Carefree 1938

Carefree (1938)

Stephen Arden (Ralph Bellamy) has been engaged to singer Amanda Cooper (Ginger Rogers) multiple times, but she continually breaks off their engagement. After finding himself jilted for the third time, Stephen asks his friend Tony (Fred Astaire), a psychiatrist, to analyze Amanda and find out what’s causing her fear of commitment. Before meeting her, Tony thinks Amanda is a “mindless female,” and says so into his dictaphone, a recording that Amanda ends up hearing while waiting in his office. Furious, Amanda gets out of the appointment and snubs Tony when she meets him again later.

Eventually, Amanda admits why she’s angry with Tony and Tony apologizes before he starts questioning Amanda about her fear of commitment. Amanda can’t offer any explanation for it, so Tony orders her to have a meal of ridiculous food combinations to bring on dreams that could offer some insight. The plan works, but Amanda awakens the next morning realizing she’s in love with Tony, not Stephen.

When Tony asks Amanda about her dream, she doesn’t want to admit the truth, so she makes up a wild dream that makes Tony want to study her further. He orders her to be given a truth serum, not realizing she’s due to perform on the radio very shortly. Despite the fact that her broadcast is a complete disaster, Amanda still loves Tony, but just as she’s about to admit her feelings to him, Stephen announces that he and Amanda are engaged again. Although Tony loves her back, he tries to hypnotize Amanda into thinking she loves Stephen, a plan that also totally backfires.

Carefree is an Astaire-Rogers movie that I don’t think gets nearly enough credit. Sure, there aren’t as many songs as some of their other movies and the musical numbers aren’t as dazzling as “Cheek to Cheek” or “Never Gonna Dance,” but there still are some really great dances in it. I love the hypnotic dance they do to “Change Partners” and I like the slight surrealness of “I Used to be Colorblind.” I actually didn’t mind that it wasn’t as heavy on the songs as some of their other movies because there was less to distract attention from how great Astaire, Rogers, and Bellamy all were in it, just in different ways. For example, Ginger Rogers in particular was hilarious in it, but I think that’s a fact that might have been overshadowed if there had been more dance scenes. So even if Carefree isn’t the best of the Astaire-Rogers pairings, it’s nice to see them in a movie that lets them emphasize some of their other talents.

Beau Geste 1939

Beau Geste (1939)

As some Legionaries approach a fort in the desert, they initially think it’s fully manned with soldiers, but upon closer inspection, they realize all the soldiers are dead and have been posed to look alive from a distance. As they look at the bodies, they find a note on one of them confessing to stealing a valuable sapphire known as the “Blue Water.”

As children, brothers Beau (Gary Cooper), John (Ray Milland), and Digby (Robert Preston) were adopted by their aunt Lady Brandon (Heather Thatcher) and enjoy a happy childhood living with her, her ward Isobel (Susan Hayward), and her heir Augustus (G.P. Huntley). Lady Brandon is the owner of the valuable “Blue Water” sapphire, which, thanks to her husband, is the last valuable asset she owns. When her husband wants to sell it, Beau asks Lady Brandon to let them see it one last time. But while they’re looking at it, the lights suddenly go out and the jewel is gone.

Not wanting to disgrace the family, each of the Geste brothers leaves a note confessing to stealing the jewel and leaves to join the French Foreign Legion. But it isn’t long before their cruel Sergeant Markoff (Brian Donlevy) hears the brothers had been involved in a jewel heist and that Beau is the most likely suspect. When the fort where Beau and John are stationed is attacked, nearly all of their fellow soldiers are killed during battle. Markoff, Beau, and John are the last three standing and Markoff takes the chance to try to make the “Blue Water” sapphire his own.

Beau Geste is a movie that really does have a little something for everyone. It’s got the mystery surrounding the missing jewel, it’s got a story about brotherly love, it’s got lots of thrilling battle scenes, and it has just a little bit of a love story to it. You just don’t see too many movies that have that kind of combination. And if you were to find another movie (that wasn’t another adaptation of the novel “Beau Geste”) that has all of those things, you’d be even harder pressed to find one with such a high-caliber cast and excellent direction. I had a hard time buying a nearly 40-year-old Gary Cooper as a 20-something Beau Geste, but other than that, the cast was great. Although Gary Cooper and Ray Milland are two very recognizable names, Brian Donlevy is a great reason to want to see this movie; his performance as the sadistic Markoff was fantastic.

Beau Geste also had one of the most absolutely intriguing opening scenes I’ve seen in a while. A few Legionaries finding a fort manned by a bunch of corpses and a note confessing to a jewel heist is definitely the kind of opening that makes you want to keep watching the movie. On the whole, I really liked Beau Geste a lot more than I expected to; in fact, it’s one of my favorite movie discoveries in recent memory. Although it was a big hit when it was released, it’s not a movie I hear talked about very often anymore, and that’s really too bad.

