Saturday, November 29, 2003


I will make no double entendre pun on the title and simply note that no matter what meaning of "gay" you apply, none seem quite right as a way to describe the bride in this movie, Carole Lombard, a minxy, gold digging show girl out to marry for money alone. She gets gangster Nat Pendleton, who has helped finance her Broadway show, to marry her, then goes about fleecing him by draining his bank account, not realizing that he's not as rich as she assumed. Chester Morris is Pendleton's assistant (he goes by the name Office Boy) who stays clean and legal and who figures out right quick what Lombard is up to. Pendleton winds up getting bumped off and Lombard takes up with the man responsible (Sam Hardy); when he gets his, she gravitates toward another alpha thug, Leo Carillo. Along the way, she and Morris have an antagonistic but bantering relationship, which in movies like this means that they wind up together at the end. Zasu Pitts is Lombard's friend; Gene Lockhart, in only his second sound film, has a small uncredited role, as does Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson. There's an elaborate musical number, "Mississippi Honeymoon" that is really the high point of the film. Morris is fine, but I remain unimpressed with Lombard--I think she was fine in NOTHING SACRED, but otherwise I'm not a big fan of hers. The movie, though made after the implementation of the Production Code, has a pre-Code morality feel to it. While it's classified as a comedy, and does have a light tone, it's not very funny, perhaps partly because it's rather difficult to warm up to any of the characters.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003


This is one of Judy Garland's last "young starlet" pictures before she became an adult superstar in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS the next year. Garland plays the title character, a small town girl who dreams of being a great actress, and who "acts" in real life whenever possible. Her big chance comes when producer Van Heflin visits town to see his mother (Fay Bainter); Garland pesters him incessently and even hitchhikes to Manhattan to get him to cast her in a new play. Richard Carlson is the playwright and Martha Eggerth is the tempermental star who is involved in an on-again, off-again relationship with Heflin. Garland does land a small part, getting inspiration from Connie Gilchrist, a cleaning lady at the theater who once had her own dreams of being a star. Eggerth eventually quits the show and Garland, in a 42ND STREET move, is pegged to replace her, but things don't quite work out and she winds up in a tiny one-line part.

The studio (MGM) must have decided that audiences would react badly to such a relatively downbeat ending, because they undercut it with a finale that features Garland as the star of an elaborate musical number which seems to be taking place either in her imagination or in the future. Garland gets a few good songs, such as a swing version of "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son," and the "Broadway Rhythm" finale. The first half, set in small town Indiana, is fun, even if Garland's character gets irritating in her quest for attention. Spring Byington is Garland's mother who comes to NYC to see her debut; Ray McDonald, a spirited young man who never got a big break yet is always fun to watch (BABES ON BROADWAY, GOOD NEWS), is wasted as Garland's small town boyfriend; Douglas Croft is Garland's doorknob-stealing little brother--the same year, he played Robin in the BATMAN movie serial. Janet Chapman, a Shirley Temple wannabe, is the little sister. Bob Crosby (Bing's brother) appears with his band and I was amazed how much he sounds like Bing. The most amusing scene has Richard Carlson evesdropping on Garland and Chapman performing a scene from a play which he thinks is a real conversation about how Heflin has gotten Garland "in trouble." Worth a viewing, but not terribly memorable.

Monday, November 24, 2003


My own preferences in WWII movies are either homefront narratives or the propaganda-laden movies from early in the war (set both at home and overseas). But this combat film from later in the war, set entirely on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, is entertaining and interesting. The movie presents itself as a true story, though it seems to be, at best, a composite of several different possible real-life scenarios. As the U.S. public, months after Pearl Harbor, waits and wonders why the Navy hasn't retaliated against the Japanese in the Pacific, the men on one carrier are even more frustrated when they get orders *not* to engage the Japanese in the air, no matter what. It turns out that ship is a decoy, being sent from place to place in the South Pacific to make the enemy think that the American fleet is weak, scattered, and disorganized, while the Navy is actually building up for the battle of Midway. Don Ameche is the commander of the ship and Dana Andrews is the leader of the pilots. There are occasional clashes between men, often due to movie star turned flyboy William Eythe, but by and large, the cliches of the "men in wartime" movies are avoided (or, perhaps, just hadn't been established yet). One kid, Kevin O'Shea (who made 3 movies in 1944, then seems to have left the business) is grounded due to health problems both physical and mental, but gets a chance to redeem himself in the end. Richard Jaekel, Henry Morgan, and Glenn Langan (more well known as THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN in the late 50's) are in the cast; Cedric Hardwicke has a small role in the beginning as an admiral. There's a scene in which the men watch a clip of Betty Grable from TIN PAN ALLEY. The climactic battle, when they are finally allowed to retaliate, is presented mostly over the radio, broadcast throughout the ship. Some authentic carrier footage adds to the atmophere. Quite good--a notch above the average, at least--and Ameche is especially fine playing a bit against type as the stoic commander.

