Myrna Loy

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Manhattan Melodrama

Childhood friends Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable as an adult, Mickey Rooney as a child) and Jim Wade (William Powell as an adult, Jimmy Butler as a child) grow up together facing a great deal of adversity. But even from an early age, it’s pretty obvious that these kids are on completely different paths in life. Blackie and Jim stay close over the years, but their lives head in completely different directions. While Jim studies hard and grows up to be District Attorney, Blackie ends up running his own gambling club.

Even though they’re on different sides of the law, Blackie has the utmost respect for Jim and when Jim is named District Attorney, Blackie wants to go out with him to celebrate. Unfortunately, Blackie can’t make it to the celebration at the last minute, but he sends his girlfriend Eleanor (Myrna Loy) in his place. Eleanor and Jim have a lovely night together and it leaves Eleanor wishing Blackie could be more like Jim. Realizing that Blackie will never change, Eleanor leaves him. A few months pass and Jim runs into Eleanor again at a party. This time, it turns into a real romance and it isn’t long before they’re married. Although Blackie wishes them well, one of his cohorts unwittingly puts Jim in a compromising position that could cost Jim everything he’s worked so hard for.

Manhattan Melodrama is rather notorious for being the movie John Dillinger had seen before being killed while leaving a movie theater. But classic movie fans may best remember it for being the first on-screen pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell. Of the non-Thin Man movies Myrna Loy and William Powell made together, Manhattan Melodrama may be my favorite. It may not be a comedy like The Thin Man, but Loy and Powell still positively sparkle together and I just adore the scene where their characters meet for the first time when she jumps into his taxi cab. It’s absolutely no wonder they went on to make so many more movies together.

The great thing about Manhattan Melodrama is that Myrna Loy doesn’t get just one of her best co-stars, she gets two of them. As phenomenal as Loy and Powell always were together, Loy and Clark Gable are pretty delightful together,too. All three stars deliver very strong performances. When you take a cast like that, add tight direction from W.S. Van Dyke and a story that delivers on the melodrama, but has enough grit to be anything but ordinary, and you’ve got a really effective yet complex little drama. Usually, I tend to find MGM’s attempts at gangster films to be pretty weak attempts to latch on to the popularity of Warner Brothers’ gangster movies, but Manhattan Melodrama is definitely an exception.

The Wet Parade (1932)

The Wet Parade 1933

File this one under “misleading posters.” It really isn’t much of a romance.

In 1916, the Chilcote family is known for their wealth.  But all of that is lost when family patriarch Roger (Lewis Stone) goes on a bender and gambles away the family fortune.  Distraught over what he has done, Roger commits suicide.  His teetotaler daughter Maggie (Dorothy Jordan) wishes for prohibition, but her brother Richard, Jr. (Neil Hamilton) loves alcohol as much as his father did.  After his father’s death, Richard, Jr. heads north to write a play and moves into a hotel run by his friend Kip Tarleton (Robert Young) and his family.

 

Like the Chilcotes, the Tarleton family is also dealing with a loved one’s alcoholism.  Mrs. Tarleton (Clara Blandick) doesn’t drink and neither does Kip, but Kip’s father Pow (Walter Huston) drinks like a fish.  Richard arrives at Kip’s hotel just in time to hear the results of the 1916 presidential election.  When Woodrow Wilson wins, Pow and Richard are happy since Wilson is opposed to prohibition.  But despite Wilson’s anti-prohibition platform, prohibition soon becomes the law, and bootleg liquor becomes readily available.  When Pow drinks some bad bootleg alcohol, he flies into a rage when his wife confronts him about it and beats her to death.  Pow is sentenced to life in prison.

With his mother and father both out of the picture, Kip has no other choice but to close the family hotel.  But Kip gets a lot of support from Maggie, who he has since fallen in love with.  They get married and vow to wage war against bootleggers.  Meanwhile, Richard continues spending all his time drinking bootleg alcohol and starts dating nightclub owner Eileen Pinchon (Myrna Loy).  Kip gets a job working with Abe Shilling (Jimmy Durante) at the Treasury Department as a prohibition officer.  He does very well at his new job and the two of them even successfully shut down Eileen’s nightclub.  But Kip is so good at his job, bootleggers begin to target him and with Maggie now expecting a baby, Kip has to decide if his job is worth it.

The Wet Parade is an ambitious movie, but perhaps too ambitious for its own good.  I see the messages it was trying to convey, but the final result was heavy-handed and overly long.  I thought the character of Maggie was very underutilized. The movie opens with the story of her family, so it’s easy to think that she would be a prominent character in the rest of the movie, but no. Instead, she’s relegated to supporting character status after that and serves no real purpose other than to be on Kip’s side.  After her father’s death, she seemed quite passionate about prohibition but unfortunately, we don’t actually see her being active in the prohibition movement, it’s just talk.  It would have been nice to see her actually trying to do something about it.

But one thing The Wet Parade does have going for it is a strong cast.  The idea of Jimmy Durante the prohibition agent may sound strange, but I appreciated the comic relief he brought and will probably be one of the few things I strongly remember about The Wet Parade.

