Tuesday, April 30, 2002


I've wanted to see this movie since I was 10 and read its description in TV Guide (war, children, and dead animals--it sounded a bit like an artsy horror movie to this young monster movie fan!). In WWII rural France, a 5-year-old girl loses her parents and her dog during a bombing raid (from which she herself barely escapes alive). She carries the dead dog around, meets up with an 11-year-old boy and becomes part of his household. She and the boy bury the dog and, because she thinks the dog will be lonely, the boy starts killing small animals (insects, chicks) and burying them near the dog. Then, more or less at her request, he begins stealing crosses to mark the graves, which triggers a village scandal.

This movie works on many levels; it's really a dark satire involving religion, ritual, death, rivalry, the pettiness of humans (certainly not just French peasants), war, and childhood. Robert Osborne, hosting TCM's showing, prepared me for a real tear-jerker, but aside from the opening when the dog dies (I felt sadder about the dog than about the parents), I had dry eyes. Both of the kids are remarkable but especially the girl, Brigitte Fossey, who really was only 5 when this was made. The ending, though I didn't cry, is haunting.

Sunday, April 28, 2002


An MGM B-film, I think, though it feels more like a Warners programmer. Chester Morris is the head intern at a hospital which seems to have a high percentage of wealthy and powerful patients, and lazy doctors who have solidified into an "old guard" and have led to Morris's gradual disillusionment with the medical profession, at least as practiced at this hospital. Robert Taylor is Morris's friend and chief rival. Virginia Bruce is the nurse in love with Morris, even though Morris has proclaimed himself a confirmed bachelor because of his dedication to his profession. Morris gets fired after irritating a rich old fat cat, but he winds up reinstated after risking his life in a showdown with a gangster. In the climax, he manages to save his own life as Taylor operates on him, following Morris's instructions.

Taylor comes off a little less than butch, especially during his melodramatic "I'm really a doctor now!" speech. There's a little beefcake in scenes with Morris and Taylor cleaning up after operations. Morris also executes a nice little bit of casual comic relief, balancing a shoe on his foot as Bruce is lecturing him about being more respectful to the stodgy old doctors. Short and cheap, playing out like an episode of "Ben Casey" or "Dr. Kildare." Billie Burke is a society matron who simply must be attended to by Morris; Donald Meek is an unscrupulous insurance man; Raymond Walburn is one of the villianous old doctors.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002


An RKO variation on a Warner Brothers "Gold Diggers" movie; a weak male lead drags the proceedings down, but some of the songs are fun and it offers a rare chance to see Milton Berle in a movie role. Jack Oakie is a down-on-his-luck songwriter who is living beyond his means in a spacious, high-rise, art deco apartment with his partner, pianist Berle. They are on the verge of being evicted, even though Ann Miller is doing her best to plug their songs. A "hillbilly" from Arkansas (Bob Burns) who has been taking mail-order songwriting lessons from Oakie comes to New York to finish his lessons in person. He thinks he's a total flop, but it turns out that he writes and sings great songs in his sleep. Oakie discovers this and starts publishing his songs, taking full credit for them. Meanwhile, Miller is in love with Kenny Baker (a real-life radio singer); her sister, the wonderful Helen Broderick, falls for the hillbilly, who himself is sweet on Miller. In the end, Oakie's cheating is exposed, but he makes good all around (rather improbably) and all the romances fall into place.

The songs are clumped at the beginning and end, leaving long dry patches in the middle filled with lame comedy and far-fetched plot twists. Neither Oakie nor Burns are personable enough to carry the picture, and Baker is a bland romantic lead, though Berle is good and the femmes are fine. Victor Moore, whose schtick is slow, bumbling talking, plays a producer who helps Oakie hit it rich. The impressive apartment looks like a leftover from an RKO Astaire/Rogers movie. Of course, Ann MIller gets to tap--her best scene is the opener where she impulsively tap dances during a radio show and steals the audience's attention. "Take a Tip from a Tulip" is the catchiest song, and the finale, "Speak Your Heart," sung by Jane Froman (a real-life singer whose life story was brought to the screen by Susan Hayward in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART), would be worthy of being included in a real "Gold Diggers" film.

