Curly Top (1935)

Curly TopCurly Top Poster
Directed by Irving Cummings
1935/USA
Fox Film Corporation

Repeat viewing

 

 

Reynolds: My word, miss. You *are* a package.

This is the kind of movie that gives Shirley Temple a bad name in some circles.  Elizabeth Blair (Shirley Temple) and her grown-up sister Mary (Rochelle Hudson) are orphans living in an asylum.  One day when the trustees are visiting the home, a new, immensely wealthy, handsome young trustee Edward Morgan (John Boles) espies Elizabeth singing “Animal Crackers” to her fellow orphans and it is love at first sight.  He brings the sisters to his Southhampton summer home where everyone, including the servants, goes gaga over the little moptop and Morgan falls in love with Mary.

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I’m proud to be a Shirley Temple fan but this one is not good.  She is almost too cute and nothing rings true.  The songs are OK, though Boles has a couple of numbers that I could have lived without as well.

“Animal Crackers”

The Wedding Night (1935)

The Wedding Nightwedding night poster
Directed by King Vidor
1935/USA
Howard Productions

First viewing

 

I’m about ten films away from finishing up 1935.  Running into a film like this one that I had never heard of makes me glad that I stick with it until the end.  This romantic drama really impressed me.

Gary Cooper plays Tony Barrett, a hard-drinking washed-up novelist who can’t even get an advance on his next book. He and his wife Dora move to his family farmhouse in Connecticut where they can live for free.  Their neighbors are a community of very traditional Poles.  One of these buys some of Tony’s acreage and Dora, who decides she doesn’t like country life, moves back to New York.  Tony remains behind and finds inspiration for his next book in Anya (Anna Sten), the daughter of his neighbors.  He also gradually falls in love with her.  But she has a strict Polish upbringing and is promised in marriage to a local boy.  With Ralph Bellamy (complete with Polish accent!) as the loutish fiance.

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This is a very mature and realistic sort of romance and the performances are terrific.  It’s refreshingly different from the all too familiar plotlines of other films of the period.  I think Cooper’s performance equals or betters anything he ever did.  The movie is also beautiful to look at with cinematography by Gregg Toland and many Polish folkloric details.  Highly recommended.

King Vidor won the award for best director at the 1935 Venice Film Festival for this film, which was nominated for the Mussolini Cup.

To watch clips on TCM:  http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/290368/Wedding-Night-The-Movie-Clip-Give-Another-Pig-.html

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

A Midsummer Night’s DreamMidsummer Night's Dream Poster
Directed by William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt
1935/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing

 

 

Puck: Lord, what fools these mortals be!

This big-screen adaptation of the popular Shakespearean comedy has its plusses and minuses.  The story takes place on the eve of the marriage of the Duke of Athens to the Queen of the Amazons.  Four young lovers congregate in a wood on the same night some rustics are rehearsing for a performance at the wedding feast.  The king and queen of the fairies and their minions amuse themselves by playing tricks on the mortals and each other.  With an all-star cast, including Olivia de Havilland in her screen debut as Hermia, Dick Powell as Lysander, James Cagney as Bottom, Joe E. Brown as Flute, Mickey Rooney as Puck, and Anita Louise as Titania, Queen of the Fairies.

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This film was not a box-office success and I can see why.  It takes some getting used to.   The production is absolutely beautiful and brilliantly conveys the enchanted world of the fairies.  The film is gloriously scored to Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play, as orchestrated by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.   The cinematography by Hal Mohr and art direction by Anton Grot are spectacular.

In my opinion, the performances are much less successful.  This film was based on a Max Reinhardt production at the Hollywood Bowl and I attribute some of the truly weird acting choices to Reinhardt.  For example, the fairy characters, and especially Puck, shriek, laugh, and make strange noises to convey their other-worldliness.   It is very odd.  Mickey Rooney’s performance was downright irritating, almost embarrassing, for me.  Cagney and the other rustics are pretty good.  Of the lovers, de Havilland is the standout.

The film won Oscars for editing and cinematography.  Hal Mohr had not been nominated and was the first and only recipient to win an award based on a write-in vote.  It was also nominated for Best Picture.

General Release Trailer

 

China Seas (1935)

China Seaschina seas poster
Directed by Tay Garnett
1935/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing

 

Jamesy MacArdle: Lovin’ you is the only decent thing I ever did in my entire life. And even that was a mistake.

