Friday, September 13, 2002

Two Early 30's MGM Movies (how's that for an interesting theme?)

TUGBOAT ANNIE (1933)--Marie Dressler in the part she's probably most remembered for (aside perhaps from her relatively small part in DINNER AT EIGHT). She and Wallace Beery have good chemistry as an earthy, long-married couple who run a tugboat. Beery's an irresponsible drunk but he remains mostly likeable; Dressler is the backbone of both the family and the movie. Robert Young is their son who makes good and then essentially cuts all ties to his family on account of Beery's drinking. If this movie were remade today, they would be the very model of a dysfunctional, codependent family. Of course, Berry gets the chance to make good in a melodramatic finale involving bad weather. I usually go into Beery movies not wanting to like him, but he always wins me over (except perhaps in GRAND HOTEL). Frankie Darro, one of my favorite kid actors, plays the Robert Young character as a child. Overall, a bit sappy and predictable, but an interesting cultural artifact--it was apparently an incredibly popular movie in its day.

THIS MODERN AGE (1931)--Interesting mostly as a somewhat bizarre pre-Code relic. At heart, it's a bland melodrama whose main point of interest is Crawford's shiny blonde hair. She plays a young woman who finds her long-lost mother (Pauline Frederick) in Paris and tries to catch up on lost time with her. The mother is being kept by a married man, but she hides this from Crawford, who herself is beginning to fall in with a fast crowd, led by a young, rich drunkard played by Monroe Owsley (who looks a little like a cross between Pee-Wee Herman and Ayre Gross). Thanks to the boy's drinking, they get in a car crash (oddly played for laughs) and Neil Hamilton saves them. Crawford falls for Hamilton, and vice versa, until he finds out the truth about Crawford's mother. Predictable plot twists ensue on the way to a forced happy ending. No need to worry about catching this one unless you're a Crawford fanatic.

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