Sunday, April 21, 2002


As "mad scientist" B-movies go, this is one of the better ones, with good atmosphere, above average acting, and a nice mix of science fiction and supernatural elements. Boris Karloff is a professor of science at a university who has discovered that human brains give off electrical discharge in "waves" that can be read by a lie detector-type graph. We see him give a successful demonstration for a group of doctors, using his wife as the subject, strapped into an upper-body harness-helmet contraption. He theorizes that these waves are as unique as fingerprints and could eventually be "read" in some fashion. Shortly after the experiment, Karloff's wife is killed in a fluke auto accident. Distraught, he throws himself back into his work and soon discovers that his dead wife's brain waves are still being received by his machine. He winds up working with a medium (Anne Revere) who, though a fake (exposed in a nicely played scene), exhibits strong potential for electrical discharge; together, they begin a series of experiments using dug-up bodies of the recently dead as "amplifiers" to try and read Karloff's dead wife's communications. Of course, with all this meddling in God's domain, we know that everyone involved will come to no good.

Revere, an acclaimed stage actress who later played more mainstream character parts, is excellent as the medium who is at first angry at her unmasking but who quickly takes almost an upper hand in Karloff's experiments. Her character could be seen as a serious version of Frau Blucher in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. She and Karloff work together well. The experiments, with a bunch of corpses seated around a table, are appropriately creepy, as is the effect of a swirling vortex of eldritch energy that appears in the middle of the table and pulls the corpses inward. Other performances are average: Amanda Duff, who plays Karloff's daughter, narrates the story but remains mostly a passive onlooker, as does Richard Fiske as her ineffective boyfriend. Ralph Penney has a couple of good scenes as the "simple" assistant who becomes an Igor-type figure. At just over an hour, you don't have much time to think about the plot loopholes. Recommended for fans of Universal 30's horror movies, although this one came from Columbia.

Friday, April 19, 2002


There's almost no way that this notorious pre-Code rarity could match its reputation. After seeing this, I felt like I did after seeing THE OLD DARK HOUSE, another film with a strong reputation that was difficult to find for quite a while: I was a little disappointed, but found it fascinating viewing anyway. It's based on a scandalous novel by William Faulkner, toned down considerably for the screen. Miriam Hopkins is a hot Southern belle with a reputation for being a cocktease (as some graffiti makes clear); there's a great scene early on where we see her from inside her bedroom as she's slipping in through the door, denying entrance to a lust-besotted boyfriend. We hear dialogue but see no faces, just her hand fondling the doorknob! William Garagn is a nice-guy public defender who is in love with her and who would probably be good for her, but Hopkins has no desire to settle down. One night, she gets in a car accident with a drunken lad and has to spend the night at a ramshackle "hillbilly" place with a bunch of drunk and horny men. This scene reminded me of a cross between THE OLD DARK HOUSE and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE!

Toward dawn, a gangster named Trigger (Jack La Rue) tracks her down out in the barn, shoots and kills her naive young protector, and rapes her in a non-explicit but nevertheless effective scene. She winds up running off with him, living in a brothel and pehaps working there as well, although that's left ambigious. Soon, Gargan, defending Irving Pichel on murder charges stemming from the shooting, tracks Trigger down, sees Temple, and leaves disgusted. Temple finally takes matters into her own hands, leading to a redemptive (and rather far-fetched) finale in a courtroom. Some critics have claimed that Temple seems to enjoy her rape, but it seems clear that she is traumatized by it and joins up with Trigger out of shame, perhaps thinking that she "asked" for it based on her past history with men. All of this is up to individual interpretation. But Hopkins is very good in the part, giving maybe her best performance. The cast features Florence Eldridge (the wife of Fredric March), Louise Beavers, and, in a very small part, Grady Sutton, who would later perfect the "tubby sissy" part in comedies of the 30's.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002


