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7/10
Investigative Reporting
17 November 2019
FRONT PAGE WOMAN (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by Michael Curtiz, is a newspaper movie, as indicated through its opening credits with assortment of front page newspaper views flowing across the screen. Starring Bette Davis and George Brent for the fourth time, FRONT PAGE WOMAN is actually their first in which they are the actual leading players competing of equal status vying for a good story. Though many claim the Davis role might have benefited better with type-cast sob sister types of either Glenda Farrell or Joan Blondell, Davis shows she can be just good a lady reporter than anyone else.

Ellen Garfield (Bette Davis), reporter for The Daily Star, is loved by rival ace reporter, Curt Devlin (George Brent), of The Daily Express. While Ellen is just another gal reporter to many, she wants to show she can be just as good a reporter than any man in the business, particularly Curt. One of her first big assignments is covering the execution of showgirl, Mabel Gaye at North Prison, for the murder of her lover. With Ellen feeling ill following the execution, Curt covers up for her, unwittingly producing both his and her story to both newspapers word for word. Spike Riley (Joseph Crehan), her editor, decides to give Ellen another chance to redeem herself by offering her another assignment, this time covering a four-alarm fire at the Granger Arms apartments. Unable to get through the police lines by Officer Hallohan (J. Farrell MacDonald), in spite that Curt and his photographer assistant, "Toots" O'Grady (Roscoe Karns) are able to get through to get their stories, Ellen soon notices Maitland Coulter (Gordon Westcott) escorting the injured Broadway producer, Marvin Q. Stone (Huntley Gordon) out of the burning building and into a cab hailed by Hallohan. Before taking off, Ellen overhears them talking about some mystery woman sneaking out the back way. Ellen's hunches lead her to the Plaza Hospital where she locates Stone, registered there under an assumed name of James Craig, who had died of a stab wound. With enough evidence regarding his murder, Ellen does some further investigating of her own by going after the mystery woman identified as Inez Cordoza (Winifred Shaw), and get herself a real good scoop before Curt or anybody else does. Others in the cast include: Walter Walker (Judge Ritchard); J. Carroll Naish (Robert Cordoza, Inez's brother); Dorothy Dare (Mae LaRue); June Martel (Olive Wilson), Addison Richards (District Attorney), Mary Treen, Selmar Jackson and Mary Foy in smaller roles. Interestingly, FRONT PAGE WOMAN did get a chance to have Glenda Farrell tackle the Davis role three years later as part of the "Torchy Blane" mystery series titled BLONDES AT WORK (1938) opposite Barton MacLane. Though Winifred Shaw is best known for her singing roles, FRONT PAGE WOMAN offers her a rare change of pace in a dramatic performance.

With Davis, still youthful and blonde, learning her acting craft from the bottom up, FRONT PAGE WOMAN offers her a good assignment assuming the role similar to her own personality - that of an ambitious woman needed to be taken seriously in what she does. Being a grand mix of drama with sappy dialogue, FRONT PAGE WOMAN is also fast-pace newspaper story with few lulls in between. For a Bette Davis movie, there is a long stretches where he's absent for ten plus minutes in favor of investigative reporting provided by George Brent and Roscoe Karns (the comedy relief). Though the "Toots" role could have been enacted by Warners resident "second banana" Frank McHugh, Roscoe Karns' interpretation as the photographer offers a different but welcoming feel for this production. One of the more memorable moments in humor that occurs both here and BLONDES AT WORK is during the trial where reporters overhear paper boys outside the courthouse yelling the headlines reading both "Guilty" and "Not Guilty" before the actual verdict is to be read aloud. It's interesting in movies such as this how quickly headlines with full stories go to press and on the news stands in bundles twenty minutes after story is called in to the quick rewrite rather as opposed to the following day.

Available on DVD, FRONT PAGE WOMAN, which used to broadcast regularly on commercial television's late show during the 1960s and 70s, can be found on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. The 83 minute production does overall offer a fine viewing of Davis and Brent a few years before their prime pairing of DARK VICTORY (1939), often hailed as their finest collaboration of eleven movies together. Read all about it! (***)
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7/10
Movie Veterans
17 November 2019
THE LOST SQUADRON (RKO Radio, 1932), directed by George Archainbaud, is not exactly a full-fledged war story dealing with ace pilots captured by the enemy or one about a military search for a lost patrol. It's one about veteran war pilots who become stunt pilots in aviation movies. Richard Dix, a leading man for the studio, highly popular due to his Academy Award winning epic western CIMARRON (1931), heads the cast playing the captain who risks everything for those under his command, the very same men who happen to be his closest friends in both squadron and civilian life.

Taken from the story by pilot/author, Dick Grace (who also appears in the movie as one of the pilots), the story focuses on ace pilots stationed in France shooting enemies followed by crash landings in air battle during the World War. A treaty has been signed naming November 11, 1918, as Armistice Day. With the war over, Christopher Gibson (Richard Dix), a captain in charge of his command, gathers together with pals Lieutenant "Woody Curwood (Robert Armstrong), 'Red" (Joel McCrea) and airplane mechanic, Fritz (Hugh Herbert) for one last drink of liquor before heading out for civilian life. Back in the states, the men return to find life they had known is not the same: Red returns to Sharkley and Company to inquire about his old job, only to refuse his position when it means an employer friend of his with a baby on the way will have to be let go; Woody discovers he is now broke when his business partner embezzles his funds; and Gibson returns to Follette Marsh (Mary Astor), a stage actress and the girl he loves, only to find she has another suitor (William B. Davidson) and learning they now have nothing in common. The four men gather together with a clause to simply stick together. Through the passage of time, with newspaper headlines reading about war veterans victims of the Depression when seen on bread lines, Gibson, Red and Fritz, now hobos, bum a freight train ride to Los Angeles to locate Woody. They find him in Hollywood escorted by two ladies attending a premiere of "Sky Heroes," an independent aviation war movie directed by Arthur Von Furst (Erich Von Stroheim), starring his wife, Follette Marsh. With Woody doing well in the movie business, he unionizes his war buddies employment working with him for the upcoming aviation movie under Von Furst's direction. Problems arise when the insanely jealous director discovers his actress wife's past romance with 'Gibby," leading to his "accidental" airplane crackups and dangerous aerial scenes intended for Gibson to put him out of the way. Others in the cast include Dorothy Jordan (Woody's sister, alias "The Pest"); Ralph Ince (Jettick of the Homicide Squad); Marjorie Peterson (The Stenographer); and Ralph Lewis.

THE LOST SQUADRON has the distinction of having three separate stories for one motion picture. It opens like a war drama, becomes a movie within a movie, and finishing off as a murder mystery. Of the co-stars, the sixth billed Erich Von Stroheim, a former actor/director himself of the silent screen, notably for GREED (1923), gives a notable performance doing a parody of himself of a tyrant director with unlikable personality. Von Stroheim's sarcasms with critical outbursts toward his staff simply earn him that distinction of "The Man You Love to Hate." Mary Astor gives a fine performance as the woman with acting ambition. Sadly her character disappears long before the movie's finish. Robert Armstrong, a pilot with his love for flying and boozing, is routinely played. Joel McCrea, early in his career, is satisfactory as the handsome young pilot pal while Hugh Herbert, famous for his befuddled characters in comedies for Warner Brothers and Universal, offers a rare treat in a straight role with some doses of comic touches early in the story. Let's not overlook Richard Dix, the hero in both war and civilian life, who gathers enough attention and likability during its 79 minutes.

Distributed on video cassette in the 1980s, and later on DVD decades later, THE LOST SQUADRON had the rare distinction of being one of the true vintage RKO movies (prior to 1933) to continue its New York City broadcasts on WOR, Channel 9 (home of the RKO Radio film library) well into 1974, It was also broadcast around the same time with its dubbed Spanish prints for the Spanish TV station of WNJU, Channel 47 (Newark, New Jersey). Once shown regularly on cable television's American Movie Classics prior to 2001, THE LOST SQUADRON, along with similar theme drama about movie stunt pilots, LUCKY DEVILS (RKO, 1933) starring William Boyd, can both be shown occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. (***)
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Wings (1927)
9/10
Winged Victory
10 November 2019
WINGS (Paramount, 1927), directed by William A. Wellman, became the studio's answer to World War themes following the success of THE BIG PARADE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925) starring John Gilbert; and WHAT PRICE GLORY? (Fox, 1926) starring Victor McLaglen. Each in theme dealing with the battlefront during the World War, WINGS went one up better by becoming the first Academy Award winning motion picture of the year. Clara Bow, who heads the cast, was by then an accomplished leading actress, yet, her performance is limited in favor for her two male co-stars, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen, both soon elevated to leading roles for the studio, along with Gary Cooper (as Cadet White), surprisingly with only one scene lasting two-three minutes, made enough of an impression to become not only a major lead actor for the studio but a two time Academy Award Best Actor winner as well.

Following an opening title, "To the young warriors of the sky whose wings are folded about them forever - this picture is reverently dedicated," the story gets underway in 1917 set in a small town introducing Jack Powell (Charles Rogers), a young mechanic whose sole interest in learning to fly. He is loved by Mary Preston (Clara Bow), the girl next door, but his sole interest is taking his little race car (called "Shooting Star" by Mary) he's been working to take a visiting city girl, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), out for a ride. Sylvia loves Jack's best friend, David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), son of the wealthiest family (Henry B. Walthall and Julia Swayne-Gordon) in town, but doesn't let Jack know it. War breaks out and the two men enlist. Before leaving, Sylvia's photo, initially intended for David, unwittingly goes into Jack's locket while David takes with him his little bear he carried around with him since he was a child, for luck. At the Aviator Examining Station, Jack and David go through excessive training under strict orders from tough superiors. They eventually learn the meaning of war battle as Jack, in an airplane labeled "Shooting Star," and David, fly out on their first dawn patrol. In the meantime, Mary does her civic duty as a Red Cross nurse ambulance driver in Paris. It is there Mary finds Jack, on furlough, at the Folies Bergere. Due to his drunken state, Jack fails to recognize her. After returning to active duty, friction arises between Jack and David over their love for Sylvia. Also in the cast are: El Brendel (Herman Schwimpf, a Dutchman who is true American); Gunboat Smith (The Sergeant); Roscoe Karns (Lieutenant Cameron); George Irving and Hedda Hopper (Mr. and Mrs. Powell). Quite memorable is Henry B. Walthall, leading actor of THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), as a wheelchair bound father whose facial expressions/throughs of his son going to war says everything without any use of words.

While the story between close friends loving the same woman is routinely standard, the aerial combat war scenes and airplane crashes are first-rate, thanks to director Wellman, having served in the World War himself, to be able to bring forth battle scenes as realistically as possible. Granted, these scenes are as lengthy as the movie (139 minutes) itself, but are well captured on film. While Clara Bow appears in the beginning and the end of the story, her character reappears in the midway point in Paris as a Red Cross worker. So not to forget she's in the movie at all, considering her absence during its long stretches, Bow's character gathers enough attention in a scene changing into glittering dress so to get the drunken Jack's attention away from a Parisian girl (Arlette Marchal). Aside from the aforementioned battle sequences, WINGS also comes up with some interesting camera angles, tracking and super imposing shots.

Many years after its release, WINGS started to gain recognition again. First in an episode of the television series, "Petticoat Junction" (CBS, 1968) titled "Wings" where Richard Arlen and "Buddy" Rogers guest starred as themselves coming to the town of Hooterville to attend the theatrical movie revival of WINGS. One scene has grocer, Mr. Drucker (Frank Cady) saying, "There's Coop," indicating Gary Cooper. Then in 1988, WINGS was distributed on video cassette accompanied by organ score by Gaylord Carter. The organ scored prints were presented on cable television's American Movie Classics (1990-1998), Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: January 4, 2008), and in the DVD format. It wouldn't be until February 2013 when TCM broadcast a restored WINGS with with new orchestral score, which is fine, but I still prefer the organ scoring.

