Saturday, May 16, 2015

ARE YOU LISTENING? (1932)

A strange little movie about the goings-on at radio station WBLA. The title comes from a top-of-the-hour time announcement: "At the tone, the time will be 9:00. Are you listening?" Bill (William Haines) is the glib, likeable writer of a popular soap opera. He's married to Alice (Karen Morley), a whining shrew who says she'll divorce him only when he has enough money to pay her the alimony she thinks she deserves. Meanwhile, he's seeing Laura (Madge Evans), an actress at the station. She lives with her sister Sally (Anita Page) who's a gold-digger; when Laura reprimands her for her late hours, she replies, "The bloom's got to be rubbed off sometime—might as well be when you’re young enough to enjoy the rubbing." After various tribulations, Bill gets fired because his writing shows that he's lost his sense of humor. Then on Christmas Eve, during a heated argument, Bill shoves a haranguing Alice away from him; she falls, smacks her head on a dresser, and dies. Not thinking rationally, Bill goes on the run with Laura.

Wait, that’s not all. In a parallel storyline, Laura and Sally's younger sister Honey (Joan Marsh), comes to town to stay, fully intending to join Sally in her gold-digging layabout ways, but she can't handle booze like Sally can and winds up getting smashed and falling for an older guy who two-times her. Honey ends up taking a job with a tabloid paper. To bring the two plotlines together, the paper's editor teams up with the radio station to sensationalize the story of Bill going on the lam by broadcasting constant warnings and updates over WBLA. This winds up being, not so much a crime story as a rambling melodrama about loosely connected characters. I'm not really complaining; it's different and I guess trying to figure out how it will all get tied up is one of the (mild) pleasures of the film. Haines, a silent movie star, was getting a little long in the tooth to be playing the carefree juvenile, but he's not bad here, coming off like he was heading for Gene Kelly territory, not as a dancer, but as a smiling charmer. I also quite liked Joan Marsh who adds some fizz as the na├»ve Honey. Neil Hamilton and Jean Hersholt also appear. Wallace Ford does his usual likeable fellow routine, and John Miljan is effective as the ruthless tabloid editor. I enjoyed the quirky novelty of having Christmas music playing in the background throughout the death of Alice and its aftermath. [TCM]

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