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Hawaii Five-O: The Year of the Horse (1979)
Season 11, Episode 21
One of "Five-O's" best episodes
10 May 2014
I just watched this episode, and I think it's one of the best of the whole "Hawaii Five-O" series. Most people feel that shows from season 11 aren't all that great, and that is true in some cases. This one really stands out, though, and holds its own with the best of the 12-year series-- IMHO. And it seems fairly accurate and believable as regards the Asian drug trade. The title of course has a double meaning, relating to the Chinese Year of the Horse- 1978, and that nickname for heroin.

Everyone knows that most of the "Five-O" episodes were filmed on location in Hawaii, mostly on Oahu island, but this one was filmed in Singapore, and they obviously didn't cheat with it. There was an episode from a previous season supposedly set in Singapore, but I'm pretty sure that one was filmed in Hawaii, with just a few location shots of the real place. And another episode was shot on location in Hong Kong, with McGarrett chasing after Wo Fat. This one is very interesting in its Singapore locations, and it's fun seeing McGarrett and Danno running around the real Singapore. For anyone interested in that country, this episode is really worth a look, as it shows a Singapore that no longer really exists. The Singapore of 1978 was still somewhat of a developing country, and now it's one of the richest places in the world, with the attendant high-end hotels and tourist sites. In the episode, the first shots of McGarrett in Singapore are of him walking along Boat Quay, which is in the center of the city, on the Singapore River. In 1978, that was still a working-class area, with tired-looking Chinese row houses and shops, and Chinese boats filling the river. For anyone who has been to Singapore, since the early 1990s that area has been a gorgeous tourist place, with those same row houses refurbished and turned into restaurants and pubs. Those old boats have all disappeared, and there are mostly tour boats in that area now. It is one of the nicest parts of Singapore, and one that is very popular with tourists. It's interesting seeing how it looked in the late 1970s.

I first went to Singapore in 1989, and it was then just starting its transition to the Singapore of today, with many older, rundown areas getting face lifts, and coming back as tourist havens. Boat Quay was filled with construction equipment, and the Singapore of the show was starting to disappear. That's true of other parts of Singapore that you see in this episode, as well. The cable cars on Mt. Faber, still a big tourist attraction, definitely make a good place for an on screen fight. For those interested in Singapore, then and now, the show is kind of a time capsule, I'd say. And it is cool seeing Jack Lord and James MacArthur away from their usual haunts on Oahu, and in an exotic part of the world.

As has been pointed out, this episode was a nice swansong for James MacArthur, who moved on to other things. I think the episode is so well written, acted, and filmed, that it could have been released as a theatrical feature. It is a two-part episode, with an almost 100-minute running time, so that could have worked, I think. The location-filming really helps, and seeing the actors in the real Singapore make it seem very authentic. And the cast is good, too. Australian George Lazenby, late of Her Majesty's Secret Service, is almost unrecognizable as a sleazy drug smuggler-- but excellent. Barry Bostwick is good, too, as the Annapolis grad gone bad. And Victoria Principal, as his wife, wow! She was always sexy, even when not fighting with J.R. on "Dallas," and she does a good acting job, too.

I moved to Hawaii two years ago, and I've been working my way through the whole twelve years of "Hawaii Five-O" on Netflix. I'm now on season 12, and I hate for it to end. It's fun living here, and spotting places on the show that you recognize. As with Singapore, of course things have changed here since the run of that show, but many places are much the same as then. And even the areas that have changed are still pretty easy to pick out. For example, I often see the police cars on the show drive by where my apartment building now is- it was built in the later years of the series. It really is fascinating to see how Hawaii looked back when the original series was filmed. And even now, you often meet people here who worked as extras on the show, or who had speaking parts of varying sizes. Both the old and new "Five-O" shows are very popular here-- the old one in particular being regarded as iconic, I think. Anyway, living here makes viewing the show very rewarding. And this episode, while for the most part not filmed in Hawaii, is interesting for its location filming in Singapore.
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An enjoyable film- and not bad for its time period
12 February 2012
I think bkoganbing has written the most perceptive and accurate review of this film, of all the postings here. Bkoganbing's detailing of the history of the Belgian Congo, from its inception as a private fiefdom of King Leopold, to its transformation into an official "colony," in 1907, is exactly right. And the placing of this film in a 1950s context is also important to point out, as that reviewer has done. When this film was made, the later Zaire/Congo was still a Belgian colony, with independence still a few years away. The makers of the film were no doubt influenced by the prevailing attitudes of the time, and, considering some of those attitudes, the movie is fairly progressive, I think.

I lived in the Congo in the late 1970s, when it was called Zaire. That was 70 years after the time period of this story, but some of the elements in this film were still in existence when I was there. Most villages had chiefs, of some form or other, and many had what we used to call "witch doctors." A fair number of people believed that these doctors had special powers, and acted accordingly. Drums were/are still used as a form of communication- what used to be called the "bush telegraph." People dressed as most modern people do- T-shirts and sneakers being quite common- but some of the traditional beliefs still held sway. I'm not an expert in Congolese traditional customs and ceremonies, but I was able to observe a number of interesting things while I was there. Experts in the subject could critique this film's depiction of these things far better than I could. But the scenes in the film seemed fairly accurate, to me, especially for the 1907 time period. Though I would stand corrected, if need be.

I was impressed that they seemed to get the language right. Mitchum says that they are speaking Chiluba, which is in fact one of the major languages of the Congo. There are four major trade languages there- Chiluba, Lingala, Kikongo, and Swahili. These trade languages are used as large regional languages, in different parts of the country, so that people can communicate with one another. Swahili in eastern Congo (and neighboring countries), Lingala in the north, and along some rivers, Kikongo in central areas, and Chiluba in the south-- roughly speaking (and if memory serves correct). There are hundreds of smaller regional and tribal languages, and, while many people can speak five or ten of these languages, they often use one of the four trade languages when in another area. The old colonial Belgian French is still one of the government languages, and many people speak that as well. I spoke French and Kikongo when I was there, in my capacity as a volunteer aid worker. Many of my Congolese/Zairean friends spoke multiple languages (to my shame, as I struggled with just these two). Anyway, I think Mitchum and the others are really speaking Chiluba. I didn't speak that language, but all these languages have some overlapping vocabulary, and I think it was Chiluba, or something like it. Again, another poster may be more knowledgeable than I. It seems that Fox must have done some homework for this picture. Mitchum, too, as he handles himself impressively well with the language. I'd love to read comments by Mitchum on his memorizing that dialogue! Mitchum, one of my favorites, was always a trouper, I think.

