What Did the Lady Forget? (1937)

What Did the Lady Forget? (“Shukujo wa nani o wasureta ka”)What Did the Lady Forget DVD
Directed by Yasujirô Ozu
Written by Yasujirô Ozu and Akira Fushimi
1937/Japan
Shôchiku Eiga

First viewing

 

Watching Fantasia (1940), I understood we could never win the war. “These people seem to like complications”, I thought to myself. — Yasujiro Ozu

This obscure comedy by master Yasurjiro Ozu had me chortling out loud.

Wealthy medical professor Dr. Komiya is henpecked at home.  His wife forces him out of the house to go golfing on the weekend and asks his niece to stay home to watch the place while she goes to the theater with her lady friends.  Both secretly rebel and end up meeting at a bar.  The thoroughly modern niece gets tipsy and takes her uncle to a geisha house.  She is raked over the coals when she comes home drunk and accompanied by one of the doctor’s students.  The doctor spends the night with the student (apparently golfing is an overnight trip) but his wife easily catches him in his lie.  All is straightened out in a very amusing way.

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Very little happens in this film but all the incidents are fresh and funny and the resolution is simultaneously philosophical and amusing.  The characteristic Ozu style is fully in evidence.  Recommended.

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Something to Sing About (1937)

Something to Sing Aboutsomething to sing about poster
Directed by Victor Schertzinger
Written by Victor Schertzinger and Austin Parker
1937/USA
Zion Meyers Productions

First viewing

Terrence ‘Terry’; Rooney: I’ll stand up here and let you stick pins in me, but one more tickle, and I’m going to tear off one of your legs and wrap it around your neck for a scarf.

It’s always fun to watch James Cagney dance, and that’s the highpoint of this otherwise unremarkable musical flop.

Terry Rooney (Cagney) is a Manhattan band-leader/hoofer who has gotten the call from Hollywood to make a picture.  He bids farewell to Rita (Evelyn Daw), the band’s vocalist, to a swing version of Wagner’s Wedding March.  Terry has the usual trials and tribulations in adjusting to Tinsel Town and then gets nothing but discouragement on his work from the producers who secretly think he’s terrific but want to keep his price low.

After Terry finishes the picture, he marries Rita under his real name and they go on a long honeymoon on a tramp steamer to the South Seas.  When Terry returns, the picture has made him a star.  The studio doesn’t want a married star so the couple reluctantly agree to keep the marriage secret.  This leads to a number of misunderstandings and quarrels, of course.  With William Frawley as the studio’s overzealous press agent.

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Cagney can do very little wrong in my book and he’s even better when he is dancing.  He’s sensational in a couple of the musical sequences.  Unfortunately, most of the musical sequences feature the singing of Evelyn Daw and her trained operatic soprano voice — not a good match for the swing band she accompanies.

James Cagney made Something to Sing About for Grand National Pictures during one of his many contract disputes with Warner Bros.  Grand National had been better known for its B pictures previously.  This big-budget box-office fiasco caused the studio’s eventual demise in 1940.  According to IMDb, Grand National Pictures head Edward L. Alperson had previously paid $25,000 for the rights to the perfect James Cagney vehicle, Angels with Dirty Faces, and was literally begged by staff producer Edward Finney to film that property first but inexplicably went forward with this instead.  Angels with Dirty Faces, of course, was released by Warners in 1938 with Cagney to great acclaim.

Something to Sing About was Oscar-nominated for its score by versatile writer/director Victor Schertzinger.

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Café Metropole (1937)

Café MetropoleCafe Metropole
Directed by Edward H. Griffith
Written by Jacques Deval from an original story by Gregory Ratoff
1937/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

Monsieur Victor Lobard: That’s the trouble with a flawless plan! There’s always a flaw in it!

Russian raconteur Monsieur Victor (Adolphe Menjou) owns a nightclub in Paris and is deeply in debt.  He gambles the last francs he can get his hands on at baccarat and wins big.  Unfortunately, the loser is American Alexander Brown (Tyrone Power) who writes a bad check before declaring himself penniless.  Victor blackmails Alexander into masquerading as a Russian prince and wooing American heiress Laura Ridgeway (Loretta Young).  Despite Alexis’s terrible Russian accent, Laura is immediately smitten. With Charles Winniger as Laura’s father, Helen Westley as her aunt, and Gregory Ratoff as a waiter.