Gable and Harlow reunite in another love-triangle story following their success in Red Dust (1932).  Clark Gable plays the skipper of a cruise liner/freighter on the China Sea.  The vessle is carrying a hidden gold shipment.  His girl Dolly “China Doll” Portland (Jean Harlow) has tagged along, mostly to stay in his hair it seems.  At the last minute, Sybil (Rosalind Russell), an old love of the captain’s from his days in England, now widowed, boards the ship.  The final main character is Jamesy MacArdle (Wallace Beery), who we soon learn is the leader of a gang of modern-day Malaysian pirates.  When Gable starts paying attention to Sybil, China Doll first acts up and then gets revenge.  With Lewis Stone as a cowardly officer, C. Aubrey Smith as a ship’s company executive, and Robert Benchley as a drunk.

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I thought this was entertaining though I wasn’t blown away or anything.  The movie has plenty of action including a convincing typhoon (two stuntmen were nearly killed as they were washed away by 50 tons of water in the studio) and the pirate attack.  Gable, Harlow, and Beery give good solid performances.  If I had not known that the actress playing Sybil was Rosalind Russell, I might not have recognized her.  She puts on an English accent (the only one of the Americans to do so, though I think all were supposed to be English) and her face looks somehow different.  Maybe it was the makeup.

I will use this as the opportunity to give my rant on “comic drunks.”  I find them terribly annoying.  This film has Robert Benchley staggering across the screen and slurring a line or two at least every five minutes.  Nothing he does advances the plot in any way.  I find constantly inebriated people more to be pitied than laughed at, and this stuff just makes me mad.  I have a similar reaction to “humor” that relies on a “comic stutterer”.  It was surely a different time.

Clip – Gable and Harlow

The Little Colonel (1935)

The Little Colonellittle_colonel poster
Directed by David Butler
1935/USA
Fox Film Corporation

Repeat viewing

 

Walker: Looks like this old house ain’t gonna be lonesome no more.

This Shirley Temple film is memorable for a couple of fantastic tap dance sequences with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and a choral number at an African-American baptism.

It is 1870’s Kentucky.  When Elizabeth Lloyd elopes with a Northerner, her proud rebel father (Lionel Barrymore), Colonel Lloyd, disowns her.  Six years later Elizabeth and her husband Jack Sherman go out West to make their fortune and their daughter Lloyd (Shirley Temple) Sherman is made an honorary colonel by an adoring outpost regiment.  Mother and daughter return to Kentucky while father searches for a property to invest in.  Although  the Colonel is still not speaking to his daughter, little Lloyd rapidly wins the old man’s heart.  Can she bring her mother and grandfather together?  With Bill Robinson as Walker, the Colonel’s servant, and Hattie McDaniel as Mom Beck, Elizabeth’s nursemaid and cook.

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The Colonel is portrayed as a cranky, angry old man and he frequently denigrates Walker, who fortunately responds with perfect dignity.  The general portrayal of African-Americans in the film is of its time.  That said, Hattie McDaniel and especially Bill Robinson are the standouts in the picture, which is worth seeing just to see Robinson dance.  The film ends with a brief Technicolor sequence.

Shirley and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson tap up the stairs

Alice Adams (1935)

Alice AdamsAlice Adams Poster
Directed by George Stevens
1935/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing

 

Virgil Adams: Why, you think you’re going to be pushed right spang up against a wall – you can’t see any way out, or any hope at all – then something you never counted on turns up – and you kind of squeeze out of it, and keep on going.

This romantic drama made me get pretty darn misty.  Katharine Hepburn plays Alice Adams, daughter of a working class family, who hides her origins under a facade of “quality” and a nervous laugh.  Her mother (Ann Shoemaker) is constantly after her father (Fred Stone) for “not making something of himself” and calling him a failure for not giving his children what they deserve.  She eventually nags him so much that he quits his job and unwisely opens a glue factory to exploit a formula he developed while working for his employer.

We see Alice suffer the youthful humiliations of being roundly snubbed at a society party, where she appears in a two-year-old dress and wearing hand-picked bunch of violets instead of orchids like the other girls.  But it is here that she meets a wealthy young man (Fred MacMurray).   She continues to play her society act until the fateful evening she must bring him home to meet her parents.

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I liked the actors who played Alice’s parents nearly as much as Katharine Hepburn.  They seemed very believable in their roles.  Fred MacMurray played himself but how young he was!  Katharine Hepburn makes you embarrassed along with her at the dance and then convinces as a girl who is desperately acting a part.  I was surprised to learn that this film was a success during the Depression.  It’s not the escapist fare I am used to for 1935.

Alice Adams was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actress.

Clip – flirting

 

Charlie Chan in Paris (1935)

Charlie Chan in ParisCharlie Chan in Paris Poster
Directed by Lewis Seiler
1935/USA
Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

 

Charlie Chan: Joy in heart more desirable than bullet.

Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) visits Paris to investigate a bond forging scheme and meets up with a couple of murders in the process.

Charlie Chan in Paris 1

This is a pretty good entry in the mystery series.  I was interested to see Erik Rhodes in the role of a bank employee and usually drunk.  I had never seen him in anything but the two Astaire/Rogers movies in which plays comic Italians.  He’s OK but his material doesn’t let him be very funny.