As many have pointed out, he and Hayward never actually went to the Congo. The studio did a pretty good job, I think, of blending studio sets with location shots. Though, as is usually the case, you can spot which are which. Though at least the studio sets aren't as obvious as in many films. The location shots sure brought back memories to me. The river steamers, dugout canoes, riverfront towns, etc.- all looking the same in the '70s, when I was there. The most obvious studio intrusion, to me, was the gorilla you see at the beginning of the film. Though it isn't as bad as many Hollywood "gorillas" you often see- Charlie Gemora in an ape suit, etc., it still detracts from the story. But this IS a 60 year-old film, so it's best not to be too critical, I guess. For its time period, they got some things pretty right. Especially considering that this was not made as a documentary, but as a Mitchum-Hayward entertainment picture, with fictional elements. As one poster pointed out, the source material was a serious book detailing the experiences of two nuns, who tried to bring western medicine to the Congo. Quite a morph there. But still not as outrageous as one might expect from the sensationalistic title. And better and more authentic than lots of other films Hollywood made about Africa, in those days. In my humble opinion, anyway.
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Saskatchewan (1954)
Raoul Walsh in action, and some trivia?
31 October 2011
I would have to agree with most of the other posters, who give this film mixed reviews. The scenery is fantastic, the action is compelling, and there are a number of good actors on hand. But the historical inaccuracies, concerning things like the Mounties' costumes, and the actions of the post-Custer (Last Stand) Sioux, do detract from the film. Raoul Walsh is one of my favorite old-time directors, but he made his share of films which deviate from the truth. After all, he did direct the Errol Flynn version of Custer, "They Died With Their Boots On," which must be one of the most fanciful historical films ever. Walsh wasn't (and isn't) alone in this casual disregard for the truth, by any means. Everyone knows that there is history, and there is movie history. And plenty of other directors took as many liberties with the truth. The great John Ford, for instance. For example, the shoot-out at the OK Corral was nothing like that portrayed in "My Darling Clementine" (great film though it is). And the fact that Monument Valley creeps into so many of his westerns, some of which are taking place far from that photogenic area, isn't accuracy at work. Artistic license, and making a good movie, have often taken precedence in this regard.

One Walsh movie which does seem more true-to-life is "The Big Trail," his ground-breaking 1930 film with John Wayne. Historians could no doubt find some mistakes in the film, but it seems fairly realistic as regards a covered wagon trek. Maybe the lesson is that historical fiction is often best, as inconvenient facts can't get in your way. And classic Hollywood directors had no monopoly on putting myth before truth. Look at contemporary directors like Oliver Stone and Michael Bay, who put the older Hollywood folks to shame. Stone, in particular, takes almost psychedelic flights of fancy in his films, and any relation to true events seems very tenuous. As many have pointed out, John Ford addressed this issue of myth-making versus truth-telling, in his film "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." It should come as no surprise that the myth often wins out. And even when true stories are told fairly accurately, as in "Glory," small liberties are taken with things like contemporary language, and events are often compressed or moved around. A classic movie like "The Great Escape," while basically telling a true story, fictionalized large aspects of it (not many, or any, Americans involved; it's the wrong season, etc.), something that no doubt irritated the men who were really there. Another great prison camp movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai," was guilty of the same things.

Anyway, Raoul wasn't immune to any of that, as this film clearly shows. If one looks at it as pure fiction, and if one buys the scenes of Mounties trying to be inconspicuous, in the woods, while wearing bright red uniforms, it's a pretty entertaining movie. Those more knowledgeable than I can point out the geographical and historical errors in this film. I'm sure that anyone with proximity to Saskatchewan can find many things to chuckle over.

In 1945, Alan Ladd played the title role in a film called "Salty O'Rourke," directed by Raoul Walsh. Ladd's character's name in this film is O'Rourke, too. An in-joke, perhaps? It does seem like more than coincidence, considering that the two men didn't work together often. Also, does the plot remind anyone of other Walsh "chase" films, like "Objective Burma," and "Distant Drums," where army units are being pursued through hostile terrain, often by an unseen enemy (in this film, the pursuers are shown very clearly)? A nail-biting plot, but one which does get repetitive. Also, what's with the jungle bird sounds that the Sioux make? Not your usual Canadian bird calls.
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A pretty good Pre-Code film
10 September 2011
I recently had the opportunity to see this obscure, forgotten film, and I think it is a pretty good Pre-Code drama of marital infidelity. According to, it is taken from a play by Ernest Pascal, who also had a hand in the film, I believe. I find the film to be very believable about the complications and complex emotions involved in romance with married people. I've seen dozens of these early-30s marital dramas, and some of them are very well done, others unbelievable and over the top. But this one seems genuine to me, all the characters acting in ways that real people probably would under similar circumstances.

The star, Clive Brook, gives a genuine performance as the husband who can't make up his mind, between his wife (Vivienne Osborne) and girlfriend (Juliette Compton). He is the least- likable character in the movie, as he dithers around, and tortures everyone around him. But that is often the way people really act, in his situation. His wife and girlfriend are much more likable, and you find yourself sympathizing, and kind of rooting, for both of them. The actresses involved give very good performances. I haven't seen Vivienne Osborne in that many movies, but I remember her mostly as shrill, hysterical characters, such as her murderess in "Supernatural," with Carole Lombard. She is nothing like that here, and in fact, is the kind of wife and mother men would dream about. She is warm and sincere, and refuses to do what she knows is wrong, just because others urge her to do it. Juliette Compton is also very good. She makes the "other woman" character quite human, and she is very sympathetic in her desires and feelings. She really loves the Brook character, and isn't out for his money, or other stereotypical things. Really, all three people involved in this triangle come across as being human, and what they do is just what people really do. They don't act in the turgid, overly-dramatic fashion that so many early-Talkie characters do. They make you think of people you really know, who have been in similar situations.

I have always had mixed feelings about Clive Brook, as an actor. I've read that he was a great guy, and very well liked, in real life. But on screen, in the early '30s, he often came across as stiff and overly mannered. His face is a frozen mask in so many of these films. In "Shanghai Express," for example, you wonder why Marlene Dietrich is so crazy about him. He was a good actor, and it may have just been his manner, or an older acting style, but you often want to shake him, just to get a reaction. He seemed to relax, and lighten up, as the years went by, and when he pops up in later films, you are always glad to see him.

This film, like most others of that era, is chock full of good character actors. Charlie Ruggles, Charles Winninger, Elizabeth Patterson, Berton Churchill (here billed as Burton), and, in small roles, Harold Minjir and Noel Francis. The IMDb. cast list has 'Noel Madison' listed, not the beautiful Ms. Francis. I don't know if this is a mistake, or if he is in here somewhere, too. She isn't listed, but she is in there, in the party scenes. She was a gorgeous lady, who often played the "bad" other woman, and she had a distinctive look about her. Noel Madison often played toughs, and was an effective nasty. He shows up in "Little Caesar," as Pepe, and in "G- Men," and a Charlie Chan or two. He made a believable gangster. Harold Minjir played Franklin Pangborn types- the fussy secretary, hotel staff, etc. He was James Cagney's tailor, in a memorable scene in "The Public Enemy." Berton Churchill showed up in a zillion John Ford movies- notably "Stagecoach," as the larcenous banker. He often played such cowardly, blustering characters. Elizabeth Patterson is one of my favorites- the mother here. Charlie Ruggles is very good here, as the wisecracking brother-in-law, and he gets off some good zingers. The in-laws depicted in the film remind me of those you see in W.C. Fields movies- the cranky mother-in-law, etc. Though Fields made them funnier.

One thing that jumps out at you about this film is the sexual frankness involved. This is a Pre-Code movie, so that's not totally unexpected. But they say the word 'sex' a number of times directly, as in "I wonder what he sees in her?" "Sex" being the answer, etc. At one point, the girlfriend tells the wife that she is carrying her husband's baby, and the wife accuses her of using sex to control her husband. They are very honest and direct about it, just as people would be in real life. And possibly even more honest than some people would have been in 1931. It does make you jump, though. 80 years divide this film from this review, and so much wrangling has gone on in those years about censorship, that you kind of forget how honest movies could be at that time. Imagine them trying to film those scenes after 1934.

