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The Fleet's In (1942)
Slight Paramount Fare has a Good Cast
This is a slight, inconsequential little Paramount musical that somehow manages to be whimsical & appealing.
Directed by Victor Schertzinger (his last movie), it boasts a good cast of rising stars at Paramount: Dorothy Lamour as the Countess of Swingland, a glamorous nightclub hostess who entertains sailors on leave; Betty Hutton as Lamour's impetuous roommate Bessie; William Holden as Casey the shy sailor who intends to win a bet so he can kiss the Countess; Eddie Bracken as the eccentric shipmate of Holden; and a very young and upcoming Barbara Britton.
While Lamour and Holden are the leading stars in this slightly erratic war-time entertainment, it is actually Betty Hutton's star-making show. She made her feature debut here. She literally steals almost every scene she's in, with her wacky comic acts. And her rapport with Bracken was a delight in its self.
Some scenes drag pretentiously, especially the routine comic acts performed on stage to entertain the soldiers. Still, the songs and numbers are quite enjoyable in their own whimsical sort of way, especially Hutton's delivery of "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry."
Nice Fun and worth a catch, if you like this sort of musicals.
365 Nights in Hollywood (1934)
Above-average Faye musical Offers Pleasing Diversion
This is one of the earliest Alice Faye musicals I have seen and it's strictly for us, her fans and, perhaps, the connoisseurs of early musicals. While Not among Faye's best musicals, I thought "365 Nights in Hollywood", directed by George Marshall, was above-average musical: likable, pleasing, unpretentious effort that just passes the time. Ms. Faye - very young and looking exactly like Jean Harlow - plays an aspiring, talented movie star that joins a bogus film school, run by Grant Mitchell, and through the help of a has-been director, played by James Dunn, whom she ultimately falls in love, she succeeds and becomes a rising musical star. The songs and production numbers are well mounted and pleasing throughout.
If you like this one, I recommend "George White's 1935 Scandals"(1935), again with Faye and Dunn.
Love Me Forever (1935)
If you are a lover of musicals, you must see this one
This is one of great forgotten musicals of the 1930s. After the success of 1934's "One Night of Love", Columbia Pictures and director Victor Schertzinger wasted no time in preparing more Grace Moore opera-themed musicals, and "Love Me Forever"(1935) turned out to be just as elegant, tuneful, melodious, exuberant and terrifically entertaining as "One Night of Love" which, in a sense, made opera more palatable to audiences.
Some might even prefer "Love Me Forever" to "One Night of Love" in terms of its sheer elegance, enjoyment, and quality of operatic songs in which Moore sings throughout. The musical selections are superb. I especially loved the thrilling excerpts from "La Boheme" (clever Grace Moore got to sing both Musetta and Mimi!). Moore's voice is again absolutely beautiful--strong, commanding and thrilling. The title song was haunting and attractive, too. Leo Carrilo is suitably cast as Moore's leading man, a diligent and charismatic connoisseur of opera who turns Moore's Margaret into a celebrity sensation while retaining his affection for the prima donna.
I agree with Arne that if you are a lover of musicals, this is a must viewing. I consider myself lucky to have seen this recently on a rare video print from a private collector.
Coney Island (1943)
Betty Shines in Another Lively, Tuneful Fox Musical
Despite a slow start and trifling plot, "Coney Island" turns out to be One of Betty Grable's most sheerly exuberant musicals and another shimmering, glossily produced, exquisitely Technicolored Fox tuner set in the Gay 90s, directed with chic elegance by Walter Lang.
Betty is wonderful all the way and gave what she had as Kate Farley, the stage show entertainer/singer who is transformed by George Montgomery into a classy Broadway star with musical and vocal talents, despite the protests from Kate's manager, played by Cesar Romero. Charles Winninger, Phil Silvers and Hurst are the capably eccentric supporting players.
The songs and numbers are joyously, spectacularly staged, including the unforgettable "Cuddle Up a Little Closer", "Pretty Baby", "There's Danger in a Dance", "Beautiful Coney Island", "Put Your Arms Around Me", and "Lulu from Louisville."
