Pigskin Parade (1936)

Pigskin ParadePigskin Parade Poster
Directed by David Butler
Written by Harry Tugent et al
1936/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

Slug Winters: If I only had a brain.

This collegiate musical is notable chiefly for being the first feature film of 14-year-old Judy Garland.

Yale is looking for a credible opponent it can beat at its homecoming game.  The board selects the University of Texas but, by mistake, the football team at Texas State in the tiny town of Prairie is invited.

Texas’s new coach Slug Winters (Jack Haley) is straight from coaching high school.  He and his wife Betty (Patsy Kelly) arrive to find a pathetic team.  Matters get worse when their “star” player breaks his leg while being coached by Betty.  But the couple discovers a natural talent in the boonies and bring him and his cousin Sairy to the university.  Laughs, singing, and dancing ensue.

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Judy Garland’s singing was amazing right out of the box.  Otherwise, I find Patsy Kelly terribly annoying and the story is silly and forgettable.

Clip – Judy Garland singing “The Texas Tornado” – age 14

 

Winds of the Wasteland (1936)

Winds of the Wastelandwinds-of-the-wasteland poster
Directed by Mack V. Wright
Written by Joseph F. Poland
1936/USA
Republic Pictures

First viewing

 

Larry Adams: Who ever heard of sending messages over a piece of wire?

This otherwise forgettable B Western again demonstrates John Wayne’s innate star power.

The pony express is shutting its doors and rider John Blair (Wayne) must find a new line of work.  He decides to start a stagecoach line.  Evil Cal Drake sells him a stagecoach and one of his lines – which goes to a ghost town, population 2.  Not to be deterred, Blair single-handedly resurrects the town and prepares to compete with Drake in a race to win a lucrative government mail contract.  The rest should be obvious.  Plenty of fist fights and gun battles and a little humor.  No winds; no wasteland.

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Among  the many actors in this who appear to be reading their lines for the first time, Wayne is completely natural.  Although I never agreed with his politics, in later years I have had to admit that the Duke definitely had something.

Clip – stagecoach battle (colorized – I was able to watch in black and white)

 

Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)

Gold Diggers of 1937Gold Diggers of 1937 poster
Directed by Lloyd Bacon; Musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley
Written by Warren Duff et al
1936/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing

 

Genevieve Larkin: It’s so hard to be good under the capitalist system.

The Gold Digger series has been slowly transitioning from the back stage musical to the musical comedy.  The transition is almost complete in this entry, not necessarily to the benefit of the film.

Rosmer Peck (Dick Powell) is a struggling life insurance salesman who would rather be a Broadway star.  Norma Perry (Joan Blondell) is an out-of-work chorus girl who decides to get a regular paying job.  They meet cute on a train and Rosmer gets Norma a job with his company.  It is love at first sight but Rosmer is broke.

Norma’s friend Genevieve (Glenda Farrell) is still trying to make a career in show business and gets friendly with an assistant of Broadway producer J.J. Hobart (Victor Moore).  The assistant and his crony have misappropriated Hobart’s money.  Genevieve comes up with the idea of buying life insurance on hypochondriac Hobart with the thought that he will die soon (hilarious, I know).  Rosmer sells Hobart a million dollar policy, the commissions on which will allow him to marry Norma.  When Hobart passes the medical exam for the policy, he gets a new lease on life causing Genevieve and her friends to take action.

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This is almost a straight musical comedy with most of the numbers sung by Dick Powell in the course of the plot.  There is one production number at the end as part of the obligatory “let’s put on a show” effort.  Neither the routines nor the comedy is good enough to make this a must see.  Dick Powell and Joan Blondell retain their charm, however.

Dimples (1936)

DimplesDimples Poster
Directed by William A. Seiter
Written by Arthur Sheekman and Ned Perrin from an idea by Nunnally Johnson
1936/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

Prof. Eustace Appleby: I was quite a matinee idol in those days, you know. I still get letters from ladies in the towns where I played.

Dimples: Yes, landladies.

“Dimples” (Shirley Temple) is an urchin dancing on the streets of 1850 New York for pennies under the tutelage of her loveable con-artist/thief grandfather (Frank Morgan).  When she dances for a society party, the hostess Mrs. Drew (Helen Westley) falls in love with her and wants to adopt her.  But Dimples doesn’t really want to leave her grandfather. There is a subplot that involves Mrs. Drew’s nephew who wants to put on a production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.  Dimples ends up playing Little Eva in that, among a cast of black-faced actors.  The whole thing ends in a minstrel show number.  With Stepin Fetchit as grandfather’s servant.

Shirley Temple with Frank Morgan

Shirley Temple with Frank Morgan

This is mediocre when it isn’t offensive.  Shirley has lost a lot of her uncalculated charm and the songs aren’t memorable.

Trailer

 

Fury (1936)

FuryFury Poster
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Bartlett Corbett and Fritz Lang based on a story by Norman Krasna
1936/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Repeat viewing

 

Joe Wilson: I’ll give them a chance that they didn’t give me. They will get a legal trial in a legal courtroom. They will have a legal judge and a legal defense. They will get a legal sentence and a legal death.

