempt to make a Marie Dressler & Polly Moran type-comedy of two older best friend broads to scrap as much as they pal around (it even picks up the familiar theme of each being the mother of a child in love with the other's kid), this movie is at least as good as most of the Dressler/Moran efforts in part because while Polly Moran was really no rival for the magnificent Marie, Louise Fazenda and Maude Eburne are rather evenly matched in terms of talent, two very good dependable character actresses able to work wonders when the material is not always there.
These old gals co-own a doughnut dive but Maude is obsessed with high society and dreams of crashing it, spending her money for years on stocks and claims much to the much more sensible Louise's irritation. To the surprise of one and all, a woman representing a major corporation shows up to buy Maude's claim of a mine for $50,000 and 10 percent profit, believing oil may be in it. Maude in no time moves into a mansion with teen-aged daughter Ann Rutherford in tow. She asks Louise and her son to move with them but too proud Louise refuses which leads to one more spat as they separate for some time. Maude meanwhile tries to crash society with help of professional party thrower Hedda Hopper and while Maude proves a bit earthy for a socialite, it's actually pal Louise (attending the party after her initial declining it) who wreaks havoc on the proceedings, chasing a dog who has stolen her wad of cash around the mansion and turning the event into a farce.
Louise continues to look down on her old pal but does feel she needs to move up financially if not socially herself for her son's sake and the mother and son open up a parking building downtown to proves to be an enormous success, so much so that a rival tries to buy it and when Louise declines, sets to wreck her business.
Maude Eburne is terrific in this movie in a terrific performance as a crude old gal who wants the best things in life but can't quite polish herself up enough to be at home in this new world. Louise Fazenda, a great hayseed comedienne herself, has the more knowing role but in some way's it's also the most thankless part.
Happiness C.O.D. (1935)
Pleasant But Unmemorable Family Drama From Poverty Row
HAPPINESS C.O.D. (1935) is a "B" from Chesterfield Pictures and was virtually unseen for many decades, even the American Film Institute couldn't track down a copy to view for it's definitive reference book on American films of the 1930's. In the last several years, however, a print has surfaced and one learns that the movie is not a comedy at all as AFI (and IMDb) presumed but rather a family drama starring several character actors best known for their comic roles. I was particularly disappointed to see that the great, unsung character actress Maude Eburne actually does not have top billing as both sources claim but is rather billed third behind Donald Meek and obscure starlet Irene Ware.
Donald Meek stars as a businessman who lives in a mansion beyond his means, a widower with a teenager and two grown children living with him (although the older son has been away for a period) with all three of them spending money like it's going out of style. Meek's spinster sister Maude Eburne also lives with him and is the matriarchal figure for the family and this down-to-earth dame is disgusted by her spoiled niece and nephews. When Meek's boss puts on the pressure for him to sign the contracts, okaying a poor quality concrete for a hospital which will give boss man a big profit, Meek is basically being blackmailed by him, with boss "Uncle Lester" threatening to can him, knowing fully well the financial mess his employee is in.
This movie is basically a typical programmer with the hackneyed premise that money can't buy happiness (those kids would disagree) but it's fairly well acted even if it could use the comic edge some who haven't seen the film presume is in it. Maude Eburne is terrific as sassy Aunt Addie, one of her rare starring roles, and it's a shame she really doesn't have top billing here although Donald Meek is quite fine as well as the sympathetic father. Irene Ware as the daughter doesn't have much to do despite her second billing while William Bakewell as the older brother may have more lines but not much more of a fully sketched part. Beautiful young Polly Ann Young is featured as Meek's secretary, she will surely remind you of her legendary sister Loretta not only in looks but in manners and speech delivery.
I have to confess it took two attempts to sit through this little drama to completion. Anyone who has seen anything remotely similar will be able to tell you what's going to happen every step of the way but it is nice to know that the film still exists after so long with it's survival status being uncertain.
My Music: '60s Girl Grooves (2013)
Fantastic Collection of Sixties Girl Pop Sounds and Video
GIRL GROOVES is an excellent two hour documentary that basically consists entirely of vintage television performances from the 1960's of various female vocalists and girl groups who had big pop hits back in that era hosted by Mary Wilson on The Supremes. This is the very best of these PBS documentaries I've seen, in part because it appears we are seeing the full numbers, not "dance bits" edited in to them like apparently was done in another show. These are very rare clips and I believe everything show was a major top ten hit. Most of these appear to have be lipsynched at the time (as was common on these shows). Highlights include The Shang-ra-la's doing "Leader of the Pack" from a daytime game show with Robert Goulet doing a fun cameo as the title role (a bit that happily does not destroy the appeal of the number) and a very rare chance to see Little Peggy March sing her blockbuster "I Will Follow Him" (she appears to be among the least successful lipsynchers though but hey the girl was barely a teenager and that great voice more than makes up it). There's lots of Motown plus quite a bit of other girl pop of the era including many soloists that one might consider a bit of a stretch as having the girl group sound like Jackie De Shannon, Skeeter Davis, Aretha Franklin, Lesley Gore, Fontella Bass, Petula Clark, and Mary Wells but then this show is NOT about girl groups as is usually done when covering when of the era but pop female music as a whole (and some of their other records clearly do have the girl group sound even though they're still solo recordings). It is surprising not to see Connie Francis, Brenda Lee,Patsy Cline, Nancy Sinatra, and Jeannie C. Riley included but then the time was limited. Mary Wilson still looks great and makes a terrific hose but one can help but note her "friend Diane" is not mentioned by her legendary full name (Diana Ross, of course!) suggesting this long feud might not quite be resolved yet.