As much as many silent movies had been remade as talkies, some bearing different titles, interestingly WINGS was never redone, even with updated plot of World War II in the 1940s. Yet, the theme elements were recycled numerous times, which may be one of the reasons some may claim WINGS hasn't aged well. Overlooking such handicaps, the aerial scenes of the air and the bonding of two friends make WINGS worthy screen entertainment for silent film lovers. (***1/2 Wings)
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7/10
High Society Blues
10 November 2019
THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US (First National Pictures, 1932), directed by Alfred E. Green, marks the Warner Brothers/First National Pictures debut of Ruth Chatterton, following her success in MADAME X (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929) and several other dramatic roles under the Paramount banner. Though briefly a stock player for Warners (1932-1934), her association would be short lived first in favor of Kay Francis (also from Paramount), then finally Bette Davis, who also appears in this production. As much as THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US is virtually a Ruth Chatterton film, many familiar with the title would associate it with Bette Davis, who actually plays a secondary role here opposite George Brent, her second of eleven films with him, and Brent's first of four opposite Chatterton, whom he would actually marry and leading to a short-lived marriage.

The story begins in 1900 where women are seen discussing the Van Dyke's birth of a daughter they call Caroline, "the richest baby in the world"; then to 1920 where gossips talk about Caroline Van Dyke's marriage to stock broker, Gregg Grannard, and finally 1930 where Caroline Van Dyke (Ruth Chatterton), "the richest woman in the world," is dining with Julian Tierney (George Brent), a novelist. As much as Julian loves Caroline, his feelings aren't the same with Caroline's best friend, Malbro Barkley (Bette Davis), who loves him. At the same time, Caroline's husband, Gregg (John Miljan) is seen dining in the same restaurant with his client, Allison Adair (Adrienne Dore). Later at a party, Caroline entertains Julian while Gregg spends much of his time with Allison. After Caroline catches Gregg kissing Allison, she then realizes her marriage is over, especially after having her woman to woman talk with Allison, who claims she can make Gregg happy. Going through divorce proceedings in Paris, Julian follows her there with intentions on marrying her, but takes the next airplane back to the states when he feels Caroline still cares for Gregg enough to help with his financial business matters. Though Caroline and Julian get together again, Allison, who hates Caroline, does what she can to scandalize her good name, showing Gregg the type of woman he married. Others in the cast include: John Wray (Clark Davis); Walter Walker (Dante); Sam McDaniel (Max);' Berton Churchill (Judge Bradsha); and Virginia Verrill (Singer of "Trying to Live Without You").

As much as Bette Davis excelled in playing unsympathetic characters in some of her later films as OF HUMAN BONDAGE (RKO, 1934), the meatier role here actually goes to Adrienne Dore, the young blonde who takes a woman's husband away from him and falls out of love for him after her marriage to him. Yet is is Davis who's career prospered for the studio while Dore drifted to obscurity. Yet, for a Ruth Chatterton movie, this production is agreeable high society material.

Short and sweet at 71 minutes, THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US is of sole interest of young Bette Davis early in her career. Yet it is a good way to rediscover its now forgotten star, Ruth Chatterton, best known for her oft-revived DODSWORTH (1936) starring Walter Huston, in one of her lesser known gems. Available on DVD and cable television's Turner Classic Movies should indicate films such as this are always with us. (**1/2)
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The Ape (1940)
5/10
Keeper of the Lame
3 November 2019
THE APE (Monogram Pictures, 1940), directed by William Nigh, may not be another movie variation to the classic KING KONG (RKO, 1933), or a story about an ape becoming a circus attraction, but something suggested on a play by Adam Hull Skirk starring Boris Karloff. Though Karloff is best known for his horror movies following his introduced role as "The Monster" in FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, 1931), he is also noted for playing either villains for which he excels, or kindly scientists so serious about his experiments that he is often misjudged for his outcomes. Following a series of related themes starting with NIGHT KEY (Universal, 1937), and subsequent others for Columbia, THE APE offers nothing new in plot variations where Karloff, sporting white hair, mustache, glasses and speaking in soft-spoken tone, being the main reason of watching this cliche ridden story supported by some unknowns who remain unknowns.

Following opening credits underscored by circus-style music with facial image of an ape in view, the story opens with the preparation for an upcoming circus coming to the town of Red Creek. A group of boys heading out for a swim, pass by a home belonging to Doctor Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff). Not well liked the towns people due to gossip about his patients dying on him, the boys gather together throwing stones at his house. Returning home by bicycle, the doctor chases them away. Regardless of his background and how the many would want nothing more than to force him to leave town, Doctor Adrian is actually a kind and gentle man whose wife and daughter died of polio years ago. The doctor takes an interest in the neighboring Frances Griffin (Maris Wrixon), a crippled 18-year-old girl living with her mother, Jane (Dorothy Vaughan). Because Frances reminds him so much of his late daughter, Adrian, having worked ten years with animals, hopes to someday find a cure to have Frances walk again. After Frances enjoys her evening at the circus with Danny Foster (Gene O'Donnell), Henry Mason (Philo McCullough), the circus trainer whose own father was strangled by the ape, abuses it out of spite. The angry ape grabs Mason, causing his injury followed by an accidental fire that burns down the circus. Mason is taken to Adrian for treatment by circus workers who soon go out to capture the ape. After Mason dies, Adrian uses his spinal fluid needed for a serum to use for Frances' treatment. After the bottle is dropped and broken, Adrian's home is attacked by the gorilla, but is stopped and killed by Adrian. With the ape out the way, a series of unexplained murders take place, many connected with the ape, a mystery that baffles the authorities. Also in the cast are Gertrude Hoffman (Jane, the housekeeper); Henry Hall (Sheriff Jeff Halliday); Selmer Jackson (Doctor McNulty); Jack Kennedy, with George Cleveland and Gibson Gowland in smaller roles.

With Boris Karloff heading the cast, many would assume THE APE to be a "horror" film. It is far from that, considering the fact that Karloff plays a father figure scientist to the young girl he wants to cure. His character is of no threat to her or any of the characters in the story. His only anger would be the gossip to his good name, and the misinterpretation to his accomplishments he tries to fulfill for the good of another. The Ape in question is of minor importance, yet, the sole purpose for the doctor's experimental purpose.

Maris Wrixon, a young starlet for Warner Brothers about this time, gets her rare chance playing a central character in a motion picture. Though Karloff's character and plot may sound similar in manner to his other works as in Columbia's THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939), BEFORE I HANG (1940), THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES (1940) or Universal's BLACK FRIDAY (1940), maybe this was the studio's way of reinventing and improving its own scientist-related themed experiments. Clocked at only 62 minutes, the film's only debit is its continuously repeated same underscoring. While THE APE is far from the best or worst of this kind (being the sort of movie that could have starred Lionel Atwill or George Zucco in the lead), it's something that holds up better than most, thanks to Karloff's sincere performance that rises above its routine script.

A public domain title, THE APE was distributed by various distributors on both video tape (in 1980s) and years later, the DVD format. Cable television broadcasts consist of Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1991, and Turner Classic Movies (since July 14, 1997) consisting of reissue print title opening and closing from Monarch Studios as opposed to its original distributor, Monogram Pictures. (**1/2)
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Black Fury (1935)
9/10
One Against the World
27 October 2019
BLACK FURY (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by Michael Curtiz, stars Paul Muni in another one of his neglected movie gems. Reportedly based on an actual 1929 incident involving a coal miner's strike, BLACK FURY reproduces both incident and play, "Bohunk" by Harry R. Irving featuring Muni playing an accented speaking, uneducated coal miner of a small mining town who helps form a strike without knowing it. Supporting him is Karen Morley, his co-star from SCARFACE (United Artists, 1932), formerly of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, featured in her only film role for the Warners studio.

Set in Coal Town, Joe Radek (Paul Muni), a Slavik born coal miner, lives with his best friend, Mike Shemanski (John T. Qualen), his wife, Sophie (Sara Haden), and children, Agnes (Edith Fellows) and Chris (Mickey Rentschler). Aside from both men working together, Joe deeply loves Anna Novak (Karen Morley), whom he plans to marry after saving up his earnings for a farm. Though she cares for Joe, Anna hates her coal mining town existence and would want nothing more than to get away from it. During a dance function at Slovak Hall, Anna breaks away from Joe long enough to be with Slim Johnson (William Gargan), the company cop, to tell him how she feels. Due for a job promotion in Pittsburgh, Anna asks to go away with him, but Slim, also good friends with Joe, feels it be better to wait awhile before breaking the news to him. The following morning, however, Joe is given a farewell note written by Anna found in her bedroom. Angry and upset, Joe gets himself drunk at the local bar. In the meantime, Steve "Chip" Croner (J. Carroll Naish), a new employer, working secretly under Henry B. Jenkins (Purnell B. Pratt), has already stirred up trouble among the miners for going on strike for better wages and working conditions. Because Joe is highly respected among his friends, Chip uses him to follow up his plan for a strike, and forming a union run by corrupt leaders. Because of his association with Chip, and made president of the union, Mike has Joe leave his home. Joe is then blamed for riots and miners losing both their jobs and homes. After Mike is beaten and killed by a corrupt union cop, McGee (Barton MacLane), Joe comes to his senses to form his very own one man war against this corrupt organization.

Aside from Karen Morley, it is also interesting spotting Muni's other SCARFACE co-stars as Vince Barnett and Tully Marshall in minor supporting roles. Other supporting players include Ward Bond, Akim Tamiroff, Samuel S. Hinds, Wade Boteler, Effie Ellsler and Addison Richards. For Muni's role of a Slavik coal miner who's catch phrase is: "You bet your life," this is something of a welcome challenge for his acting range, right down to nearly sounding like Austrian actor, Oscar Homolka from I REMEMBER MAMA (RKO, 1948).

In an introduction note about BLACK FURY by the late Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies, he went on to say of how Muni prepared himself for the role by spending time around actual coal miners to get the feel for his character living among poor surroundings. The final result is Muni giving a standout performance in a plot quite unlikely for 1935 audiences. Karen Morley serves the film well as the girl looking for a better way of life, while Barton MacLane makes his presence known by once again playing the bad guy.

Unlike Muni's prior film roles of THE WORLD CHANGES (1933), HI,NELLIE (1934), BORDERTOWN (1935) and DOCTOR SOCRATES (1935), BLACK FURY was singled out, along with I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932) to be commonly shown on commercial television from the 1960s to 1980s. New York City's WNEW, Channel 5, aired BLACK FURY frequently between 1975 and 1983. Nearly forgotten among Paul Muni's filmography, BLACK FURY has become available on video cassette (Key Video) and DVD. Cable television broadcasts consisted of Turner Network Television (1989-1993) and currently Turner Classic Movies (since 1994). Regardless of availability, BLACK FURY remains an underrated and sadly neglected motion picture that's actually better than expected. "You bet your life!" (***1/2)
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7/10
The Good Earth
21 October 2019
THE WORLD CHANGES (First National Pictures, 1933), directed by Mervyn LeRoy, would be the studios' answer to the Academy Award winning "through the ages" saga of Edna Ferber's epic tale, CIMARRON (RKO, 1931) starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, along with its similar theme to Richard Dix and Ann Harding in THE CONQUERORS (RKO, 1932) and Edward G. Robinson and Bebe Daniels for SILVER DOLLAR (Warners, 1932). THE WORLD CHANGES turned up to be an exceptional tale that, regardless of an impressive cast headed by Paul Muni, ranks one of those forgotten sagas (with some new passage elements introduced by title year superimposed over the rotating Earth), that deserves to be recognized.

