30 From the 30’s

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.

Let Us Be Gay 1930

Let Us Be Gay (1930)

After years of marriage, Kitty Brown (Norma Shearer) still adores her husband Bob (Rod La Rocque) and is faithfully devoted to him and their two children. She doesn’t dress stylishly and she doesn’t spend much time on hair or makeup, but she’s happy. At least, she’s happy until Bob’s mistress drops by the house one day. She’s heartbroken and wants nothing to do with him. But she’s not one to sit around and feel sorry for herself. After he divorce, Kitty gets a makeover and earns a reputation for being notorious maneater.

Three years after her divorce, Kitty is invited to spend a weekend at the home of Mrs. Bouccicault (Marie Dressler). Mrs. Boucciault’s granddaughter Diane (Sally Eilers) is engaged to be married to Bruce (Raymond Hackett), but is not-too-secretly seeing a man named Bob on the side. She invites Kitty because she’s practically an expert at stealing men away from women and asks her to work her magic on Bob. She agrees, not realizing Bob is her ex-husband.

Bob hasn’t seen Kitty since their divorce and he can barely recognize her as the woman he used to be married to. Although it’s an awkward reunion at first, but old feelings start to come back.

I liked Let Us Be Gay more than I expected to. At the time of writing this post, it gets 6.5 stars on IMDB, so really, a pretty average rating by IMDB standards. But it was a pretty entertaining little movie. I loved Norma in it. Seeing Norma play dowdy was certainly a fun surprise; she was hardly recognizable. But after Kitty has her makeover, we get to see Norma doing everything that makes me love her early 1930s roles. Marie Dressler was a lot of fun as the over-the-top Mrs. Bouccicault. And Sally Eilers was a real treat, especially in her drunk scenes. The ending was a bit of a letdown, but I had so much fun watching everything else leading up to that point, I still really like the movie on the whole.

In Old Chicago 1937

In Old Chicago (1937)

While the O’Leary family is traveling to Chicago to find a new life, the family patriarch is killed in an accident, leaving his wife Molly (Alice Brady) to make the trip alone with her two young sons Jack (Don Ameche as an adult, Billy Watson as a child) and Dion (Tyrone Power as an adult, Gene Reynolds as a child). When the family finally arrives in Chicago, Molly starts building a reputation for being an excellent laundress right away. Her laundry business helps her provide a good life for her sons. Jack got a good education and becomes a lawyer. Dion, on the other hand, takes the less respectable route in life and becomes a gambler who falls in love with saloon singer Belle Fawcett (Alice Faye), who his mother does not approve of.

Eventually, Jack sets his sights on having a career in politics and Dion has gotten involved with the unscrupulous politician Gil Warren (Brian Donlevy). Naturally, their different paths in lives cause a great deal of tension between the two brothers. All of their animosity comes to a head the night of the big Chicago fire of 1871. Jack, who has just been elected mayor of Chicago, is blamed by some of Dion’s cohorts who think Jack is trying to run them out of town and go after him. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to control the fire, only to have his efforts interrupted by Dion’s colleagues. But when Dion finds out what’s going on, can he save his brother?

I really wanted to like In Old Chicagmore than I did. Since I liked Alexander’s Ragtime Band, which also starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche, I had high hopes In Old Chicago, but I much preferred Alexander’s Ragtime Band. The cast wasn’t bad and its production values are very high, but the basic plot is nothing new and framing it around the great Chicago fire didn’t make it any more interesting for me. But the fire scenes were, indeed spectacular. Even with stars like Power, Faye, and Ameche, the real stars of In Old Chicago are the effects specialists who planned the fire scenes. On the whole, it’s not a terrible movie,  just one I was indifferent about except for the fire scenes.

Ladies of Leisure (1930)

Ladies of Leisure 1930After ducking out of a party with his wealthy friends, Jerry Strong (Ralph Graves) happens to drive past by call girl Kay Arnold (Barbara Stanwyck) rowing along in a boat as she escaped from a different party. He offers her a ride, which she gladly accepts. Jerry is an aspiring artist and decides he wants Kay to be the subject of his next painting and Kay accepts. Things are tense when she first poses for him. He doesn’t like the way she’s dressed when she arrives and his fiancée isn’t exactly happy about his new model.

