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Badlands of Dakota (1941)
Brother Against Brother
BADLANDS OF DAKOTA (Universal, 1941), directed by Alfred E. Green, is a western featuring an all-star cast headed by the youthful Robert Stack. Though Stack later starred in the popular television series, "The Untouchables" (1959-1963), he was known during his early movie years as the young man who gave Deanna Durbin her first screen kiss in his motion picture debut in FIRST LOVE (Universal, 1939). While Stack's name alone in 1941 was not strong enough to make BADLANDS OF DAKOTA into a top-rated film, veteran actors Richard Dix and Frances Farmer became added attractions, giving this production some added appeal. Ann Rutherford, better known to many film historians as Polly Benedict in the "Andy Hardy" movie series, assumes loan-out assignment duties from MGM working opposite Stack playing the young girl who comes between two brothers.
FORWARD: "A few years after the War between the states - Dakota territory was given to the Sioux Indian nation and patrolled by the Seventh Cavalry under the command of General Custer. In 1874, gold was discovered and Custer was unable to keep out the hordes of white settlers who swarmed into the territory. Thus was born Deadwood, a red, raw town in a burned out gulch." Following brief scenes involving wagon trains traveling west and the building of the town called Deadwood, Speed (Andy Devine) is introduced as the master of ceremonies presenting some upcoming acts that are to be performed at the Bella Union, a saloon owned by Bob Holliday (Broderick Crawford). Bob's youngest brother, Jim (Robert Stack), takes advantage of those fearing Bob's rough exterior by cheating at cards and getting drunk at the bar. Having been in Deadwood for six months after being talked into staying by Bob, Bob decides to have his irresponsible brother do him a favor by heading back to their hometown of St. Louis to bring back with him Anne Grayson (Ann Rutherford), the girl Bob intends to marry. While Jim has known Anne during their childhood days, he is surprised finding the once homely little girl to be an attractive 22 year-old woman. During their venture home by riverboat, Jim first makes the acquaintance of a gambler by the name of James Butler Hickok, better known as "Wild Bill" Hickok (Richard Dix), and later falls in love with Anne, marrying her during the boat's stop at Fort Pierre. Disappointed by the news of their marriage given to him by Jane (Frances Farmer), who loves Bob who only looks upon her as a business partner, Bob joins a group of bandits headed by Jack McCall (Lon Chaney Jr.) doing a series of stagecoach holdups while at the same time appoints his weakling brother as the new town marshal more out of for vengeance than as a favor to him.
The supporting cast also consists of Hugh Herbert ("Rocky" Flemmer, bartender/fire chief); Fuzzy Knight ("Hurricane" Harry); Addison Richards (George Armstrong Custer); Bradley Page (Chapman); and Samuel S. Hinds (Anne's hard-of-hearing Uncle Wilbur). Dwight Latin, Guy Bonher and Walter Carlson, credited as The Jesters, play musical entertainers performing such tunes as: "McNamara's Band," "We're Going to Have a Big Time Tonight" and "No One to Love." Of its cast members, Frances Farmer, billed simply as Jane, stands out as the character inspiration of Calamity Jane. Dressed in pants, buckskin clothes and western hat, her character is very much the tough talking, bar drinking and jealous nature Calamity Jane, and different style to the same character as portrayed by Jean Arthur in THE PLAINSMAN (Paramount, 1936). Unlike other movies about Calamity Jane's involvement with Wild Bill Hickok, BADLANDS OF DAKOTA shifts gears by having her more to the liking of Bob Holliday. Her involvement with Wild Bill Hickok, excellently played by Richard Dix, is barely existent here. Dix, sporting curly hair and mustache, is given little to do, which is surprising. His character is around long enough for attention, but other than gambling scenes, actually comes to Deadwood Gulch to find gold, and being more observant to Stack's activities than being a participant. Lon Chaney Jr., shortly before his achievement in horror films such as THE WOLF MAN (1941) and its sequels, plays a cattle thief known to Hickok for being the one who shot the Kansas Kid in Abilene in the back. Willie Fung resumes his stereotypical role of a Chinese laundryman, while Glenn Strange is seen with Chaney as one of his henchmen.
Aside from Robert Stack playing a weakling turned into a town marshal, reminiscent but not superior to James Stewart's classic take in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (Universal, 1939), BADLANDS OF DAKOTA doesn't disappoint with typical western action-packed style of gun shootingm, Indian attacks, cavalry rescues, and so much more crammed into its 74 minutes. If the plot in general doesn't prove interesting, then the impressive casting of its players or runaway stagecoach scene involving Fuzzy Knight should.
Not seen regularly on commercial television since the 1970s, BADLANDS OF DAKOTA has turned up decades later on cable television's Encore Channel. Due to its latter day viewings, the film overall should be a worthy rediscovery for western film buffs or anyone unaware of its existence. Overlooking the plot toying with historic facts and characters, BADLANDS OF DAKOTA, with comedic overtones, is fast-paced and surprisingly well-done. (**1/2)
Blessed Event (1932)
Broadway Thru a Keyhole
BLESSED EVENT (Warner Brothers, 1932), directed by Roy Del Ruth, isn't a motion picture set at a maternity ward. Yet, Warner Brothers did produce a maternity ward/hospital melodrama titled LIFE BEGINS (1932) starring Loretta Young, both films that could easily stir up confusion among classic movie lovers. Based on the play by Manuel Seff and Forrest Wilson, this dramatic story with comedic pre-code overtones takes place in a newspaper office where one lone gossip columnist obtains enough news unfit to print. Though known mostly to film historians as the movie debut of future singing star, Dick Powell (1904-1963), BLESSED EVENT virtually belongs to Lee Tracy from start to finish. Following the success of Warners' own FIVE STAR FINAL (1931) starring Edward G. Robinson, where story dealt with tabloid story ruining the lives of a family, BLESSED EVENT goes even further with less dramatics placing tabloids and scandal on Broadway fixtures to help boost up circulation.
Set at New York City's Daily Express newspaper, Alvin Roberts (Lee Tracy) rises from the advertising department to gossip columnist on well-known personalities while George Moxley (Ned Sparks), ison vacation. Upon his return, Moxley finds circulation at an all time high due to Alvin's tell-all columns. Regardless of libel suits involved, Louis Miller (Walter Walker), its publisher, allows Alvin to continue what he is doing. Alvin, who lives at home with his mother (Emma Dunn), is loved by Gladys Price (Mary Brian), a fellow reporter, who disapproves of his newfound popularity ranging to his "Spilling the Dirt" articles to radio broadcasts where he and Bunny Harmon (Dick Powell), a crooner Alvin dislikes, carry on their feuds over the air. Alvin's "Blessed Event" tabloids go too far when he finds himself threatened by Frankie Wells (Allen Jenkins), a Chicago gangster hired by his mobster boss, Sam Gobel (Edwin Maxwell) to get him to stop writing articles about the well known "Broadway Public Enemy." Guilt sets in when Alvin's promise not to expose Dorothy Lane (Isabel Jewell), a Broadway singer of the Midnight Revue, about her "blessed event without benefit of clergy," goes to print, causing Dorothy to lose both her job and respect from her mother in Texas. As Alvin resumes destroying personal lives of others, Gladys fears for Alvin after discovering his life has been threatened.
The supporting players, consisting mostly Warner Brothers stock players, consist of Ruth Donnelly (Miss Stevens, Alvin's wisecracking secretary); Robert Emmett O'Connor (Detective Jim); and Frank McHugh (coming late into the story) as Reilly, a press agent from the Gazette. Look for familiar faces of Charles Lane, Harold Waldridge, Jack LaRue and George Chandler in smaller roles.
For Dick Powell's first movie, he does more singing than participating in the non-musical segments. Coming 30 minutes into the start of the story, Powell introduces himself by singing the film's best song of "How Could You Say 'No" When All the World is Saying Yes" on WYNY Broadcasting Station. Other songs include "Waiting for a Call From You" (sung by Isabel Jewell); while Powell croons to "Wear Shapiro Shoes," "Too Many Tears," and "I'm Making Hay in the Moonlight" at the Chateau Harmony Night Club. While Powell's first song is impressive, the others that follow are either overdone or overripe, lacking the natural singing style and appeal found in his later musicals. Seeing how youthful Powell appears here, it's hard to imagine he's that same actor who reinvented himself as the unshaven tough guy detective Philip Marlowe in MURDER MY SWEET (RKO, 1944). Mary Brian, Tracy's co-star, is no stranger to the newspaper movies, having already appeared in the highly successful screen adaptation to the 1928 stage production of THE FRONT PAGE (United Artists, 1931) opposite Pat O'Brien, also gives a commendable performance. Isabel Jewell (also in movie debut), in a sizable role as the doomed show girl, surprisingly does not get any casting credit for her impressive performance. As usual, both Ruth Donnelly and Ned Sparks offer great humor for their puns and verbal wisecracks.
For anyone viewing BLESSED EVENT as a curiosity in watching Dick Powell making his blessed event in the motion picture industry, many may tend to forget he's in the movie at all after watching the dynamic performance given by Lee Tracy in what's often categorized as his best movie role. In typical Warner Brothers fashion, BLESSED EVENT moves at such a fast pace during its entire 79 minute length. Seldom broadcast on commercial television in the 1960s and 70s, BLESSED EVENT later achieved rediscovery years later either on a video cassette release in the 1990s or cable television's Turner Classic Movies. Sit back and enjoy this one. (***)
The Hardy Family: Graduation Day
ANDY HARDY'S PRIVATE SECRETARY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1941), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the tenth installment to the popular "Andy Hardy" family series starring Lewis Stone (Judge Hardy); Mickey Rooney (Andy Hardy); Fay Holden (Emily Hardy); and Sara Haden (Aunt Milly Forrest). One series regular, Marian Hardy, as played by Cecilia Parker, does not appear here, but does introduce a new MGM starlet, a soprano by the name of Kathryn Grayson, beter known in later years for her popular MGM musicals including SHOW BOAT (1951) and KISS ME KATE (1953).
The story opens typically in the courtroom with Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) preciding a case involving a young teenager (Charles Smith) who finds life difficult being six feet tall among shorter eighth grade students, until a lecture about President Abraham Lincoln sets him straight. Hardy is then telephoned by George Benedict (Addison Richards) of the Carvel National Bank informing him that his son, Andrew (Mickey Rooney), has signed his name to a bad check of $280. Andy, now 18, about to graduate from Carvel High School within a week, is not only class president, but responsible for many activities at once, such as the school's bookkeeping and upcoming play with students dressed in Roman costumes. With everything happening at once, it is suggested that Andy hire Kathryn (Kathryn Grayson) as his private secretary to handle data on his extracurricular activities, with her brother, Harry (Todd Karns), who resents Andy, in decorating the gymnasium, where commencement is to be held. Their father, Steven V. Land (Ian Hunter), a widower, a highly educated man and former travel agent in Europe for ten years, now works as a night watchman for Peter Dugan's (Joseph Crehan) garage. Because of his ability to speak nine languages, Judge Hardy arranges for this skillful man for a better paying job in South American with the help of J.O. Harper (Don Douglas), a state representative of Washington. Land does get him the job, but has to leave for South America by Thursday, two days before his children are to graduate, thus miss graduation. In the meantime, Andy might not be able graduate himself for failing his final exam in English class.
Returning to the series are Georgie Breakston as Andy's best friend, "Beezy" Anderson; Gene Reynolds as Jimmy MacMahon, the role he originated in LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), appears for one scene; and Margaret Early as Clarabelle Lee, the role she originated in JUDGE HARDY AND SON (1939). Series regular, Ann Rutherford, returns as Andy's girlfriend, Polly Benedict, who shows jealously over his attention towards fellow classmate, Kathryn Land. With Deanna Durbin being the operatic teenage rage for Universal of the 1940s, Grayson's movie debut is heavily influenced by Durbin, especially during her showcase scene singing such operatic arias as Johann Strauss's "The Voices of Spring," and "Lucia de Lammamoor" by Gaetano Douizetti. Grayson gets a chance to vocalize a down-t-oearth Cole Porter tune, introduced in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 (1940) titled "I've Got My Eyes on You.," more to Andy Hardy's liking but not to Polly.
