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Penrod and Sam (1931)
The Mischief Makers
Nicely filmed version of the Booth Tarkington novel, done with loads of charm. About a small town boy named Penrod and his adventures with his best pal/sidekick Sam - school scenes, a birthday party, touching scenes between Penrod and his dog Duke, the kids putting on a circus with Penrod as "ringmaster", and lots of stuff about the boys and their gang of kids who have this secret club - the In-Or-In lodge ("Independent Order of Infidelity" for those in the know) held in a shack in the neighboring vacant lot. This secret society's activities include some pretty brutal "initiations" for new members - of course, no girls allowed seems to be the policy too. One amusing scene features Penrod, having stolen his older sister's "love letter" to hand in for his school letter writing assignment, forced to read it aloud in front of the class as his own work. There is also a minor love interest for Penrod in the form of little Marjorie, a girl with a big case of "puppy love" when it comes to Penrod - he seems completely indifferent as he ends up in a sort of junior love triangle between him, the girl, and Sam.
I really enjoyed this film a lot - it's sentimental, yet funny and heartwrenching too. It is very nicely photographed with lots of sunshine and real small town houses and streets. The film seemed to me a sort of cross between "Our Gang" and "Andy Hardy" films. The child actors in this are all excellent - Leon Janney as Penrod gives a particularly likable and memorable performance here. Zasu Pitts and Johnny Arthur add some humor as the mother and effeminate father of Georgie, a boy who the kids don't like because, as one of them puts it "he's a big pansy". I also enjoyed seeing Elizabeth Patterson, later "Mrs. Trumbull" on "I Love Lucy", as the school teacher. I really found this film to be a delightful treat - highly recommended.
A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)
Stylish and tense melodrama which features an opening scene where a man who has just escaped from prison is seen crossing the stark and gloomy moors, the sky darkened by black clouds, and not much more to be seen than a few wandering cows and a dark, bare tree. A woman cares for her baby at a lonely, isolated cottage, the man slithers in and confronts her and - she knows him! Now in flashback we see the background story of these two, Joe and Sally, co-workers in a barber shop where he gives men a shave and a haircut while she manicures their nails and gives the customers flirtatious smiles. This prompts more than just jealousy in this man - he pursues her, she doesn't really seem to like him that much but does agree to go out with him and they spend an evening together at her boarding-house where numerous well-meaning, slightly interfering old-timers seem to live (and he gets some pretty scary expressions on his face in what seems to be his desperation to kiss her). When she agrees to go see a "talkie" with a certain male customer, Joe turns stalker as he sneaks into the theater, secretly plants himself in the row behind them, and in an amazingly photographed scene shot using rapid-paced editing, we never see the film they are watching - instead the camera cuts between audience members plus Sally reacting as they watch the film, the orchestra playing, and Joe - who is not watching the film at all, but rather he's glaring in a steady gaze at Sally and her "date" in front of him.
This is a really excellent, well done film featuring loads of interesting cinematography - softly filtered lighting and shadowy scenes, facial close-ups, and lots of fast cutting. The guard who discovers Joe's escape is seen mainly in shadows against the cell walls, the menacing face of the convict as the camera quickly zooms in to show his face as the woman recognizes him, Joe sharpening his razor, quickly cut between two gossiping female co-workers, as he contemplates murder! The Kino DVD of this features a great looking black and white print and nicely done piano score that helps enhance the tension in the film. A great silent film, well worth seeing.
The Lottery Bride (1930)
Take a Chance - Win a Bride!
Light operetta starring Jeanette MacDonald as Jenny, who we first meet at an Oslo night club called the "Viking Ship", where she is singing her heart out and partying with handsome university student Chris (John Garrick). New club partner, wise-cracking Hoke (played by Joe E. Brown) has all kinds of new ideas for sparking up the club - like shutting off the doors, heating up the customers, and selling them drinks to "cool 'em off", and holding a dance marathon with a cash prize. Jenny's brother is in trouble after stealing money from a bank - so she agrees to partner with him in the marathon to try to win the money. Too late - the cops are after him and Jenny is arrested for helping him escape. And meanwhile she's caught hugging a man who helps the brother - and her lover Chris leaves town in a jealous huff, without even waiting for an explanation! And now we get to the real meat of the story, a very odd plot line to say the least. For some reason she decides to head to a mining town in the icy north where she plans to become a "picture bride". The lottery system used in this process features a man selling chances to lonely-hearts to "win a bride" (sight unseen) at the hands of a spin on a roulette style wheel. Okey dokey. The twist - Chris is in town, decides he'll take a chance on the wheel, and ends up winning - of all things, Jenny as a bride. But without even a glance at her photo, he gives her away to his brother. She arrives in town, and a love triangle follows.
This is a lightly entertaining film where characters occasionally burst into a pleasant, well-performed song here and there and a touch of humor is added with a side plot featuring comedy one-liners and budding romance (sort of) between Joe E. Brown and Zasu Pitts (who plays the "Viking Ship" owner). Interesting special effects come into play in later scenes involving a dirigible heading to the North Pole and a rescue on the ice. Jeanette MacDonald is very lovely in this film - it certainly is hard to understand why she wants to put herself into this sort of lottery for marriage, seems a bit implausible, but oh well, it makes for a cute plot. Max Davidson appears in a small part here as the "marriage broker" who recruits brides for this whole scheme. The DVD of this features a shorter version of the film with a couple of missing scenes - the black and white print looks reasonably nice (it does not have Technicolor for the final scene).
