Blogging Under the Stars

Turn Back the Clock (1933)

Turn Back the Clock 1933

Joe Gimlet (Lee Tracy) is a middle-aged man who runs a store with his wife Mary (Mae Clarke). Times are tough and they’re barely eking out a living when one day, their old friend Ted Wright (Otto Kruger) comes into the shop and they agree to get together. Ted has been faring a bit better than Joe and Mary; he went on to become a very successful bank president and is married to Elvina (Peggy Shannon), another old friend of theirs. They agree to get together and spend an evening together.

Growing up, Ted was infatuated with Mary and Joe is still kicking himself for turning down a business proposition from Elvina’s father when he was younger that would have made him a millionaire. Despite everything he has, Ted admits to being jealous of everything Joe and Mary have and offers Joe the chance to get in on an investment. Joe really wants to take him up on the investment opportunity, but it would wipe out their savings and Mary doesn’t think it’s a good idea. She and Joe get into a big argument about it that night and Joe gets very drunk, leaves the house, and gets hit by a car.

Joe is taken to a hospital where he’s put under ether and dreams that he’s a young man once again. Now he has a chance to undo all the mistakes he made so many years ago. Not only does he take Elvina’s father up on that business offer, he marries her and uses his knowledge of the future to make some very wise investments and ends up being offered a very important consultant position with the government regarding World War I. Mary, on the other hand, married Ted and the two of them live a modest life running a shop together. But there’s the age-old question of whether or not money truly makes a person happier.

Movies about a person having a fantasy about either going back in time, into the future are hardly, or otherwise experiencing an alternate reality are hardly anything unique, but Turn Back the Clock somehow manages to not feel clichéd. I can’t quite put my finger on what prevents it from feeling trite, but it manages to pull it off. It may be because it does have a touch of sentimentality to it, but not in a heavy-handed way. It’s a slow build to Joe’s epiphany that maybe wealth and power isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be and never heads into being overly dramatic. The cast is great, it’s a particularly great Lee Tracy vehicle. It’s certainly interesting to see them try to make young Mae Clarke into a drab middle-aged woman. And hey, it’s even got a special guest appearance by the Three Stooges as an added bonus. All in all, I’d say it’s a movie that deserves to be a bit more well-known than it currently seems to be.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone 1961Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh) is not going through an easy time in her life. Her illustrious stage career seems to be drawing to a close now that she’s nearing the age of 50 and her husband recently passed away, so she’s feeling quite lost in life. She decides to bow out of the spotlight and spend some time in Rome. While there, she meets Countess Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya), who makes a living by pimping out her band of young gigolos to rich women. Naturally, Karen is precisely the type of woman she wants to target so she introduces Karen to Paolo (Warren Beatty).

Although Karen has her reservations at first, she slowly starts to become infatuated with Paolo and the feeling is mutual. Karen is happy with Paolo, but she’s afraid of what her friends would think. However, unlike the other types of women the Countess usually deals with, Karen prefers to lavish Paolo with expensive gifts like new clothes and fancy dinners instead of giving them cold hard cash. The Countess has an arrangement with all of her gigolos that she gets half of everything they get so the Countess isn’t getting anything out of those dinners in nice restaurants.

Realizing Paolo’s feelings for Karen, and of Karen’s fragile mental state, the Countess tries to direct him toward a much younger American actress, Barbara Bingham (Jill St. John), who is more likely to be profitable for her. She knows that Paolo having an affair with Barbara would absolutely destroy Karen.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone had the potential to be a really interesting film, but unfortunately, it missed the mark. Both Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty have made much better films. The movie is only about an hour and forty-five minutes long, but it felt like it was longer than that. I kept looking at the clock to find out how much longer I had to listen to Warren Beatty’s terrible Italian accent for. That accent and wearing copious amounts of self-tanner are pretty much Warren Beatty’s two big acting choices for this role. Vivien does a good job with her role and if I were to come up with my own reworking of the film to make it more interesting, I’d probably keep her in it. But oh, dear, I don’t think I could have listened to Beatty’s accent for any longer. I’m usually into movies that feature some beautiful Italian scenery, but that wasn’t even enough to keep me even remotely interested.

