NaBloPoMo 2011

Private Lives (1931)

The phrase “happily divorced” is one that easily applies to Amanda (Norma Shearer) and Elyot (Robert Montgomery).  Their marriage was extremely volatile, but now that they’re divorced (and thrilled to be rid of each other), they’ve both moved on and remarried; Amanda to Victor (Reginald Denny) and Elyot to Sibyl (Una Merkel).  After each of their weddings, they each head off to their honeymoons.  Imagine their surprise (and horror) when Amanda and Elyot find out they’re both honeymooning in the same city, in the same hotel, in rooms right next to each other.

They each beg their respective new spouses to leave immediately, but they both end up getting into arguments that end with Sybil and Victor storming out of their rooms.  Left alone, Amanda and Elyot step out onto the terrace outside of their rooms and start having a conversation.  They start looking back on their relationship and suddenly remember what it is that made them fall in love in the first place.  They kiss and impulsively decide to run away from their honeymoons and go to St. Moritz together.  The only thing standing in their way of happiness is their tendency to constantly get into fights, but they even think of a way to stop those.

At first, all is going well between Amanda and Elyot, but soon their arguments start popping up more and more often.  Eventually, their plan to stop arguments quits working and they get into a knock down, drag out fight that involves Amanda breaking a record over Elyot’s head and completely trashing their rented chalet.  The next day, they find that their new spouses have teamed up to track them down.  Sybil and Elyot decide that they aren’t going to divorce and Amanda and Victor do the same.  The two couples sit down to have breakfast together, but when Sybil and Victor get into an argument, Amanda and Elyot get such a kick out of seeing what they must look like, they once again decide to run off together.

Private Lives has some of my favorite acting by Norma Shearer.  There are some scenes where she says so much with just the glance of her eyes or the tone of her voice.  Definitely watch for her expression when she first realizes that Elyot is in the room next door and listen to the way she uses her voice when she and Elyot are reminiscing about their relationship, it’s great stuff.  The movie itself is fully of smart, witty lines that lent themselves perfectly to being delivered by Norma and Robert Montgomery.  The two of them had such a wonderful rapport with each other, it was a real delight to watch the two of them go to town with this material.

Employees’ Entrance (1933)

Employees' Entrance 1933 Warren William Loretta YoungFor Kurt Anderson (Warren William), Franklin Monroe department store is his life.  He’s the manager and doesn’t think twice about dismissing anyone he thinks isn’t helping the store reach its full potential, no matter how damaging it is to the other person.  When an up-and-coming clothing company can’t deliver a shipment on time, Kurt cancels the order and sues them for damages, knowing it would completely wipe out the company.  When he decides a long-time employee is no longer useful, he fires him and the employee ends up throwing himself out of a window.  None of these things faze Kurt at all, he figures they aren’t his problem.

Before leaving one night after closing, Kurt finds a young woman named Madeline (Loretta Young) trying to spend the night in the furniture section.  She desperately wants a job in the store and although she has a place to stay, the store’s furniture displays are much nicer.  Kurt takes her out for dinner and promises to give her a job.  But don’t think that Kurt has a soft side, he later takes advantage of her.  She gets a job as a model in the womens’ department and meets and falls in love with Martin West (Wallace Ford), who also works in the store, but works under Kurt.   Martin suddenly finds himself on the rise in company after he makes some good suggestions about how to increase sales and Kurt makes him his assistant.  By now, he and Madeline want to get married, but his new job is very demanding and Kurt warns him right off that this is not a job suitable for married men.  Despite Kurt’s warning, Martin and Madeline get married anyway but keep it  a secret from Kurt.

Sure enough, it turns out that Kurt was right.  Martin is always working late and it puts a strain on his relationship with Madeline.  The two of them end up having a huge fight one night at a company party and Martin gets so drunk that he passes out and spends the night in the store.  As for Madeline, she runs into Kurt and the two of them end up spending the night together.  Unaware that she’s married, he asks her out again the next day, so she finally admits that she’s married to Martin.  Wanting to break them up, he tries bribing fellow salesgirl Polly Dale (Alice White) to seduce Martin away from Madeline, but she refuses.  Later, he makes sure that Martin finds out that Madeline has slept with him.  Devastated, Madeline tries to kill herself and Martin goes to see Kurt, ready to kill him.  See, Kurt has gotten into some trouble with the board of directors and with his job now on the line, Kurt welcomes the idea of being shot and even gives Martin the gun.  Martin does shoot him, but doesn’t seriously hurt him.  With Kurt on the mend and once his job has been secured again, Martin and Madeline decide it’s for the best for them to find jobs elsewhere.

