Tuesday, September 30, 2014


As a maker of indie B-movies, Roger Corman has no peer. But when he made big studio, bigger-budget movies, he tended to stumble.  Like his earlier ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, this film had a million-dollar budget, almost double the budget of most of his American International horror films, but was not a hit at the box office. They're not bad movies by any means, but they lack something—maybe in the writing and acting, maybe the big studio gloss one expects with a bigger budget. This tells the story of Baron Manfred von Richthofen (John Phillip Law), the WWI German flying ace better known as the Red Baron. He begins as a raw recruit who does some hot dogging over a field chasing a horse, then barely pulls up in time to miss some trees; in fact, he lands with branches stuck in his wheels. Still, he catches on quickly and becomes top dog among the German fliers, feared and respected by the British. Meanwhile, Canadian pilot Roy Brown (Don Stroud, pictured) joins the British and gets a bad reputation when he refuses to drink a toast to Richthofen—the other fliers try to keep up the idea that, despite the carnage in the air, they are all gentlemen, not savages. When Richthofen's squadron is ordered to paint the planes to camouflage them, he has his men paint them bright colors so they'll stand out instead of being hidden, with his a bright red—hence, the Red Baron, and the name the men become known by, The Flying Circus. During one dogfight, Richthofen is seriously wounded and when he returns to combat he begins showing troubling signs of memory loss and confusion. After Brown leads the British on a surprise attack and manages to damage several German planes on the ground, German pilot Hermann Goering (yes, that one) retaliates, deliberately strafing British doctors and nurses, for which Richthofen calls him out. Eventually, Brown and Richthofen meet one-on-one in the air, and of course, there can only be one victor.

What this movie has going for it is its aerial battle footage; it is well-shot, exciting and believable (at least to this viewer who has never been in a dogfight). I can't pinpoint anything wrong with the lead actors; both Law and Stroud look their parts, though both also underplay just a bit—it might have been more fun with more energetic performances. Perhaps Corman was wary that the whole thing might slip over into camp, especially given the baby boomers' identification of the Red Baron with Snoopy. The supporting cast includes Barry Primus and Corin Redgrave, and I was surprised to see Robert La Tourneaux in a decent-sized role as a German pilot—he played the hot but dumb hustler in THE BOYS IN THE BAND and I guess I never thought of him as having any other screen credits (in fact, he only did one other film). Ultimately, this is worth seeing; it's the kind of movie that is good enough that one wishes it were better. [TCM]

Monday, September 29, 2014



In 1939, eccentric rich lady Margaret Rutherford heads off to Geneva for a League of Nations meeting to propose international laws concerning the safety of British birds. While there, a romantic comedy of errors begins: Penelope Ward, Rutherford's niece, realizes she's in love in with their handsome butler (Michael Wilding), but she meets cute with Claude Dauphin, author of a book called Love in Six Lessons. There's also a lovely translator (Lilli Palmer) whom Dauphin and his friend (Albert Lieven) flirt with. When war breaks out and Wilding joins the service, Ward declares her love, but he turns her down flat—largely, we assume, because of class distinctions—and goes off to war. A year later, Wilding, now an officer, stops by to visit his former employers, who have turned their house into a sanctuary for Allied soldiers, and has now decided he loves Ward—but she is no longer so charmed by him. She realizes what she liked about him when he was a butler was how cold and distant he seemed, but now that they're on a more level plain, he's lost his appeal. Also meeting up at the house, by accident, are Palmer and her two devotees. It takes a couple more years, but all the pairings eventually get sorted out. A cute comedy that benefits greatly from the presence of Rutherford playing one of her patented "dotty old lady" parts—though as far as I'm concerned, she doesn’t have enough screen time—and Wilding (pictured with Rutherford) as the unflappable butler who winds up being flappable after all. Ward is the weak link, but the supporting players, also including Roland Culver and Peggy Cummins, shine all the more. There’s a cute joke involving foreign-language speakers learning to pronounce "sesquipedalian" and "phantasmagoric." [TCM]

