Tuesday, June 29, 2004


A character-driven melodrama which plays out like a noir version of Steinbeck's "Cannery Row." Jean Gabin is Bobo, a guy who lives on the waterfront doing odd jobs on boats that dock in the bay. He's likeable but he drinks too much, though we never know what brought him to his current state. He is shadowed by crusty old Thomas Mitchell; first we think Mitchell's a pal, but we soon see him in a different light as a potentially cruel leech. One night, Gabin stops Ida Lupino from committing suicide and the two develop a relationship, helping each other to stay propped up and on the straight and narrow. When harmless Pop Kelly is found murdered, clues point to Gabin as a suspect (he might have done it during a drunken blackout), and the situation threatens to derail the tentative happiness that Gabin and Lupino have found. It turns out that Mitchell has a couple of secrets that lead to a fairly exciting climax. Claude Rains is almost unrecognizable (looking a bit like Barry Fitzgerald) as a barroom philosopher; Jerome Cowan is a middle-class doctor with a mistress, though his storyline doesn't come to much. In fact, the real problem here is that all the plotlines and characters never really come together. It feels like we're supposed to buy into the idea of this nurturing waterfront community, but not enough is done with the supporting characters. There is some nice atmosphere, lots of fog, and a stagy set that manages to be nicely evocative. There are a couple of big names behind the scenes: author John O'Hara wrote the screenplay, and Fritz Lang directed (though he was replaced at some point by Archie Mayo). [FMC]

Friday, June 25, 2004


This is a trashy, overheated soup of a movie that had the potential to be fun, but thanks to some stupendously bad acting and underwritten characters, is mostly a tedious haul through faux-Tennessee Williams territory. Laurence Harvey is Dove Linkhorn (no, that't not a typo), a tall and apparently penniless Texan lad who hitchhikes his way to New Orleans to find his long-lost love, Hallie (Capucine). She's a sculptor and supports herself by working in a brothel, the Doll House, run by tough-as-nails madam Barbara Stanwyck. Capucine is also Stanwyck's lover. Helped out by a kindly Mexican diner owner (Anne Baxter), Harvey finds Capucine and the two plan to leave New Orleans together to start a new life, but Stanwyck doesn't want to let go of her "girl toy." The wild card in all this is Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda), an ambitious and wildly sexy but nasty underage girl whom Dove finds along the road. She winds up working at the Doll House and helps set in motion a blackmail scheme against Harvey intended to get him out of town and away from Capucine. Harvey and Capucine seesaw back and forth about getting back together, and in the end, after Stanwyck's musclemen beat the living crap out of Harvey, a gun goes off, killing an important character and making sure that no one gets a happy ending out of any of this sordidness.

What's good here? Stanwyck, of course, is fine, giving us a little preview of her "Big Valley" melodramatics. Any fun the movie has is due to her. I liked Fonda in a total spitfire role. Baxter is also good; some critics have taken her to task for her bad Mexican accent, but I thought she was as believable as anyone else. Another plus is the camerawork, with lots of slithery movement around elaborate sets. The music, by Elmer Bernstein, was good, much of it being played by a jazz combo in the brothel. The biggest problem with the movie is Laurence Harvey, who is totally miscast. I've never liked Harvey--the best thing I can say for him in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is that he doesn't hurt the movie. But he definitely hurts this one. He's not a Texan, he has no passion and he is too old for the part. He is terrible. Capucine is not very good, either, though she certainly looks like she could make a good living as a hooker. The weak screenplay is another problem; the backstory of Harvey and Capucine's characters is almost non-existent. Stanwyck's character is married (to a legless man who has become her flunky) and certainly adores Capucine, but she also makes a strange anti-lust speech late in the movie, which makes me wonder exactly what she and Capucine did behind closed doors--lie around in their nightgowns and talk about sensible shoes? I'm quite surprised that they got away with such strong implications about prostitution and lesbianism with the Code still (barely) in force. The credit sequence by Saul Bass, with a black cat slinking around and getting into a fight, is famous and great looking, though the movie doesn't live up to it. But I've got to admit, any movie with a character called Kitty Twist can't be all bad. [TCM]

