The Citadel

The CitadelCitadel Poster 2
Directed by King Vidor
Written by Ian Dalrymple et al based on the novel by A.J. Cronin
1938/UK
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios

First viewing; Warner Archives DVD

Tagline: Secrets of a doctor as told by a doctor!

Robert Donat is wonderful in this medical melodrama.

Idealistic doctor Andrew Manson (Donat) gets his first post-graduate job as the assistant to a doctor in a Welsh mining village.  There he runs into his first hurdle when he refuses to re-certify some of the union leaders as unfit to work or to give miners who need the work “pink medicine” for their persistent coughs.  He is told to go with the flow or else so quits and applies for a position in a larger mining town.  He can’t get this without being married so proposes to schoolteacher Christine (Rosalind Russell)  without preliminaries.

In the town, Manson is increasingly suspicious that the miner’s coughs are caused by anthracite dust.  He wants to study the disease by hospitalizing the men.  This is summarily rejected so he and Christine set up a laboratory to do their own research. Eventually, the lab is smashed to bits by angry, suspicious miners and the couple set out for London.

After a year of struggling, Manson finally stumbles upon a wealthy hysterical patient and is adopted by other high-society doctors.  He becomes a Harley Street physician more interested in new cars than patients.  A tragic accident causes him to reevaluate his priorities.  With Ralph Richardson as a fellow idealist and Rex Harrison as one of the London doctors.

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While this is not the most dynamic story ever made, I enjoyed it for its acting.  Donat rises high above his material.  This is also the earliest film I could truly get behind Rosalind Russell in, though she didn’t hit her stride until she started doing comedy.  King Vidor keeps the story moving.

Robert Donat received his first Academy Award nomination for his work on The Citadel. The film was also nominated in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing (Screenplay).

Trailer

 

Show Boat (1936)

Show BoatShow Boat Poster
Directed by James Whale
Written by Oscar Hammerstein II based on the novel by Edna Ferber
1936/USA
Universal Pictures

First viewing

Joe: [singing] I gits weary / An’ sick o’ tryin’ / I’m tired o’ livin’ / An’ scared o’ dyin’ / But Ol’ Man River / He jes’ keeps rollin’ along!

Oh, how I loved, loved, loved this screen adaptation of the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein 1927 Broadway musical!

Captain Andy Hawks (Charles Winniger) runs a show boat on the Mississippi River.  His leading lady Julie (Helen Morgan) and leading man Steve are married.  A jealous boat hand reveals that Julie has negro blood and she and Steve leave the boat under charges of miscegenation.  Captain Andy’s daughter Magnolia (Irene Dunne) takes over for Julie.  Riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal needs to get out of town and hitches a ride on the show boat, taking over from Steve as leading man.  He and Magnolia fall in love and marry but things take a turn for the worse when Gay tries to support her with his gambling winnings.  With Paul Robeson as Joe and Hattie McDaniel as Queenie.

Show Boat 3

I love this film so much that I sat rapt through a 16-part YouTube viewing of the movie, the only means that was available to me.  The story gets pretty melodramatic by the end but the musical numbers are just perfect.  Three of them gave me chills:  Robeson’s rendition of “Ol’ Man River”; the ensemble “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”; and Helen Morgan’s “Bill”.

This was James Whale’s favorite of all his pictures and I think he was right.  It is certainly beautifully staged.  The casting is wonderful.  I like Irene Dunne better every time I see her. In fact the only thing I can find fault with was the decision to cut several of the stage show’s songs in favor of original numbers.   I could gush on and on.

It is criminal that there has never been a DVD of this film.  It is vastly superior to the 1951 version, which is readily available.

Clip – “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” (gives me the chills! — when Robeson joins in behind the women)

Mr. Thank You (1936)

Mr. Thank You (“Arigatô-san”)Mr. Thank You Poster
Directed by Hiroshi Shimizu
Written by Hiroshi Shimizu from a novel by Yasunari Kawabata
1936/Japan
Shochiku Ofuna

First viewing

 

Mr. Thank You: So far this fall, I’ve seen eight girls cross this pass headed for paper factories and cotton mills and who knows what else. Sometimes I think I’d be better off driving a hearse.

