A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

A Slight Case of MurderSlight_Case_of_Murder Poster
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Written by Earl Baldwin and Joseph Schrank from a play by Damon Runyan and Howard Lindsay
Warner Bros.

First viewing

Nora Marco: Why isn’t he in B-E-D?

Douglas Fairbanks Rosenbloom: Because I want more to E-A-T, you old C-O-W.

Edward G. Robinson is always a pleasure to watch but I didn’t get any laughs out of this gangster comedy.

When Prohibition ends, Remy Marco (Robinson) decides to become a legitimate brewer and employ his gang members as salesmen.  Only problem is he has never tasted his own beer and his men are afraid to tell him it is wretched.  After four years, Remy is half a million dollars in debt and the bank is ready to foreclose.  He leaves for his summer house in Saratoga, after stopping at the orphanage where he grew up to take the worst boy he can find for the summer.

When he gets to Saratoga, Remy discovers that a gang has robbed all the bookmakers for the race track of $500,000.  When he gets to the house, four dead robbers are in one of the bedrooms.  In the meantime, his daughter has become engaged to a very rich state trooper whose father comes to check the family out.  Hijinx ensue.  With Margaret Hamilton in a very small role as the matron of the orphanage.

Slight Case of Murder 1

This tries to be madcap but was a miss in my opinion.



Favorite Films of 1935

I watched 51 films that were released in 1935.  A complete list can be found here: http://www.imdb.com/list/ZGW4DN5ryag/?publish=save.  I enjoyed lots and lots of them, but these were my very favorites:

1.  Top Hat (Mark Sandrich):  This is officially my favorite Astaire/Rogers film, at least until I am watching the next one.

Top Hat 2

2.  Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey):  This seldom mentioned treasure is one of the reasons I keep watching these old movies! It has a perfect cast, a wonderful script, and is expertly directed by Leo McCarey.

Ruggles of Red Gap 1

3.  The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock):  I prefer The Lady Vanishes among Hitchcock’s British films, but this ranks just behind it. It remains a witty and stylish suspense thriller.


4.  An Inn in Tokyo (Yasujiro Ozu):  This is Ozu’s last silent film and one of his best. It has been compared to The Bicycle Thieves in its focus on the effects of poverty on human dignity, but is much more wryly humorous than the Italian film.

Inn in Tokyo 1

5.  Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd):  A highly enjoyable adventure with one of Charles Laughton’s very best performances.

Mutiny on the Bounty 1

6.  The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale):  I have fun every time I come back to this classic.

bride of frankenstein

7.  Crime and Punishment (Josef von Sternberg):  I’m so glad I was able to find this unsung gem containing one of Peter Lorre’s most complete characterizations.

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8.  The Good Fairy (William Wyler):  Preston Sturges’ script and wonderful performances by Margaret Sullavan and Herbert Marshall make this romantic comedy special.

The Good Fairy 1935

9.  The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Henry Hathaway):  This rollicking adventure celebrates friendship, honor and loyalty under fire in British India.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer

10.  The Wedding Night (King Vidor):  This is a refreshingly different romance with one of Gary Cooper’s best performances.

Wedding Night


Princess Tam-Tam (1935)

Princess Tam-Tamprincesse-tam-tam poster
Edmond T. Gréville
Productions Arys

First viewing


“. . . I improvised, crazed by the music. . . . Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone.” — Josephine Baker

I enjoyed Josephine Baker’s performance in this otherwise lackluster movie.

Max is a celebrated novelist suffering from writer’s block who is being nagged at ceaselessly by his wife.  He and his partner decide to escape to Tunisia for inspiration and respite.  There they meet the beggar Alwina (Josephine Baker).  They take the “wild” free-spirited woman into their villa where they begin to “civilize” her.  Meanwhile, Max’s wife has begun a flirtation with a maharaja in Paris.  Max introduces to Alwina to Parisian society as Princess Tam-Tam to make his wife jealous.  But Alwina can’t resist the urge to dance whenever drums begin to beat …

Princess Tam-Tam 1

Josephine Baker sings two songs beautifully and has a couple of dance numbers.  The last of these is as part of a relatively clunky Busby Berkeley-esque routine.  These musical interludes are the main reasons to watch.  The actors never catch fire and the story is pretty silly.

Clip – “Ahé!  la Conga”


Wings in the Dark (1935)

Wings in the Darkwings-in-the-dark-movie-poster
Directed by James Flood
Paramount Pictures

First viewing


Sheila Mason: What are you thinking about?