Anna Neagle & Ray Milland in Enjoyable RKO musical
"Irene" is very entrancing screen version of Joseph Tierney and Harry McCarthy's 1919 stage musical, glossily directed and produced by Herbert Wilcox. I happened to catch it the other night, and I loved it. I was entranced by the charm of the actors -- and the songs, while not first-rate, are quite pleasing. Anna Neagle stars as whimsical Irish sales girl Irene O'Dare who is introduced into Long Island's high society culture, and becomes infatuated with two suitors, Ray Milland and Alan Marshall. Billie Burke plays their mother who becomes impressed with Irene, turns her into a celebrity sensation in "Madame Lucy" dress collection. May Robson is very memorable as the irrepressible Granny; so is Roland Young as Milland's partner in business. The highlight is the sumptuous ball sequence shot in Technicolor, "Alice Blue Gown", where Irene, dressed in blue, is waltzing with Milland in a very tuneful number. The other songs include, "You've Got Me Out on a Limb", "There's Something in the Air", "Worthy of You", and "Irene". Enjoyable stuff.
Sing Your Worries Away (1942)
Labored and Tedious
I really wanted to enjoy this seldom seen little RKO musical, directed by Edward Sutherland, starring Bert Lahr, Buddy Ebsen, Patsy Kelly, Kings Sisters, Alvino Rey & His Orchestra. But it didn't dazzle me as much as I wanted to. In spite of the nice, freewheeling songs, "Sing Your Worries Away" feels oddly flustered or clumsy.
It mainly works as a so-so vehicle for Bert Lahr and his zany jokes which are painstakingly obvious and labored. If you can stand the jokes, then the movie may be eminently watchable. Lahr plays a happy-go-lucky composer, Chow Brewster, who inherits $3,000,000 at a Boathouse Inn, where a crook (Sam Levene) and his gang drive Lahr to commit suicide so they can grab the money. Patsy Kelly provides nice supporting role as the eccentric hotel worker; Buddy Ebsen is very entertaining in his part as the friend of the slain victim. We also see some interesting appearances by June Havoc & Margaret Dumont to display their inimitable character traits.
For me, the high point is the rendition of the title number by the King Sisters at the hotel, and then Ebsen exuberantly dances with one of the sisters. It's a joyous little moment, but mostly the movie is a tedious affair.
The Dolly Sisters (1945)
Betty Grable & June Haver in a Joyous Fox musical
"The Dolly Sisters" is Betty Grable and June Haver's most joyously tuneful musical, a gaudy, loud, exquisitely Technicolored extravaganza of songs, dancing, and romance, the kind of vacuous yet tasteful fluff 20th Century Fox did well with great success. The studio head, Darryl Zanuck intended as a vehicle for Alice Faye & Betty Grable, but he couldn't convince Faye to get out of retirement, so producer George Jessel casted June Haver, and the movie become one of the top grossing pictures of the 1940s.
Grable and Haver (fantastic throughout) are the Hungarian born blonde sisters, Jenny & Rosie that took Broadway by storm. Their story begins with their arrival in New York in 1904, their subsequent rise from vaudeville acts to Broadway & Folies Bergere of Paris. They meet an aspiring composer Harry (John Payne) who arranges a meeting with Oscar Hammerstein to appear his Music Hall. Betty falls in love with Harry while June settles for a far less troubled romance with Frank Latimore. Betty is particularly very revealing, especially when she gets the nervous breakdown. Good performances also by S.Z. Sakall and Reginald Gardiner.
Lots of rollicking, uproarious songs/numbers, including the Oscar-winning "I Can't Begin to Tell You", the haunting "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows", plus some kitschy stuff like "Powder, Lipstick and Rouge", "Give Me The Moonlight, Give Me The Girl".
"Dolly Sisters" can be best appreciated if you see it back to back with June Haver's 1946's musical, "Three Little Girls in Blue", a joyous merriment in need of resurrection.
George White's Scandals (1934)
Alice Faye's Rousing Debut
The ineffable Alice Faye made her film debut in this rousing backstage extravaganza, an interesting assembly of Broadway revue, comic sketches, songs, and dancing, in which she played an aspiring singer Kitty Donnelly and her romance with Rudy Valle. Although the movie is loaded with big-scale Busby Berkeley-inspired production numbers, its chief virtue is to watch and be mesmerized by Faye's glorious singing, her distinctive contralto voice.