Thursday, November 20, 2003


The first half of this movie and the last few minutes are quite good, but most of the middle is deadly dull, making this not quite the classic that its reputation would suggest. It's based on a play, though it works best when it's opened up beyond its stagy and melodramatic roots. Sir Guy Standing is a duke who is holding a weekend house party for a visiting dignitary, Prince Sirki; as the film opens, the prince hasn't arrived yet and two cars full of arriving guests, racing their way through the night, feel a mysterious shadow pass over them just before an accident in which, miraculously, no one is hurt. Later, in the best scene in the film, Death, as a dark-robed Grim Reaper figure, visits the Duke. As the title suggests, Death has decided to take a holiday among the living to find out why he is so feared. Prince Sirki has died and Death takes his form (Fredric March). He is appropriately ill at ease at first in human interaction, but soon warms to the guests, especially Grazia (Evelyn Venable). Two other women, Katharine Alexander and Gail Patrick, set their sights on the prince, but it is Venable who is mesmerized by him without understanding why. At the end of his holiday, the question is, will March take Venable with him as he returns to the infinite. The sets are beautiful and the photography is striking, especially in the first half hour when shadows are used quite well. The romance plot feels like DRACULA in mood, with the death-obsessed woman fascinated by a charming but deadly male. The special effects used for Death's first appearance are great, making Death a paradoxical figure of both dark solidity and transparency. Henry Travers, more famous as the supernatural Clarence in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, plays a house guest. Kent Taylor plays Venable's boyfriend, who really doesn't stand much of a chance against the mysterious prince. Despite the doldrums of the middle, the film is worth seeing, and is available (though currently out of print) on DVD in a package with the recent Brad Pitt remake, MEET JOE BLACK.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


My *second* Will Rogers movie, and more fun than JUDGE PRIEST. I find Mark Twain's novel rather heavy-going, but this is a delightful movie. I still don't see Rogers as much of an actor, but when he gets off his dry zingers, he usually hits the mark. He plays the owner of a radio repair shop (and radio station) in a small Connecticut town--we first see him as he introduces a vocal group on the air who sing "Times Are Hard, But So's Your Old Man." On a stormy night, Rogers has to deliver some parts to a creepy mansion; while there, he meets an eccentric group of folks. One young man (Frank Albertson) is dressed up in a suit of armor, chasing a young woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) around the house. Another woman (Myrna Loy) seems to be after both of them. The wacky patriarch (William Farnum) claims to have invented a machine that can tune into sound waves from the past. Soon after Rogers hears what seems to be a message about King Arthur, a suit of armor falls on him. He is knocked out and dreams that he's back in Camelot and the various family members (as in WIZARD OF OZ) are present as well: Farnum is the King, Loy is Morgan Le Fay, etc. Rogers uses his knowledge of future events and technology to become Sir Boss and he introduces telephones, cars, guns, and tanks, and eventually a bomb with which to fight the evil Loy.

The sets and costumes are fine, especially in the creepy old house at the beginning. There are some amusing lines: On arrival, Rogers asks the Camelot citizens, "Canst tellest me where in the helleth I am?" There are jabs at topics such as government, warfare, and business, and Rogers says that advertising is what "makes you spend money you haven't got for things you don't want." (Guess there's nothing new under the sun!) Rogers' best acting is when he uses his foreknowledge of a solar eclipse to appear to be conjuring the eclipse himself. He also gets to lasso a knight during a tourney. Loy and Albertson are good, but O'Sullivan doesn't have much to do. The bitter tone of Twain's finale is carried over here, although the ending, back at the old house where Rogers discovers why everyone was acting strange, is upbeat. Overall, grand fun and highly recommended.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