The story begins in 1856 where Orin Nordholm (Henry O'Neill) and his pregnant wife, Anna (Aline MacMahon) are seen traveling with their wagon pulled by horses through unclaimed open spaces of Dakota Territory where Anna wants to stop and make this untouched area their home. Giving birth to a son they name Orin, the Nordholms build their home and develop the farmland with livestock. Living a isolated lifestyle, they soon welcome the Petersen family, Fred (Willard Robertson), his wife (Anna Q. Nilsson), son, Otto (Mickey Rooney) and their infant daughter, Selma, on their way to California. The Petersen's instead settle down and become their new neighbors in the area that's to be called Orinville. Following events that take place in 1867 and 1877, the Nordholms have high hopes for their now grown son, Orin (Paul Muni), to marry his childhood sweetheart, Selma (Jean Muir), but Orin has plans of his own. After encountering Buffalo Bill Cody (Douglass Dumbrille), Orin decides to leave Selma and his farm living existence for adventure in the outside world. After meeting with James Claffin (Guy Kibbee), a cattle buyer, Orin organizes cattle drives and forms "ice boxes on wheels." He eventually becoming partners with Claffin and president of Nordholm and Company in Chicago. By 1879, he marries Claffin's daughter, Virginia (Mary Astor), which produces sons, Richard (Tad Alexander) and John (Jackie Searle). By 1893, Orin becomes known as "the meat king of the world," but in spite of his successful business, the social-climbing Virginia looks down on her husband's profession. By 1904, the world begins to change for Orin as Virginia slowly goes insane and his adult sons, John (Gordon Westcott) and Richard (Donald Cook) preferring not to follow in family tradition. Richard marries Jennifer Clinton (Margaret Lindsay), who's just as snobbish as his mother was, settling in New York City while John prefers to get money the easy way by not working for it. Anna, a widow in her 90s, leaves her Orinville farm with Selma's granddaughter, Selma II (Jean Muir), to attend the wedding of a great-grandchild, only to find the three generations of Orins family to be nothing but disappointments to her. The world changes even further for the Nordholm's following a 1929 Stock Market Crash. Others in the cast include Patricia Ellis (Natalie Clinton); Theodore Newton (Paul Nordstrom); Alan Dinehart (Ogden Jarrett); Arthur Hohl (Patterson); William Janney (Orin Nordholm III); Alan Mowbray (Sir Philip Ivor), Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Clinton), Samuel S. Hinds, Sidney Toler and countless others.

While Paul Muni might have followed up his prior success of I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932) with another social melodrama, THE WORLD CHANGES provided Muni not a repeat of previous movie roles but a move forward to something best suited for his talent. It allowed Muni's character to age considerably from blondish youth to very old man with white mustache, glasses and bushy eyebrows. Under heavy make-up, Muni is almost unrecognizable (looking almost like silent movie actor, Lon Chaney). Mary Astor stands out in her one terrifying scene, sporting shoulder-length hair and no make-up, and going insane. In spite of this being a showcase for Paul Muni, it's Aline MacMahon, who is also allowed to age from young to aging great-grandmother, giving a standout performance that's most remembered long after the movie is over.

Fortunately not a two-hour plus epic scale as CIMARRON, THE WORLD CHANGES, at 91 minutes, is satisfactory entertainment. Over the years, it had limited television revivals, including Philadelphia's WKBS, Channel 48 in 1974, along with cable television's Turner Network Television (1989) and Turner Classic Movies (since 1994) often as part of Paul Muni tributes. A worthy look of old-style "through the ages" film-making sagas indicating as how the world changes. (***)
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Dr. Socrates (1935)
7/10
The Crime Doctor
20 October 2019
DOCTOR SOCRATES (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by William Dieterle, taken from a story by W.R. Burnett, stars Paul Muni in another one of his lesser known films of this period. Returning him to crime melodrama, Muni doesn't play a hooded gangster as he did in SCARFACE (United Artists, 1932), but a small town doctor (sporting mustache) who innocently becomes involved in treating gangsters. It also marked Muni's second and final role opposite Ann Dvorak, his co-star from his now classic SCARFACE.

Set in Big Bend (Ohio), "the biggest little city in Wayne County," the story opens with its residents discussing the latest crime caper committed by noted gangster, "Red" Bastian, from their local newspaper. Lee Caldwell (Paul Muni) is introduced as a new medical doctor from Chicago who is not well-liked by its residents, especially its long-time town doctor, Ginder (Robert Barrat) who labels Caldwell "Doctor Socrates" for his love for Greek philosophy and his reading of "The Republic of Plato." Returning home from the drug store, Caldwell, accompanied by his elderly housekeeper, "Ma" Ganson (Helen Lowell), finds he has visitors, fellow doctor friends from Chicago, McLinty (Samuel S. Hinds) and Dick Burton (John Eldredge). They each feel Caldwell, a brilliant surgeon, is wasting his time in this small town and want him to come back with them. (Caldwell's background is revealed as one trying to forget his past and death of his fiancee due to an automobile accident for which he takes responsibility). Regardless of being heavily in debt, Caldwell is set on staying in Big Bend. Before heading for bed, Caldwell answers a knock on the door, visitors being "Red" Bastian (Barton MacLane) and his gun moll, "Muggsy" (Mayo Methot), who come for treatment of Bastian's gunshot wound. Caldwell treats the wound at a point of a gun. Though he refuses a fee, Bastian leaves him a $100 and goes on his way. The next day, Bastian and his mob, driving down the road, pick up Josephine "Jo" Gray (Ann Dvorak), a hitchhiker on her way to California, with intentions of having her dropped off in Carsonville. Jo never makes it to her destination as Bastian and his mob stop to rob a bank in Big Bend. She makes her escape only to get a gunshot wound in the process. Caldwell comes to her aid and takes her to his home for treatment. He refuses to have her leave with the police while under his care, especially since she is believed to be part of Bastian gang. Caldwell becomes romantically interested in Jo, with plans of possible marriage. After reading about Jo in the newspaper, Bastian abducts her from the kindly doctor. Caldwell faces further complications when he is accused of being connected with Bastian when the $100 bill he used to pay his debts turns out to be one of the bills in connection with one of the bank robberies. Others in the cast include: Hobart Cavanaugh (Floyd Stevens, the druggist); Henry O'Neill (Greer); Grace Stafford (Caroline Suggs, the troubled girl); Olin Howland (Catlett); Marc Lawrence and Grady Sutton, among others.

Though not as famous as other crime capers featuring Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney, Paul Muni is acceptable as a good doctor of a small but gossipy town who falls victim to aiding gangsters. Barton MacLane, who seems to be type-cast in playing mob bosses as he did opposite James Cagney and Ann Dvorak in 'G' MEN (1935), performs his same task here as well. William Dieterle, would later direct Muni in his more prestigious productions of THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (1936) and THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937), keeps the pace moving during its 74 minutes. Look for a little inside humor of Paul Muni reading a book about Louis Pasteur in one scene - possibly a little hint to his next movie project to follow. Remade as KING OF THE UNDERWORLD (Warners, 1939) starring Humphrey Bogart (gangster) and Kay Francis (lady doctor), the remake also casts John Eldredge (who appears in one scene in DOCTOR SOCRATES) as Francis' doctor husband, with James Stephenson in the male counterpart to the Dvorak hitchhiking role.

Never distributed on video cassette, both DOCTOR SOCRATES and its remake, KING OF THE UNDERWORLD, often appear on cable television's Turner Classic Movies for evaluation or comparison purposes. (***)
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Hi, Nellie! (1934)
8/10
This Man is News!
13 October 2019
HI, NELLIE! (Warner Brothers, 1934), directed by Mervyn LeRoy, is an interesting newspaper story starring Paul Muni in his third film for the studio. Having achieved great popularity in the title role of I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (Warners, 1932), also directed by Mervyn LeRoy, HI, NELLIE not only has the distinction of being one of Paul Muni's lighter films of the period, but also the movie that reunites him with his CHAIN GANG co-stars as Glenda Farrell, Berton Churchill, Douglass Dumbrille and Edward Ellis. While CHAIN GANG has remained a classic thanks to frequent television broadcasts throughout the years, HI, NELLIE! is rarely shown and discussed among Paul Muni's resume of movie credits. Often classified as a comedy, it's far from a laugh-out-loud one in the screwball sense, but more of a grand mix verbal humor with melodrama and mystery combined.

Plot Summary: Samuel M. Bradshaw, better known as "Brad" (Paul Muni), is the pipe-smoking managing editor of the Time Star whose working desk is usually filled with paper note clutter. Also at the newspaper establishment are Harvey Dawes (Douglass Dumbrille), the city editor; "Shammy" McClaw (Ned Sparks), Brad's associate; Mr. Durkin (Donald Meek), the oldest copy boy of forty years; Fullerton (Hobart Cavanaugh), a reporter who's always asking Gerry Krale (Glenda Farrell) out for a date, but never gets anywhere. Gerry happens to be the "advise to the lovelorn" columnist known to all as "Nellie," a job title she hates. With the latest news of a bank closing due to a half a million dollar shortage, and Frank J. Canfield, head of the government investigating committee mysteriously disappearing, Brad, who finds no evidence against Canfield, writes nothing about the story as a front page spread as rival newspapers have done. For this, the Star's publisher, John L. Graham (Berton Churchill) has Brad fired. Because Brad has a contract with the Time Star where he cannot quit or get fired, the only thing that can be done is demote Brad to Gerry's old job on the "Hi, Nellie!" columns, with Gerry promoted to a better job. Having his pal, Shammy (Ned Sparks) continue to investigate the Canfield story, Shammy comes up with enough evidence to have Brad join forces with him on further investigations to prove Brad's intuitions are correct, followed by unsuspecting results. Also in the cast are: Robert Barrat (Beau Brownell, gang leader); Dorothy LeBaire (Rosa Martinello); Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Canfield); George Meeker, Frank Reicher, Sidney Miller, Harold Huber and Allan Vincent.

HI, NELLIE! must have been successful enough for Warners to remake this more than once, as LOVE IS ON THE AIR (1937) with Ronald Reagan; YOU CAN'T ESCAPE FOREVER (1942) with George Brent, and THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (1949) starring Wayne Morris. Yet it's the 1934 original that succeeds most due to LeRoy's fast-paced direction set in the newspaper world. While Glenda Farrell, who specialized in newspaper material playing the categorized term of "sob sister" as in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) followed by subsequent "Torchy Blane" movie series (1937-1939), her role as "Nellie" offers some amusements, but not enough action in the manner of the dominating Paul Muni character, who's the sole attraction here.

For anyone familiar with Paul Muni's acting style as a prestigious actor in such landmark films as THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (1936), THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937) and JUAREZ (1939), HI, NELLIE is a little movie (75 minutes) that offers more of Paul Muni's character than the character behind the heavy make-up of historical figures. Aside from never playing the same type of character twice, Muni would go on for developing his craft in challenging roles as his two 1935 releases of accented speaking characters as the Mexican lawyer in BORDERTOWN or Swedish bo-hunk in BLACK FURY before finding his mark for which he very much prefered rather than those that suit him best.

Though not the best movie title depicted, HI, NELLIE!, which could have starred the likes of a James Cagney or Lee Tracy in the cast, ranks one of the finer, yet most underrated newspaper stories of the 1930s that can be seen and rediscovered occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. (***) -30-
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Painted Faces (1929)
7/10
The Crime Nobody Saw
6 October 2019
PAINTED FACES (Tiffany-Stahl Studios, 1929), directed by Albert S. Rogell, stars comedian Joe E. Brown in one of his early film roles. Though best known for his comedy works, especially those movies produced for Warner Brothers in the 1930s, for anyone familiar with the Joe E. Brown style, would find PAINTED FACES a disappointment mainly because Brown isn't funny. That's not to say Brown isn't funny in a sense of not really being funny, but actually playing a serious role with no comic touches involved.

Set in New York City's theater district, the story begins with backstage preparations for an upcoming show as stagehands work on props along with actors coming in and about their dressing rooms. Entering the theater are Buddy Barton (Barton Hepburn) and Lola Barnes (Dorothy Gullliver), a song and dance team engaged to be married. On the same ill is Wally Roderick (Lester Cole), a fresh actor who has made advances on Lola. At first Buddy decides to leave the theater, but although Lola convinces him to remain, he tells her if Roderick gets fresh with her again, he will "get him if it's the last thing I'll do." Later that night as Lola is performing on stage, gun shots are heard in the background. A crowd gathers backstage with Buddy standing there holding a gun with Roderick in his dressing room dead on the floor. Though Buddy claims he didn't kill Roderick, he is arrested anyway, put on trial and awaits the jury to deliberate his fate. With the foreman of the jury (Purnell B. Pratt) having the jurors place their deciding votes inside the passing hat, all but one juror writes his "Not Guilty" verdict. The lone juror turns out to be Herman (Joe E. Brown), a circus clown by profession, who feels Barton is innocent because this is a crime nobody saw. Five days pass, with Christmas day fast approaching, the eleven jurors still stand on their decision of guilty, while Herman's decision continues to cause the other jurors to become restless and angry. To abide his decision, Herman gets the jurors to sit down and listen to his story as to why he feels Barton to be innocent. Others in the cast are: Richard Tucker (District Attorney); Mabel Julienne-Scott (Mrs. Warren); with William B. Davidson and Jack Richardson in smaller roles. Songs heard in this photo-play include: "Bashful Baby," "If I Had You" and two reprises of "Somebody Like You."