 

I loved this slice of life of Depression-era rural Japan.

Mr. Thank You is a bus driver and got his name from his cheerful “thank you” called out as miscellaneous foot traffic gets out of his way on the mountain roads he travels.  The film covers just one bus journey from a small coastal town to a train station on the other side of the mountains.  The train will take a 17-year-old girl to Tokyo where she will go into some apparently shameful form of employment.  She is accompanied by her mother.  Also on the bus is a young woman of the world who calls herself a “migratory bird” and has her eye on Mr. Thank You and a rather obnoxious man in a fake handlebar mustache who has his eye on the girl.

Many other passengers get on and off the bus en route.  Mr. Thank You is well known to the people who live along his route and does small favors for them such as carrying messages or picking up records of popular music.  There is a thread of plot involving the principal passengers but mostly the film is presented in vignettes of small everyday occurances.

Mr. Thank You 1

I love to get a glimpse of what real life was like long ago and far away and this film beautifully gave me one.  Somehow Shimizu does this and transcends what could otherwise be a travelogue.  All the incidents are so vivid that I was fully engaged the whole time.  Highly recommended.

Clip

The Story of a Cheat (1936)

The Story of a Cheat (“Le roman d’un tricheur”)Story of a Cheat Poster
Directed by Sacha Guitry
Written by Sacha Guitry
1936/France
Cinéas

First viewing
#103 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“You can pretend to be serious; but you can’t pretend to be witty.” — Sacha Guitry

I enjoyed the witty story without becoming immersed in it.

This film is an exercise more in style than in plot.  The story goes something like this.  The anonymous narrator sits in a Parisian café writing his memoirs.  He was born a peasant in a village.  As a boy he lived in an extended family of twelve people.  Because he stole money from the till of their store, he was forbidden to eat from a dish of wild mushrooms at dinner. Thus, he becomes the only one of his family not to die from eating the deadly batch.  An orphan, he is taken by his conniving aunt and uncle who cheat him of his inheritance.  One day, his aunt intentionally leaves a few francs on the table.  He resists the temptation to take them and the aunt surreptitiously leaves him an ad for employment as a doorman at a fancy hotel.  He takes the cue to run away. So begins a series of jobs ending as a croupier in Monte Carlo and a number of amorous adventures as a sometime gambling cheat and thief.

 

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This movie is a lot of fun.  There is almost no dialogue other than the voice-over recounting the memoir.  The setting is highly theatrical in that the audience is distanced from the action, which feels artificial.  Everything is kept very light.  The credits are presented in the most original way I have yet seen!  This was the first film I have seen by Guitry.  I look forward to seeing others.  Recommended.

Trailer (no subtitles, unfortunately)

A Day in the Country (1936)

A Day in the Country (“Partie de campagne”) Day in the Country Poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Jean Renoir based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant
1936/France
Panthéon Productions

First viewing
#94 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

“The kiss itself is immortal. It travels from lip to lip, century to century, from age to age. Men and women garner these kisses, offer them to others and then die in turn.” ― Guy de Maupassant, The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, Part One

Jean Renoir’s third film of 1936 is an unfinished jewel that makes up in atmosphere and emotion what it lacks in characterization and story.

The Dufours are Parisian dairy owners.  Father, mother, daughter and shop boy take an annual trip to the country one Sunday where they stop at a riverside inn for lunch. Henrietta, the daughter, is enchanted by the beauty of the setting, which awakens in her an inexpressible tenderness.  Two young men are also dining at the inn.  After lunch, they provide the father and shop assistant with fishing poles and offer to take the ladies rowing.  Henri takes Henrietta to his secret grove of trees where they kiss.  With Jean Renoir in a small part as the owner of the inn.