Thieves’ Highway (1949)

Thieves Highway 1949

After an extended trip away from home, Nick Gracos (Richard Conte) returns home full of optimism for the future. He’s eager to marry his girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence) and looking forward to starting a business with her father. The last thing he expects is to find that his truck driver father has lost his legs after getting on the wrong side of Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb), the corrupt owner of a produce market in San Francisco. Now Nick’s father can’t work, has no money, and had to sell his truck to Ed (Millard Mitchell), who is behind on his payments on it.

After meeting with Ed, Nick decides to put his plans on hold and goes into business with Ed. For their first gig, they transport trucks full of apples to the market in San Francisco that’s owned by Figlia. Despite having truck problems along the way, they make it to the market on time. As soon as Nick gets to the market, he has to deal with Figlia trying to scam him and sabotage his truck. He even hires Rica (Valentina Cortese) to distract Nick while Figlia tries to sabotage him. Since Nick is exhausted, she lets him rest in her apartment, but even though she’s working for Figlia, she begins to have feelings for Nick.

When Figlia tries to shortchange Nick on his apples, Nick successfully gets more money and it seems his first shipment went very well. So well, he asks Polly to come down so they can be married right away, much to Rica’s dismay. She insists that Polly is only after his money. But then some of Figlia’s thugs attack him and steal his money, Nick is left empty handed when Polly does arrive — and she doesn’t stick around long once she finds out he’s broke. But now, Nick is in great danger of losing his life in addition to his money.

Aside from the really forced ending, Thieves’ Highway was a highly enjoyable noir. Exactly the caliber of movie I’ve come to expect from Jules Dassin. It’s not often I use the words “gritty,” “sincere,” “heartfelt” together, but they both apply to Thieves’ Highway. The performances by Lee J. Cobb and Richard Conte absolutely make the movie one worth seeing. Lee J. Cobb was absolutely brilliant as the corrupted to the soul Figlia and Conte was perfectly determined to do right by his father without laying it on too thick. The ending was the only thing I didn’t like about it; it just felt really forced and tacked on.

The Breaking Point (1950)

The Breaking Point 1950

Harry Morgan (John Garfield) dreams of running a successful fishing boat rental business, complete with a whole fleet of boats. Currently, he only owns one boat and is barely making enough money to make the payments on it and take care of his wife Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter) and their two daughters. It’s putting a terrible strain on Harry and Lucy’s marriage and Lucy desperately wants him to give up this idea and go work on his father’s farm, but he refuses.

One day, Harry is hired to take Hannagan (Ralph Dumke) and his girlfriend Leona (Patricia Neal) fishing in Mexico. While in Mexico, Hannagan leaves Leona behind and without paying Harry for his services. Now truly desperate for money, Harry takes a job offered to him by Duncan (Wallace Ford), who often tries to recruit him for shady jobs. This time, Harry is asked to smuggle Chinese workers into the country illegally. Harry isn’t happy about having to take this job and tries to protect those close to him like his friend Wesley Park (Juano Hernandez) and Leona, who he has become attracted to, so they won’t be involved. And he certainly doesn’t want Lucy to know what he’s up to, although it doesn’t take her long to realize something is wrong and to hear that he’s been spending a lot of time with Leona.

It gets harder and harder to keep his new “job” a secret, especially after Harry gets into a tussle and kills a gangster who tries to rip him off. Harry runs into problems with his boat being confiscated, which gets him even deeper in with Duncan after Duncan helps get the boat back so Harry can do more work for him. This time, Duncan wants Harry to help some gangsters escape after a robbery. Once again, feeling like he has no other choice, he takes the job but comes up with a plan to turn the tables.

The Breaking Point is film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Although the version starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which came six years earlier, is by far the more famous version, The Breaking Point is much more faithful to the source material. (As great as To Have and Have Not is, nobody even bothers trying to argue it was a faithful adaptation of the book.) The Breaking Point is hugely under appreciated. John Garfield, Patricia Neal, and Phyllis Thaxter are all excellent. It’s very raw and gritty with a powerful ending, very much in line with the signature Warner Brothers style. The screenplay is fantastic and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it had Michael Curtiz at the helm as director. The only reason I can imagine as to why it isn’t a more well-known movie is that it’s overshadowed by To Have and Have Not. (I’m not trying to speak ill of To Have and Have Not; I’m very fond of both movies.) Keep an eye out for this one, you won’t be disappointed.