Friday, September 26, 2014


Jack Diamond, a good-looking young buck looking for easy money, and his tubercular brother Eddie are adrift in 1920s New York City when they see an attempted jewel robbery in which the crooks are gunned down on the street. Jack decides to try that theft for himself, so he picks up a young dance instructor named Alice who becomes an unwitting accomplice in the crime. He manages to snag the jewels but is caught and sent to jail. A year later, free on parole, he gest Alice to find him a job, but soon dumps her and, fascinated with the thug life, goes to Miami to try to work for famous gangster Arnold Rothstein; though Rothstein likes Jack's cockiness, he doesn't hire him, but lesser mobster Augie does. When Jack and Augie become the victims of a shootout, Auggie dies and Jack, even though he had three bullets in him, survives, leading him to believe that he's invulnerable. Indeed, after Rothstein takes him on as a collector (and nicknames him "Legs") and he rises in his criminal career, he survives other attempts on his life. When Rothstein is killed, Jack is cut out by the other bosses and he goes on a destructive spree. He gets back together with Alice, but it's clear he doesn't care about her and is just using her. Eventually, when his brother becomes too much of a liability, he cuts him loose, and by the end, when Jack is on the run from a new crime syndicate that considers him a liability, he has no one to turn to for help.

This B-budget crime thriller has some good things going for it: glossy black & white cinematography by Lucien Ballard, a nice period feel, and a strong central performance by Ray Danton as Legs, who looks good with a constant snarl on his face. The film is a bit of a throwback to the Warner Bros. gangster movies of the early 30s in that the lead character is not sympathetic at all—he's basically a slick, handsome and dangerous sociopath, though he's not as vile as James Cagney was in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (or as Al Pacino would be in the 80s SCARFACE). It's pointed out more than once that Jack doesn't love anyone, and that winds up being his downfall as, by the end, he's alienated everyone who might have been able to help him. Karen Steele, an actress I was unfamiliar with, is good as Alice—in the beginning, she seems a little weak but as her character grows, so does her performance. Good support is given by Jesse White (TV’s Maytag repairman) as a gangster, Robert Lowery as Rothstein, Warren Oates as Eddie, a character who should have been developed more, Sid Melton as the obnoxiously giggly Auggie, and Simon Oakland in a thankless cop role. The first half-hour, as Jack goes from nobody to somebody, is quite fun, especially the sequence of the failed jewel heist; the rest is inevitably a bit downhill but it's worth seeing. [TCM]

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Judy (Debbie Reynolds) is a movie star shooting a big musical number and chatting with fellow movie star Robert Taylor. No, scratch that: it turns out that we've been seeing the dream of a lowly chorus girl who hopes to be a star. Later that day in Central Park as she sings about finding the right guy, she bumps into Look magazine assistant photographer Melvin (Donald O’Connor) who is singing about finding the right girl. They collide, have words, and part. She gets pulled from the chorus of her current show to play a football (!) in a big production number, then Melvin finds her and tells her he could get her picture on the cover of Look. As they work together, they fall in love—bad news for her rich and handsome but bland boyfriend (Richard Anderson)—but when Melvin's boss (Jim Backus) won't use her picture, things head downhill. Of course, this being a colorful MGM musical comedy, a happy ending is in store.

If you ever need a reminder that star chemistry alone isn't enough to carry a movie, this will do. I loved Reynolds and O'Connor in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN though technically, their chemistry was not with each other but with star Gene Kelly. Here, the two try hard and manage to strike a spark or two, but it doesn't help; the plot is lightweight and predictable, the songs are not particularly catchy, and the budget seems on the low side of the A-movie range. But Reynolds is low-key delightful and the production numbers are fun. There's Debbie being tossed in air like a football, O'Connor dancing on roller skates, a mini-"Broadway Rhythm" bit involving O’Connor, and a fantasy number with Debbie on stage with dancers wearing Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly masks. Backus is funny, and there is sure support from Una Merkel and Allen Joslyn as Reynolds' parents. Not a classic but cute and colorful. [Warner Archive Instant]