Tensions continue to grow, but once Jerry finally gets what he wants from Kay, it’s magic.  By now, they’ve also fallen in love with each other and after he spends nearly all night painting her, he asks her to sleep on the couch. They spend all night pining for each other, but the next morning, their happiness is shattered when Jerry’s conservative, upper-class father arrives and demands he stop seeing Kay. He refuses, even if it means being an outcast from the entire family. Jerry and Kay plan to run off together, until Jerry’s mother personally comes to see Kay and begs her to leave her son alone.

I never cease to be amazed by the quality of many of Barbara Stanwyck’s early films. Ladies of Leisure was only Stanwyck’s 4th film, but she hits it out of the park. This was the movie that made her a star. She was paired with director Frank Capra here and he understood exactly what to do with her. There are so many great stars who, early in their careers, went through a stage where studios didn’t quite know what to do with them so they stuck them in all sorts of different types of roles to see what worked and what didn’t. The ones who seemed to find their niche right away and became big stars within their first few movies are comparatively rare, but Stanwyck was one of them (Faye Dunaway and James Cagney are a couple of others.) Her performance is by far the best reason to see this movie.

On the whole, Ladies of Leisure isn’t fantastic. For Capra, this wasn’t one of his best directorial efforts, but he certainly grew as a director over time. The story is average; nothing too exciting or original. But the things that are right about it are so right that they make an otherwise forgettable movie one worth seeing. Capra also not only had Stanwyck as a leading lady, he had cinematographer Joseph Walker on his team, who did a fantastic job of making the movie look beautiful. Between Walker and Stanwyck, they help to distract from some of the other parts of the movie that aren’t as strong.

Blondie of the Follies (1932)

Blondie of the Follies 1932Blondie (Marion Davies) and Lottie (Billie Dove) are longtime friends. Their families live in the same tenement building in the working class part of town, but Lottie longs to become a big star and find a better life for herself. Eventually she leaves her old life behind her to move to Park Avenue and become a star in the Follies. When she comes back to visit on Mother’s Day, Lottie (who now goes by the name Lurline Cavanaugh) brings Blondie back with her so she can see her swanky new apartment.

What Lottie doesn’t expect is for Blondie to catch the eye of Larry Belmont (Robert Montgomery), who she’s been pursuing. Since Lottie will be performing in the Follies that night, Larry offers to take Blondie so she’ll have a chance to see Lottie at work. Not only does Blondie have a swell night with Larry, spending all night with him at a speakeasy after the show, he even gets her a job as a chorus girl, which makes Lottie extremely jealous.

Blondie’s father doesn’t approve of her going into showbiz, but she does it anyway and becomes a big hit in the show. But after finding out how much Larry means to Lottie, she promises to leave him alone. But Larry still loves Blondie and doesn’t like that Lottie’s been exposing Blondie to that kind of lifestyle (never mind the fact that he’s the one who got her the job in the chorus.) It all ends with Lottie and Blondie getting into a big fight. After a few months have passed, Blondie tries to patch things up between Lottie and Larry again, to no avail. Although she and Lottie are able to mend their fences, Larry still loves Blondie, which continues to strain their relationship.

Mention Marion Davies and many people will think of Susan Alexander, Charles Foster Kane’s talentless wife in Citizen Kane. Since Citizen Kane was such a thinly-veiled stab at William Randolph Hearst, the character of Susan Alexander is often assumed to represent Marion Davies. But Marion Davies is no Susan Alexander and Blondie of the Follies is proof of that. This was easily one of my favorite talkies Marion did. Movies about love triangles were nothing new and movies about showgirls were nothing new, even in 1932. But Blondie of the Follies manages to not feel trite or done before. Davies and Billie Dove were both fantastic in it. Blondie of the Follies was the last film Billie Dove made because she was frustrated with Hearst’s meddling to make Marion out to be the star of the film. I’d love to see some of Billie’s cut scenes because she’s so great in the scenes that made it in, the scenes Hearst felt were “too good” must have been pretty phenomenal.

If nothing else, Blondie of the Follies is worth watching just for the brief scene where Marion Davies and Jimmy Durante do impressions of Barrymore and Garbo in Grand Hotel. Marion was well known for doing impressions at parties of other big movie stars, something we also see her do in The Patsy. But seeing her impersonate Garbo along with Jimmy Durante is pure gold.