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


A totally unnecessary remake of the 1932 Warners melodrama ONE WAY PASSAGE (reviewed 11/24/01). I suppose there's nothing wrong with this movie, especially if you haven't seen the original, but it adds no new insights in terms of plot or acting. George Brent is the escaped convict (played by William Powell in 1932) caught overseas and being transported back to San Quentin to await execution; Merle Oberon, dying of a heart condition, is the lonely woman he meets on board the ship (Kay Francis in the original). The two fall in love while keeping their dark secrets from each other, at least for a time. Frank McHugh reprises his role in the original as a con man friend of Brent's, and Binnie Barnes is the con woman, a role done much better in '32 by Aline MacMahon. More or less added to this version are Geraldine Fitzgerald as a friend and protector to Oberon, and Eric Blore as an English gentleman whom Barnes is scamming. None of the couplings have much chemistry; certainly Brent and Oberon can't touch Powell and Francis. This version is a little longer and glossier but still feels like a scene-by-scene B-level remake. Also with George Reeves, John Ridgely, and Regis Toomey. Stick to ONE WAY PASSAGE. [TCM]


Mildly amusing comedy. Maureen O'Sullivan is the title character, a teacher from Nebraska who inherits a New York City newspaper. She and her aunt (Edna May Oliver) go to the big city and deal with the male chauvinist editor (Walter Pidgeon) who refuses to hire female reporters. O'Sullivan decides to prove that she can be a good reporter and gets involved in a group of businesspeople dealing with an upcoming strike. The last half of the film becomes a long slapstick chase at a roadside inn. The funniest scene in the movie involves O'Sullivan's travails with a dumbwaiter. There's also a nice running gag in which Oliver tries to figure out why on earth a place called Locust Valley has no locusts. Also with Roger Converse, Leonid Kinsky, and Robert Greig. [TCM]

Monday, June 21, 2004


Fast-paced, interesting urban drama with a great cast. James Cagney plays a guy from the tenements who boxes on occasion to raise money to help out his brother (Arthur Kennedy), a music teacher who has aspirations to write a great symphony about New York City. Cagney has faith in his brother and doesn't want him doing manual work or cheapening his talent by writing pop music. Ann Sheridan is Cagney's girl who wants to be a dancer; soon, she's partnered with Anthony Quinn, who traps her in a contract for ballroom and professional dancing. They make names for themselves on the club circuit but she's unhappy away from Cagney. Meanwhile, Cagney is "discovered" by boxing promoter Donald Crisp and has a rapid rise in the sport under the name Young Sampson (though, truth be told, Cagney, at 41, looks a bit long in the tooth to be billed as "young"). With Kennedy and Sheridan in mind, Cagney makes a lot of money at boxing, but ends up blinded when an unscrupulous opponent puts resin powder on his gloves. Will he reunite with Sheridan? Will his brother's symphony get heard by the public? A melodramatic but satisfying ending reveals all.

The plot sounds awfully cliche, but the film moves quickly (until a little bit of sagging at the end). The actors are all fun to watch, including the unusually large supporting cast: Frank McHugh is Cagney's buddy (as he was in real life); Lee Patrick is a dancer; Elia Kazan is a ghetto pal of Cagney's who makes it big but winds up bumped off; Blanche Yurka is Sheridan's mother; Jerome Cowan and Frank Faylen have small roles. There are a couple of boxing beefcake shots early on, and I chuckled at a line from Crisp to Cagney: "I had a hunch about you from the minute I saw you strip down." There's a tenement dance hall scene that is well shot and reminded me a bit of the way "America" is staged in WEST SIDE STORY. Snippets of "42nd Street" and "Lullaby of Broadway" can be heard in the background of a couple scenes. The symphony that Kennedy writes is a second-rate imitation of Gershwin, but that's the only complaint I have for this movie. [TCM]

Saturday, June 19, 2004


These are the first two films in the long Dr. Kildare series made by MGM, based on a character created by Western writer Max Brand. (There was an earlier film from Paramount with Joel McCrea, but the MGM series starts from scratch.) I remember my mother watching the Kildare TV show of the 60's (with Richard Chamberlain), but I don't think I ever saw an entire episode, so the characters, their backgrounds, and their interactions were all new to me. Both films feel more like mysteries or police stories dressed up with hospital trappings. I guess that makes some sense, since it's not very exciting just watching doctors diagnose and cure patients. In both movies, Kildare (Lew Ayers) is an intern who has a rough time of it at a big city hospital, largely due to his cranky, wheelchair-bound mentor, Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore). Kildare gets into some trouble and Gillespie, who is usually part of the reason for the trouble, helps get him out. In the first one, the problem is a young woman who has tried to commit suicide; her family wants her declared insane but Kildare thinks she's sane and investigates to find out what her trouble is. Monty Woolley has a small role as the psychiatrist with whom Kildare disagrees. In CALLING, the problem is a gunshot victim Kildare tends to without informing the police. He gets wrapped up in the lives of the victim, a young man, and his sister (Lana Turner).

