Kid Galahad (1937)

Kid GalahadKid Galahad poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Seton I. Miller from a story by Francis Wallace
1937/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing

 

Nick ‘Nicky’ Donati: Say, did you ever see a bellhop didn’t want to be a fighter?

I thought this was a pretty good boxing movie with strong performances by Edward G. Robertson and Humphrey Bogart.

Nick Donati (Robinson) is a rough-edged fighting promoter who expects 100% obedience from his fighters.  “Fluff” (Bette Davis) is his assistant.  There are hints that Fluff might want something more from the relationship but Nick is oblivious.  Nick’s fighter throws a fight to the thuggish Turkey Morgan’s (Bogart) fighter, Chuck McGraw.  At an after-fight party, bell boy Ward Guisenberry (Wayne Morris) knocks out Chuck defending Flip’s honor. Nick decides Ward has potential.  After Ward knocks out Turkey, Fluff decides to hide him at the farm of Nick’s mother.  There Ward meets and falls in love with Nick’s convent-educated sister.  This does not set well with Nick, to say the least.

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This is fairly routine stuff but Robinson takes it to another level when he is on.  Bogart is also dynamic in a one-note tough guy role.  Bette Davis is still playing the ingenue and it doesn’t suit her well.  Possibly my favorite moment of the film came when Robinson spoke Italian with great fluency and at some length in a scene with his screen mother.

Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress for this film and Marked Woman at the Venice Film Festival and Michael Curtiz was nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Best Director.

Clip – Bette Davis, night club singer (!)

A Star Is Born (1937)

A Star Is Bornstar is born poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Robert Carson from a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson
1937/USA
Selznick International Pictures

Repeat viewing

Matt Libby: That’s a charming match. A nice girl like Vicki and Public Nuisance Number One.

I enjoyed this more than my memory of it lead me to expect.

Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) dreams of stardom on her South Dakota farm.  Her folks are opposed but her grandmother (May Robson) sympathizes and finances her trip to Hollywood.  Esther can’t get a break, though.  Then she chances to meet alcoholic movie star Norman Maine (Fredric March) and he helps her get a screen test.  They fall in love and, when Norman promises to reform, marry.  Everything starts coming up roses for Esther, who is rechristened Vicky Lester, but Norman begins a long slow slide.  With Adolphe Menjou as a producer, Lionel Stander as a caustic press agent, and Andy Devine as Esther/Vicky’s friend.

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I had forgotten many things about this melodrama, notably what a cynical indictment of Hollywood is concealed behind the tears.  You can really sense Dorothy Parker’s hand in this.  Also, this has got to be one of Fredric March’s very best performances.  He is a wonderful drunk, not comic or exaggerated.  At times, you can kind of see Mr. Hyde peeking through.  Janet Gaynor is also still lovely and vulnerable at this late date in her career.

This was the first all-color film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.  The film won an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Story) and was nominated for awards for Best Actor (March), Best Actress (Gaynor), Best Director, Best Writing (Screenplay), and Best Assistant Director.  W. Howard Green won an Honorary Award for his color cinematography.

Trailer

 

A Day at the Races (1937)

A Day at the Racesday at the races poster
Directed by Sam Wood
Written by Robert Pirosh, George Seton, and George Oppenheimer
1937/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Repeat viewing

 

Tony: Have you got a woman in here? Dr. Hackenbush: If I haven’t, I’ve wasted thirty minutes of valuable time.

Although I thought a lot of the many, many musical sequences dragged down the pace of this, the Marx Brothers continued to score with me in the comedy department.

Judy (Maureen O’Sullivan) runs a health sanitarium she has inherited from her father.  She is deeply in debt and stands to lose the place if she cannot pay off evil developer Morgan (Douglas Dumbrille) pronto.  Judy and her pals Tony (Chico) and Stuffy (Harpo) enlist the help of Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho) to persuade wealthy hypochondriac patient Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) to front the money.  Unbeknownst to Mrs. Upjohn, Hackenbush is actually a veterinarian.

In the meantime, Judy’s singer boyfriend Gil (Allan Jones) buys a racehorse which he hopes will bring in money.  But Gil can’t pay the horse’s feed or stable bills and the sheriff is constantly on his trail.