Captured! (1933)

Captured 1933

Captain Fred Allison (Leslie Howard) has been stuck in a German P.O.W. camp for two years. Not only is he stuck in terrible conditions, he misses his wife Monica (Margaret Lindsay) dearly and although it’s been a long time since he last got a letter from her, the hope of hearing from her is the big thing that keeps him going every day. He also tries to make life better for himself and his fellow prisoners and even makes a deal with the new commandant Carl Ehrlich (Paul Lukas) to personally be responsible for the behavior of the other prisoners if they are granted more privileges.

One day, Jack Digby (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), Fred’s best friend, is brought to the camp with a group of new prisoners. Fred is thrilled to see his old friend, plus he knows Jack had seen Monica just a few months ago and he’s eager to know how she is. But when Fred talks to him, Jack seems unusually distant and uncomfortable, and eager to escape, even though Fred tries to talk him out of it. What Fred doesn’t realize is that Jack has fallen in love with Monica and feels terribly guilty for it. He doesn’t find out the truth until Jack makes an escape attempt and he sees a letter to Jack in Monica’s handwriting.

The same night Jack tries to escape, another soldier rapes and murders a woman and the German officers think Jack is the guilty party, so they set out to bring him back and execute him. After he’s brought back to the camp, Jack accuses Fred of doing this to him to out of anger about his affair with Monica. Just as Jack is about to face the firing squad, Fred finds a letter of confession from the real murderer and has to decide whether or not to tell the truth.

Captured! is a pretty good little movie that deserves to be a little more widely known. I don’t think I would have heard of it if it hadn’t been on today’s Summer Under the Stars lineup. Like many other pre-codes, it’s only a little over an hour long, but manages to fit a lot in during that time thanks to good pacing and generally effective storytelling. It’s got a great cast with very good performances from Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Leslie Howard, and Paul Lukas. If you’re a fan of either one of them, Captured! is definitely worth your time. Perhaps a little forced and overly dramatic near the end, but still, a pretty enjoyable movie and I’m glad I decided to take a chance on it today.

Monkey Business (1931)

Monkey Business 1931

When Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo are found as stowaways on a ship, they have to avoid being captured by running all over the place and trying to hide as best they can, whether it’s blending in with a puppet show, posing as musicians, or trying to pose as the ship’s barber. When Groucho tries hiding in a stateroom, it turns out the room is occupied by Lucille (Thelma Todd) and her husband gangster Alky Briggs (Harry Woods). Lucille is attracted to him and when Zeppo ends up coming in, he and Groucho end up being hired to be Alky’s bodyguards.

Meanwhile, Zeppo has met Mary Helton (Ruth Hall), daughter of Joe Helton (Rockliffe Fellowes) and rival to Alky. When Chico and Harpo find themselves in Helton’s stateroom while on the run, they end up becoming bodyguards for him. A big confrontation is about to happen between the two gangsters and their feud continues after the boat docks, putting Mary in danger and leaving it up to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo to save her.

Monkey Business is pure anarchy. Although the plots to all Marx Brothers movies are pretty thin and basically only exist to serve as a catalyst to mayhem, Monkey Business seems to be the one where the plot matters the least — but that’s not a bad thing in this case. The main plot of the movie doesn’t really kick in until quite a ways into the movie and the everything leading up to that is just an excuse to have the Marxes running around the ship, wreaking havoc wherever they go. With lesser comedians, this movie would be a complete disaster, but the Marx Brothers were completely on top of their game and that’s what makes Monkey Business a true comedy classic. The physical comedy is absolutely brilliant and the jokes are pure gold. The Maurice Chevalier impersonation scene will never stop being hilarious to me. If you’ve never seen a Marx Brothers movie, Monkey Business is definitely not a bad place to start.

Made in Paris (1966)

Made in Paris 1966

Maggie Scott (Ann-Margret) works at Barclay’s Department Store as an assistant fashion buyer. When the head fashion buyer Irene (Edie Adams) suddenly leaves to get married right before she’s supposed to go to Paris for some fashion shows, Maggie is sent in her place. Maggie isn’t sure she’s up to it, but Irene thinks she can handle it and her boss’s son Ted (Chad Everett) recommends her for it, even though he’s been trying to pursue her romantically and she keeps turning him down.

