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A Free Soul (1931)
Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore are great in this...
25 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Norma is Norma, in her "free spirit" mode; she is such a stilted actor, it is like she puts on a uniform and the one she chose for this one is "free spirit" only it all seems so forced. Hard to believe she was such a big star-she is not even very photogenic, which was often half the battle back then. Yet she is so pleased with herself, that you can find a way to buy into her as you watch. She was always known for her high level of confidence.

I've read a lot about Norma and she was extremely vain and body-conscious, so I am surprised she allowed herself to be photographed in that riding outfit, as she was especially concerned with her legs. She maintained a vigorous exercise schedule which was unusual for her day, when most of the actresses went in for massages, which was somehow considered the equivalent at the time.

The movie has more of a theme and plot than, say "The Divorcée", as it involves a dramatic legal case, pitting her alcoholic father against her racy new lover, played by Clark. Norma's character is forced to agree not to see him anymore if her father will quit drinking forever. But she doesn't have to give him up for long...and Norma's reaction to seeing him drunk again is startlingly overacted, but kind of funny to see.

Overall it is not a bad film; as much as I love watching the movies from the thirties and forties, some of the sets look so patently false, it is kind of jarring at times. And it is always fun to see Clark Gable charging around a screen.
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5/10
Everyone is stiff in this movie...(spoiler)
24 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Leslie Howard is pompous and stiff, playing a character who is the same. Myrna Loy is beautiful, sometimes charming, but also a little stiff. She seems unused to the role of the woman who loses in the end. Ann Harding has always come across as mannered and stiff to me, and this movie is no exception.

Being that it is a pre-code, the man is permitted to choose his mistress over his wife-very unusual indeed and you won't see that again after 1934 for many decades. But he knew what his wife was when he married her, yet he acts so affronted and disgusted when she lets him know that she really wants him to accept his father's offer to live in the city, as she is unhappy and bored in the country. She wants a more exciting life.

Ann Harding's character seems anything but the footloose artist. She comes across as very priggish and upright to me. Yet we are to believe she is a "free soul". It is even less believable that Howard's character is such a person. They seem like two prigs, who probably do belong together after all.
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6/10
Corny old-fashioned story...
22 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
But I will give it a 6 because Kay Francis is always watchable, for some reason.

She is the best thing in this movie; the others, all males parts except for Margaret Lindsay's brief role as her grown-up daughter. The others are serviceable in their parts.

Once again, Kay finds herself on trial for a murder; this time it really was an accident as her older, former lover tries to commit suicide when he can't convince her to spend his remaining months of life with him. She gets "sent up" for 20 yrs for manslaughter, and her husband is killed in the war. When she is released, she finds her daughter believes she is dead, so she takes the money left to her by her mother-in-law and sets sail.

She meets up with a grifter and together they make money as card sharks, in a club set up in the very house where her former life took place. The final irony comes when her daughter loses $15K at Kay's table and winds up shooting Kay's partner/lover. Kay can't let the girl's life be ruined the way hers was, so she takes the blame, agreeing to stay with the owner of the club, staying on as dealer and possibly more, in exchange for him getting rid of the body.

Overall, not very realistic in any way, not very compelling of a script, but Kay has a few good moments and looks especially beautiful in the scene in the beauty shop when she has had a makeover upon release from prison.
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Pinky (1949)
3/10
Tough to watch...
22 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Many movies do not hold up over the years, regardless of how well they are made, due to the times changing. But this movie tries too hard...it wants to be ground-breaking but does not want to offend the whites who are harboring their prejudices, so they try to please everyone, racist and liberals, and it comes off as entirely phony. Why make this movie at all, if you are going to cater to the racists in the end? Pinky is not a very sympathetic character and her doctor boyfriend even less so. He wants her, even after finding out she is part black, but only if she goes back to pretending she isn't. But of course, they can't end up together, because the audiences of the day wouldn't stand for it, even though the actors are both clearly white.

I know the studios had to pander to the ridiculous censorship code, but I think they would have been better off not making films that so clearly are hamstrung by the "rules" of the code.

Hollywood made some ridiculous movies over the years, with various white actors playing Pacific Islanders or Asians for part of the movie, only to later "discover" that they were really white, so they could have the white hero in the end. This is a kind of reverse, but comes off just as phony and stilted.