After getting through the film's first ten minutes with plot development and backstage murder story, one tends to forget Joe E. Brown is actually in this movie. He's finally seen after the trial sequence followed by twelve jurors entering the deliberation room. One of the biggest surprises is not that fact that Brown's not the subject matter on trial for murder, but an accented speaking juror of Dutch background. The only scene pertaining to the Brown comedy style comes when he has the angry jurors smiling and laughing a bit while showing what he does professionally. The "painted faces" title only comes through the flashback sequence with Brown in clown attire and facial painting. While the first half of the story set in the jury room holds great interest, the flashback sequence revealing Herman's background as Beppo the Clown slows its pacing a bit with melodrama and pathos with Herman acting as surrogate father to his deceased friend's daughter, Nancy (Helen Foster). She then returns to him after being away in school to get herself involved with a man Herman feels to be all wrong for her.

PAINTED FACES offers a grand mix of two separate stories in one that would make one immediately think about its two sources involved - a 1923 Broadway play or screen adaptation of POPPY (1936) starring W.C. Fields, to the much later 12 ANGRY MEN (United Artists, 1957), a jury drama starring Henry Fonda. As much as Brown was a well-known comedian in his day, after getting adjusted to his accented speaking character in PAINTED FACES, he shows how convincingly he can be as a serious actor without provoking unintentional laughter by contemporary viewers.

With so many backstage themes hitting theaters in 1929, at least PAINTED FACES offers some originality to hold interest, especially with Joe E. Brown in an offbeat role. For being an independent production by Tiffany-Stahl, PAINTED FACES fortunately has survived. Though sources claim this to be 75 minutes at length, circulating prints available on DVD is five minutes shorter. Regardless of length and weak moments, PAINTED FACES is certainly both a rare treat and interesting film from the early days of "talkies." (** clowns)
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9/10
Divorce American Style
29 September 2019
THE PALM BEACH STORY (Paramount, 1942), written and directed by Preston Sturges, may possibly be the studio's answer to THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940) starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. While THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a sophisticated comedy about divorce and reunion, THE PALM BEACH STORY is very much screwball comedy dealing with the same subject, only faster and funnier. Under Preston Sturges' masterful direction, whose previous comedies, including 1941 releases of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS and THE LADY EVE, have become true classics, THE PALM BEACH STORY, starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea, is another comedy classic, in many ways, par excellence. With Colbert and McCrea having worked earlier in a melodrama about mental illness titled PRIVATE WORLDS (Paramount, 1935), many of the scenes for their second and final union on film are not only superb, but nearly stolen by its supporting players of Mary Astor and Rudy Vallee in exceptional performances.

The film starts off with the opening credits super imposed over the prologue as a French maid on phone with minister at the church awaiting for the bride and groom to arrive. As the titles roll with freeze-frame, Colbert's character is seen bound and gagged in the closet while her other character (obviously her twin sister), in a bridal dress, runs off by taxi to her wedding event, also revealing the actions of McCrea's character also rushing to the church. They finally get together, kneel down as the minister performs the ceremony. Lettering soon hits the screen reading, "And they lived happily ever after. Or did they?" Moving forward from 1937 to present day 1942, plot development opens at 968 Park Avenue in New York City where the apartment manager (Franklin Pangborn) walks with an elderly couple (Robert Dudley and Esther Howard) through an apartment of tenants about to be vacated for non-payment of rent. The old man, known as The Weenie King, a self-made millionaire, meets with tenant, Geraldine "Gerry" Jeffers (Claudette Colbert). After learning of her financial situation, he offers her $700 to get her out of debt. Her husband, Tom (Joel McCrea), a struggling civil engineer trying to interest clients on his suspended airport project, misinterprets his wife's story on the money offer by this old hard-of-hearing man who happens to love birds. Tom is also surprised to learn that Gerry feels she's been a burden on him and wants to get a divorce so he can become a success on his own. As much as he still loves her, Gerry leaves for Penn Station for the next train to Palm Beach to get her divorce. Without money, suitcase and train ticket, Gerry becomes a mascot to millionaire members of the Quail Club, leading to her acquaintance with John D. Rackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), one of the richest men in the world, sleeping in a lower berth. In the meantime, Tom, having met with the Weenie King who learns of his situation, is offered enough money to go on the next airplane for Palm Springs and get his wife back. As John has helped Gerry financially with a new wardrobe, he hopes to marry her after her divorce. Situations become more complex with Gerry's surprise visit from Tom in Palm Beach. Having already made the acquaintance of John's oft-married sister, Princess Maude Centimillia (Mary Astor), Gerry passes Tom as her brother so he can go with Maude and she with John, followed by unexpected results. Others seen in the cast are Preston Sturges stock players as: William Demarest, Robert Greig, Roscoe Ates, Dewey Robinson, Frederick "Snowflake: Toones, J. Farrell MacDonald, Alan Bridge, among others.

Aside from being one of Colbert's top comedies, with McCrea in his usual straightforward manner, Rudy Vallee, former singer on radio and movie musicals, begins his long range of stuffy character performances who goes by his moto, "tipping is un-American." Vallee's character (coming 40 minutes into the story) is certainly worthy of a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, which he never got. Though playing it straight, he does manage to break into song in one scene for "Good Night, Sweetheart," as a sheer reminder of Vallee's vocalizing days as "The Vagabond Lover." Mary Astor, who gets the final half hour of the story, sporting blonde hair this time around, is exceptional in her offbeat performance as a chatterbox talker and flirtatious woman (having three divorces and two annulments) who goes after anything in pants. This is Astor cast against type, and she's great here. Sig Arno as Toto, Maude's bumbling rejected suitor, is also memorable, especially through his jealous facial gestures and pratfalls.

THE PALM BEACH STORY is one of those certain comedies that can be seen repeatedly without any loss of interest. Clocked at 88 minutes, there's not a single moment of wasted material, making this comedy at its best. Formerly available on video cassette and once broadcast on American Movie Classics (1992-1998), the film, later available on DVD as part of the Preston Sturges collection, turns up often enough on Turner Classic Movies where it's been showing since 2002. Highly recommended viewing. (***1/2)
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8/10
The Ballet Master
28 September 2019
THE MAD GENIUS (Warner Brothers, 1931), directed by Michael Curtiz, reunites the cast of John Barrymore, Marian Marsh, Luis Alberni and Carmel Myers from their previous effort of SVENGALI (1931), directed by Archie Mayo. With SVENGALI being a classic by today's standards, with frequent television revivals and availability on both video cassette and DVD, THE MAD GENIUS is virtually forgotten and almost unknown. Not quite a horror film as the title implies, making one think of Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi, who specialized in playing mad doctors as such, THE MAD GENIUS, from the play "The Idol" by Martin Brown, very well depicts that of its leading actor, John Barrymore, who is not only mad, but obsessed in helping another become a popular ballet dancer, a possession he wanted for himself but unable to achieve, only to live his life for another.

PROLOGUE: Locale: Central Europe; Time: Fifteen years ago; Scene: A peasant village. As Vladimir Ivan Tsarakov (John Barrymore) and his partner, Karimsky (Charles Butterworth), work on puppets hung on strings doing ballet images, at a near distance, both men witness a brutal father (Boris Karloff) whipping and chasing after his son (Frankie Darro). Falling unconscious due to a fall, the boy is assisted and properly hidden away by Vladimir and Karrimsky, forcing the father to go away when the boy is unable to be found. Seeing the youngster's run and jumping over high fences to avoid his father finds Ivan, whose handicap is his club foot, believing the boy, under his guidance, can become a successful ballet dancer. Almost immediately, the men take their horse and wagon to another destination. THE STORY: Locale: Berlin; Time: Present; Scene: Staatsoper. Now a young man, Feodor (Donald Cook), who has grown to love and respect Ivan as his guide and protector, has become a ballet dancer performing opposite Nana Carlova (Marian Marsh), whom he has grown to love. Because of their relationship, Ivan tries to break them up by firing Nana. Feodor overhears what's going on and leaves Ivan's company, taking Nana with him. Unable to succeed on his own in cabarets, and practically living in poverty, Nana comes to Ivan to have him take Feodor back with him, but will do so if she would do something very much against her wishes. Also in the supporting cast are: Luis Alberni (Serge Bankieff); Andre Luget (Count Robert Renard); Mae Madison (Olga Checkova); and Lee Moran (The Cabaret Director). Carmel Myers as Sonya assumes a smaller role as she did in SVENGALI where she plays a woman who wants but loses the affections of the impresario, Barrymore, while Boris Karloff, receiving no cast credits for his role, is virtually unrecognizable for his few minutes on screen playing an abusive father, yet its his familiar voice that gives him away.

Through nowhere in the same league as SVENGALI, where Marian Marsh was the center of attention, THE MAD GENIUS holds it own in a different light. Marsh's role here, introduced 13 minutes into the story with camera focusing on her ballet dancing feet, isn't much of a main focus as she was in the previous film, that actually going to Donald Cook. Cook seems miscast as a ballet dancer, though some dancing scenes depicted are naturally captured in long shot performed by a stunt double, only using Cook's face in closeup for mood reactions. Barrymore, on the other hand, assumes his obsession on his protege, Cook, as he did as the hypnotist, Svengali, for Marion Marsh's Trilby, and excels in it. As with SVENGALI where Barrymore sports a pointy beard, for his MAD GENIUS, is pointy beard style only appears on bis bottom chin. The only moment of comedy used for THE MAD GENIUS is the support given by Charles Butterworth where his tells him some long-winded story that has the Barrymore character trying desperately to stay awake, calling him an "ass" when the story is completed, otherwise THE MAD GENIUS is straight drama, with shadowy images, haunting score, and some fine staged dance sequences provided. For Barrymore's final film for the Warner Brothers studio, THE MAD GENIUS, which followed SVENGALI (interesting both clocked at 81 minutes) are fine exits for his unusual acting talent.

Never distributed on video cassette, but available on DVD (though this would make a good companion piece on DVD on the flip side of SVENGALI), THE MAD GENIUS is shown occasionally on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (***)
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9/10
On the Right Track
21 September 2019
TWENTIETH CENTURY (Columbia, 1934), Produced and Directed by Howard Hawks, is not a documentary about the first 34 years of the twentieth century, but a movie with its partial setting on a train known as The Twentieth Century Limited. Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and based on a play titled "Napoleon of Broadway," its stars John Barrymore in one of his top-comedies as well as the madcap comedy that elevated Carole Lombard to a major star status showing off her real talent for comedy at long last.

Following the opening titles using the same underscoring listed from Columbia's previous comedy, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the story begins at the Jaffe Theater in New York City's Broadway district where rehearsals are being prepared for the stage production of "The Heart of Kentucky," starring Lily Garland as Mary Jo Calhoun. Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore), an eccentric impresario, does his best to get the right type of performance from Lily Garland (Carole Lombard), formerly Mildred Plotka, a lingerie model. Oscar's assistants, Oliver Webb (Walter Connolly), the stage manager, and Owen O'Malley (Roscoe Karns), an occasional drunken press agent, feel Lily hasn't a chance for success. With eight long and tedious hours of rehearsals, Lily finally shows what Oscar wants. The play proves successful, leading for Oscar and Lily teaming up with more popular plays to follow. After three years of Oscar's possessiveness over her personal life, Lily finds she has had enough with the constant outbursts and reconcilations, especially after Oscar hires Oscar McGonigle (Edgar Kennedy), a detective, to watch and report her every move, right down to tapping down her telephone conversations. Lily finally breaks away from Oscar and his theater troupe for Hollywood. Over the next few years, Lily has won fame as a movie actress while Oscar, using Valerie Whitehouse (Irene Thompson) for his plays, "Joan of Arc," at the Illinois heater, have been nothing but a succession of failures. Oscar even finds himself $74,000 in debt, avoiding creditors. After disguising himself as a bearded Southern Gentleman to get pass a detective (James Burke) hired to arrest him (a funny scene reminiscent of W.C, Fields), Oscar and associates abroad the Twentieth Century train bound for New York City where he hopes for a successful comeback. Also on board happens to be Lily, accompanied by her rich fiance (Ralph Forbes), also bound for New York to appear in an upcoming play by Max Jacobs (Charles Levinson), former playwright under Oscar Jaffe. When Oscar learns Lily is on the same train, he schemes to get her back with his company again, and doesn't care what he has to do to do it. Also in the cast are Dale Fuller (Sadie, Lily's Maid); Billie Seward (Anita); Etienne Girardot (Matthew J. Clark, an escaped asylum patient posting stickers all over the train and signing forged checks); Frederick "Snowflake" Toones, Fred Kelsey, Herman Bing, Lee Kohlmar, among others.