Monday, September 22, 2014



During a beautifully shot nighttime snowball fight among teenage students, delicate blond Paul is hit smack in the chest by the dark, cocky Dargelos (whom Paul idolizes) with a rock hidden in a snowball. Paul collapses and is taken to a doctor who prescribes weeks of bed rest at home with his invalid mother and his older sister Elisabeth. Paul and Elisabeth, who seem unnaturally close, share a room and also share an odd "game" they lapse into at prearranged signals called "getting lost" that is never quite explained, except as an activity that keeps others at a distance, even Paul's good friend Gerard. Mom soon dies leaving Paul and Elisabeth alone to get even creepier, although their circle widens a bit. Elisabeth gets a job as a model and marries a rich American who promptly dies and leaves her his estate; Gerard harbors an unstated and unrequited love for Elisabeth; Paul falls for a model named Agathe who looks a lot like Dargelos. And to stir the pot more, all four wind up moving into Elisabeth's mansion where they mock up a room to look just like Paul and Elisabeth’s old bedroom. When Elisabeth gets jealous of Paul and Agathe, she starts pulling strings to bring about certain unhappiness for all.

This is often referred to as a Jean Cocteau film, though it was actually directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, with a script by Cocteau based on his novel, and with Cocteau narrating. It's beautifully filmed with nice use of light and shadow throughout, and the plot is interesting, but it falls down on a couple of points. I didn't find the acting as weak as some critics do, but there's no doubt that casting people obviously in their 20s or older in the lead parts is a liability. Paul (Edouard Dermithe) is attractive and rather ostentatiously passive, but he's too healthy looking to be someone put out of commission by a rock in a snowball. Renée Cosima plays both Dargelos and Agathe quite well—I didn't realize they were the same actor until I saw it on IMDb. Jacques Bernard is fine as the underappreciated Gerard, and Nicole Stéphane (pictured above with Dermithe), though far too old at 27 to be playing a teenager, is quite good as the strong-willed but messed-up Elisabeth. I liked the fact that the game the siblings play is deliberately left ambiguous, as are their incestuous leanings—and Paul's homoerotic attractions, though I kept hoping that Paul and Gerard would run off together. The music, mostly chunks of Vivaldi and Bach, is occasionally too intrusive. Generally, more interesting than compelling. [Criterion streaming]

Saturday, September 20, 2014



Surgeon Hedy Fredericks (Ruth Hussey) is driving to Chicago and picks up three hitchhiking Marines on furlough, all named Smith, but warns them that they'll have to spend the night in her small hometown of Blithefield where she's visiting her father (Charles Ruggles) who, unknown to her, secretly hopes that his daughter will stay in town and set up practice there. On the street, she recognizes a man she used to know named Smedley and tries to strike up a conversation, but he insists he's not Smedley but test pilot Morgan Hale (John Carroll). In their "meet cute" scene, her attentions cause problems for Morgan's jealous girlfriend Lola (Ann Rutherford). Later, Hedy and Morgan meet again as Morgan waits for the Russian pilot he is supposed to meet with; when the pilot turns out to be a cute blonde named Tanya, Morgan is in even more hot water. When Morgan is injured in a nighttime flight test, Hedy stitches him up and decides to stay in town a couple extra days to make sure he's OK. The Marines named Smith are happy about that as they're out actively skirt-chasing. Morgan, in love with Hedy by now, arranges with her father to fake a complication (pantaphobia, the fear of everything, as fans of A Charlie Brown Christmas will remember), hoping that Hedy will hang around, fall for Morgan, and stay in town in practice with her father.

I love Ruth Hussey in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY but have not enjoyed her in much else; I'm pleased to report that she's in good form here in this comedy that borders on screwball. John Carroll, a serviceably handsome B-leading man (PILOT X, HIRED WIFE), is even better, handling both his frustration with and attraction to Hussey nicely. Ruggles is always a welcome presence in movies and he's not wasted here. Familiar face Frank Jenks (Dennis Morgan's buddy in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT) is fine as one of Smiths, as is the cute Joel McGinnis who only made six movies before leaving Hollywood. A cute B-level romantic comedy. [YouTube]