 

day at the races 1 This is the one with the “get your tootsy frootsy ice cream” sketch at the race track. There are some other great gags and Groucho continues to get in some good zingers, but the rough edges have been knocked off a bit too much by MGM.  Of course, Margaret Dumont continues to be perfection in my book.

Dave Gould was nominated for an Academy Award for Dance Direction for the number “All God’s Children Got Rhythm”, making this the only Marx Brothers film to be recognized by the Academy.

Trailer

Shall We Dance (1937)

Shall We DanceShall-We-Dance-Poster
Directed by Mark Sandrich
Written by Allan Scott, Ernest Pagano et al
1937/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

Repeat Viewing

 

The way you hold your knife/ The way we danced till three/ The way you changed my life/ No they can’t take that away from me — Ira Gershwin, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”

I love the ’30’s.  Every year some new Astaire/Rogers bliss.

The film opens in Paris.  Petrov (Fred Astaire) is a famous ballet dancer.  His real name is Pete Peters, he longs to dance to swing music, and he loves Broadway star Linda Keene (Ginger Rogers) from afar.  Linda longs to get away from co-stars who paw her and decides to return to New York and marry her stuffy millionaire boyfriend.  When Pete finds out about this, he decides to book a ticket on the same ship.  His manager (Edward Everett Horton) tells Pete’s lady friend that Pete can’t take her with him because he is married.  After some initial resistance, Pete and Linda get friendly on the ship.  All this blows up when the jilted lady in Paris tells the press about Pete’s “marriage” and the rumor mill turns that into a marriage with Linda.  Linda and Pete spend the rest of the film having misunderstandings and patching them up.  With Eric Blore as a hotel concierge.

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This was the first of the Astaire/Rogers films to be scored by George and Ira Gershwin. We get some of the great standards of the 30’s set to some outstanding dance sequences.  There is “Who Has the Last Laugh” danced by an embarrassed Ginger with Fred at a party celebrating her engagement to another guy and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” danced on roller skates.  Fred also has a fantastic tap solo to “Slap That Bass” and rhythm set to the rattle of engine room of the ocean liner.  The comedy lacks some of the pizzaz of the pair’s earlier outings but all in all this should not be missed.

“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” was nominated for the Best Song Oscar but, somehow, lost to “Sweet Leilani” from Waikiki Wedding.

Clip – “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (followed by their dance to the same song from The Barkleys of Broadway)

 

Marked Woman (1937)

Marked WomanMarked Woman Poster
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Written by Robert Rossen and Abem Finkel
1937/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing

 

Mary Dwight Strauber: I’ll get you, even if I have to crawl back from the grave to do it!

Bette Davis is a sometime thing for me.  This wasn’t one of those times.

Mary Dwight (Davis) is a “hostess” at a nightclub/clip joint owned by ruthless gangster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Cianelli).  She has been keeping her occupation from her sweet kid sister Betty.  One night Mary is entertaining a man who gives Johnny a bad check to cover his gambling losses.  The man ends up dead and Mary is a material witness.  Mary first agrees to help Assistant DA David Graham (Humphrey Bogart), then succumbs to intimidation and perjures herself to help Johnny.  Betty is so upset with Mary’s revelation that she quits school and starts attending Johnny’s “parties”.  When things go wrong for Betty, Mary confronts Johnny head on.  With Isabel Jewell as one of the good-time girls.

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This movie has one of those muckraking, overearnest scripts that don’t do the actors any favors.  That said, Humphrey Bogart manages to maintain his dignity while Bette Davis comes off more strident than tough.  Davis’s performance took the movie with it as she is on screen virtually the entire time. Cianelli, as always, made a truly scary villain, though.

 

 

 

 

Lone Star (1996)

Lone Starlone star poster
Directed by John Sayles
Written by John Sayles
1996/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Castle Rock Entertainment/Rio Dulce

First viewing
#1279 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (combined list – 2013 ver.)
IMDb users say 7.5/10; I say 8.0/10

Otis Payne: It’s not like there’s a line between the good people and the bad people. It is not like you’re one or the other.

I enjoyed this haunting story about a man coming to terms with his past as he investigates a decades old murder near the Rio Grande.

Nobody in Rio County, Texas has a bad word to say about the late Buddy Deems (Matthew McConanaughey) (“what a real Texan ought to be”) or his wife (“a saint”).  Buddy’s son Sam (Chris Cooper) is not so sure.  When Sam returns to Rio County after a divorce, he is elected sheriff but few think he can fill Buddy’s shoes.