True Heart Susie (1919)
Just Plain Susie versus The Paint and Powder Brigade
Charming and sentimental soap opera introduced as "The Story of a Plain Girl". Well, Susie (the so-called "plain girl", played by Lillian Gish) and William (Robert Harron) are two country teens who seem to be best pals having a small little romance as she walks home from school with him and he carves their initials on a tree - seems sweet, right? But then again, she pretty much trails behind him as they walk (like his shadow) and he pretty much pulls away as they start to kiss (bashful or just not interested - it's hard to tell). He dreams of going to college, she secretly sells her cow and other goods (after all, she "must" marry a smart man) and sends him the money under the guise that it is from a "philanthropist" they previously met in town. He comes back grown-up, with mustache - she secretly writes of plans to marry him in her diary and keeps it a secret about who his real benefactor was. But - enter one flirty Bettina: she believes in paint, powder, tight skirts, and silk stockings. Young William, now ready for marriage, unbelievably asks surprised Bettina to become his wife. Oh dear, poor Susie. But it doesn't exactly work out the way he hopes!
This is a really sweet and entertaining film - I like it a bunch. Lillian Gish is quite a bit too pretty to really seem realistic as "plain", but they manage to braid and slick down her hair in the earlier scenes, and with her shuffling along and the like, it almost works - and she's great in the part, of course. The character of Bettina is not really in the vein of "evil vamp" or anything like that - she's really just an immature young girl who likes to party and flirt and just isn't ready to settle down with a house and husband yet. Clarine Seymour, who plays Bettina, is really excellent in this film - she completely brings her character to life and even manages to make what appears to be a man-stealing home-wrecker into a sympathetic character. It is hard to forget while watching this film, the early deaths of two of the stars here, Harron and Seymour, in only a year's time. The art direction and camera-work nicely captures the rural setting and youthful faces of the stars. The Kino DVD of this film features a clear, tinted print that looks great - the music is a nicely done score by the Mont Alto orchestra featuring contemporary tunes, which completely suits this film. An emotional, absorbing, and at all times enjoyable silent film.
Old-Fashioned Equal Rights Coming-of-Age Tale
Bit of fluff about teenage Billie Carol (Patty Duke), tomboy (if in any doubt of that, the short-cropped boyish haircut tells you that fact) who joins the boys track team at her high school and faces the mild wrath of her father (Jim Backus) who is running for mayor (Billie wishes she were a boy - and so does dad - uh oh). Billie "hears the beat" when she runs and even helps the other boys on the team (none of whom can run as fast as spirited little Billie) learn the beat in a fun dance number. New boy in school, Mike, wants to become a track star so recruits Billie as his "teacher" - but can't keep his eyes off her when she dances. And meanwhile issues about "women's rights" are loosely brought into the film as Billie gets upset 'cause the boys treat her "like a girl and not an equal". A subplot involves big sister Jeannie who returns from college with a secret she only reveals to sis Billie.
This film is pretty light fare, nostalgic fun that reminded me so much of the 60s teenage films I liked as a kid - it's also a semi-musical with one good dance number, plus a few sort of catchy, a few not so catchy songs thrown in. As a fan of Patty Duke (one of my favorite old TV shows since childhood is the rarely seen "Patty Duke Show") it was great to see her in this fun, teenage role - she's very energetic, likable and cute in this (even though forced into appearing on screen in this rather ugly powder blue short set as well as a pretty hideous powder blue dress, amongst other things - and what's with that bleached blonde hairdo?!). 60s TV is also well-represented as this film is jam-packed with numerous familiar stars and character actors from popular 60s sitcoms - Bewitched, That Girl, Gilligan's Island, Leave it to Beaver - all represented here. Even well-loved character actor Charles Lane appears briefly in a few scenes as the track coach, and there's even a big "Shaggy Dog" in this. Nothing great- but enjoyable, light fun.
Employees' Entrance (1933)
The All-Business Triangle
A standout performance by Warren William as Anderson, the hard, uncompromising, ruthless and feared-by-most General Manager of a giant department store helps make this a really excellent and interesting film. With climbing profits over the years, the depression has hit the store with a downfall and Anderson is put in complete charge to boost up sales - and he will go so far as to ruin any man who doesn't live up to his high expectations. He likes women, but not for marriage - his motto towards females is "love 'em and leave 'em". He soon meets beautiful Loretta Young who is desperate to get a job at the store, apparently a hard nut to crack (and she, apparently, will do whatever it takes to get it as she spends the night with him at his apartment despite her indication she would like to go home). Anyway - she's hired on as a model even after she said she would like to be hired for her "brain" - okey dokey - and soon has met and married a gung-ho salesman (Wallace Ford) who has been promoted as Anderson's new assistant. Anderson believes that a man should be married to his "job" only - so the marriage is kept a secret, and the workaholic boss expects his assistant to be there by his side pretty much night and day.
