The Big Broadcast of 1938
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Walter DeLeon, Frances Martin, et al
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.
This 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”
Letter of Introduction
Directed by John M. Stahl
Written by Sheridan Gibney and Leonard Spigelgass; story by Bernice Boone
First viewing/Netflix rental
Tagline: Truly Great Entertainment – Great in theme…great in cast…and the great scalawag Charlie McCarthy
This is a truly odd little movie and not particularly interesting either.
Kay Martin (Andrea Leeds) is a struggling young actress who lives in a theatrical boarding house with a dance team (George Murphy and Rita Johnson), a ventriloquist (Edgar Bergen) and Cora (Eve Arden). She has been carrying around a mysterious letter of introduction for months, believing it will get her a break in the theater. Barry, the male half of the dance team, is in love with her.
When aging alcoholic movie star John Mannering (Adolphe Menjou) returns to town with his fiancee (Ann Sheritan), Kay takes the letter to him. It is a letter from Kay’s mother informing Mannering that he is Kay’s father. Mannering is overjoyed at the news but reluctant for the public to find out since he thinks it would age him to have a daughter about the age of his fiancée. But he does want to spend lots of time with Kay, leading everyone, including Barry and the fiancée, to believe they are having a fling.
Any movie with Eve Arden can’t be all bad and there is nothing exactly wrong with this one despite some melodrama. The odd thing is that some long sequences of Edgar Bergen’s comedy act with Charlie McCarthy have been shoehorned into the story. Whether this adds to the movie will depend on your opinion of the act.
Directed by Dwain Esper
Written by Joseph Seiden and Vincent Valentini
Cinema Service Corp.
First viewing/Netflix rental
First title card: Down through the ages, has rushed a menace more dangerous than the worst criminal. Syphilis. Let us seize this monster and stamp out forever its horrible influence.
King of Schlock Dwain Esper brings us another abysmal “educational” exploitation film, this time about the scourge of syphilis.
The story begins with a reformer giving a rant about syphilis and the “sex industry”. His son complains that his father is not up with the times and leaves to “see a friend”. He winds up at the most chaste burlesque show on record. The audience is full of leering horn dogs, however. Meanwhile, a girl laments her boring job in the reformer’s office. Her clearly lesbian co-worker encourages her to become a stripper and takes the girl to the same burlesque show where she makes a pass. This prelude has little relation to the remaining story which concerns one of the burlesque dancers, Millicent.
Poor Millicent is deeply in love with her small town boyfriend Wendall. But Millicent foolishly left for Sin City (New York) after winning a beauty contest intent on winning fame and fortune. The only job she can get is as a “party girl”. At her first party, she is given a few sips of champagne and “gives herself” to a man. She immediately falls ill with syphilis from this one indiscretion. She must seek work in the burlesque show. Millicent gets help from a kindly doctor who says after a few months of treatment she can go home but must continue treatment until she is fully cleared before she can marry Wendall. He warns against quacks who promise quick cures for big bucks.
But Wendall can hardly wait to get married and Millicent finds a doctor who tells her for $100 she will be cured within a month. After the “cure” the couple marries, but in about a year the baby gets sick and Wendall is having problems with his eyes ….
Anyone who attended this masterpiece expecting erotic thrills was sorely disappointed. Anyone who expected acting was a fool. This is bad, bad stuff. Still, I got several big laughs out of some of the really ludicrous situations so all was not lost. The ending must be seen to be believed.
The Masseurs and a Woman (“Anma to onna”)
Directed by Hiroshi Shimuzu
Written by Hiroshi Shimuzu
First viewing/Streaming on Hulu Plus
I think these slice-of-life films by Shimuzu are delightful even if they are mostly uneventful.
Two blind masseurs migrate with the seasons, serving seaside spas in winter and mountain spas in summer with the rest of their kind. We meet them walking up the hill to their mountain employment. Their great joy is overtaking other pedestrians and passing them by. When they arrive, one becomes interested in a mysterious lady client from Tokyo. She also interests a single man raising his young nephew. The rest of the story looks at the interactions of these people and the masseur’s efforts to work out what the lady is doing at the spa.