This is the movie where Faye sings "Oh, You Nasty Man" -- one of her most cheerfully lurid (though not necessarily the best), songs. Other songs and numbers include "So Nice", "Every Day's a Father's Day", "Following in the Mother's Footsteps", "Sweet and Simple", "Picking Cotton", and "The Man on the Flying Trapeze".
Audiences applauded Faye's vivacity, and the movie made her an instant musical star. Up until her 1936 musical, "Sing, Baby, Baby", Faye really looked like a Jean Harlow-ish platinum blonde with pencil eyelashes. A year later she starred in a follow-up, "George White's 1935 Scandals" - also worth seeking out, if only for Faye's singing.
Wake Up and Dream (1946)
Give Me the Simple Life
Far and away, that's the most memorable song in this naïve and dated war-time fantasy, based on the novel "The Enchanted Voyage" by Robert Nathan, directed by Lloyd Bacon.
Since I'm a fan of 20th-Century Fox musicals of the Golden Age, I anticipated a great deal of lively, tuneful fun from "Wake Up and Dream", and I was disappointed by what I saw. A naïve, substandard children's fantasy, it mainly works as heavily sentimental reflection of its war-enshrouded time.
John Payne plays a farmer Jeff Cairn who, after he enlists in the Navy, disappears and is believed to be dead. Connie Marshall is his young sister Nella who is searching for him, along with a good-hearted old coot (Clem Bevans) in a boat called "Sara March".
June Haver, who deserved better than what she got, plays the saccharine waitress Jenny falling in love with Payne and goes along with the voyage, together with an eccentric dentist played by John Ireland.
The highlights are Payne's heartwarming rendition of "Give Me the Simple Life" at the beginning, and then later Haver, in a moment of sweet vulnerability, sings the song to show her love and adoration for Payne.
The Technicolor looks sumptuous, but the story is not that interesting. I suggest you skip it, unless you're interested in the stars or the subject.
Waikiki Wedding (1937)
The more I see Bing Crosby's undervalued Paramount musicals, the more he is becoming one of my favorite musical stars of all time. Except for the tedious 1933 musical "Going Hollywood", I was impressed by all of Bing's works and his sweet, aching crooning.
"Waikiki Wedding", sumptuously set in Hawaii, is one of Bing's best efforts, featuring such remarkable and beguiling tunes as "Blue Hawaii", "Sweet Leilani", "Sweet Is the Word for You", and "Nani Ona Pua".
Although I enjoyed "Blue Hawaii" as the best sounding song in the movie, the Oscar-winning "Sweet Leilani" is really my favorite after repeated viewings.
Bing plays a publicity agent Tony Marvin working for a pineapple company taking part in a native wedding feast and becomes involved in a scheme to escort a beauty contest winner, played by Shirley Ross. Ms. Ross has a nice, appealing presence and does a very good job playing Bing's love interest and the "Miss Pineapple Queen" winner on her trip to Hawaii.
I also enjoyed George Barbier, Martha Raye, Bob Burns, and an interesting early appearance by Anthony Quinn as one of the Hawaiian natives.
Frank Tuttle's direction gets a little slack in the second half, but the music and Bing's timeless singing are all you need to enjoy "Waikiki Wedding".
Oh, You Beautiful Doll (1949)
June Haver in a Another Fox Period Musical
"Oh, You Beautiful Doll" is rather underestimated 20th-Century Fox musical that can be best appreciated if you have seen or liked the similar Gay 90s musicals the studio churned out throughout the 1940s. I saw it for the wonderful June Haver who, along with Alice Faye and Betty Grable, is one of my favorite musical stars of the 1940s and early 50s.
