Dramas

A Woman of Affairs (1928)

A Woman of Affairs Garbo Gilbert

Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo) and Neville Holderness (John Gilbert) have been friends since childhood and ever since they were very young, Diana has been madly in love with Neville. They want to get married, but Neville’s father doesn’t approve and sends him to work in Egypt for a few years, where he will be able to make a lot of money. Diana wants to wait for him, but after a couple of years, she marries David Furness (John Mack Brown), someone Diana’s brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) adores. It isn’t that Diana doesn’t like David, it’s that her heart will always belong to Neville. On their wedding night, David and Diana are visited by the police and David suddenly commits suicide.

Diana knows why he killed himself, but won’t say, and Jeffry believes David did it because of her. David’s death drives a huge wedge between Jeffry and Diana. Jeffry, already a heavy drinker, keeps drinking his way down a path of self-destruction while Diana becomes a woman notorious for having lots of affairs. The years go by and Neville comes home, but he’s engaged to marry Constance (Dorothy Sebastian). Just before their wedding, Diana calls for a doctor friend of theirs, who happens to be having dinner with Neville and Constance that night, to get help for Jeffry. Jeffry is extremely ill and won’t let Diana help. After she leaves, Neville follows her out and they end up spending the night together.

Several months later, after Neville and Constance are married, Neville gets a message saying that Diana is sick and she keeps asking for him. She’s been recovering from a miscarriage and is in a delirious state. When he goes to see her, she doesn’t even recognize him. But when she comes to her senses a little bit, she declares her love for him, not realizing he’s brought Constance with him. Neville’s never stopped loving her, but now that he has a chance to be with his true love, does he leave Constance behind?

A Lady of Affairs is pure melodrama, but it’s really great melodrama. Few actresses were made to work in silent film the way Greta Garbo was. The simple movement of her eyebrows spoke volumes and she is positively radiant in this movie. She gives a fantastic performance and although I wouldn’t say this is the best pairing of Garbo and John Gilbert (it’s awfully hard to top the cinematic explosion that is Flesh and the Devil), but Gilbert is very good in it, too, and it’s easy to see why they were such a hit with movie audiences. Great stars, beautiful cinematography, an interesting story (a bit scandalous for its time, but still toned down from the book it was based on), it all adds up to one entertaining movie.

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.

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.

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.

In This Our Life (1942)

In This Our Life 1942

Sisters Stanley (Bette Davis) and Roy Timberlake (Olivia de Havilland) both come from a prominent family, but lead very different lives. Roy is the more humble and sensible sister and is married to Peter (Dennis Morgan) while Stanley is very selfish and is much more wild than Roy. Stanley isn’t a particularly likable person, but her uncle William (Charles Coburn) adores her and loves giving her expensive gifts and foots the bill for her reckless lifestyle. Stanley is engaged to Craig (George Brent), a lawyer, but the night before they are to be married, Roy runs off with Peter, marries him, and they leave for Baltimore.

Roy isn’t one to wallow in self-pity so she gladly divorces Peter and channels her energies into her work. One day, she runs into Craig and the two of them hit it off and start seeing each other. Craig is a very good man; an honest lawyer and even gives a job to Parry Clay (Ernest Anderson), the son of the Timberlake family’s maid Minerva (Hattie McDaniel), so he can put himself through law school. Meanwhile, Roy and Peter’s marriage is a complete disaster. Roy is still incredibly selfish and Peter doesn’t approve of her spending habits; they’re both completely miserable. Eventually, it drives Peter to kill himself, just as Roy and Craig decide to get married.

Stanley comes back home and it isn’t long before she’s bored and wants to leave. However, she needs money to leave and she can’t get it from her father or her uncle, so she tries talking to Craig to see about getting money from Paul’s insurance policy early. She invites him to come join her for dinner one night and when he stands her up, she gets raging drunk and tries to drive home. Along the way, she hits a child, who dies. Stanley’s car is pretty recognizable to people around town so it isn’t long before the police come to see her. Desperate to avoid accepting responsibility, Stanley tries to pin it all on Parry, but she doesn’t realize how protective Roy is of Troy.

In This Our Life is a really overlooked movie. With lesser stars and a lesser director, it easily could have become a completely forgotten film. But Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland are both so perfect for their roles in it, plus the supporting cast is fantastic, as is John Huston’s direction. Together, they all took what easily could have been a mid-rate melodrama and made it something memorable. Stanley is exactly the type of character Bette Davis reveled in playing and Olivia de Havilland made the perfect calm, yet strong, contrast to Davis. If you’re a fan of Davis or de Havilland, there’s a lot to love about this movie. In This Our Life is also very noteworthy for having a rather progressive representation of African-American characters, which is indeed refreshing to see in a 1940s-era film. Definitely keep an eye out for this on the TCM lineup; it’s well worth a watch.

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.

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.

Men In White (1934)

Men In White Poster 1934 (1)If you ever find yourself in the hospital, Dr. George Ferguson (Clark Gable) is the kind of doctor you’d want to have looking after you. He very deeply cares about all of his patients and will do anything to help them. But since George is just an intern, he has to deal with long hours at the hospital and sometimes isn’t even able to take his previously scheduled nights off, much to the frustration of his fiancée, Laura (Myrna Loy). Even though George loves working in the hospital, Laura insists that he specialize and open his own practice once they’re married so he can keep better hours.

But working in medicine isn’t easy and can take an emotional toll even on a dedicated doctor like George. Just after saving one young patient’s life, George finds out another one of his young patients has died. Barbara (Elizabeth Allan), a nurse George works with at the hospital, is also struggling with the emotional toll of working in medical care. When she comes to borrow some notes from George, they end up starting an affair.

Some time later, Laura is still struggling to accept George’s career choice. To try to help her understand, George’s mentor Dr. Hochberg (Jean Hersholt) invites Laura to observe one of George’s operations. As fate would have it, she observes George operating on Barbara who, although not explicitly stated, is suffering from a botched illegal abortion. In her delirium, she tells George she loves him, while Laura happens to be standing right there. After the operation, Laura refuses to talk to him and George is consumed with guilt over Barbara. Although he loves Laura, he wants to marry Barbara when she’s well enough and take care of her. That is, until fate steps in and makes his decisions for him.

Men in White isn’t a movie I hear talked about very often outside of the realm of pre-code cinema, but it is a pretty effectively produced movie. Not one of the all-time greats or even an overlooked highlight in the careers of either Gable or Loy, but it’s an intriguing, well-written story. The hospital sets are pretty impressive and, best of all, Gable and Loy are both very good in their respective roles, so if you’re a fan of either one of them, Men in White is worth your time.