At first glance, TWENTIETH CENTURY plays like a forced, over-the-top comedy, more so by Carole Lombard's performance. After repeated viewing, the film improves, especially on how Barrymore and Lombard compliment each other through their constant outbursts and madcap performances. Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns, both both appeared the same movie of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, but shared no scenes together, perform their tasks well as Barrymore's associates, especially Connolly, whose character gets fired and rehired constantly throughout the story.

It's been said that TWENTIETH CENTURY was revamped or remade a year later independently as STREAMLINE EXPRESS (Mascot Studios, 1935) starring Victor Jory and Evelyn Venable, which would be interesting to see and compare, considering the fact that Ralph Forbes of TWENTIETH CENTURY also appears in that version as well. Lombard and Barrymore teamed once more in TRUE CONFESSION (Paramount, 1937), but this time, Fred MacMurray was her leading male co-star while Barrymore played a secondary character role.

Formerly available of video cassette in the 1990s, and later distributed onto DVD, TWENTIETH CENTURY, a former icon on the late show after midnight presentations during the 1960s and 70s, has had cable television broadcasts over the years such as Cinemax (1980s); Turner Network Television (1991); and finally Turner Classic Movies since October 6, 2008, with all prints from latter reissue with 1940s style Columbia Pictures opening/closing logo. Regardless of its pros and cons, TWENTIETH CENTURY is a winning film due to Howard Hawks' directorial pacing that keeps the movie going for its 91 minutes, and Barrymore and Lombard presenting themselves individually as the finest performers of the twentieth century. (***1/2)
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Don Juan (1926)
8/10
The Great Lover
16 September 2019
DON JUAN (Warner Brothers Classic of the Screen, 1926), directed by Alan Crosland, with screenplay by Bess Meredith, stars John Barrymore in one of his most notable performances of the silent screen era. Other than being a swashbuckling adventure inspired by Lord Byron, DON JUAN has the distinction of being the first feature film with Vitaphone recorded musical accompaniment by the New York Philharmonica Orchestra. Virtually a silent production, DON JUAN also includes sound effects (door knocking, swashbuckling sword hitting) but no spoken dialogue that would occur later in other experimental films as THE JAZZ SINGER (1927) leading to the dawn of sound.

Opening title: "The tale they tell of Don Juan, immortal lover and the doubter of women, is bold with life and color -- a merry, insolent tale slashed with intrigue -- yet its beginning is as gray as the old Spanish castle of Juan's earliest memories" PROLOGUE: SPAIN - Don Jose De Marana (John Barrymore), with a wife, Donna Isobel (Jane Winton) and son, Don Juan (Yvonne Day), leaves his family on a proposed mission, but in reality, suspecting his wife's infidelity, intents on sneaking back to the Marana Castle and surprise her. After receiving the signal, Don Jose returns and learns the truth - thus ordering servants to seal her lover, Leandro (John Roche) inside the room surrounded by stone blocks, and casting his wife out of his life forever. Years later, Don Jose, having raised his boy (Philippe De Lacy) alone, has had numerous affairs with various young ladies. This all ends by he being stabbed by a jealous mistress. Before dying, Don Jose warns his son to take all from women and yield at nothing. STORY: "ROME - The mighty Vatican towering heavenward above a seethe of corruption," leads to introduction of basic characters, including Cesar Borgia (Warner Oland) and his sister, Lucrenzia (Estelle Taylor), the inspiration of his vicious crimes. They invite Orsinis Duke De La Varness (Josef Swickard), his daughter, Adriana (Mary Astor) and Don Juan (John Barrymore), a young Spanish grandee graduate of the University of Pisa, to their ball gathering. Accompanied by Pedrillo (Willard Louis), his faithful servant, Don Juan, having romanced many young women, takes an interest in Adriana, the woman responsible for his change of opinion of women engraved to him by his embittered father. Because of her forced marriage to Count Giano Donati (Montagu Love) to save her father from execution, Don Juan mistakes her father's devotion to his betrayal, returning his distrust of women, followed by Don Juan's arrest for an accused death of one of his married mistresses, and Adrianna held prisoner at the tower of the Borgia palace for refusing to go on with her promised marriage to Donati.

For its time, DON JUAN was an important project (clocked at 114 minutes) with lavish sets and period costumes along with a huge cast consisting of Helene Costello (Rena); June Marlowe (Trusia); Phillis Haver (Imperia); Hedda Hopper (Marchesia Rionaldo); and future film star, Myrna Loy (Maia). While DON JUAN could have been played by Douglas Fairbanks or Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore makes his Don Juan portrayal his own. Fairbanks did get to play the aging lover in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN (London Films, 1934) while Errol Flynn, another famous swashbuckler, assumed the role in THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (Warner Brothers, 1948). Both are not scene-by-scene retelling to the Barrymore classic. In spite the story set in another century with ladies in 1920s headdress, many of the performers appear in heavy make-up and lip-stick, even the actors right down to child performer DeLacy. The most famous sequence includes the well-staged swashbuckling scenes between Barrymore and Montagu Love, but its the Vitaphone scoring that helps make this silent edition of DON JUAN fast-paced and enjoyable. Take notice how much Barrymore resembles his Mr. Hyde facial expression lifted from his earlier DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920) during his disguise sequence pretending to be Nehri (played briefly by Gustav Von Seyffertitz).

DON JUAN began broadcast on cable television on Turner Network Television (TNT) starting with its Silent Night (December 24, 1989) Christmas Eve Silent movie presentations along with BEN-HUR (1925) and THE WIND (1928) on the schedule. This was later followed by regular showings on Turner Classic Movies. DON JUAN was also available on video cassette as part of its Legendary Silents series, and years later, on DVD. Regardless of its age and campy presentations, DON JUAN continues to become one of the classics of the silent screen. (***)
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6/10
They Meet Again
8 September 2019
LONG LONG FATHER (RKO Radio, 1934), directed by Ernest B. Schoendsack, best known for adventure/ jungle settings as THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932), KING KONG (1933) and THE SON OF KONG (1933), attempts something entirely different from his usual directorial style. Taken from a novel by G.P. Stern, the story deals mostly about a bitterness between father and daughter who meet again after many years. Hardly sentimental in the silent melodrama perspective, this slight comedy-drama that relies more on the surprise presence of John Barrymore assuming the leading role.

Plot Summary: Set in England, Lindsey Lane (Helen Chandler), is an English entertainer engaged to Bill Strong (Donald Cook), an American physician who wants to take his future bride back with him to America. Lindsey, abandoned by her father when she was a child and raised by her now deceased mother, happens to be the daughter of Carl Bellair (John Barrymore), soldier of fortune, adventurer and correspondent with a passion for liquor. He has joined partnership with Sir Anthony Gelding (Alan Mowbray), manager of a cafe called The Happy Hour, where Carl mostly mingles with the guests. Though Lindsey Lane (her stage name) and Carl both know of each other's existence, they want nothing to do with one another. Eventually their paths meet again in a lawyer's (Ferdinand Gottschalk) office after receiving a letter to attend the reading of the will to the sole survivors of Aunt Arabella, leaving them with very little. Against his wishes, Carl finds himself, upon request by Gelding, to hire Lindsey to entertain at the Happy Hour floor show. She takes the job knowing her father doesn't want her there. Following her performance, Bill leaves to attend a maternity case. In his absence, Lindsey joins the company of Gelding and company. As Bill returns for Lindsey, Carl tells him she left with Gelding and his high society friends to attend a function elsewhere. Because of her association with Gelding and ignoring her performing duties at the Happy Hour, Carl steps in to get Lindsey away from bad company and back to Bill. During a "Treasure Hunt" game with Bill, Lindsey is later accused of theft of gambling winnings by Gelding, which complicates matters with her career. Others in the cast are E.E. Clive ("Spot" Hawkins); Reginald Sharland (Lord Vinya); Natalie Moorehead (Phyllis Mersey-Royas); Charles Irwin (Mr. Chisholm); with Claude King, Doris Lloyd, Phyllis Barry and Tempe Piggot.

For a John Barrymore movie, LONG LOST FATHER is a surprisingly short 63 minutes, with a routine plot that plays more like a second feature/ "B" movie than any of his previous major productions. Helen Chandler, best known today for her role as Mina in DRACULA (Universal, 1931) opposite Bela Lugosi, is the focal point here, having more scenes than Barrymore. Chandler even gets to sing and dance to a little ditty, "It Isn't so Much" during the floor show sequence. Donald Cook, whose image rests mostly playing James Cagney's older brother in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (Warner Brothers, 1931), is reunited with Barrymore, having co-starred with him in THE MAD GENIUS (Warners, 1931). He's acceptable in his role, but no great challenge advancement to his movie career.

Virtually unknown and forgotten among the John Barrymore film library, LONG LOST FATHER was rarely shown on commercial television during the 1960s or 70s late show haven. It did, however, get some TV exposure in 1973-74 on WNJU, Channel 47 (Newark, New Jersey) , a Spanish station where all of its American movie broadcasts, usually from RKO film library, were dubbed in Spanish. In later years, LONG LOST FATHER played on cable channels as American Movie Classics (prior to 1992) and Turner Classic Movies. Fortunately, Barrymore's next film, a comedy titled TWENTIETH CENTURY (Columbia, 1934), opposite Carole Lombard, became a comedy classic ranking one of Barrymore's top film eccentric performances before his slow decline in motion pictures industry due to alcoholism. (**1/2)
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Topaze (I) (1933)
9/10
The Honorable Schoolmaster
1 September 2019
TOPAZE (RKO Radio, 1933), directed by Harry D'Abbadie D'Arrast, from the adaptation by Benn W. Levy, and play by Marcel Pagnol, stars John Barrymore in one of his finest film roles. Notable for his versatile performances on both stage and screen, ranging from Shakespearean tragedy to madcap comedies, Barrymore also excelled in playing character types such as this. In the title role, Barrymore plays a naive French teacher (with no French accent) sporting pointy beard and glasses who is taken for a fool. Myrna Loy, who assumed smaller parts in earlier Barrymore/Warner Brothers productions as DON JUAN (1926), WHEN A MAN LOVES (1927), and separate performances in the all-star musical revue, THE SHOW OF SHOWS (1929), and NIGHT FLIGHT (MGM, 1933), gets her chance in a major role opposite the "great profile" to best advantage, especially under a French director, D'Arrast, with the comedic style of wit in the manner of Paramount's own Ernst Lubitsch.

Set in France, the story opens with a snow fall with camera tracking inside the apartment building window on a couple, Baron Philippe De Latour Latour (Reginald Mason) and Coco (Myrna Loy) seated in front of a fireplace enjoying each other's company. At the stroke of 11 p.m., however, Philippe leaves Coco to return home to his wife. In his mansion, Philippe enters, awaking Hortense (Jobyna Howland), and their dog, Max. Philippe finds his wife more upset over the report card grades of their mischievous son, Charlemagne (Jackie Searl), containing zeros in every subject except general knowledge, by his schoolmaster, Topaze, whom Charlemagne calls a Communist. The following morning, Professor Auguste Topaze (John Barrymore) arrives at his place of employment, Stegg Academy, where he resumes his trying day to conduct his lessons to his students while Charlemagne disrupts the class. The lessons are interrupted when Topaze is called to the office of Doctor Stegg (Frank Reicher), minister of education, to meet with him and Charlemagne's concerned mother as to why the son of powerful and richest Baron has failing grades. Regardless of the truth, the dedicated and idealistic teacher, by orders of Mrs. LaTour, is immediately dismissed. Arriving at Coco's apartment to tutor her nephew, Alphonse, Topaze also makes the acquaintance of Philippe, Charlemagne's father and businessman. He intends on making amends of Topaze losing his teaching position by offering him a job as "consultive chemist" for his worthless tonic he intends to make a fortune, calling it "Sparkling Topaze." Unaware that Topaze is being played a fool by endorsing Latour's "soft drink" to make consumers "high," Topaze, working closely with Coco, learns the truth from Doctor Bomg (Luis Alberni) after being called a thief, followed by other unforeseen circumstances.