Some of the acting is fine, but the script is so leaden, it hardly matters. And Jeanne Crain delivers too many of her lines from between clenched teeth in an effort to appear taut and simmering. It just looks stiff. She must know how ridiculous her casting was.

I also know movie-goers of the day were used to the phony sets, but they play better in some movies than in others. This one looks as fake as can be the whole time.
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Illicit (1931)
6/10
In a twist on a familiar theme...
20 July 2012
it is the man in a so-called "illicit" relationship who longs to get married and avoid a reputation, while Ann, played by Barbara Stanwyck holds out. She doesn't have much faith in marriage. But she is eventually convinced, in part by her lover's father. Will she be happy, or proved right, that is the question of the film.

Barbara looks lovely in this film, with darker hair (even though tight satin gowns are very unforgiving). She plays a modern woman, and does so with charm, instead of stridency. As newlyweds, they are blissfully happy, with plenty of money, travels and a beautiful townhouse in Manhattan. But hubby (James Rennie, who was married to Dorothy Gish for a while) is still a bit of a stiff....he complains when Ann turns on the music after a dinner out. She wants to go dancing, he whines about the late hour. Besides he might be catching a cold. Boo hoo. Yet when his friends call up, suddenly he is raring to go. And Ann knows why-he is still carrying a torch for a former girlfriend.

Joan Blondell is smart and chic in a small role.

(One of the most unrealistic lines is when Ann tells her husband she is going to move back to her old place for a while, tonight, right away. Try that in NYC...)
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Worth watching for Constance Bennett...
20 July 2012
wearing a fox fur wrap complete with head.

Shop girl Laura from poor family catches the eye of a rich ad executive and is soon doing more than modeling for him. We see her being gifted with jewels, an apartment, clothing, cars.

Her sister's husband gives her the righteous speech, calling her a "woman like you." There's one in every picture, even in this pre-code film.

Constance is beautiful as always and wears clothes better than anyone else of her time.

Off she goes to Colorado with her boss/lover and attends a very strange picnic where she meets Robert Montgomery. A whole pig (poor thing) spins over a pit while a Native in long braids is seen wandering around. She and Robert M. spend some time at the shore of a dubious-looking river bed, and ride horses together, while he makes pretty speeches. And then he proposes marriage.

Laura is in love; she breaks off with her rich lover, but soon finds herself in dire straights. In the end, she has to choose-the poor life with the man she loves, or comfort and security with the rich lover.
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4/10
Oh my goodness...I must be an old cynic...
17 July 2012
I found this film unbearably corny and dated, even for the period. Norma Shearer never impressed me when she played any sort of a period or costume role, as she became too self-aware and phony. Some actresses, Garbo for one, could slip in and out of costume dramas and more modern roles with believability, but not Norma. The only times I found her to be natural were in her early roles as a young actress when she wasn't playing Mrs. Thalberg.

This one was just a little too old-fashioned and sentimental for my tastes. I had hoped for more, for a pre-code film.

Leslie Howard is generally good in anything he does, and he performs well enough here. But I don't feel a whole lot of chemistry between the pair. And maybe it is the black and white format, but in the portions where Norma is in the blond role, her hair looks more gray than blond, which ages her.

I guess I am not a softy...sorry, I don't mean to be harsh, but just did not like this one very much.
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6/10
An okay silent romance...
17 July 2012
Nothing special in this one...but not bad either. Except to me, Joan looks older than she is (even older than she pretends to be, as she was already lying about her age, since Fairbanks was younger). That hairstyle does not flatter her, even though I know it was the popular look. She looks to be in her thirties in this movie, to me. And Doug Jr. is not appealing at all to me. Much better-looking leading men than him. Or maybe it is just that he looks so young and has such a babyface.