Interestingly, with the story focusing more on Judge Hardy and son, one would wonder about the rest of the family members. Fay Holden's Mrs. Hardy appears late into the story (39 minutes) while Cecilia Parker's Marian is said to be away in New York City. It's a wonder why such a close relative like Andy's sister was not able to return home in time to attend her brother's graduation? It also seems odd to have Andy's Aunt Milly as his teacher in English while students related to teachers are usually assigned to another classroom under another instructor. Yet it is Andy's own Aunt Milly who must fail her nephew for not passing his big exam, and to show no favoritism in that matter. Another overlong (101 minutes) segment, ANDY HARDY'S PRIVATE SECRETARY, being quite typical, holds interest through most of it. Hence its title, the story sets more on Andy Hardy's preparation for high school graduation than on his new romance with his private secretary. Yet its title is put to good use in attracting attention to the studio's new singing personality, Kathryn Grayson. Yes, there is that usual "man-to-man" talks between the judge and Andy, which in turn becomes strict father to son talk after judge learns his son won't be part of his graduation class of 1941.
Formerly distributed on video cassette in the 1990s, ANDY HARDY'S PRIVATE SECRETARY can be seen whenever broadcast on Turner Classic Movies. Next in the series, LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY (1941) which marks the return of Judy Garland as Betsy Booth and Andy's return to The Big Apple, New York City. (*** diplomas)
Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940)
Judge Hardy's Family in New York
ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the ninth installment to the "Andy Hardy" family series starring Lewis Stone,Mickey Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden and Sara Haden. It also marked the return of Judy Garland, reprising her role of Betsy Booth introduced in LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938). Lana Turner, who also appeared in that same movie, does not appear in this segment, though her Cynthia Potter character and photograph are mentioned and used here. As for Garland, though she plays a debutante, the debutante in the title happens to be characterized by another new MGM starlet by the name of Diana Lewis, who would become Andy Hardy's latest problem and new love interest.
ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE breaks its series tradition by not opening in Judge Hardy's courtroom. Instead, it begins Saturday morning with teenage lover boy, Andy hardy (Mickey Rooney) asleep in bed with magazine photo cover of the Number 1 debutante, Daphne Fowler beside him, while Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) is away fishing. Hardy is then called back to Carvel by George Benedict (Addison Richards) regarding some legal matters regarding on shutting down the Carvel Orphanage and displacing many of its orphans. Though Andy has never met Daphne Fowler, he brags is meeting her two years ago to his girlfriend, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), who, after learning the Hardy family will be heading for New York City where the Judge is to go on a business matter to keep the orphanage from closing, she and his best pal, Beezy (Georgie Breakstone) have Andy promise to return home with a photo of he and Daphne together to place in their high school newspaper, the Olympian. After a train ride to New York City, the Hardy's family, also consisting of mother (Fay Holden), aunt Milly (Sara Haden) and Andy's older sister, Marian (Cecilia Parker), stay at a brownstone apartment on East 49th Street as arranged by Andy's debutante girlfriend, Betsy Booth (Judy Garland). As the Judge works on legal matters to save the orphanage, Betsy, whose parents are out of town, tries to help Andy with his latest problem, but doesn't know what to do since Andy insists she not ask him any questions. Going through much difficulty trying to meet Daphne Fowler (Diana Lewis), it is unknown to Andy that Daphne and Betsy are the best of friends. Others in the cast include: Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Desmond K. Fowler); George Lessy (Mr. Underwood);Clyde Willson (Francis, later called Butch); and Cy Kendall (Mr. Carrillo, the Club Sirocco restaurant manager). If Clyde Wilson seems a bit familiar, he is that little boy who gets extreme closeup while leading a parade of little kids in the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musical, BABES IN ARMS (1939). This is probably the only time Willson would have an extensive role in a feature film. While his character ends every other sentence with the word "please," he also gets his man-to-man talk from Andy on how to become more of a man with a stronger name of Butch.
With Judy Garland in the cast, playing a girl of age 15 as opposed to her true older age, she still gets treated like a child by Andy, unaware he's more like a child than Betsy is. As the Hardy's find time to see such New York City landmarks as The Statue of Liberty, Andy and Betsy take time walking together on Fifth Avenue, standing by St. Patrick's Cathedral, visiting Grant's Tomb, and even have their horse and buggy ride alone together in Central Park. Garland gets to sing a couple of songs, first an oldie introduced in the Marx Brothers comedy, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935) titled "Alone," followed by a new tune, "I'm Nobody's Baby." Some lighter moments of humor feature Andy acting like a big shot while eating at a swank New York restaurant and running up a high bill of $37.25 while having only $8 in his pocket. Lessons learned later by Andy regarding his father not just a hick small town judge compared to those highly educated ones of the New York City court.
Though not as memorable as the popular LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY, ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE, at 87 minutes, is both typical and acceptable entry to the Hardy franchise. As the series progresses more on Andy and his father in that order, roles involving his sister Marion (Cecilia Parker); mother Emily (Fay Holden) and Aunt Milly (Sara Haden) have their limitations. Formerly available on video cassette dating back to the 1990s, and later DVD, ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE can be seen whenever broadcast on Turner Classic Movies. Next installment: ANDY HARDY'S PRIVATE SECRETARY (1941) introducing Kathryn Grayson. (***)
Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941)
Young Man in Manhattan
LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1941), directed by George B. Seitz, the eleventh installment to the "Andy Hardy" family series, and possibly the most dramatic and adult of all the episodes thus far. With the recurring cast headed by Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Fay Holden, Ann Rutherford and Sara Haden in their regular roles, Judy Garland, who previous appeared in LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938) and ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE (1940), returns for the third and final time to Carvel as Andy's companion and "playmate," Betsy Booth, who, in spite of her now advanced age and mature looks, is still looked upon her by Andy as a "child,"
Continuing where the last segment of ANDY HARDY'S PRIVATE SECRETARY (1941) left off, Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney), now 18 and a high school graduate, has broken up with his girlfriend, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), whose about to start her new life in college. Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) of New York City telephones Judge James K. Hardy (Lewis Stone) that she is returning to Carvel for a visit, and not to tell Andy. The following morning after returning home very late from his high school graduation dance, Andy decides that before he could make a decision about attending college or getting a job, he wants to have his experimental month during summer break by experience life in the outside world by living on his own in New York City with no help of financial support by his parents or anybody, for that what Andy tells his father, "Today, I am a man!" With Betsy to guide him through through big city living, the two drive in Andy's new roadster to New York to begin his new life adventure. He first registers and boards at the City House Residence for Young Men. Acquiring a room # 808, he meets Jimmy Frobisher (Ray McDonald), a tenant with tap dancing ambitions, about to leave. Learning he's quit his job as office boy at the Consolidated Stocks and Bonds Corporation at 5 West 48th Street, Andy decides to grab this position before it is taken. While waiting for an interview, Andy meets and becomes interested in its secretary, Jennit Hicks (Patricia Dane). After learning from its supervisor, Eric J. Maddox (Lester Mattjhews) that the position has been filled by his nephew, Andy spends the next few days job hunting, struggling to survive with money low and lack of food. He does offer assistance to Jimmy, homeless and living in Central Park, and has Jimmy move in with him. Things begin to look brighter when Jennit Hicks offers Andy a job at the firm after the boss's nephew gets fired. As Betsy telephones Andy's activities to his father, problems arise as Jimmy is discovered living in his apartment without permission from the management, followed by learning the true facts of life by woman of the world Jennit, adding to the worries for both Betsy and Judge Hardy. Others featured in the cast are: John Eldredge (Paul McWilliams); Pierre Watkin (Bob Waggoner); Joseph Crehan (Peter Dugan) and Sidney Miller.
Aside from being quite dramatic, LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY is leisurely paced and lacks mood scoring during its long 101 minutes, There are those who regard this to be a "sleeper." Regardless of its excessive length for a film series, the story is quite interesting, finding this installment going against format material from the past. Scenes involving Judge Hardy, Emily and Aunt Milly are few and far between during Andy's venture to New York, though Judge Hardy still finds time to have his man-to-man talk with his son. Ann Rutherford's Polly gets only one scene here while older sister, Marian, played by Cecilia Parker, doesn't appear with no explanation given. Humor is very limited yet one wonders how the film itself might have worked had the situations been more comical.
As much as film historians claim THE CLOCK (1945) to be Judy Garland's first non-musical, it is actually LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY. According to Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, where the movie has been shown often since 1994, that "Garland recorded four songs for the movie, but none were used in the finished print." The only time Judy sings anything is briefly to the traditional tune to "Happy Birthday." There is a short night club conga dance between Andy Hardy and Jennit (Dane), but other than that, no scoring is used. Had there been songs and added material. maybe the story itself would have gone beyond two hours. Rooney, Garland and McDonald would reunite again for the highly entertaining musical, BABES ON BROADWAY (1941).
In spite of its outcome, LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY stands out among others in the series for daring to be different with realistic situations that could actually occur for someone wanting to experience what life is all about in New York City. Formerly distributed on video cassette in the 1990s, its also available on DVD. Next in the series: THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY (1942). (**1/2)
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
A Hardy Family Christmas
LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the fourth installment to what developed into a highly popular film series revolving around Judge Hardy's family in the town of Carvel. Following the second feature successes of A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937), YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (1937) and JUDGE HARDY'S FAMILY (1938), this entry not only marks the first to include the "Andy Hardy" name in the title, but was the start of formula material that was to follow in future installments. Though Lewis Stone still gets top-billing, with Mickey Rooney's name coming second, what makes this entry somewhat special is the presence of two young MGM starlets, Judy Garland and Lana Turner (in MGM debut), as girls whose love finds Andy Hardy.
Opening inside a courtroom session where Judge James K. Hardy (Lewis Stone) tries a case involving an injured 12-year-old boy, Jimmy MacMahon (Gene Reynolds), for damaging a tractor, and Mary Tompkins (Mary Howard) owing money to a bill collector (Frank Darien), set in a separate chamber, plot development gets underway as Judge Hardy intends on hiring Augusta (Marie Blake) as the family housekeeper to help his wife, Emily (Fay Holden) with the chores; daughter Marian (Cecilia Parker) breaking up with her boyfriend, Wayne, after being caught with another woman, Maxine Forbes; and of course, Andy (Mickey Rooney), for purchasing a car without his father's knowledge, and being in need of $8 to pay for its final installments to Peter Dugan (Raymond Hatton) so he can take his girl, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) to the upcoming Christmas Eve party. Unfortunately, Polly won't be able to attend, being called away to spend three weeks with her grandmother. Later, Andy's pal, Francis Bacon Anderson, better known as "Beezy" (Georgia Breakstone), who will be out of town for Christmas as well, asks Andy to look after his girlfriend, Cynthia Potter (Lana Turner), and take her to the Christmas Eve dance in his place. Coming to Carvel from New York City to spend Christmas with her grandparents, the Drapers, is Betsy Booth (Judy Garland), daughter of musical-comedy star, Martha Booth. Aside from being a singer and debutante herself, Betsy looks forward to spending the holidays with the notorious Andy Hardy. Family crisis arises as Mother Hardy and her sister, Milly Forrest (Betty Ross Clark), are called away to Brigham, Canada, to be with their ailing mother; and Andy, unable to get the money for his car, finding himself taking two girls to the Christmas Eve dance at the same time. Others in the cast include: Don Castle (Dennis Hunt); and Erville Alderson (Court Attendant Dave). This also marks Betty Ross Clark's second and final appearance as Aunt Milly, the role originated and thereafter replayed during its duration of the series by Sara Haden.
Basically a Christmas themed story what could have been set around Valentine's Day, there are Christmas trees. but no snow nor Christmas songs involved. Judy Garland shows off her singing talent singing three new tunes, including: "In Between," "It Never Rains, But It Pours," and "Meet the Beat of My Heart." With these songs bringing the story to life, there's Lana Turner, properly cast as "the red-headed vampire" for her flirtatious reputation with the high school boys. Showing herself as a modern-day woman who gets her way with the boys, she's also highlighted in a bathing suit at the indoor Carvel Municipal Swimming Pool where her Cynthia refuses to get her hair wet. Definitely more of a showcase for Judy Garland in her pre-WIZARD OF OZ (1939) success, it's easy accepting her as a "little Miss-Fix-It" type helping Andy with his troubles, but hard to accept her playing a girl of 12 when she was a few years older. Her speaking manner is still girlish, but vocalization is certainly on a mature teenage level. Of the female MGM starlets who got their start in this series, only Garland would make (two) return visits to Carvel and to Andy Hardy.