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Roberta (1935)

RobertaRoberta Poster
Directed by William A. Seiter
1935/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

Repeat viewing

 

I won’t dance, why should I?/ I won’t dance, how could I? I won’t dance/ Merci beaucoup, I know that music leads the way to romance/ So if I hold you in my arms I won’t dance —  “I Won’t Dance”, lyrics by by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh

Astaire and Rogers are fine in supporting roles in this screen adaptation of a Broadway musical penned by Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Otto Harbach.

Roberta is the chicest of Parisian fashion houses.   John (Randolph Scott), a sports hero who knows nothing about fashion inherits it from his Aunt Minnie who founded the business.  He becomes partners with his aunt’s assistant and house designer Stephanie (Irene Dunne), a deposed Russian princess.  The “Countess Scharwenka” (Ginger Rogers) is an important client and leading nightclub entertainer.  It turns out that she is actually Liz, a boyhood neighbor of bandleader Huck (Fred Astaire).  Liz gets Huck work in her act and John and Stephanie fall in love, not without many misadventures along the way.

 

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As usual, Fred and Ginger put a smile on my face.  Ginger is particularly good here as the fake countess, complete with Polish accent.  Irene Dunne is in top form both as an actress and a singer.  Even Randolph Scott cracks a smile and loosens up a bit.  Some beautiful standards came out of this: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” ; “I’ll Be Hard to Handle”; “Lovely to Look At”; and “I Won’t Dance.”  All the lovely 30’s dresses are an additional bonus.

“I Won’t Dance” – And he can play the piano like that!

 

If You Could Only Cook (1935)

If You Could Only CookIf You Could Only Cook Poster
Directed by William A. Sieter
1935/USA
Columia Pictures Corporation

First viewing

 

Joan Hawthorne: Say… can you buttle?

In this pleasant romantic comedy, Jim Buchanan (Herbert Marshall), a young automobile magnate, is soon to wed a gold-digging socialite.  His innovative designs are being rejected by the Board of his company.  He walks out in a huff and meets Joan (Jean Arthur) leafing through the want ads on a park bench.  Joan assumes Jim is out of work too and when she spots an ad for a cook-butler couple suggests they try for the job.  They are hired and later discover the boss (Leo Carrillo) is an ex-bootlegger gangster.  Naturally, they fall in love but their potential romance is prey to several misunderstandings.

IfYouCouldOnlyCook1

I enjoyed this film, mostly thanks to the charm and appeal of its stars.  I can never help rooting for Jean Arthur.  The DVD is part of the “Icons of Screwball Comedy” set.  I think it is misadvertised, being more of a true romantic comedy with plenty of sentiment and little wise cracking.

In England, Columbia promoted the film as a Frank Capra production. Capra, the top director at the studio sued Columbia for unlawful use of his name. The parties settled. Jean Arthur went on to star in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, the next film Capra directed at the studio.

Peter Ibbetson (1935)

Peter IbbetsonPeter Ibbetson poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
1935/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing
#100 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2013 Edition)

 

 

“The wretcheder one is, the more one smokes; and the more one smokes, the wretcheder one gets—a vicious circle.” ― George du Maurier, Peter Ibbetson

This unusual romantic fantasy features some beautiful expressionistic cinematography by Charles Lang and music by Ernest Toch.  Whether the fantasy quite works is a matter of opinion I suppose.

The story begins with two playmates, the boy Gogo and girl Mimsy, who are English expatriates in Paris.  They bicker as children do.  Then Gogo’s mother dies and Mimsy grieves with him.  Probably the most wrenching scene in the entire film is when Gogo’s uncle comes to take him away to England over the heartrending protests of both children.

Segue to perhaps 20 years later and Gogo, now called Peter (Gary Cooper), is an architect in London.  He suffers from a pervasive sense of emptiness that he cannot pinpoint.  He wants to quit his job but his boss convinces him to take a holiday in Paris instead.  There, he visits the house where he grew up, remembers his time with Mimsy again, and realizes the source of his sadness.

He is recalled to England to design a new stables for a Lord and his Lady in Yorkshire. There he meets Mary, the Duchess of Towers (Ann Harding).  They are strangely drawn to each other and discover they share the same dreams at night.  I will stop the plot summary to avoid spoilers but suffice it to say that nothing can separate these two in their dreams any more in life or after death.   The photographic effects come in particularly during extended dream sequences.

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I enjoyed the film but it does require a total suspension of disbelief.  Also, although I like both of them, Cooper and Harding, two very grounded earth-bound actors, were perhaps not the best choices for these roles.  The first part of the film with the children and the development of the feelings between the adults worked better than the fantasy for me.

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