Tag Archives: William Powell

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.

Recasting “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” (2008)

After being fired from her job as a governess, a very straight-laced Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) finds herself deemed unemployable by her employment agency.  But when she hears about a job for a woman named Delysia LaFosse (Amy Adams), she jumps at the chance to get it.  When she arrives at Delysia’s apartment, she expects she will be taking care of children.  Instead, she finds herself taking care of an aspiring actress tangled up in a love triangle.  First there’s the young theater producer, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne), who is putting on a play that Delysia desperately wants the lead in.  She’s trying to keep him interested in her and not her rival Charlotte Warren.  Then there’s Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong), who owns the nightclub Delysia sings at.  He’s the one footing the bill for her lavish apartment and expensive clothes.  And last but not least, there’s Michael (Lee Pace), the piano player who just got out of jail.  He isn’t rich and doesn’t have the influence Nick and Phil do, but he does genuinely love her.

Over the course of one day, Guinevere helps Delysia get out of various messes and Delysia, in turn, helps Guinevere learn to embrace life.  Delysia takes Guinevere to her friend Edythe’s (Shirley Henderson) salon and gives her a makeover.  It turns out that Edythe and Guinevere have a little dirt on each other.  They had bumped into each other on the street the night before Guinevere came to Delysia’s, so Edythe knows Guinevere isn’t really the social secretary Delysia thinks she is.  But Guinevere saw Edythe out with a man who isn’t her lingerie designer boyfriend Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds).  When Delysia takes Guinevere with her to a lingerie show, Guinevere meets Joe for herself and the two of them are instantly attracted to each other.

Although released in 2008, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was actually intended to be made as a movie in 1941.  Originally, it was a novel by Winifred Watson released in 1937, and she later sold the film rights to Universal Studios in 1939.  Universal held on to it for a little while and by 1941, had plans to turn it into a musical starring Billie Burke as Miss Pettigrew.  Watson was very eager to see “Miss Pettigrew…” turned into a movie, but unfortunately, the project was shelved after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  In 1954, Universal renewed the rights to the story, but again, nothing ever became of it.  Watson died in 2002 believing her story would never make it to the silver screen.

The novel was released in 1937, but I wish it had been released just a few years earlier because I think “Miss Pettigrew” would have made a great pre-code had it been around in 1934.  Delysia’s bed-hopping to further her career is hardly a secret, there’s lots of lingerie, and the book contains drug references.  I’m very curious about how Universal planned to get around some of these issues in 1941.  The drug references were gone in the 2008 movie, so those could easily been cut out in 1941, but whitewashing Delysia’s bed-hopping would have definitely been a challenge.  I also would have pegged this for an MGM movie rather than a Universal.

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What’s on TCM: December 2011

We’re down to the last month of 2011 already!  TCM will be closing out the year in top form.  December’s star of the month is William Powell, which I am very excited about since I’m a big fan of his.  It also means we get two nights of movies featuring him with Myrna Loy, one night being the entire Thin Man series and another night featuring their other collaborations.  His movies will be showcased every Thursday night this month.  TCM will also be celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens a little early (his birthday isn’t actually until February) by devoting Monday nights to showing various film adaptations of his work.  And of course there are Christmas classics galore to look forward to!

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Fashions of 1934

What do you do when the investment firm you own goes under?  Why, naturally you decide to get into the fashion game!  Well, at least that’s what Sherwood Nash (William Powell) does.  When he meets aspiring fashion designer Lynn Mason (Bette Davis), Sherwood, Lynn, and Sherwood’s partner Snap (Frank McHugh) decide to start making copies of designs by famous designers and selling them to discount shops for a fraction of the cost.  When the owners of shops that sell the real deals find out about this, they want to put a stop to it, but Nash smooth talks them into selling his knock-offs, too.  Not only that, he gets them to send them to Paris to better copy the designs.

To get in to see the designs, Lynn pretends to be interested in buying something while Snap stealthily takes pictures.  But when their film gets confiscated, they have to come up with another plan.  By pure chance, they find out that the famous designer Oscar Baroque (Reginald Owen) turns to old costume design books for inspiration.  So they get some costume design books and let Lynn design some pieces based on what she finds in the books, then forge famous designers’ signatures to them.  The stores back in New York buy the designs up like hotcakes, but Sherwood can’t resist an opportunity to make money.  When he meets a man with an abundance of ostrich feathers, he gets an idea.  He buys up the feathers and goes to see Baroque’s fiancée Grand Duchess Alix (Verree Teasdale).  He knows Alix is no Grand Duchess, she’s really just Mabel from Hoboken.