It's not that great -- but not ghastly either, if you take it for what it is: Another of Fox's glossy turn-of-the-century musicals that, despite its apparent banalities, may cheer you up thanks to the lively tunes and stars' charisma. "Oh You Beautiful Doll" features Haver as Doris Fisher, the bubbling, charismatic daughter of a famous opera composer Fred Fisher (S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall). Fisher, whose actual name is Alfred Breitenbach, is a straightforward, hard working musician who unexpectedly finds success at Tin Pan Alley when a happy-go-lucky song plugger Larry Kelly (Mark Stevens) steals Fisher's songs for some of the popular tunes of the day. Doris falls for Larry despite her father's protests. I was surprised to see that Haver seems to work well with Stevens, and their collaboration here is much more satisfying than their previous, soapy "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now"(1947).
John M. Stahl's direction is quite routine, but the Technicolor & period setting are as usual glorious and lovely to look at. The songs and numbers are generally well done. The best numbers are "Peg O' My Heart", "Oh You Beautiful Doll", "I Want You To Want Me To Want You", "When I Get You Alone Tonight".
Worth a look.
The Last Flight (1931)
Masterful Picture of Post War Despair
I came across this unheralded early William Dieterle film a while back and it blew me away. Quite an astonishing film for a 1931. I believe it was Dieterle's first Hollywood outing. It's a "Sun Also Rises"-like story of several ex-WWI American fliers living, relaxing and drinking in Paris and the wacky, free-spirited woman they "adopt" into their group. A truly unusual film--the dialogue is almost entirely in non sequitors which gives it an almost ahead-of-its time feel. The editing and the frenetic energy of it all are spectacular. It offers an accurate and immediate picture of post-war disillusionment of its time, the confused emotional/psychological state of the characters, much the same way Henry King's 1957 "Sun Also Rises" captured 1950s post-WWII mentality.
Dieterle is a talented stylist, and it shows all the way through, using fast-moving and inventive camera work. And it's beautifully photographed in that "German-looking" Expressionism early-1930s style.
The performances are top-notch. Richard Barthelmess is excellent as Cary Lockwood. Helen Chandler is quite distinctive as the leading lady Nikki. And I especially like David Manners in this film. He's one of the forgotten leading men of the 30s. Manners is best known today for his appearances in the Universal horror films, but he made a wide range of films--one of my favorites is his scrupulous secretary in love with a glamorous Kay Francis in Dieterle's other unheralded classic of the early 30s, "Man Wanted."
Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)
A Dull Thud From Minnelli
I saw this curiously limp Minnelli melodrama last night. I wanted to see it very much after reading some favorable things about it; I was expecting a decent, agreeable melodrama on par with "Some Came Running" or "Home From the Hill". Instead I saw a dull, plodding, not to say overlong glimpse into the world filmmaking in Rome circa 1961 - actually a follow-up to Minnelli's 1952 "The Bad and the Beautiful." It feels it could have been so much better given the director and talent on board.
For one thing, I found nearly all of the characters in "Two Weeks" to be extremely nasty and unpleasant, particularly the women, the ones played by Claire Trevor and Daliah Lavi, which gave the film a strange, misogynistic tone - quite unusual for Minnelli, whose films usually feature strong, likable, intelligent female characters. Kirk Douglas as the former Hollywood star in decline and his former collaborator Edward G. Robinson as the has-been director are very competent in their parts, but you get the impression that some of their stuff is forced and over-the-the-top, only a show off.
I found out "Two Weeks" had been hacked and slashed to bits during the editing process, partly in response to censorship complaints (the implied "Roman orgy" scene towards the end of the film, for example, was apparently a lot less implied in the original). I also found out Minnelli's original conception of the film was flawed in its writing & direction, and it shows all the way through.
Till We Meet Again (1944)
Spiritually Heartrending Portrait of a Nun and Her Love for an Aviator
This is the fourth Borzage film I have seen in which the Nazis are depicted as horrific evils or threats to the luminous lovers. Whereas "Little Man, What Now", "Three Comrades", "The Mortal Storm" are set in Germany, "Till we Meet Again" - a Paramount production - is set in occupied France during WWII, and it doesn't star Margaret Sullavan. Instead it centers on a nun (Barbara Britton) and her love for a fugitive American aviator (Ray Milland) and her tragic, spiritual awakening to the outside world. Their love transcends the hostile, war-torn background that surrounds them as they are chased by the Nazis.