Maggie has never been to Paris before so Ted asks his friend Herb (Richard Crenna) to take her out and make sure she’s okay. It turns out Herb has designs on her, too. Before Maggie leaves, Irene tries to tell her that fashion designer Marc Fontaine (Louis Jourdan) needs special attention, but she leaves before she can elaborate. Once Maggie arrives in Paris, she’s brought to a lovely apartment to stay in. While she’s sleeping, who should walk in but Marc Fontaine. It doesn’t take long before Maggie finds out Marc and Irene had been seeing each other and he didn’t know she wasn’t coming to Paris.

When Maggie goes to see Marc’s fashion show, they have yet another tense encounter, but they eventually make peace with each other and Maggie begins to fall in love with Marc. Before long, Maggie’s stuck in the middle of a crazy love triangle.

Made in Paris may be total nonsense of a movie, but it’s at least fun nonsense. Well, at least it’s fun if you like Ann-Margret and 1960s fashion. Ann-Margret and the fashion are the two biggest redeeming values Made in Paris has going for it, so if you’re not a fan of either of those, you might want to sit this one out. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination and it’s certainly not one of the best movies for Ann-Margret or Louis Jourdan, but I was pleasantly surprised that I had as much fun with it as I did. Not the kind of movie I’d go out of my way to watch, but I’d watch it again if nothing else was on.

My Forbidden Past (1951)

My Forbidden Past 1951

Barbara Beaurevel (Ava Gardner) is the granddaughter of a rather notorious woman who now lives in New Orleans with her uptight, socially-conscious aunt Eula (Lucile Watson) and cousin Paul (Melvyn Douglas), who is romantically attracted to Barbara. Barbara’s notorious grandmother is something Eula tries her hardest to keep secret. Barbara is in love with Mark Lucas (Robert Mitchum), who is about to take a trip to Africa to do some research, and Mark wants Barbara to join him so they can be married on the boat. She desperately wants to join him, but when Paul realizes what she’s doing, he talks her out of it.

Barbara writes a letter to Mark telling him that she’ll wait for him, but Paul makes sure he doesn’t get it and Eula wants her to marry the wealthy Clay Duchesne (Gordon Olvier) instead, but she waits. But since Mark never gets her letter, he marries a woman named Corinne (Janis Carter) instead. Meanwhile, a lawyer has been coming by Eula’s home, looking for Barbara to tell her about an inheritance. Since being honest would mean admitting to being related to Barbara’s grandmother, Eula tries to send him away. But when Barbara finally meets with him, it turns out she’s due to get a million dollar inheritance.

Thanks to her inheritance, Barbara has the money to make herself the belle of New Orleans society and she starts by throwing a large party and inviting all of the most important people in town, including Mark and Corinne. Corinne is a bit of a social climber so she loves the idea of going to a society party and Mark doesn’t want to go at first, but when Paul insults him, he decides to go out of spite. She’s hoping to convince Mark to divorce Corinne, but when she notices an attraction between Corinne and Paul, she comes up with another scheme to get them apart.

My Forbidden Past was a completely and totally mediocre movie. It’s far from being one of the worst movies ever, but despite the good cast, there’s nothing interesting about it, either. It clearly wasn’t meant to be a prestige picture, although the first-rate cast might make you think otherwise, but there are so many other B-movies that are so much more interesting. The story could have potentially been more interesting, but it just didn’t pan out that way. The movie was too rushed for that. I kinda wish I had picked any other movie from today’s lineup to write about; any of them would have had to have been more interesting than this. Although I do love it’s ridiculously salacious sounding tagline of, “She’s the kind of woman that made New Orleans famous!” It makes it sound so much more scandalous than it really is.

God’s Little Acre (1958)

God's Little Acre 1958Ty Ty Walden (Robert Ryan) owns a cotton farm that once belonged to his grandfather. Or, at least, it used to be a cotton farm. Ty Ty believes his grandfather buried gold on the farm and has spent the last 15 years digging holes all over the property with two of his sons, Buck (Jack Lord) and Shaw (Vic Morrow). They haven’t found any gold, but Ty Ty refuses to stop trying, even though with all his digging, they haven’t been able to grow anything on the farm in years. The one place he hasn’t tried digging yet is an acre of land he calls God’s little acre, a plot of land Ty Ty has promised that anything that grows — or is found there — goes to the church. But he’s pretty willing to change his mind about where exactly God’s little acre ought to be if he suspects the gold might be buried there.

