While sailing on a yacht in the South Seas, Johnny Baker (Joel McCrea) and his friends meet a bunch of natives while sailing close to their island. But when Johnny sees a shark swimming nearby, he tries to catch it, and is pulled overboard. Luckily for him, a beautiful native girl named Luana (Dolores del Rio) dives in to save him. There is an immediate attraction between them, but when Johnny and his friends spend an evening with the natives, he’s told that she’s supposed to marry a prince on a nearby island.
That doesn’t stop Johnny from pursing her, though, and she feels the same way toward him. They sneak away to see each other during the night, but when Luana’s father finds out what’s going on, he forces her to marry that prince immediately. When Johnny finds out what’s happening, he crashes the wedding and whisks her away to a nearby island. They build some shelter and spend weeks basking in their own, private tropical paradise.
Even though they are blissfully happy on the island, Johnny would like to bring Luana home with him. Before he can do that, though, the volcano Pele begins to erupt and Luana knows that she will soon have to be sacrificed to appease the volcano god. Sure enough, it isn’t long before Luana is dragged back to her island for the sacrifice. Johnny follows, but he’s captured and is set to be sacrificed alongside Luana. Johnny’s friends arrive to rescue them just in the nick of time. He still wants Luana to come home with him, but Luana believes it would be best if she allowed herself to be sacrificed to the volcano god.
Bird of Paradise is likeable, but it just didn’t grab my attention enough for me to get terribly invested in it. However, it’s a very beautifully shot movie. Even though it’s filmed in black and white so we don’t get to see any lush, tropical colors, King Vidor really captured the essence of this tropical paradise. There’s one scene where Luana and Johnny go swimming together and Luana isn’t wearing anything. At first, I thought it was very reminiscent of the infamous swimming scene from Tarzan and His Mate, but then I realized that Bird of Paradise actually pre-dates Tarzan and His Mate by two years.
Joel McCrea and Dolores del Rio are both certainly fun to watch, but the movie also has a some other noteworthy names working behind the scenes. Bird of Paradise has the distinction of being the first sound film to have a full symphonic musical score, which was created by none other than Max Steiner. Busby Berkeley, who was still an up-and-coming choreographer at the time, choreographed the film’s jungle dance scenes. Less than a year after working on Bird of Paradise, Berkeley would move on to bigger and better things when he went to Warner Brothers and made 42nd Street.
After getting out of jail, prostitute Lorry Evans (Constance Bennett) and her pal Minnie (Pert Kelton) hop on board a steamship headed to New Orleans. They could take this moment to get their lives on the straight and narrow, but they have no intentions of doing that. When they realize they don’t have enough money to get all the way to New Orleans, they find a couple of men on board, get them drunk, and steal their money. When the captain finds out about what they’ve done, he tries to have them arrested, but Lorry jumps overboard.
She gets rescued by Dan (Joel McCrea), the owner of a cotton barge, but she lost her money in the water. Dan and Lorry hit it off right away, but rather than pursue a relationship with Dan, she steals his money and goes to see Stephen Paige (John Halliday) when the ship docks in New Orleans. Stephen is a very wealthy book publisher Lorry had seen on board the steamship and she goes straight to work making herself his new mistress. He sets her up in a swanky new apartment and a stylish new wardrobe, but she hasn’t forgotten Dan and goes back to repay the money she stole from him.
When Dan finds out why she stole the money, he’s very forgiving and would really like to see Lorry again. She starts seeing Dan on the side and they fall very deeply in love with each other. However, he doesn’t know about Lorry’s past. When Dan proposes, she accepts, but a very jealous Stephen finds out about it, he tells her that her past will only hold Dan back. Afraid that he might be right, Lorry decides to make a more respectable life for herself and leaves Stephen and his lavish apartment to take a shabby apartment and a job in a department store. Dan is heartbroken when she doesn’t leave with him as planned and becomes obsessed with finding her again. Eventually, Dan and Lorry are reunited at a Mardi Gras party thanks to a little help from Minnie.
I really liked Bed of Roses. Constance Bennett brought so much sass and vibrancy to Lorrie, I absolutely loved her in it. Not to mention the palpable chemistry she had with Joel McCrea! Pert Kelton proved to be another excellent co-star for Bennett. Kelton had just as much sass as Constance and she got some really great wisecracks in there, too. The writing is razor sharp and has held up very well over time. Even though the movie is only a little over an hour long, it never feels rushed. This is a movie that reminded me why I love pre-codes, not that I ever actually needed reminding.
When Valerie West (Constance Bennett) grows tired of being Dick Carmedon’s (Lew Cody) kept woman, she decides to try to make it on her own, even though she has no skills and no work experience. One thing she does have is good looks so she starts looking for modeling gigs. When she goes to visit painter John Neville (Joel McCrea) to see if he needs a model, it proves to be kismet for both of them. Valerie just happens to be exactly the kind of model he needs for a painting he’s working on so he hires her on the spot.
As John works on his painting, he and Valerie become very good friends, which eventually turns to love. Valerie even becomes John’s muse and he wants to marry her. However, one thing he doesn’t know about her is that she used to be Dick’s mistress. When John does find out, he’s extremely jealous and she’s hurt by his reaction and leaves him.
