Border Incident (1949)

Border Incidentborder incident
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by John C. Higgins from a story by John C. Higgins and George Zuckerman
1949/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Film Noir Classics Vol. 3 DVD

 

Zopilote: What is cheaper than time, senor? Everybody has the same amount.

Anthony Mann and John Alton make an unbeatable team and this violent noir/police procedural is one of their very best collaborations.

The story is framed, with voice over narration, as a police procedural. It’s unusual in that it is a collaboration between the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Mexican police.  The agencies are working together to uncover a vicious gang that has been exploiting Mexicans entering the country illegally to work as farm laborers in the Imperial Valley.  The narration stresses that farmers, and thus consumers, rely on Mexican labor, the bulk of which is entering the country legally under the Bracero Program.

Border-IncidentWe are introduced to agents Jack Bearnes (George Murphy) and Pablo Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) who will work undercover to get close to the bad guys.  Pablo poses as a bracero. His chance comes when he befriends Juan Garcia, a humble Mexican who has been patiently waiting for days for his turn to enter legally.  Pablo persuades Juan to show him how to jump the queue by paying an alien smuggler.  Juan decides to join Pablo on the dangerous journey.

Pablo gets spotted early on for his “soft” hands but manages to convince the smugglers that he is a fugitive from justice.  He witnesses first hand the brutality of the smugglers who think nothing of murdering any Mexican who becomes an “inconvenience” in any way.

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In the meantime, Jack is posing as a man offering some stolen immigration papers for sale.  He has not counted on the greed of the smugglers who immediately send a bunch of thugs (headed by Alfonso Bedoya, Gold Hat in Treasure of the Sierra Madre) to see if they can get the papers the easy way.  Fortunately, he does not have the papers with him and he eventually lead across the border to Owen Parkson (Howard DaSilva), the American connection for the operation.  Pablo and Juan happen to be located at the same place.  Both Jack and Pablo will be in desperate danger for the remainder of the film.  With Charles McGraw as one of Parkson’s goons.

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I loved this.  Most of it takes place at night and Alton’s cinematography is just stunning. He is not afraid to cloak many of his shots in blackness leaving only the faces to be picked out by the light.  The acting is uniformly good.  For me, the standouts were Da Silva’s calm business-like monster and Alfonso Bedoya, who must be the world’s scariest Mexican.  Mann keeps the pace measured, which only heightens the sudden brutality of the action sequences.  Highly recommended.

Much of the film was made on location not far from where I live.  My town is mentioned by name.

Trailer

John Sayles talks about the film – Trailers from Hell

 

The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

The Barkleys of Broadwaybarlkeys poster
Directed by Charles Walters
Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
1949/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Ezra Millar: Thank you. I’m touched, the piano’s touched, and Tchaikovsky’s touched.

I can only imagine how this reunion of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers affected 1949 audiences.  I was sad just to think I won’t be watching them dance together anymore in my chronological journey through cinema.

Josh (Astaire) and Dinah (Rogers) Barkley are a famous husband-and-wife song-and-dance team on Broadway.  Josh directs their shows and Ezra Miller (Oscar Levant) writes the music.  Despite their constant bickering, the couple is clearly in love.  One of Josh’s favorite taunts is that he taught Dinah everything she knows.

Then a Frenchman who has written a play called “The Young Sarah Bernhardt” tells Dinah he thinks she could be a great tragic actress.  This goes to her head and after some classic misunderstandings, Dinah leaves the team to appear in the Bernhardt play.

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When Josh eavesdrops on the rehearsals, he finds things are not going well for Dinah.  So he disguises his voice and telephones her with tips, pretending to be the French director. Ezra tries his best to broker a reconciliation.  This happens when, unbeknownst to each other, the two show up for the same benefit performance and are asked to dance with each other, giving the movie audience an exquisite ballroom dance to “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”.  With Billie Burke as a society hostess.

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As usual, the plot is an excuse for a bunch of musical numbers, all of them part of various stage performances or rehearsals. While this doesn’t match up to the pairs’ 30’s films, I liked it a whole lot.  We have several good numbers for Fred and Ginger and the famous “I’ve Got Shoes With Wings On” number in which Fred spectacularly dances with a bunch of dis-embodied dancing shoes in a shoe shop.