Thursday, September 18, 2014


On a battlefield in Korea strewn with dead soldiers with their hands tied behind them, Sgt. Zack (Gene Evans) is still alive, crawling on his belly and trying to get free. A figure with a gun approaches so Zack plays dead, but it turns out to be a 12-year-old boy (William Chun) who unties him. Zack calls him a "gook," and the boy, a war orphan, politely corrects him by saying he's South Korean, and soon, despite Zack's gruff exterior, the two have bonded and Zack nicknames him Short Round. Wandering through the foggy woods, the two eventually bond with Thompson (James Edwards), an African-American medic, and Tanaka (Richard Loo), a Japanese-American soldier. Zack most certainly does not bond with Lt. Driscoll (Steve Brodie), a cocky soldier whom Zack knows and doesn't respect, though Zack and his men wind up traveling with Driscoll's small regiment. They stop at an abandoned Buddhist temple near the front to set up a communications post, and the rest of the film is set at the temple as the men argue, become friendly, battle a sniper hiding in the temple, and eventually try to hold off dozens of attacking North Koreans.

This is widely acknowledged as the first Korean War movie, made and released during the first year of the conflict. It's not Samuel Fuller’s first film as director, but it is the first one that feels like a Fuller movie, and though perhaps not as full of battlefield action as some may like, it is nevertheless practically an archetypal modern war film with attention paid to both the physical and mental pains of warfare. Many WWII movies paid lip service to the multicultural makeup of the men in battle, but in this one, the culture clashes feels much more central to the film, without artificially weighing down the narrative. The point that African-Americans were still isolated back home is made but not intrusively, and the Japanese internment camps in the US are not ignored. Evans is excellent as Zack, who is mostly a hard-boiled, cynical guy whom we see soften a bit until the end when he comes dangerously close to having a full-fledged breakdown. Edwards is just as good as the quiet, stoic Thompson. Other cast standouts include Richard Monahan as a young guy who went bald in his youth and will try anything to grow hair, Sid Melton as a private who only talks to his burro (and only in whispers), and Robert Hutton as a former conscientious objector. I've heard that Spielberg used the "Short Round" name in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM as a tribute to Fuller, and this explains the name: Zack's helmet has a hole in it due to a defective bullet going into his helmet, pinging around and exiting without hurting him; "short round" is a term for such bullets. The movie was shot on a low budget but between the fog and the temple set, it looks great. Highly recommended. [Criterion streaming]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TOPAZE (1933)

The bratty son of the rich baron De La Tour complains that his teacher, Professor Topaze (John Barrymore), is against rich people and is teaching communism. Actually, Topaze is a stuffy but well-meaning teacher who tries to teach lessons of hard work and honesty, but when he refuses to change the boy's grade, the baron gets him fired. Meanwhile, the baron is about to unveil a new product, a sparkling water that, the advertising claims, has special health benefits even though it's just carbonated water. The inventor of the water quits when he finds out that the baron wants to swindle the public, so La Tour hires the newly unemployed and naïve Topaze to front for the product, calling it Sparkling Topaze. When he eventually finds out that he's been duped, Topaze has a nightmare vision of being surrounded by giant bottles of the water, and seeing huge neon signs proclaiming, "Topaze is a thief!" To placate him, the baron arranges for Topaze to receive the Academic Palms, a great state prize, and soon Topaze seems to be converted to the baron's lifestyle, lording his new fame over everyone and blackmailing the baron into subservience. He even attracts the attentions of the baron's young mistress (Myrna Loy, pictured with Barrymore). But when he is asked to speak at his old school, he struggles between his new outlook on life and his former innocent morality.

I've never seen Barrymore as a great talent, but he's very good here, doing a nice job playing against type in the first half as a passive, idealistic academic, then turning into a kind of Mr. Hyde character later. Loy is also fine as the mistress to both men; the opening scene, a pre-Code classic, shows Loy and the baron (Reginald Mason) enjoying a cozy winter night together—we assume they are married until he gets up and decides it's time to go home to the wife. The film’s satirical swipes at big business and advertising still sting. [TCM]