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I enjoyed this comedy, chiefly for its script and the performances by Menjou and various character actors.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in a scene deleted from the film (lost for 60 years)

A Damsel in Distress (1937)

A Damsel in DistressDamsel in Distress Poster
Directed by George Stevens
Written by P.G. Wodehouse, Ernest Pagano and S.K. Lauren from a story by P.G. Wodehouse
1937/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing

 

A foggy day in London Town/ Had me low and had me down/ I viewed the morning with alarm/ The British Museum had lost its charm/ How long, I wondered, could this thing last?/ But the age of miracles hadn’t passed,/ For, suddenly, I saw you there/ And through foggy London Town/ The sun was shining everywhere. “A Foggy Day”, lyrics by Ira Gershwin

This was the first film Fred Astaire made without Ginger Rogers since they were first paired in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio.  Joan Fontaine is certainly no Ginger but Burns and Allen make surprisingly good dancing partners for Fred.

Everyone expects Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Fontaine) to marry soon and the servants have laid bets on who the lucky man will be.  The prime contenders are the Bertie-Woosterish twit her aunt favors or the American she is in love with.

Jerry Halliday (Astaire) is an American dancer in London.  His press agent (George Burns) has a media campaign that has made him quite the matinée idol and he is chased everywhere by the ladies.  One day, as he is escaping, Alyce takes refuge in his cab to escape the family butler who is tailing her.

A series of misunderstandings causes a number of people to believe Jerry is the American Alyce is in love with and to either try to bring them together or separate them.  Needless to say, they fall in love.  With Constance Collier as the snooty aunt.

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I don’t rank this with the Astaire-Rogers films but it has many pleasures.  The score is by George and Ira Gershwin and includes the standards “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

Burns and Allen are quite funny of course.  The amazing thing was watching them match Astaire step for step in the tap dancing department!  Poor Joan Fontaine looks lovely but struggled to do a basic ballroom dance with Astaire.  She later joked that this movie set her career back four years.

 

Hermes Pan won an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction for the “Fun House” sequence featuring Astaire, Burns and Allen.  A Damsel in Distress was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction.

Clip – Astaire taps with Burns and Allen in “Just Begun to Live”

 

Fire Over England (1937)

Fire Over EnglandFire Over England Poster
Directed by William K. Howard
Written by Clemence Dane and Sergei Nolbandov based on a novel by A.E.W. Mason
1937/UK
London Film Productions

First viewing

 

Vivien Leigh remembers: “I was making Fire Over England then, and Larry was in it too. Flora Robson was playing Queen Elizabeth. It was in that film that Larry and I met, too. I wonder whether-if the film was shown again-you would see it in our faces, the confrontation with our destiny. I don’t think I have ever lived quite as intensely ever since. I don’t remember sleeping, ever; only every precious moment that we spent together.”

Flora Robson just might be my favorite Elizabeth I ever.  She, and a chance to see Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh at the height of their physical beauty, made this a fairly enjoyable experience.

It is 1588 and relations between Spain and England are at the breaking point.  English pirates regularly plunder Spanish treasure ships and Spain is said to be building an armada for an attack on the island.  The Spanish capture English pirate Sir Richard Ingolby who is sailing with his son Michael (Laurence Olivier).  Michael manages to escape and takes refuge with a Spanish nobleman and his daughter but the father is hauled away and burned by the Inquisition.

Michael is left with a burning hatred for the Spanish.  Despite the protests of his lady love (Vivien Leigh), when he returns to England he takes on a dangerous spy mission to Spain to uncover the names of the traitors that are plotting to assassinate the Queen.  With Raymond Massey as Philip II of Spain,  Leslie Banks as a loyal English courtier, and an almost unrecognizable James Mason in one of his very first roles as a traitor.

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This average costume drama comes alive every time Flora Robson is on screen.  Fortunately, this is fairly frequently.  I loved the scene when Elizabeth takes her wig off and looks at her aging face in a mirror.  Otherwise, things proceed just about how one would expect.

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Moonlight Sonata (1937)

Moonlight SonataMoonlight Sonata Poster
Directed by Lothar Mendes
Written by E.M. Delafield and Edward Knoblock from a story by Hans Rameau
1937/UK
Pall Mall Productions Ltd.