This was the last of the ten films the stars made together and the first since 1939’s The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.  The movie was originally intended as a rematch of Astaire and Judy Garland following the success of Easter Parade.  Garland’s host of personal problems led to the studio hiring Rogers instead.

Harry Stradling Jr. was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Cinematography, Color for his work on The Barkleys of Broadway.

 

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Flamingo Road (1949)

Flamingo RoadFlamingo Road (1949)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Wilder and Edmund H. North from a play by Robert and Sally Wilder
1949/USA
Michael Curtiz Productions/Warner Bros.
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Sheriff Titus Semple: Now me, I never forget anything.

Lane Bellamy: You know sheriff; we had an elephant in our carnival with a memory like that. He went after a keeper that he’d held a grudge against for almost 15 years. Had to be shot. You just wouldn’t believe how much trouble it is to dispose of a dead elephant.

I never know what I’m going to get with Joan Crawford.  This one was pretty good, due largely to her supporting players, the director, and the visuals.

Lane Bellamy (Crawford) is a hooch-coochy dancer with a carnival.  When the show flees its latest bill collector, Lane decides to stay put and figure out something else to do with her life.  She meets Deputy Sheriff Field Carlisle (Zachary Scott) when he comes to serve a writ on the show.  They quickly bond and he finds her a job as a waitress in the local diner/saloon.

Fielding is the protege of corrupt king-maker Sheriff Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet). He wants to put the weak Field up as a candidate for the State Senate.  The first thing he needs to help his boy’s credentials is a wedding to a respectable local “name”.  He picks out a girl that has been stuck on Field for quite awhile and orders him to marry her.  Semple takes an instant dislike to the defiant Lane.  When she refuses to leave town he has her arrested for soliciting and thrown in jail for 30 days.

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Nothing is going to deter our feisty heroine, however, and she gets a job in a “road house” owned by a lady who takes orders from nobody.  This happens to be where the local bigwigs hang out and make their nefarious deals.  Lane is asked to look after their ring leader Dan Reynolds.  He falls in love with her and they marry.  She proves to be a devoted wife even as she is still obviously smarting from her rejection by Field.

The rest of the film follows Semple’s evil machinations and attempts to “break” Dan, Field, and of course Lane, whom he continues to hate.  With Gladys George as the roadhouse owner.

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This is a solid little film noir.  I always like Scott and Greenstreet and they are both very good here.  Scott is less weaselly and more pathetic than usual and Greenstreet does a pretty good job with a vaguely Southern accent and a character that is a bit out of the box for him.  The film looks good as well.

Trailer

I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

I Was a Male War BrideI-Was-A-Male-War-Bride
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Charles Lederer, Leonard Spigelgass, and Hagar Wilde; story by Henri Rochard
1949/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Capt. Henri Rochard: My name is Rochard. You’ll think I’m a bride but actually I’m a husband. There’ll be a moment or two of confusion but, if we all keep our heads, everything will be fine.

This has a one-joke “idiot plot” and the stars seem a bit oddly cast but it’s entertaining for all that.

Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) has but one mission remaining before he is decommissioned from the French military.  He is miffed to find that he will be spending it in the company of Lt. Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan) of the U.S. Army, The two have locked horns on their previous outings together.

Rochard has been assigned to go to a German town to see if a scientist who has been grinding lenses for the black market is willing to go legit for the French army.  This seems like a no-brainter but the trip is fraught with difficulties.  The two are forced to journey in a motorcycle with side-car that only Catherine is allowed to drive.  Then the road is closed and they appropriate a small row boat to travel down stream.  On arrival, there are some suggestive misunderstandings when Henri breaks off the door handle inside Catherine’s bedroom, he is arrested as a black-marketeer, etc.  Naturally on the way home from this disastrous affair, Henri and Catherine discover they are in love and decide to marry.

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It is then that their troubles really start.  Catherine is being demobilized as well and they need to get a visa for Henri in short order.  The only one that seems suitable is under the law applying to “war brides”.  Although everyone who actually looks into this promptly discovers that the law applies to spouses of both sexes, this procedure comically delays the couple’s wedding night and forces Henri into drag at various points.

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It seems like Hawks would like to get back to his screwball comedy roots, but the script is just not wacky or funny enough for him to succeed.  Grant makes absolutely no attempt to appear French which is probably a very good thing.  Still, a couple of hours with him and Ann Sheridan is a fine way to while away an afternoon.