It's one of Borzage's most highly spiritual works, and the setting of a convent (in the beginning), the focus on the nun, the awesomely spiritual communion of the lovers heightens its sense of spirituality. The photography (as always) is haunting and painterly. Britton & Milland are fabulous together; they make a lovely yet vulnerable couple that we can sympathize all along. The most memorable moment is the scene where Milland explains to her what marriage means to him. The way he defines marriage, the eloquence of his speech, the highly erotic scenes between them, not to say the remarkable radiance of Britton's face, are just sublime.
I thought the ending was rushed and problematic; it didn't make sense to me. However I was very pleased with the rest of the film. I heartily recommend "Till We Meet Again", especially to Borzage fans, if you get a chance to watch it.
That's My Man (1947)
A Lovely, Special Film (possible spoilers)
"That's My Man" is among Borzage's most unfairly neglected works in his late period, a fact that belies Andrew Sarris's assertion that Borzage's only great film in the 40s had been "Moonrise".
It was the director's second film for Republic Pictures after "I've Always Loved You"(1946); and I loved it as much as any Borzage classic I have seen. And despite the numerous claims that Borzage was not completely pleased with his tenure at Republic, it becomes something really special & endearing with repeated viewings.
The story is not completely original - poor man has a dream of running a horse; fulfillment of dream causes him to lose values; downturn in his fortune causes him to realize what he truly cares about - but it's a believable and valid one. And Borzage directs it with great sensitivity in a number of fine and beautifully acted scenes. The one that stands out in my mind is in the beginning - Don Ameche and Catherine McLeod's wistfully romantic conversation the night they first meet in the darkened apartment. They both reflect about life and then Ameche utters some poignantly philosophical words about the world and how everything in it is just perfect.
The film is beautifully directed; there is tenderness and a subdued tone to it that I find very endearing. It is very moving, but also very cuddly and joyous. The black-and-white photography is characteristic of Borzage: haunting, painterly and expressive, and makes effective use of late 1940s film noir-style lighting.
I also liked the memorable score; the use of the lovely old song "My Wonderful One" was effective. There's a gentle sadness and nostalgic feel to the song, and captures the atmosphere marvelously.
The performances are top-notch. Ameche, whom I have always admired all along, underplays masterfully. I love his touchingly sensitive recitation of his son's favorite poem when the boy is ill at the hospital, and the moment when he quietly speaks to his horse "Gallant Man" after the inevitable victory.
McLeod is fine too. "I've Always Loved You" had been her first leading role; and again she comes off divinely in "That's My Man." Roscoe Karns as the cab driver & Ameche's pal who narrates the first half of the story to a stranger is given an adequate supporting role to display his quirky comic talents.
While "Moonrise" and "I've Always Loved You" may have a significant edge as far as the critics are concerned, "That's My Man" ranks, to my mind, very close to the director's best in quality. A lovely and special film.
Another Heartfelt Americana from the Underrated Henry King
Simple, easy-to-take evocation of a 19th century rural religious life in Georgia, "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain" is one of director Henry King's profoundest and most personal works. I just saw it for the first time. A friend recommended it to me a while back, told me it's a timeless experience I would never forget. My expectations were further aroused when I found out the director had been Henry King, one of the most underrated American directors of his time.
The screenwriter is Lamar Trotti, who used to collaborate with John Ford, and who previously worked with director King in films "In Old Chicago"(1937), "Alexander's Ragtime Band"(1938) and "Captain From Castile"(1947).
Filled with lush, resplendent scenery of Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains & gorgeously photographed in Technicolor, "I'd Climb " is the uplifting story of a dedicated, scrupulous preacher William Thompson (William Lundigan) and his marriage to a charismatic city girl Mary Elizabeth (Susan Hayward). They settle in a small peaceful town populated by simple town folk trying to live, survive happily and peacefully.
Hayward and Lundigan are outstanding throughout, and give some of their most moving performances. Narrated by Elizabeth, the story flows nicely through several moments of tenderness. The preacher heals the community, providing hope and support in time of a fever epidemic, and transforms an atheistic neighbor into accepting the community's uncomplicated way of life.
Nothing of significance happens; it is a film of hope and harmony, a sense of time and place, beautifully realized.