As the film begins, two Army surveyors find a human skull, sheriff’s badge, and Masonic ring on an old firing range.  Later they find a .45 caliber bullet.  Sam becomes convinced that these are remnants of the body of corrupt, vicious ex-sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson) who disappeared before his father became sheriff.  Wade was the prototypical redneck bully, particularly targeting blacks and Mexican-Americans.  Sam sets out to prove that Buddy murdered Wade.  His investigation takes him to Mexico and San Antonio. The true story is told during the course of the film in a series of flashbacks.

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In the meantime, Sam is also pursuing his now-widowed high school sweetheart Pilar (Elizabeth Peña). Pilar has a complicated relationship with her mother Mercedes who owns a local cafe.  We also follow the story of Otis, who own a saloon catering to African-Americans on the nearby Army base.  Otis’s son, a colonel, has just been appointed commander of the base but has been estranged from his father for years.  Otis’s grandson feels domineered by his spit-and-polish father and longs for a connection with his grandfather.

All these threads are resolved in unexpected ways.

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On one level this is a mystery in a Western setting but on a deeper level it is about the pernicious effects of secrets and about inter-generational, interracial and intercultural relations on the Texas-Mexico border.  John Sayles’s Oscar-nominated screenplay cuts deep into the hearts of his characters.  The acting is superb.  I have always been a fan of Chris Cooper and he is outstanding here.  This one snuck by my radar when it was out in theaters and I was very glad to catch up with it.

Trailer, which does not begin to capture the texture of the film

Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge (1937)

Bulldog Drummond’s RevengeBulldog Drummond's Revenge Poster
Directed by Louis King
Written by Edward T. Lowe Jr. based on a novel by Herman C. McNeile
1936/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing

 

This is a sprightly entry in the Bulldog Drummond series of programmers.  Hugh Drummond is preparing to marry the long-suffering Phyllis in Switzerland when he chances upon a plot to steal a top-secret explosive and associated murders.  With John Howard as Drummond, John Barrymore as Col. Nielson of Scotland Yard, Reginald Denny as Drummond’s friend Algy, and E. E. Clive as his butler Tenny.  It’s a pleasant, undemanding way to spend an hour.

 

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Clip – opening sequence

Nothing Sacred (1937)

Nothing Sacrednothing-sacred poster 2
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Ben Hecht suggested by a story by James H. Street
1937/USA
Selznick International Pictures

Repeat viewing?

Oliver Stone: Before I finish with that female Dracula, she’ll know one thing: that Oliver Stone is worse than radium poisoning four ways from the jack!

This has all the elements of a very funny movie.

In New York City, reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) is in disgrace for allowing a Harlem shoeshine man appear as a wealthy sultan for a charity campaign (and for getting found out). In Warsaw, Vermont,  Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard) has been diagnosed with terminal radium poisoning.  Wally sees a small item about Hazel in the paper and persuades his editor (Walter Connelly) to let him go to Warsaw to do a human interest story on Hazel.  On the day Wally arrives, her doctor (Charles Winniger) tells Hazel that his diagnosis was wrong and she is perfectly healthy.  Hazel is heartbroken that she will no longer get her dying wish to go to New York.  So when Wally offers to take her there she doesn’t enlighten him.  Hazel is feted everywhere in New York and Wally falls in love with the brave doomed victim.   Hazel’s guilt is getting the better of her but a surprising number of people want to leave well enough alone.

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Nothing Sacred  is a combination of a screwball comedy and a cynical satire on media hype.  Carole Lombard is at her most charming and the picture is filled with nice character performances.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from seeing this movie.

However, for some reason it just all fell a bit flat for me.   Part of the problem may have been March and another part may have been Wellman – neither of whom are associated with comedy.   Also, a laundry list of uncredited writers had to work on the script after Ben Hecht walked off when Selznick refused to hire John Barrymore to play a part Hecht wrote for him.

Nothing Sacred contains the first use in a color film of process effects, montage and rear screen projection.  The film fell into the public domain in 1965 and the DVD I rented was a faded unrestored print released by public domain specialist Westlake Video.  A restored Blu-Ray edition has been released by Kino, although reviews of the restoration are not enthusiastic.