I’m trying to figure out why I find these Japanese films so interesting while I would probably be bored with a Hollywood story that was about so little. Maybe it is that the Japanese films feel like real life. At any rate, Shimizu is rapidly becoming a favorite director.
Of Human Hearts
Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Bradbury Foote from the story “Benefits Forgot” by Honore Morrow
First viewing/Warner Archives DVD
Rev. Ethan Wilkins: [after Jason has rejected and mocked the old black coat that sister Clarke has donated him] Pride… Pride and selfishness. They’re out of place in our family, Jason. Unless you conquer them they’re going to make you unhappy, and those who love you unhappy, too. All you seem to think about is that “doctor book.”
This picture has everything going for it but the story was a bit too slight to hook me.
Preacher Ethan Wilkins (Walter Huston) receives the call to minister to a tiny community on the American frontier in Ohio. When he arrives with his wife Mary (Beulah Bondi) and 12-year-old son Jason, the townspeople renege on the promised salary of $400 per year and will provide most of the remainder in old clothes and food. Ethan and Mary are resigned to this but Jason chafes under this system of charity and hand-me-downs all his life. Ethan is quick to whip Jason for ingratitude or talking back. Mary secretly pets the boy.
Jason makes friends with the vaguely alcoholic town doctor (Charles Coburn). A medical book he borrows gives him his life’s calling. When he is grown, Jason (James Stewart) leaves for Baltimore to go to medical school. Although, he also works at the school he must constantly write home for money. His mother continuously sells the few valuable possessions the family accumulated before moving to Ohio to finance her son’s education.
When Jason, goes off to serve in the Civil War, he eventually stops writing home causing his mother to think he may have been killed. In her anxiety, she writes to the President. With an unrecognizable John Carradine as Lincoln, Guy Kibbee as the greedy local grocer, and Gene Lockhart as Jason’s schoolmate and sidekick.
The acting and production of this film are top-notch. The only thing I can fault is the lack of action in the story. It is basically one example after another of Jason’s ingratitude. It is a common every-day kind of ingratitude that kind of made the movie drag for me. This film remains an example of some very fine Golden Age acting and is probably worth seeing for that alone.
Beulah Bondi was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Of Human Hearts.
Clip – Stewart and Carradine
The Terror of Tiny Town
Directed by Sam Newfield
Written by Fred Myton and Clarence Marks
Jed Buell Productions/Principal Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, we’re going to present for your approval a novelty picture with an all midget cast, the first of it’s kind to ever be produced. I’m told that it has everything, that is everything that a western should have.
I found myself actually enjoying this exploitation picture. I have definitely seen worse Westerns.
The Terror of Tiny Town features every component of the Westerns of the day including: feuding ranchers, a Romeo and Juliet romance between their kin, a cattle-rustling villain, his saloon-singer sweetie, a corrupt sheriff, and comic-relief townspeople. But this Western adds a bunch of songs that are just the icing on the cake.
Is it wrong to enjoy an all-midget, all-singing Western? Then I must plead guilty. Once I got past the concept, I enjoyed it as much as the best “B” Western I have ever seen.
Clip – Saloon scene
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Directed by Allan Dwan
Written by Karl Tunberg and Don Ettlinger from a story by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Myrtle: Why, you poor child.
Rebecca Winstead: I’m not a poor child. I’m very self-reliant. My mother taught me to always be that way.
I thought this was one of the better Shirley Temple movies.
Radio producer Tony Kent (Randolph Scott) is in search of Little Miss America for a show due to debut in a week. He is having no luck finding her until Rebecca Winstead (Temple) and her greedy stepfather (William Demarest) turn up. Needless to say, Rebecca fills the bill perfectly. However, there is a miscommunication and Tony’s assistant Orville (Jack Haley) sends her away. Her stepfather decides to turn Rebecca over to her (Great-) Aunt Miranda (Helen Westley) in the country. Tony decides to spend the weekend at his farm which just so happens to adjoin Aunt Miranda’s. There he falls in love with Rebecca and her Aunt Gwen (Gloria Stuart). With Slim Summerville as Miranda’s erstwhile beau and Bill Robinson as Tony’s overseer.