My first Will Rogers movie, though because I saw a very poor quality public domain print of this. I'm not sure I should even be reviewing it. The image was murky and there were several jagged cuts where footage seemed to be missing. Rogers, a beloved folksy humorist, plays a beloved folksy judge in a small town in Kentucky. We get a sense of his everyday life in the casual opening section of the film. Rogers' nephew, played by Tom Brown, comes home with a newly minted law degree. He's in love with Anita Louise, a girl of questionable background, and Brown's mother (Brenda Fowler, who seems to be doing an Edna May Oliver imitation without much success) frowns on the match. Luckily, Rogers is on Brown's side and helps to clear the way for Brown to court Louise. There is a lovely summer evening scene where Rogers recalls his late wife (with one of my favorite songs, "Love's Old Sweet Song," playing in the background). Eventually, the rather unsavory man who fathered Louise (David Landau) is charged with attacking another unsavory man, Frank Melton, and Brown becomes Landau's lawyer. The somewhat incoherent ending dashes any real resolution for a sentimental finale in which a minster invokes love, forgiveness, and the Confederacy, and a "Music Man"-like parade ends the film. Henry B. Walthall and Charley Grapewin are also in the cast. Rogers doesn't seem like much of an actor, coming off like an ameteurish mixture of Andy Griffith and Lionel Barrymore, but I assume this laconic acting style was part and parcel of his overall comic persona. Landau is good, as usual, in creating a mean character you love to hate, though his character is redeemed in the end. There are some cringe-inducing black stereotypes, personified by Stepin Fetchit and Hattie McDaniel, and sadly, McDaniel isn't able to transcend her badly written part as she usually does. Still, an interesting chunk of period Americana.

Thursday, November 13, 2003


A traditional morality tale that runs the gamut from Cecil DeMille (sexy fire and brimstone trappings) to James Cameron (some soapy melodrama right out of TITANIC). Spencer Tracy is a coal shoveler on a ship who has ambitions for a better life. After getting fired, Tracy gets a job at a carnival helping out Henry B. Walthall, the owner of an attraction called Dante's Inferno. Basically, Walthall dresses up in a black robe and in a cheap Hell-like setting, preaches to his customers, but soon Tracy revamps the whole thing into a spectacular recreation of the various circles of Hell and it becomes a big hit. In a few years, he has married Walthall's daughter (Claire Trevor) and is raking in the bucks as the owner of an amusement company. When an inspector tells Tracy that his Inferno is unsafe and needs major repairs, Tracy bribes him to keep quiet; that night, the attraction collapses, killing some visitors and seriously injuring Walthall. At the old man's bedside, Tracy has a vision of Hell that scares him for a time, but does not lead to any substantial change in his character. Trevor lies for Tracy at a court hearing on the accident, then leaves him, taking their son (Scotty Beckett). The Titanic-like climax of the film takes place on the maiden voyage of Tracy's new offshore gambling liner; with Tracy's boy on board, the ship catches fire, causing much panic and putting Beckett in danger. Will this be Tracy's tragedy or redemption? Tracy is fine, as usual, as are Trevor and Walthall, though they aren't given much to do. The real attraction here is the "vision of Hell" sequence, filled with special effects, cool sets, and half-naked sinners writhing in agony. Most of it, or even all of it, consists of footage from an old silent movie, but it is integrated well. Also notable for a brief but impressive appearance by Rita Hayworth (when she was still billed as Rita Cansino) as a fiery dancer on the doomed liner.

Sunday, November 09, 2003


A very enjoyable second-feature action film that spawned a brief series starring Ronald Reagan as pilot Brass Bancroft. In this film, he's a commercial cargo pilot with a yen to be a government spy. He gets his chance when an agent on the track of an illegal alien smuggling ring is found dead, dumped out of a plane over a desert, along with several other men. The midair dumping scene is startlingly graphic for a 30's film, though the slow motion involved gives it an artificial feel. James Stephenson is the head of the smuggling ring; John Ridgely is the pilot who sends the men to their deaths. Reagan is recruited for spy work, framed for a crime by the Feds, and put in prison to make contact with a man assumed to be part of the ring. They break out and Reagan gets a job with Stephenson in an attempt to catch the bad guys red-handed. Eddie Foy Jr. does a surprisingly good job in a comic relief sidekick role as a co-pilot. B-movie workhorse John Litel is fine as Reagan's boss. A couple of handsome Warner Brothers B-film stock players, Anthony Averill and Larry Williams, are present; a bland blonde named Ila Rhodes is the leading lady but really only has a small part--romance is, at best, only a secondary concern for Brass Bancroft. The hour-long film plays out like a serial which has been cut down to the bare minimum with good action and fisticuff scenes, but some missing plot points. Good fun for those who don't expect too much.