Anyway, I decided to put a review on here, as there aren't any others for this film. I'd never heard of it before, but I'm glad I saw it. The frankness I've mentioned has made it somewhat memorable for me. If you get a chance to see it-- probably not too likely-- you should take a look at it. Universal really should start putting these things out, either in another Pre-Code package, or as DVD-R discs, as Warners does. There are some gems out there, waiting to be re-discovered. And considering that Universal controls the 700 or so Paramount films, from 1929 to 1949, as well as their own films, they would have lots to choose from.
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A pleasant surprise
21 February 2011
I echo what a number of other reviewers have said about this film, that they were pleasantly surprised by it. Most of the books about Flynn pan the film, and put it on the list with his lesser- quality pictures. It may not be in the top rank with his swashbucklers, but it really isn't a bad film at all. He gives a fine performance, and shows what a good actor he was, in just about any role he tackled. I like the fact that it isn't an action film, as we get to see what he could do in a different kind of part. I think he carries it off very well. He still gets to be the handsome rogue (with a piano instead of a sword), but also shows that his character is deeper than that, and has some real sensitivity for his lady friend and her baby. Some reviewers say that he was miscast, but I don't agree. A handsome, charming guy like Flynn is just what the part demands. A flirtatious character, but one with some deeper feelings, too. That could almost be a definition of the real Errol Flynn. Flynn succeeds with a difficult task here- making a selfish cad somewhat likable. You find yourself rooting for Sebastian in spite of yourself.

It's nice seeing Flynn work with his real-life friend, Ida Lupino. Flynn, Lupino, and director Raoul Walsh reportedly spent a lot of time together, and were very close pals. In fact, Ida and her mother Connie (who also loved Flynn) are buried right next to Flynn in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. One gets the feeling that Ida always loved Errol, and, in an alternate universe, you wonder if they might have gotten married, or had some kind of long-term relationship. Flynn was a wanderer, though, so perhaps that wouldn't have worked out so well. Anyway, they play well together, and you sense that they really liked each other.

Gig Young and Eleanor Parker are also very good in this film. Both were excellent actors, though their later roles perhaps provided them with more range than this film does. As in all Old Hollywood movies, this one is chock full of great character actors. Reginald Denny, Frank Reicher, Anthony Caruso, Albert Bassermann, Doris Lloyd, Leonard Mudie, and many others. Reicher is one of my favorites, in all kinds of films. I think he is best remembered as the captain of the ship "Venture" in King Kong. Caruso was great, too, and should have had a bigger career. He always projected sincerity and believability.

I'm guessing Flynn had some coaching on the piano for this. There is at least one shot where you can see his hands on the ivories. Most of the other scenes show him from behind. Films have always been good at faking the playing of musical instruments, as it had to look good and seem believable. Pianists might poke holes in what looks like Flynn really playing, but it looks pretty good to me.

Anyway, this film is worth a look. It shows that Flynn's talents really did go beyond playing the swashbuckler. All of us fans have always known that, but it might be an eye-opener for some people. Supposedly, the bad reviews for this film, and for his performance, upset him greatly. Many think that the criticisms of his acting, combined with the effects of his rape trial, and inability to serve in the military during the war, led to the downward spiral his life soon took. If you look at him just two or three years after he made this film, he looks ten years older. Everyone knows how it all finally played out. But here, he still seems young and full of life. And he has a perfect partner in Ida Lupino, who was always good in these kinds of dramas. It's too bad they didn't make more films together.
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Anatole Litvak's re-make of his own 1935 film, "L'equipage"
18 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I haven't seen the original French film, with Annabella, Charles Vanel, and Jean-Pierre Aumont, but this version is pretty good. The three leads- Paul Muni, Miriam Hopkins, and Louis Hayward, play very well together. Some of the supporting actors have broad American accents, which detracts a little from the French milieu, but not enough to upset the film. Anatole Litvak also directed the 1935 French version, and you have to wonder how this film compares with that one. I'm guessing that the older film is the better of the two, as it is a French film dealing with French fliers in World War I, in the original language. Sometimes these stories lose something in translation. That may not be the case, however- one would obviously have to see both films to make that judgment. Anyway, the 1937 American film is worth a look, too.

The three-way romance is pretty standard and predictable, but still engaging, due to the stars' good performances. I like all three leads, as they were always interesting, even in films that were beneath their talents. Some of Muni's "highbrow" biographical dramas don't really hold up now, but he was always good as working-class, average sorts of guys (see "Black Fury," "Bordertown," etc.). He plays such a man here. Miriam Hopkins also enlivened any film she was in. Watch her in the 1932 "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," for example. It's hard to take your eyes off of her. Ditto "The Smiling Lieutenant," "Trouble in Paradise," and lots of other films. Louis Hayward eventually became kind of a "poor man's" Errol Flynn, starring in "A-" or "B" level swashbucklers. He was excellent in "The Man in the Iron Mask," "Son of Monte Cristo," and some others, but his career never reached "A" level heights. He could also be good as the nasty character, as in "Ladies in Retirement."

The aerial scenes are fairly standard for this kind of film, and not as good as the ones in "Hell's Angels," "Wings," or "The Dawn Patrol." But they do the job well enough. The scenes in the pilots' mess, with lots of eating and drinking, are perhaps more effective. The sense of camaraderie among the fliers is well-portrayed. They really cover each other's backs. Character actor Paul Guilfoyle has some especially good scenes here, as a pilot whose wife has just had a baby.

The standout performance in the aerodrome scenes is, to my thinking, that of Colin Clive. This was in fact his last film. According to IMDb, it was released in April, 1937. Clive died in June, 1937- just two months later. He'd been ailing for some time, suffering from the effects of alcoholism, and, reportedly, tuberculosis. The cause of death seems a little vague. He was only 37, and had only been in movies since 1930, when he made his breakout film, "Journey's End." He had become a star in the London production of that play, and, when it was decided to film it, the original director, James Whale, and Clive, were brought on board. It was a critically-acclaimed film, and established them both in Hollywood. Everyone knows that Whale used Clive in both of his Frankenstein films, and Clive otherwise spent the next seven years playing an assortment of leads and supporting parts. He worked with Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Peter Lorre, William Powell, Charles Boyer, and Jean Arthur, among many stars. He was an excellent actor, though he became somewhat typecast as neurotic, semi- hysterical characters- much like the ones he played in "Journey's End" and the Frankenstein films. I was prepared for such a characterization in this film, but, to my surprise, he plays a very genial, friendly guy. He's the commandant of the squadron, and is watchful over his men, and very popular with them. His last scene is kind of sad, and foreshadows his real-life fate just a few months later. It's nice that he could go out on a good film like this, and that, for once, he got to play a regular guy, one who likes drinking with his men, and having a good laugh. It's too bad he didn't live longer, as he could have been in films for many more years.

This film is very hard to get hold of. If you get a chance to see it, I would recommend it. The story isn't too bad, the three leads are excellent, and there are some good supporting performances. And, if you're a Colin Clive fan, you can see his last film, one with a different kind of part from his usual roles.
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24 Hours (1931)
Another forgotten Pre-Code gem
12 December 2010
The other reviewers were on the mark on this one. It is an excellent Pre-Code drama. It catches you from the opening credits, superimposed over theatrical-looking models of the New York City skyline. You see the time on a big clock tower, and the 24 hours of the title starts there. All the action fits into that time frame, and the film ends with a shot of the same tower, with the same time as at the beginning. They sure fit a lot of excitement into that one-day period.