Okay, this is a really terrific pre-code film, entertaining through every scene, and featuring one of my thirties favorites, Warren William, who pretty much steals the film. As for the women, though Loretta Young is fine in her part here and looks really gorgeous - it is the scenes with adorable Alice White that are the most fun to watch as she plays Polly, a blonde who takes extra pay from Anderson to do his bidding seducing male employees for various purposes. A very enjoyable film and a treat to see.
The Gilded Lily (1935)
30's Love Triangle
Entertaining romantic comedy starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray as a pair who have a "date" each Thursday meeting on a city bench to eat popcorn together, sans shoes. He seems to be in love with her, but she longs to meet her dream man for her idea of an ideal romance. And she does - in the form of handsome Ray Milland, who assists her in a crowd situation on the subway. They have a fun date together at Coney Island where the camera takes us on a wild ride on the roller coaster with them; they fall in love instantly. She thinks he's out of a job - he doesn't tell her he is a Lord (and has a fiancée back home in England!). But when she sees his picture in the paper (coincidentally attached to a story done by MacMurray, a reporter) she believes she's been duped. Follows a series of publicity newspaper stories, out of her control, which causes her to become famous as "The No Girl" for saying "no" to a lord. Then he thinks she was just in the whole relationship with him for the publicity. Well, based on her huge public fame, she is amazingly hired to sing and dance in her own solo nightclub act - even though, as seen in a quite amusing performance scene, she has zero talent!
This is a fun, enjoyable romp - a little frustrating in the way of many romantic comedies in which you feel like you know a couple should be together, but misunderstandings have caused them to remain apart. The ending of this was not particularly what I hoped to see either. But - Claudette Colbert sparkles as always, she's great. Fred MacMurray also does a fine job in his part, Ray Milland looks very young, handsome and, well, rather dashing! One thing I wondered about in this film - why are the Colbert and MacMurray characters so satisfied with just a date on a bench once a week, how come they never desire to get together for a dinner out, go to a movie, or any other normal type activity?! Seemed a bit odd to me. All in all, a quite enjoyable film.
How's About It (1943)
Fun, Loose Plot - Great Music
A-okay WWII musical featuring a very loose plot strung together with loads of snappy patter and enjoyable song numbers done by the Andrews Sisters. They appear as three elevator operators at a music company where a song publisher (who likes to take showers at the office!) has just been sued by a cutesy blonde for stealing her calendar "poem" for use as music lyrics. In order to get the lawsuit canceled, he hires her as a song writer - which she proves to have zero skill at doing (but he romances her anyway). Shemp Howard appears as a side character who fancies but is set down again and again by Patty Andrews with some rather mean one-liners - but his continual pursuit of her actually succeeds (why does this kind of aggressive pursuit of women always seem to result in success in the movies, though is seemingly unrealistic in real-life?!). There are some additional entertaining musical numbers in this film featuring Buddy Rich and His Orchestra as well as a thirteen-year old named Bobby Scheerer who is very pleasing as he plays a tap dancing office boy (he appeared in person at a screening of this last week at Cinecon 43 in Hollywood). As a whole this film is lightly entertaining, peppy fun.
Beggars of Life (1928)
Artfully photographed, dark and riveting silent film following the story of a handsome tramp (Richard Arlen) who has entered a house looking for work, finds a man slumped over at the table and discovers he has been shot to death. A young lady (Louise Brooks) appears at the top of the stairs dressed in male clothing - she admits she killed the man (he "adopted" her from the orphanage two years before - okey dokey), but reasons that she did it to protect herself from being raped. So - they run off together and hitch a ride on a rail car to get out of town. The two of them soon arrive at a side of the railyard hobo camp where they encounter one really hardened, bully of a hobo (Wallace Beery) who actually ends up helping them. When she is recognized by one of the hobos as being a woman, the bunch want to get her away from her fellow and have her for themselves - oh dear, that struck me as a pretty bad/scary situation for a female to find herself in (the looks on these men's faces as they stared in lust at this poor girl were enough to frighten anyone)! Later "Wanted" posters begin to appear on signposts, as they discover she is now wanted for murder with a $1,000 reward offered for her capture.
I found this to be a very interesting and enjoyable film, full of some beautifully photographed scenes - Brooks and Arlen in close-up as they hide out one night in a hay loft, Brooks falling from a train into a grassy field, a montage of images in the beginning showing the decadence of the girl's "father" as he paws and pursues her. The plot is, in a few ways, reminiscent of the early 40s comedy "Sullivan's Travels" - the female dressed in male clothing stealing rides on rail cars with a male friend/lover, the hobo camp, etc. Interestingly, I thought Louise Brooks looked even more beautiful dressed as a boy than when she puts on a dress! All in all, this is a visual treat and a highly entertaining film.
The Rider of Death Valley (1932)
Not Enough Water!