Overlooking some lulls in the plot, LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY holds its own as good family entertainment dramady, featurng the now familiar "man-to-man" talks between father and son, that has made the series famous. Unlike other family film series that were usually the standard 65 to 72 minutes, LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY goes the additional limit at 92 minute
While New York City television ceased revivals of the "Andy Hardy" series on WNBC, Channel 4, by 1970-71, LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY was the only one of 16 movies to be revived in 1980 and beyond on WNEW, Channel 5. Distributed to home video by the late 1980s, LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY, also available on DVD format, is often shown on Turner Classic Movies, especially around December for viewers to watch and spend Christmas with the Hardy family. Next installment: OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS (1938). (***)
Inherit the Curse
THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (Universal, 1940), directed by Joe May, is not a biographical story of movie actor, Clark Gable along with six other members of his family, but a screen adaptation based on the 1851 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne about a family curse involving a mansion known as Seven Gables. Featuring Vincent Price, Nan Grey, Cecil Kellaway and Alan Napier, actors who were recently featured in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), this reunion cast, headed by George Sanders and Margaret Lindsay, is not a horror story though the curse pitted upon the dark and gloomy Seven Gables and its outcome might be its only link to horror.
Rather than include a re-enactment to the opening chapters of the book to extend the 89 minute movie into two hours, the movie opens with a Forward note before the story begins: "In the middle of the 17th century in New England, there lived one Colonel Jaffrey Pyncheon, a powerful leader of the colonial government. In order to acquire a valuable piece of land, Pyncheon cold-bloodedly accused its owner, a simple carpenter named Matthew Maule, of practicing Witchcraft. The innocent man was promptly condemned to hang from the scaffold,. Matthew Maule had hurled this curse, "God hath given him blood to drink! Definitely Colonel Pyncheon built his mansion on the dead man's ground. On the day of its completion, he was found dead in his new library - blood trickling from his mouth. His descendants lived on at Seven Gables. Succeeding generations of villages cling to the belief that "Maule's Curse" dwelt there with them." Then, 160 years later on a September night in 1828 - at the House of Seven Gables. Hepzibar (Margaret Lindsay) is introduced as a free-spirited girl engaged to marry Clifford (Vincent Price). Clifford's relationship with his brother, Jaffery (George Sanders) finds them divided upon the announcement by their father's (Gilbert Emery) decision to put up their bankrupt home of Seven Gables up for public auction. Though musician Clifford intends on moving to New York with Hefzibar after they get married, Jaffrey, believing there's a hidden fortune of gold connected with the house, is upset about the news. A violent verbal argument between Clifford and his father, who has disinherited him, ends up with the old man staggering and dying of a heart attack. In order to retain Seven Gables, Jaffrey accuses Clifford of their father's death. His accusations convince the trial jury of finding Clifford guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary. Because of this, the now embittered Hepzibar, who has acquired the deed of ownership by the family lawyer (Cecil Kellaway), not only does she forbid Jeffrey from Seven Gables, but boards up the house, living in seclusion. Twenty years later, 1848, Phoebe (Nan Grey), Hepzibar's young cousin, moves in to the house after years of decay, and brings life into it again by setting up a Cent Shop. During the course of time, Phoebe becomes interested in Matthew Holgrave (Dick Foran), a boarder who happens to be a distant relative to Matthew Maule. As for Jaffrey, who hasn't given up hope in acquiring the hidden treasure of gold said to be somewhere in Seven Gables, intends not to stop at nothing to get it. Others in the cast include: Miles Mander (Arnold Foster); Harry Woods (Mr. Wainwright); Charles Trowbridge, Edgar Norton and Harry Cording in smaller roles.
Of the many screen adaptations to classic literature dating back to the silent film era, with the exception of an obscure 1910 short, this happens to be the only SEVEN GABLES movie produced during the days of classic Hollywood. As much as this adaptation elevated Vincent Price further exposure to leading man status, and the top-billed George Sanders gathering enough attention as the greedy and jealous brother, it's Margaret Lindsay who comes off best with her performance. Virtually underrated, yet talented actress when a good role comes her way, she is quite convincing with her early scenes as a happy young girl, and even more convincing later on as a bitter woman living a reclusive life while the man she loves is in prison. Her role might have been inspired by the talents of Bette Davis, who might have made the role of Hepzibar equally believable, though such changes in screen personality were already done in similar fashion by Davis in THE OLD MAID (1939). Now it was Lindsay's turn to act out her charm of hate and despair. Blonde Nan Grey, who comes in later in the story, is certainly a beauty to behold, and another one of the forgotten names and faces from the Universal contract players. Vincent Price even gets a rare chance of singing a song, "The Color of Your Eyes."
While many who have read the Hawthorne novel may find changes and deletions of characters from the book to become disappointed with the outcome, overlooking that, the final script is good enough to hold interest throughout. Formerly distributed to video cassette, and later available on DVD as part of the Universal vault collection, to date, THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES, almost forgotten and overlooked, did have cable television showing such as American Movie Classics (1993-1999). Watch it for the screen adaptation by Nathaniel Hawthorne; the youthful Vincent Price years before his other house movie titles of HOUSE OF WAX (1953), HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) and HOUSE OF USHER (1962) came his way; the sinister George Sanders; or the very fine performance given by the often overlooked Margaret Lindsay in a rare meaty role. (**1/2)
Night Monster (1942)
The House of Mystery
NIGHT MONSTER (Universal, 1942), produced and directed by Ford Beebe, starring Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill, is more murder mystery than horror film regardless of what the title depicts and its leading players. Lugosi and Atwill, resident horror stars for the studio, interestingly don't play mad scientists reviving the dead nor creating monsters, or pit against each other, but are actually its individual supporting players to the leading supporting actors. Taken from an original screenplay by Clarence Upson-Young, the plot itself may have been an original idea according to the opening credits, but actually a recycled story with creative new ideas that makes this one of the better mysteries to come out for this second feature "B" unit.
The story takes place at an estate known as Ingston Towers located in a secluded location surrounded by marshlands. The house of mystery contains residents as Rolf (Bela Lugosi), the butler; Laurie (Leif Erickson), the chauffeur; Margaret Ingston (Fay Helm) a young heiress led to believed to be insane by its domineering housekeeper, Miss Sarah Judd (Doris Lloyd), who cleans off blood stains off the carpet; Torgue (Cyril Delevanti), the gate keeper; Millie Carson (Janet Shaw), a maid who quits due to strange occurrences; Curt Ingston (Ralph Morgan), the owner and old man whose paralyzed condition from an operation by several doctors has led him to become a helpless recluse. Ingston hires Agor Singh (Nils Asther), a turpin-wearing man with mystic powers, to help him out spiritually. Because of mysterious circumstances that have been occurring, Millie informs Constable Cap Beggs (Robert Homans) in town, but he's unable to assist her accusations without any proof of evidence. After Millie returns to the estate to pick up for her personal belongings, she leaves the home to is later found dead in the marshes. Arriving at the estate are Lynne Harper (Irene Hervey), a psychiatrist sent for by Margaret to prove to others that she is not insane; Dick Baldwin (Don Porter), a mystery writer; and doctors King (LIonel Atwill), Timmons (Frank Reicher) and Phipps (Francis Pierlot), the men responsible for Ingston's bed-ridden condition, also enter the scene. Eventually a series of one-by-one murders take place, having Beggs to come and do some investigation. Also in the cast is Eddy Waller playing Jeb Harmon.
Regardless of Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill receiving star billing, the film basically belongs to others in the cast, especially Ralph Morgan. Lugosi plays the butler with little to do. Considering its present casting, Lugosi and Nils Asther (as the medium), it might have been more effective had Lugosi and Asther switched roles, as with the switch casting of both Lionel Atwill and Ralph Morgan as well. Atwill, surprisingly has even less to do here, and is sadly wasted. While Fay Helm and Doris Lloyd, heiress and housekeeper who hate each other, get meatier roles, there's Janet Shaw (best known for her small role as the waitress in Alfred Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1942), with her distinctive throaty voice and personality, who gathers enough attention. Don Porter and Irene Hervey typically support as the couple who meet and become romantically involved. Another familiar pattern is the background underscoring used in many Universal thrillers of the day. For a Bela Lugosi movie, NIGHT MONSTER is definitely better structured than those cheaply made productions he did at the same time over at Monogram Studio (1941-1944)s. At least budget and production values by Universal standards are much higher than Monogram's.
Commonly shown on television in the 1960s and 70s as part of the horror movie package that often aired Saturday nights, NIGHT MONSTER has become forgotten over the years due to lack of revivals. Eventually NIGHT MONSTER did get resurrected again on video cassette in the mid 1990s and DVD a decade later. Revivals on cable television notably on ME-TV playing part of Saturday evening's "Svengoolie," and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 24, 2018), assuring modern-day interest and rediscovery to a new generation of viewers interested in mystery-horror tales such as this. (**1/2).
Invisible Ghost (1941)
THE INVISIBLE GHOST (Monogram, 1941), a Banner production directed by Joseph H. Lewis, is basically a title that has no bearing to the plot. Though starring Bela Lugosi, with a photo-play that could have had something to do with a scientist who invents a serum of invisibility and uses it on a corpse, thus haunted by a spirit of that person in his laboratory, might have proved more favorable. For a change in this one hour production, Lugosi doesn't play a crazed scientist of backfired experiments, but a loving husband and father whose surrounding area of residence is pitted by a series of cleverly unsolved murders that keep the police baffled.
Following the opening of a portrait of a woman who happens to be the subject matter, the story revolves around Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi) living in a mansion with his daughter, Virginia (Polly Ann Young), and servant, Evans (Clarence Muse). After watching Kessler at the dinner table talking to an empty chair where his wife used to sit (something he does once a year on his wedding anniversary), it is later explained that years ago, Kessler's wife had left him for his best friend, and is believed killed along with her lover in an automobile accident. Unknown to Charles, Mrs. Kessler (Betty Compson) is very much alive in an bewildered mental state, being cared for secretly nearby his residence by his gardener, Jules Mason (Ernie Adams) in the basement of his tool shed. However, by night, Mrs. Kessler leaves her security by heading to her home, where her presence immediately places Charles in an hypnotic state, committing murders, with no recollection of these occurrences once out of his trance. The latest murder turns out to be Cecile Mannix (Terry Walker), a new housekeeper who happens to be Ralph's former but possessive girlfriend who refuses to have him marry Virginia. Because of their argument leads the police to have their motive on Ralph. they place him under arrest. Found guilty by the jury, he is later executed for a crime for which he is innocent. Later, Ralph's identical twin brother, Paul (John McGuire) arrives from South America to help solve these ghastly murders, unaware that his life may be in danger as well. Also in the cast are Ottola Nesmith (Marie Mason); George Pembroke (Williams); and Fred Kelsey (Ryan).
Unlike the Bela Lugosi classic fright films he performed at Universal, his debut performance for Monogram Studios is very much a cheaply made production, borrowing the same type of underscoring in spots used for his previous poverty-row horror flick, THE DEVIL BAT (1940) for PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) Studio. With the viewers knowing he circumstances from the beginning of the story as opposed to guessing the identity of the killer near the end, it's a matter of time as to how the least likely suspect gets himself caught and what his wife has to do with it. Blonde Betty Compson, often dressed in white, comes close to resembling a ghost during the night-time sequences, but nothing else to provoke fright and movie title name. Often dull and dreary, only the then aging Lugosi somehow manages to make this one watchable, but don't expect to be frightened by the circumstances involved.
Formerly available on video cassette and later DVD, INVISIBLE GHOST (a public domain title) has played on various cable channels such as USA in the 1990s, as well as on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: February 22, 1996) where the station has shown this from a latter 1940s reissue print distribution from Astor Pictures rather than the original Monogram Studios logo. (**)
Are These Our Children (1931)
Sins of the Children
ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN (RKO Radio, 1931), written and directed by Wesley Ruggles, is an early sound depiction of troubled youths that would be commonly themed later in the decade and beyond. Not a Warner Brothers programmer nor a realistic story directed by William A. Wellman, who specialized in this sort of material, this edition credits Wesley Ruggles for something in similar fashion and style. Though cast by younger actors playing high school students, the story shows a dramatic turn of a nice young man who becomes a different sort of individual after getting himself involved with the wrong type of crowd.