A pre-Code melodrama, memorable mostly because it's one of the few movies that Tallulah Bankhead did. She plays a flighty rich girl who ignores the advice of her bankers and loses her fortune during the Depression. Robert Montgomery, her middle-class fiance, had wanted her to give up her money and live on his, but he too loses his money. For a time, she becomes a kept woman and continues to live the life she's accustomed to. Soon, they meet up, both flat broke, and get married. He gets sick and she takes to the streets to pay his medical bills. After everyone's suffered quite enough, with Montgomery's brother butting in to tattle on Bankhead, there is an abrupt and unrealistic happy ending.

Bankhead comes off a bit like Bette Davis--husky voice, big eyes, similar screen presence--which is ironic given that Davis was accused of stealing from Bankhead's stage performance in THE LITTLE FOXES when she did the movie. This is turgid stuff, saved by a couple of memorable scenes. When Bankhead is told by a man that he is a metallurgist, she asks, "What kinds of metals do you urge?" There's also a bizarre scene where a cop, threatening to arrest her for soliciting, makes her vow to give up her sinful ways, pulls out a small crucifix and demands, "Kiss the cross!" This is mostly humorless and slow going, with only a handful of short scenes toward the beginning giving any sense at all of Bankhead's potential for humor.

Sunday, April 14, 2002


Spoilers below!!
Spencer Tracy plays a reporter whose specialty is juicy murder cases. He's also apparently going to seed, spending too much of his off time getting and staying drunk (there's a memorable scene of Tracy sleeping off a bender on a merry-go-round). Virginia Bruce is a secretary at the paper who is sweet on Tracy. His latest case involves a shady businessman who is suspected of bumping off his equally shady partner--the two have bilked dozens of people out of their life savings and even driven a couple of people to suicide. It's fun to watch Tracy dig up evidence, lead the cops around by the nose, and then write up his headline stories just as the cops are making their moves. The business partner is found guilty and sentenced to death. In a twist which is not totally out of the blue (it's clear that there's more to Tracy's character than meets the eye), it turns out that Tracy committed the murder for revenge--his wife was one of the people who got bilked and killed herself. At almost the last minute, Tracy comes clean, making his confession his last big scoop before going to the police. It's intimated in the last line of the film that a jury may be lenient with him.

Tracy and Bruce are good, as is Lionel Atwill in a rare turn as a good guy, but Tracy's character is underdeveloped; we are *told* things about him but we don't see much of anything happen so the twist feels hollow. On the one hand, we're supposed to accept that his drinking is a real problem; on the other hand, it doesn't seem to have hurt his career much or lessened whatever charm he held for Virginia Bruce. It's only 70 minutes and was probably intended as a second feature, which may explain the lack of characterization. This is also notable as James Stewart's feature film debut as a Jimmy Olsen-type reporter. I wonder if Tracy's character was one of the first anti-hero vigilantes of the Production Code era?

Saturday, April 13, 2002


I loved SCARLET EMPRESS so much that I've been trying to catch other Dietrich/Sternberg collaborations. This a wondeful camp fest (though I can't believe it was meant to be received that way at the time), though not as delirious as EMPRESS. Marlene Dietrich plays an Austrian widow who has descended into prostitution and accepts an offer to become a spy, code named X-27, using her feminine wiles to smoke out Russian spies. In a beautifully shot multilevel (physically and metaphorically) scene typical of Sternberg, we see her at a masked ball dressed in a tight, dark, but spangly outfit, snaring her man. She is also suspicious of the man's friend, burly Victor McLaglen, who is in fact a spy; the fireworks between them as they alternately seduce and betray each other make up the rest of the film. In one scene, he berates her for her cheating and lying; she says, "Perhaps I don't always cheat and lie." He replies, lustfully, "The more you cheat and lie, the more exciting you become, X-27!"