A top-notch early western. A gold rush hits a western town, now booming - and soon cowboy Tom Mix arrives on his wonderful horse Tony. When a man is murdered for his gold mine at the hands of two bad men - Tom takes charge of the dead man's now orphaned little girl (Edith Fellows) and she's soon all dolled up in a fancy dress and telling him how much she enjoys being "washed and dressed" by him - then Tom proceeds to tell her "remember, that's our little secret" (okay, what's that all about?! - I believe these lines didn't have the intention or meaning they seem to have today, but this caused a big reaction from the audience at a live screening at Cinecon 43 in Hollywood). Well, the child's young, attractive aunt (Lois Wilson) arrives in town to take over and and is none too happy to find the little girl in a saloon ("mixed drinks - 2 bits") at the bar, alongside a beer-drinking saloon gal (Mae Busch in much too small a part). The dead father has left a map to his gold mine (intended for his family), which the two bad men have got ahold of. But smart Tom gets it and divides the map into three pieces, one for each of them. They trek out into the Death Valley desert to find the mine - but a wagon accident leaves the three men, plus the aunt, stranded in the blazing hot desert with close to no water. Of course, while Tom and the woman are "strong and brave", the two bad men keep trying to steal water - the only one who can really help them out is Tony the horse, sent back out across the desert to the rescue!
A riveting, gripping, suspenseful film that really held my interest, especially memorable are the later scenes in the desert - the extreme thirst, the debilitating heat, the parched throats, the madness, all expertly and realistically brought to life. Tom Mix is an engaging star who gives a nice performance here, young Edith Fellows is an adorable child, but I must say, it is really Tony the horse who completely steals this film - what a neat horse, and he's the real hero here too! A very entertaining watch.
While New York Sleeps (1920)
The Three Story Twist!
Highly entertaining silent crime/suspense drama which showcases three vignettes of the city, all featuring the same small group of actors. The first story tells the tale of a woman left home alone one evening while hubby works late. Her baby is scared in bed (and a dream of demons is visualized above the toddler's head), the wife is shaking in her boots for good reason - an unkempt, grubby-looking man suddenly appears in the house who turns out to be her first husband whom she thought to be dead (and at the same time, an actual burglar is in the house, trying to break into the safe!). The second story features a vamp who seduces a man while attending the Follies. He is married but doesn't know *she* is until a man shows up at her apartment just as he is about to cut off the affair - twists to follow.
The third story is about "the paralytic", an old man completely paralyzed - he can hear, blink and move his eyes, and that's it. Unable to talk, he simply sits and watches - his only joy, his "heaven" as the title card states, is his adult son, a night watchman who lives with him. A rather seedy local seamstress has a side job caring for the old man for $3 a week - but when she loses her main job after a brawl with another woman, the son convinces her to marry him and have use of ALL his money. In a loveless marriage she soon turns to a secret love affair with a gangster who she has hidden in their attic after he has committed a robbery - and soon they have murdered the husband and disposed of the body (down an oddly placed trapdoor leading to the outside, placed right in the center of the main room of the house), all witnessed by the paralyzed father who can't talk!
This film includes lots of twists and turns, each short story in itself quite absorbing and interesting. I especially enjoyed the third story in this - the image of the "paralytic man" has really stuck in my head, quite memorable. Marc McDermott, who plays him, gives a really top-notch performance here portraying his emotions with just his eyes. Beautiful Estelle Taylor is also very good playing the female in each of the three stories. This film is a real winner; well worth seeing.
Go Baby Go!
Bit of fluff about a teenage girl named Clarabel (child actress Margaret O'Brien in a grown-up role), living in a trailer on a Kentucky horse ranch, who falls in love - with the new little chestnut filly just born on the ranch, who she names "Glory". When Glory becomes a yearling, Clarabel's "Gram" (Charlotte Greenwood) puts the horse up for sale (she has warned Clarabel to "never fall in love with one horse") for they need the money badly - but sad, sad Clarabel is helped out by local millionaire youth Chad and a horse doctor who prevents the sale. Clarabel and Chad have tons in common since, after all, all he talks about is horses, apparently - one problem, it's rumored he is engaged to one Candy Trent, who is one rich stuck-up snob. Well, Glory is trained for racing and proves to be a fast runner, and Clarabel decides to enter her prized horse in the "Kentucky Derby", even though it's rare for a filly to have a chance to win against the colts.
This film is a decent B-movie with a racehorse theme, mildly entertaining, painlessly pleasant. It oddly switches gear about the middle of the way through into a semi-musical (with several rather mediocre songs thrown in). Clarabel plays guitar and sings to her horse, then suddenly she is heard in the stables by a good-looking radio celebrity and hired to sing on his show, a second little romance to follow for her (but you just know she'll always be loyal to horse-lovin' Chad). There is a bit of history of thoroughbreds related at the beginning of the film including a shot of real-life Triple Crown winning race horse Citation; the finale features real footage of a Kentucky Derby race. For fans of Margaret O'Brien, it is so nice to see her in one of her almost adult roles - she's a charmer, but unfortunately the weak script doesn't really give her much of a chance to shine here. A side story features favorite character actor Walter Brennan as her "Uncle Ned" who constantly bickers and yells back and forth with Clarabel's Gram (but it appears they secretly really like each other!). Cute, lightly entertaining film - nothing great though.