Friday, November 07, 2003


Mediocre RKO musical which established once and for all that opera singer Lily Pons would never be a movie star. Pons plays Suzette, a singer with a pop band headed by boyfriend John Howard (Kittridge in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY). Her dream is to sing opera, but Howard keeps her away from her goal. A promoter, Jack Oakie, has a scheme to help her: he takes her to Africa and passes her off as Oogahunga, a legendary bird girl to be discovered by opera lover Edward Everett Horton. Back in New York she keeps up a double life, singing with Howard and preparing to make her opera debut with Horton's backing. Eric Blore, a clarinet player, sees an opening and makes a public claim to be the bird girl's father. Subterfuge and double crosses abound. I think there was a happy ending for all concerned, but frankly I lost interest in following the convoluted plot. Pons and Oakie both lack charisma; Horton and Blore provide a couple of good moments, and Howard has some potential in the beginning as a romantic leading man, but the movie loses steam quickly. The "fake bird girl" idea isn't bad; perhaps Fred & Ginger could have pulled it off. There is one good song, "Let's Give Love Another Chance," but that's not enough for me to be able to recommend the movie. Directed by Raoul Walsh, who was better with his later tough-guy pictures (THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, HIGH SIERRA, WHITE HEAT).

Tuesday, November 04, 2003


A wartime B-picture with mostly squandered potential--MGM or Warners could have done more with it. Chester Morris is "Foxy" Pattis, a lowlife fellow whose former friend (Richard Arlen) has become a district attorney whom Morris holds responsible for his father's death. Arlen enlists in the Army Air Corps and Morris is drafted; naturally, they both wind up at the same flight gunnery school. Morris is in charge of training a group of men including Arlen, Jimmy Lydon as a delicate kid whose father was killed at Pearl Harbor, and Dick Purcell as a guy with a knack for mechanics. The animosity between Morris and Arlen grows, especially when they both vie for Lydon's sister, Lita Ward (not a looker even by B-movie standards). Lydon can't quite cut it in training and dies in an accident during maneuvers. Ward blames Morris and cozies up to Arlen. Finally, in the South Pacific in real combat, after an inspiring speech from the doomed Keith Richards (rather handsome and no relation to the Rolling Stone), the men are put in a situation where one chooses to sacrifice himself for the other. Arlen is awfully stiff and romantically uninspiring. Morris, heading toward middle age, looks good in an Army buzz cut and does a fine job given the limitations of the writing and production--it's too bad he didn't get more soldier roles--although I confess I kept thinking the film would be more interesting with Errol Flynn or Dennis Morgan. Robert Mitchum has a good scene early on as a rival of Morris's.

Sunday, November 02, 2003


A whimsical romance, shot in gauzy soft-focus with some nice trimmings along the way but not much substance. Gene Raymond is a zookeeper in Budapest; he's a bit on the youthful eccentric side, always in trouble for punishing folks who don't take the animals seriously, like when he steals a fur from a visiting woman. Loretta Young is an orphan, just turned 18 and about to be forced into work; she's been planning an escape during one of the orphanage's zoo trips and finally her friends talk her into going through with it. Raymond, who has been flirting with her for some time, helps her hide after closing hours. Complicating things for the couple is a child who escapes from his nanny and gets lost in the zoo. Soon a full-scale search for all three is underway and in the last third, the movie becomes sort of an animal disaster film with maurauding tigers threatening our trio, along with a disgruntled co-worker of Raymond's (Paul Fix). Raymond looks the part, all blondness and smiles, and Young is fine, but the whimsey that should be applied with a light touch winds up feeling awfully forced. O. P. Heggie is the zoo director who has some empathy for Raymond; Margaret Hamilton has a couple of lines as the orphanage director's assistant. The cinematography is nice, giving the film a unique fairy tale atmosphere, but the whole thing is too heavy-handed to really succeed.