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The Fountainhead (1949)

The Fountainheadfountainhead poster
Directed by King Vidor
Written by Ayn Rand based on her novel
1949/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

Howard Roark: Before you can do things for people, you must be the kind of man who can get things done. But to get things done, you must love the doing, not the people! Your own work, not any possible object of your charity. I’ll be glad if men who need it find a better method of living in the house I built, but that’s not the motive of my work, nor my reason, nor my reward! My reward, my purpose, my life, is the work itself – my work done my way! Nothing else matters to me!

I cannot fully express my feelings about this film without spoilers.  Normally, I would suggest that my readers watch the film first but in this case I wouldn’t go that far.

As the film begins, we are introduced to young architect Howard Roark (Gary Cooper).  He is an uncompromising genius who can only find work with another genius architect who is eventually hounded to his death.  Roark’s mentor’s dying wish is that all his designs and other papers be destroyed.  It would certainly be a pity if society were to benefit from them so Roark happily complies.

Separately, we are introduced to Roark’s soulmate Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal). Dominique works for Gail Wynan (Raymond Massey), owner of a powerful New York tabloid.  He is in love with her but she isn’t having any.  One of the first things we see Dominique do is destroy a Greek figurine on the grounds that she loves it and might become attached to it.  This is supposed to be admirable.

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Roark is unable to find any commission that will accept his designs as is so he gets work as a jackhammer operator at a stone quarry.  It is there Dominique spots Roark. She wrestles mightily with her lust, fearing that she may become “enslaved” by love. Eventually, she gives in to her desire and summons him to her room “to repair a marble hearth”.  After some passionate kissing, Roark reveals that he has finally received a commission to build a building his way.  Dominique accepts that Roark has a hard road in front of him and, as neither of them want to be enslaved at this point, they part. Eventually, though, Dominique offers to marry him if he will give up architecture.  They part again until Dominique can realize the error of her ways.

As punishment, Dominique decides to enter into a loveless marriage with the still-obsessed Wynan, whose paper previously engaged in a smear campaign against Roark and a building he finally got off the ground.  (The paper’s architecture critic, who hates Roark for defying public taste, is evidently one of the most powerful journalists in New York City.) Wynan wants to express his love though the perfect love nest.  He finds that Roark is the only architect sufficiently talented to design it.  Roark and Wynan become friends. Roark’s constant presence drives Dominique wild.

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Finally, Roark’s sell-out architecture school classmate begs him to design a low-income housing project and allow him to get the credit.  Roark agrees on the condition that the friend will not allow his design to be tampered with in any way.  Of course, the wimpy friend caves in.  So Roark enlists Dominique’s help in creating a diversion while he dynamites the building!

This act is so noble that Wynan defies his architecture critic and entire staff and defends Roark.  The paper is nearly ruined.  Ultimately, Wynan also caves in.  Roark stands tall and defends himself in court.  The rightness of his action is so obvious that of course he is acquitted.  Wynan conveniently kills himself so Dominique will be free to marry our hero. The end.

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Like Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s philosophy was “my way or the highway” and she insisted that her screenplay be used intact.  This results in the many speeches outlining her objectivist philosophy.  Personally, I believe that this philosophy boils down to “selfishness is the ultimate good” and I find it pretty odious.  But, even if the philosophy was “love thy neighbor as thyself”  the amount of speechifying here would drag down any film.

In addition, I found the plot ludicrous.  One would think that architecture was one of the great political issues of our times for all the importance that is given to design philosophy.  It is difficult to empathize with characters who are so heedless of the needs of others. And the Roark-Dominique romance is just weird.  I suppose the film had some good points.  I was too busy being appalled to notice.  The source novel is one I will not be reading.

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Howard Roark’s courtroom speech

Reign of Terror (1949)

Reign of Terror (AKA “The Black Book”)reign-of-terror-movie-poster-1949-1020195537
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Philip Yordan and Aeneas MacKenzie
1949/USA
Walter Wanger Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

 

Maximilian Robespierre: I never shake hands. It’s unsanitary.

Director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton made this film look beautiful.  Sadly, I couldn’t get past the overwrought script.

Robespierre (Richard Basehart) is in the process of consolidating his power after the French Revolution.  Part of the plan is executing, on behalf of “the people” anyone who opposes him.  He summons François Barras (Richard Hart), the only person with authority to put his name forward as dictator before the National Assembly.  Barras refuses and goes into hiding.  Robespierre then sends for Duval, Strasbourg’s merciless prosecutor.