Rhythm on the River (1940)
Bing Crosby & Mary Martin in a Pleasant Paramount Musical
"Rhythm on the River" is one of Bing Crosby's finest of his underrated Paramount musicals.
I discovered it last night, along with another Crosby musical vehicle called "We're Not Dressing" (1934). I never thought both would turn out to be this great. They are the kind of honest, feel-good musicals I'd enjoy and watch them over and over again.
Lightly directed by that underrated stylist Victor Schertzinger, "Rhythm on the River" is a pleasant, surprisingly genial little musical comedy about a gifted and unobserved pop composer Bob Sommers (Crosby) who happens to be in love with an equally gifted musician Cherry Lane (Mary Martin). Both are ghostwriters for a famous has-been composer Oliver Courtney (Basil Rathbone in a fine, delightful role) who uses Bob and Cherry's lyrics & songs for his own good. Oscar Levant has a good supporting role as Billy Starbuck, Oliver's closest friend, the one that inspires Bob and Cherry to write more lyrics and songs for his untalented buddy.
Mr. Crosby and Ms. Martin have awesome chemistry on screen. Their singing and charming camaraderie are wonderfully observed. I particularly adore Ms. Martin; I thought she was her very touching in her performance and kinda reminded me of Margaret Sullavan, with her sweet, humble innocence or dedication.
The memorable songs include "That's For Me", "Ain't It a Shame About Mame" (both sung by Martin), "What Would Shakespeare Have Said?", "Rhythm on the River" (both sung by Crosby), and the unforgettable "Only Forever" (sung by Martin and Crosby together).
"Rhythm on the River" is available on VHS/DVD, courtesy of MCA/Universal Home Video in good transfer and I recommend it to you.
The Great Man Votes (1939)
John Barrymore at His Best
"Great Man Votes" is simple, unpretentious, thoroughly charming slice of Americana, made for RKO in 1939, expertly directed by Garson Kanin. Its simplistic view of small-town politics in a by-gone era may be outdated by now, but it passes by pleasantly in its short running time.
I wanted to see it because of the legendary John Barrymore, who here gives one of his most honest and satisfying performances as Gregory Vance, an eccentric, once-famous Harvard professor who turned to alcohol after the death of his wife. Vance lives with his two charming kids (Peter Holden and Virginia Wiedler). One day, he has been chosen to cast the deciding vote in the city's mayoral election.
Though it is at first a portrait of community in an idealistic American city set sometime in the 1920s, "Great Man Votes" is mostly a character study. Barrymore excels in his incarnation of Vance. And he does it well while being drunk most of the time. He is at once funny yet sad, innocent yet scrupulous, sardonic yet charming.
This was one of Barrymore's last memorable performances as a leading man and another reminder of what an extraordinary actor he was.
Pigskin Parade (1936)
Judy Garland's Debut is Bubbly, Uproarious Fun
"Pigskin Parade" is a thoroughly enjoyable college football musical - the kind of fluffy, unpretentious froths 20th Century Fox usually done well. It recounts the events leading to a big charity football game between Texas State University and Yale.
Sure at times it's silly and corny; but when you come across an innocent and charming cast that includes Judy Garland (in her debut!), Betty Grable, Stuart Erwin, Arline Judd, Jack Haley, Patsy Kelly, Alan Ladd, Tony Martin, Elisha Cook Jr, plus those enchanting musical numbers, any flaw or implausibility has to forgiven.
The teaming of Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly as the married coaches guiding TSU at the Yale Bowl is itself fun to watch. You should see Haley's reaction when he finds out his wife has injured the team's star player! Stuart Erwin as the dour hillbilly tosser Amos Dodd later turned ace footballer is hilarious!
Judy Garland, on loan from MGM, looks very young in her role, three years before she starred again with Jack Haley in "The Wizard of Oz".
The young, up-and-coming Betty Grable, with her carefree enthusiasm, was a delight to watch again after she starred in another frothy campus musical "Old Man Rhythm"(1935). This is one her earliest roles and she handles it in a bouncy, exuberant manner like most of her best roles.
David Butler's direction is unpretentiously fluid, breezily mixing slapstick and highly uproarious songs/numbers. My favorites are "The Balboa", "It's Love I'm After", "You Say the Darndest Things" and "We're Glad to Be In College".