First viewing

 

There have been a few moments when I have known complete satisfaction, but only a few. I have rarely been free from the disturbing realization that my playing might have been better. — Ignacy Paderewski (1860 – 1941)

I enjoyed listening to the great Paderewski play the piano.  The story does not detract.

Pianist and statesman Ignacy Paderewski is en route to Paris when his plane breaks down and must make an emergency landing near a mansion in Sweden.  The mansion is occupied by the Baroness Lindenberg, her granddaughter Ingrid, and the overseer Eric (Charles Farrell).  The Baroness and her entourage are all great music lovers, Paderewski’s performance of the Moonlight Sonata having brought Ingrid’s deceased parents together.  It will be Ingrid’s 18th birthday at midnight and Eric tells her that he will ask her to marry him at that time.  Before this can happen, Ingrid becomes enamoured of charming scoundrel Mario de la Costa from Paderewski’s party.  Can Paderewski work his magic again?

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There would be no reason to watch this film if it were not for the music.  However, easily the first 20-30 minutes consist purely of Paderewski playing at a concert.  Later, he plays a delightful little dance for some children and, of course, the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata.  Despite the sometimes iffy sound, this was enough for me to enjoy the film thoroughly.

Clip – Paderewski plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, 1st Movement

 

In Old Chicago (1937)

In Old ChicagoIn Old Chicago Poster
Directed by Henry King
Written by Lamar Trotti and Sylvia Levien based on a story by Niven Busch
1937/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation presents Daryll F. Zanuck Productions

First viewing

Dion O’Leary: Nothing can lick Chicago!

I was not crazy about this big-budget answer to 1936’s smash hit San Francisco, despite some impressive special effects toward the end.

The story begins in the 1850’s as the O’Leary family is crossing the prairie en route to what will become Chicago.  A tragic accident kills the father but not before he makes a speech about how his sons will go on to become great along with the city.

Segue to 1871.  Ma O’Leary (Alice Brady) is running a laundry in “The Patch”, a rough immigrant part of town.  Son Jack (Don Ameche) is a crusading lawyer, while his brother Dion (Tyrone Power) is a rapscalion out for a quick buck.  Dion spies an opportunity to cash in by building a saloon where a new streetcar line is set to run and starts to woo the owner of the property, saloon singer Belle Fawcett (Alice Faye).   Dion later backs Jack in a campaign for mayor but then falls out with him when Jack vows to clean up the Patch.  But then comes the fateful night when Ma O’Leary forgets to tie up her cow …  With Brian Donleavy as Jack’s opponent in the mayoral race.

In Old Chicago 2This isn’t terrible but it is full of clichés and never grabbed me.  It was interesting to see Alice Brady in a straight dramatic role after seeing her as all those dizzy dames!  She was very good down to her Irish accent.

In Old Chicago garnered Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Alice Brady) and Best Assistant Director.  It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Writing (Original Story), Best Sound (Recording), and Best Music (Score).  Brady was the first supporting player to be nominated two years in a row, following her nod for 1936’s Our Man Godfrey.  She was not present to receive her statuette, which was collected by an unknown gentleman from the audience and never seen again.

Theatrical trailer/premier

 

Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937)

Bulldog Drummond at BayBulldog_Drummond_at_Bay_FilmPoster
Directed by Norman Lee
Written by Patrick Kriwan and James Parrish
1937/UK
Associated British Picture Corporation

First viewing

“Demobilised officer, … finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate, if possible; but crime, if of a comparatively humorous description, no objection. Excitement essential.”  — Advertisement placed in The Times by Drummond in the novel Bulldog Drummond

This entry comes from the U.K. and features an entirely different cast than the 1937 Paramount pictures.  I thought this might mean a weaker film, but no, it’s the best since the first one with Ray Milland!

This time Bulldog (John Lodge) is on the trail of an evil foreign arms broker who has been bilking a World Peace organization into backing his nefarious deeds.  The broker has kidnapped the inventor of a top-secret weapon and is torturing him to get the plans. Tennie the butler and the long-engaged Phyllis have left the scene but Algie is still along and more twitish than ever.

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I think the only other movie I’ve seen John Lodge in was The Scarlet Empress where I was not impressed with his performance.  Here, though, he has just the right mixture of savoir faire and daring to make an excellent Drummond.  I liked the leading lady a lot, too.   Well worth seeing if you are in to this kind of mindless entertainment.