Employees’ Entrance is pretty fascinating stuff.  It’s not so much that the story is super compelling, but watching Kurt is kind of like watching a trainwreck.  I don’t mean that Warren William did a lousy job, actually he was excellent in it, I mean that Kurt was such an incredible jerk that I couldn’t stop watching because I just had to see what horrible thing he was going to do next.  And the most interesting thing about Employees’ Entrance is that it doesn’t try to redeem Kurt in any way, shape, or form.  He doesn’t have any big revelations about how awful he was, he doesn’t try to better himself.  No, instead he just keeps on being the same old heel he always was with zero redeeming qualities.  It’s not often that you see a character so very unapologetically heartless as Kurt Anderson.

Beast of the City (1932)

Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston) seems to be living the all-American dream life.  He’s got a wife, children, a nice home, a good job as a police officer, and a close relationship with his brother and fellow cop Ed (Wallace Ford).  Jim takes his job very seriously, especially when it comes to putting an end to organized crime.  When the bodies of some gangsters are found, Jim immediately suspects that notorious gangster Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt) is the one responsible.  Sam gets off the hook easily that time, but Jim is determined to come down on him hard.

Jim’s dedication eventually ends up working against him, though, and it gets him transferred to a smaller, quieter district.  Ed, however, continues to keep tabs on Belmonte and one night goes to question Daisy Stevens (Jean Harlow), Belmonte’s stenographer.  She tells Ed that she’s through with Belmonte and the two of them spend the evening getting drunk together and begin having an affair.  Meanwhile, Jim proves to be such a success at his new precinct when he stops a bank robber that he is made chief of police.  Back at his old precinct, Jim’s top priority is breaking up organized crime and starts shutting down speakeasies left and right.  However, he is also determined to not give any officers any unfair advantages.  When Ed asks for a promotion so he could have more money to take Daisy out with, Jim turns him down.  Later that night, he goes out with Daisy and they end up running into Belmonte.  Belmonte gives Ed the chance to earn some extra money by fixing it so he can get his illegal goods into town without getting caught.

The next day, Jim tells Ed that he will be in charge of escorting a large transport of cash.  When Ed tells Daisy about this, she tells one of Belmotne’s associates and they plan to steal the truck.  Daisy tells Ed about the plan and convinces him to go along with it.  The big heist goes down, but unbeknownst to Ed, the truck has been followed by two other officers who chase the thieves down.  When questioned at the station, one of the thieves admits that Ed was in on it, too.  The case goes to trial, and shockingly, all who were involved are found not guilty.  Ed desperately wants to rebuild his relationship with Jim and sever all ties with Belmonte.  Knowing that Belmonte and his gang are all out celebrating their court victory, Ed agrees to go confront Belmonte with Jim and several police officers backing them up.  Of course, Belmonte isn’t willing to go down without a fight and insists on going out in a hail of gunfire.

Beast of the City is a great crime movie.  Super gritty and raw with excellent performances all around (be sure to keep an eye out for a very young Mickey Rooney in a small part as one of Jim’s children).  It’s kind of like The Public Enemy, but from the cops’ perspective.  With so much grit and violence, y0u might think this was a Warner Brothers film, but surprisingly, it was produced by MGM.  That big shoot-out scene at the end of the film was definitely not something you would typically expect of a 1930s MGM film.  Especially since Irving Thalberg didn’t work on it and he was the one who pushed through a lot of MGM’s edgier films during that era.  This movie actually came about when Louis B. Mayer wanted to do a movie that created a positive image of police officers, but then it ended up being so violent that he refused to let it be the top feature in double features, it could only be the second film.  But Beast of the City is definitely top-feature quality.

I picked this one to write about for The Scarlett Olive’s For The Boys blogathon because it’s the complete antithesis of the 1930s MGM women’s picture.  When MGM wanted to appeal to women, they put Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, or Greta Garbo in the lead.  They’d have Adrian come up with some fabulous gowns and have some handsome leading man for them to wind up with.  The last way those movies would end is with a violent bloodbath.  Beast of the City doesn’t really have any female characters for women moviegoers to identify with.  Jean Harlow’s character isn’t exactly the kind of person women would be rooting for.  It doesn’t have a love story, it’s ultimately about the relationship between two brothers.  These aren’t even the kind of men that women would sit in the audience and swoon over.  Although I think women could easily enjoy it, I certainly did, it’s pretty clear that they weren’t expecting women to be lining up for it in 1932.

Be sure to visit The Scarlett Olive for more on movies that mainly appeal to men, be sure to pay them a visit for more contributions.

Female (1933)

Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) is a woman with no interest at all in conforming to stereotypical expectations of women.  Rather than being a secretary or a shopgirl, she is perfectly happy running her father’s car company.  She runs a tight ship, but it doesn’t leave her much time for romance.  So rather than having long-term relationships, she prefers to seduce some of her male coworkers every now and then without getting too attached.