Brook and Francis are the stars of the film, but Hopkins really steals the show as the nightclub singer. You often read of Hopkins' difficult side- that she wasn't easy to work with, etc. And she and Bette Davis seem to have had a real hate-fest going (but, of course, Davis was reputed to be difficult, too). Whatever the truth of all that, I have always liked Hopkins a lot. She gave some wonderful performances, especially in that Pre-Code era. Her Ivy in "Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is probably her best, but she was good in everything. "The Story of Temple Drake," this film, and many others. And she was great in comedy films, too. See "The Smiling Lieutenant" and "Trouble in Paradise," for example. The fact that such a master as Ernst Lubitsch put her in a number of his films says something.

Kay Francis was always good in these weepie kinds of roles. She really patented the part of the woman who is unhappy in her marriage, and looks for love elsewhere. This part is along the lines of the many films she made for Paramount and Warners, and she's very effective and believable here. I have mixed feelings about Clive Brook as an actor (as a man, he was reportedly a great guy). In many of his parts, he is the stiffest of stiff-upper lip gentlemen. As in "Shanghai Express." You kind of want to shake him, to get some kind of reaction out of him. But he was very popular at that time, and people seemed to like him. He could be very good, when he broke that frozen mask, and showed some emotion. He has a touching scene here, when he finds Hopkins the morning after his drunken adventures.

Lucille La Verne, one of the all-time great character actresses, is wonderful here, as always. She had such a distinctive face and voice. You can see why Disney used her as the model and voice of the witch in "Snow White." She was good in everything, from the woman who hides, and cheats, the down-and-out Rico in "Little Caesar," to her iconic part as the pal of Madame De Farge in "A Tale of Two Cities." You know, one of the ladies who sits knitting at the base of the guillotine, cackling and jeering as the aristocrats have their heads cut off. That part is probably the one everyone remembers her for. Her bio on is very interesting- a longtime legitimate stage actress, etc.

Director Gering's bio is interesting, too. A member of a Soviet delegation to the States, who stayed, and made a career for himself. He made some interesting films, too. "The Devil and the Deep," "Thirty Day Princess," and some other excellent films.

These early-Talkie films are so interesting, for a myriad of reasons. Aside from having great actors, production values, good directors, etc., they are also interesting for their historical and sociological insights into those times. It really is like peering through a kind of time- machine window, as if you're looking in on people from another era, or almost from another dimension. It really is fascinating. I also think these early sound movies, with their short running times, are like filmed short stories. Most of them run a little over an hour, and they manage to fit so much into that brief time. New movie makers could learn a lot on how to cut to the chase in such a short time, and still make a good film.

Anyway, check it out. This is a fascinating Pre-Code film, almost a blueprint for the late 40s Film Noirs. And it has some great performances.
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Wilson (1944)
A pretty good biography
11 December 2010
I agree with many of the comments posted here. I, too, was pleasantly surprised by this film. You always read what a box-office disaster the movie was, and you get the idea that it was a real turkey. On the contrary, I think it was a very well-made film. As many others have pointed out, it whitewashes some of Wilson's biography, and omits inconvenient truths about him, (such as some of his racial views and actions). It does point out his stubbornness in relation to the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, though, and his reluctance to compromise on those things. So it isn't a total revisionist biography. It does outline the major events of his political career, and fairly accurately, I think. One thing that really strikes me on watching this film, is how well it captures the complexities of the American Presidency, and the hysteria that the public, and other politicians, often direct towards the president. I think many people, in any historical age, tend to think their generation is the first to experience certain kinds of events, such as war, depression, or political controversy. As we all know, these are timeless events, and though the particulars may change, the reactions to them don't change so much. As for politics, there are some wonderful scenes in the film of the Democratic Conventions of 1912 and 1916, that detail the serious issues, as well as the hoopla and occasional nonsense that has always marked those events. Marching bands, rural banjo players, pretty girls, etc., etc. And it also accurately details the hysterical attacks made against President Wilson- that he was weak, a waffler, a man out of his league, or a warmonger, even a traitor- comments that somehow bring to mind the outrageous things said about more recent presidents. As well as about everyone from Jefferson to Lincoln. It kind of puts it into perspective. People always say how uncivil our politics are now, which is true, but was it really different then?

I'm also very impressed by Alexander Knox's performance, in which he really captures Wilson's character. Much as I love Bing Crosby, I think Knox should have won the Best Actor Oscar for that year. He is so convincing, and almost channels the President. Again, this IS a prettied-up picture of him, but I think it gets many of the essentials right. And, when compared to the paranoia in films like the Oliver Stone presidential biographies of Kennedy, Nixon, and Bush, I think this movie comes pretty close to the way it actually was. It is Movie History, but it seems to follow events fairly accurately. And it gives you a good feel about what it must have been like to be in the center of the storm.

I think the film also recreates the period very well. The costumes seem accurate, the sets are realistic, the Technicolor photography is beautiful, and the contemporary music evokes the atmosphere of that time. The genuine newsreels add a lot of authenticity, too. I think the explanations for how the U.S. got into World War I are also pretty accurate, and detail what a moral struggle it was for Wilson to go to war. And, in the film, Wilson mentions the various conspiracy theories about the reasons for that war that have been in circulation since that time. Again, that reminds a person of the different conspiracy theories that swirl about our time, too.

Anyway, I think this is a better film than it's given credit for. I think it is similar to the various mini-series made about Lincoln, Kennedy, and other presidents, in the TV age. It may not be complete history, but it's a good starting point for anyone interested in Wilson.

Footnotes: character actor Dwight Frye, who is so beloved for his acting in "Dracula," "Frankenstein," and many other classic movies, was slated for the part of Newton D. Baker, Wilson's Secretary of War, in the film. As all Frye fans know, shortly before filming started, Frye tragically died of a heart attack, while riding on a bus. It's a shame, as the part might have turned his faltering career, and life, around.

Also, in the scenes on board the train, just before Wilson has his stroke, you can see cars outside the window. It is supposed to be 1919 or 1920, but some of the cars look very contemporary- 1930s or 1940s cars. A goof, and very easy to see. But I don't think it really detracts from the movie in any serious way.
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Honky Tonk (1941)
Pretty sexy stuff
4 December 2010
I can't add much to what has already been written about this film, except a couple of observations. One is that I am surprised by how sexy the dialogue is, and some of the situations. Parts of it play almost like a Pre-Code film. For example, when Lana wakes up the morning after "clinching" her marriage to Gable, she is in a double bed. She looks over at his side of the bed, and sees just his pillow there, as he has already gotten up. He soon comes into the room, and the story continues. What is amazing, for the post-Code year of 1941, is that they obviously slept in the same bed. As everyone knows, from 1934 until the 1960s, married couples were always limited to twin beds. Or I thought they were. I wonder how many other films got away with this? Perhaps because it is an "historical" story, the censors excused it. There are some other scenes in the film that also push the 1941 envelope- some subtle, some pretty obvious.

I agree with the others posters who point out the great chemistry between Gable and Turner. They played well in all their films together. Gable is at his height here as "Gable." The amusing, macho character everyone always remembers. Mostly by way of Rhett Butler. This was pretty much his film persona at the time. It's interesting when you watch his early '30s films, when he had a perhaps wider range of parts. He often played sensitive, educated men in those films (after his initial period playing gangsters). Doctors, a minister, flyers, an Italian soldier, Fletcher Christian, etc. I kind of wish he had played more of those types later in his career. But the public seemed to prefer him as endearing rascals.