FORWARD: "Youth - love- and happiness - these make the world go round ... to all each day comes choice -- even how we must decide in one way leads to shadows - the other into peace and light." Set somewhere in New York City, the story introduces Eddie Brand (Eric Linden), a young 18-year-old high school student, sitting together on the stoop with Mary (Rochelle Hudson) at her apartment building. Eddie lives across town in a tenement apartment with his grandmother, Mrs. Martin (Beryl Mercer), and his kid brother, Bobby (Billy Butts), who always asks him for dimes. After losing out in a contest at his school. Eddie becomes bitter with ideas of quitting school and going to work. Instead, he meets up with Flo Carnes (Arline Judge), a wild party girl, who takes an interest in him. Accompanied by her friends, Maybelle (Roberta Gale) and Ernestine (Mary Kornmann), Eddie joins them with his friends, Nick Crosby (Ben Alexander) and Bennie Gray (Robert Quirk) at jazz clubs and dancing parties with other juveniles where they end up boozing up liquor and smoking cigarettes. With this becoming habit forming, Eddie neglects nice girl Mary for the flirtatious Flo, and angering his grandmother by returning home way past midnight in a drunken state in a "don't tell me what to do!" attitude. Feeling he's now a man, he can do anything he wants, quitting jobs, obtaining extra money through robberies, and becoming more dependent on liquor. After becoming involved in a Jamaica (Queens) murder, he and his friends are later arrested and put to trial, which becomes more of a big joke for Eddie.
ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN might have been about the juvenile delinquents set in February 1931, but centers more on the IS HE MY SON? title instead. Eddie Brand, performed by Eric Linden, in his movie debut. Though noted for playing weaklings or kid brothers, Linden never became a top-rank star attraction, though he did give some fine performances in latter movie roles as in Warner Brothers 1932 releases of LIFE BEGINS, BIG CITY BLUES and THE CROWD ROARS. He was exceptional in AH! WILDERNESS (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1935) starring Lionel Barrymore, as the son who experiences life after high school. By the end of the decade, Linden drifted to poverty row studio films and bit parts before his retirement by 1941.
As much as Linden somehow didn't seem quite right as the good boy gone bad role, possibly due to his baby face, he did the best he could to make his character believable. Beryl Mercer, best known as James Cagney's mother in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (Warners, 1931), performs similar chores here as the caring grandmother who refuses to accept the fact that her grandson has gone down the wayward path. Also in the cast are William Orlamond (Heinie Kranz, a deli owner and friend of the family); Ralf Harolde (District Attorney); Wallis Clark (Prosecuting Attorney); and Reginald Barlow (The Judge).
Wesley Ruggles keeps the pace moving during its 84 minutes with Josef Von Sternberg-type directorial techniques with superimpose scene changes, along with style of his own ranging from character introduction of Eddie and Mary entered above movable hearts, along with circular twirls indicating moving forward to another time-frame. Max Steiner's conducted underscoring helps through the proceedings as well.
My introduction to ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN happened to be not by watching this on public or cable television, but at New York City's Museum of Modern Art movie department in New York City during its tribute to RKO Radio's 50th anniversary in 1979. Regardless of its age, it did have a good attendance for a nearly crowded theater viewing this long forgotten drama that probably has never been televised. There were some laughs at corny opening sequence along with gasp at a shooting of one of the characters in the story being my recollection by reaction of others in attendance.
The movie may be a depiction of troubled youths of the time, but one wonders if this to be a forerunner to similar films that proved favorable in later years, particular in the 1930s and especially the 1950s with the likes of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955) as prime examples. Had ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN been remade in the 1940s, maybe "Dead End Kid" star, Billy Halop, might have been a logical choice for the lead, or the 1950s with upgraded material and stronger modern acting style by James Dean. Or maybe it be best to leave well-enough alone.
Formerly presented on American Movie Classics prior to 2000, and occasionally broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN, somewhat dramatic and little depressing, remains a curiosity drama from the time capsule, or a rediscovery of Eric Linden in one of his few top-billed roles. (**1/2)
The Saturday Night Kid (1929)
THE SATURDAY NIGHT KID (Paramount, 1929), directed by A. Edward Sutherland, might have been an appropriate title for a jazz-age movie about a fun-loving party girl meeting and dancing with an assortment of young men every Saturday night. For this feature, the title is used for only a remake of a recent silent feature about shop girl sisters in LOVE 'EM AND LEAVE 'EM (Paramount, 1926) starring Evelyn Brent, Lawrence Gray and Louise Brooks, directed by Frank Tuttle. Rather than having those three leading players reprise their roles in the latest sound edition based on the popular play by George Abbott, it was given to Clara Bow, James Hall and Jean Arthur instead. Having recently played a department store girl already in IT (Paramount, 1927), the movie that gave Bow her signature name as The "IT" Girl, it might have been more interesting to see how the movie might have turned out had Clara Bow starred in the sound remake of IT instead.
The basic plot deals with the Barry sisters, Mayme (Clara Bow) and Janie (Jean Arthur), a couple of New York City shop girls working for Ginsberg Department Store, residing in an apartment building overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Living next door to them is William Taylor (James Hall), a young clerk promoted to floorwalker at the same store, who happens to be loved by Mayme. After rising at 6:30 a.m. to prepare themselves for another day's work, the trio leave together, with Mayne and Bill traveling by bus while Janie hitches a faster ride in somebody else's automobile. As the employees gather together at a staff meeting headed by Mr. Ginsburg (Hyman Meyer), Miss Streeter (Edna May Oliver), the store's "oldest employee," arranges for the staging of an Employee's Welfare Club pageant. Janie, elected treasurer, uses the club money to give to landlord, Lem Woodruff (Charles Sellon), a bookie who cheats her of her winnings at off-track horse racing. Aside from having Mayme take the blame for the stolen money and talking her way out of staying late for inventory where Mayme fills in for her, Janie also takes further advantage of her sister by claiming Bill all to herself, causing friction for all concerned. Also in the cast are Ethel Wales (Lily Woodruff); Irving Bacon (Mr. McGonigle) and Mary Gordon. The blonde shop girl Hazel Carroll is played by the uncredited Jean Harlow (1911-1937). She can be spotted in a couple of brief scenes behind the counter, and later with her back of head towards the camera as she speaks a few lines of spoken dialogue.
Standard routine plot clocked at 62 minutes, THE SATURDAY NIGHT KID indicates the story might have been slightly longer had it not been for the noticeable jump-cut by the mid-way point. Some years before Jean Arthur would prove her range in comedies for Columbia Pictures, and work in three classic productions under the direction of Frank Capra, her conniving character gathers the most attention here, even though she might seem out of character by those familiar with her latter screen work. Arthur would return to shop girl/ department store roles to better advantage in EASY LIVING (Paramount, 1937) and THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES (RKO Radio, 1941), the latter highly recommended viewing. James Hall, the male co-star appearing much older than his true age, gets by with his man-in-the-middle-type performance. He would later appear opposite Jean Harlow in HELL'S ANGELS (United Artists, 1930), the epic war-drama that elevated Harlow from bit player to leading role status. Better known by film historians more for her silent productions than those produced during the sound era, THE SATURDAY NIGHT KID indicates how Bow might have succeeded better and longer in talkies had there been better scripts or more challenging roles in both comedy and drama to fit her needs. Quite good in comedy, Bow has her limited range here amusingly playing a gym appliance demonstrator at the store. Bow demonstrated her ability as a fine actress in both CALL HER SAVAGE (1932) and HOOPLA (1933), for Fox Studios before retiring from the screen forever. Yet her character as played in THE SATURDAY NIGHT KID is very much Bow material carried on from some from the silent movie era. Never distributed to video cassette, DVD nor presented on cable television, the film overall is a worthy rediscovery, especially those interested in the early films and career of both Jeans, Arthur or Harlow, or the "It" Girl Clara Bow with a new title name as "The Saturday Night Kid." (**)
Hell's Heroes (1929)
Three Men and a Baby
HELL'S HEROES (Universal, 1929), directed by William Wyler, is an early talkie western taken from the popular story "The Three Godfathers" by Peter Bernard Kyne. First produced in the silent era by Universal (1916) and again in 1919 retitled MARKED MEN (1919) both starring Harry Carey, the second edition, directed by John Ford, would be the same Ford who would direct the more famous Technicolor edition for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1948) starring John Wayne. Prior to that, MGM remade the oft-told story with its second sound edition in 1936 starring Chester Morris, yet its the Wayne/Ford collaboration that may be the best known of all the remakes, even overshadowing the 1974 television movie re-titled THE GODCHILD with Jack Palance. As for the 1929 edition, it certainly ranks one of the better westerns classified as "an oldie but a goodie" starring Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton and Fred Kohler as the hell's heroes who become the three Godfathers.
Plot: "Barbwire" Gibbons (Raymond Hatton), "Wild Bill" Kearney (Fred Kohler Sr.) and Jose (Jose De La Cruz) are three bandit partners traveling on horseback through miles of desert sands to meet with Bob Sangster (Charles Bickford) in the small town of Jerusalem. With three more miles to go, Bob is seen entertaining himself with Carmelita (Maria Alba), a saloon singer at the bar, while annoying one of its patrons, the sheriff (Walter James) by answering his question to who he is by replying, "I'm a bank examiner." After his friends arrive in town at exactly 3 p.m., Bob heads them over to the bank where a robbery takes place, killing a bank teller. As they ride out with bags of gold, Jose is shot and killed by the sheriff while the other three bandits make their getaway through the desert where they soon meet with a heavy dust storm. The next morning, they awaken to find their horses gone. Traveling by foot to the next town to catch a train, the trio encounter an abandoned covered wagon where they find a woman (Fritzi Ridgeway), alone, frightened, thirsty and about to give birth. With the help by one of the bandits, a baby boy is born. Before the mother dies, she has the men promise her to become the baby's three godfathers and to have them take her child to his father, who happens to be Frank Edwards, a bank teller in Jerusalem, the same bank they killed during the robbery. The decision rests on whether go move forward to their destination with the gold or walk 40 long miles in heat and sun carrying the infant back to where a posse awaits to have these bad guys hung for their crime.
Unlike many westerns with bearded sidekicks for comedy relief purposes, HELL'S HEROES is a straightforward dramatic tale that moves briskly during its brief 68 minutes. Much of it takes place outdoors, ranging from town setting to miles of desert land. Though underscoring has its limitations during the opening scenes, the duration is virtually scoreless. There is a scene where the bar girl briefly sings a song before interrupted by a one-on-one fight between her and another woman. The only other time where there's music is later in the story as the church choir sings "Silent Night" on Christmas morning. Film buffs may want to try and find character actress, Mary Gordon, briefly seen as one of the church goers. There are some interesting tracking shots, especially one where the camera moves forward following footprints of sand. Charles Bickford is barely recognizable during much of the proceedings, looking dirty, tired and in need of shave. Being the leader of the bandits, he gets most of the attention, especially through his forceful speaking voice. Raymond Hatton, a forgotten leading actor of the silent screen, also stands out as a wounded bandit with strong religious beliefs, while Fred Kohler Sr., another forceful actor best known for playing villains, shows how much of a good bad man he can be when he softens himself for a little baby. Other than taking the time to give the baby an oil bath, there are moments of sacrifice where the men of thirst fight against drinking poisoned water or the baby's milk found earlier in the covered wagon. With the desert sands and worn out appearance of the three men, director Wyler makes the viewers actually feel their heat, thirst and desperation throughout the story.
Of the many early talkies of the late 1920s, HELL'S HEROES fortunately has survived throughout the years. Unavailable for viewing due to the MGM remakes, HELL'S HEROES can be viewed either on DVD, or during the Christmas holidays on cable television's Turner Classic Movies, where it premiered December 23, 1996. A trifle slow for contemporary viewers, but worthwhile just the same. (***)
Judge Hardy's Children (1938)
Judge Hardy's Family in Washington
JUDGE HARDY'S CHILDREN (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1937), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the third installment to what was to become relatively known as "The Andy Hardy series." Getting better by this time and a little longer than the previous two entries consisting of A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937) and YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937), the series still places Lewis Stone's name heading the cast over the scene stealing Mickey Rooney, whose career by this time was reaching its peek with character gathering most of the attention.