The acting is a bit over-the-top by all concerned, especially when McLaglen is leering at Dietrich, which is in most of his scenes. Supposedly Sternberg wanted Gary Cooper, who would certainly have been sexier, but maybe not quite so lustful and almost obscene in his desire. One standout scene has Dietrich in disguise as a simple peasant maid at an inn where McLaglen and his men are staying; she looks completely unlike herself, so that it took me a few seconds to realize it was her with the plain face and plump body. The last scene is a famous one where Dietrich gets all whored up to face a firing squad (in her cell, she asks for a mirror to fix her makeup and has a large shiny sword thrust in her face). Overall, it's something of a mess, but a wonderfully excessive one.

Friday, April 12, 2002


If I hadn't seen the credits with my own eyes, I would have sworn this was an MGM production from Ernst Lubitsch. After all, it has Margaret Sullavan (at her most radiant) & Frank Morgan, a glossy backlot Budapest, whimsical romantic entanglements, and a strong supporting cast. It's practically a prequel to THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, one of my very favorite movies. But it actually came from Universal, was directed by William Wyler, and written by Preston Sturges (based on a Molnar play). Despite some lulls in the middle, this is a lovely, light confection with lots of laughs and fine performances.

Sullavan is an orphan named Louise Ginglebusher (her last name becomes a running joke) who is chosen by theater owner Alan Hale to be an usherette. She goes into the world determined to do a good deed for someone every day (like a good fairy). Her first night on the job, she is befriended by a somewhat gruff but good-natured waiter (Reginald Owen, Scrooge in MGM's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, acting very un-Scroogelike) who invites her to a glittering party where he's working, then keeps an eye on her as she gets the attention of rich philanderer Frank Morgan (at full befuddled bluster). Through a string of somewhat far-fetched plot twists, Sullavan winds up pretending she's married to a man whose name she picks at random out of the phone book (Herbert Marshall). Morgan gives the man a job and money as a favor to her and Sullavan is happy to have been a "good fairy" to someone. But the plot is just picking up steam as she winds up getting directly involved in Marshall's humdrum life.

Marshall is miscast in a romantic part, as he often was in the 30's, but everyone else is practically perfect. Beulah Bondi and Cesar Romero have small but memorable parts, and Eric Blore gets to shine playing something other than a butler or hotel manager--he's a rich doctor who, briefly and drunkenly, also tries to befriend Sullavan. Morgan perhaps overdoes the bluster, but it fits the rather artificial character and plot. At one point, he even has a line that seems to foreshadow his most famous part when he compares himself to a "wizard." I like the fact that everyone winds up being a "good fairy" to someone or other in the film, even if I'm not so happy that Sullavan and Marshall wind up together. If Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart had played the part, this would almost be a perfect 10.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002


I'm sort of a fan of this subgenre of film, about stiff-upper-lip British Army soldiers fighting uprisings in India with courage, wit, and sacrifice (not to mention a phallocentric Colonialist viewpoint!). I love GUNGA DIN and BEAU GESTE; I'm not a big fan of THE FOUR FEATHERS. These are the last two of the great 30's movies in that category and both are certainly worth watching.

In LIGHT BRIGADE, Errol Flynn plays a major in the army and Patric Knowles is his brother (that family had good genes!). Both men are in love with Olivia de Havilland. She has been "promised," so to speak, to Flynn but in his absence, she and Knowles have grown cozy. Unlike the romance elements in DIN and GESTE, this feels organic to the story rather than thrown in haphazardly to the mix. Indian villain Surat Kahn (well played by C. Henry Gordon, an actor not well known to me) has had his government susidy cut off by the British, so he cozies up to the Russians and Kahn and his men fight against the British in the Crimean War (which I admit I nothing about). Before the conflict breaks out, Flynn saves Gordon's life when a tiger attacks him. Later, when Flynn and his men are forced to surrender, Gordon allows Flynn to escape during a massacre in which many women and children are killed. Naturally, Flynn seeks revenge and gets his chance on the Russian front. The foolhardy climactic charge (based on an actual historical incident) is well photographed, although it looks like some horses got seriously banged up or worse during the staging of the attack. David Niven is quite good as a fellow soldier and Nigel Bruce & Spring Byington are good light comic relief as a officer and his wife.