Since Alix doesn’t want Sherwood to tell Baroque who she really is, he blackmails her into convincing Baroque to design a musical show full of ostrich feathered clothes that Alix could star in.  He agrees and the show is a big success, so then he decides to open his own boutique.  But Lynn is getting fed up with Sherwood’s schemes.  Also, she’s fallen in love with him and is jealous of all the attention he’s giving Alix.  Even though her designs are once again hugely popular at the boutique, the idea of running off with Jimmy the piano player sounds pretty appealing to Lynn.  But by now, Baroque has found out about the forged designs and calls the police on Sherwood.  Sherwood gets arrested, but he has one more trick up his sleeve to get out of jail, get Baroque to buy the boutique from him, and get Lynn.

If I had a rating system, I’d give Fashions of 1934 2.5 out of 4 stars.  William Powell is pretty good in it, but poor Bette Davis is woefully out of place.  It’s pretty well-known that Warner Brothers really didn’t know what to do with Bette Davis when she first started working for them.  She wasn’t a glamour girl, but Warner’s insisted on trying to make her into one and this was their biggest attempt to shoehorn into that type.  She had blonde hair and was decked out in all sorts of fancy Orry-Kelly gowns, it was so not her style.  At least in movies like 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, even though they tried to make her somewhat glamorous, her part still had some grit to it.  There’s nothing gritty or raw about Fashions of 1934.  It’s a fun and entertaining little movie, but think of it as a William Powell movie more than anything else.  Bette isn’t outstanding here and although Busby Berkeley was involved, there’s only one musical number.  But at least he made the most of his one number, Spin a Little Web of Dreams is a really beautiful scene.  And if you’re interested in costume design, there’s a lot to appreciate here.

Lawyer Man (1932)

On New York’s Lower East Side, Tony Adam (William Powell) has built up a reputation as one of the best lawyers in town.  Even kids on the street admire him and want to grow up to be just like him!  One day, he gets a visit from Granville Bentley (Alan Dineheart), an attorney working in Uptown Manhattan, who invites Tony to join his firm.  He talks it over with his faithful secretary Olga (Joan Blondell), who believes he could be a big success if he moved uptown.  She has just one piece of advice for him: stay away from women.  But does he listen?  Of course not.  Tony makes the move, bringing Olga with him, and at first, he’s determined to stay on the straight and narrow.

When notorious racketeer Gilmurry (David Landau) finds out what a good lawyer Tony is, he tries to get Tony to come work for him.  Tony declines the offer, but then he meets the conniving showgirl Virginia St. Johns (Claire Dodd).  Virginia wants Tony’s help suing Dr. Gresham (Kenneth Thompson), her fiance, for breach of promise.  She also seduces Tony to convince him to help her.  Tony is no match for her charms and pulls out all the ethical stops to build her case up.  He doesn’t realize that she’s actually working with Dr. Gresham to catch him acting unethically so they can take him for everything he’s worth.  When they get through with him, he’s lost everything he’s worked for.   Tony defends himself at his trial and even though he isn’t convicted, he isn’t acquitted either.  Bentley fires him from the law firm and nobody wants him to represent them.

The only cases he can get are the shadier cases that nobody else will touch.  He realizes the only way for him to succeed is to play dirty, so he takes on those cases, but not without asking a hefty fee for his services.  When he hears about an opportunity to handle a case against Gilmurry, he jumps at the chance.  Even though the jury finds Gilmurry not guilty, Tony manages to get a big settlement out of Gilmurry before the jury reaches their decision.  Again, Gilmurry tries to get Tony to join his organization, but Tony is willing to let Gilmurry use his influence to get him a spot as Assistant District Attorney.  As Assistant DA, Tony sets his sights on getting even with Dr. Gresham.  He’d gotten all the dirt on Gresham’s fraudulent practices while working with Virginia and uses it to get him put behind bars.  Gilmurry isn’t to pleased about this since Gresham is part of his racket, but once again, Tony is able to turn the tables on Gilmurry and next thing he knows, Gilmurry is offering to get him in as a judge.  But Tony isn’t interested in being a judge.  He wants to go back to the Lower East Side, where he belongs, and work as an honest lawyer.

What piqued my interest in Lawyer Man is the fact that it’s William Powell in a more dramatic role.  I mostly know William Powell from comedies, so I was interested in seeing something a little different from him.  I like him better in comedies, but he did not disappoint here.  Joan Blondell did just fine and dandy here, even though she could have stood a little more screen time.  Surprisingly, this was the only movie William Powell and Joan Blondell ever made together.  I would have liked to see them teamed up again in something like a pre-code comedy, that could have been a lot of fun.  But at least we have Lawyer Man, which I really enjoyed.  Good story that fits a lot into just over an hour.