The movie opens during the opening credits with a family portrait of the Hardy family, starting from left with Andy (the son); Judge )Hardy (father); Emily Hardy (mother); and Marian Hardy (daughter) with "Another story of Judge Hardy's Family" printed above. The photoplay begins in the courtroom with Judge James K. Hardy (Lewis Stone) reading a petition headlined with, "Students of Carvel Arise! Unite! We Refuse to Recite." The students in the courtroom explain their reaction against Superintendent Warwick, but the judge punishes them with a 20,000 word essay to write on the American system of free education. He tells the boys that if his son were the offender, the punishment would be ten times worse. Unknown to the judge, his son, Andrew (Mickey Rooney), is involved in the petition, but it would be a while before Judge Hardy learns of it. Later, the Hardy's go to Washington, D.C., where the judge serves as the chairman of a special Federal Commission investigating the power industry. After the industry's affairs have been resolved, the judge has to solve the problem his daughter, Marian's (Cecilia Parker) after getting herself mixed-up with a couple of lobbyists, Margaret (Ruth Hussey) and John Lee (Jonathan Hale) who get into her confidence and attempt on blackmailing the judge by confronting him with some incriminating statements given to them unwittingly by Marian. As for the teen-age Andy, who has become romantically involved with a French girl named Suzanne Cortot (Jacqueline Laurent), at least for a while anyway, he assists his father with an bright idea to "fight fire with fire" against those blackmailers wanting to get him to resign from the bench or else ruin his reputation.
While Fay Holden resumes her motherly role as Mrs. Hardy, and Ann Rutherford playing Polly Benedict, Andy's girl back home, Sara Haden, the original Aunt Milly Forrest, is replaced (for two installments) by Betsy Ross Clark. Erville Alderson is back for the third time as Dave, the courtroom bailiff, while others in the cast include Ruth Hussey (Margaret Lee); Jonathan Hale (John Lee); Janet Beecher (Miss Budge); Don Douglas (J>J> Harper); and Leonard Penn (Steve Prentiss). Robert Whitney substitutes for Eric Linden (from A FAMILY AFFAIR) as Marion's romantic interest, Wayne Trenton, whose character would soon be written out following this third theatrical installment.
A not-bad family oriented production that includes one fine moment where father and son learn America's history by going through the Washington, D.C. landmarks, and Andy having his man-to-man talk with his father confessing he being part of the passing the petition with the other boys back home. Though not up to the standards of the episodes that were to follow, JUDGE HARDY'S CHILDREN offers family values and tradition in the MGM style from the days gone by.
Never distributed to video cassette, JUDGE HARDY'S CHILDREN often plays on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. Next installment, LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), hailed by many the very best and known of all the "Andy Hardy" editions, possibly due to more Andy Hardy's antics, and the supporting cast of young starlets on the rise, Judy Garland and Lana Turner. (***)
You're Only Young Once (1937)
Judge Hardy's Family Vacation
YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1937), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the second installment to what was initially noted to be the "Judge Hardy's Family" series. With a new cast replacing its original stars from the introduction film, A FAMILY AFFAIR (MGM, 1937): Lionel Barrymore by Lewis Stone (Judge Hardy); Spring Byington by Fay Holden (Emily Hardy); Margaret Marquis by Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict); and Charley Grapewin by Frank Craven (Frank Redman), only Cecilia Parker, Mickey Rooney and Sara Haden have become the only hold-outs resuming their original roles. As for the Wayne Trent character, Eric Linden's picture is seen only through a photograph, while the eldest Hardy daughter, Joan (Julie Hayden) was dropped entirely. Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy has more to do here than the previous entry, while Cecilia Parker's older sister, MariOn becomes MariAn. Selmer Jackson playing Hoyt Wells returns for the second and last time, while the Frank Redman character, originally played by Charley Graprwin, would be played for the only time by Frank Craven this time around.
For its plot summary, the story begins with a courtroom session with Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) listening to his latest case. After the case is called to rest, Judge Hardy comes to a conclusion of taking his first vacation away from the bench in eleven years. He takes his wife, Emily (Fay Holden), Aunt Milly (Sara Haden) and their two teenage children, Marian (Cecilia Parker) and Andy (Mickey Rooney) off to Catalina Island where the judge intends on doing some fishing. While there, Marian (Cecilia Parker), still in love with Wayne Trent, finds romance with a young lifeguard named Bill Rand (Ted Pearson), unaware to the fact that she cannot marry him. Andrew (Mickey Rooney), the youngest and only son, becomes acquainted with Josephine "Jerry" Lane (Eleanor Lynn), egardless of the fact that he is now in serious with Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), his girl back home in Carvel. Because Josie comes from a respectable family of high society, Andy becomes somebody he isn't in order to make a good impression with her. While the family goes through their personal problems, Judge Hardy (after catching a marlin swordfish, a 280 pound fish which goes in the record book dated August 21, 1937), finds some unexpected news awaiting upon their return home. Looks for Charles Judels (Captain Swenson); Erville Alderson (Dave, the Bailiff); Robert Wayne (Ed Carper); Norman Phillips (Harold "Fish" Face); and Spec O'Donnell, in supporting roles.
Although forgotten and overlooked among what was to become known as "The Andy Hardy Series," YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE was successful enough to produce more installments. Many situations provided are typical but somewhat dull in the proceedings. Lewis Stone makes a satisfactory head of the family, though his advanced age could be overlooked as appearing more grandfatherly than a father figure. Spring Byington would have made a great Mrs. Hardy, but was committed to another series, the now forgotten "Jones Family" (1936-1940) over at 20th Century-Fox Studios.
Never distributed to video cassette, this 79 minute restored edition of YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (with the conclusion of Lewis Stone as Judge Hardy talking directly to the viewers thanking them for watching and to look forward for more in later installments in the "Judge Hardy's Family" series), can be found on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. Next installment: JUDGE HARDY'S CHILDREN (1938). (**1/2)
A Family Affair (1937)
Judge Hardy's Children
A FAMILY AFFAIR (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1937), directed by George B. Seitz, may not be an early screen adaptation to what developed into a five season television series of "Family Affair" (1966-1971) featuring the likes of Uncle Bill (Brian Keith), Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot), and the three orphans, Cissy, Buffy and Jodie. This family affair in this case happens to be the screen introduction to an entire different family altogether, that of The Hardys from the small town of Carvel, population 25,000. Initially a Broadway play by Aurania Rouveral , it developed into this movie based on similarities and castings of Eugene O'Neill's screen adaptation to AH WILDERNESS (MGM, 1935) featuring Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington, Eric Linden, Cecilia Parker and Mickey Rooney, who all were reunited into this little 69 minute programmer which proved popular enough to develop into a family film series. Before becoming relatively known as "The Andy Hardy Series," with some recasting and revisions, the central character for this introduction was not on Andy Hardy but that of Judge James K. Hardy.
Judge James K. Hardy (Lionel Barrymore) is a respected judge in a small town of Carvel, with a family consisting of wife, Emily (Spring Byington), daughters, Joan (Julie Hayden), Marion (Cecilia Parker); son or "kid brother" Andy (Mickey Rooney), along with their live-in Aunt Millie (Sara Haden). The story opens with reporters leaving the Carvel Daily Star for the courtroom where Judge Hardy adjourns a case and later signs a restraining order regarding the prevention of the construction of an aqueduct, causing Hardy to lose his popularity with the neighboring townspeople who oppose the judge with his old-fasshioned ideas. Joan, the eldest daughter, is having marital problems with her husband, William Boothe Martin (Allen Vincent). Marion returns home from college after being away a year, later introducing the family to Wayne Trent III (Eric Linden), a young architect she met while on the train bound for home. Then there's girl-shy Andy, about to attend a party, being asked to chaperone Polly Benedict (Margaret Marquis), a girl he has known since kindergarten. Further situations arise when political enemies try to ruin Judge Hardy's good name through scandals placed in the local newspaper to get him impeached out of office.
A FAMILY AFFAIR is more drama than comedy. The only moment of humor involves Marion and Wayne in a car stranded on the road without gasoline in the middle of nowhere, being pulled down by rope by another car on a curvy country road in high speed by a couple of drunks (Arthur Housman and Don Barclay). This scene is more suspensful than humorous, but lightens up the proceedings to follow. Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy is here, but there's little of him or his antics to go around. Though the Hardy's have two daughters, only the Joan character is never seen nor seen nor mentioned in future installments. Cecilia Parker, with darker hair here as opposed to blonde, would resume her character in the series under the recast players of Lewis Stone (Judge Hardy), Emily Hardy (Fay Holden), Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), and sometimes Betty Ross Clark (Aunt Millie) before Sara Haden became a permanent fixture for the duration of the series. Others seen in A FAMILY AFFAIR are: Charley Grapewin (Frank Redman); Selmer Jackson (Hoyt Wells); Harlan Briggs (Oscar Stubbins); Sam McDaniel ("Whitey"), and Erville Alderson (Dave, the Bailiff).
While not a memorable as AH! WILDERNESS nor the Hardy movie series that followed, notably LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938) featuring Mickey with Judy Garland, A FAMILY AFFAIR comes as a sheer reminder to television dramady programs following the same stature as "Father Knows Best," starring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, where Father is always around to help with family problems. Quite agreeable viewing, with sole interest in seeing Lionel Barrymore's take as Judge Hardy, minus any father-and-son, "man-to-man" talks with Andy as Lewis Stone did that would later make the series so famous . This wholesome Hardy series in fact did more for Mickey Rooney than any other performers. This is where it all began. This was the Hardy's family affair.
Never distributed on video cassette, A FAMILY AFFAIR, and other "Andy Hardy" episodes (1937-1958), can be seen and enjoyed on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (***)
Tarzan the Magnificent (1960)
Tarzan's Deadly Journey
TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (Paramount, 1960), a Sy Weintraub and Harvey Hayutin presentation, directed by Robert Day, stars Gordon Scott as the muscular and modern-day Tarzan for the sixth and final time. Hailed as possibly Scott's best "Tarzan" adventure next to Scott's previous outing of TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959), also filmed in Eastman color as well as on location in Kenya, Africa,( with actual Kikuyu and Masai tribes, animal footage and authentic scenery), the plot in itself is both fast-moving and well scripted, thanks to screenplay by Berne Gilar and Robert Day.
Following the opening credits to drum pounding beats and dancing natives, the story gets underway with a poster photo of Coy Banton wanted for murder, dead or alive. Abel Banton (John Carradine), leader and father to his gang of sons, Martin (Al Mulock), Johnny (Gary Cockrell), Ethan (Ron MacDonnall), and foremost, Coy (Jock Mahoney), are seen entering and raiding a mining company office for supplies, killing one of its officers, driving away by jeep. Inspector Winters (John Sullivan) follows the Bantons to their camp, where he captures and arrests Coy. By doing so, he loses his own life as father and brothers come to his rescue. At the same time, the Banton's find themselves dodging flying arrows, killing Ethan. Tarzan (Gordon Scott), lord of the jungle, enters the scene, handcuffing and taking Coy to justice. Awaiting at a native village for the arrival of a riverboat to have Tarzan take Coy to Kairobi, the Banton's have other plans in saving Coy by shooting Captain Hayes (George Taylor), releasing its passengers, Ames (Lionel Jeffries) and his wife, Fay (Bella St. John); Conway (Charles Tingwell), his wife, Lori (Alexandra Stewart), and Tate (Carl Cameron), the police deputy, before setting the boat on fire, to show they mean business. Tarzan the fearless finds himself forced to take the arrested Coy 65 miles to Kairobi by foot, along with the stranded passengers to their proposed destination, regardless of the dangers ahead, ranging from dangerous wild animals, swamps, quicksand, with the evil Bantons not far behind.
Also In the cast are Peter Howell (Doctor Blake); Harry Baird (The Warrior Leader); Christopher Carlos (The Native Chief); Ewen Solon and Jacqueline Evans (Mr. and Mrs. Dexter). With the supporting cast consisting mostly British actors, only Gary Cockrell gets the introduction opening casting credit. Lionel Jeffries plays the middle-aged husband to a young wife whose both extremely jealous and an shrewd businessman.. Though Jock Mahoney stands out as the deadly and most feared villain, John Carradine as his father and Tarzan's enemy, taking the most acting honors with in his scene stealing tactics.