Among a group of great character actors, Marjorie Main is the standout, for me. I love all her snide comments and zingers, which are always on the mark. She was one of those supporting actors who could steal a scene from just about anyone. And she often acted as kind of a Greek chorus, summing up the goings on. You can't help but think of Ma Kettle, as they are similar types.

Anyway, this is a pretty enjoyable film. Gable at his peak, Turner on her way up, and MGM at its zenith. And some racy dialogue, to boot.
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Love and hate in the tropics
24 October 2010
This is a pretty good example of a type of film genre in vogue in the 1920s and 1930s. The dissipation of white men in the tropics, and of their redemption when a well-born white woman enters the scene. There are dozens of films in this category, and though they are now dated period pieces, they are always fascinating as a glimpse of the West's attitudes towards what would later be called "The Third World." They often exhibit views that make us cringe today, and for the most part they unquestioningly support the colonial attitudes of the time. They should probably be approached as historical artifacts, and their offenses taken in the context of those long-ago times. They are very revealing, in a number of ways.

They often take place in small river-front towns, with tramp steamers and riverboats, seedy hotels and bars, and lots of human driftwood. There is often a local power figure, often a corrupt and greedy character, who runs the town like a personal fiefdom, meting out instant justice for anyone who crosses his path. Alan Dinehart plays that part here, and gives a convincing performance as the ruthless boss. This was a part he often played in films, and he was always good at it. The broken-down hero, a guy who has run away from something, and who is drowning his sorrows in the tropics, is the other main character of these films. He is played here by Donald Cook, a fairly popular leading man of the time. Cook played James Cagney's straight-arrow brother in "The Public Enemy." He seemed to specialize in such honorable men, or variations of them, such as the good man who has to struggle to keep his integrity. He plays that part here, and in another steamy-tropics film, William Wellman's incredibly racy "Safe in Hell," in 1931 (that film is probably the ultimate in these sex-in-the-jungle films. And one of the wildest-ever Pre-Code films).

Most of these films also have a 'Never the Twain shall Meet' story-line, and the hero often has a local girlfriend who isn't quite acceptable to polite society back home- for class and/or racial reasons. This element of these films is often disturbing, and again, one has to keep in mind when these films were made. Sometimes the hero's local lady is a Caucasian woman (see Jean Harlow in "Red Dust), but often she is of mixed race, or of the local ethnicity. There was obviously a lot of prejudice in the world when these films were made, and this extended to people of mixed race, who were caught between different worlds. Women of mixed- parentage were often portrayed as being sexually immoral, and the men as being untrustworthy and dangerous. The bad guy's girlfriend here was portrayed by Toshia Mori, a beautiful Japanese-American actress (and I think the only Asian Wampas Baby star- a group of pretty Hollywood actresses who showed future promise. I believe Ginger Rogers was in that group at one time). She is a good-time girl, and shows a streak of cruelty (especially at the end of the film- something to do with crocodiles) that people of the time may have ascribed to such women. I have seen her in a couple of other films, like "The Bitter Tea of General Yen," and she plays similar parts. I imagine she faced the same problems that Anna May Wong did- that producers only saw her as an exotic Asian, and only gave her such parts. She seemed to be a good actress.

Dudley Digges plays a drunken doctor, another staple of these films. They often have doctors who lost their practices due to negligence, or who are hiding from something, and drowning themselves in drink. I think Digges played similar roles in "The Emperor Jones" and "Mutiny on the Bounty." They often sacrifice themselves for the hero, in some way.

This film was directed by one of my favorite "B" film directors- Roy William Neill. He is most famous for making many of the Basil Rathbone- Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films, as well as "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman," and Karloff's "The Black Room." But he also made a whole string of interesting films in the '20s and '30s, many of them for Columbia. A pretty good one is a 1934 movie with Jack Holt and Fay Wray, called "Black Moon." It is an early voodoo film, and in some ways anticipates the great Val Lewton film, "I Walked With a Zombie." Another is the 1935 "Eight Bells," with Ralph Bellamy and Ann Sothern, about a shipboard mutiny. And a 1928 film, "The Viking," for MGM, about Leif Ericsson. It is one of the best examples of two-color Technicolor, and is very exciting. "The Black Room" is an excellent horror film, and very stylishly directed. It has one of Karloff's best '30s performances. I have always loved "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman." It isn't of the caliber of the great 1930s Frankenstein films, but it is still very atmospheric, and has a lot of great performances. The Rathbone-Holmes films are justifiably famous, and lots of fun, too. One of Neill's last films, "The Black Angel," is a pretty good Film Noir, with Dan Duryea and Peter Lorre. Not a bad group of films. Neill's career probably needs re-evaluation.

Horace McCoy later wrote "Gentleman Jim" and "They Shoot Horses Don't They?"

This film is a hard one to get hold of, but it is worth watching, for any number of reasons. It is very entertaining, and is interesting for historical reasons as well. Others of this type would include: "My Sin," with Fredric March and Tallulah Bankhead; "Susan Lenox," with Garbo and Clark Gable; the aforementioned "Safe in Hell," and "Red Dust," with Gable and Harlow; "White Woman," with Carole Lombard; "Mandalay," with Kay Francis; "Lady of the Tropics," with Robert Taylor and Hedy Lamarr; "White Cargo," with Lamarr and Walter Pidgeon; and "Return to Paradise," with Gary Cooper.
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Lots of fun character actors
24 October 2010
I really enjoyed this "B" film mystery. C. Aubrey Smith makes a good hero, though he was in his eighties at the time. He always carried an air of authority about him, and never failed to be entertaining. His appearance and mannerisms cry out for parody, and in fact, he was often caricatured. But he was endearing and witty, and lots of fun to watch. Offscreen, he was famous as a leading member of the "British Colony" in Hollywood, in the 30s and 40s, and as a leader of the Hollywood Cricket Club.

Cheers too, for Erich Von Stroheim. What more can one say about him? He was a wonderful director, and a mesmerizing actor as well. He managed to elevate a number of low-budget films, and was wonderful in the "A" films, too. Think "Five Graves to Cairo" and "Sunset Boulevard," for example. His character in that latter film is creepy yet sympathetic- a type he played often, and well. I never get tired of watching him. He often chewed the scenery, but always in such an entertaining way that you have to forgive him.

This is a pretty good Republic effort. It is well written, and it keeps you interested. One thing I really like about the film is in its use of many famous Hollywood character actors. Forrester Harvey, who often played humorous Cockney types, gets more screen time here than usual. And he does a good job as the shady art dealer. Ditto his wife Doris Lloyd, who made a zillion movies. C. Aubrey's wife is played by Eva Moore, who was the creepy sister, Rebecca Femm, in James Whale's classic, "The Old Dark House." She plays a society lady here, and it's hard to believe she's the same actress as in that earlier film. You can also spot Billy Bevan, Victor Varconi, Georges Metaxa, and a number of faces that pop up in many films of the 30s and 40s. That was a great thing about Old Hollywood- there were so many excellent character actors available to the studios. They always added that something extra to the films, and audiences loved seeing them. Try to imagine the classics of that era without them.

For mystery lovers, and fans of the character actors of the studio system- era, this is a gem of a movie.
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A good early performance by William Holden
23 September 2010
This is a very enjoyable saga of college life in the early 1900s, told in flashback by the main characters, presumably from the then-present year of 1940. This was one of William Holden's first starring films, and he gives a very entertaining, lively performance. His shenanigans are presented in a 'boys will be boys' manner, but in reality, some of his transgressions would have landed him in real, long-lasting trouble. It is a comedy, however, and such real-world intrusions need not apply. At the end of the movie, after we've seen his character commit just about every kind of felony (though in a good-natured way), we jump back to 1940, and get to hear Holden express frustrations about the crazy things HIS son has been doing. Pretty funny stuff.