Watch it and Enjoy.
China Doll (1958)
"China Doll" is highly flawed Borzage romantic melodrama set in China in the 50s. It stars Victor Mature as an American pilot Cliff Brandon taking part in a war against the Japanese. He falls in love and marries a Chinese housekeeper Shu-Jen, played by Li Li Hua. The continuing exploration of love transcending everything - race, religion, war, death - is competently stated. The film is also very poignant in some passages, as is most of Borzage. However, if you look at it closely, it doesn't really jell.
The expert Borzage scholar John Belton, whom I owe a lot in my understanding of Borzage, ranks "China Doll" with the director's other melodramas - "7th Seventh", "A Farewell to Arms", "Man's Castle", "The Mortal Storm", "Three Comrades", "Till We Meet Again". Belton notes that all these works "contain hostile backgrounds which Borzage's fragile characters ultimately surpass."
But I find "China Doll" significantly problematic and less memorable than those films. I get the feeling that something is missing; much of it is characterized by an air of aimlessness or uncertainty. I didn't get that haunting spark that underlies the luminous lovers in much of Borzage's best work.
There is an apparent misalliance between Mature and Li Li Hua. I find Mature's character to be stiff, callow and frail. His careless demeanor does not contrast well with Hua's innocence or devotion. And ultimately (and regrettably) "China Doll" falls very short of greatness.
It's Love Again (1936)
Jesse Matthews at Her Best!
"It's Love Again" is my second Jessie Matthews musical. After watching her previous merriment, "First a Girl"(1935), I wanted to see more of her work. And "It's Love Again" is every bit as spirited, frolicsome, and enthralling as that one. It is characterized by grand production values, lovely gracefully directed dancing numbers, and some agreeably enchanting songs - especially the title song, which for some reason I can't seem to forget, even though I've seen the film only once.
Ms. Matthews herself a radiant, willowy, longed-legged radio soap star turned singer/dancer - is a joy to watch. The effortless way she dances, moves, or sings is quite astonishing, makes you wonder why she is little known. As in "First a Girl", "It's Love Again" features Matthews impersonating another persona, only to discover later her true self. Here, she is dancer, Elaine Bradford, who impersonates a mysterious, alluring British celebrity named Mrs. Smythe-Smythe who spends most her of time in India hunting tigers. Elaine jumps into the role in order to gain fame and impress the show biz manager Archie Raymond (Ernest Milton) of her true talents. The celebrity is concocted by Peter Carlton (Robert Young), a slack but fearless gossip columnist looking for a big break and falls in love with Elaine. Their romantic moments are marvelously sweet and endearing amidst the chaos of dancing and singing.
Victor Saville's direction has its occasionally polished slickness, with its penchant for large-scale, Busby Berkeley-like production numbers. The plot can get a bit tiresome as it proceeds - the constant obsession with Peter's invention Mrs. Smythe-Smythe is really trite and overdone. However, it doesn't get in the way of the glorious numbers and the charming rapport of Ms. Matthews and Mr. Young.
Though it scarcely turns up in some circles as far as I know - "It's Love Again" is worth seeking out if you haven't seen it already. Like so many of the best 30s musicals, you will ultimately be left with a feeling of utmost joy and ecstasy.
Man's Castle (1933)
A Borzage Classic (spoiler!)
"Man's Castle" is one of the most important American films of the 1930s. As Andrew Sarris has noted, it's one of the few films that was able to capture the emotional nuances of the Depression. Borzage's sweet, ethereal love story concerns a tough-guy Bill (Spencer Tracy) and penniless girl Trina (Loretta Young) who are incurably optimistic lovers. They setup house together in a squalid shanty town. Their romance transcends, in Borzage's spiritual vision, the Depression and worst possible squalor. Borzage typically championed the proletariat no better than in this film with the tease of material success at the very beginning of the film with Tracy's self-indulgent character and then challenge to the audience to accept a different set of circumstances. What impressed me the most about "Man's Castle" was Loretta Young. She actually became that character Trina. Her devotion and innocence are heartbreaking. Not to mention she carries Bill's unborn baby, and it would be a crime if he doesn't return the love she expresses to him. Bill loves Trina but he does it in a tough or bullying manner that almost becomes annoying. One of the most moving moments in the film occurs when he buys her a stove that she always wanted to get. She couldn't believe it and falls down on his knees and cries. Bill cannot help but moved by what he did. Despite his tough mannerisms, he ultimately succumbs to Trina's fragility, as they ride the freight train at the end, transcending the Depression and its harshness.