War Hunt (1962)
The Unstable Killer and the Rookie
Dark, atmospheric, stylish film telling the story of combat as seen through the eyes of a newcomer, baby-faced Robert Redford, at a wartime trench camp in Korea, 1953. The story basically follows this man's experiences dealing with the others in their little platoon barracks - particularly a very odd man (played by John Saxon) who first appears on screen in a most memorable style - his mud-covered face suddenly appearing in close-up, completely filling the screen. This man likes to go out alone at night with his face darkened, on his own private "war hunt" as he knifes to death Koreans hiding in trench holes. This man's sidekick at camp is a young, orphaned Korean boy who seems to worship the older man. At one point, we watch Redford's character as he faces great fear during his first experience in combat; he also desires to help the young boy and faces many confrontations with the "war hunter"/mud man.
This is a very unusual film - powerful, gripping and interesting, the story moved along via voice-over narration by Redford as his character relates his experiences. The film features excellent, thoughtful camera-work including many facial close-ups, and many dark, night-time scenes that gives a haunting feeling to the action. The background music reminded me in style of that often heard during "Twilight Zone" or even "Star Trek" episodes - a sort of 60s sci-fi feeling to it, in a way. The film opens and closes with a nicely done, sentimental chorus of Korean children. An excellent film all around.
For Alimony Only (1926)
Silent romantic comedy/farce starring Leatrice Joy who plays Mary, a young art student who meets a man, Peter (Clive Brook), in a book shop who thinks she is a boy (she's dressed in the exact same male haircut and mannish outfit with sensible shoes worn in Leatrice Joy's previous film "The Clinging Vine"). Having just gone through another divorce where he must now pay his gold-digger of an ex-wife $5 a month (or was it a week) alimony - he tells the "boy" how easy it is to get along with another male compared to a female. Oops - when he finds out she's a woman, he decides to date her (what's that all about?!). Well, they are very soon married, but struggling financially to keep up with the $5 alimony payments which the blonde vixen of an ex-wife is constantly making demands for (she even has him jailed when his payments are past due) and all the while she is busy dating a leech without a job. Mary must take work as a decorator to help make ends meet, and, coincidentally, meets via her job the same leech man/boyfriend of the ex-wife, and he continually hounds her for a "date". To try and get his ex to reduce the alimony, Peter must agree to go out with her (fickle?, what's that all about?!) and they end up at this inn where they dine in a "private" room - the inn, apparently, infamous for trysts as the cops are soon there to bust things up, but smart Leatrice/Mary works out a way to end the alimony forever!
This film is pretty entertaining, Leatrice Joy seems to be an expert at making herself look masculine and her performance here is very well done; Lilyan Tashman smoothly brings the gold-digger to life. I saw this almost a week ago and the memory of what Clive Brook even looks like in this is completely gone (and I've seen this man in several other films, I still can't place his face) - so not exactly a memorable performance there. All in all, a light, fun film - not great, but quite an enjoyable watch.
Wake Up and Live (1937)
Fun musical comedy starring Jack Haley as part of a vaudeville team who have come to try out their act at a radio center, but he blows the audition because of "mike fright" - and his female partner, apparently really lacking in patience or loyalty, immediately drops him. He gets hired on as a guide there, and one day sings into a mike, not realizing that his vocals are going out live on the air. He has a great voice and is an immediate sensation, but since no one knows who did the singing, he becomes famous as the "Phantom Troubadour". Meanwhile, he meets a beautiful female singer (Alice Faye) whose radio show "Wake Up and Live" has just been canned by the network for lack of jokes. She decides to help him get over his mike fright - by having him come to her place each day to "practice" singing into a microphone, which unknown to him is putting his voice out live on the air every day!
With enjoyable, catchy songs (particularly the title song), a couple of fabulous tab dance numbers, Alice Faye looking absolutely gorgeous on the big screen, funny and likable Jack Haley, plus a fantastic looking print shown at a screening at Cinecon 43 in Hollywood, this film proved to be a real winner and a treat to see. A subplot in this film involves a feud between real life personalities Walter Winchell and orchestra leader, Ben Bernie, who appear as themselves. Character actors Patsy Kelly and especially Ned Sparks (who is hilarious here) add a touch of humor to the mix. A very entertaining film.
Tom Thumb (1958)
Wonderful Fantasy - Great Dancing!
Rich, colorful musical fantasy based on a Grimms fairy tale that is delightfully fun to watch. Telling the tale of a woodsman who is granted three wishes by a very beautiful blonde fairy, the Forest Queen, after he agrees to not cut down a giant oak. But he blows it on the wishes (gee, who could have guessed that would happen?!), much to the chagrin of his patient wife, by blurting out a wish for a sausage, which ends up on his nose via another wish, forcing him to use the last wish to get it off his nose - okey dokey. Luckily, the Forest Queen is very patient, apparently, for they are given a fourth wish - they would like to have a young one to play with their room full of toys, someone they can love even if he is no bigger than their thumb. Well, next thing you know, Tom Thumb (played by Russ Tamblyn) has come knocking on their door - he's tiny, but he sure can dance! He's bedded down for the night by his new "parents" and wakes up to have a magical dance party with his toys, now come to life via some really wonderful special effects. Another fun musical number features a village dance where all the dancers have purchased "talented shoes" from the cobbler that keep dancing as long as there is music. Later poor Tom gets mixed up with two villains who force him to steal bags full of gold (this part of the film was the one segment that I thought dragged the story down a bit). There is also a subplot involving a local music man (Alan Young) who is in love with the Forest Queen and doesn't realize that he can turn her into a mortal via a kiss.