Friday, September 12, 2014


This is one of the earliest of the 50’s "docudrama" science-fiction space travel films, with the first half chronicling in a relatively realistic fashion a trip to Mars, albeit by five people who wear street clothes and smoke cigarettes in the spaceship. There's a love triangle between engineer Arthur Franz, his longtime assistant Virginia Huston, and cocky reporter Cameron Mitchell, and scientist John Litel spends a fair amount of the trip philosophizing. Once they get to the red planet, the film turns as fanciful as Jules Verne or Flash Gordon when they discover friendly Martians (who look just like earthlings) dressed in colorful Teletubby outfits. Our crew is taken to the large underground city where the population thrives thanks to a mineral (which, unknown to the earthlings, is now in short supply, threatening the Martians continued survival as the surface is too inhospitable for long-term living). The Martians agree to help the earthlings fix their damaged ship so they can return home, but they secretly plot to take the ship over for themselves and move their population to Earth. The mini-skirted Alita (Marguerite Chapman, pictured with Franz) falls in love with Franz (leaving Huston and Mitchell free to flirt to their hearts' desires), tells him about the Martians' plans, and helps the earthlings try to escape. The best thing about this B-movie from Monogram is the color, which really helps hide the low budget; the planet and the city look good, though the scenes of the rocket in space and the meteor shower they go through look very primitive. The Martian women dress like catwomen, in poiny-shouldered tops and fabulous shoes that are a cross between a high-heel and a go-go boot. The name Alita is a nod to a famous silent Russian film, Aelita, Queen of Mars, which was itself based on a work by Leo Tolstoy, which means one could make a "six degrees" thing between Tolstoy and the Teletubbies. [DVD]

Thursday, September 11, 2014


By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea Water,… well, this doesn't quite follow the Longfellow poem. In fact, in doing a little research after watching this movie, I found that Longfellow's Hiawatha was not based on the historical Hiawatha at all. It also seems likely that the Hiawatha in this movie (played by Vince Edwards) isn't much like the real person either, which is par for Hollywood historical films. This begins with hunky Hiawatha leading a band of Ojibway hunters through the woods where they come upon a group of Dakota hunters who seem to be lost. Though the various tribes don't get along, Hiawatha approaches the men peacefully, but his hot-headed fellow hunter Pau PukKeewis (Keith Larsen) is of the "shoot first" school and a skirmish breaks out. This triggers a debate among the Ojibway, who have remained isolated for some time, as to whether they should try to make peaceful contact with the Dakota and the Illinois. The discussion gets heated, and Pau PukKeewis implies that Hiawatha is not of pure Ojibway blood (of course, this eventually leads to the revelation that, indeed, his father was a Dakota). On a mission of peace, Hiawatha winds up attacked by a bear and his life is saved by Lakku of the Dakota tribe. As he recovers, he and Lakku's daughter Minnehaha fall in love and he takes her back to his tribe as his wife, which doesn't sit well with Pau PukKeewis and the more warlike men. That fall, the harvest is poor and some blame Minnehaha; when an Ojibway man is killed by a Dakota arrow, war preparations begin, but Hiawatha suspects that the spiteful Pau PukKeewis is to blame.

If you're not a fan of Vince Edwards, there's probably no reason for you to watch this. It's colorful and looks like it was shot on location, or at least on an elaborate set—rare for a Monogram B-film—but to today's viewers, it will look like any average TV movie, something that might have run on The Wonderful World of Disney back in the 60s. Apparently the historical Hiawatha was known as a peacemaker, but little in the film rings true. The reviewer at DVD Talk reads the movie as commie propaganda—I guess because of its pacifist, "let's all get along" message and the attempt by the Ojibway to get the Dakota to share food over the winter—but that seems a bit far-fetched. I like Edwards, so despite his awful pig-tailed wig I stuck with the movie, but there's not much else to recommend it.  Keith Larsen is strictly average as the bad guy and Yvette Duguay is colorless as Minnehaha. [Warner Archive Instant]

Monday, September 08, 2014


After the war, wealthy banker Claude Rains and his younger wife (Ann Todd) are vacationing in the Swiss Alps. Todd arrives first and, unexpectedly, the long-lost love of her life (Trevor Howard) whom she hasn't seen since before the war, is staying in the room next to hers. She slips in and out of reveries about Howard and we get flashbacks that explain their relationship. Many years ago, before Todd met Rains, she and Howard were lovers; he proposed marriage but she treasured her independence, wanting love "without clutching" and, fearing that marriage would trigger feelings of possession, she turned him down. In 1939, at a New Year's party, they meet again; he's with a date and she's with her husband, Rains. She cares for Rains, but their marriage is sexless and she seems satisfied with the status quo, but when Rains leaves on an extended business trip, she and Howard meet for lunch which leads to a long afternoon together which leads to an affair. When Rains finds out, the three have a confrontation and she agrees to end it. Now, in Switzerland, Todd and Howard—who is married with kids—become reacquainted and he pushes her to resume their affair, but she hesitates. Unfortunately, Rains arrives and, seeing them return from a picnic in the mountains, assumes the worst. He instigates divorce proceedings, which leaves Todd with mixed emotions, but when she finds out that Howard is unlikely to leave his family, she is driven to a desperate act.

