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I'm No Angel (1933)
A class of its own
Not the same caliber of work as Mea West's other 1933 film, She Done Him Wrong, but still an entertaining, one of a kind picture. This one, again, was adapted from a hit stage show written by West herself. In it, West pretty much reprises the seductive, loose living but tough as nails character that she made famous. This time she is Tira, a circus performer who goes on the road with a hit lion taming act. The story at first seems to be moving along without much point as Tira simply moves from man to man, eventually landing on a young Cary Grant, who she decides to settle down with. Everything comes to a head quite nicely, though, in the final courtroom scene in which all her past lovers are put on the stand to testify against her character. This scene is an absolute classic as West decides to cross examine the witnesses herself, taking each of them apart with such flash and comic timing that you can't help but think of Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. The film may lack the depth and drama that made She Done Him wrong such a complete movie, but it still stands in a class of it's own among early 1930s movies.
42nd Street (1933)
took musicals up a notch
Picks up the musical genre where Broadway Melody left off. Once again we are given a behind the scenes look at a big stage production, but, this time, we are also given the good ensemble cast, interesting story lines, and dramatic weight to make it mean something. You see the aging stars, the young hopeful newcomers, the catty chorus girls, the slave driving director, and the womanizing producer. You see the backstage politics, the dirty tricks, the endless rehearsals and the nail biting opening night. You actually care about weather or not the show goes on because you care about those involved and sense how important it is to them. Warner Baxter gives a particularly good performance as the tireless, self destructive director. It's far from perfect, but it is a marked improvement in the musical genre and a definite forerunner for movies like A Chorus Line and All that Jazz.
Little Women (1933)
A nice little feel good movie
The story of the March family, a mother and her four daughters, getting through day to day life while the man of the house is away in the Civil War is a classic charmer. A young Katherine Hepburn gives a very good lead performance as Jo, the Tom-boyish aspiring writer of the family. She may seem a bit out of place at times in this period piece, but she is still the definite pick of the cast. The rest of the female cast really fails to pull its weight, which is a major drawback, considering that the film is such an ensemble piece. The supporting actors, however, had much more to offer; especially Henry Stephenson as the fatherly next door neighbor to the Marches. Still, the mediocre cast can't do much to harm the pleasant, heartwarming story. Kudos to the filmmakers for staying true to the book in several key areas which went against the Hollywood norm.
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
A very well put together little movie
Mea West really puts on one hell of a show. She could act, she could sing, and she could write. This decadent little period musical adapted from the play by West, herself, is surprisingly affective. The story is interesting, the characters are well developed, and though you might have been expecting fluff, you actually end up caring about what happens. West carries the picture as Lou, the beautiful nightclub singer and object of every man's desire. Lou is unlike any other female character put non screen up to this point. She is sexy, funny, brave, and blunt. She never relies on a male hero to show up and save the day, no matter what kind of trouble she gets into. The rest of the cast is decent but nothing special. That includes Cary Grant, who still had a long way to go. West makes them all look good, though. That's real talent.
King Kong (1933)
From the moment Skull Island appears out of the mist to the moment Kong lays dead at the foot of the Empire State building, the action never lets up for a second. The storyline may be simple and the acting less than stellar, but that's not what you see this movie for. You see it for the spectacle, and you don't walk away disappointed. The visual effects that allowed us to see Kong wrestle dinosaurs and rampage through New York remained unequaled for decades. The violence is surprisingly strong, and the body count shockingly high for such a classic movie. Even today the film stands alone. For pure entertainment value, it's hard to find any better.
No Man of Her Own (1932)
Decent film with some good performances
Good little film. Clark Gable once again plays the likable scoundrel role he does so well. This time he is Babe Stewart, a card shark who meets a small town girl (Carole Lombard), marries her on the flip of a coin, then realizes he'll have to change his ways if he wants to keep her. The script is well written, avoiding the melodramatic speeches and sappy dialogue that could have so easily been thrown into this kind of film. It also helps that the actors were able to play the characters naturally without hamming it up. Emotion is so much more believable when it's realistic. The supporting cast gives good performance as well, adding a bit of flavor to the film. A good script, good cast, and interesting enough storyline make this one worth watching.
A cult classic that is definitely as good as it's built up to be
What makes the film interesting and gives it its cult status is the fact that real circus freaks were used in the film. This gives Freaks a genuine shock value that could never have been duplicated with special effects. Coupled with this is dark and twisted storyline that really impresses, even though you may know where it's going. The downside of using these circus performers in the film is that they are not actors. A lot of the dialogue, especially from the central midget character, Hans, comes off sounding very forced. Olga Baclanova also hams it up a little too much as the villainess. In fact, the only good actor in the bunch seems to be Wallace Ford, playing one of the few friends to the circus freaks. Still, the movie succeeds in making an emotional connection, not so much because of the weight of the performances, but because of the realism of their situation. We get the sense that what these characters are going through on screen is not far from what they go through in life. Then, of course, we get to see them do what they would never get a chance to do in real life: take their revenge!
Grand Hotel (1932)
All star best picture winner with a lot to offer
Best Picture winner more known for putting together the first all star cast in Hollywood. Though the cast is impressive, the movie really does have a lot more to offer than just the names on the marquee. Intertwining the stories of several different characters staying in the Grand Hotel in Berlin, the film is a wonderful collage that succeeds both artistically and emotionally. The well balanced script gives each character room to develop on their own, but also connects them perfectly to one another. More important than being all stars, the performers are all very good actors as well. John Barrymore is charming as a hotel thief down on his luck. Lionel Barrymore is nearly heartbreaking as a dying man who makes some real friends for the first time in his life. Joan Crawford gives a lovable performance as a sweet secretary, who'll do almost anything to get some extra cash. Wallace Berry is infuriating as the hard headed business man, yet he keeps from being a one dimensional bad guy. Greta Garbo also does a decent job in the film as the prime ballerina who just wants to be alone. Each performer does a good job of making you care about the character and what they are going through. Their converging story lines complement each other so well that the film never feels disjointed. Rather, we always feel that we are watching one grand picture made up of many parts.
The Guardsman (1931)
A very entertaining well made comedy
Real life husband and wife duo Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne play famous married theater performers (named in the credits only as The Actor and The Actress). The Actor is so convinced that his wife would be unfaithful to him if given the chance, he dresses up like a Russian officer to try and seduce her. The Guardsman remains the only sound film that either Lunt or Fontanne ever did, which is a damn shame. Both actors achieve a natural quality on screen rarely equaled in thirties films. Lunt especially gives a knockout comedic performance, not only as the whining, conceited, jealous husband, but also as the brash and passionate Guardsman. The rest of the cast play their parts perfectly as well, doing justice to the delightfully witty script. It looses some momentum in the second half, as the film slowly works its way to the conclusion you know is coming. They definitely could have played with the scenario a bit more. Nonetheless, it makes for a very enjoyable comedy.
As You Desire Me (1932)
Good story - poorly executed
A pretty good story, but poorly executed. Greta Garbo plays Zara, the loose living mistress of a famous novelist, who may also be the long lost wife of a wealthy Italian officer. The question of who she is for real is complicated by the fact that Zara cannot remember anything beyond the last ten years of her life. The story is interesting, but it wasn't handled well enough to also be engaging. Nothing is ever done to create any real suspense. Garbo gives a better performance here than she did in Anna Christie, but she still falls back on her silent screen style overacting whenever the script calls for any real drama. The best thing about the movie is probably Erich Von Stroheim, who gives an excellent supporting performance as Salter, the novelist who is determined not to give up his mistress. It would have made a terrific Hitchcock film.