Evelyn Prentice (1934)

Evelyn Prentice Myrna Loy William PowellEvelyn Prentice (Myrna Loy) adores her husband John (William Powell), but John is an attorney and often has to work long hours and travel for work.  Lately, he’s been hard at work defending Mrs. Harrison (Rosalind Russell) and Evelyn really misses spending time with her husband.  One night, she goes to a nightclub with her friend Amy (Una Merkel) and meets a man named Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens), who claims to know her from somewhere.

Lawrence doesn’t actually know Evelyn, but he knows she’s married to a prominent attorney and plans to trap her in a scandal and blackmail her.  The next day, he sends Evelyn a book of his poetry and invites her to tea.  Evelyn isn’t at all impressed by Lawrence, but she’s feeling lonely with John out of town so when Amy accepts his invitation on her behalf, she meets with him.  She continues seeing him while John is away, but after John returns, she begins to suspect that he has been having an affair with Mrs. Harrison.  A heartbroken Evelyn goes to see Lawrence again, but ultimately decides to stay true to John and tries to end things off with Lawrence.

Lawrence isn’t about to let Evelyn get off that easily, though.  He reminds her of some letters she had written to him and demands $15,000 for them.  During the dispute, Evelyn shoots Lawrence with his own gun and leaves.  The next day, news of his murder is all over the front page, but nobody suspects Evelyn.  However, Lawrence’s other girlfriend Judith (Isabel Jewell) is considered the top suspect.  John agrees to defend Judith and during the trial, Evelyn’s guilt eats away at her.  Near the end of the trial, Evelyn tries to come clean about the whole thing.  But fortunately for them, John has a plan to get both Evelyn and Judith off the hook.

Movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy are always a hit with me.  Although it’s much more fun to watch them playing happily married couples in more lighthearted movies, Evelyn Prentice is still a darn good movie.  It’s very smartly written and well acted.  Myrna Loy did an excellent job of conveying the guilt Evelyn was feeling and Isabel Jewell and Una Merkel were both great in their supporting roles.  It’s another one of those wonderful underrated gems that I just love finding.

The Animal Kingdom (1932)

The Animal Kingdom Poster

Tom Collier (Leslie Howard) is a publisher who has lived out of wedlock with his good friend Daisy (Ann Harding) for quite some time. But while she is away on business, Tom decides to marry Cecilia (Myrna Loy).  When Daisy returns, he swears to Cecilia that any romantic feelings that he and Daisy might have once had are long gone.  But when he goes to see Daisy to tell her about his engagement, he finds that Daisy still has feelings for him after all.  When he tells Daisy about his engagement, he also tells Daisy he still wants to be friends with her, but she wants nothing to do with him.

After some time passes, Tom is becoming less and less satisfied with his life with Cecilia.  She’s pressured him into turning his publishing company into a factory for cheap, trashy novels instead of the more artistic novels he used to prefer.  He doesn’t spend time with his old friends anymore and Cecilia even wants him to fire his friend Red (William Gargan), a former prizefighter who now works as their butler.  When he finds out Daisy is having an art exhibition in town, he wants to go, but Cecilia convinces him to stay home at the last minute.  He eventually goes to visit Daisy on his own to make amends with her, but the encounter is enough to make Daisy want to leave town ASAP.  But when Cecilia invites her to Tom’s birthday party, she reluctantly accepts.

During the party, Daisy realizes what Tom’s life has become and can’t help but pity him.  He’s clearly not truly happy and when he sees Cecilia in a compromising position with Tom’s attorney Owen (Neil Hamilton), she can’t stand to stay around anymore.  After the party, Tom and Cecilia get into an argument and realizes that he doesn’t really belong with Cecilia after all.

The Animal Kingdom is a pretty decent movie with an intelligent story.  It reminded me a lot of Platinum Blonde with Jean Harlow.  Not the greatest performances from either Myrna Loy or Leslie Howard, but they do just fine, as does Ann Harding.  However, I enjoyed being able to see all of them working together.  Keep in mind The Animal Kingdom was based on a play so it does get a bit dialogue heavy at times.  But viewers who are unfamiliar with the pre-code era are sure to be surprised by how frank the dialogue gets.

What’s on TCM: December 2012

It’s hard to believe we’re already down to the final month of 2012, but leave it to TCM to end the year on a high note!  There is so much going on that I’m excited for.  First and foremost, we get Barbara Stanwyck as Star of the Month!  Every Wednesday night in December will kick off a 24-hour block of Stanwyck movies, and since I know a lot of my readers are big Stanwyck fans, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of room on your DVRs.  Every Friday night this month will be a salute to director Ernst Lubitsch, so you know every Friday night is going to be good.

Naturally, you can expect plenty of Christmas movies throughout the month.  Also worth noting is Baby Peggy night on December 3rd.  Baby Peggy is one of the last surviving stars from the silent era and was recently the subject of the documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, which will be airing on TCM that night along with some of her movies.