For its latest edition in the new decade of the 1960s, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT starts off very well and never lets go through its 88 minutes. Aside from eliminating Jane from the plot. Tarzan's pet chimpanzee is again reduced to just a cameo. Tarzan swings on vines and dives into rivers, but doesn't give out his Tarzan yell as in the past. The plot itself plays like a western story that first borrows from HIGH NOON (1952) starring Gary Cooper, where Tarzan, like the sheriff (Cooper), becomes the only one brave enough to capture and take in his prisoner to authorities, while others who could help and assist refuse through fear; BROKEN LANCE (20th-Fox, 1954) starring Spencer Tracy, dealing with father raising bad sons; and THE SPOILERS (Universal, 1942) with John Wayne and Randolph Scott, with fight to the end battle between Tarzan and Coy. Though Tarzan carries bow and arrow for protection, as he did in TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, the fearless jungle hero must dodge bullets shot his way from villains using rifles, adding more conflict to this very exciting Tarzan adventure that would make his creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, proud.
As much as the Tarzan series might have concluded its very long series with this edition, and Gordon Scott turning in his loincloth, the series resumed with both TARZAN GOES TO INDIA (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1962) and TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES (1963) surprisingly starring the villain Jock Mahoney in the title role, adding a new image to his character. Never distributed on video cassette, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT did become part of the Gordon Scott/Tarzan DVD collection, as well as cable television broadcasts on both American Movie Classics (1997) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 8, 2011). Recommended viewing. (***)
Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959)
Tarzan's Deadly Man Hunt
TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (Paramount, 1959), a Sy Weintraub and Harvey Hayuting Presentation, directed by John Guillermin, may not be the jungle lord's greatest adventure on screen, but at least this is one of them. For its first distribution through Paramount Pictures as opposed to previous studio releases of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and RKO Radio, this latest Tarzan installment certainly not only improves over older material, but offers many changes from previous installments, with the exception of Gordon Scott, having enacted the Edgar Rice Burrough's character since 1955. Scott speaks naturally, probably for the first time since the Tarzan character was introduced to the talking screen by Johnny Weissmuller in TARZAN THE APE MAN (MGM, 1932). As with Scott's debut as the title character in TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE (RKO, 1955), there is no female Jane companion nor their son, Boy, in the proceeding. There is his pet chimpanzee, Cheta, but for this edition, is reduced to only a few minutes before disappearing from view. For this Tarzan update, it strays away from family oriented movie viewing to more realistic proceedings, having the ape man going it alone, and having to capture a villain, who in fact, happens to be Tarzan's arch enemy.
From the story by Les Crutchfield, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE opens with a prologue of diamond smugglers and tribesmen rowing their boat into a territory of the Mann Settlement Hospital to steal crates of dynamite for their proposed diamond smuggling that is to take place. After gun shots are fired, and fatality of a couple of innocent people, the opening credits flash onto the screen in the similar fashion of 1960s movies and beyond. The plot consists of villains, Slade (Anthony Quayle), the leader, with O'Bannion (Sean Connery), Kruger (Niall McGinnis), Dino (Al Mulock) and the pretty blonde companion, Toni (Scilla Gabel, getting the "introducing" credit during its cast credits) rowing their canoe down the river where Slade looks fiercely towards a tree-house through their passing. Tarzan (Gordon Scott) who lives in the tree-house with his chimpanzee, Cheta, listens to the drum beat messages to what has happened. He then avenges the killings of his friends by braving the jungle alone, carrying bow and arrow (like Robin Hood) and pocket knife to get the men responsible, especially that his rival named Slade, whom he had dealt with before in the past. As Tarzan rows his canoe down the river, he witnesses an airplane crash where aviatrix, Angie Loring (Sara Shane), not only survives, but accompanies him through his dangerous journey involving poisonous spiders, snakes and crocodiles, to fulfill his mission. As for Slade, who knows of Tarzan's pursuit, he would want nothing more than to do away with Tarzan the first chance he gets.
Once the plot gets down to basics, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE really becomes a fast-paced 88 minute adventure consisting of new ideas and screenplay originality. With Eastman Color by Pathe, the production benefits greatly with location filming in Africa and British studios. Aside from Tarzan speaking like an educated man, he saves his famous Tarzan call a couple of times much later in the story. There are moments where it looks like Tarzan would be defeated, considering his bow and arrow would be no threat to Slade's gunshots or exploding sticks of dynamite. Their final confrontation of Tarzan and Slade is truly one of the great highlights of well-staged excitement.
Though Cheta's disappearance is explained, there is no mention to whatever became of Tarzan's family of Jane and Boy from TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE (1958), almost as if these characters never existed. Possibly the writers should have, at least, briefly mentioned them as being away in England with Boy getting educated in the London schools, or something like that. Otherwise Tarzan here is very much a bachelor (or widower) who at one point shows a remarkable interest in his female blonde aviatrix. As much as the cast listing is brief, it's interesting seeing Sean Connery, shortly before achieving fame as "James Bond" in a series of successful spy adventures of the 1960s, playing a drunken hunter. The female co-stars, Sara Shane and the accented Scilla Gabel (who somewhat resembles Sophia Loren), are attractive, but are virtually unknown to contemporary viewers. TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE would follow with TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960), another superior outing to the long-running "Tarzan" Series starring Gordon Scott as the jungle hero for his sixth and final time. Formerly shown on cable television's American Movie Classics (1997-2000), and later broadcast on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 1, 2011), TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE never had a video cassette distribution but can be acquired on DVD as part of the Gordon Scott/Tarzan collection. (***)
Tarzan and the Trappers (1960)
Tarzan's New Adventures
TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS (Sol Lesser Productions, 1958), directed by Charles Haas and Sandy Howard, became the second and final installment in the series to feature Gordon Scott (Tarzan), Eve Brent (Jane) and Rickie Sorensen (Boy). Unlike their previous entry, TARZAN"S FIGHT FOR LIFE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1958), this edition was not theatrically released nor filmed in color. In fact, TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS was reportedly said to be three separate television episodes from a proposed TV series that was never bought by any of the three major networks. Instead, the episodes were edited together to form a feature length 70 minute feature film that didn't get publicly shown until some time in the 1960s. New lettering titles superimposed over different Tarzan and then various animals roaming the jungle are presented for its opening credits before an off-screen narrator introduces how jungle life being "instant death or narrow escapes being the point of every day life" before introducing Tarzan, the jungle warlord hero, as one who befriends the weak and helps the distress.
The first part of the story introduces Tarzan and his family going through their daily routine. Their pet chimp, Cheta, rescues Jane from a poisonous snake crawling on her leg. Soon Tarzan hears sounds of frightened animals from afar and swings on the vines to investigate. An elephant has been shot and killed by Schroeder (Leslie Bradley), a hunter and boss man to the trappers, along with his assistant, Rene (Maurice Marsac) and a couple of native tribesmen. Chaining a baby elephant's leg to a tree, Tarzan arrives to free the animal. By doing this, Schroeder holds Tarzan at gunpoint to abduct and cage both Cheta and Boy before driving away. Tarzan isn't far behind to plot his rescue. The second half of the story finds Tarzan receiving a message from tribesman, Tyana (Struther Crothers) that Lepin (William Keene) from the trading post, wants to see him, only to learn this to be a meeting between Tarzan and Sikes (Saul Gorss), brother of Schroeder, who, because of Tarzan, is now serving seven years for his illegal animal hunting. He plots vengeance against Tarzan to give him a two hour start running loose loose in jungle so he can hunt him down like an animal. Later, Sikes and the other men force Tarzan to lead them to the lost city of Zaro where they can acquire richness of hidden gold and jewels.
Tightly edited, highly underscored with enough Tarzan yells and well staged battles to remind viewers that this is a "Tarzan" adventure. The scene shifts are obvious, especially during the early portion where Jane's long blonde hairstyle becomes a shorter cut following the opening of the second portion where her Jane gives son Boy an education by reading literary classics like "Treasure Island," before her hair resumes longer-length again as was for the introduction. While Rickie Sorensen's character is often identified as Boy (as in the Johnny Weissmuller series in the 1940s) in the story, there was one time where he's called Tartu (the name used from the previous Gordon Scott adventure of TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE). Though photographed in black-and-white, the scene of Tarzan riding a giraffe, along with actual African scenery and natives were lifted from that FIGHT FOR LIFE color film into this edition as well.
Of the three portions of the story, the first was better while the second shows promise of a re-enactment to Richard Connell's exciting story to "The Most Dangerous Game," where Tarzan becomes the hunted, actually a disappointment due to edits. Jane and Boy are absent through long stretches of time during the second half of the story, leaving Tarzan to be the sole factor of interest through much of the proceedings. The final portion becomes typical scenario for the "Tarzan" series involving greedy hunters where old material is revamped and recycled, if nothing else.
A public domain where TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS was distributed to video cassette by various distributors, often double-billed packaged with TARZAN THE FEARLESS (1933) with Buster Crabbe, the made-for-television edition, also available on DVD, has shown on commercial and public television, along with cable channels as American Movie Classics (1998) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: September 17, 2011). Not the very best nor the worst of the Scott/Tarzan adventures, TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS attempts to add something new to material that has seemed exhausted by this time.
While improvements were developed in future installments, recasting the Tarzan character (after Scott turned in his loincloth by 1960) to the form and likes of the thin Jock Mahoney (1962-63) and the muscular Mike Henry (1965-1968), before the Edgar Rice Burrough's jungle hero eventually became a prominent figure in his very own "Tarzan" television series (1966-1969) starring Ron Ely. Next in the series: Gordon Scott minus Jane and Boy in TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959). (**)
Evelyn Prentice (1934)
EVELYN PRENTISS (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1934), directed by William K. Howard, offers William Powell top-billing over Myrna Loy who assumes the title role. Not as well-known as other titled heroines during Hollywood's Golden Age, ranging from Katharine Hepburn as ALICE ADAMS (RKO, 1935), Joan Crawford as MILDRED PIERCE (Warners, 1945), or Ann Sheridan as NORA PRENTISS (Warners, 1947), among others, EVELYN PRENTISS, in fact, is a courtroom melodrama that happens to be the least known or discussed of the 13 screen collaborations of Powell and Loy during their 13-year span. Initially teamed in MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934), for which they supported Clark Gable, Powell and Loy reached their peak almost immediately for their second union in THE THIN MAN (1934), a mystery-comedy that spawned five additional sequels and many imitators. Unlike THE THIN MAN, EVELYN PRENTISS is straight- forward drama, having none of the mix-comic/mystery elements one might expect from them. This time Powell plays a lawyer rather than a detective, although as a lawyer, Powell shadows his Nick Charles/"Thin Man" character at times through his methods of reasoning and getting the fact, while Loy's Evelyn may be wife, but not as perfect as one would expect.
Taken from the book by W.E. Woodward, the scripted story by Lenore Coffee opens not on the title character, but on John Prentiss (William Powell), an attorney on trial defending Nancy Harrison (Rosalind Russell) on a manslaughter charge. John is a happily married man with a beautiful wife, Evelyn (Myrna Loy), and daughter, Dorothy (Cora Sue Collins). Also living in the Prentiss home is Evelyn's best friend and loyal companion, Amy Drexel (Una Merkel). After Mrs. Harrison is acquitted through John's expert testimony, she shows how grateful she is by forcing her advances on him, first in his private chambers, then on the train bound for Boston where John is to spend a week away from his family on business. Because of John's extended stay away from home, Evelyn, Amy and Chester Wylie (Henry Wadsworth) have an evening for themselves at Barney's (Billy Gilbert) night club. While there, Evelyn attracts the attention of poet, Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens). At first, Evelyn doesn't take the young man seriously, but after having some suspicions of John's rendezvous with Mrs. Harrison during his business trip does Evelyn begin to see Lawrence more frequently, much to the chagrin of Judith Wilson (Isabel Jewell), his jealous girlfriend. After Evelyn breaks off her relationship with Lawrence, he decides to blackmail her for $15,000 on her love letters he holds to expose to her husband. A gunshot is heard, with Judith found by Lawrence's body. Accused for his murder, as a favor to Evelyn, John acts as Judith's attorney, only to come to some unforeseen circumstances at the trial that could ruin his marriage. Others members of the cast include: Edward Brophy (Eddie Delaney); Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Blake); Jack Mulhall (Greg); Herman Bing (Mr. Klein); Samuel S. Hinds (Newton); Frank Conroy (District Attorney Farley) and Sam McDaniel (The Porter).