As a whole, this film is really a lot of fun - with great dancing, brightly colored period costumes, and trick photography which really succeeds in making Tom look small. All the actors are great in this - but Russ Tamblyn really steals this film with his marvelous, amazing, athletic skill at combining dance with gymnastics - really a fantastic talent. The music in this is fairly good, although nothing spectacular - though I must say that I saw this screened at Cinecon 43 in Hollywood four days ago (it looked great on the big screen, by the way) and I still keep finding myself humming one of the tunes from this all day long, it's really stuck in my head. Alan Young appeared in person for this screening and proved to be highly funny and entertaining during an interview after the film was shown. This would be a terrific movie for children to see, for adults I also find this film to be quite entertaining - I am partial to fantasies, this was a treat to see.
Branding Broadway (1918)
The New York City Cowboy
Enjoyable silent romantic comedy/western starring William S. Hart as a wild west Cowboy who gets in a barroom brawl in an Arizona bar after finding out the state has gone "dry" (and he just arriving with a taste for a "pail of liquor", oh no), he's then sent heading out of town by rail, hog-tied. Well, he reads about a job in NYC to be "guardian" for a wealthy man's 27-year old playboy son, the duties to mainly entail going out drinking and brawling with him - right up his alley, oh boy! So he hightails it to the big city, promptly gets hired, and is put into white tie, tails, and top hat - all ready for the nightclubs (and let me just say, Hart cleans up real nice - swoon). A real duck out of water, so to speak, he ditches the top hat in favor of his cowboy hat as soon as he can - next thing you know, he is enlisted by the dad to get ahold of some "love letters" that the son's pretty girlfriend (Seena Owen), a waitress (not desirable to dad), is holding. He heads over to the "Wheat Cake Restaurant" where she works, and lacking the courage to actually come out and ask for the letters, he ends up eating 18 pancakes but never quite works up the nerve. Poor guy, he's become completely smitten with this woman! In a fun climax to save the letters, now in the clutches of a detective hired to get them when Hart continually fails at the task - our cowboy commandeers a New York City police horse for a wild west style ride through Central Park to save the day.
This is a quite entertaining film, the screening I saw of this, at Cinecon 43 in Hollywood, featuring a clear, great-looking sepia tinted print. William S. Hart is one of my favorite stars from that era, he seems to always play a rugged cowboy who has a real soft side and boyish bashfulness when it comes to women, which I find very appealing. His portrayal here is charming, sensitive and well done, the film itself very entertaining and fun to watch.
On Dangerous Ground (1917)
Heartthrob Helps Heroine Escape
Reasonably entertaining spy melodrama about an aggressive woman who uses her wiles to get what she wants. At the brink of WW1, an Alsatian woman (Gail Kane) desires to escape Germany - along with a secret vile she is to bring into France. A good-looking young American doctor (Carlyle Blackwell), at school in Berlin, is leaving Germany and has the much-needed Passport to get himself out of the country. Well, next thing you know, her bagful of mainly undergarments is in his hotel room on his way out of town (he bashfully sorts through the bag) - seems her plan for escape is to pretend she is his wife, though they have never met. She promptly arrives at the room, tricks the hotel bellman into thinking they are a real couple, and forges his passport by adding on the words "accompanied by wife" (no name needed, hmm) - and he goes along with all this, I guess 'cause he really wants a girlfriend or something. Now we get a series of situations in which they must convince various authorities that they are married. The film, of course, includes the two of them being forced into a room overnight featuring one smallish bed and one rickety wooden chair (you can probably guess who ends up on which). Anyway, the inevitable happens (no, I don't mean THAT) as romance blooms and he nicknames her "His Little Comrade". A German friend from his past helps out when all seems lost. By the way, one thing I learned from watching this film - Carlyle Blackwell looks pretty darn hunky when his shirt is all ripped and hanging off of his body for part of the film. Could I be remembering wrong - or is the point where the shirt gets ripped up about the point where she starts to fall for him?! The attractiveness of this once popular teen era matinée idol was enough to hold my interest in this film and keep it enjoyable - other than that, it is mildly entertaining fare.
Go West, Young Lady (1941)
Law and Order in Headstone
Rip-roaring Western-Musical that is fast-paced fun all taking place in the small Wild West town of Headstone where a bad man known as "Killer Pete" has killed four previous sheriffs and regularly ransacks the town of it's loot. Enter the new sheriff, a handsome bloke named Tex Miller (Glenn Ford), and the new gal about town, Belinda "Bill" Pendergast (Penny Singleton), just arrived from the east where she attended a "young ladies seminary" and, oddly enough, can out-handle most men with a gun. Tex and Bill met on the wagon into town, shot some Indians on the way in, and soon are thinking about getting married - except she can't stop accidentally throwing pies in his face. Meanwhile Bill moves in with her Uncle who lives above the saloon/dance hall and gets into some tussles with saloon dancing girl, Lola (Ann Miller).