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Renoir evokes the essence of a lazy summer day with his camerawork, which is just gorgeous.  The music, too, reflects the fullness in Henrietta’s heart.  In fact, the whole ambience has the feeling of Renoir’s father the impressionist painter.  I imagine it was for this reason that the film was selected for The List.  Otherwise, I don’t understand why one of the other two excellent 1936 films, The Crime of Monsieur Lange or The Lower Depths were not chosen.  Those reflect completed work and are far more substantial than this one, which is a little farcical in the early parts for my taste.

Clip

Our Relations (1936)

Our RelationsOur Relations poster
Directed by Harry Lachman
Written by Richard Connell, Felix Adler, et al
1936/USA
Hal Roach Studios/Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer
First viewing

 

Finn: [hands Ollie a bill] Here, have yourselves a fling. Ollie: A dollar? We can’t do much flinging on a dollar.

I found most of this uninspired until the very end when a sight gag involving Stan and Ollie bobbing around like roly-poly dolls with their feet in cement had me roaring  with laughter.

Stan and Ollie’s long-lost twin brothers Alf and Bertie are sailors.  Unbeknownst to our heroes they show up penniless in town and set in motion all kinds of nonsense involving mistaken identities and a valuable ringing belonging to the captain of the ship.  With Alan Hale as a beer-garden owner.

Laurel & Hardy

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The Texas Rangers (1936)

The Texas RangersTexas Rangers Poster
Directed by King Vidor
Screenplay by Louis Stevens; story by King Vidor and Elizabeth Hill
1936/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing

 

Wahoo Jones: Looks like you got me, Sam, but I’ll lay my cards on the table. I’ll shoot straight.

Sam McGee: [shooting Wahoo under the table] So will I.

This is an entertaining western from an “A” team at Paramount.

Jim Hawkins (Fred MacMurray), ‘Wahoo’ Jones (Jack Oakie), and Sam McGee (Lloyd Nolan) are a gang of friends who run a con setting up stage-coach robberies.  Jim and Wahoo get split off from Sam and head off to Texas to find him.  There they discover that their old con won’t work due to the vigilance of the Texas Rangers. Figuring they can’t beat ’em, Jim and Wahoo join up.  They figure they may get inside info that will allow them to pull off some jobs.  But as time goes on, they begin to make friends within the force.  Will they be able to switch sides when opportunity calls?  With Jean Parker as the love interest.

Texas Rangers 1

I thought this was an OK way to spend an afternoon. I always enjoy Jack Oakie – his turn as Napolini is one of my favorite parts of The Great Dictator – and he is good here.

Micro clip

 

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Mary of ScotlandMary-of-scotland poster
Directed by John Ford and Leslie Godwins (uncredited)
Written by Dudley Nichols from the play by Maxwell Anderson
1936/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing

 

Mary, Queen of Scots: I have loved as a woman loves, lost as a woman loses… My son shall sit on the throne! My son shall rule England! Still, still, I win!

For some reason I just couldn’t get into this film despite its fine production values.

Katharine Hepburn plays Mary, heir to the throne of England, who returns to Scotland from France at the beginning of the film.  She is immediately confronted by the hostility of the Lairds that have been ruling Scotland in her absence and Presbyterian firebrand John Knox and the emnity of Elizabeth I.  Her one champion is Bothwell (Fredric March) and they fall in love.  However, she is more or less forced to marry Darnley, who is second in line to the English throne, to solidify her claims.  Things do not turn out well for anyone concerned.  Well, maybe eventually for baby James.

 

Mary of Scotland 1

This was based on a stage play and while the filmmaking is quite cinematic the dialogue remains stagebound and flowery.  I thought Hepburn’s performance was uneven.  She often overdid it but then would be radiant once more.  I thought Florence Eldridge was perfectly awful as Elizabeth.  I have to admit that the film is beautiful to look at.  John Ford got a “Special Recommendation” for this at the Venice Film Festival.