The Devil is a Woman 1935

The Devil is a Woman (1935)

When Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero) arrives in Spain during Carnival week, he sees Concha Perez (Marlene Dietrich) passing by in a parade and is instantly captivated by her beauty. They make plans to meet later that night, but before their date, Antonio meets with his friend, Don Pasqual (Lionel Atwill). Antonio eagerly tells Pasqual all about the new woman in his life, but Pasqual warns Antonio to stay far, far away from the notorious Concha.

Pasqual was once in love with Concha himself and it ruined his life. When he first met her, she was working in a cigarette factory and he gave her the money she needed to quit her job. But after he proposed to her, she sent him a letter telling him she never wanted to see him again. But it isn’t long before she’s back, swearing that she loves him and looking for more money, but she still won’t marry him. Some time later, Pasqual finds her again while she’s working as a singer in a nightclub. He still loves her, but she’s been seeing a bullfighter, a fact that angers Pasqual to the point that he beats her up for it. Despite that, he buys her out of her contract at the night club so she can be with him, but once again, she leaves him.

Although Antonio promises to stay away from Concha, he goes to see her for the sake of getting revenge, but can’t resist her charms. Pasqual arrives and finds them together, and challenges him to a duel.

The Devil is a Woman is the last movie Marlene Dietrich made with director Josef von Sternberg and it was Dietrich’s personal favorite of her own films.   It’s not my favorite of the Dietrich/von Sternberg movies, but I can easily see why Dietrich was so fond of it; von Sternberg pulled out all the stops for it. The Devil is a Woman is a decadent feast for the eyes, full of lively and rich sets, stunning cinematography, fabulous costumes, and Dietrich being absurdly glamorous. Dietrich spent virtually her entire career being the epitome of Hollywood glamour and The Devil is a Woman is easily one of her most glamorous films. The general plot is nothing remarkable, but purely worth watching for von Sternberg’s direction and Dietrich’s commanding presence. Even though Dietrich’s performance had moments of being pure, unadulterated camp, there’s no denying she could command attention.

China Seas 1935

China Seas (1935)

Alan Gaskell (Clark Gable) is a boat captain with a reputation for hard drinking, but that all changes during a voyage in which he finds himself on a boat with Sybil (Rosalind Russell), a former lover who is now a refined, high society woman. Well, at least he wants to change for her. But on board the same ship is China Doll (Jean Harlow), another one of Alan’s former lovers who still adores him. China is much less refined than Sybil and is more like the hard-drinking and fun-loving Alan.

When China sees Alan with Sybil, she becomes incredibly jealous. Things get even worse when China finds out Alan and Sybil plan to get married as soon as possible. She spends the night drinking with her friend Jamesy (Wallace Beery), and accidentally finds out Jamesy is working with some pirates to steal a large amount of gold that is being transported on the ship. Once Jamesy finds out that China knows what’s going on, he intimidates her into helping him. China tries to warn Alan, but he’s drunk and says hurtful things to her. Out of anger, she steals his key to the ship’s arsenal so the pirates will be able to hijack the ship.

China Seas is one of those movies that’s a bit formulaic, but I don’t mind that because I like the formula. It reminds me a lot of Red Dust in the sense that they’re both about a man (Gable) who has an unrefined woman (Harlow) in love with him, but he falls in love with a more upper class woman (Mary Astor in Red Dust and Rosalind Russell in China Seas), only China Seas takes place on a boat instead of a plantation. But unlike Red DustChina Seas was made while production codes were being enforced, so it lacks a lot of the incredible steam and innuendo that Red Dust had. But even with the production codes, Gable and Harlow are still a first-rate team and the movie itself is a nice mix of romance and adventure with very high production values. It might not be one of the absolute best movies either Harlow or Gable made, but it’s still really entertaining.

Three Cornered Moon (1933)

Three Cornered Moon 1933While her husband was alive, Nellie Rimplegar (Mary Boland) and her family enjoyed a happily carefree life living together in a beautiful mansion with lots of money. But after her husband’s death, Nellie was left in charge of managing the family’s money and, unfortunately, Nellie isn’t too savvy about investing and their money and soon, it’s all over — the Rimplegar family is shocked to suddenly hear that they are flat broke.

The family has to cut down on all their extravagances, but Nellie’s adult children band together and all set out to get jobs. Elizabeth (Claudette Colbert) gets a job in a shoe factory despite her lack of experience, Ed (Tom Brown) lands a job as a lifeguard, Kenneth (Wallace Ford) keeps working as a legal clerk until he can pass the bar exam, and Douglas (William Bakewell) gets an acting gig. They don’t have much at all, but they do what they can and quickly start to adapt to their new lives as ordinary working class folks.