Ken Gordon: I was just thinking how crazy I was not to take a good look at you when I had the chance.

This improbable aviation romance is bolstered by the charisma of its stars.  Sheila Mason (Myrna Loy) is a daring barnstorming pilot.  She has a yen for fellow aviator Ken Gordon (Cary Grant), who is developing a plane that will be capable of flying “blind” without instruments.  Ken is too busy to notice.  When Ken is about to demonstrate his plane with a transatlantic flight, he is (temporarily?) blinded in a gas stove explosion.  Ken overcomes his bitterness with the encouragement and help of Sheila and they fall in love.  Can Ken realize his dreams of flying blind??

Wings in the Dark 1

A picture with Myrna Loy and Cary Grant automatically has a lot going for it as far as I am concerned.  They bring a lot of charm to a frankly melodramatic and utterly unlikely story.  Roscoe Karns is good too as Sheila’s promoter.


Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Sylvia ScarlettSylvia Scarlett Poster
Directed by George Cukor
Radio Pictures

First viewing


Michael Fane: [speaking to Sylvia dressed as a boy] “I say, uh! I know what it is that gives me a queer feeling when I look at you. There’s something in you to be painted.”

This box-office bomb has everything going for it but a coherent script.  Sylvia Scarlett (Katharine Hepburn) has lost her mother and her father (Edmund Gwenn) is an embezzler.  They flee France for England, Sylvia disguised as a boy for reasons that are pretty unconvincing.  On the crossing, they meet Cockney con artist Monkley (Cary Grant).  After Sylvia/Sylvester repeatedly foils every scam the men try to work in London, the trio hooks up with a singer and decides to work as a traveling theater company touring seaside towns.  Sylvia becomes enamoured of artist Michael (Brian Aherne) and reveals her gender but Michael is in love with an unfaithful Russian.  After more comedy and drama, everybody pairs off satisfactorily.

Sylvia Scarlett 1

This never grabbed me.  The dialogue is pretty fey and the story is all over the place.  Grant’s Cockney accent is fairly bad but he does a good job as a rogue and it’s interesting to see him not as the love interest for a change.  Everybody else tries mightily to overcome their material with varied success.  With the cast and personnel it should have been a classic.  Too bad.



The Devil Is a Woman (1935)

The Devil Is a WomanDevil Is a Woman Poster
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Paramount Pictures

First viewing



Tagline: Kiss me … and I’ll break your heart!

The film opens with a carnival in turn-of-the-century Spain, all the revelers are masked.  Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero), a fugitive revolutionary, spies the beautiful Concha (Marlene Dietrich) and they make a date for a rendezvous.  Before the appointed time he has a chance meeting with his friend Don Pasquale (Lionel Atwill) and tells him about the mysterious beauty.  Don Pasquale tells him his long, sad history with this duplicitous vixen to warn Antonio away from her.  Alas, Concha’s attractions are too strong for any man to resist …  With Edward Everett Horton hiding behind a beard as the governor of the town.

Devil Is a Woman 2

Although Dietrich said this was her favorite picture, I thought it was pretty bad and did her no favors.  Although she drives multiple men to their ruin, most of the time she acts like a petulant little girl, stamping her foot when she doesn’t get her way.  This is not the aloof Dietrich I love from the earlier films.  Her costumes are also very unflattering as far as I am concerned.  To add to that Lionel Atwill just wasn’t cut out to be a thwarted lover and Edward Everett Horton is wasted in a part that requires him to be at autocratic bully.

The Spanish government threatened to bar all Paramount films from Spain and its territories unless the film was withdrawn from worldwide circulation.  Paramount destroyed the original print after the initial run.  New prints were struck after many years from a print Dietrich kept in a bank vault.


Scrooge (1935)

ScroogeScrooge Poster
Directed by Henry Edwards
Twickenham Film Studios

First viewing


“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

This was the first sound film adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is all business and thinks Christmas is a humbug.  His deceased business partner Jacob Marley has learned differently and sends the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to teach Scrooge a lesson in what Christmas is all about.

Scrooge 1

It would take a lot to top the 1951 Alistair Sim version of this story in my estimation and this film does not have what it takes.  That said, Seymour Hicks makes a very credible Scrooge and this is a pleasant enough entertainment.  It does suffer from a bit of over-earnestness in what is already a pretty melodramatic story.  It also spends a puzzling amount of time in a 75 minute movie dwelling on atmospheric Christmas scenes that have nothing to do with the story. Not a must but also not unworthy of a viewing.


