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.

Sadie McKee 1934

Sadie McKee (1934)

Sadie McKee (Joan Crawford) works as a part-time maid in the home of the Alderson family, where her mother has worked as a cook for years. The Alderson’s son, Michael (Franchot Tone), has long had a crush on Sadie, but Sadie is in love with Tommy (Gene Raymond), who has just been fired from his job working for the Aldersons. While working at a dinner one night, she hears disparaging remarks about Tommy, tells them all off, and runs off to New York City with Tommy to get married.

Once they get into town, Sadie and Tommy meet Opal (Jean Dixon), an older, hardened nightclub performer who helps them get a room at a boarding house. They plan to marry the next day, but need to spend the morning looking for jobs. While Sadie is out job hunting, Tommy is taking a bath at the boarding house and when Dolly (Esther Ralston) overhears him singing, she recruits him to join her nightclub act. He accepts, but has to leave town immediately, leaving a heartbroken Sadie behind.

With some help from Opal, Sadie gets a job dancing in a nightclub and one night, a very drunk (and very rich) customer named Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold) insists that she join him at his table. It turns out that Michael is there with him that night. Michael warns Sadie to leave Jack alone, but she doesn’t listen and it isn’t long before they’re married. Although the marriage gives Sadie a boost in social status, she’s forced to deal with Jack’s alcoholism, which is on the verge of costing him his life. And although she deeply cares about Jack, her heart still hasn’t forgotten Tommy.

Sadie McKee is a pretty quintessential 1930s Joan Crawford movie. She plays a working class woman who finds herself moving into a higher class, she gets to wear some fabulous Adrian gowns, and it was directed by Clarence Brown, who worked very well with Joan. Plus it also starred one of her most famous co-stars, Franchot Tone. In addition to Tone and Crawford, Gene Raymond, Esther Ralston, Jean Dixon, and Edward Arnold are all great in their supporting roles. I thought Esther Ralston and Jean Dixon were particularly great in their respective roles; I loved the scene between Ralston and Crawford when she goes to confront Dolly. Sure, Sadie McKee may be a bit heavy on the melodrama, but it is entertaining and that’s exactly what I wanted from it.

Kansas City Princess

Kansas City Princess (1934)

Rosie (Joan Blondell) and Marie (Glenda Farrell) are two manicurists from Kansas City. Rosie has been seeing a gangster who goes by the name of Dynamite (Robert Armstrong) and just before he leaves for St. Louis, he gives Rosie an engagement ring. While Dynamite is out of town, Marie, who thinks Rosie could do better, encourages Rosie to go out with one of their rich clients. Rosie reluctantly goes along with it and the whole thing goes horribly wrong when it turns out her date is also a criminal who steals her engagement ring. Things get even worse when Rosie hears that Dynamite is coming back to town earlier than expected so she doesn’t even have time to fix things.

Rosie and Marie know Dynamite will be furious when he finds out what’s happened, so they disguise themselves as members of the Outdoor Girls of America and get on a train headed to New York. But Dynamite finds out what’s going on before they can leave the station so he follows them to New York. Once in New York, Rosie and Marie hop in a cab with two businessmen and stick with them as they board a ship headed to Paris with Dynamite hot on their trail.

While on the ship, Dynamite meets millionaire Junior Ashcraft (Hugh Herbert), who is heading to Paris to put an end to his wife’s affair. When Marie and Rosie hear about a rich man being on board, they can’t resist posing as manicurists so they can try to play him. The plan falls flat when Junior reveals the truth, but Junior is still willing to help the ladies out. Once they get to Paris, Junior comes up with a plan to stop his wife’s affair by having Rose pose as her lover’s boyfriend. Little does he know his wife and the detective he’s hired to follow her have plans of their own.

Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell are two of my favorite sassy, fast-talking pre-code actresses so any movie that features both of them is going to be very intriguing to me. Kansas City Princess starts out being so much of what I love about many Warner Brothers pre-codes — fast-paced, funny, and full of snappy dialogue — but, unfortunately, the movie loses a lot of momentum about halfway through. Considering how many things Kansas City Princess had working in its favor and it did start out looking promising, the fact that it failed to hold my interest for 64 minutes was pretty disappointing. Not even the fabulous chemistry of Blondell and Farrell could save it. They did the best they could with what they had to work with, it’s just they didn’t have much to work with.

Double Wedding (1937)

Double Wedding 1937Margit Agnew (Myrna Loy) is a successful business woman who prides herself on leading an extremely well-ordered life. She isn’t content to just keep her life in perfect order, she also likes to manage her sister Irene’s (Florence Rice) life, too. Irene is a bit more free-spirited than her sister and dreams of becoming an actress. At night, she takes acting lessons from Charlie Lodge (William Powell) along with her fiance Waldo Beaver (John Beal). Although Waldo is very respectable, the type of man Margit fully approves of, he’s a terribly timid, dull man. Irene is much more interested in Charlie, who is a very bohemian type who very happily lives in a trailer and has all the charisma that Waldo lacks.

Once Margit learns how Irene and Waldo have been spending their nights, she wants it to stop. She personally asks him to stop seeing Irene, but she doesn’t realize that Charlie doesn’t love Irene, he loves her. He agrees to stop seeing Irene, but only if Margit lets him paint a portrait of her. As she spends time with him posing for the portrait, she actually starts to fall in love with Charlie, even if his lifestyle is the complete opposite of hers.

Margit doesn’t want to believe she’s in love with Charlie and has her butler, a former detective, try to get some dirt on Charlie, but anything potentially incriminating that comes up turns out to be not so bad. When Margit sees Irene leaving Charlie’s trailer, she gets angry and fears the worst. She doesn’t realize their visit was innocent and that Charlie is working on a plan to get Irene and Waldo back together and marry her.

Myrna Loy and William Powell are remembered as being one of the most delightful on-screen duos of all time for a very good reason. Double Wedding isn’t the finest of their movies together, but they were so fantastic together that even a lesser Loy/Powell film is still better than many other actors’ best movies. In all fairness, it’s important to keep in mind that Double Wedding wasn’t made under the best of circumstances; Jean Harlow passed away during its production. Since both Loy and Powell were both very close to Harlow, Powell in particular, her death hit them very hard and neither of them felt like they were at their best in Double Wedding.

Despite everything, Double Wedding is a pretty good movie. Not nearly the same caliber as The Thin Man, but still great fun. The story is delightfully zany and Loy and Powell still do a great job in it. Even if they weren’t at their absolute best, the fact that they were still as good as they were in it is a testament to their talent and their incomparable chemistry.