One thing that struck me while watching this movie is in fact just how good Holden is in it. When you consider that he was only about 22 years old, and hadn't had much acting training before he got into the movies, it is really kind of impressive. He had only two bit parts in films before he was catapulted to the top in "Golden Boy," in 1939. The stories about the making of that film are well known. How nervous he was at the beginning, and how he was almost yanked out of the picture, saved only by the insistence of star Barbara Stanwyck that he be kept in the part. How she coached him, and gave him confidence, so much so that he improved markedly over the course of the filming. Holden always credited her with giving him a career, and he never forgot her kindness, sending her flowers over the years, and always speaking up for her. She reciprocated, and always said how much she loved him.

I recently had the opportunity of watching most of Holden's films, in a period of a few weeks. Seeing an actor's complete body of work in such a short time, gives you a real feel for the progression of their careers and abilities. As I say, I was impressed by how quickly he got a handle on the acting thing, and how assured he was at such a young age. He was a natural, I guess. He had very little stage experience, and majored in chemistry at college. What a jump! But he must have been a quick study. As examples, look at how good he is in "Invisible Stripes" and "Our Town," two early parts. He is also very good in the two westerns he did at that time- "Arizona," with Jean Arthur, in 1940, and "Texas," with Glenn Ford and Claire Trevor, in 1941. He handles himself well with horses and guns, and seems convincing, as does Ford. Incidentally, they started out at the same time, at the same studio, and apparently became good friends, chasing girls together, and doing what young guys do.

The accepted take on Holden's career is that he played mostly bland, innocuous types until his breakthrough part in "Sunset Boulevard." That is half true, I think. For all his "Smiling Jim" parts (his phrase), he also played some fairly dark characters in those early years. His cowboy in "Texas" is pretty amoral; he plays fairly tough in "I Wanted Wings"; he is a good-bad guy in "Streets of Laredo"; and is an outright nasty character in "The Dark Past." I sometimes feel that "Sunset Boulevard" typed him as too much of the detached, cynical guy in his later films. Those qualities were great for the Wilder films, but he ended up playing variations on that character in most of his later films. It did give him a great career, though, and he WAS able to break out of these types, when he was given the opportunity. And he was good at portraying both of these kinds of characters. As with many actors, I think there was more depth to his career than we often remember.

I can think of only one other actor who made it to the top so quickly, and also without much experience. This was Errol Flynn, who was an overnight sensation in "Captain Blood" in 1935, a film that propelled him into superstar ranks. Flynn, like Holden, had had very little acting experience. He made his first film, in Australia, in 1933, then acted for a year or so in England. He had only four films under his belt before he hit the big time. Like Holden, he was a natural, and he picked it up quickly, and gave pretty good performances throughout his career. He never won an Oscar, but he probably should have for "The Sun Also Rises." Amazing that these guys got to the top so quickly, without the years of training and struggling that so many other actors had to endure. It must have caused some resentment towards them by others less fortunate, as perhaps did their good looks. Perhaps becoming famous overnight isn't such a good thing, though, as both Holden and Flynn developed serious drinking problems, and they both looked older than their years when they reached middle age. In fact, drink contributed to both of their deaths. (I think they were in fact friends, or at least friendly, as they saw each other socially over the years. And Holden's wife, Brenda Marshall (called by her real name, Ardis, by her friends) co- starred with Flynn in two films, "The Sea Hawk" and "Footsteps in the Dark." She and Flynn made a good screen couple).

Anyway, check out the film. Holden does a good job for such a young guy, and there are lots of good character actors in it. And some bits by future stars- Alan Ladd, for example. I guess those old movie moguls knew their business. They had pretty good track records in spotting the talent, and some kind of intuition for finding the gems among the untrained actors.
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A great film; and a sly reference to it in "Bride of Frankenstein?"
16 April 2010
I echo all the other reviewers in saying that this is a very well-done and entertaining movie. Robert Donat was an excellent actor, and he carries this role very well. He may have won his Oscar for Mr. Chips, but I have always liked him in this movie, and in Hitchcock's "The Thirty-Nine Steps," even more. And Elissa Landi- she was incredibly gorgeous, and a good actress, too. Producer Edward Small must have had a thing for Dumas and swashbucklers. He also produced the 1939 "Man in the Iron Mask," and the 1940 "Son of Monte Cristo." As many people know, Donat was slated to play "Captain Blood" in 1935, but for whatever reason dropped out, and that part went to the unknown Errol Flynn. Flynn's star-making performance catapulted him to the top, and led to the string of classic swashbucklers he made throughout the 30s and 40s. Interesting in that Donat's "Monte Cristo" kick-started a dormant film genre, and his withdrawal from "Captain Blood" introduced the man who would re-invent, and re-invigorate, the whole swashbuckler genre. So perhaps Donat and Flynn can be considered the godfathers of the sound film's action movie (and the inheritors of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.'s mantle).

I was also struck by a similarity between some scenes in this, and in the James Whale film, "The Bride of Frankenstein," made just a year later, in 1935. Another reviewer on this site has noted the same thing, and I agree with him completely. Dantes' fellow prisoner, played by O.P. Heggie, is a character very similar to the blind hermit in "Bride," played by- O.P. Heggie. The blind hermit befriends Boris Karloff's lonely monster, in much the same way that this prisoner befriends a lonely Edmund Dantes. Some of the dialogue is quite similar. And, in a particularly dramatic scene between Dantes and his friend, "Ave Maria" is played on the soundtrack. If all of you remember, when the blind hermit meets the monster, and thanks God for bringing him a friend, "Ave Maria" is used on the soundtrack, to very great emotional effect. I read that James Whale actively sought O.P. Heggie to play this part, so one has to wonder if it is just a coincidence, or a conscious plan- I find the former possibility a little implausible. As the other reviewer on this site noted, it may have been a sly in-joke on Whale's part (and not only that- Heggie was an excellent actor, and brought great humanity to these two parts. So Whale's choice was also artistically sound). He was a director who loved in-jokes, and his films are full of humorous and sly references to all kinds of things. You also have to wonder if anyone at the time picked up on it. We can see these films back-to-back now, and notice similarities, courtesy of DVDs and TV, but in the 30s, there would have been a yearlong gap between the showings of these films. I imagine most moviegoers wouldn't have remembered that Heggie had played in the earlier film, or seen the similarities. I hadn't noticed myself, on previous viewings of "Count," but became aware of it just last night. The use of "Ave Maria" made it seem conclusive, to me.

Whale also used Douglas Walton in "Bride," as Percy Shelley, and I wonder if he liked the actor in his part as Landi's son, in "Count." Interestingly, Whale directed Edward Small's "The Man in the Iron Mask" in 1939. That same year, Rowland V. Lee, who directed "Count," took over from Whale, and directed "Son of Frankenstein" (and then Lee directed "Son of Monte Cristo" the following year. A bit confusing!). Boy, Hollywood was filled with all kinds of connections. Six Degrees of Monte Cristo!