Every Day's a Holiday (1937)
Mae West's Last Paramount Pic is One of Her Funniest
This lesser-known Paramount frolic, directed by Edward Sutherland, is one of Mae West's funniest and breeziest vehicles in her late period. It turned out to be her last Paramount picture, from her own solidly crafted screenplay. I had the opportunity of watching it recently along with another West movie called "Klondike Annie"(1936), directed by Raoul Walsh. Though Walsh is a vastly superior director than Sutherland, I much prefer this one to "Klondike Annie."
Set in the 1890s New York, Mae delightfully plays Peaches O'Day, a notorious confidence woman who sells the Brooklyn Bridge and flees the city while the police are looking for her capture. She later returns disguising as a hilariously droll French singer, Madamoiselle Fifi. Then she promotes the city's election candidate Capt.McCarey (Edmund Lowe), who also plays the good cop tracking down the corrupt police chief (Lloyd Nolan). Mae is aided by uniformly fine supporting players: Charles Winninger, Herman Bing, Charles Butterworth, Chester Conklin, and Louis Armstrong as the musical street cleaner.
Mae's suggestive one-liners are sparkling and fresh, especially the moment when she impersonates the French dame. Sutherland's unpretentious direction flows breezily through several hugely entertaining moments.
Pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable, "Every Day's Holiday" is must viewing for Mae West fans or anyone looking for harmless, pleasurable escape.
Klondike Annie (1936)
Raoul Walsh Directs Mae West
My only reason of watching this rather trifling Mae West vehicle is that the director is Raoul Walsh. I've never been a big Mae West fan, though I thoroughly liked "She Done Him Wrong" and "I'm No Angel." I had some hopes for "Klondike Annie," but it lamentably turned out one of her dullest efforts. Mae's suggestive one-liners are surprisingly exhausting; her characterization of "the Frisco Doll" is rather fake and unremarkable. Walsh's direction is curiously flat and there's very little of his trademark exuberance to wither the contrived silliness of Mae's script (adapted from her own play "The Frisco Kate").
I saw it back to back with another Mae West movie called "Every Day's a Holiday"(1937). Though Walsh is a vastly superior director than Edward Sutherland, I much prefer that one because it's breezier, funnier, and more enjoyable.
The only good or likable things in "Klondike Annie" are Mae's romantic liaison with the rugged Victor Mclaglen as the rough, grumbling captain of the ship, and the moment when Mae impersonates the Salvation Army missionary. The rest is forgettable
Gun Fury (1953)
Nice Little Walsh Western with Rock Hudson & Donna Reed
"Gun Fury" is a neat, leisurely-paced Columbia Western, originally shot in 3D, directed by Raoul Walsh. I was expecting something exciting or exceptional like "Colorado Territory" or "Pursued". Instead it turns out to be routine, ambling minor Western that just misses mediocrity. Rock Hudson ably plays Ben Warren, a pacifist Civil War veteran whose fiancé (Donna Reed) is kidnapped by an ex-Confederate villain & gang leader Frank Slayton (Phil Carey) after a stagecoach holdup. Aided by one of the gang members (Leo Gordon) and an Indian (Pat Hogan), Warren pursues Slayton and his gang through several confrontations. Lee Marvin intriguingly plays Blinky, the outlaw that later challenges Carey before Warren and his group show up.
Throughout "Gun Fury", Walsh does a nice job of contrasting Hudson's mild, freedom-loving mannerism with Carey's vicious, unalloyed sadism. There are also, as expected from Walsh, some nifty scenes of outdoor scenery in the reddish Arizona desert. Donna Reed and Rock Hudson are great together; Phil Carey does good job playing the villain. Overall, a nice little Western that is worth checking out.