Meanwhile a couple of family friends move in with the family. One is Ronald (Hardie Albright), Elizabeth’s writer boyfriend who is completely out of touch with reality. He’s recently been kicked out of his apartment and Elizabeth allowed him to come live with the Rimplegars, but even with the family’s woes, Ronald refuses to look for a job or pay rent. And then there’s Dr. Alan Stevens (Richard Arlen), who moves in under the guise of helping out, but he really just wants to be close to Elizabeth.

Three Cornered Moon is a delightful little comedy. Not as strong as other Depression-era comedies that directly deal with the Depression like Gold Diggers of 1933, but it’s still very enjoyable and noteworthy for being an early precursor to some of the zanier screwball comedies that were about to become widely popular in the not too distant future. It’s the sort of movie I can easily see why Depression-era audiences would have enjoyed. It showed how ridiculous the behavior of wealthy people could be, but when they get taken down a peg, they’re likable enough to root for them. Although I was more interested in the movie for Claudette Colbert, Mary Boland stole the show for me; I really got a kick out of her as the gloriously over-the-top and eccentric family matriarch.

Gold Diggers of 1935

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

During the summer months, the Wentworth Plaza is a popular destination for wealthy people to beat the heat. Among them is Mrs. Prentice (Alice Brady) and her daughter Ann (Gloria Stuart). Although Mrs. Prentice has more money than most people could ever dream of having, she’s notorious for being an absurdly cheap penny-pincher. She also wants Ann to marry T. Mosley Thorpe (Hugh Herbert), an older but very rich man who is an expert on snuffboxes. Thorpe is not Ann’s type at all and she desperately wants to have some fun.

Finally, Mrs. Prentice agrees to let her have some fun by hiring Dick Curtis (Dick Powell) to be her escort for the summer. Although Dick is engaged to Arline (Dorothy Dare), she approves of the idea since the money is good. Dick and Ann have a lot of fun together (and enjoy running up Mrs. Prentice’s bills), and it isn’t long before they fall in love with each other.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Prentice is at work organizing her annual show to raise money for the Milk Fund. She ends up hiring Nicoleff (Adolphe Menjou) to direct the show, but she doesn’t realize that he’s working with other people to make the show as lavish and extravagant as possible so they can get more money out of Mrs. Prentice.

Simply put, Gold Diggers of 1935 pales in comparison to 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, or Gold Diggers of 1933. It’s not like the basic plotlines of those movies are anything complex, but the plot of Gold Diggers of 1935 feels paper-thin in comparison. I also really missed stars like Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Ginger Rogers; although Alice Brady clearly has a field day hamming it up as the wealthy cheapskate.

But, since this is a Busby Berkeley movie, Gold Diggers of 1935 features some truly stunning musical numbers. Although 1935, on the whole, is really weak compared to his big hits of 1933, Busby Berkeley was still bringing his “A” game to the musical numbers. In terms of ambition and creative vision, he really outdid himself. No one is expecting anyone to honestly believe these numbers could actually be done on a real stage, but they’re an extravagant feast for the eyes. “The Words Are in My Heart” number with all those pianos is simply breathtaking and calling “The Lullaby of Broadway” a musical number almost feels like it’s selling it short; it’s more like a short film unto itself.

Bedside (1934)

Bedside 1934Bob Brown (Warren William) is an x-ray technician who could finish medical school and become a real doctor, but his various vices keep standing in his way. Since he only has one year to go, Caroline (Jean Muir), a nurse and Bob’s girlfriend, offers to loan him the money for his last year of school and he agrees. But once again, he loses his tuition money in a game of cards during his trip to school. To cover up the truth, Bob makes an agreement with a doctor named Smith (David Landau), whose drug addiction prevents him from practicing medicine, to use his medical credentials in exchange for shots of morphine.

With phony credentials in hand, Bob sets up shop in New York City under the name J. Herbert Martell, but at first, he only serves as the public face of the practice and deals with the patients in a superficial way while he has a real doctor to actually treat the patients. Soon, Bob gets mixed up with a press agent who helps him build a clientele of celebrities and socialites. He also hires Caroline to work for him as a nurse, but that proves to be a mistake because it doesn’t take long for her to figure out Bob isn’t really a doctor.

I wanted to like Bedside a lot more than I did, but the subjects of medical malpractice and phony doctors are simply too unsettling for me to take lightly enough to enjoy the movie. I really, really hated the ending. I know this is a pre-code and a lot of unsavory characters still had happy endings during this era, but this one was just terrible. Spoiler alert: in the end, Bob’s incompetence nearly kills a woman, which causes Caroline to leave him, but then she takes him back after he’s promised to never practice medicine again and thanks him for giving up his career for her. Um, yes, how noble of him to give up his “career” of being a fraud who could potentially kill someone. All that being said, Warren William totally nailed being that total sleaze of a character, but that was pretty much the only value I saw in Bedside.