Although the character and story may have been more plausible starring MGM's top actresses as Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, or even as an introduction to Rosalind Russell making her movie debut as opposed to her flirtatious widow-client, Myrna Loy shows her diversity and skill playing a typical wife who strays away during her husband's absence in business. Unlike other top actresses who might have overplayed the character somewhat, Loy keeps her performance in low-key level until a brief moment at the trial. Aside from Loy who played Oriental vamps during her early movie years in the 1920s and beyond, and being capable of dramatic roles, she's best loved in comedy, especially those opposite William Powell outside "The Thin Man" series as LIBELED LADY (1936), LOVE CRAZY (1941) and a few others. Una Merkel, usually the "comedy relief" in many MGM productions, resumes her part as the best friend as well, while Cora Sue Collins does her bit as the Prentiss daughter who goes to her parents for guidance, especially when involving a broken vase. Let's not overlook Isabel Jewell in a fine dramatic performance that might have paved the way for her brief yet serious role of the seamstress that made A TALE OF TWO CITIES (MGM, 1935) opposite Ronald Colman so memorable.
Distributed on video cassette in the 1990s, and later available on DVD, EVELYN PRENTISS first aired on cable Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1989 before becoming a permanent fixture on Turner Classic Movies beginning since 1994. (***)
The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)
The French Scientist
THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (Warner Brothers, 1936), directed by William Dieterle, starring Paul Muni, might have become a box-office failure considering its then theatrical popularity being swashbucklers, screwball comedies, love stories, screen adaptations to literary classics or the musicals. As much as a life story about a 19th century French scientist would only have limited appeal, being more of a history lesson retold on screen rather than history lesson taught in the classroom, the movie itself went into production anyway. Having little or no expectation except for Paul Muni, the sort of actor willing to assume the gamble to a point of not even caring if the movie proved popular or not, THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR not only became an unexpected success, paving the way for other biographical stories to follow, but won Paul Muni the Academy Award as Best Actor for his memorable performance.
Rather than starting the story of Louis Pasteur as a child, leading to his scientific profession and courtship with his future wife, the original story and screenplay by Sheridan Gibney and Pierre Collins gets down to basics starting in 1860 with the shooting of Doctor Francois (William Burress) by an irate husband (William B. Davidson) whose wife died under his carelessness by using dirty instruments for treatment. After the husband presents the reasons for his actions to the police with a newspaper clipping by Louis Pasteur stating how microbes cause diseases and death, the scientists of the French Academy label Pasteur as a "menace to science." Louis Pasteur (Paul Muni) is then introduced as a chemist with a young wife, Marie (Josephine Hutchinson), and father to three children, the eldest being a daughter named Annette (Anita Louise). Pasteur expresses his reasoning and anger through the ignorance of doctors who fail to boil their instruments and wash their hands to kill germs before attending to their patients. Disbelieved or ridiculed by the doctors, Pasteur's theories are believed by few, including Doctor Jean Martel (Donald Woods), a young physical and surgeon working under Doctor Charbonnet (Fritz Lieber). Martel leaves Charbonnet's employ to work under Pasteur and Doctor Emile Roux (Henry O'Neill), dedicating themselves pursuing the deadly microbes that cause antrax and hydrophobia and cures, followed by Pasteur's painstaking attempt to find the cure for rabies as found on Philip Meister (Dickie Moore), a little boy left under his care, and testings on the child that could lead to Pasteur's imprisonment if he should fail.
The supporting cast also includes: Porter Hall (Doctor Rosignol); Raymond Brown (Doctor Aradisse); Akim Tamiroff (Doctor Zaranoff); Iphigenie Castiglioni (Empress Eugenie); and Halliwell Hobbes (Doctor Lister from England), among others. The romantic interest between Donald Woods and Anita Louise is limited, while Josephine Hutchinson enacts her character typical fashion of the devoted and caring wife believing in her husband's scientific research. (Whatever became of the two younger Pasteur children seen early in the story before disappearing from view with no explanation?) The plot, in general, offers enough material to provide the story of Louis Pasteur, with extended scenes of investigation of the anthrax disease at the Pouilly Le Fort, dividing 24 vaccinated sheep with 24 non-vaccinated ones to see which ones survive; Pasteur's desperation in having Doctor Charbonnet follow his method of delivering his daughter's baby; but eliminates the use and term of "pasteurization" of milk for which he is most famous.
While there have been earlier biographical stories, many of them being more fiction than fact, THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR is no different, offering its blend of both, which really doesn't hurt the concept of the story by any means. At 85 minutes rather than an overblown two hour plus spectacle, Paul Muni, with glasses, beard but minus French accent, is the whole show here. He alone makes it worth viewing. His success would follow with other biographical successes and heavy makeup for THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937) and JUAREZ (1939), but it's Muni's Pasteur that's most remembered while Muni, the Actor himself, is virtually forgotten today. Distributed on video cassette in the 1990s, and later DVD, THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR can be seen and historically studied for examination term paper in science class on Turner Classic Movies. (***1/2 microscopes)
Slightly Honorable (1939)
Dangerously They Die
SLIGHTLY HONORABLE (United Artists, 1939/40), a Walter Wanger Presentation, directed by Tay Garnett, might sound like a domestic drama about a troubled marriage of infidility, but is actually a mystery-comedy based upon the novel, "Send Another Coffin" by P.G. Presnell. Starring Pat O'Brien, on loan-out assignment from Warner Brothers Studio, it offers him a rare opportunity to perform on screen sporting a mustache, but being no threat to actor, Clark Gable. With mystery-comedies quite popular during the 1930s, SLIGHTLY HONORABLE is no different, with the exception as to how the mystery gets solved.
Opening Title: "Eight thousand miles to the southland lies a tiny island paradise - far from greed, the graft and the corruption that harass our modern civilization --- but that's 8000 miles away!" The story begins with visuals of radio announcers followed by a car sliding off a curvy road leading to the death of Clarence Buckman, corrupt highway commissioner who has fallen victim to the accident. Pallbearers at his funeral are John Webb (Pat O'Brien), lawyer; Russel Sampson (Broderick Crawford), his assistant; and Vincent Cushing (Edward Arnold), described as "the evil head of the state's political machine." During the course of the story, John meets Ann Seymour (Ruth Terry), a nightclub singer who happens to be 18 years (and two months!). A feisty yet gabby individual, she gets into a rumble with the owner, Pete Gordenia (Bernard Nedell) to a point of having her dress torn with John coming to her defense. After taking her to his apartment, John soon offers her $100 for a new dress before sending her home. Alma Brehmer (Claire Dodd), John's old flame with a jealous ex- husband, George Taylor (Douglass Dumbrille), is found murdered at her Fenner Apartment penthouse with a dagger in her back. A series of similar killings involving daggers soon take place. With John attempting to clear his name from being the prime suspect, he ends up finding out more than he bargained for during his investigation, especially with flying daggers with threatening notes in his office, and near arrests from Commissioner Joyce (Alan Dinehart), Inspector Fromm (Addison Richards) and Captain Graves (Cliff Clark), who believe John's the guilty party.
Others seen in the cast include: Phyllis Brooks (Sarilla Cushing, the daughter); Janet Beecher (Mrs. Cushing, wife and mother); Eve Arden (Miss Ater, Webb's wisecracking secretary); Ernest Truex (P. Hemmingway Collins, secretary of the Citizen's Better Government League); Evelyn Keyes (Miss Vilissigen); Willie Best (Art, the elevator operator); John Sheehan (Mike Daley, the drunk), among others. Edward Arnold, who gave a memorable supporting performance as a corrupt politician in both Frank Capra's MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (Columbia, 1939) and MEET JOHN DOE (Warner Brothers, 1941), resumes a similar character here as a corrupt newspaper publisher with political connections, but isn't on screen long enough for an actor whose name comes second billed in the casting credits. Standout performances goes to Broderick Crawford, breaking away from dopey characters enacted early in his career, and Eve Arden, being a welcome screen presence (as always). Evelyn Keyes has little to do in a rare comedic role as a daffy secretary. Ruth Terry, playing a gabby showgirl, could be annoying at times, yet she's far from being shy nor modest when it comes to undressing herself in front of a man (O'Brien) she hardly knows,with the lawyer being "embarrassed" through the proceedings more than once.
An agreeable mixture of comedy and mystery that's not as well known as some other films of this nature. After years of being shown on late night commercial television dating back to the 1950s, SLIGHTLY HONORABLE later became a public domain title that was frequently broadcast on public television and available on video cassette in the 1980s (and decades later on DVD), usually in shorter 75 minute edition. It wasn't until Turner Classic Movies aired a restored and complete 86 minute clearer picture edition of SLIGHTLY HONORABLE (TCM premiere: December 9, 2011), that the movie got to be shown uncut for the first time in years. In complete form, SLIGHTLY HONORABLE moves swiftly enough to become satisfactory entertainment for those who may find the movie sightly funny, slightly mysterious or slightly honorable. (**1/2 daggers)
She-Wolf of London (1946)
The Legend of the Allenby Curse
SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (Universal, 1946), directed by Jean Yarbrough, from an original story by Dwight B. Babcock, is a minor "B" production released the very year the studio slowly phased out its second cycle of the horror genre (1939-1946) through its one hour quickie productions as this, THE CAT CREEPS, HOUSE OF HORRORS or THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK. While a title such as SHE-WOLF OF LONDON might indicate a long delayed sequel to the first cycle of Universal horror's WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) starring Henry Hull, with the plot dealing with one of the female survivors of a werewolf attack cursed to becoming a she-wolf herself, the movie overall only promises thriller by title and murder mystery by story instead. There's no traditional horror actors as Bela Lugosi or Lionel Atwill to add to the proceedings, but fresh young faces and future television personalities as Don Porter and June Lockhart in the leads.
Opening title: "London at the turn of the Century - The Legend of the Allenby curse was almost forgotten until ... " A series of ghastly murders have been taken place at a London park. Detective Latham (Lloyd Corrigan), a criminal investigator of Scotland Yard, suspects a female werewolf but Inspector Pierce (Dennis Hoey) has other ideas, such as attack by a wild dog. Upon investigation, Harry Lanfield (Don Porter), an young lawyer, is enjoying his horseback ride with his fiancée, Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart), where the murders had occurred. Overhearing the incidents from the police inspectors causes Phyllis to go into a panic. She believes she's responsible for the series of midnight murders. Phyllis, whose parents are deceased and heiress to the Allenby estate, lives with her Aunt Martha (Sara Haden), her daughter, Carol Winthrop (Jan Wiley), and their housekeeper, Hannah (Eily Malyon). Phyllis is a strong believer of the legend of the Allenbury curse, enough to believe she is the she-wolf of London herself. She awakens the following morning with blood stains on her hands, damp clothes and mud on her slippers. She believes her nightmares happen to be connected with the murders read in the newspapers. After a little boy is reported killed, then the attack and murder of Detective Latham, Phyllis is slowly driven to a brink of insanity. After she breaks off her engagement and all contact with Harry, and confining herself in the manor, Harry decides to investigate this mystery himself. Others seen in the story are Martin Kosleck (Dwight Sevns, a struggling artist and Martha's secret lover); Lloyd Whitlock (Constable Ernie Hobbs); Gerald Fielding, and Olaf Hytten. Dennis Hoey, best known as Inspector Lestrade in the "Sherlock Holmes" mystery series (1942-1946), resumes his familiar characterization from those movies into this one.
While SHE-WOLF OF LONDON wasn't in the werewolf tradition, especially those "Wolf Man" thrillers of the 1940s starring Lon Chaney Jr., it did offer a change of pace theme of a female to be a prowling and growling monster killer rather than the traditional man. Horror fans would be disappointed through its limitations of viewing attacks, that are mostly discussed rather than seen. Overlooking these facts, the story gets by during its quick 62 minutes, especially viewing a youthful June Lockhart in a rare leading movie role of the time some years before she was a familiar television personality in such programs as "Timmy and Lassie" (1957-1963); "Lost in Space" (1965-1968), and the final two seasons of "Petticoat Junction" (1968-1970). While Lockhart is the central character here, veteran actress, Sara Haden, best known as Aunt Milly in the "Andy Hardy" film series (1938-1946), gathers most attention in a showy performance as the domineering mother and caring aunt, along with Eily Malyon as the suspecting housekeeper. There's also a nice touch of camera slanting near the finish reminiscing director Alfred Hitchcock visual style like NOTORIOUS (1946), and brief gothic touches reminiscent to the Val Lewton horror unit for RKO Radio (1943-1946) as I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943).
