William Powell

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.

What’s on TCM: March 2014

Mary Astor Humprhey Bogart Maltese FalconHappy March!  31 Days of Oscar may be coming to an end, but there are still plenty of other great things to look forward to in the upcoming month.  What I’m most excited to see returning to TCM is Carson on TCM!  You may remember that back in July 2013, TCM aired a number of classic Johnny Carson Tonight Show interviews with stars such as Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, George Burns, and Bette Davis.  This time around, we have interviews with Gene Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, and Gregory Peck (just to name a few) to look forward to.  I absolutely loved watching the interviews back in July, so I’m very excited to see more.

After taking a break last month for 31 Days of Oscar, Friday Night Spotlight returns with a series about Food in the Movies selected by Anthony Bourdain.

March’s Star of the Month will be the one and only Mary Astor.  A 24 hour marathon of her films will start very Wednesday night this month and continue into the following Thursday

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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.

Jewel Robbery (1932)

Baroness Teri (Kay Francis) has a life that many would envy.  She’s married to Baron Franz (Henry Kolker), who can easily afford to buy her all the furs and jewelery she could ever want.  There’s just one problem — he’s incredibly boring.  Teri desperately needs some excitement in her life, so she openly dates other men, but gets bored with them pretty quickly, too.

When Teri and Franz go to a jewelery store so that Franz can buy Teri a very large diamond ring, the store is robbed by an unnamed robber (William Powell).  This is no ordinary jewel thief, though.  He’s very suave, charming, and has the unusual habit of giving marijuana to the people he robs so they won’t call the police.  And it just so happens that this robber is exactly the type of man  Teri has been longing for.  He flirts with her as he steals her new ring from her, and she’s so enchanted with him that she doesn’t even need the marijuana to stop her from talking to the cops.

When Teri gets back home, she finds some mysterious flowers waiting for her and discovers that her jewelry safe has been opened.  However, nothing has been stolen.  In fact, something has been added to it — the ring that had just been stolen from her.  The robber sneaks up to her room and Teri tries to get him to take the ring back since there’s no way for her to wear it without raising suspicions.  He refuses, and it isn’t long before there’s a knock at the door from Detective Fritz (Alan Mowbray), who arrests Teri for being an accomplice to the robber.

It just so happens that Detective Fritz isn’t a detective after all, he’s actually working for the robber.  Fritz brings Teri to the robber’s apartment, where he spends the night wooing her and she falls even more deeply under his spell.  They make plans to run away to Nice together, but before they can leave, the real police show up.  The robber and his gang escape, but first, they tie Teri to a chair so the cops won’t accuse her of being an accomplice.  When all is said and done, her name stays clear, but she announces that she could use a vacation to recover from her “ordeal.”  Perhaps some time in Nice would do the trick…

If you know someone who thinks old movies were all super sanitized and boring, Jewel Robbery is the perfect movie to prove them wrong.  With its witty banter, infidelity, jewel heists, and drug use, Jewel Robbery is perfectly pre-code from start to finish.  The chemistry between Kay Francis and William Powell is phenomenal and it’s very hard not to laugh at the scenes of the jewelery store’s security guard acting high as a kite after the robber gives him that joint.  There’s nothing about it I didn’t like.  It’s a total delight to watch and is absolutely essential pre-code viewing.

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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Mister Roberts (1955)

Captain Morton (James Cagney) may officially be the captain of the USS Reluctant, but as far as the crew is concerned, Lieutenant Doug Roberts (Henry Fonda) is the man in charge.  Captain Morton is very strict and routinely denies the crew their small rewards over very minor infractions.  Doug, on the other hand, is much kinder and often ignores the Captain’s orders to make the crew’s life more bearable.  However, the USS Reluctant isn’t seeing any of the action of World War II and Doug would much rather be on active duty than be stuck on that boat.  His closest friend Doc (William Powell) tries to reassure him that his being on the ship means the world to the crew, but that doesn’t stop him from requesting a transfer.

In order for Doug to get a transfer, Captain Morton would have to agree to it and Morton knows that he would look bad if Doug were to leave so he refuses to sign his letters.  Captain Morton hasn’t even let the crew have leave in a very long time, so behind the Captain’s back, Doug bribes an official to get the crew granted one night of leave.  When the Captain finds out about it, he threatens to deny the whole crew their leave unless Doug promises to stop undermining him and to stop requesting transfers.  Doug reluctantly agrees, and the crew is mystified to see Doug suddenly playing into the Captain’s hand.