Trailer

 

True Confession (1937)

True ConfessionTrue_Confession-_1937_Poster
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
Written by Claude Binyon from the play “Mon crime” by Louis Verneuil and Georges Berr
1937/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing

This is a pleasant enough light comedy.

Opposites attract.  Lawyer Kenneth Bartlett (Fred MacMurray) is so honest that he refuses to defend the guilty.  Naturally his law practice is going nowhere.  His wife Helen (Carole Lombard) is a novelist and comes up with the most outlandish woppers on a moment’s notice to get out of a jam.  She secretly accepts a job as a private secretary to help out with the finances but discovers the boss is looking for more than she bargained for.  After a struggle she flees his flat, leaving her purse and coat.  When she goes back to retrieve them, he has been murdered.  She tries to explain to Kenneth that she didn’t murder the man but he doesn’t believe her.  She then allows him to defend her under a plea of self-defense.  With Una Merkel as Helen’s best friend and John Barrymore as a self-styled “criminologist”.

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All the actors except Lombard and Barrymore are OK in this. Lombard is better than OK and Barrymore once again demonstrated that he was coasting on fumes by the mid-30’s. The material is light and breezy but it didn’t make me laugh.

Clip – typewriter scene

The Good Earth (1937)

The Good Earthgood earth poster
Directed by Sidney Franklin
Written by Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger, and Claudine West based upon the novel by Pearl S. Buck
1937/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Repeat viewing

Wang Lung: Revolution ? What is revolution ?

Unidentified laborer: I don’t know but it has something to do with food.

Something about MGM’s worthy, big-budget adaptation of the Pearl Buck novel about Chinese peasants just rubs me the wrong way.

Peasant farmer Wang Lung’s (Paul Muni) marriage to freed slave O-Lan (Luise Ranier) gives him and his father an extra pair of willing hands and provides them with added prosperity and sons.  After several years of back-breaking labor, the family amasses enough money to acquire additional land.  But famine comes, driving them to near-starvation and forcing them to flee the countryside to seek work in the city.  As their predicament is shared by millions, there is no work.  Throughout everything, O-Lan’s many sacrifices help the family to persevere.

Finally, an army of republican revolutionaries enters the city and riots break out.  During the riots, O-Lan stumbles on a fortune and is nearly killed twice.  The family is able to return to the land.  In no time, Wang starts acting like a rich mandarin.  As he becomes estranged from the land and O-Lan, his world begins to fall apart.  A swarm of locusts threatens to finish the job.  With Charlie Grapewin as Wang’s father, Walter Connelly as his lazy, grasping Uncle, Tilly Losch as a concubine, and Keye Luke as his adult elder son.

good earth 1937

This should have been a tear-jerker about suffering but triumphant womanhood and I am susceptible to such stories.  Yet I emerge dry-eyed from The Good Earth.  

The first problem is that, for all the money that went into creating a realistic Chinese setting, it is simply impossible to suspend my disbelief and lose myself in this movie’s China.  These actors are not only not Chinese nor Asian but are possibly the most non-Chinese Caucasian players that could have been procured.  Walter Connelly, whom I generally adore, is particularly ludicrous.  Luise Ranier’s and Tilly Losch’s Austrian accents don’t add to their believability.  (Why is it that American or British accents don’t get in the way for me?).

Muni himself said he was about as Chinese as Herbert Hoover.  Poor Anna May Wong wanted deeply to play O-Lan but that was out as soon as Muni was cast because of “miscegenation” concerns in the Hayes Code.  (Why was it OK for two white actors to produce Chinese children?!)

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Characteristic expression

The second huge problem I have with the film is Luise Ranier’s Academy-Award-winning performance.  O-Lan speaks very little so much of the acting must be done with the face and eyes.  I tried to love Ranier but it was hard to credit her open-mouthed, dazed expression as acting.  I don’t know whether the director or she thought that it made her look more Chinese or that they thought that it made her look “simple” (as it did) or submissive. For me, It just did not portray the inner strength of a woman who would send her children to beg or risk a firing squad so that her family could survive.

The production values are everything that could be expected from a picture with one of the highest budgets to that time and that took three years to make.

This was the last picture Irving Thalberg produced.  The film is dedicated to his memory in the opening titles.  Luise Rainer won an Academy Award for Best Actress and Karl Freund picked up a Best Cinematography Oscar. The Good Earth was nominated for Best Director,Best Film Editing and Best Picture.

Re-release trailer