BENGAL LANCER is all about male bonding, of all kinds: between friends, between soldiers, between father and son, between soldier and officer. Gary Cooper is a gruff but good-hearted lieutenant who takes under his wing a newly arrived soldier (Richard Cromwell) who happens to be the son of the commanding officer (Guy Standing). Cromwell isn't toughened up yet and Standing resents his presence. Occasional stabs at reconciliation fail. Franchot Tone plays a fellow lieutenant who gives Cooper a hard time about his "mothering" instinct, but they develop a respectful friendship and ultimately both risk their lives when Cromwell is tricked into captivity by the wicked Indian warlord (another well-played villian, this time by Douglass Dumbrille). There is torture (bamboo under the fingernails, I think, though the scene is rather oblique), betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption before the fadeout. Though not quite as fun or thrilling as DIN or BRIGADE, this has a more substantive plot than some of the other movies of the kind, and the acting is uniformally strong (except for Cromwell who never seems worth sacrificing for).

Monday, April 08, 2002


In my experience, Hemingway has not been well served by Hollywood. They got close with this one, but his sparse writing style, which usually gives his work a certain tension and immediacy, is lost in the translation of this novel to the screen. Gary Cooper is Lt. Henry, an ambulance driver in France during the First World War. He meets up with a nurse (Helen Hayes) and falls in love. They have a brief, torrid affair (clearly involving sex, a point that could not have been made so boldly only a few years later when the Production Code kicked in) and while he's hospitalized, a priest whispers a wedding ceremony for them so they can feel married in the eyes of God, if not the state. A jealous commanding officer (Adolphe Menjou) tries to keep them apart, but also, oddly enough, occasionally helps get them together; it's almost like he's a capricious god playing blithely with their lives. While apart, she goes to Switzerland to have a baby (with Menjou assuring that their letters do not get through to each other, Cooper doesn't know she's pregnant). Cooper eventually tracks her down but not in time to avoid a tragic ending.

The director, Frank Borzage, was clearly not terribly interested in the war angle, which comes across more stongly in the novel. We see little in the way of battle except for an impressionistic montage late in the movie. The cinematographer, Charles Lang, deservedly won an Oscar for his luminous and fluid black and white camera work. A standout sequence is shot from Cooper's point of view as he's carried through the hospital on a stretcher; we see the cathedral-like main floor, the intruding faces of nurses looking down on him, and finally Hayes bending down to kiss him/us. As Hemingway, not great, but worth seeing for the acting and the camera work.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

Two B-Thrillers

A British B movie which was marketed as horror is really a fairly traditional crime thriller with Bela Lugosi as a man who is murdering people in an insurance scam and dumping the bodies in the Thames. The opening scene of a bloated body floating in the river sets the atmosphere nicely. The plot, from an Edgar Wallace novel, is unnecessarily convoluted what with insurance policies, a connection to a home for the homeless blind, an obnoxious American detective tagging along mostly for lame comic relief, and the obligatory damsel in distress. Lugosi plays a dual role that actually surprised me--his voice in the second role must have been dubbed in by someone else, but it's well done and the unmasking scene was nicely underplayed, given Lugosi's usual hamminess. Actually, Lugosi is good throughout. Occasionally interesting camera work helps make up for the lack of budget reflected in some of the sets. The "monster" of the American title is a hulking, deformed blind man who helps in the killing, and a couple of the most effective scenes involve him: one in which the camera observes from a doorway as a man is brought into a room and the "monster" is suddenly coming at him, and another when the monster menaces the damsel in a dark room (he reaches out and smashes a glowing light bulb with his hand, a trick which looked almost too real to me!)