Joan does not overact too terribly, which is always a plus with her. I like Anita Page in this film and think she looks prettier and fresher than Joan. What happened to her career anyway? Guess I will have to investigate...
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5/10
Spoiler Included...
15 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This movie isn't so bad, it is pretty well-acted, but just the fact that it was made in 1940 and that the wife of the "deceased" man had been married to his friend for 6 months before her husband returns (meaning she must have slept with him) is enough to tell the viewer that they won't know what to do with the ending, and sure enough, they don't. The decency code really muddled this one-she couldn't just be allowed to pick which one she liked better, so a judge decides that her "dead" husband is in fact her legal husband. But they leave the ending open, so the viewer isn't really sure what is going on, as it appears all three are going off together. If they hadn't yet consummated the marriage, as in the other similar movies where the husband returns on the wedding day, it would have been simple enough to return her to her original husband. But once they threw the six months in there, they were stuck for an ending and it shows.

I am not yet won over to Jean Arthur, will have to watch some of her other movies. She looked beautiful in the first half of this movie, but the hairstyle changed midstream to this awful one with a bang full of curls, which was horrible on her.

Fred McMurray was much more handsome than he ever got credit got.
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Becky Sharp (1935)
6/10
Not my favorite Miriam Hopkins performance...
15 July 2012
...in a very truncated version of "Vanity Fair". Also the quality of the visuals is poor, the new use of color is not great, and it seems more like a filmed play than a movie. None of the male actors are attractive in their roles, and the entire cast seems to be acting on a very hectic level. The pace is too rushed, as though they know they have far too little time to try to tell this sprawling story.

But I enjoy costume drama, and it is that.

Miriam's Becky is more shrill than charming, making it hard to believe that so many men fell at her feet.

Also the wigs are bad.
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8/10
I like this movie...
13 July 2012
I may be rating it a bit higher than some people, perhaps because I have read about the back story in several books. Miriam Hopkins was up to tricks the whole time, trying to upstage Bette, driving Bette to distraction, so it is fun to watch to see if she gets away with any of it. There is one scene where she kneads a handkerchief almost to shreds while Bette is talking, forcing you to look at her instead. That is the kind of thing that drove Bette nuts.

Bette is very un-Davis-like here, she is not twitchy, not hysterical and her speaking cadence is actually quite normal. In fact, Miriam is the one who twitches and throws jewelry and displays histrionics. I kind of wonder why Bette didn't grab the role of Millie instead, in a way. Her role at Kit is noble and intellectual, playing the "real" writer whose serious books don't sell (though she still wears furs) while Millie is the wildly successful writer of romance novels, churning them out like "sausages" as a woman from the press makes the mistake of letting slip in front of her. And of course Millie's husband falls for Kit, as Millie evolves into a vain, material obsessive. "I should have thrown myself out the window, like I planned," she shrieks, when her husband leaves her. Seconds later, she is planning her life as a newly-single woman.

Bette gets the opportunity to make one of her ever-so-righteous speeches for the Red Cross in war time, complete with somber eyeglasses. She looks like Girl Scout in her trim little uniform and tri-corner hat. And when she exchanges her uniform for yet another fur and removes the hat, she flaunts a wide skunk-like streak of white in her hair, to show the passage of years.

Overall an entertaining romp, if only to watch the actors. Gig Young is good too as her younger boyfriend.

The ending is code-like...
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5/10
Poor Joan...she couldn't not overplay a role if she tried...
13 July 2012
or even a scene, for that matter. She is a stiff broad in this one, right down to a short, severe stiff hairdo. I am not a huge Joan Crawford fan, although I liked her a lot more in her earlier films, when she was still loose and a bit floppy. Once she became a "star" she changed her whole acting style so she could appear, as her ex-flame says "refeened." It is a shame she couldn't just go with the flow once in a while, instead of playing herself in different occupations.In this one, she is Joan playing a tough congresswoman. But of course she does a classic Joan melt when she sees Robert Young again after all these years...heart on sleeve as always.

She enters the reunion at her old college to the strains of a song being "sung" by by the co-eds, which incorporates her name, yet sounds like a heavenly choir. The girls come forward one by one to hand her a bouquet and each one is a cliché; there is the butch athlete, the drama queen, the good girl, etc and Joan ends up clutching a veritable rose bush as she launches into a speech, gazing off into the bright and shiny future.

Of course Robert Young is now a widower. You'll have to see the movie to see if his marital status changes.

This movie is a fifties movie, in that it is prim, everyone is a cliché of a type, right down to the wise-cracking assistant (Eve Arden)and the women are stuck with the hairdos and clothes of the period, which were never flattering to anyone.