For TCM clips go here:  http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/208648/Mary-of-Scotland-Movie-Clip-Another-Sovereign.html

 

Rembrandt (1936)

RembrandtRembrandt Poster
Directed by Alexander Korda
Written by Carl Zuckmayer, June Head, and Lajos Biró
1936/UK
London Film Productions

Repeat viewing

 

Rembrandt van Rijn: What is success? A soldier can reckon his success in victories, a merchant in money. But my world is insubstantial. I live in a beautiful, blinding, swirling mist.

This is a very good biography of the painter with a fine performance by Charles Laughton and beautiful costumes and art direction.

The story follows Rembrandt from about the time he lost his beloved wife Saska after his “The Night Watch” met with ridicule.  We see Rembrandt struggle with poverty and a nagging mistress (Gertrude Lawrence) while he continues to pursue a vision that few share.  He finds contentment toward the end of his life despite bankruptcy through the love and inspiration of former scullery maid Hendrickje (Elsa Lancaster).

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Charles Laughton is convincing as Rembrandt.  In the course of portraying the painter, he also has the opportunity to movingly read some selections from the Bible.  But the real star for me was the production design.  The settings, lighting, and costumes call to mind not only several Rembrandt masterpieces but works of other Dutch Masters such as Brueghel and Vermeer.  Recommended.

TV promo

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

The Charge of the Light Brigadecharge of the light brigade poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Michael Jacoby and Rowland Leigh inspired by the poem by Tennyson
1936/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing

 

When can their glory fade?/ O the wild charge they made!/ All the world wonder’d./ Honor the charge they made!/ Honor the Light Brigade,/ Noble six hundred! — Alfred Lord Tennyson “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

The war film is not a favorite genre of mine, but there is no question that this is an expertly made film of some power.  I don’t know if I could have watched it, however, if I had known ahead of time about the number of horses killed in filming the Charge.

This movie does not make any pretense of historical accuracy.  The regiment, characters, and incidents are all fictional.  The only thing that actually happened was the Charge itself, though not for the reasons or with the results claimed.

It is India, 1856.  As the movie begins, officials are telling war lord Surat Kahn that the stipend the British had been paying his father will cease.  Kahn nevertheless continues to entertain the party with a tiger hunt during which Major Geoffrey Vickers (Eroll Flynn) saves Kahn’s life.  We learn that the Russians would be only to glad to fill the gap left by the British.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey is engaged to his Colonel’s daughter Elsa Campbell (Olivia de Havilland).  Unfortunately, Elsa has fallen in love with Geoffrey’s brother Perry (Patric Knowles) while Geoffrey was away on duty.  When Perry tells Geoffrey about their love, he refuses to believe it.  For one reason or another, Geoffrey is always dragged elsewhere just as Elsa tries to talk to him.

Charge of the Light Brigade 2

Kahn waits until most of the men at the British garrison are away at manuevers and strikes the hopelessly undermanned fortress.  He offers surrender terms which the British are forced to accept and then massacres all the survivors of the initial attack except Elsa who is saved by Geoffrey.  Later, Geoffrey’s regiment is sent to the Crimea because it is there that they will find Kahn and, with luck, exact vengeance.   With David Niven as an officer, Donald Crisp as Elsa’s father, and just about every middle-aged British character actor in Hollywood at the time.

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I liked this quite a bit.  All the acting was excellent and Michael Curtiz kept the action rolling along at a good pace.  The story picks up a lot when the focus shifts away from the love triangle to the fighting.  Unfortunately, Warner Bros. resorted to very cruel measures to get realistic battle footage.

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Dozens of horses were killed during the making of this picture due to the use of trip wires in the Charge sequence.  This led to action by Congress to ensure the safety of animals in filmaking and the ASPCA to ban trip wires in its guidelines. Because of the public outcry about the scene, the film was never re-released by Warner Brothers.

After I read about this, I kept thinking about how awful it was to take an animal who had been trained to trust and obey its rider knowingly into harm’s way.  So sad.

Trailer