The crew thinks Doug is just gunning to get a promotion and starts giving him the cold shoulder.  But on the night of V-E Day, Doug listens to a speech on the radio that inspires him to stand up to the Captain.  While the Captain confronts Doug in his office, the intercom is accidentally left on and the whole crew finds out the price Doug paid for them to have their leave.  To show their gratitude, the crew decides to get Doug the transfer he wants so badly.  Before he leaves for Okinawa, the crew presents Doug with their own special award and he finally realizes just how much he really meant to everybody.

With Doug off in Okinawa, Frank Pulver (Jack Lemmon) takes over Doug’s old position on the ship. Frank is pretty intimidated by the Captain, so he can’t bring himself to go against the Captain the way Doug used to.  But when the crew gets word that Doug has been killed, Frank finally finds the nerve to stand up to the Captain.

Genre-wise, Mister Roberts is really in a league of its own.  It deals with World War II, but there aren’t any big battle scenes.  It’s got comedy, but it’s not a farce like Dr. Strangelove.  And for all its lighthearted moments, when it was serious, it was very heartfelt and touching.  It’s very hard to combine all of those genres and do all of them well, but Mister Roberts managed to pull it off.

The part of Doug Roberts is such a perfect Henry Fonda role.  He’s that “everyman fighting for what’s right” type of character that Fonda is best remembered for playing.  As good as Fonda is, Jack Lemmon really steals the show at the end of the movie.  His performance in the scene where he reads Doug’s letters aloud to the crew is so genuinely moving.  He’s great in the rest of the movie, too, but boy did he ever hit it out of the park in that scene.

I love everything about Mister Roberts.  I don’t know why on Earth I put off seeing it for such a long time.

One Way Passage (1932)

When Dan (William Powell) meets Joan (Kay Francis) in a bar in Hong Kong, it’s love at first sight.  They have a drink together, but end up going their separate ways. What neither of them realizes is that the other doesn’t have much time to live.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but Joan is extremely sick.  She’s about to set sail for San Francisco so she can go to a sanitarium, but there’s a good chance she won’t survive the trip.  Dan is a murderer on the run from the law and gets arrested by Steve Burke (Warren Hymer) as soon as he leaves the bar that night.  Steve’s going to take Dan back to San Francisco where he will be executed.

As fate would have it, Dan and Joan wind up on the same boat to San Francisco.  Joan’s doctor wants her to spend the trip resting, but she knows she doesn’t have much time left so she wants to live it up while she can.  When she finds out Dan is on board and has been looking for her, she ignores the doctor’s orders and spends all the time she can with Dan.  She remains in the dark about his criminal background and he has no idea about her illness, but they are madly in love with each other.  Dan is able to spend so much time with Joan thanks to some help from his criminal friends Skippy (Frank McHugh) and Betty (Aline McMahon).  Betty is on board posing as a countess so she and Skippy keep distracting Steve so that Dan can be with Joan.  But Betty ends up spending so much time with Steve that they also end up falling in love.

When the ship makes a stop in Honolulu, Dan and Joan spend an unforgettable day ashore together and Dan wants to come clean to her about his past.  But just as he’s about to break the news, she faints and he takes her back to the ship.  Her doctor warns Dan that any more shocking news could kill her, so Dan keeps his secret.  She ends up discovering the truth about Dan just before the ship docks in San Francisco and, naturally, she’s surprised.  But that doesn’t stop her from saying goodbye to Dan and agreeing to meet him at a bar in Mexico on New Year’s Eve, even though they both know they won’t be able to keep the date.

What’s not to like about One Way Passage?  Kay Francis and William Powell were perfection in it.  Their chemistry together was superb and both of them give excellent performances.  Powell in particular gives one of the best performances of his career.  Aline McMahon and Frank McHugh make the supporting cast every bit as memorable as Powell and Francis.  I loved the very dreamlike atmosphere of the movie.  One Way Passage is a prime example of those early 1930s gems that aren’t very long, but make every single second count.  If you haven’t already seen it, definitely be sure to keep an eye out for it.  I know I wish I had seen it sooner.