But if you are a Joan fan, she is here, in her glory.
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Five and Ten (1931)
7/10
Not a bad way to spend an hour and then some...
11 July 2012
It is not a great pre-code film, but I gave it a 7 mostly because I enjoy Marion Davies.

I also like Leslie Howard as a rule, but in this case, I don't think he and Marion are a good fit; I can't see why she is so head over heels with his character. He does the usual priggish brush-off at one point, calling her nothing more than a cheap rich girl. Good grief, the men were prigs in a lot of these films, always lecturing and indignant, no matter how badly they had behaved up that point.

Marion has such a beautiful face, I can see why she was such a popular silent actress. As always she is dressed beautifully. And she does a good job here, her voice is good, not sign of a stutter.

I know most reviewers gave high marks to Douglass Montgomery, but I found him to be very stilted and stagey in the role of the son. Part of that is due to the lines he was forced to say, I will give him that. I found Richard Bennett to be stiff and actorly as well, but I will take into consideration the style of acting at that time, especially for the older actors who had been on the stage for many years.

All in all, a good enough drama.
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Lonely Wives (1931)
8/10
A fluffy little pre-code comedy
6 July 2012
Maybe it is as not as good as I rated it, but I thoroughly enjoyed this little movie. It has lots of little saucy lines in the script and the main character, a defense attorney, delivers his with style and wit. His secretary is quite a little number as well.

I am sure this does not rank up there in any list of great early films, and I had never even heard of it, but I came across it on youtube today, posted in full, and completely enjoyed it.

When a client comes to call, the lawyer tells him he can only spare five minutes. The client flatters him and he responds "maybe 10 minutes." Not hysterical but the way he says it brought a laugh.

Overall, maybe a silly little film, but not a bad one, and fun to watch.
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8/10
Enjoyable pre-code drama
6 July 2012
An enjoyable, well-acted pre-code, not very risqué except in theme. Claudette C is wonderful and so is Mary Boland, the upscale Marie Dressler.

I found this movie posted in full on youtube, a pleasant surprise, as I've never heard of it. A good way to spend an hour and fifteen minutes.

Claudette's character has to take a job as a social secretary upon her father's death, as she finds out he was broke. Just before he died, she had married a good-for-nothing on a whim, a wild night out. He leaves her when he finds out she is poor and starts working as a gigolo at a local club. When she meets an aristocrat after her heart, he is due to marry her former friend, the uppity daughter of her new boss, who is secretly see Claudette's sleazy husband. Complications arise...
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6/10
Not too bad
5 July 2012
I like Myrna Loy, so I watched this today on tape. Mostly good acting, except for the child, who was insufferable to me...I had to fast forward through those parts, but I hardly ever can bear child actors; still, she was especially grating.

The story was good...but as with so many of these films from the 30's and 40's, I only enjoy about the first 80% due to the way they were forced to wrap them up. The ending here was a little more creative than some others, but still awfully pat.

The one outfit worn by Una Merkel was just too much, the white with the black wing collar-thing...I couldn't stop looking at it, so missed the whole scene pretty much. Wow that was a scene stealer. Surprised Myrna let her get away with that.
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42nd Street (1933)
8/10
A good old classic musical...even if you are not a big fan of musicals...
5 July 2012
I just saw this movie this weekend for the first time all the way through and really enjoyed it. I love classic movies but tended to shy away from the musicals until I read a few bios lately on various stars and directors of the genre and was glad when this one came so I could tape it and watch it.

The story is basic, of course, but it moves quickly, seems realistic as far it goes, the acting is good without any noticeable overacting that often comes across when we watch these old movies 50+ years later. I really like Ruby Keeler and also Bebe Daniels in their roles. And it was funny to see Ginger Rogers in a such a small part.
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5/10
Oh my...
29 June 2012
Watching this movie today...it is very hard to understand why Norma Shearer was considered such a great actress. This movie contains some of the worst overacting ever, even for the era. NS is the worst offender. Good grief, woman. And the whole style of the film is beyond ridiculous, with everyone's thoughts being broadcast in melodramatic tones. Also having a hard time believing all of these men are in love with her.

I do like some of Norma's work, but she is in no way a natural actress. Maybe she should have retired when the "talkies" came...her style worked better for silents.
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