Room Service (1938)

Room Serviceroom_service_1938 poster
Directed by William A. Seiter
Written by Morry Ryskind from the play by John Murray and Allen Boretz
1938/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Archives DVD

Hilda Manny: If I don’t come back you’ll know it’s good news. Gordon Miller: And if you do come back bring four bottles of poison.

It’s pretty bad when the producers feel compelled to add another comedian to a Marx Brothers movie and this is a pretty bad movie.

Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx) is trying to put on a Broadway show together with his sidekicks Binelli (Chico) and Faker (Harpo).  His entourage and the entire company are seriously behind on the rent at a New York hotel.  They struggle to elude both starvation and the hotel manager (Donald MacBride).  With Lucille Ball and Ann Miller.

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There is entirely too much talking in this picture.  In the Marx Brothers defense, they are funnier than Donald MacBride with his repeated “Jumping Butterballs!” schtick.  I wonder if that’s where they got the name for the turkey …

Clip

And on that note, I conclude my 1938 viewing.

Rage of Paris (1938)

Rage of Paristhe rage of paris poster
Directed by Henry Koster
Written by Bruce Manning and Felix Jackson
1938/USA
Universal Pictures

First viewing/Streaming on Internet Archive

 

The trouble with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is that he likes everything he sees – and he sees everything. — Clemence Dane

This is a pleasant enough romantic comedy.

Nicole (Danielle Darrieux) is down on her luck and can’t find work.  Her friend Gloria (Helen Broderick) tells her the thing for her to do is marry a rich man.  Gloria gets her pal head waiter Mike (Mischa Auer) to finance a swanky hotel room and clothes and Nicole pretends to be from high Parisian society.  Nicole sets her cap for wealthy Bill Duncan (Louis Hayward), but his friend Jim Trevor (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) sees through her and tries to stop the match.

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This is not bad and has the distinction of being one of Danielle Darrieux’s very few performances in a Hollywood movie.  The 21-year-old actress is absolutely charming and handles the dialogue well.

Photo montage with stills of Danielle Darrieux set to Darrieux singing “Premier rendez-vous” (“First Date”)

 

La Marseillaise (1938)

La Marseillaisela-marseillaise poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Jean Renoir, Carl Koch and N. Martel-Dreyfus
1938/France
Compagnie Jean Renoir, Societé d’Exploitation et de Distribution de Films (SEDIF), Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT)
First viewing/Streaming on Amazon Instant (free to Prime members)

 

Arise, children of the Fatherland,/ The day of glory has arrived!/ Against us tyranny/ Raises its bloody banner — “La Marseillaise”, French lyric by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle

I love Jean Renoir but the first time I heard of this film was in doing research for my 1938 viewing.  It did not disappoint though I would probably have appreciated it more if I knew more about French history.

Renoir tells the story of the first three years of the French Revolution through stories of common citizens of Marseilles who become soldiers of the Revolution, the French court, and French aristocrats in exile.  The birth and popularization of the French anthem are a running thread.  With Renoir’s brother Pierre as King Louis XVI, Louis Jouvet as a Parliamentary official, and Julien Carrette in a tiny role as a soldier.

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I think Renoir excels with character-driven pieces so this does not reach the top-tier of his work for me.  However, he was a genius at choreographing large groups of people so that each one shines as an individual and this is fully in evidence here.  This was probably a patriotic boost for the French as war anxiety was reaching its peak.

Clip – The People’s army marches off to Paris to the first strains of “La Marseillaise” — the use of the details and camera in the first part of this are just masterful – subtitles unnecessary

Call the Mesquiteers (1938)

Call the Mesquiteerscall-the-mesquiteers poster
Directed by John English
Written by Luci Ward and Bernard McConville based on characters created by William Colt MacDonald
1938/USA
Republic Pictures

First viewing/Streaming on Amazon Instant Video (Free to Prime members)

I try not to let a year go by without watching at least one of its “B” Westerns.  At only 55 minutes, this one made ideal bedtime watching.  I was surprised to find out The Three Mesquiteers were not traditional Western heroes.  The story is a contemporary one about some train robbers that carjack the Mequiteers’ truck and use it to attempt a getaway. After the robbers are killed and the truck is apprehended, the men must flee to clear their own names.

This one starts out strong but eventually gets bogged down with one too many badly choreographed fist fights and Max Trehune’s ventriloquism.

Call the Mesquiteers

Clip – credits and opening

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Heavenly CreaturesHeavenly-Creatures poster
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
1994/New Zealand/Germany
Wing Nut Films/New Zealand Film Commission/Fontana Productions

First viewing/Netflix rental
IMDb users say 7.5/10; I say 7/10

Pauline Parker: [voiceover, from her diary] We have decided how sad it is for others that they cannot appreciate our genius.

Although I was impressed by many aspects of Heavenly Creatures, the whole was just not my cup of tea.

Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) are high-school girls in 1950’s New Zealand.  They find a common bond in their histories of childhood illnesses and love of Mario Lanza.  Together, they invent the fantasy Kingdom of Borovnia in which they rule as King and Queen and an afterlife populated by their movie star heroes acting as Saints. Their intense friendship develops into something more and both sets of parents get worried.  But trying to separate these girls could prove fatal ….

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This film made Kate Winslet a star and her acting is quite wonderful as is that of the rest of the cast.  The use of color is also quite beautiful.  In this early effort, Peter Jackson shows his talent for fantasy and fantastical special effects.

The fantasy elements of the film were the problem for me.  Although they were impressive, I thought they swamped the plot and characters.  Paradoxically, this made the film less rather than more memorable for me.