Anyway, just some interesting sidelights to two great films. For fans of both movies, take a look at them.
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A Fun Early-Talkie Mystery
13 June 2009
This is a very entertaining early-sound film. From the opening credits, superimposed over a bobbing, ringing offshore buoy, the film maintains a feeling of mystery. The plot is very clever, and keeps you off-guard. And it has that other-worldly feeling that so many early talkies seem to have now. The technical limitations of that time actually add to movies like this, I think, as they give that distant feeling, as if you're looking into another universe. They say the past is a different country, and maybe that's right. It sure is fun peering into that different time and place.

The film boasts some entertaining actors. My favorite is Lowell Sherman, who was good in everything he did. As an actor, he was the world-weary type. The guy who has seen it all, but still finds life kind of amusing. He reminds me of John Barrymore, but without the burden of the profile. He always seems to be having a good time, and livens up the proceedings. He was great in the 1932 "What Price Hollywood?," as the burned-out movie director. He was also a pretty good film director in real life, and nurtured some important careers. He directed Mae West and Cary Grant in "She Done Him Wrong," in 1933, followed by Katharine Hepburn in "Morning Glory," 1933, "Born To Be Bad," 1934, with Grant and Loretta Young, and a number of others. He was the original director for the 1935 Miriam Hopkins' "Becky Sharp," but died during production, and was replaced by Rouben Mamoulian. Many think that if he'd lived longer, he'd be considered one of the top directors of that time. And even if he is remembered only for his acting, he has a secure place in film history.

Betty Compson was a big silent star, but her career was kind of tapering off at this point. She is still pretty good in the film, and is fun to watch. Hugh Trevor, the young romantic lead, had a short career at RKO at that time, and was a standard hero type, but not bad. He died just a few years after making this movie. I like Ivan Lebedeff, who often played phony European-nobility types. He sometimes played it nasty, but was often a comic character. The gigolo/phony prince, etc. He was hilarious as such a type in Jean Harlow's "Blonde Bombshell," in 1933, making fun of those real-life European princes who seemed to specialize in marrying Hollywood royalty- actresses like Gloria Swanson and Constance Bennett. He played the part very well.

The sets in the film are fun- just the creepy kinds of things you'd expect in an "old dark house" kind of place. Somehow these kinds of places exist only in the movies. At least, I've never seen such a fogbound place in my travels. But that's fine- "only in the movies" is OK in my book.

This film may have shown up on TCM, but it isn't well known, or available to any great extant. I saw it years ago on a local TV channel in Baltimore (Channel 13 all-night movies, which were usually the C & C TV- RKO films- rather ragged and blurry prints, but lots of fun). I bought a DVD copy from a collector, and that's what I have now. Most of these early- sound films don't have big audiences, but it would be nice to have this for sale somewhere. Some other early films are showing up on low-priced DVDs, so perhaps this one will too. It isn't a great classic, but it is worth watching, and is lots of fun.
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An odd comedy- one of Diana Barrymore's few films. But she's good.
13 June 2009
This is kind of a curio. It has an excellent cast, and some good scenes, but overall, it's a bit of a miss. I find it interesting mainly because it features Diana Barrymore, who I've read about, but never seen on film. She was pretty good, and probably could have had a successful career, and possibly been a big star, if her private life hadn't been so chaotic. From what I've read about her, she's a perfect example of what happens when parents totally neglect their children. Her famous father, John, and her mother, Blanche, pretty much ignored her all of her life. It must have been very difficult for her growing up. John has always been one of my favorites, but he sure was a terrible father to her.

She shows real talent in this film. It is sort of a road company "The Major and the Minor," but she's good. In the opening scenes, she plays a Queen Victoria type (or maybe it is the Queen herself), and does so convincingly. At the end of the film, she plays Joan of Arc, again convincingly. She seemed to have the Barrymore talent, and showed she was good in character parts. She also had a knack for comedy. I was impressed by her, and wonder what she could have done with a really good part. It's too bad that she went down her father's path of too much booze, too many bad romances, and a generally self-destructive lifestyle. Her autobiography, "Too Much, Too Soon," was well named, I guess. If things had been different, I bet she could have been a star, and/or a good character actress.

One of the best points of the film, as with so many old Hollywood movies, good and bad, is the number of excellent supporting actors it has. Bob Cummings is the co-star, Kay Francis and John Boles are the second leads, and Andy Devine, Walter Catlett, and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams head the character actor list. Those character actors could elevate any movie, and they usually did. They were fantastic in the great films, really putting them over the top, and they helped save the mediocre or poor pictures. I'm sure audiences of the day brightened when their faces came on the screen. This was towards the end of Kay Francis' career, and it is a bit sad seeing her here. She had been a very big star in the '30s, and was now being given only supporting parts. Must have been hard to take. Ditto John Boles, though he wasn't ever quite as big as she was (but he did have an impressive career). I've always liked Bob Cummings, and he was pretty good at comedy himself (remember "Love That Bob?"). He was also good with Hitchcock, and in Anthony Mann's "The Black Book."

Anyway, it's worth a look. Not a great film, but interesting (as is Kay Francis' house in the movie, which looks a little like Boris Karloff's digs in "The Black Cat"). And Diana Barrymore shows some real promise. Whew!- maybe it's better not being famous.
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Windjammer (1937)
A pretty good sea yarn
31 January 2009
This is a pretty good George O'Brien "B" film. O'Brien was always a likable leading man, and, as everyone knows, was popular in the late-silent, early-talkie era. He is noteworthy for his role in Murnau's "Sunrise." He did much of his best work for John Ford, who seemed to be a kind of guardian angel for him. When his career was running out of steam, Ford put him in supporting roles in some of his later films. If what you read is true, O'Brien must hold some kind of military record. Aside from being a boxing champ in the navy, he fought in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and was highly decorated in those wars. He's good here as the cocky government attorney, determined to get his man.

The story segues from a light adventure yarn into a sort of variation of "The Sea Wolf." The actors playing the cutthroats on the ship our heroes encounter are pretty convincing. Particularly William Hall, who plays the captain. I'm not familiar with him, and he seems to have had a career playing small parts and bits. He's good, though, and convincing as a ruthless, piratical type. I'm not familiar with most of the actors here, though in a way that makes it more convincing, as they seem like real-life types. After O'Brien, and leading lady Constance Worth, the best known actor here is probably Gavin Gordon. He attained some kind of screen immortality by playing Lord Byron in the classic "The Bride of Frankenstein." And he played that part very well. He also appeared in "The Mystery of the Wax Museum," and dozens of other films, usually as a nasty, bullying villain (see "The Silver Horde," 1930, with Joel McCrea).

This isn't a great film by any means, but it is fun, and is the kind of sea adventure that you don't see anymore. For sailing ship fans, it is a treat as well. There are plenty of shots of 30s- era yachts, motor boats, and sailing ships, the kinds of ships that you don't see around the world any longer, except perhaps in offbeat locations. Places like the islands of Indonesia, or harbors in Djakarta. You really can see these vintage vessels in such places, and not as museum pieces, but as working ships. If you can't get to those places in reality, films like this might be of interest.
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Journey's End (1930)
One of James Whale's best films
29 September 2006
As all of the other reviewers have stated, this is an excellent film. It really captures the fear, claustrophobia, camaraderie, and occasional boredom of life in the trenches of World War I. As everyone knows, both R.C. Sheriff and James Whale had served in the trenches, and they brought their experiences to the play, and then the film. It is a product of its time, 1929-1930, so there are technical and other limitations, but it is still a great film. Full of pathos and a sense of desperation.