The plot is as per unusual but the songs are unusually catchy, the story moves right along, and the cast of character actors shines. Even Randolph Scott is more relaxed than normally.
Directed by Milton Rosner and Luis Trenker
Written by Emeric Pressburger from a scenario by Patrick Kirwin and Milton Rosner
First viewing; Streamed on Hulu Plus
[interview in New York City, 1980] I think that a film should have a good story, a clear story, and it should have, if possible, something which is probably the most difficult thing – it should have a little bit of magic . . . Magic being untouchable and very difficult to cast, you can’t deal with it at all. You can only try to prepare some nests, hoping that a little bit of magic will slide into them. — Emeric Pressburger
There is precious little magic in this story about the conquest of the Matterhorn.
Jean Antoine Carel of Italy and Edward Whymper of Britain are rivals to first reach the summit of the Matterhorn. They become friends when Carel saves Whymper’s life and agree to make the next attempt together. However, Whymper decides that the best route lies from the Swiss side of the mountain. The Italian Government wants an Italian team to reach the summit first — from the Italian side — and determines that Carel should lead that team, making them rivals. Though Carel tries to be loyal to Whymper, the Italians trick each into abandoning the other. This leads to a race to the top.
The plot sounds like it might be exciting but I thought this was very dull. There are some nice mountain climbing scenes. It seemed much longer than its 76 minute running time. The complete film is also currently streaming on YouTube.
That Certain Age
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Written by Bruce Manning from an original story by F. Hugh Herbert
First viewing/ Warner Archives DVD
Just as Hollywood pin-ups represents sex to dissatisfied erotics, so I represented the ideal daughter millions of fathers and mothers wished they had. – Deanna Durbin, 1959
Enjoyable, if routine, Deanna Durbin fare.
Alice’s (Durbin) father is a rich newspaper publisher. Young Ken (Jackie Cooper) has a crush on her and she is the inspiration and star of a show he is staging to raise money for the Boy Scouts. Ace reporter Vincent Bullitt (Melvyn Douglas) has just returned from covering the Spanish Civil War. Alice’s father has ordered him to spend a few weeks at the family manse to write articles about the European situation before setting off for China. This is ruining the teens’ rehearsal plans so they conspire to drive him out. Before they can, Alice becomes infatuated with Vincent and wants him to stay forever.
This is an OK light comedy with some OK musical numbers. It’s fun to see Jackie Cooper at this age. Not a bad watch for Deanna Durbin fans.
That Certain Age received Academy Award nominations in the categories Best Original Song (“My Own” by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson) and Best Sound Recording.
Clip – Durbin singing “My Own”
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Written by John Wexley and John Huston from the play by Barré Lyndon
First viewing; Netflix rental
‘Rocks’ Valentine: [to Clitterhouse] Hey, why didn’t you tell us you were such a big shot? Here I think all along you was just a screwball.
The cinematography and direction of this movie were great and the actors are some of my favorites. I honestly cannot explain why it did not grab me in any way.
Dr. Clitterhouse (Edward G. Robinson) is a society physician with a fascination with the criminal mind. He decides to do some medical research on the subject and to use himself as his own guinea pig so he starts pulling off a number of jewel heists which baffle the police. He finds a fence for the loot in the form of Jo Keller (Claire Trevor) and falls in with her gang. Clitterhouse becomes known as “The Professor” and takes over the ring leader role from “Rocks” Valentine (Humphrey Bogart). Rocks is not about to stand for this.
Litvak made a very stylish film with strong elements of German Expressionism . I loved his Mayerling (1936) too and want to check out more of his work. The only problem with the movie for me is that it is supposed to be a comedy-thriller and I was neither thrilled nor greatly amused. I may have been having a bad day.