Lew Ayers is fine, as is Laraine Day who debuts in the second film as the character whom I assume winds up in later films as Kildare's love interest. I usually like Barrymore, but I found him irritating here, partly due to his overdone schtick as an irascible but ultimately good-hearted fogey, and partly to the way the character was written. Samuel S. Hinds, whom I know as George Bailey's father in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, is good as Kildare's father. Emma Dunn is the mother, and though she's OK, I kept thinking that Sara Allgood would have been better, if she could have done a Midwest American accent. The handsome Phillip Terry (one of Joan Crawford's husbands in real life) is a fellow intern. The backstory, set up in YOUNG, is that Ayres returns to his Midwest small town for a visit after graduating from medical school; his father, also a doctor, assumes that his son will go into practice with him, but Ayers opts for a internship at a New York hospital. There is also a small town girlfriend (Lynne Carver) who apparently drops out of the series after CALLING. These were both worth watching, but I think my curiosity about the series has been slaked and I don't need to see any more. [TCM]

Friday, June 18, 2004


Charlie Ruggles is the main reason to watch this early talkie version of a famous play, later remade with Jack Benny. Charley (Hugh Williams) and Jack (Rod McLennan) are two Oxford students who scheme during an afternoon picnic to ask two girls to marry them. The stuffy uncle and guardian of the girls (Halliwell Hobbes) has decided not to consent to any marriage since he will lose the guaranteed income he has as guardian. The chaperone at the picnic is supposed to be Charley's aunt (Doris Lloyd), a rich widow who lives in Brazil ("...where the nuts come from" becomes a comic catchphrase), but she cancels her visit so the boys get Ruggles, an older student who just happens to be trying on drag for a part in a play, to impersonate the aunt so they can go ahead with the picnic. Hobbes takes a shine to Ruggles (or, more to the point, takes a shine to her supposed fortune), as does Jack's father. In the middle of the afternoon, the real aunt shows up, with a young lady who turns out to be a long lost love of Ruggles'. Farce ensues. Ruggles, in his mid-40's, is really too old to be playing a student, but once he's in full old-lady drag, he's very funny and holds the whole movie together. Zany wordplay and slapstick abound; one of the funniest repeating gags involves Ruggles throwing objects at Hobbes' hat (which he shouldn't be wearing indoors). It's stagy in looks and acting, but the material is funny and Charlie Ruggles is wonderful. For some reason, the Jack Benny version is hard to come by, so I can't compare the two versions. [AMC--years ago when they still showed classic movies]

Monday, June 14, 2004


Errol Flynn at the peak of his career. Although I liked him better in the earlier ROBIN HOOD and THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, he is in good form here. I don't know much about British history, so I may have some of the plot details muddled. The movie is set during the reign of Elizabeth I; Flynn plays a privateer, a pirate who works at least partly to protect British interests at sea, though he and his band of men still plunder the ships they board. They take over a Spanish ship carrying a diplomat (Claude Rains) and his niece (Brenda Marshall), free the ill-treated slaves who row the ship, and take Rains to the Queen. Flynn and Marshall fall in love, of course. Flynn and his men then undertake work for the Queen in Panama, but must do so without any offical recognition (like the Mission: Impossible team!). In Panama, they are captured by the Spanish and stumble upon news of the coming attack of the Spanish Armada against England. Flynn and his men, stuck in chains, manage to take over the ship and Flynn tries to make it to the Queen in time to warn her about the Armada.

Flynn is practically the whole show here, handsome, dashing, heroic, and cocky. He and Marshall make a nice couple, though they don't really share much screen time. Flora Robson is great as Queen Elizabeth; she almost steals the show from Flynn. Her final speech is a great example of the not-so-subtle pro-British propaganda that Warners was putting into their films during the early days of WWII while the US was still supposedly neutral. Rains is fine, as always, as are the usual Warners supporting players. Special mention should be made of Henry Daniell as the treacherous Lord Wolfingham, Una O'Connor as Marshall's companion, and Alan Hale as Flynn's trusty sidekick. The Panama scenes are all tinted in a yellow-sepia tone. Michael Curtiz directed, and I'm firmly convinced that he has not received the praise due to him. He wasn't a great stylist or maybe even a great artist, but he could entertain, and there are quite a few memorable scenes here, including the uprising of the enslaved crew and the climactic sword fight between Flynn and Daniell (though it's marred a bit by some awkward use of speeded-up footage). The print that Turner Classic Movies showed was not in very good shape, with some speckling and splices; I don't know if the VHS release is any better. [TCM]