Fritz Lang remained a very powerful director after he emigrated to the United States.  This, his first film after he left Germany, hits on all cylinders and addresses some of the same themes explored in M.

Joe Wilson (Spencer Tracy) is an ordinary decent working stiff who is saving up to marry his fiancée Katherine (Sylvia Spencer).  Katherine finds a better job in Washington State and the two part until they are more financially secure.  Joe cautions his younger brothers to respect the law and ends up opening a gas station with them.

After a year of separation, Joe happily sets off to Washington in his car to marry Katherine. On the way, he is stopped by a deputy sheriff (Walter Brennan) on the lookout for a gang of child kidnappers.  He is taken into the small town’s sheriff’s station where he is found to have peanuts in his pockets (peanut debris was found in the kidnappers’ abandoned car) and a five dollar bill that matches the serial number of the ransom money.  The sheriff holds Joe in jail while he investigates further.  In the meantime, the rumor mill manufactures a case against him that whips locals into an angry mob.

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Fritz Lang delivered with a dark and cynical film that once again explores mob violence, this time from the perspective of an innocent man.  Fury also warns Americans how easily the Constitution and system of justice can be ignored or perverted when faced by the raw emotion of the crowd.  In fact, law enforcement and the courts are shown to be weak safeguards.  At one point, a character remarks that  foreigners are more familiar with the Constitution than native-born Americans because immigrants must study it to become citizens.

I just love the way the film builds from the initial romance to a gradual game of “telephone” like rumor mongering to explosive action and then to cold vengeance.  All these aspects are captured with Lang’s expressionist eye.  I think this is one of Spencer Tracy’s greatest performances and the rest of the cast does a good job.  The score by Franz Waxman helps to heighten the drama.  Highly recommended.

I cannot understand why  Fury is not currently available on DVD — I watched it on Amazon’s streaming service.

Trailer

 

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936)

The Trail of the Lonesome PineTrail of the Lonesome Pine poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by Grover Jones et al based on the novel by John Fox, Jr.
1936/USA
Walter Wanger Productions/Paramount Pictures

First viewing

 

“There were tiny drops along the roots of her shining hair for the climb had been steep and now the shadow of disappointment darkened her eyes.” — John Fox, Jr. – The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

On tap today is a Sylvia Sidney double-bill.  The first one was the first Technicolor movie filmed on location.  It had more going for it than just the color gimmick.

The Falins and the Tollivers are uneducated backwoods people who have been engaged in a fatal feud for generation.  The story is told from the perspective of the Tollivers.  Judd Tolliver (Fred Stone), the patriarch, perpetuates the conflict while his wife Melissa (Beulah Bondi) bewails it.  They live with their daughter Judy (Sylvia Sidney), young son Buddy (Spanky McFarland) and nephew Dave (Henry Fonda).  All expect Judy to marry Dave, who loves her dearly, but Judy apparently has more sisterly feelings toward him.

Into the mountains comes Jack Hale (Fred MacMurray) who wants to buy up land from both families for transporting coal.  The families agree but soon enough “civilization”, is disrupting their lives, Jack is attracting Judy, and the scene of battle is shifting from the woods to the mining site.  A tragedy puts Judy’s choice between Jack and Dave into stark perspective.

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Despite some moments of eye-rolling melodrama, I really enjoyed this. The conflict within the woman about her feelings for the two men felt very real.  All the performances are excellent and Henry Hathaway is wonderful with keeping the action moving.  Fred Stone surely did not make enough movies.  Although this has a modern-day setting and does not take place in the West, it is very Western in feeling.

Fuzzy Knight singing “A Melody from the Sky”, Best Song Academy Award nominee for 1936

The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)

The Man Who Could Work Miraclesman who could work miracles poster
Directed by Lothar Mendes and Alexander Korda
Scenario and dialogue by H.G. Wells from a story by H.G. Wells; screenplay by Lajos Biró
1936/UK
London Film Productions

First viewing

 

The subsequent meditations of Mr. Fotheringay were of a severe but confused description. So far, he could see it was a case of pure willing with him. The nature of his experiences so far disinclined him for any further experiments, at least until he had reconsidered them. But he lifted a sheet of paper, and turned a glass of water pink and then green, and he created a snail, which he miraculously annihilated, and got himself a miraculous new tooth-brush.” – H.G. Wells, “The Man Who Could Work Miracles”

Comedy and H.G. Wells wouldn’t seem to be an obvious match but it works out fairly well here.

A trio of demi-gods (including George Sanders in a very early role) bemoans the weakness of man.  One suggests giving men limitless power and seeing what happens.  The others are more cautious and convince him to experiment with just one man at first.

So our hero mild-mannered George Fotheringay (Roland Young with a Cockney accent) suddenly finds himself able to levitate a lamp at the local pub.  He experiments and finds everything is at his command except the minds of others.  When others find out about these gifts, they try to harness them for themselves.  George’s boss wants an exclusive agreement to enable him to open a chain of stores.  The local vicar (Ernest Thesinger) wants to eliminate poverty, illness, and war.  But there are those with interests in the ills of mankind who are not pleased, including Major Grigsby (Ralph Richardson).