Patriot Charles D’Aubigny (Robert Cummings) has murdered Duval and sets out for Paris, impersonating him.  He finds that Duval’s mission is to locate, by whatever means necessary, Robespierre’s “black book”, which contains a list of his intended victims.  This book could foil Robespierre’s plan to be dictator as many of his supporters are listed.

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Charles then contacts the opposition and becomes reacquainted with Madelon (Arlene Dahl), his previous lover.  Madelon wants Charles back but he spurns her and they spar thoughout the film until their inevitable reconcilliation.

There follows a complicated sequence of events in which Charles concludes that the black book has never been stolen and then finds and steals the book.  He is tested when Madelon is captured and tortured.  With Beulah Bondi as a patriotic granny.

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I have a problem with the basic premise.  I still don’t understand why Robespierre would want to highlight the existence of the black book by claiming it has been stolen when he rightly surmises discovery of the book will end his political career.  The mediocre acting doesn’t help either.  The heightened melodramatic dialogue is the icing on the cake.  The film does have a fantastic look, though.

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Here’s to the Girls (1949)

Here’s to the Girls (Ojôsan kanpai, AKA “Here’s to the Young Lady”)here's to
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Kaneto Shindô
1949/Japan
Shôchiku Eiga
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

“It was against all scientific reason for two people who hardly knew each other, with no ties at all between them, with different characters, different upbringings, and even different genders, to suddenly find themselves committed to living together, to sleeping in the same bed, to sharing two destinies that perhaps were fated to go in opposite directions.” ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Here’s a romantic comedy, Japanese-style.  I thought it was charming.

Keizô Ishizu (Shûji Sano) is a self-made man, having built up a thriving auto repair business from nothing.  He is now 34 years old and his friend Mr. Sato has decided that it is time for him to marry – and he has just the girl.  Keizo is very reluctant but Sato eventually convinces him to at least meet this prospect.

The girl is Yatsuko Ikeda (Setsuko Hara).  Keizo considers her high above him in every way.  Nevertheless, it is love at first sight.  He soon finds out that Yatsuko’s aristocratic family will lose everything if it does not pay off a large loan in three months and that her father is in prison.  Now, despite is continued passion, he is a little worried he is only wanted for his money.  He agrees to go out with her for three months.

HERE'S TO THE YOUNG LADY

We follow their courtship, which is full of social blunders on Keizo’s part.  Eventually, it is not the money issue that bothers Keizo but Yatsuko’s continuing gentle reserve in the face of his enthusiasm.  The fate of the romance is in doubt until the very last minute.

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This was right up my alley.  I cared about all the characters and enjoyed the gentle humor. The situation just seemed very real to me despite the completely different cultural setting.

 

Holiday Affair (1949)

Holiday Affairholiday-affair-movie-poster-1949-1020197016
Directed by Don Hartman
Written by Isabel Lennart from a story by John D. Weaver
1949/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Connie Ennis: If you wish for things you can get, you’re gonna be happy. If you wish for real big things, all you’re gonna get is real big disappointments.

The stars’ irresistible charisma lightens this utterly predictable Christmastime romantic comedy.

War widow Connie (Janet Leigh) works as a comparison shopper.  She meets salesman Steve (Robert Mitchum) when she buys a toy train set in a most business like way.  When she takes the train home, we meet her adorable little boy, Timmy, and Carl (Wendell Corey), an attorney who has been courting her for years.

The next day, when she returns the train, Steve confronts her and threatens to expose her.  She tells him she will lose her job and Steve takes pity on her.  They have lunch in the park where Connie finds out that Steve is actually a free-spirit who dreams of a career designing sail boats.  His kindness ends up getting him fired instead.  Janet’s meeting with Steve shakes her up so much that she agrees to marry Carl.

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Will Steve and Timmy bond over toy trains?  Who will get the girl?  Neither of these questions are in doubt for a single minute.

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The chemistry between Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum is palpable and makes the movie enjoyable despite all the cliches.  Another one to possibly add to one’s holiday viewing list for one Christmas, at least.

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Pinky (1949)

Pinkypinky 1949
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Philip Dunne and Dudley Nichols from a novel Cid Ricketts Summer
1949/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Patricia ‘Pinky’ Johnson: Miss Em told me to always be myself, not to pretend. You told me that after I marry you, there won’t be a Pinky Johnson anymore. How can I be myself if there’s no Pinky Johnson anymore?