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Thirteen Women (1932)

When a group of sorority sisters all write to the renowned Swami Yogadachi (C. Henry Gordon) for their horoscopes, nothing good comes of it. First June Raskob (Mary Duncan) gets a letter from him saying that her sister May (Harriet Hagman) will die because of something she does.  June and May are trapeze performers and the Swami’s prediction makes June so nervous that she fails to catch May while performing a dangerous stunt. Then there’s Hazel Cousins (Peg Entwistle), who is told she will wind up in prison.  Sure enough, soon after, she murders her husband and finds herself in prison.

When Helen Frye’s (Kay Johnson) horoscope predicts that she will kill herself, she calls up her friend Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne) for some reassurance.  Laura sees all of these untimely deaths as nothing more than coincidence and invites Helen to come visit.  While on the train, Helen meets Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy), another one of her former classmates. But what Helen doesn’t know is that all those fatal horoscopes are actually from Ursula, not the Swami. Ursula had wanted to be part of their circle of friends, but was rejected because of her mixed-race heritage. Now that she’s working with the Swami, she’s using the horoscopes and her hypnotic powers to exact her revenge.

After Helen kills herself on the train, Laura starts taking the horoscopes more seriously.  Her horoscope predicted that her son would die of a terrible accident on his upcoming birthday. When her son is mysteriously sent a box of poisoned candy, Helen turns to Sergeant Clive (Ricardo Cortez), who quickly makes the connection between Ursula and the deaths and comes up with a plan to catch her on a train by using Laura as bait.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Thirteen Women. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for it, but I was impressed by how genuinely tense and scary it was. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Myrna Loy play a villain like that before, but she was quite wonderfully sinister and I loved it. The story is a bit rushed at times.  Seriously, this movie features the fastest police investigation I have ever seen.  But for a movie that’s only a little over an hour long, it could have been a lot more rushed than it was and it’s strong enough in other ways that I have no problem forgiving the unrealistically fast investigation.  This is one movie that deserves to be seen more often.

My biggest complaint about Thirteen Women is that we barely get a chance to see Peg Entwistle. Peg Entwistle is infamous for having committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood Sign in 1932, but she was first and foremost a very promising stage actress. Bette Davis always cited Peg’s performance as Hedvig in Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” as being her biggest inspiration to become an actress. Thirteen Women was the one and only film Entwistle made and if you blink, you’ll miss her. It’s too bad that now no one will ever be able to see just how talented she really was. I know I’d love to get a good look at the woman who inspired Bette Davis!

The Barbarian (1933)

Jamil (Ramon Novarro) lives in Cairo and makes a living out of being a driver for wealthy female American visitors and then scamming them for whatever he can get from them.  As soon as Diana Standing (Myrna Loy) gets off the train in Cairo, Jamil knows he’s found his next mark.  He immediately tries to become her driver, but Diana’s fiance Gerald (Reginald Denny) puts a stop to him.  Undeterred, Jamil ups his game from “scam artist” to “frighteningly manipulative” by stealing her dog and returning it to her later.  When she offers him a reward, he tells her to repay the favor by letting him be her driver.

This time around, Diana agrees and Jamil’s frightening behavior only continues and gets worse. He constantly sets up situations that would allow him to come off as a hero to Diana and that get her alone with him.  Once he starts trying to romantically woo her, she tries to send him away and heads off on a caravan through the desert to visit Gerald, who has been away on business.

But even in the desert, there is no escape from Jamil and he forces his way into being her guide again. Once again, he tries to woo Diana, who isn’t having it and demands that they go back to Cairo immediately. So what does Jamil do? Send her chaperone on a different route so that it’s just him and Diana alone in the middle of the desert. Then he brings her to Achmed Pasha’s (Edward Arnold) oasis. Pasha is Gerald’s business partner who also has designs on Diana, so Jamil tells him that it was her idea to be there so that he would try to come onto her and he could come to her rescue again.

After Jamil and Diana flee from Pasha’s oasis, Pasha sends some people after them to bring her back, but Jamil not only kills them, but kills Diana’s horse in the process.  Jamil forces Diana to walk along side him while he rides on the horse and when they stop for water, he refuses to let her have a drink before him and the horse. With Diana’s spirit now completely broken, he drags her to his home village where he plans to marry her. She breaks away from the ceremony and returns to Gerald to marry him.  But just as she’s about to marry Gerald, guess who shows up yet again?  Yep, Jamil’s back to make another attempt for Diana.  Only this time Diana, for some reason, decides she’d rather be with Jamil and leaves Gerald standing at the altar.

My two GIF review of The Barbarian:

Oh, good Lord, this movie.  I …just…WHAT WAS THAT?!  Allegedly, this was supposed to be a romance, but it seemed more like a horror film to me.  It was outright disturbing. There is absolutely nothing romantic or charming about Jamil’s pursuit of Diana; it’s nothing but stalking and dangerously manipulative behavior.  I certainly wasn’t rooting for Jamil and Diana to wind up together. The only union I wanted to see between these people was of her fist meeting his face.  I could not get past Jamil’s astounding creepiness to possibly enjoy The Barbarian on any other levels.  I wish I could get those 83 minutes back so I could spend it doing something more productive like watching my cats sleep.