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While it didn’t rock my world, I thought this movie was pretty entertaining.  I always enjoy Roland Young and Ralph Richardson disappeared into his role.

Trailer

 

The General Died at Dawn (1936)

The General Died at Dawn General Died at Dawn Poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Written by Clifford Odets based on a story by Charles G. Booth
1936/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing

 

O’Hara: I like people too much to shoot. But it’s a dark year and a hard night.

This film has beautiful cinematography and art direction but takes itself a bit too seriously.

O’Hara (Gary Cooper) is an idealistic American who is working for the oppressed by helping the opposition to cruel warlord General Yang (Akim Tameroff).  His mission is to deliver a large sum of money to Shanghai where it will be used to buy arms for the rebels. He is warned to travel by plane only and to exercise extreme caution.  General Yang’s men employ Peter Perrie (Porter Hall) to help them part O’Hara from the money and to take it to Shanghai to rearm General Yang’s forces..

Perrie, who is ill and dreams of escaping China, enlists his very reluctant daughter Judy (Madeleine Carroll) to lure O’Hara onto the train.  Yang intercepts O’Hara on the train and gives the money to Perrie.  But Perrie has no intention of using it to buy arms …

General Died at Dawn 2

I was really looking forward to this film as I have enjoyed the other Gary Cooper Paramount pictures from the 30’s.  Cooper was fine as was most of the rest of the cast.  The problem was with the screenplay which was full of little speeches about the rights of man.  This significantly slowed the pace of the action.  Also, the character actor Porter Hall has a much bigger than usual role here and used the opportunity to overdo things.  It’s worth a look but could have been so much better.

Fan trailer

 

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The Great Ziegfeldthe great ziegfeld  poster
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Written by William Anthony McGuire
1936/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Repeat viewing

 

Fanny Brice: Tell Mr Ziegfeld, I’m not in and if I was in, I wouldn’t see him and if I did see him, tell him, I wouldn’t buy a thing.

This extravagant musical biopic won Oscars for Best Production, Best Actress (Louise Ranier), and Best Dance Direction (“A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody”) and was nominated for four more.  While it is over-long and its luster has faded with time, it is worth seeing for a glimpse at the stage acts of Fannie Brice and Ray Bolger and for its cast.

Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (William Powell) is a young man with a dream.  Early on, he shows his genius by figuring out how to take business from friendly rival Billings’ (Frank Morgan) Little Egypt act at the Chicago World’s fair.  He then proceeds to steal French actress/singer Anna Held (Louise Ranier) from Billings although he has no money.  It helps that he steals Anna’s heart in the process and marries her.

Flo has a couple of signature vices:  he cannot resist a pretty woman and he spends money like water.  His peccadilloes end up in heartbreak for adoring Anna.  Still, Ziegfield goes from strength to strength on Broadway with his Follies and musical comedies. Finally he finds contentment and stability in his marriage to Billie Burke (Myrna Loy).  Just as Ziegfeld has made his greatest triumph by having four hits on Broadway at once, he is felled by the crash of 1929 and ill health.

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MGM evidently couldn’t decide whether to focus on the plot or the musical numbers so went for both – resulting in a movie that is almost three hours long.  The numbers are lavish, so much so that they now look a bit like camp.  (I was astounded at the closing “circus” routine where about 20 chorus girls dance their hearts out around 5 Russian Wolfhounds that stand stock still while legs kick inches from their faces.)  The costumes put a Vegas review to shame in magnificence and in ludicrousness.  Ziegfeld’s taste is repeatedly vaunted in the movie but I couldn’t see it myself.

I can remember being shown Louise Ranier’s telephone scene in drama class in high school as an example of good acting.  I thought her performance held up well.  The win for Best Actress was controversial as she appears only in the first half of the picture and probably would be considered a supporting actress today.  Ranier was the first thespian ever to win two back-to-back Oscars, receiving her next for her more substantial work in The Good Earth the following year.  Her star fell rapidly thereafter.

Powell and Loy are fun to watch as usual.

Trailer

Clip – “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody”

 

Conquest of the Air (1936)

Conquest of the Airconquest-of-the-air poster
Directed by Alexander Esway, Zoltan Korda et al
Stories by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, commentaries by Peter Bezencenet et al
1936/UK
London Films Productions
First viewing

Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national freedom and independence. — Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 14 March 1933.

This documentary recounts the history of aviation from Icarus to the late 30’s.  It is pedestrian in style but offers fascinating glimpses of weird and wonderful early aircraft, passenger air travel (with sleeping berths on the flight from New York to Los Angeles!), etc. The story is told both through reenactments and film clips. Laurence Olivier, though prominently featured on all the promotional material, has a tiny role as a pre-flight Italian scientist.

An updated version of the film was released in 1940, with an epilogue on aircraft design and production for the British war effort.

Conquest of the air 1

Clip