After spending some time apart, Valerie and John run into each other again at a party and Valerie tries to patch things up. Before long, they’re living together and John once again has marriage on his mind, but Valerie wants to be sure both of them are absolutely sure it’s what they want. Meanwhile, John’s sister Claire (Hedda Hopper) has heard about John’s relationship with Valerie so she sends John a letter telling him to come home to their sick father. After a while, Claire gets in touch with Valerie to invite her to join her, John, and their father for a yacht party. Valerie goes, but when she and John realize that Claire has also invited Dick and Stephanie, John’s ex-girlfriend, to the party, they realize what Claire’s true motives are.
For the most part, I liked The Common Law. Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea were excellent together, it’s got plenty of classic risqué pre-code moments, but I got a little bored with the movie about halfway through. I had no problem paying attention in the beginning, but it just couldn’t hold my interest. The scenes involving the party on the yacht were a bit tedious and dragged on longer than they needed to. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s one I’d only recommend to people who are already interested in the pre-code era.
Ellie May Adams (Ginger Rogers) is hardly living the high life. She lives in a run-down house with her prostitute mother Mamie (Marjorie Rambeau), her former-prostitute grandmother (Queenie Vassar), her alcoholic scholar father Homer (Miles Mander), and her younger sister Honeybell (Joan Carroll). Her father can’t hold a job so it’s up to her mother to support the family. It’s not the best situation, but her parents love her very much and her father wants her to have something better out of life.
While on the way to the beach one day, Ellie May gets a ride with Gramp (Henry Travers), who runs a gas station and restaurant. Ellie doesn’t have any money for lunch, so Gramp lets her have a sandwich. While at the restaurant, Ellie meets Ed Wallace (Joel McCrea), a quick-witted waiter. Sparks begin to fly when Ed realizes that Ellie has no problem keeping up with his wisecracks. Ed offers Ellie a ride home and kisses her along the way. After that, Ellie can’t get Ed out of her head. She goes out to see him one night, and to avoid bringing him home to meet her family, she tells him that her parents threw her out for being in love with him.
Ellie and Ed get married and wait tables in Gramp’s restaurant together. All is going well until Mamie comes by the gas station one day with one of her “dates.” When she gets upset over a customer’s comment about her mother, she doesn’t give the Ed the real story about why she’s upset. Ed decides he’d like to finally meet her family, but when she takes him to their house, he quickly realizes just how many lies Ellie has told him and leaves her. Things get even worse later that night when Homer shoots Mamie by mistake. She doesn’t survive, leaving Ellie to support the family. Unable to get a job on her own, she has to take her grandmother’s advice and turn to prostitution. While out on a “date” with “Mr. Smith” (Charles Lane, uncredited), she not-so-accidentally runs into Ed to confront him. After she leaves, “Mr. Smith” has a few words with Ed and lets him in on what’s really going on with her.
Primrose Path was a pretty darn good drama. The writing is good, the direction by Gregory La Cava is good, and Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea are both excellent in it. It was definitely interesting to see Rogers in such an un-glamorous role for a change. The supporting cast is wonderful, Marjorie Rambeau absolutely deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
The most surprising thing about Primrose Path is that it somehow got made with the production codes being enforced at the time. The word “prostitute” is never actually used, but the movie isn’t subtle at all about it. Not only is prostitution central to the storyline, but Mamie is a very sympathetic character.
All in all, it’s a very enjoyable movie. Definitely keep an eye out for this one.
Posted in 1940s, Blogging Under the Stars, Dramas
Tagged Charles Lane, Ginger Rogers, Gregory La Cava, Henry Travers, Joan Carroll, Joel McCrea, Marjorie Rambeau, Miles Mander, Queenie Vassar
Happy May, everyone! It certainly looks like it’s going to be a busy month on TCM. Joel McCrea is the star of the month, which is something I know a lot of people have been wanting to see for quite some time. He’ll be featured every Wednesday night this month. Every Thursday night will be all about movies based on true crime stories. Plus there’s the annual 48-hour war movie marathon for Memorial day will run from May 27-28. So without further ado, let’s get to the schedule:
Posted in TCM
Tagged Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Dorothy Dandridge, Frank Borzage, Frank Capra, Glenn Ford, Gregg Toland, Henry Fonda, Irving Thalberg, Joel McCrea, Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier, Robert Montgomery, Sally Field
Yesterday was most certainly been the most five-star day on TCM this month! Yesterday afternoon, I was able to watch: The More the Merrier, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Lady Eve, and Ball of Fire. And those are only the ones I saw. I skipped Notorious, High Society, and most of A Foreign Affair since those were all on quite early and I’d seen them all before. I also caught Casablanca and The African Queen, but since I don’t have anything particularly unique to say about either one of those, I’m just going to skip writing about them. Plus this entry is going to be long enough as it is without those two movies.
Posted in 1940s, 1950s, Comedies, TCM
Tagged 31 Days of Oscar, Barbara Stanwyck, Charles Coburn, George Stevens, Henry Fonda, Howard Hawks, Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Preston Sturges