This really cheap PRC production is a variation on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, with bits of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL thrown in. George Zucco, who has just been released from prison for embezzlement, invites a group of his old cronies (who were apparenly just as guilty as he, but who escaped jail) to his fog-shrouded island for a "party." He tempts them there by hinting about the possibility that some missing money could be hidden at the house, but his real motive is revenge. Lionel Atwill and Jerome Cowan (Spade's partner in MALTESE FALCON) are two of the ill-fated guests. If you like this kind of "old dark house" movie, it has its moments, but the low budget and only serviceable acting get in the way of any real thrills or fun. Of course, there's a romantic couple who come out OK while just about everyone else gets what they deserve. It passed the time, but it's not one to search out.

Saturday, April 06, 2002


This is B-movie mystery material that seems to have been given A-movie treatment, resulting in a fun, atmospheric film with a truly unique frame: apparently, the story was originally done as a 6-part radio play without a conclusion. Listeners were then invited to submit their ideas about "whodunit" and the mystery was finally wrapped up with the release of the movie. After an introducion by a radio announcer (who seems genuinely uncomfortable in front of a camera), the story begins with Karen Morley as a woman who is in the process of blackmailing a number of rich and important men with whom she has had dalliances. Her motive seems to be to get a lot of money quickly and retire for life. She gets H.B. Warner to gather the men at his estate, Crestwood, for a party where she will drop her bomb. Anita Louise is Morley's sister who is set to marry Warner's son, but Pauline Fredrick, as Warner's sister, doesn't want that to happen (her nephew is too good for Morley's sister). Ricardo Cortez is a crook who has been hired to steal some of Morley's letters.

Everyone winds up at Crestwood, trapped for the night due to storms and mudslides. Morley ends up dead with a dart in her neck and Cortez turns detective to clear himself before the police arrive at dawn. Practically everyone in the house has a motive, and like a good mystery, there are red herrings and surprise discoveries along the way, including a ghostly figure that crops up from time to time, with the face of a former suitor of Morley's who killed himself (or so it seemed). Flashback sequences are done in a odd technique in which the camera pans back then zips around in circles to stop abruptly and pan back in at the flashback scene. A very good example of the trapped-in-a-house thriller genre, complete with secret passages and a climax played out in the mist just before dawn. Definitely worth catching.

Thursday, April 04, 2002


You can already see in this early talkie many of the standout elements of Frank Capra's style. Certain things here reminded me of scenes or themes in AMERICAN MADNESS, MEET JOHN DOE, MR. DEEDS, and YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. The opening scene is the most powerful. Barbara Stanwyck plays the daughter of a preacher who has just been let go by his congregation (unless I missed something, we never know why except perhaps that he was old). He dies in her arms while writing his farewell sermon and she goes out to the pulpit to read it. Her anger, passion, and disgust for the congregation come out strongly and without any over-the-top artifice that Capra sometimes allowed in his later movies. A slick but slimy character (Sam Hardy) talks Stanwyck into a career as a revivalist and faith healer (her character is based loosely on the real-life Aimee Semple McPherson) and she hits it big. Stanwyck is not as convincing in evangalist mode, but she only really has one big scene like that. A blind man (David Manners) is about to commit suicide, but he hears her on the radio and is inspired to live and to attend one of her services. They meet and fall in love, and when she decides to leave the faith-healing racket and go straight, Hardy threatens blackmail or worse.

The revelation here is that David Manners is really quite good. This came as a shock to me, given his mostly wooden performances in DRACULA, THE MUMMY, and THE BLACK CAT. I've also seen him in other films including BILL OF DIVORCEMENT and THE MOONSTONE, but he made no impression on me in those films. Here, he does a nice job of underplaying the part of a blind man, something that could easily have wound up sappy or exaggerated. I actually believe that the more worldly Stanwyck could have fallen for him. (His scenes with a ventriloquist's dummy, however, should have been left on the cutting room floor!)