Friday, June 11, 2004


A surprisingly engrossing B-movie from MGM. It's a crime thriller, a political drama, and a romance, with a musical number and even a water ballet! Frank Morgan is an industrialist who is trying get a bill passed that would allow the U.S. to send money and food to suffering victims of Nazism in Europe (at a time when the government was supposed to be neutral). His future son-in-law, a journalist (Kent Taylor), is dead set against his policy. One night at a nightclub while his wife and daughter are on an extended visit overseas, Morgan hooks up with a chorus girl (Anne Gwynne) who keeps him company while he's lonely--as a sop for the Code, it's made clear that they aren't engaging in any hanky-panky, but I didn't believe it for a minute. The day after his wife returns, the girl is found murdered and some damaging clues that point to Morgan are presented to Taylor, who is torn between his duty as a reporter and some strained loyalty to his future father-in-law. Dan Dailey, the nightclub owner, is the real killer (not a spoiler, since we see him commit the murder), but will he be unmasked before scandalous headlines hurt Morgan and his political cause? Coherent, well acted, suspenseful, and fun. Ann Rutherford is Morgan's sympathetic daughter, Fay Holden is the somewhat less sympathetic wife, and Lee Bowman has a nice non-irritating comic relief role. Fans will recognize Sara Haden and Douglass Dumbrille in small roles. Dailey is quite good playing against type as a scoundrel. Morgan is even better, going for subtlety rather than bluster. The water ballet is quite bizarre, done to a song called "Fishing for Suckers," with chorus girls in bathing suits swimming about in a pool while the rich male clientele literally "fish" for the girls with fishing rods that can hook the girls suits. That's how Morgan reels in Gwynne. Why this trend didn't sweep the country's nightspots is beyond me. [TCM]

Thursday, June 10, 2004


A solid little B-thriller, with echoes of THE UNINVITED (at least in tone and visuals). It falls short of being a truly good movie mostly due to its budget, but it does have a nice Hitchcockian feel on occasion--though Hitchcock would certainly have done some script revision, as well as had a bigger budget. Lynn Bari is a rich widow who lives in a huge house by the sea with her kid sister Cathy O'Donnell. Bari has never quite gotten over the death of her husband, but she has finally agreed to seriously consider a marriage proposal from nice guy friend Richard Carlson. One spooky night on the beach, Bari meets the exotic Turhan Bey, a psychic who knows a lot about Bari and begins counseling her. O'Donnell and Carlson are afraid that Bey is a con man who will take advantage of Bari, and we learn that he is indeed a fake, getting his information from Bari's housekeeper (Virginia Gregg). Soon, however, there are complications: O'Donnell falls for Bey, and Bari's dead husband seems to have returned, via Bey's seance. The acting is so-so, though Bey is good as a character for whom our sympathies shift now and then. The limited budget was likely an asset in the look of the film--lots of darkness and shadows to cover up the cheap sets and rear projections. The seance scene is very well done, and the ending doesn't disappoint. Recommended for a rainy night. [DVD]

Sunday, June 06, 2004


Myrna Loy might not have been able to single-handedly save every movie she was in, but she's really the only reason to stick with this one, which is full of screwball comedy conventions (influenced especially by IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT) but isn't really a screwball comedy. Loy plays an heiress who is tired of her planned-out whitebread life; she breaks off an engagement and leaves the house of her father (Henry O'Neill) to make her own way. Jobless and penniless, she meets up with another poor soul, Robert Taylor, on a park bench. They hit it off, borrow 50 cents from a cop, and go gambling. They win big on their "lucky night," get drunk, and get married. He gets a job and they seem happy for a time, but soon he becomes an unconventional madcap (to be able to take off work on a Monday rather than a Saturday, for instance) and, though Loy tries to go along, ultimately she leaves him and winds up back at her father's house. There's more drinking, some subterfuge, and finally a reconciliation. It's actually fairly fun until the rushed and slipshod ending. The whole thing has a kind of half-thought through Capraesque tone that doesn't jell, though Loy and Taylor work well together. Marjorie Main has a small role as a landlady. Mostly for Loy fans. [TCM]