With entertaining musical numbers featuring singing cowboys, a Barbershop quartet, Ann Miller performing a tap-dancing number on top of the bar, Allen Jenkins as a somewhat cowardly deputy who also sings and a dances (a little) - - not to mention a knock-down, drag-out, full-fledged "cat fight" between the two women, a big finale where the women of the town get the best of some bad men via the use of mops, brooms, and a big cast-iron frying pan, and Glenn Ford at the peak of his most young and gorgeous here, this proves to be a pleasantly fun and humorous watch.
The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926)
Love Triangle Amidst the Taming of the Desert
Beautifully photographed epic silent western following the story of a toddler baby girl caught in a desert sandstorm that kills her mother, the child's only surviving parent on their family's wagon trek along a lonely desert trail. Rescued by a man named Jefferson Worth, soon little orphan Barbara becomes his adopted daughter - cut to fifteen years later, where our Barbara (played by Vilma Banky) is now a young beauty living with papa in the small desert town of Rubio City. Enter new arrival, Willard Holmes, engineer set to help bring water to the desert and turn it into a garden spot. Of course he's handsome (well, he's played by Ronald Colman, after all) - but Barbara already has a local fellow, Abe Lee (Gary Cooper), who is completely smitten over her (and extremely handsome too - how's a girl to choose?!). Holmes actively pursues Barbara while Abe Lee watches from the background - but soon a misunderstanding leaves the whole town believing Holmes is a money hungry bad man!
This film is a stunning visual masterpiece showcasing images of wagons and people and horses moving against a backdrop of yellow-tinted sun-lit desert that looks absolutely gorgeous, not to mention the exciting flood climax featuring a fast-paced race on foot and wagon between the townspeople and the approaching roar of the Colorado river which is expertly brought to life. The DVD of this features a totally gorgeous tinted print that really makes the cinematography in this pop, plus a well done organ score done before a live audience (who you can sometimes hear laughing in the background). A really excellent film.
Rusty's Birthday (1949)
Oh, The Problems of a Dog Without a License!
Last of the Rusty movies, this one follows the continuing adventures of dog Rusty and his owner, teenager Danny (Ted Donaldson) who has just bought a new collar for Rusty's upcoming birthday - but doesn't want to give the gift before the day, so Rusty goes outside without his license on. Well, a man is seen rummaging around their garage, Rusty gives chase, Rusty rescues a woman's purse for her - and the bad man pretends Rusty is his dog and, well, sells him to the woman who decides to name her new-found hero dog "Jackpot". Okey dokey. But Rusty "escapes" and ends up having to make a multi-mile trek home the hard way, through a wooded area where he gets caught in some barbed wire and gets rescued by a sort of strange little fellow who goes around with his "pretend dog" - a stuffed toy dog on a rope he calls "Gladly". Well - first glimpse of the dad makes you know why this poor little boy is so weird - the dad says he's gonna "wallop" the kid because of this pretend dog. This out-of-work dad and his two sons get caught with the dog - and Danny's parents befriend them, especially the little boy (who mom seems to have maternal feelings for) who is given a room to sleep in their house and Danny's old pajamas to sleep in (bringing out the green-eyed monster, jealous Danny decides he will attend a military school next term and leave home).
Mild, light fare - entertaining enough for it's hour length, plus you get to see Rusty the dog (played by Flame the dog) do a series of tricks - lay down, look right, etc., and fetch the mail from the mailbox and deliver it to Danny's dad via his mouth (by the way, everyone gets their name on the mailbox, even Rusty - everyone except Mom, what's up with that?!). The interaction between Danny and his parents comes across as very similar to the sort of wise TV dad's and their sons to come - like seen in "Father Knows Best" or "Leave it to Beaver". Danny makes mistakes sometimes, but mom and dad are always there to teach him a well needed lesson. Worth seeing.
A Lady of Chance (1928)
The Con Artist and the Hunk
Entertaining silent film following the story of a gold-digger named Dolly aka "Angel Face" (played by Norma Shearer). Dressed up as the "good girl" we first meet Dolly working as a switchboard operator at a ritzy hotel, where she is recognized by two former partners in crime (slick, oily Brad and bad, blonde Gwen) who force her to rejoin their "racket" or face the consequences (she failed to report for her parole). Seducing a wealthy man she met at the hotel, he's soon minus $10,000 and picking out mug shots of Dolly at police headquarters. Brad and Gwen try to keep the dough for themselves, but wise Dolly gets the better of them - and wanting to work her own racket, she heads for Atlantic City where she ends up at a hotel absolutely swarming with men attending a "tile and cement" convention. There she meets her next "mark", an innocent Southern cement man/mama's boy (Johnny Mack Brown) who happens to be the perfect specimen of the "tall, dark, and handsome" man. She doesn't seem to notice his rather remarkable charms - under the impression he's about to make a million dollar deal, her heart is only on his wallet. Dolly bats her eyelashes into marriage, but things aren't exactly what she expects - and she just can't seem to escape from those two vultures either!
This is a fun film - amusing and well acted, with an interesting, if predictable plot line. Norma Shearer is great, as always, and has a lot of expression on her face in this film - Johnny Mack Brown is charming and oh so handsome to look at. Lowell Sherman, who plays Brad, is terrific in this as he plays the smarm to the hilt. There is some interesting photography in this - like a shot of just the feet of the actors as Dolly is chased by some phony cops, and another interesting shot of the heavily made-up face of "Angel Face" visualized atop her new switchboard operator look when she is recognized by Gwen. The version of this screened on TCM features a decent jazz score that suits the film well.