Stanwyck's character isn't fleshed out enough. Clearly, she's in on the trickery involved with her faith healing, but she also seems genuinely unaware that she might be hurting innocents with her charade, even though her motivation for starting her career is to get back at her father's hypocritical congrgation. I've read that Capra wanted to do a movie much more critical of fake religious leaders and that the studio wanted him to tone it down, which may be why her character is so ill-defined. But this is still a very good movie with good acting and some interesting camerawork, not to mention what must have been a fairly big budget, given the scenes in her flashy tabernacle.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002


A drab and dismal musical, showing that the Warner Brothers 42ND STREET & GOLD DIGGERS formula was running out of steam long before GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS (which I enjoyed much more than this movie). You'd think that with Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, and Busby Berkely, there'd be some nice musical numbers and some decent comedy, but oddly enough, although there are attempts at comedy, there isn't even a stab made at a real production number. The money ran out, perhaps? A few songs get sung, but the closest they come to a flashy number is a bizarre comedy/novelty song, "The Body Beatufiul" by an obnoxious troupe called the Yacht Club Boys. It's got a couple of surreal touches, but it's not a full-blown production number. Ultimately, when all wrongs are righted and the understudy is about to take the stage on opening night, the movie ends without even a single peek at any fully staged songs or dances. It feels like the last reel is missing.

Dick Powell is a dance director working for producer Warren William. Joan Blondell is a high society dame, in the news for wounding her husband during a domestic argument--she offers to bankroll William's new musical but insists on starring, depsite having no discernable talent. This leads to friction between Blondell and Powell, and William uses a sort of reverse psychology to make Blondell think she's in love with Powell, which keeps things running smoothly for a while. Powell's real love interest is a pretty young thing, new to show biz, who (of course), at the last minute, gets the starring part.

The movie is lifeless throughout, although Blondell and Frank McHugh try their best (McHugh is especially game, taking over for a leading lady during a rehearsal of a musical number early in the movie, and managing to generate a couple of laughs). However, Jeanne Madden, who plays the ingenue, gives perhaps the worst leading performance I've ever seen in a movie from a non-Poverty Row studio! She seems to be literally reading her lines from cue cards with no comprehension of what they mean. She is utterly incapable of expressing any emotion stronger than fatigue. Madden only made two other movies before retiring from the screen. Spring Byington is fine in a small role and an actor named Craig Ryenolds is appropriately handsome as Blondell's leading man. Jane Wyman has a two-line bit as a chorus girl named Bessie Fuffnick (yes, the name is the punch line!). Unless you have to see every movie Powell or Wyman ever made, don't bother with this one.

Monday, April 01, 2002


Spoilers Below!
Myrna Loy, in one of her early exotic roles, plays a half-Egyptian woman who visits Egypt with her rich fiance, a blond, puffy-faced prig (Reginald Denny). She hires Ramon Novarro to be her guide and servant; he's a smooth-operating quasi-gigolo who gets money and jewels from appreciative female tourists. For a while, the movie is comic in tone as Novarro falls in love with Loy and works his way into her entourage and her favors. Suddenly, about halfway through, it's like a different writer took over and, in a rather melodramatic turn, he kidnaps her, tells her he is a prince, and tries to marry her against her will. She escapes, he catches her, she fights against him, he whips her and then frees her. Just as she's about to marry the prig, Novarro returns, serenading her from her balcony. So, naturally, she leaves with him.

I've never read a traditional romance novel (Harlequin, bodice-ripper, or otherwise) but I imagine this is what many of them are like. I guess we're supposed to be glad that Loy goes off with Novarro, but between the abductions and the violence, his actions are just short of rape (perhaps not even short of it) and I found it difficult to be happy for her. Of course, I didn't want her to wind up with Denny, either. Novarro is a steamy exotic lover, but he is also fairly toadying and even a bit effeminate. Loy is lovely and intelligent; I wonder if her "half-caste" status is supposed to make us assume that it's only natural that she should take to Navarro's treatment. C. Aubrey Smith and Edward Arnold are around to do their usual things. Louise Closser Hale plays Loy's uptight, pruny chaperone, but she's the only one who isn't surprised that Loy leaves with Novarro. A strange movie for our times, with the romantic violence a little unsettling, but if nothing else, the desert scenery was lovely.