Monday, September 20, 2021

HER MAN (1930)

Annie, a frowsy middle-aged woman of ill repute, has tried to leave Havana but has been sent back by the authorities. She goes back to the Thalia, a combination saloon and dancehall and whorehouse, where she is protected from the laughing scorn of other shady dames by young Frankie (Helen Twelvetrees), who works for the Thalia's owner Johnnie (Ricardo Cortez) as a "B-girl," someone who gloms onto visiting tourists or sailors, gets them to buy drinks, and sometimes steals their wallets. Annie feels similarly protective of Frankie, but when a drunk patron named Red catches Frankie trying to steal his money and makes a ruckus, it's Johnnie who takes care of things by staging a barfight as a distraction, then throwing a knife into the poor schlub's back when no one is paying attention. Frankie seems to want to leave her current life, but tells one man, "How far would I get? I ain't no man!" (though it turns out that this line is just part of the spiel she gives unsuspecting men before she picks their pockets). She sets her sights on a handsome young sailor named Dan (Phillips Holmes) as her next target, but softens and the two slowly develop a relationship which does not please Johnnie. Will Dan take Frankie with him when he leaves town, or will Johnnie’s plot to get rid of Dan pay off?

Director Tay Garnett makes this early talkie visually compelling all the way through with lots of panning or moving shots; especially notable is the scene in which Johnnie throws a knife clear across the bar to kill Red. The storyline, loosely based on the old ballad of Frankie and Johnny, is predictable--coming from the pre-Code era allows some sins to be forgiven in the end. The acting is all over the place. Helen Twelevetrees has the right look and attitude for a world-weary woman of loose morals, but too often she's either pouting or glowering. The reliable Ricardo Cortez is fine as the villainous Johnnie. Phillips Holmes, of lithe build and curly blond hair, has the right mixture of innocence and worldliness as Dan. One of my favorite character actors, James Gleason, is present, but he and Harry Sweet are around only for comic relief, and while their drunken antics with a slot machine and men's hats are funny the first couple of times, they're repeated way too often to remain effective. Marjorie Rambeau is fine but underused as wise old Annie. Franklin Pangborn, who usually plays effeminate parts, is amusing as part of the drunken comic bits. The recently restored print shown on TCM is stunning looking, though the clarity and freshness of the image bring an unfortunate focus to the occasional melodramatic overacting now and again. Still, recommended. Pictured are Holmes and Twelvetrees. [TCM]

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

Sounds like a pre-code movie that would warrant a DVD or Blu-Ray release but sadly probably won't get it.