A well-rounded 79 minute story enacted by fine cast, TOPAZE (title not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock's 1969 thriller, TOPAZ). relies more on John Barrymore's skills in straight comedy than anything else. Being the whole show here certainly merited him an Actor Academy Award nomination as Best Actor, which didn't happen. Myrna Loy (on loan from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), makes an enduring mistress of a notable statesman who, at one point, gets introduced as Mrs. Topaze by her lover when met face to face by his wife. Though the early ten minute classroom session is lengthy, Barrymore's teachings and coping with Searl's antics sure make this one of the film's highlights. No wonder Searl earned his reputation as a "movie brat."

Seldom shown on commercial television, TOPAZE did earn rediscovery in later years with video cassette in 1990 through CBS Fox tribute to David O. Selznick (who produced the movie), followed by DVD release. Cable television showings include American Movie Classics (1995-1999) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 7, 2002) with original RKO Radio logo opening as opposed to Selznick International Pictures logo used in earlier broadcasts and video distributions. Recommended viewing. (***)
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9/10
The Theatrical Troupe
25 August 2019
THE MATINEE IDOL (Columbia, 1928), directed by Frank R. Capra, is a silent comedy/drama taken from the story, "Come Back to Aaron," by Robert S. Lord and Ernest S. Pagano. Starring Bessie Love and Johnnie Walker (the actor, not the drink), it's a pleasing story about actors from different walks of life getting together for a stage play production.

Opening with view of the New York City district of Broadway, "a street that runs north, south and wild," the story introduces Don Wilson (Johnnie Walker), the "king of blackface comedies" who "arrived at stardom with both feet so the shock won't go to his head." Because of his overwork profession, Don decides to take his long overdue rest somewhere in the country. Taking his fellow actors and Arnold WIngate (Ernest Hilliard), stage producer, with him, they drive off only to have the car break down in some small town, forcing the men to push the car over to the nearest garage. With the mechanic gone to attend a stage show, Don and his friends walk over to find him. They approach the theater where "The Bolivar Players" are staging a Civil War melodrama written and directed by Colonel Jasper J. Bolivar (Lionel Bellmore). Because one of the actors is fired for refusing to do labor work, Bolivar's daughter, Ginger (Bessie Love), who also acts in her father's plays, puts up a sign, "Actor wanted. No experience necessary." Not satisfied by the wanna-be actors on line outside her tent, Ginger accidentally approaches Don. Satisfied by the way he says, "I love you," she hires him on the spot. Passing himself off as Harry Mann, the professional actor purposely gives a bad performance, turning the dramatic play into a comedy hit. With Wingate and friends in the audience, Don arranges for Wingate to hire this unprofessional troupe to perform their play on Broadway, using everyone in the cast, including the fired Harry Mann. While in New York, Don hides himself in blackface and costume party mask so not to give himself away to Ginger, and coming out as Harry Mann during rehearsals. Problems arise as theater patrons react differently towards the play than Ginger expected, and Don resuming his guise from Ginger for reasons of his own. Among the other cast members are Sidney D'Albrook (J. Madison Wilderforce); and David Mir (Eric Barrymaine).

Noted as a long lost movie discovered in the 1990s, THE MATINEE IDOL, coming late into the silent era, with plot resembling an early talkie with musical sequences. Johnnie Walker mannerisms as a blackface entertainer immediately makes one think of Al Jolson. Jolson, who's great in comedy, would have excelled in something like this, as opposed to his overly sentimental musical melodramas as SAY IT WITH SONGS (1929). Bessie Love, who would achieve brief popularity following her Academy Award nominated performance triumph in the early sound musical, THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929), is wonderfully cast as Ginger. Of a handful of previous silent movie roles in which she appeared, one would wonder about her other long forgotten and unseen movies of the 1920s. Frank Capra, early in his career as director before achieving his three Academy Award wins as Best Director in the 1930s, keeps the pace moving, blending humor and sentiment to the best degree. Take note that the camera tracking towards theater audiences would capture a young boy picking his nose while watching the stage performance. After viewing Johnnie Walker's leading role here, the next question is, Whatever became of him? The plot to THE MATINEE IDOL was musically revamped as THE MUSIC GOES ROUND (Columbia, 1936) starring Harry Richman and Rochelle Hudson.

With the original theatrical score unavailable, THE MATINEE IDOL features a good new mix of orchestration and piano accompaniment conducted by Robert Israel, whose scoring for silent movies is often great and pleasing to the ear. Other than its availability on DVD including a Frank Capra biographical documentary on the disc flip side, THE MATINEE IDOL at 55 minutes, with few missing scenes, did have some television exposure on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 18, 1997). Highly recommended. (***)
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8/10
Wedding of the Year
18 August 2019
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940), directed by George Cukor, is not a documentary about the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania, but a sophisticated comedy based on the 1939 stage play by Philip Barry as produced by the Theater Guild starring Katharine Hepburn, Joseph Cotten, Van Heflin and Shirley Booth. Due to Hepburn's stage success, the screen adaptation marked her return to the screen following her two 1938 releases of BRINGING UP BABY (RKO Radio) and HOLIDAY (Columbia), each co-starring Cary Grant. As much as many star performers around 1937-38 as Marlene Dietrich or Joan Crawford were labeled "box-office poison" due to mediocre film assignments, many have restored their careers with successful comebacks in 1939. Hepburn's comeback took place a year later, earning her an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. Teamed opposite for the fourth and final time opposite Cary Grant, it also marked Hepburn's MGM debut as well as her only performance opposite James Stewart.

Plot summary: Two years after her marriage break-up to C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), debutante Tracy Samantha Lord (Katharine Hepburn) goes through the motions of her upcoming wedding plans to George Kitteredge (John Howard), an oil company general manager. Because Dexter feels Kitteredge all wrong for Tracy, he arranges for Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell), society editor and publisher of Spy Magazine, to hire writer, Macaulay Connor (James Stewart), and his assistant photographer, Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) to cover the society wedding of Tracy Lord titled "The Philadelphia Story." Dexter's arrangements in getting Connor (who would rather follow his dream in short story writing than working on this assignment) and Elizabeth (who secretly loves Connor) inside the unapproachable Lord manor by passing them off as good friends of Tracy's (unseen) brother, Junius. Problems emerge by the arrival of the uninvited Tracy's ex-husband and his reporting guests; the arrival of her uninvited philandering father (John Halliday) and other unforeseen events that occur the night before the wedding event. Also in the cast are: Roland Young (Uncle Willie); Mary Nash (Margaret Lord, Tracy's mother); Virginia Weidler (Dinah, Tracy's younger sister); and Rex Evans (Thomas, the Butler).

Though THE PHILADELPHIA STORY starts like a screwball comedy, the formatted material that follows becomes basically a re-filmed stage play with limited underscoring. With few scenes set outside the estate, comedy is performed verbally rather than though chases and slapstick actions during its 112 minutes. Hepburn is reinvented here, sporting longer headdress to fit in her Tracy Lord character. Her dramatic moment comes when her seriously-minded father (John Halliday), a philanderer noted for his involvement with Tina Mora, a dancer in New York, saying how Tracy has everything but "an understanding heart," which hurts her deeply. Roland Young offers fine amusements as a womanizing uncle, but there's not enough of him to go around for some big laughs. Virginia Weidler as the eavesdropping younger sister, sings her piano playing rendition of "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" (introduced by Groucho Marx in AT THE CIRCUS (1939)). Cary Grant, who addresses his on-screen ex-wife simply as "Red" (for her hair color), assumes top-billing over Hepburn, yet it's the third-billed James Stewart, who not only gets more screen time than Grant, but wins an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his supporting performance.

Personally, I never really understood Stewart's Academy Award win for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Henry Fonda's performance in THE GRAPES OF WRATH (20th Century-Fox, 1940) was much more deserving. Other than Stewart going through his usual motions, his drunken scene opposite Dexter (Grant) or expressing his love for Tracy (Hepburn), being highlights, there are much better roles in Stewart's filmography that are more Academy Award worthy (IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946); or SHENANDOAH (1965), as prime examples). If the Academy wanted to nominate Stewart in 1940 to amend their oversight for his MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (Columbia, 1939) nomination, maybe his more standard role in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (MGM, 1940) opposite Margaret Sullavan, would have been a better choice. Ruth Hussey's Best Supporting Actress nomination was acceptable, but lost to Jane Darwell for THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Interestingly, another Stewart (Donald Ogden Stewart), became the only other nomination win here for his Best Original Screenplay category.

Remade by MGM as HIGH SOCIETY (1956) featuring Bing Crosby (Dexter); Grace Kelly (Tracy); Frank Sinatra (Macauley Connor); Celeste Holm (Elizabeth) and John Lund (George), produced in lavish Technicolor with Cole Porter songs, both versions proved popular due to its frequent revivals and star quality value. While HIGH SOCIETY was a successful remake as the original had been a decade earlier, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY resumes its popularity over the years through home video, DVD and many revivals on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. (***1/2).
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8/10
The Public Enemy's Girl
17 August 2019
MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE (Paramount, 1935), directed by William K. Howard, ranks one of the finer prison related themed crime stories from the 1930s. Not as intense as the more famous I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (Warner Brothers, 1932) starring Paul Muni, nor one taken from a stage play as THE LAST MILE (Tiffany, 1932) featuring Preston Foster, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE stars Sylvia Sidney in the title role of an innocent girl who becomes a victim of circumstance through no fault of her own.

Mary Burns (Sylvia Sidney), owner of a roadside coffee cup shop next door to a garage/gas station in the country, awaits the arrival of Babe Wilson (Alan Baxter), an oil salesman whom she sees every three or four weeks. Upon his arrival, Babe, a man Mary knows little about, proposes marriage to her and wants her to immediately leave everything behind and accompany him to Canada. Minutes later, police arrive to arrest Babe, exposed as a wanted gangster and cold-blooded killer. Shooting his partner, Joe (Norman Willis), so not to reveal the location of the stolen bonds, Babe makes his daring escape, leaving Mary to face arrest. During her trial by jury, Mary is cross-examined by an attorney, revealing she knew nothing about Babe Wilson except that she loved him. Because of poor sufficient evidence, Mary is found guilty and sentenced to serve 15 years in the penitentiary. Unable to get parole for disclosing Wilson's whereabouts to Harper (Wallace Ford) from the parole board, Mary, not wanting to spend any more time behind bars, talks Goldie Gordon (Pert Kelton), her cellmate, into joining her in a well-planned prison break. Now living in a tenement apartment somewhere in the city with Goldie, and flat broke, Mary, alias Alice Brown, takes a chance in obtaining a night job as dishwasher at the Mercy Hospital. While there, Mary meets patient, Barton Powell (Melvyn Douglas), an noted explorer with bandaged eyes due to snow blindness he got in Tibet. He not only likes the sound of her voice, but her coffee as well. When Spike (Brian Donlevy), locates Mary with intentions of taking her back to Babe, Mary escapes to Kansas, only to be pursued by Harper, hoping she will lead him to Babe before any further hold-ups and killings occur. Others in the cast include: Esther Dale (Kate); Daniel L. Haynes (Jeremiah, Powell's butler); Cora Sue Collins (Dorothy); and George Chandler, among others.

An exciting story that keeps viewers interest for its entire 84 minutes. Alan Baxter, in his motion picture debut, gives a promising start to his movie career playing a hooded gangster. Unlike movie tough guys as James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft and later Humphrey Bogart who all achieved popularity through their wide-range of performances, Baxter never became a top-rated actor in the Alan Ladd mode. Though he did a distinctive way of talking as well as some leading roles, mostly in second-rate features, Baxter appeared mainly in either supporting or minor parts throughout his movie or TV career. Baxter worked again opposite Sylvia Sidney in THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE (1936), but had little to do, especially when the major male co-stars were Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray. Melvyn Douglas, who appears 39 minutes into the start of the story, gives a fine performance as a bickering hospital patient who softens himself to his new assistant, Mary, unaware of her troubled past. Pert Kelton, better known as a sassy blonde in comedies, is surprisingly cast as a tough prison inmate, and does it so well. A pity she didn't get enough stronger roles like this to display her acting ability than just a secondary comedienne. Like many movies of the type, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE doesn't disappoint. The car radio playing to the tune, "I'm in the Mood for Love" introduced from EVERY NIGHT AT EIGHT (1935), is vocalized by Frances Langford.