 

Maytime (1937)

MaytimeMaytime poster
Directed  by Robert Z. Leonard
Written by Noel Langley based on an operetta by Rida Johnson Young
1937/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing

Sweetheart, sweetheart, sweetheart/ Though our paths may sever/ To life’s last faint ember/ Will you remember?/ Springtime, lovetime, May/ Springtime, lovetime, May — Lyric by Rida Johnson Young

I enjoyed 1937’s beautiful and romantic Jeanette Mac Donald/Nelson Eddy entry.

As the story opens elderly reclusive Miss Morrison (Mac Donald) is visiting a May Day celebration.  There she meets a young couple who are quarreling because the girl wants to pursue a career as an opera singer in New York while the boy wants her to stay home and marry.  Comforting the girl, Miss Morrison decides to break her silence about her own story.

Segue to Paris decades earlier, when Miss Morrison, then Marcia Mornay, was a budding prima donna.  Marcia dazzles Emperor Napoleon with her singing at a ball and her manager, Nicolai Nazaroff (John Barrymore), manages to convince an eminent composer to write an opera especially for her.  In gratitude, Marcia accepts Nazaroff’s proposal of marriage.  That same night, unable to sleep, Marcia takes a carriage ride through Paris. The carriage has an accident.  While she is waiting for another ride, she goes into a café where Paul Allison (Nelson Eddy) is singing.  Paul is a struggling voice student.  He falls in love with Marcia at first sight.

Marcia feebly tries to fend Paul off but when they go to a May Day festival they confess their love.  Marcia, however, feels obligated to Nazaroff and marries him.  I will stop my summary here but suffice it to say that this operetta has a rather operatic ending.

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Jeanette MacDonald demonstrates her range as an actress in this film.  She is unrecognizable but very touching in her performance as old Miss Morrison.  I kept looking to see if it was really her.  Impressive.  Her voice is also at its height.  This is also a very beautiful film to look at.  The old-fashioned look of Belle-Epoque Paris is gorgeous.

John Barrymore is a bit of a let-down and I have some problems with the “choose love over career” message but overall I can recommend this film.

Per the IMDb, the producers filmed MacDonald and Eddy in Act II of Puccini’s Tosca.  The footage is apparently lost.  I would give anything to see this.  Obviously, however, the plot line of Tosca stabbing Scarpia wouldn’t have worked well in Maytime!   The fake “Czarita” opera love scene was substituted.

Maytime was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Sound, Recording and Best Music, Score.

Clip – “Will You Remember” (both versions)

 

The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

The Prince and the PauperThe_Prince_and_the_Pauper_poster
Directed by William Keighley
Written by Laird Doyle based on the novel by Mark Twain
1937/USA
First National Pictures/Warner Bros

Repeat viewing

 

Prince Edward Tudor: Soldier of fortune. Strange profession.

Miles Hendon: Well, of the three of them for a gentleman without means I think it’s the most amusing. Cheating at cards means associating with dull people. Preaching the gospel means wearing one of those funny hats.

Despite its stellar cast, this dress rehearsal for The Adventures of Robin Hood goes on too long.

In an alternative reality, Henry VIII of England is on his death bed.  Edward, the spoiled Prince of Wales, enjoys playing with Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey and terrorizing the servants.  One day, he takes a walk in the palace grounds and discovers urchin Tom Canty being beaten by the guards.  He takes a liking to the lad and brings him inside.  They notice their uncanny resemblance to each other and, on a lark, switch clothes.  Edward goes out in Tom’s rags to fetch his dog and is nabbed by the guard who promptly eject him.

Edward is rescued from another beating at the hands of Tom’s father (Barton MacLane) by intrepid soldier of fortune Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn) and the two become friends. Meanwhile, Henry VIII dies with the imposter still in the castle.  Evil Earl of Hertford (Claude Rains) discovers the boy’s identity.  He uses the situation to get himself named High Protector, something that never would have been allowed by the real Edward who hates him, and sets out to eliminate the true King.  Can the boys be restored to their stations before Tom is crowned King?  With the Mauch Twins as Tom and Edward and Alan Hale as the Captain of the Guard.

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This movie does not have nearly enough Errol Flynn, who does not appear until midway through the story.  The screen lights up when either he or Rains is on it then reverts to torpor during the many long scenes with the twins.  The coronation scene is particularly tedious.  The twins are actually not so bad — it is their material that could use some work. The film does boast a fine score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and lavish art direction by Robert M. Haas.

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