This romantic melodrama from David Lean sounds routine, but the performances, some location shooting, and lovely black & white cinematography bring it up a notch, making it compelling viewing. The tricky flashback structure keeps you on your toes for the first half of the film. Todd and Howard seem very natural as the illicit lovers; Rains' character is mostly unlikable but complex enough that he never comes off as a villain. The marriage between Rains and Todd is basically a marriage of convenience and neither one kids themselves about that (at one point, he even says that he knows she likes, not loves, him). That fact makes it a bit difficult to accept Rains' furor when he thinks she fooling around—he says on the one hand that he knows she likes her independence, yet he is unwilling to give her too much of it. The ending is a tad far-fetched but satisfying. By the end, I was unsure to whom the title referred: Todd and Howard? Or Todd and Rains? Pictured are Todd and Howard, with Rains in the middle (and out of focus). [TCM]

Friday, September 05, 2014


A series of wrecks has plagued the Southwestern Pacific railway company, and we see the latest; on a moonless night, a "phantom express" is seen racing down the tracks straight at an oncoming train. The engineer, Smoky Nolan, tries to stop, but the train derails, killing and injuring many, and the phantom train vanishes. Both Smoky and his fireman Axel insist they saw a train, but the signalman says he did not. Harrington, head of the railroad, reluctantly allows his playboy son Bruce to launch a secret investigation; Bruce's reason is that he’s fallen for Smoky's lovely daughter Carolyn. In a needlessly convoluted plan, Bruce gets his pal Dick to pose as Harrington's son while Bruce poses as his buddy, also named Bruce, and gets a job working at the roundhouse hoping to snag some clues from fellow workers. Time is of the essence for two reasons: 1) poor old Smoky is fired because of the wreck; 2) as it happens, a consortium of businessmen is trying to force Harrington to sell the railroad to them and there's a deadline of midnight—guess who winds up being behind the phantom train shenanigans?

When I run across little-known B-movie with titles like this, I get excited thinking I'm about to find a spooky and/or thrilling little gem. Usually I'm disappointed, but this one is an exception. The plot, though predictable, has a couple of nice twists, especially with regards to the explanation for the phantom train. For a 30s indie film, the effects and sets are good, combining some obvious but atmospheric use of miniatures with scenes that seem to have been shot at a real railroad yard. The acting is also notch above average. William Collier Jr. (pictured above) makes for an acceptable if unexciting hero, Sally Blane is good (though given little to do) as Carolyn, and Eddie Phillips is fine as the sidekick (who also has little to do but look distinguished pretending to be the boss's son). A man named Axel Axelson, who would seem to come by his thick Swedish accent naturally, plays Axel as a bit of a comic relief figure—Axelson seems to have never acted again. Best of all is J. Farrell McDonald as Smoky; he gives a genuinely moving performance in the scene where, after he's fired, he has to put on a smile for a surprise birthday party being given for him.

I recommend this wholeheartedly, but unfortunately it appears to be available only as a chopped-up print; the version I saw on YouTube was 55 minutes long, but other sources indicate it was released at between 65 and 70 minutes. Indeed, there are jagged jumps and moments where the screen goes black, though the story is intelligible, and in fact, what there is of the print looks good. [YouTube]