The quest for gold has taken a major toll on the family. The family is completely destitute and many of his family members are fed up with his ridiculous quest for gold. Meanwhile, Buck is upset that his wife Griselda (Tina Louise) is still in love with her former lover Will (Aldo Ray), but Will is married to Buck’s sister Rosamund (Helen Westcott). Will used to work in a cotton mill, but ever since the mill closed down, he refuses to do any other kind of work and spends much of his time getting drunk. The only one who has anything promising happening is Ty Ty’s daughter Darlin’ Jill (Fay Spain), who has just been proposed to by Pluto Swint (Buddy Hackett), who is running for Sheriff, although she wants to wait and see the results of the election before she says yes.

Ty Ty is so desperate to find the gold, he and Uncle Felix (Rex Ingram) kidnap a Dave Dawson (Michael Landon), a local albino, because they’ve heard they have magical powers for divining gold. When Dave leads them to an area close to the house, they get to work digging yet another hole. But when it becomes clear there’s no gold to be found there, Uncle Felix suggests that Ty Ty either asks his other son Jim Leslie (Lance Fuller) for money or give it up and go back to farming so the family can have some money again. Meanwhile, Will, in a drunken stupor, tries to re-open the cotton mill, with tragic results.

I’ve been wanting to see God’s Little Acre for a while now and I was hoping it would be the sort of movie I’d love, but it somehow missed the mark with me. It’s not a bad movie, but I can’t help but feel like something must have been lost in the transition from novel to film here. I’ve never read the novel, but it’s just a hunch I have that the book did the story more justice. There’s a lot of interesting things going on, but somehow, they just didn’t seem to gel right with me. I didn’t hate anything about it, but I didn’t love anything about it, either; it just fell smack in the middle of the road for me. It pretty much just made me want to check out the original book, instead.

Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Our Dancing Daughters 1928

Diana Medford (Joan Crawford) is one of the most popular young women in town. She’s outgoing, flirtatious, and loves to go out dancing until dawn. Her freewheeling image leads many people to believe she’s a real wild girl and a generally bad influence, but although she may flirt with all the young men, she’s very virtuous and old-fashioned at heart. Her friend, Ann (Anita Page) is quite the opposite. She’s a gold digger, raised to be one by her mother, and is more like the person people think Diana is, although she tries to keep that under wraps.

While at a party one night, Diana meets Ben Blaine (Johnny Mack Brown), who comes from a very wealthy family. He admires Diana and the feeling is mutual, but when Ann finds out he has money, she sets her sights on him. As Diana and Ben get closer, he really loves her but mistakenly thinks she’s not interested in him. So when Ann gets him alone and convinces her she’s a good girl who wants marriage and a family, he buys it and they soon get married, much to Diana’s disappointment.

After 10 months of marriage, Ann is already cheating on Ben. Diana is still heartbroken without Ben and on her last night of visiting with friends, they throw a big going away party in her honor. Ben won’t let Ann go, so she tries to sneak out with her lover and gets caught. After getting into a fight with Ben, Ann goes off with her boyfriend to get drunk while Ben goes to the party alone to see Diana. Ben still has feelings for her and Diana would love to be with him, but then Ann shows up, drunk as can be, and causes a scene, showing everyone her true colors.

There isn’t nearly enough love out there for young, flapper-era Joan Crawford. Our Dancing Daughters is the movie that made her a star and it’s easy to see why. She’s the absolute height of the youthful, exuberant flapper image that was so popular at the time. Watching her wild dancing scene early in the movie is truly something wonderful to behold and it doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being such an amazing dance scene. Joan is positively mesmerizing so even though she certainly had many more interesting and complex roles ahead of her, it’s not hard to see how she was such a hit with moviegoers of the time. Plus there’s Anita Page, who is a rather delightful villain. I always love watching her when Ann starts showing her true self at near the end of the movie.

In the grand scheme of things, Our Dancing Daughters isn’t one of the all-time greats or anything, but I love it because I have a soft spot for these types of flapper-oriented movies. In terms of style and fashion though, it’s truly amazing. Because it’s one of those movies that tries to embrace a cultural movement as it’s happening, the fashion and style of set design you see in it is a very heightened version of what was in style at the time. As someone who loves 1920s fashion, I could watch Our Dancing Daughters over and over again just to admire all those spectacular flapper dresses Joan Crawford and Anita Page wear in it. In terms of style, this is absolutely one of my favorite movies.