I was kind of dreading this one, fearing it would be an overblown message picture with the additional drawback of having a white actress playing a black woman who passes for white.  To my pleasant surprise, the message is surrounded by some fine acting and tolerable dialogue.

As the film opens, Pinky Johnson (Jeanne Crain) returns to her grandmother’s (Ethel Waters) shanty in the “colored” slum on the outskirts of a small Southern town.  She is returning after several years in the North attending high school and then nursing school. Her grandmother’s pleasure at having her back is tempered by her sadness that Pinky admits to having passed as white.  We eventually find out that Pinky has run home after being proposed to by a white doctor who is unaware of her race.

When anyone at home finds out she is black, Pinky is subjected to all the racism of the town.  At one point, she is practically raped.  Pinky hates this life and is not afraid to say so and to demand respect.  She finally decides to leave.  But at that point, granny’s friend Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore) has a heart attack and granny more or less forces Pinky to take care of her.

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Pinky is at odds with Miss Em, who is an irrascible and demanding former school teacher, from the first minute.  Over time, they get used to each other.  Then Miss Em dies, leaving Pinky most of her property.  Em’s white relatives are having none of this, claiming Pinky had coerced the will.  The rest of the story focuses on Pinky’s defense of her inheritance and to her dilemma over whether to marry the doctor, who wants her even when he knows the truth.  With Nina May McKenny (Hallelujah) as a bad girl.

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This is another in the series of quality message movies (Gentleman’s Agreement, The Snake Pit, etc.) coming out of Fox during this period.  Like those films, this is powerful and not overly preachy.  What makes them work is strong plots with real characters that do much more than spout platitudes.  The two Ethels are outstanding.  Poor Jeanne Crain did her best in a role for which she was utterly miscast.  She does have a certain fighting spirit going for her.

Lena Horne had campaigned for Crain’s role but the studio ultimately decided that audiences would object to the use of a black actress due to the love scenes with the white doctor.  Zanuck’s liberal convictions took him only so far.

Pinky was nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Actress (Crain); Best Supporting Actress (Barrymore) and Best Supporting Actress (Waters).

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Impact (1949)

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Directed by Arthur Lubin
Written by Dorothy Davenport and Jay Dratler
1949/USA
Cardinal Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Walter Williams: In this world, you turn the other cheek, and you get hit with a lug wrench.

This odd film noir had an intriguing premise.  The execution not so much …

Hard-charging industrialist and automotive wizard Walter Williams (Brian Donlevy) has a soft spot for his wife Irene (Helen Walker).  He showers her with flowers, presents, and sweet talk.  He is so much in love with her that when she begs off from a romantic trip to Lake Tahoe due to illness and asks him to give her unemployed cousin Jim a ride instead he gladly agrees.  We soon find out that the “cousin” is actually her lover and as soon as he gets Walter in an isolated place he conks him over the head with a lug wrench and dumps him into a ditch.

When Jim speeds off in Walter’s car, he gets hit by an oil tanker and goes up in a ball of flames.  The corpse is unrecognizable.  Walter is not dead but manages to crawl into the back of a moving van.  Lt. Tom Quincy (Charles Coburn) of the police starts to investigate the murder.  All the circumstantial evidence seems to show that the victim was Walter and the murderer was Irene.

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In the meantime, the heartbroken Walter painfully makes his way to Idaho where he adopts an assumed name and gleefully keeps abreast of his wife’s murder trial.  There he helps out war widow and gas station owner Marsha Peters (Ella Raines) with his prowess as an auto mechanic and soon they are in love.  Marsha’s mother finds out the truth.  The rest of the movie is devoted to homespun wisdom about doing the right thing supplied by Marsha and her mother and Walter’s trial for Jim’s murder.  With Anna May Wong as a star witness.

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I knew this was not going to end well as soon as Charles Coburn started speaking in a bad Irish brogue.  The story is really a mess.  The tacked on Capraesque corn in the second act is bad enough but a lot of the developments just defy logic. Too bad, this had definite possibilities.  Most of the actors did fine with the material.

It is old home week on flickersintime!  First we get Buster Keaton in In the Good Old Summertime and now the cruelly underutilized Anna May Wong makes a reappearance in this.   So good to see a familiar face.

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