Friday, June 04, 2004


A little-known B-movie from United Artists, rescued from obscurity by Quentin Tarantino and shown on Trio. It's a zany screwball comedy (with the usual dealings in love, marriage, and disguise) that occasionally transcends its low budget with some fun moments. Dennis O'Keefe is a hunky sailor who is set to marry his financee, Martha Scott, while on a 2-day leave. The compounding problems begin when he's late for the wedding because his ship is late docking. His father, Adolphe Menjou, is a fairly disreputable con man who has lucked into marriage with an opera singer (Pola Negri, a great star of the silent screen). Menjou goes to the wedding but hasn't told his wife that he has a grown son, which leads to problems later on. Scott's mother (Billie Burke) has just lost her fortune thanks to her "date" (Barton Hepburn) who claims he deliberately lost the money gambling to see if O'Keefe was only interested in Scott for her mother's money. O'Keefe is, of course, really in love, but he and his father plot to get the money back for Burke, with help from a friendly nightclub singer (June Havoc), who can rig the gambling room's roulette wheel. There's also a scam involving stocks, and it turns out that Burke never really lost the money after all, so keeping tracking of who's got how much of what is tricky. There are a number of funny bits: the wedding is postponed so long that the minister holds a christening (of twins) while waiting for O'Keefe, who walks in just as Scott picks up the babies, which gives him a fright. A girl who shows up in several bit parts is recognized by the actors and said to be present because she's a favorite of the director. There's a funny moment with Burke and her friends practicing double-talk, "just like in the movies!" Havoc sings a duet with her own image on a video screen, and the last scene takes place in a room where the art on the wallpaper comes alive (via animation). An Oscar nominee for best score. Not exactly a classic, but interesting and fun. Thanks, Quentin. [Trio]

Thursday, June 03, 2004

THE CROWD (1928)

A silent masterpiece about the dreams and frustrations of everyday people. Office clerk James Murray goes out on a double date with an office pal (Bert Roach) and promptly falls in love with his date, Eleanor Boardman. They get married and have children, and over time, their domestic life seems happy enough, but Murray is continually frustrated at work, with his inability to rise in the company, unlike his friend. Murray keeps telling his wife that his ship will come in, though it gets harder and harder for him to believe it himself. There is one brief bright moment when he wins $500 in an ad slogan contest; they use some of the money to buy new toys for the kids, but in a heartbreaking scene, as the children come running home to see the toys, one of them is hit by a car and killed. Murray, distraught, can't recover from the tragedy, loses his job, is driven from his home, and hits rock bottom, contemplating suicide. His surviving child gives him the strength to go on, even, as the last shot shows, against overwhelming odds that he will ever be able to stand out from the crowd of humanity around him. Much of the look of the movie seems inspired by German expressionism; there's an especially interesting claustrophobic shot early on when the Murray character, as a boy, climbs dark and crooked stairs to discover his father has died. Shots of the office workers, at endless rows of desks, making endless (and seemingly useless) notations on paper, are also quite effective. The tension between the individual and the crowd is often noted, as in a creepy scene where tunnel of love riders at an amusement park are harshly exposed, as though in a zoo, at the end of the ride. The plot, the visuals, and the acting all combine to make this an indelible viewing experience, even for people who don't typically like silent films. Directed by King Vidor, who was married to leading lady Boardman at the time. [TCM]

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Charming screwball comedy involving a storybook mingling of the rich and the poor. Once upon a rainy Parisian night, Claudette Colbert arrives in town by train, having lost everything she owned gambling in Monte Carlo. A cab driver, Don Ameche, takes pity on her and offers her a ride and a place to stay; she takes the ride but gets out at a snazzy night spot where she hopes to pull a con job for food, shelter, or more. She sneaks into a society party, passes herself off as a baroness, and makes friends while playing poker. John Barrymore is a bored millionaire who catches on to her con, but admires her abilities; he backs up Colbert's lies by providing her with a suite at a hotel and a trunk full of clothes. In return, he asks that she help him to woo a playboy (Francis Lederer) who is currently wooing Barrymore's wife (Mary Astor). Colbert agrees and joins them all at a weekend house party; meanwhile, Ameche tracks her down and shows up to take her away (thinking he's saving her from herself, I imagine). Instead, she spins more ridiculous stories and makes Ameche seem like a certifiable loon; he can't figure out why the rich folks won't believe anything he says. Very funny complications follow. Hedda Hopper is Stephanie, a society dowager who is throwing the party in the opening scene; Elaine Barrie, Barrymore's wife in real life, gets in one the best lines as she waits to get into the party: "It always rains when Stephanie gives one of her dull parties--even nature weeps." Monty Woolley has a small part in the end as a judge who tries to disentangle all the webs which have been woven, by Colbert and Barrymore and Ameche. Funny, well acted all around, and wonderfully paced, fast without being frantic. One of the best of the classic screwball comedies. [TCM]