The Gilded Lily 1935

The Gilded Lily (1935)

Marilyn David (Claudette Colbert) and Peter Dawes  (Fred MacMurray) are dear friends who get together every Thursday to sit together on a park bench and eat popcorn. Although Peter is very much in love with her, she only sees him as a friend and is convinced that someday she will fall madly in love with a person who is flat broke and doesn’t care about that. And as luck would have it, she happens to run into Charles (Ray Milland), who happens to fit that description — or so she thinks. As Marilyn and David spend time together and fall in love, Marilyn doesn’t realize that he is really the aristocratic Lord Charles Gray Granton from England, who is already engaged.

When Charles’ father finds out about Marilyn, he insists that Charles go back to England and break it off properly. Instead of telling the truth, he tells Marilyn that he’s leaving for two weeks for a job. Meanwhile, Peter, who works as a newspaper reporter, gets an assignment to go get a picture of Lord Charles Gray Granton before he leaves town. Marilyn doesn’t learn the truth until she sees his picture in the newspaper. When Peter sees how upset Marilyn is, he writes a phony article about how she turned down Charles. Once the article runs, Marilyn finds herself famous overnight and leaves Charles scandalized.

Things continue to spiral out of control when Peter gets the idea to extend Marilyn’s 15 minutes of fame by turning her into a nightclub star. She can’t sing, she can’t dance, but she manages to charm crowds enough to become a complete sensation. Her popularity grows enough for her to take her act over to England, where Charles is eager to see her again. But can they pick up where they left off with their relationship?

I recently got this movie on DVD as part of the Fred MacMurray and Claudette C0lbert Romantic Comedy DVD collection released by TCM. The DVD includes an introduction by Robert Osborne and he talked about how even though Colbert and MacMurray made several movies together, each of them is best remembered for their work with other co-stars. It’s really too bad they aren’t better remembered for their work together, because they are an absolutely delightful duo. I was surprised to learn this was only Fred MacMurray’s second major film role; he did a fantastic job of keeping up with Claudette Colbert, who was the more established movie star at the time. They were a very natural fit for each other. The Gilded Lily is a movie very ripe for rediscovery. It’s a pleasant little comedy with a lot of charm to it. The plot is silly, but could almost be seen as a satire of celebrity and stardom in the 21st century.

Marked Woman 1937

Marked Woman (1937)

Mary Dwight (Bette Davis) works as a hostess in a nightclub, but when the club is taken over by notorious gangster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli), he wants to turn it into a not-so-legitimate clip joint. Mary and the other hostesses are not happy about their new boss, but Vanning is very powerful and crossing him could be dangerous, so try to be as cooperative as possible with him.

One night, Mary spends the evening with Ralph Krawford (Damian O’Flynn), who thinks he’s pulling a fast one on the club owners by running up a big debt at the casino and paying it off with a bad check. Mary warns him about the danger he’s in and advises him to leave town right away. But Vanning wasn’t born yesterday and has Krawford killed before he can even make it to the train station. The police find out Mary had been with Krawford the night he was killed and arrest Mary.

Prosecutor David Graham (Humphrey Bogart) tries to convince Mary to rat on Vanning, but although she eventually starts to seem cooperative, she’s too afraid of what could happen to her if she does and her testimony helps him go free again. Meanwhile, Mary’s sister Betty (Jane Bryan) is visiting from school and is too scandalized by the incident to go back. Mary loves her sister and doesn’t want Betty getting involved with her lifestyle, but one night, Betty joins fellow hostess Emmy Lou (Isabel Jewell) for a party, where she ends up getting on the bad side of one of Vanning’s cohorts and Vanning kills her. Now Mary is more eager than ever testify against Vanning, even if it puts her life on the line.

Marked Woman has all the hallmarks that 1930s Warner Brothers movies were famous for. Gangsters? Check. Fast pacing? Yep, it’s got that. Snappy dialogue? Oh, yeah. Stars like Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis? Check and check! This is just a good old fashioned gangster movie, but unlike most other gangster movies, Marked Woman focuses on the nightclub hostesses, who often tend to be relegated to supporting character status. When you hear about a 1930s Warner Brothers movie that involves gangsters and stars Humphrey Bogart, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Bogart will be playing the gangster. Instead, he’s fully on the side of law and order here. So although Marked Woman is, in many ways, a classic Warner Brothers gangster flick, it does shake things up in a couple of ways, which I found refreshing. It’s a great movie.