Thursday, September 04, 2014



In this early "Gold Diggers"-style movie (though not a musical), Joan Blondell and Madge Evans are ex-showgirl roomies on the prowl for money and love, preferably both. When we first meet them, they are having a reunion with the slightly older (and much bitchier) Ina Claire who has returned from Paris after a disastrous sugar daddy hunt. They vow to stick together and be the Three Broadway Musketeers, but troubles begin immediately. Claire is pissed when she discovers that Blondell has been billing and cooing with the elderly and very rich Pops, whom she had been seeing before she went to Paris—Blondell says that "Pops is my fiancé, not that we're engaged or anything like that." Evans, who is practically engaged to the rich handsome David Manners, gets in the middle of some shenanigans involving Manners' friend, a rich pianist (Lowell Sherman, also the film's director) who shifts his attentions from Claire to Evans; she then gets irritated when Manners doesn't act jealous. Claire winds up sleeping with Sherman, and Evans gets officially engaged to Manners; out of sheer spite, Claire plants a stolen pearl necklace on Evans on the day she's meeting Manners' father, hoping to scotch the engagement. In the middle of all this, Pops dies; Claire expects a nice lump of money but instead discovers that he has warned the estate's executor about her scheming.

Based on a play—the credits read, "Based on the stage success"—this same material was adapted in the 50s as HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, and unofficially adapted by any number of films about Broadway babies looking for love. This is fun for a while, but the sheer nastiness of Ina Claire's character starts to wear you down, even though Claire is fun in the role. Why Blondell and Evans would remain friends with her is a mystery. All three women are good, though disappointingly, Blondell has the least to do. Manners is one of my favorite 30s actors, and he's fine here. Sherman is better as the conniving pianist. Fairly entertaining, though mostly of interest as a pre-Code relic. Pictured from left are Manners, Evans and Claire. [YouTube]

Tuesday, September 02, 2014



This interesting French film, directed by Marcel Carné and set after the liberation of Paris but before the end of the war, has a little bit of everything: it's mostly a realistic story but it has a front-and-center fantasy element; it's serious but there are light moments; it's grounded in everyday reality but there is a poetic, romantic streak running through it; it even has a film noir feel both visually and in some of the plot and character arcs. The realistic story involves the problem of those Parisians who were considered to be collaborators with the Nazis during the Occupation, some more actively than others. Resistance fighter Jean Diego (Yves Montand) comes to Paris in February 1945 to tell Mme. Lécuyer that her husband was taken off to be executed, but happily, he finds Lécuyer alive at home, having escaped. Diego had overheard Lécuyer being ratted out but didn't see who did it. Later, he hears a voice and recognizes it as the betrayer: Guy Sénéchal (Serge Reggiani), the son of Lécuyer’s landlord, who himself is shunned for his collaborationist tendencies.

In another narrative arc, the landlord's daughter Malou (Nathalie Nattier) has come to visit and Diego falls for her before he learns that she's unhappily married to Georges (Pierre Brasseur), who eventually comes looking for her. That night, Diego and Malou spend a romantic evening wandering through a (beautifully shot) junkyard, led there by a young boy, son of Lécuyer, who keeps a secret room in which he takes care of a stray cat. In a third plotline, a pair of young lovers pop in and out of the narrative; the boy has been coming to the train station gate every day just to catch a glimpse of her as she passes on the street. On this day, they finally make contact. Finally, the fantasy element is a scraggly looking fellow who calls himself Fate. At the beginning of the movie, he tells Diego he will meet the most beautiful woman in the world—and in Diego's eyes, he does—he helps get the two young lovers to finally speak to each other, and he also foretells the death of a gypsy woman by drowning, and assures another character that he won't drown, though he might like a dog.

This is a lovely film, if not exactly an uplifting one. Fate, a beggar, can tell people what will happen but he cannot change the future. Jean Vilar, as Fate, has a nicely sad look without looking either depressing or sinister. There are good guys and bad guys, but even the bad guys aren't without some sense of regret about the paths they took. The movie takes place in one day, mostly at night, hence the shadowy noir look. Montand is excellent, as is Reggiani (pictured at left with Vilar). 9-year-old Christian Simon does a nice job as the boy. Nattier (pictured at top with Montand), considering her importance to the plot, doesn't have much to do except look beautiful and a little mysterious. The 50s pop standard "Autumn Leaves" originated with this movie; it's a tune that Destiny hums from time to time, and that seems hauntingly familiar to both Diego and Malou. For lovers of Carné's epic CHILDREN OF PARADISE, this may seem slight, but it's lovely and, like "Autumn Leaves," a little haunting. [Criterion streaming]