Though MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE did have enough commercial television exposure through much of the 1960s and 70s, like Sylvia Sidney's other Paramount film releases of the 1930s, this film remains overlooked and forgotten. Never distributed on video cassette, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE got its long overdue broadcast on cable television's Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: August 5, 2019). (***)
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Kathleen (1941)
7/10
The Father Trap
11 August 2019
KATHLEEN (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1941), directed by Harold S. Bucquet, stars Shirley Temple, former child star for 20th Century-Fox (1934-1940) in her first and only film for the MGM studio. Though MGM could have cast Temple opposite someone like Mickey Rooney in a backstage musical or a dramatic story opposite Freddie Bartholomew in a horse racing theme similar in theme to NATIONAL VELVET (1944) that later made an overnight star of Elizabeth Taylor, Temple was offered a title role based on an original story by Kay Van Riper dealing with a poor young rich girl striving for the love and attention of her widowed father who is hardly around.

Kathleen Davis (Shirley Temple), is a 12-year-old girl whose mother died at the time of her birth. She lives in a luxurious home surrounded by servants who have looked after her more than her father, John Staunton Davis (Herbert Marshall), who is more away on business trips than spending quality time with his daughter. Kathleen has a strict governess, Mrs. Farrell (Nella Walker), whom she hates. Her only true friend happens to be Mr. Schonet (Felix Bressart), an elderly antique dealer who knows the truth behind Kathleen's imaginary friend, the girl on the hill, whose life echoes that of her own unhappy existence. Further complications ensue when Mr. Davis returns home with Lorraine Bennett (Gail Patrick), his female companion. Though unaware of her father's wedding plans to Miss Bennett, Kathleen takes an immediate dislike to her anyhow. Because of her strong dislike for Mrs. Farrell, Lorraine suggests Kathleen be examined by a child specialist. Doctor Montagu Foster (Lloyd Corrigan) finds nothing wrong with Kathleen but suggests Mrs. Farrell be dismissed and substituted by Doctor A. Martha Kent (Laraine Day), a child psychologist, who could remain with her until September before Kathleen is to be sent away to boarding school. At first Kathleen dislikes the young and down-to-earth lady doctor, but in time, grows fond of her enough to call her "Angel," based on her first name, Angela. While Kathleen hopes for Angela to become her father's new wife, she faces further disappointments when she learns of her father's upcoming wedding plans and extensive honeymoon trip with Lorraine, and having Angela cancel her proposed trip to South America to fill in for the responsibility actually intended for her neglectful father. Others in the cast include: Guy Bellis (Jarvis, the butler); Wade Boteler (The Policeman); and Joe Yule (The Sign Painter).

Though the plot for KATHLEEN could have been a Temple vehicle for 20th Century-Fox during her teenage years, this new MGM edition resumes the traditional Temple format originated by her own studio, that of a daughter of a single parent or an orphan. Temple even gets to have one song number, "Around the Corner," performed during her dream sequence rather than being part of the plot. Now a teenager and no longer a cute little child with the blondish curls, Temple's physical appearance gets reinvented through her darker and longer 1940s hairstyle along with her more mature speaking voice of a teenager. Being the only child for its entire 88 minutes, it would have been interesting had KATHLEEN been slightly altered by having two Temples for the price of one playing twin sisters scheming to get their father to realize his marriage to a woman they dislike would be a mistake. This idea was later put to good use for the Walt Disney classic, THE PARENT TRAP (1961) starring Hayley Mills playing the twin sisters. Having Temple in a dual role might have been too costly and time consuming for a standard movie project, yet might have been more pleasing for Temple fans.

As it stands, KATHLEEN is satisfactory entertainment with moral lesson learned by a father who lets others raise his daughter, who's a stranger to him, rather than by himself. Laraine Day is good as the pretty doctor who fills in as Kathleen's pretend older sister while Felix Bressart gives a likable performance as an elderly grandfather type to Kathleen. Gail Patrick stands out in her "other woman" role she's been doing quite often in other films around this time. As much as Herbert Marshall and Laraine Day do their parts well, it's interesting that in their previous pairing in Alfred Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (United Artists, 1940) they were cast together playing father and daughter. Though MGM never acquired further services from Temple, the studio would soon get a child star of its own, Margaret O'Brien, the Shirley Temple of the 1940s.

Unlike Temple's films for 20th Century-Fox, KATHLEEN was never distributed to video cassette nor, though currently available on DVD. It was never even part of Shirley Temple film festivals, but did get some exposure during the after midnight hours on the "late-late show" during the 1970s. KATHLEEN often plays on Turner Classic Movies cable channel, the home of the MGM film library. (**1/2)
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7/10
Stopover: Montana
4 August 2019
THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP (Universal-International, 1947), directed by Charles T. Barton (title not to be confused with similar sounding RUGGLES OF RED GAP (Paramount, 1935) starring Charles Laughton), returns the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to western setting for the first time since RIDE 'EM COWBOY (1942). With the title role going to Marjorie Main, she also has the distinction of having her name placed above the title along with Abbott and Costello. Casting Main opposite the dual is priceless, for that this character actress with the raspy voice and rough exterior, makes a good opposition for the little tubby Costello. Having already played hillbilly parts in MURDER HE SAYS (Paramount, 1945), and the role of a lifetime as Ma Kettle as introduced in THE EGG AND I (Universal, 1947), who else but Marjorie Main could assume the title role and make it so appealing?

Setting the pace with its opening title: "Montana in the days when men were men - with two exceptions ..." the story introduces the two exceptions being Duke Degan (Bud Abbott) and Chester Woolley (Lou Costello), a couple of city slickers traveling to Californian by way of stagecoach. Being household specialty salesmen from Paterson, New Jersey, their coach stops three miles from the nearest town town of Wagon Gap, forcing the twosome to walk the rest of the way. Entering Red Gap, they find the town lacks law and order, consisting of shootings, flying bullets and barroom brawls. After acquiring a couple of shooting irons, Chester's gunshot into the air ends up with the body of notorious gambler, Fred Hawkins, falling by his side. Accused of the killing, Duke and Chester first find themselves with a noose around their necks before Jim Simpson (William Ching) insists of a fair trial. The trial, set in a bar with Judge Benbow (George Cleveland) presiding, with the hanging party as their jurors, Simpson saves the necks of the twosome from a mock trial by reading a Montana law book where the one responsible for the death of the party must be responsible of the obligation of the deceased, the one being Chester. No sooner do Duke and Chester meet up their responsibility by ending up on the farm of the Widow Hawkins (Marjorie Main), and her seven unruly children: Juanita (Audrey Young), Matt (Bill Clauson), Billy (Bill O'Leary), Sarah (Pamela Wells), Jefferson (Jimmie Bates), Lincoln (Phil Dunn), and Sally (Diane Florentine). The widow takes a liking to Chester to become her next husband, while Duke is assigned as the family guardian. To make sure these men don't sneak away, the widow assigns her vicious German shepherd dog, Wolf, stand guard in their bedroom. Because Chester refuses to marry and become the new father, the widow has him doing all the household chores, forcing Chester to come late for his meals, eaten by the lazy Duke and the Hawkins brew. Later, Chester becomes the town sheriff, using the widow's family photo as protection against those going against his ruling. Further complications ensue as Duke spreads rumor about a railroad going through the widow's land that would make her the richest woman of Wagon Gap. Will Duke and Chester ever get to make it to California? Other cast members include: Gordon Jones (Jake Frame); Peter Thompson (Phil); Glenn Strange ("Lefty") and Dewey Robinson. Audrey Young, as the eldest of the Hawkins children, sings "There's Plenty More Than Time" in the Round-Up Saloon sequence,but not in its entirety.

A solid 78 minute Abbott and Costello comedy where their scenes are nearly stolen by Main's performance, the team offers some of their usual gag material as highlights, including a frog jumping from one bowl of soup to another, disrupting the dining area. Their cheating card game, originally performed by Bud and Lou in BUCK PRIVATES (1941), is repeated, with the only difference being performed by Abbott and Main instead of Costello. Other than chasing scenes, usually found in their comedies, Costello playing sheriff requiring respect from a town of toughs is typical, yet amusingly done.

Though not exceptionally a great comedy, THE WISTUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP, is certainly fun to watch. It's a wonder what would have been had Abbott, Costello and Marjorie Main joined forces together in her popular "Ma and Pa Kettle" film series? Seeing this movie comes close to such an idea. Costello sharing antics with Pa Kettle (Percy Kilbride) would have been hilarious. Formerly distributed on video cassette, currently available on DVD. (**1/2)
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7/10
Judge Hardy's Family in Society
28 July 2019
THE HARDY'S RIDE HIGH (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939), directed by George B. Seitz, marks the sixth entry to the now popular "Hardy Family" movie series, and the first of its three 1939 installments. A standard production in every sense involving the family's moral lesson as to whether or not they could be happy after inheriting a large fortune or being just plain folks from a the small town of Carvel.

Following a courtroom opening where Judge James K. Hardy (Lewis Stone) solves a troubled marriage involving Caleb Bowen (Donald Briggs) coping with his wife, Susan's (Marsha Hunt) spending extravagance, Hardy is soon visited by a lawyer, Jonas Bronell (George Irving), with surprising news that Hardy has inherited $2 million because of he being the great-great grandson of James Standish Leeds, a well-known figure of the War of 1812. The middle-class family, involving the judge's wife, Emily (Fay Holden), daughter, Marion (Cecilia Parker), their 16-year-old football playing son, Andrew (Mickey Rooney), and their matronly Aunt Milly Forrest (Sara Haden), accompany the judge on an airplane bound for Detroit, Michigan, where the judge is to prove himself liable of the inheritance. Taking up residence in the Leeds mansion where they are waited on by family butler, Dobbs (Halliwell Hobbes), and living the life of how rich people live. Their new way of living takes its toll, especially on the children. Aunt Milly, the spinster schoolteacher, wanting to enjoy life before old age sets in for her, begins courting Terry B. Archer (Minor Watson), a middle-aged gentleman she earlier met on the airplane, with the hope their courtship will lead to marriage. Philip Westcott (John King), the adopted son of the Leeds family, shows the family the town, in spite the fact that he may that through Judge Hardy, he may lose the fortune entitled him. Philip even takes Andy to the Paradise Club where the girl-happy teenager gets introduced to Consuela McNish (Virginia Grey), an older chorus girl, and arranges for the young man to spend the evening together in her apartment. As for Marion, she goes on a spending spree buying an expensive dress for herself and charging it to her father's account. After returning home to Carvel, problems arise when the judge discovers evidence that he may or may not rightfully be entitled to the family fortune. Aside from Ann Rutherford returning in a few scenes playing Polly Benedict, Andy's girlfriend, others in the cast include: John T. Murray (Don Davis, the Druggist); Aileen Pringle (Miss Booth, the Saleswoman); Erville Alderson (Bill, Hardy's Bailiff); and William T. Orr (Dick Bannersly, Polly's gentleman caller she met while on vacation to use to get Andy jealous), among others.

While the "Hardy Family" series would be a great introduction for young MGM starlets, THE HARDY'S RIDE HIGH promises no film debuts nor introductions of any kind. It basically consists of Marsha Hunt and Virginia Grey, who have been in the movie business for quite some time, assuming smaller roles for this entry. With the story focusing on how money can change a simple-minded family to living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, it finds Aunt Milly becoming glamorous with her agreeable dressing and modern hairstyle to impress her new gentleman caller; Marion and her mother having their breakfast in bed served by their butler; while Andy dresses up in tuxedo and top hat pretending to be a "big shot" in an expensive night club, only to come to reality through his father's reasoning, notably for not smoking or booze drinking. At one point, Andy buys a cigarette case, mistaking its cost of $175 to $1.75. Even briefly the sensible judge nearly lets the money get the best of him before contemplating its consequence if he goes through with his intentions,and so much more. As much as the story and acting are delivered in manner, especially by Sara Haden in a change of pace by becoming glamorous and having more to do plot-wise than usual, what "Andy Hardy" movie would be complete without any "man to man" talks between father and son?