 

Trailer

 

Four Men and a Prayer (1938)

Four Men and a PrayerFour-Men-and-a-Prayer Poster
Directed by John Ford
Written by Richard Sherman, Sonya Levien, et al
1938/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

I love making pictures but I don’t like talking about them. — John Ford

This is not one of the films that made John Ford an auteur.

In India, Col. Loring Leigh (C. Aubrey Smith) is accused of issuing an order that led a squadron of men to their deaths.  He is found guilty and dishonorably discharged.  Leigh gathers his four sons around him in England to start an investigation to prove his innocence.  Before they can start, Leigh is mysteriously shot and all his papers stolen. Although the coroner rules Leigh’s death a suicide, the sons are convinced it was murder and scatter to the four corners of the earth to apprehend the culprit.  I won’t give anything away but it all has something to do with arms dealing – a hot topic in 1938.  With George Sanders and David Niven as two of the sons, Loretta Young as the diplomat son’s girlfriend, Alan Hale as an arms merchant, and John Carradine as a Latin American general.

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Another “OK” movie from the bottom of my 1938 To Watch list that didn’t really grab me. All the performances are good though Loretta Young got on my nerves more than she usually does.

Algiers (1938)

AlgiersAlgiers Poster
Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by John Howard Lawson and James M. Cain based on the novel by Henri La Barthe
1938/USA
Walter Wanger Productions

Repeat viewing; YouTube

 

Gaby: If I can’t see Paris when I open my eyes in the morning, I want to go right back to sleep.

This remake of Pepe Le Moko does not hold a candle to the original.

This film is virtually a shot-for-shot remake of Pepe Le Moko (1937).  Only the ending has been slightly changed.  Briefly, Pepe Le Moko (Charles Boyer) is a notorious jewel thief who is hiding out in the Casbah of Algiers where he is surrounded by local friends and impossible to apprehend.  Inspector Slimane (Joseph Calleia) is biding his time, knowing that Pepe will eventually crack.  To speed the process along, Slimane introduces Pepe to Gaby (Hedy Lamarr), who suddenly makes him very homesick for Paris.  With Alan Hale as a fence and Gene Lockhart as an informant.

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It is eerie how much this film looks like the original.  Key scenes are staged exactly the same.  However, Charles Boyer is no Jean Gabin and cannot convey his sense of longing and frustration.  In addition, acting was not Hedy Lamarr’s forte.  Walter Wanger attempted to destroy all copies of Pepe Le Moko at the time this was made.  Fortunately for us, he was not able to do so.

Algiers was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Boyer), Best Supporting Actor (Lockhart), Best Cinematography (James Wong Howe), and Best Art Direction (Alexander Toluboff).

 

Clip – Boyer and Lamarr

 

Carefree (1938)

CarefreeCarefree Poster
Directed by Mark Sandrich
Written by Allan Scott and Ernest Pagano from a story by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde
1938/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Must you dance every dance with the same fortunate man?/ You have danced with him since the music began./ Won’t you change partners and dance with me? (“Change Partners”, lyric by Irving Berlin)

The repartee of Astaire and Rogers kind of jumps the shark here but there is still some fantastic dancing in this, the eighth of their pairings.

Stephen Arden’s (Ralph Bellamy) fiancée Amanda (Ginger Rogers) keeps breaking their engagement.  So Stephen seeks the help of his friend psychoanalyst Tony Flagg (Fred Astaire).  When Amanda claims she doesn’t dream, Tony loads her up on dream inducing foods.  Amanda dreams of Tony and immediately falls in love.  She can’t tell Tony so she makes up a very disturbing dream.  Tony puts her under anesthetic (a form of hypnosis??) but before he can get the truth out of her she has to leave for a broadcast.  In her trance, Amanda creates havoc.  The story continues in this vein for the remainder of the movie.

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The plot requires Ginger Rogers to act goofy throughout and, while she is good at this, the movie just lacks the sparkle and sophistication of the earlier, better films.  And what can you say about “The Yam” number featuring a song so stupid that Astaire refused to sing it?Still, “Change Partners” in which Fred hypnotizes Ginger is one of the most romantic of their ballroom dances.

Contributors to Carefree were nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of:  Best Art Direction; Best Original Song (“Change Partners”); and Best Original Score.

Clip – Fred hypnotizes Ginger while dancing

The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)

The Big Broadcast of 1938the-big-broadcast-of-1938 Poster 2
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Walter DeLeon, Frances Martin, et al
1938/USA
Paramount Pictures

Repeat viewing /Netflix rental

 

S.B. Bellows: Meet me down in the bar! We’ll drink breakfast together.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear “Thanks for the Memory” again in its original version.  The rest of this review-style movie … not so much.

S.B. Bellows (W.C. Fields) owns a cruise-liner, the Gigantic which is in a Trans-Atlantic race with the rival Colossal.  Bellows intends to board the Colossal to sabotage its effort but he gets on the wrong ship.  On the Gigantic, Buzz Fielding (Bob Hope) is emceeing a radio broadcast of the race.  His fiancée (Dorothy Lamour) accompanies him but soon gets captivated by a young inventor.  Near the end, Bellows’ daughter Martha (Martha Raye) is picked up from a ship-wreck.  She is known for breaking mirrors with her face and otherwise causing havoc.  With such specialty acts as Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra, Ben Blue, Kirsten Flagstand, and Tizo Guizar.

Big Broadcast of 1938 1This movie has little to recommend it besides the song unless you are a fan of W.C. Fields.  In that case, he does his classic golf and billiard sketches and participates in other funny business.  I thought it was interesting that Fields and Raye got top billing.  Bob Hope who has the most on-screen time, I think, is well down with Shep Fielding on the poster.

Ralph Ranger and Leo Robin won an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song
for  “Thanks for the Memory”, which went on to become Bob Hope’s theme song.

Clip – Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing “Thanks for the Memory”