Once presented on Shock Theater /Fright Night trades of broadcast television some decades ago, and formerly available on video cassette, SHE-WOLF OF LONDON can be found as a bonus addition to the "Werewolf" movie package on DVD (**1/2)
Tarzan's Fight for Life (1958)
Tarzan to the Rescue
TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1958), a Sol Lesser production, directed by H Bruce Humberstone, marks Gordon Scott's third go-round as the jungle warlord and the second in color (compliments of MetroColor). After two prior Tarzan adventures where the title character goes solo without his mate nor son, this edition returns to formula material commonly found in the 1940s starring Johnny Weissmuller where the plots revolved around Tarzan, Jane and their son, Boy. As with the latter Weissmuller entries, the Jane character, played then by Brenda Joyce from 1945-1949, enacted here by Eve Brent, is also blonde, this time wearing lipstock in certain scenes! The adopted son is not characterized as Boy, the name earlier used for Johnny Sheffield's carnation during his performance in eight entries (1939-1947), is now performed by Rickie Sorensen going under a new name of Tartu. There is still Cheta, however.
The story begins with Doctor Sturdy (Carl Benton-Reid) of the Medical Association, experimenting in a native hospital in Randini accompanied by his daughter, Anne (Jil Jarmyn). Hoping to fine a cure for a fever that had earlier killed a tribal chief in the distant village of Nigasso, Futa (James Edwards) does what he can to keep his tribe from accepting Sturdy's modern medical efforts of curing the sick in favor of using traditional witch doctor and black magic. Because the tribe shows no appreciation for her father's dedication in his hard work, Anne wants for them to leave before the natives turn hostile and form an attack towards them. Arriving to join Sturdy is Ken Warwick (Harry Lauter), arriving from England after two years of medical school in England. As the tribe comes to attack Anne and Ken, Tarzan (Gordon Scott) arrives in time to rescue them. Being a friend of the Nigasso tribe, Tarzan tries to learn from Futa why he and his tribe cannot be civil. Moments after their talk, one of the native girls is attacked by a crocodile. Tarzan dives into the water to bring her back to safety. Because the bite on her leg has caused a great loss of blood, Tarzan goes against Futa's orders by taking the injured native girl and placed under Sturdy's care. Though the native girl's leg is amputated, she later dies. Only because Tarzan continues to support Sturdy's medical methods does he become the enemy of Futa's tribe. During the course of the story, Tarzan's mate, Jane (Eve Brent) suffers from appendix pain, forcing Tarzan and son, Tartu (Rickie Sorensen, to immediately take Jane by down the river by canoe for emergency operation by Sturdy. Later Molo (Nick Stewart) comes to the hospital to carry on Futa's vengeful attempt to kill Jane in her hospital bed. When all fails, Futa orders to have Tarzan captured and bound so he could be sacrificed by having his heart taken from his body.
An acceptable production being a bit longer than usual (86 minutes), TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE offers enough material reminiscent to the older "Tarzan" formula of the Weissmuller days, including Tarzan and Jane kissing and having their leisurely play swim in the lake. Tarzan even shows he has his fight for life when combating realistically with a giant python. Here's one added bonus: Tarzan riding through the jungle on a giraffe. Some actual African jungle photography mixed with indoor sets along with color add greatly to its background and scenery. Then there's the chimpanzee, Cheta, this time sporting a loincloth around its waist like her master, Tarzan, allowing time for comedy relief with his junior Tarzan companion. Rickie Sorensen, around age nine here, does what's expected for little Tarzan. His character is never fully explained who he is or where he came from except that he's adopted by Tarzan and Jane. There must have been an orphanage nearby as opposed to Tarzan finding an orphan boy somewhere in the jungle and taking him home to Jane as was done in TARZAN FINDS A SON (1939) and TARZAN'S SAVAGE FURY (1952). James Edwards, who did a masterful job in his debut film of HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949), is nearly unrecognizable playing the evil warrior chief, supported by Woody Strode (Ramo); Roy Glenn (The High Counselor); and Milton Woody (The Temple Native). Gordon Scott shows himself to be better muscular and agreeable to the latest Tarzan of the 1950s, a role he would continue to play belting out his Tarzan call until 1960.
Aside from frequent broadcasts on commercial television in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, this and other Tarzan adventures have played on cable television as well, especially American Movie Classics (1997-2000) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: August 5, 2010). Though this was to be the final theatrical Tarzan adventure to include the nostalgic feel revolving around the Tarzan family trio, Scott, Brent and Sorensen united together once more in 1958 for a proposed television series that never sold, in which three episodes were edited together to form another feature-length venture titled TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS. Of the two, TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE is much better. (***)
Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957)
Tarzan Leads the Way
TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI (Solar Film Productions, 1957), directed by Bruce Humberstone, returns Gordon Scott as the muscular jungle hero, Tarzan, to the screen since his debut performance for the Sol Lesser production unit of TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE (RKO, 1955). As with the previous installment, this second Gordon Scott/Tarzan adventure has him going solo, with the exception of his pet chimpanzee, Cheta, venturing without the presence of his mate, Jane. Unlike Scott's Tarzan debut, TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI not only has the distinction of being the first "Tarzan" adventure in the series to be photographed in color (compliments of Eastman Color), but was reportedly filmed on location Uganda, Kenya and in the Belgian Congo as opposed to indoor jungle sets or outdoor filming near the Hollywood studios. The supporting cast is basically English, naturally since it was produced by a British studio. Though sources label this the first Tarzan movie release through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer since 1942, prints exclude the traditional MGM lion logo for its opening. Regardless, TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI ranks a more update improvement in the series, and though many fondly remember Johnny Weissmuller as the jungle warlord for many years, Scott holds his own as possibly the second best next to the Olympic champion Weissmuller, who enacted the role of Tarzan longer than any other actor.
Following opening credits superimposed over African jungle wildlife and huge waterfall background, an airplane flies over the jungle bound for Cairo consisting of Dick Penrod (Peter Arne), the pilot; his wife, Diana (Betta St. John); and passengers, Gamage Dean (Yolande Donain); Carl Kraski (George Coulouris); and society columnist, Doodles Fletcher (Wilfred Hyde-White). Dick and Diane are constantly bickering, with Diane finding that their marriage is on the verge of divorce. As Dick flies low so his guests can have a close look at animallife such as giraffes and zebras, a flock of flamingos cause the airplane to crash land on the cliff ledge. Tarzan (Gordon Scott) comes to their rescue moments before airplane plunges down the canyon. After Diana is abducted by Opal tribesmen, Tarzan fights them off while hunter, "Tusker" Hawkins (Robert Beatty) rescues Diana from becoming a sacrifice to the tribe. In order to get the safari safe to civilization, Tarzan leads them through the jungle, swamps and other dangerous surroundings. In the meantime, Tarzan shows strong dislike towards Hawkins, feeling he has other plans for his stranded guests that are not so honorable.
Also In the cast is Orlando Martins as Chief Ogonorro. Even Cheta the chimpanzee gets screen credit for her performance. For the rest of the cast, Yolande Donian makes one think about character actress, Iris Adrian, through her performance as the flirtatious blonde after Tarzan; and Betta St. John short haircut and features in a physical sense of a younger actress, Fay Wray, from the 1930s. While other actors in the cast may be unfamiliar faces and names, only George Coulouris may be familiar to American audience through his Hollywood movie roles in the 1940s.
Though TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI is leisurely paced, it's never dull through its 80 minutes. Naturally for a Tarzan adventure, there has to be a villain, along with some near death experiences including one where Diana's swimming is interrupted by an approaching crocodile followed by traditional extended Tarzan vs. crocodile segment as in the past. There's even a rare moment in the series where Tarzan talks about his jungle upbringing following the death of his parents, to as a boy surviving the jungle through manhood, yet, no mention about his companion, Jane. There's plenty of suspense involving the Tarzan and his safari involving poisoned spiders, and how they will survive the ordeal as they are observed from afar by the tribesmen to when they intend making their attack by throwing spears. And naturally Chetah gets laughs being both brat and helpful to Doodles by lighting his cigarette lighter for his cigarette.
Naturally color and location screening add to this screen adventure. Gordon Scott's broken English isn't as much as Johnny Weissmuller's interpretation from the past, yet, as the series progressed, Scott would soon be speaking in the manner of an educated man, the way its creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, initially intended through his books
Never distributed on video cassette though available on DVD, this and many Tarzan adventures did enjoy frequent commercial television broadcasts dating back to the 1960s before shifting to cable television in later years, including American Movie Classics (1997-2000) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: September 10, 2011). Next in the series: Tarzan (Gordon Scott), Jane (Eve Brent) and Tarzan Jr., known as Tartu (Randy Sorensen) returning to formula format from the Weissmuller days for TARZAN FIGHT FOR LIFE (MGM, 1958) for the final time in the series. (**1/2)
Pride and Politics
POSSESSED (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931), directed by Clarence Brown, from the play "The Mirage" by Edgar Selwyn, reunites Joan Crawford and Clark Gable (still sans mustache) for the third of eight times on screen, following their initial 1931 collaborations of DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE and LAUGHING SINNERS. As much as POSSESSED might have been an appropriate title for a horror film involving demons, Crawford doesn't play a girl in need of an exorcism nor is she someone with mental problems involving the supernatural. It even bears no resemblance to the 1947 melodrama POSSESSED (Warner Brothers) which also starred Joan Crawford. For this production, Crawford typically plays a small town girl with big ambitions, with her possessed term belonging to one man or wanting to dominate someone to get ahead. Unlike their previous two efforts, this time Gable's name comes second under Crawford's in the opening credits, thus being a giant step for Gable's star status popularity to come.
Plot Summary: Marion Martin (Joan Crawford), an uneducated girl having dropped out of school at the age of 12, has a medial job at the Acme Paper Box Company. Although still living at home with her mother (Clara Blandick), Marion is loved by Al Manning (Wallace Ford), also a worker at the same company. Al wants nothing more than to marry Marion, but for now isn't interested in becoming anybody's wife, let alone living in the town with little chance of advancement. Bored with her life's existence, she comes across a passing train stopped at the station where she meets Wally Stuart (Richard "Skeets" Gallagher), a rich drunk from New York, who puts career ambitions into her mind through their conversation over champagne drinks, ending with him giving Marion his calling card. Arriving home hours later in a drunken state creates misunderstanding and verbal argument between Marion and Al, leading her to simply leave home and try out of luck in New York City. While there, Marion locates Wally's luxurious apartment at 890 Park Avenue where the now sober Wally, slowing recollecting their meeting at the train depot, to offer her further advice of getting ahead by striking out on her own and getting a rich man. She does so with one of Wally's friends, Mark Whitney (Clark Gable), a rich lawyer with political ambitions. Mark immediately takes an interest in Marion, especially through her honesty in using him to get ahead. Three years pass. Marion, now a wealthy socialite, speaking fluent German and French languages, passes herself off as the wealthy divorcee, "Mrs. Moreland," though her society friends know about her live-in relationship with Mark, who refuses to marry for reasons of his own. When considering on running for governor, Mark is advised by his political party to break away from "Mrs. Moreland" to avoid scandal and ruin in his career, a scheme plotted by John Driscoll (John Miljan), his political enemy, to run a dirty campaign against Mark. Also in the cast is Frank Conroy (Horace Travers); Marjorie White (Vernice LaVerne); and Jack Pennick (The Heckler), among others.
No doubt that POSSESSED proved favorable upon theatrical release, especially with Crawford and Gable proving themselves as a remarkable screen team with each passing film. A pre-code production no doubt due to circumstances involving the romantic couple, Crawford typically rises from nothing to a woman of culture, even to a point of singing French, German and English versions to the theme song titled "How Long Will It Last?" to her society friends. Virtually forgotten today, that tune would be commonly used for opening credit underscoring for other MGM productions of the day. Wallace Ford, years before playing either newspaper reporters or later middle-age drunken characters in the 1960s, is seen here as a slim and trim young cement worker rising to top contractor out for Mark's assistance for a road construction project, unaware that the girl he loves happens to be Mark's mistress. The actors play their parts well, with tight editing of 76 minutes to hold interest throughout. Regardless of the scene following the auditorium campaign which doesn't ring true, at least much of this polish MGM "soap opera" style production is entirely satisfying.
Distributed on video cassette with plastic clam shell in 1985, and decades later on DVD, both 1931 and 1947 Joan Crawford editions of POSSESSED can be found, enjoyed and compared whenever presented on Turner Classic Movies cable network. (***)