Though never distributed on video cassette, THE HARDY'S RIDE HIGH has been placed on DVD disc and often plays in cable television's Turner Classic Movies. Next in the series, ANDY HARDY GETS SPRING FEVER (1939), and more teenage situations as well, (***)
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8/10
Springtime in Carvel
20 July 2019
ANDY HARDY GETS SPRING FEVER (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939), directed by W.S. Van Dyke II, marks the seventh installment to the "Judge Hardy's Family/Andy Hardy" series, and second film of three film releases of 1939. Being the first in the series directed by someone other than George B. Seitz, it also marked the second in the series bearing "Andy Hardy" in its movie title, following LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938). By this time, it was the teenage son, Andy, who becomes the center of attention rather than the fatherly judge, who is always around for those "man to man" talks with his son whenever there's a problem. For this entry, it's not Andy who gets into situations he must handle, but his father as well. Though Andy doesn't get a fever of sickness during the spring, its term "spring fever" is actually in reference to falling in love, which happens in most cases in the spring. This time, Andy has fallen in love with someone other than a girl of his own age.

The story opens traditionally in the courtroom where Judge James K. Hardy (Lewis Stone) is fining a young man $10 for kissing a young lady in a parked car. Because it's spring, he suspends the fine. In his chambers, Hardy is visited by James Willett (Stanley Andrews), a chemist, and Mark Hansen (Byron Foulger), his partner, who inform him that his aquaduct property, consisting of a mineral used to making aluminum in its soil, is valuable. Hardy later involves friends and associates to take part in the investments for the property, and soon permits his daughter, Marion (Cecilia Parker), to work as secretary for these two gentlemen, who now have a business office in town. As Hardy's 17-year-old son, Andrew (Mickey Rooney), he becomes jealous of his girlfriend, Polly Benedict's (Ann Rutherford) involvement with the extremely tall Lieutenant Charles Copley (Robert Kent) of the United States Navy, Andy's concerns are easily forgotten when the girl crazy Carvel High School teenager takes a "romantic" interest in his substitute dramatics teacher, Rose Meredith (Helen Gilbert). As Andrew's original story, "Adrift in Tahiti" becomes the subject of the upcoming school play, he not only helps with its staging with cast members, but soon steps over his bounds by falling in love with his 23-year-old teacher and wanting to marry her. With this being a worry for the judge, more problems arise when the wise old man carries a burden of guilt as to whether or not he's been swindled out of the $17,000 he's given to those two men. Also in the cast are series regulars, Fay Holden (Emily Hardy); Sara Haden (Aunt Milly Forrest); Addison Richards (George Benedict); Erville Alderson (Henry, the Bailiff); and Georgie Breakston ("Beezy" Anderson). Terry Kilburm, who played Tiny Tim in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (MGM, 1938) starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge, appears as one of Andy's younger classmates, Harmon Higgenbotham Jr., better known as "Stinkin' Plastor"; and Sidney Miller, a semi-regular of the series, appearing briefly as Sidney.

An agreeable "Hardy Family" production that contains two situations for the price of one, first the judge's problem, then the major one involving Andy's crush on his schoolteacher. How these situations are handled make this installment worth viewing. The teacher in question is played by an attractive young woman named Helen Gilbert in her movie debut. While the "Hardy Series"has become a good introduction for its MGM starlets that included popular likes of Esther Williams or Kathryn Grayson in later years, Helen Gilbert remains unknown and someone who would become labeled in "Whatever became of ? ..." listing. Gilbert did appear in other film productions for MGM (A segment in the "Doctor Kildare" series in 1939 for example), other studios and later television through the 1950s, but to no lasting appeal. ANDY HARDY GETS SPRING FEVER shows her off at best advantage as the mature speaking teacher with personal problems of her own. Fans of the series would enjoy this one.

Formerly available on video cassette and later DVD, this and the additional 15 segments of the series, can be found on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. Next in the series, JUDGE HARDY AND SON (1939) (***)
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Liliom (1930)
8/10
The Man Who Came Back
14 July 2019
LILIOM (Fox Films, 1930), directed by Frank Borzage, stars Charles Farrell in the title role taken from a famous play by Fernec Molnar. With some silent screen adaptations based on this material, including A TRIP TO PARADISE (Metro, 1921) starring Bert Lytell, LILIOM became its first sound edition. Popularized years later as the Broadway musical, CAROUSEL (1945), later adapted as a 1956 motion picture, this early screen edition offers romance and sentiment in the Frank Borzage tradition, and often hailed as a motion picture of great promise weakened by the performance by its leading actor.

Opening title: "This play is the love story of Julie, a serving maid, and Liliom, a merry-go-round barker. Liliom gropes and struggles through life and death, and even beyond death, ever seeking escape from himself, while Julie's love for him endures always." Set in Budapest, Hungary, Julie (Rose Hobart), works as a servant girl accompanied by her friend, Marie (Mildred Van Dorn). As much as Julie turns down dates with a caring young carpenter (Walter Abel), Julie's sole interest is Liliom Zadowsky (Charles Farrell), an amusement park merry-go-round barker and ladies man. Although their union on the carousel is innocent, Liliom stirs up jealousy from his domineering employer, Madame Muskat (Estelle Taylor). She soon warns Julie to stay away from Liliom, who enters the scene by telling Madame Maskat that he does what he pleases. Losing his job, Liliom walks away with Julie to the pub where he drinks away his sorrows. Three months later, Liliom and Julie, now married, struggle through life's hardships. Liliom, still unemployed and having the reputation of being a lazy loafer by neighbors, turns down offers to return to Madame Muskat in favor of joining forces with Buzzard (Lee Tracy) to commit a robbery and use the stolen money for a better life in America, especially after learning that Julie is going to have a baby. Their plot of robbery fails. With Buzzard captured by the police, Liliom chooses the easy way out by taking his own life. On a train bound for Paradise, the soul of Liliom meets with the Chief Magistrate (H.B. Warner) who offers him a second chance in life to return to Earth. After serving ten years "in the hot place," he is given temporary freedom to visit with his daughter (Dawn O'Day). What Liliom does should determine his fate with destiny. Also in the cast are Lillian Elliott (Aunt Hulda); Bert Roach (Wolf Feiser); and Harvey Clark (The Angel Gabriel). Child actress, Dawn O'Day, would later become professionally known as Anne Shirley following to first leading role as ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (RKO, 1934).

As much as Charles Farrell's popularity rested upon his frequent pairing opposite Janet Gaynor (12 films in all), it's a wonder how successful he would have become acting opposite other young actresses instead. Having already done solo work opposite other leading ladies as Maureen O'Sullivan or Joan Bennett, Farrell is given Rose Hobart, making her movie debut. Farrell's leading role here, sporting dark curly hair and mustache, might have done it for him, but his weak voice was somewhat against him. Playing a similar character as an egotistical young man with a heart of gold in his first role opposite Gaynor in SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927), LILIOM, certainly has the makings of another Gaynor and Farrell romancer. Had Spencer Tracy assumed the role of Liliom instead, chances are the movie would have been a hit since Tracy acting ability seemed to be a better fit than Farrell. It's been critically said that the 1934 French-made adaptation of LILIOM starring Charles Boyer to be far superior, and possibly so. For the role of Julie, Rose Hobart does a commendable job. Her performance as a loyal wife with eternal love for her husband is certainly believable, as opposed to the pretty Mildred Van Dorn, whose weak acting and method of speaking limits the movie's credibility.

For an early 1930 talkie, LILIOM looks somewhat advanced in the European cinema sense, especially with its Heavenly futuristic scenes that make this movie seem more like a 1935 release instead. Aside from dark visuals of "film noir" style and underscoring, the train express leading to the clouds of Heaven with lavish settings is quite impressive. Aside from OUTWARD BOUND (Warners, 1930), the Heavenly theme and spiritual guidance would be done repeatedly a decade later starting with Robert Montgomery in HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (Columbia, 1941), which set the pace for other fantasies of this nature to come.

Unavailable for viewing in decades, LILIOM, has been resurrected through its distribution to DVD as a tribute to Academy Award winning director, Frank Borzage. For those familiar with the movie musical version of CAROUSEL (1956) starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, may want to take a look at this dramatic form of the same story and compare. (**)
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7/10
Show Boat Antics
14 July 2019
THE NAUGHTY NINETIES (Universal, 1945), directed by Jean Yarbrough, stars the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in their first film in period setting, the 1890s. Somewhat inspired by Edna Ferber's SHOW BOAT, that was later musicalized on Broadway and the basis of two (1929 and 1936) screen adaptations, THE NAUGHTY NINETIES doesn't provide memorable melodies as "Ole Man River" nor its passage of time elements, but mostly sight gags dominating plot and songs to better advantage for Abbott and Costello's world of comedy.

Following the original screenplay by Edmund L. Hartmann, John Grant, Edmund Joseph and Hal Fimbers, the photo-play introduces Captain Sam Jackson (Henry Travers), head of The River Queen Show Boat with entertainment suitable for family and children. Along with his daughter, Caroline (Lois Collier), who sings and acts in its stage productions, Jackson's company includes lead actor, Dexter Broadhurst (Bud Abbott), and his bumbling assistant, Sebastian Dinwiddie (Lou Costello). After the boat docks in St. Louis, Captain Jackson, having encountered Bonita Farrell (Rita Johnson), Crawford (Alan Curtis) and Bailey (Joseph Sawyer), who have recently run out of town by the sheriff (John Hamilton), a trio of card sharks, unknown to him their attempt on acquiring The River Queen and turning it into a gambling casino. While at The Gilded Cage, Captain Jackson loses his River Queen to those crooks, now acting as his new partners. Holding a $15,000 note against the show boat, it is up to Broadhurst and Sebastian to save the River Queen from further ruin. Also in the cast are Joe Kirk (The Croupier); Jack Norton (The Drunk); Sam McDaniel, Edward Gargan, Donald Kerr, among others.

New songs by Edgar Fairchild and Jack Rose include: "The Show Boat is Coming to Town," "My Blushin' Rosie" (by Edgar Smith and John Stromberg); "On a Sunday Afternoon" (sung by Lois Collier); Minstrel Show tap dance; "I Leave My Opium for You," "No Luck Malone," "I Can't Get You Out of My Mind" (sung by Lois Collier); and "Heaven" (performed during the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" segment featuring Lou Costello playing Little Eva). Though set in the 1890s, Lois Collier's rendition and orchestration to "I Can Get You Out of My Mind" definitely belongs to the modern era of 1945.

Of all the Abbott and Costello comedies, THE NAUGHTY NINETIES contains more individual comedy routines than usual. Whether these gags enacted were originated from vaudeville skits or earlier motion pictures featuring other notable comic performers, the try and true routine best associated with Abbott and Costello is their one and only "Who's on First?" performed here in its entirety. Taking place 39 minutes into the story, this seven minute enactment remains fresh and funny. Though the team performed this routine on radio and later television, they used it briefly for their debut film, ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS (1940). The segment where Costello's Sebastian auditions by singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" and mistaking Abbott's Broadhurst behind him giving orders to his stage crew and not to him, was similarly enacted by Louise Fazenda and Teddy Hart in READY, WILLING AND ABLE (Warner Brothers, 1937) starring Ruby Keeler. The "life saver" bit was earlier done by Groucho Marx to Thelma Todd in HORSE FEATHERS (Paramount, 1932), while the mirror routine between Costello and Joseph Sawyer is lifted from Groucho and Harpo Marx's classic DUCK SOUP (Paramount, 1933). Let's not overlook the head clunking gag originated from Harold Lloyd's classic, THE KID BROTHER (Paramount, 1927), and the "cat meal" sequence borrowed from The Three Stooges. Amazing how much gag material got squeezed into this 76 minutes.

While not exactly a comedy masterpiece, THE NAUGHTY NINETIES is a delight to fans of the comedy team, particularly their "Who's on First?" Along with frequent commercial television broadcasts from the 1960s to 1980s, THE NAUGHTY NINETIES, formerly distributed on video cassette and cable television's American Movie Classics (2000-2001), is available on DVD as part of Universal's Abbott and Costello classic film collection. (**1/2)
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