Ladies They Talk About (1933)
Women's Prison/Girl's Dormitory Escapades
Barbara Stanwyck as a beautiful gun moll who helps her gang commit an armed bank robbery, then gets herself arrested. A young reformer who speaks in front of an "old-fashioned revival" believes in her innocence and tries to help her as they both are from the same hometown and, well, she's not past using her looks to get what she wants. But when, for some reason that I couldn't quite figure out, she actually admits to him she was part of the hold-up, he then assists in sending her to San Quentin. Soon our gal is the "new fish" in prison, and this is a women's prison like no other - if it weren't for the appearance of some older women prisoners in the mix, this would almost look a private girl's school rather than the state Penn! Lounge rocking chairs, newspapers, card games, a "greenhouse" area, a hair stylist, manicures, the "ladies bird club", phonograph record players, and outside - "the sun yard", a regular garden spot. These women can wear their own slinky negligees at night and play records in their room - and one older inmate actually is allowed to keep her own little "lap dog" - h'm.
This film is pretty good - the portrayal of the prison so far-fetched it's actually kind of a hoot to watch. I notice the male prisoners (on the other side of the prison) don't seem to have the same conditions as the women as they are shown in regular jail cells with bars. Anyway, Barbara Stanwyck, one of my favorite actresses from that era, gives her usual star performance and acts up a storm - just great as she plays the world-wise gal who'll play hard ball to get what she wants. A really fun film.
Visages d'enfants (1925)
Excellent and moving silent film following the story of a young boy who has trouble coping with the sudden loss of his mother followed by his father's remarriage. In the village of Saint-Luc, in the Swiss Alps, the film opens in the parlor of a house where the coffin of the dead mother is brought down the stairs before the whole village including grief-stricken father and especially upset son, Jean. The daughter, Pierrette, seems too young to understand what is going on as she blows soap bubbles and plays with her doll (and in fact is actually told by a neighbor lady that her mama is "on a trip").
Jean now prays each night to a large photograph of his mother, which is prominently perched right above his pillow - he even imagines her coming to life as she smiles down on him. Every Sunday, father and son place flowers on her grave, but the father soon meets a local widow and her daughter Arlette, and before you know it dad stops visiting mama's grave and comes to the decision he will remarry. But he decides that Jean is just too sensitive to be told the news and recruits the boy's god-father to take him out of town while the marriage takes place, then tell the boy and send him back when the new family is safely in the household - h'm, kind of an odd plan, it seems to me, just leaving the boy out of everything (he doesn't even get to attend the wedding - and the whole village is there!). Anyway, when Jean gets back he immediately gets into a fight with new step-sister Arlette. Now I was expecting some real problems with the new mom perhaps treating him badly in the way of the often seen evil movie stepmother - but she is actually very kind, gives lots of love and encouragement in trying to join these two families together as one family, and even seems to treat all the kids equally. But the fighting continues between Jean and Arlette, mostly caused by Jean who tries to exclude Arlette from playing with them and seems to like to pull pranks on her involving her doll, which he eventually pushes off the family horse and cart into the snow - all leading to a possible tragedy as Arlette is caught in an avalanche.
This is a terrific film, very well photographed and very scenic, visually like a gorgeous picture postcard. An effective scene during the funeral procession features rapid cutting between the boy's face and the coffin - another scene looks like it came straight out of "Heidi" as Jean and Arlette are at the top of a mountain surrounded by the peaks of the Alps and a herd of goats. The acting in this film is natural and very well done by all - the kids are particularly good, their faces expressively showing every thought, especially Jean Forest, who plays Jean, who gives a really top-notch and memorable performance. The tinted print of this looked very nice for the most part, the orchestral score suits the film well and at times is extremely good. A remarkable and beautiful film - a treat to see.
Hell's Highway (1932)
Targets on Their Backs!
Well done chain gang movie - a short film, but packed with enough prison movie clichés to hold my interest for an hour including prisoners working in the hot sun with pick axes to build a highway under the supervision of mean, whip-wielding guards, the "sweat box" where prisoners get punished (sometimes to the death), bad chow (of course), black inmates singing spirituals, blackmail, murder, prison escapes, and two brothers - one the older, cocky, hardened bank robber (Richard Dix), the other a kid (Tom Brown) who seems to look up to his older brother almost like a father-figure and gets put in the prison for taking a shot at the "squealer" who sent his brother to the slammer. And to add a little color to the mix of men here - there's also a gay cook, a deaf inmate, and a prisoner who "reads the stars" and tells fortunes. There's also a bit about prison reform too, as a man is sent there to inspect the reason for the latest "sweat box death".
This is quite a good film, nicely photographed in almost what I might call an early noir style with lots of dark shadows and close-ups. Richard Dix gives a really, quite good performance here - I usually think he seems a bit hammy, but this role really seemed to suit him. A young Rochelle Hudson appears here as Tom Brown's girlfriend - though her part is very, very, very brief. All in all, I found this film to be quite interesting and entertaining - well worth seeing.