Werewolf of London (1935)

Werewolf of Londonwerewolf of london poster
Directed by Stuart Walker
Universal Pictures

First viewing



Dr. Yogami: Good day. But remember this Dr. Glendon, the werewolf instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best.

The first mainstream Hollywood werewolf movie is pretty good.  Botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is searching for a rare flower that blooms only by moonlight in Tibet when he is attacked by a mysterious beast.  He manages to return to England with a specimen  and devotes himself single-mindedly to experimenting with the plant, thereby further estranging his wife (Valerie Hobson).  The mysterious Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) visits Wilfred and tells him that the flower is the only cure for werewolfery and that there are two werewolves in London.  Sure enough, on the first night of the full moon, Wilfred begins to grow hairy palms and discovers that both of his Tibetan flower blossoms have been stolen from his laboratory …

werewolf of london 1

The Wolf Man has never been my favorite Universal monster, largely because of Lon Chaney, Jr’s curious miscasting as an English lord’s son.  Henry Hull is much more convincing, as the tormented half-beast.  The make-up and transformations, however, are far less impressive than in the 1941 film.  It’s fun to see Warner Oland out of his Charlie Chan mode.

Re-release trailer

Crime and Punishment (1935)

Crime and PunishmentCrime and Punishment Poster
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
B.P. Schulberg Productions for Columbia Pictures Corporation

First viewing


“Do you understand, sir, do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?” Marmeladov’s question came suddenly into his mind “for every man must have somewhere to turn…” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

I loved this film, a loose adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel.  Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre) graduates with highest honors from university and makes his mother and sister proud.  He goes on to write scholarly articles on criminology.  He has a sort of Nietzschean theory that ordinary standards cannot be applied to extraordinary men.  His articles don’t pay much, however, and he is living in desperate poverty.  He goes to a grasping, insulting old pawnbroker to pawn his father’s watch to pay the rent and while there meets a sweet, devout prostitute named Sonya (Marian Marsh).

When he discovers that his sister has lost her position and feels forced to marry a horrible beaurocrat to support herself and their mother, he snaps and murders the pawnbroker for her money.  The rest of the story follows the psychological aftermath of the crime on Raskolnikov,  the relentless investigation of the murder by Inspector Porfiry, and the redemptive love of Sonya.

Crime and Punishment 1

According to the commentary track on Mad Love, Peter Lorre agreed to star in that film in exchange for a guarantee that he could make this one.  I am glad it worked out because he is simply fantastic in it.  It is great to see him exercise a full range of emotion in a complex leading role.  My favorite parts were immediately after the crime when the character decided that he no longer feared anything.  I laughed out loud several times at the way Lorre delivered the many zingers.  He is also pathetic, tender, and hysterical as the moment requires.  Marian Marsh is very good and Edward Arnold is almost satanic as the inspector.  The film looks quite beautiful despite its low budget thanks to cinematography by Lucien Ballard.

The complete film is currently available at a couple of different obvious online video sources.

To view clips on TCM.com go here: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/361077/Crime-And-Punishment-Movie-Clip-Contemplating-Life.html

Annie Oakley (1935)

Annie Oakleyannie oakley poster
Directed by George Stevens
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing



Toby Walker: Well dog my cats!

This well-made romantic biopic exceeded my expectations.   Annie Oakley (Barbara Stanwyck) hunts quail to support her family.  She is famous for being able to kill them with one shot to the head.  When the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show hires world champion sharpshooter Toby Walker (Preston Foster), Toby bets he can beat any comer.  Hotel management, which has been buying Annie’s quail, calls on Annie to challenge him. Buffalo Bill talent scout Jeff Hogarth (Melvyn Douglas) is impressed with Annie’s shooting  and with Annie and hires her for the show.   Annie and Toby become close but an accident enables Jeff to part them.  The movie also features several sequences of acts from the show.  With Moroni Olsen as Buffalo Bill and Chief Thunderbird as Sitting Bull.

Annie Oakley 2

The more movies I see that are directed by George Stevens the more taken with him I am.  He seems to bring something to all his films that makes me care about the characters.  Barbara Stanwyck’s Annie is far softer and more feminine than the character portrayed in Annie Get Your Gun but still quite believable as a sharpshooter.  There is a nice helping of humor thrown in with the romance.