The actors work well together, and many of them give what I feel are their best career performances. Much has been written about the superb acting of Colin Clive, as Stanhope, and it is true. He is great. You really feel the anguish of this man, who has been at the front for three years. He has been pushed beyond his limit, and reacts as any normal person would-- exhibiting signs of battle fatigue, never-ending fear, and occasional hopelessness. What is amazing is that he continues to endure, and to do what he considers to be his duty. He finds solace in the bottle, and in the company of his mates.

Clive was a brilliant actor, and gave his all to whatever part he played. Many of them were variations on the Stanhope theme. His role as Henry Frankenstein, in the two films directed by Whale, are similar in tone to this part. It's a shame that he didn't have more movie roles with real meat in them, but perhaps there were only so many such parts in Hollywood, and not always available. He was good in all of his other films, such as "One More River," 1934, as a sadistic husband; "The Key," very good as a sympathetic British Intelligence officer in Ireland during the "Black and Tan" period; "Jane Eyre," 1934, as Rochester; "The Right to Live," 1935, as a husband paralyzed in a plane crash; "The Girl From Tenth Avenue," 1935, as a very funny drunk, etc. He acts with Bette Davis in that latter film, and they play well together. You hear a lot about his real-life demons, and alcoholism, but he seems to have been a good guy, and many people regretted his early death.

David Manners, as Raleigh, is also excellent. He plays the school boy well-- innocent, eager to please, ready to do his part, and admiring of Stanhope. He captures the essence of this character. I think it is Manners' best role. He was very good in "The Miracle Woman," 1931, as the blind man involved with Barbara Stanwyck, and in a slightly similar role in "The Last Flight," also 1931. But I think he is best here. I also like him in all the horror films like "Dracula," "The Mummy," and "The Black Cat," but he doesn't have much to do in those films, except stand around, be romantic, and be kind of ineffectual. He had a good career, though, acting with some of the biggest stars of the day. He was good with Loretta Young, Katherine Hepburn, and Kay Francis, and, reportedly, was liked by them.

Of the other supporting actors, I think Ian MacLaren is the best. He is quite moving as Osborne (also known as "Uncle"). He supports and encourages Stanhope, and offers real friendship to Raleigh. It is a warm and sensitive performance, and integral to the film. I think it is the biggest film role of his career. You see him in some other 1930s films, but usually in small, unobtrusive parts. On the evidence of this film, he was an excellent actor.

Billy Bevan, a former silent-film comedian, is very good, too. His Trotter is full of good cheer, optimism, and kindness. He would play similar types in many more films. Anthony Bushell is good as Hibbert, the coward. He is continually trying to shirk his duty, and he manages to bring out the worst in Stanhope. Charles Gerrard, as Mason the cook, is kind of amusing, and acts as a sort of comedy relief. Gerrard showed up the next year in "Dracula," as Martin, the sanitarium guard who takes away Renfield's spiders and flies. Interesting in that Manners is also in that film. Gerrard played a more serious military type in John Ford's "Men Without Women," and was hilarious as Lord Ambrose Plumtree, husband of Thelma Todd, in Laurel and Hardy's "Another Fine Mess."

It's surprising that this film hasn't been picked up by Kino or Criterion or someone, and given a full restoration. I have always wondered why it is not more widely seen or revived. The only copies available are grainy ones on eBay or somewhere. It never seems to show up on PBS, or in film retrospectives. It is so good, that it shouldn't be relegated to obscurity. I would place it in the select group of James Whale's best films, alongside "Waterloo Bridge," "Showboat," and the quartet of horror films. Let's hope that it shows up soon in a pristine, restored print, with perhaps a commentary by someone like Whale biographer James Curtis. That would be a nice treat.
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Love in Bloom (1935)
The wonderful Dixie Lee
28 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very pleasant little romantic comedy, similar in storyline and tone to a lot of other unpretentious films of the 1930s. What distinguishes it, in my mind, is the acting of the two romantic leads, Joe Morrison and Dixie Lee. While Burns and Allen receive top billing, the film really belongs to this romantic couple. George and Gracie are always lots of fun, as they are here, but, to my surprise, I found myself enjoying the love story more. When you think of the love interests in 30s comedies, such as in the Marx Brothers films, you can't help but think of the words 'sappy,''bland,' and 'obnoxious.' But Morrison and Lee are actually very charming, and give a poignancy to the story that lesser actors couldn't do.

Morrison has an easy manner, a nice voice, and an appealing personality. He really makes you believe in this nice guy. A popular radio singer, he seems to have made few films. He is good in "The Old Fashioned Way," 1934, with W.C. Fields, and in "Four Hours to Kill!", 1935, among others. It's a shame he didn't have a longer career.

Dixie Lee is sensational. Aside from being incredibly gorgeous, she has a beautiful voice, an even more appealing manner, and is an excellent actress. It would be easy to coast through a part like this-- that of the hard-boiled (but softhearted) dame, looking for love in the big city. But she invests the part with real tenderness and pathos, and one feels the tragedy of her attempts to shake off her seedy carnival past. She is a very sensitive actress, and uses her face, body, and voice in very effective ways. And watch how expressively she uses her eyes. She has beautiful eyes, and you can really feel her emotions in them. Not always an easy thing for an actor to do. She is so wonderful in this part, that one can't help regretting that she didn't make more pictures. I imagine she was pretty busy being Mrs. Bing Crosby, and raising a family. But she would have been good in some of the other light romances Paramount made so well, perhaps even co-starring with her husband.

Dixie reminds me of those other early 30s stars Nancy Carroll, Ann Dvorak and Mae Clarke, whose careers also petered out by the middle of the decade. Perhaps along with Carroll and Dvorak, Dixie has been largely forgotten by people today. Clarke is remembered for her more famous movies, like "The Public Enemy," "Waterloo Bridge," and "Frankenstein," and Carroll and Dvorak do have some similarly memorable films. But Dixie Lee only made a handful of films, as leads and second leads, and some of them have been lost. So she doesn't have a large body of work to study. A few of her other films are around- the Fox all-star musical "Happy Days," 1929; "No Limit," 1931, as the sidekick of Clara Bow; "Night Life in Reno," 1931, in a small part as a sexy husband stealer; "Quick Millions," 1931, in an unbilled bit as a secretary, (in a scene with George Raft), and a couple of others. She sings a charming song in "Manhattan Love Song," 1934, which is available on DVD. It's interesting in that when she married Bing Crosby, she was a bigger star than he was, and by 1935, he was a superstar, and her career was over. But she was good, and she shines in this film.

Actor/director Elliott Nugent made a number of good films, including five Bob Hope movies (such as "My Favorite Brunette)," as well as "She Loves Me Not," 1934, starring Dixie's husband Bing. His father, J.C. Nugent, plays Vi's father here. Elliott acted in a number of films, including Lon Chaney's last film, "The Unholy Three," in 1930, and "The Last Flight," 1931. He was reportedly one of Bob Hope's favorite directors.

"Love in Bloom" isn't a major film from that stellar year, 1935, but it is an appealing one, and it has real heart. In a story that could have just been clichéd and sappy, it manages to make you care for this Depression-era couple. And there is just enough humor to keep it from getting too maudlin. Burns and Allen fans might be disappointed that they don't have bigger parts, but they are also good here, and help advance the story. George in particular is quite sympathetic, and plays it straight in a number of scenes. And Gracie, zany as usual, has some wonderful bits as well.

So don't be put off by this film. Give it a chance, and take it for what it is. And watch Dixie Lee. She really was a wonderful actress. And, reportedly, a wonderful person as well. You can understand why Bing was so smitten with her. She was adorable.
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