When she gets a visit from Harriet (Lois Wilson), an old school friend who is now married with children, Harriet finds Alison is a different woman than she remembered.  The Alison she went to school with was hopeful and romantic, nothing like the hardened, cynical woman she now is.  Harriet doesn’t try to change Alison and after she leaves, Alison continues on with her life as usual.  But eventually, Alison finds herself getting frustrated with her life.  When she throws a big business party at her house one night, she realizes that not a single person there likes her for who she is, they’re all only interested in the fact that she’s the president of her company.

Alison sneaks away from her party and finds herself at a shooting gallery, where she meets Jim Thorne (George Brent).  She comes on to him in her usual fashion, but he turns her down.  The next day at the office, Alison is waiting to meet an acclaimed engineer who has just been hired.  She’s surprised to find that the new engineer is none other than Jim, but not more surprised than Jim is when he finds out Alison is his new boss.  Alison may have had a lot of men in her life, but Jim is the only one to make her feel differently about everything.  She tries every trick in the book to seduce Jim, but he’s not falling for it.  At last she succeeds when she invites him to an employee’s picnic and he was the only employee invited.  That evening, Jim impulsively proposes to Alison, but Alison is so thrown off guard that she turns him down.  Jim quits his job and goes to New York, leaving Alison to realize that she loves Jim so much that she’s willing to put her business on the line.

Female is definitely one of my favorite pre-codes and it’s another essential pre-code movie.  Even though I’ve always found the ending slightly disappointing, Ruth Chatterton truly shines in it, the art deco sets are stunning, and the script is very sharp.  I love how in the beginning of the movie we see the exterior of the car factory, then some of the secretaries talking to each other about how the president is busy giving someone what for.   And then it cuts to the inside of the conference room where we see the back of a man talking, and the audience expects him to be the boss, but then the camera moves around him and we see Ruth Chatterton and that she’s the boss.  It’s such a great reveal.  And be sure to look for all the references to other Warner Brothers movies from that era like Picture Snatcher, Footlight Parade, and 42nd Street.

Arsène Lupin (1932)

Detective Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) is hard at work tracking down the burglar Arsène Lupin, who has been stealing his way across Paris.  When a robbery is reported at the home of Gaston Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall), the police immediately suspect that Arsène Lupin has struck again and hurry over to Gourney-Martin’s.  When they see a car speeding away from his house, they stop the car and find the Duke of Chamerace (John Barrymore) tied up in the back seat, claiming that he had been robbed.  Guerchard doesn’t buy his story for a minute and suspects that the Duke is really Arsène Lupin, but when Gourney-Martin arrives, he verifies that the Duke of Chamerace is indeed the Duke of Chamerace.

The next day, Guerchard realizes that not only did he not capture Arsène Lupin, he didn’t even get any good evidence to help the case.  And to top it off, his boss is putting pressure on him to capture Arsène Lupin within a week.  When Guerchard gets a note from Arsène Lupin himself saying that he will be at a party thrown by the Duke of Chamerace, Guerchard decides to crash the party.  During the party, the Duke steps into his bedroom where he finds the beautiful Sonia (Karen Morley) sitting in his bed, waiting for her dress to be fixed.  The two begin to flirt, but neither one is who they say they are.  The Duke really is Arsène Lupin and Sonia is actually a prisoner working for Guerchard to help nab Arsène.  While Guerchard is hard at work snooping around, trying to get dirt on the Duke, several of his guests are robbed when a birthday cake is brought out and the lights are turned off.

After the party, the Duke and Sonia take a trip out to the country with Gourney-Martin. Since Gourney-Martin stores his most valuable things at his country home, the Duke thinks this will be the best place to rob him.  But it turns out there is one thing that can stop the unstoppable Arsène Lupin — an electrified safe.  Not willing to give up that easily, Gourney-Martin gets a letter from Arsène Lupin threatening to steal everything he has.  Guerchard is called in, and even on his watch, Gourney-Martin is robbed blind.  Guerchard does manage to nab several of Arsène Lupin’s partners in crime, but he doesn’t quite nab Arsène.  The Duke and Sonia run off and begin plotting to steal the Mona Lisa.  Through a series of tricky diversions, they do succeed, but not for long.  Guerchard does catch up with them, but the Duke sees to it that Sonia is able to go free.  However, Guerchard may have won the battle for Arsène Lupin, but he doesn’t win the war.  The Duke makes a break for it and escapes to start a new, more honest life with Sonia.

Arsène Lupin is a great movie, very slick, sophisticated, and witty.  Not to mention very risqué, just watch the scene where the Duke meets Sonia.  And how can you go wrong with both John and Lionel Barrymore?  I especially loved John Barrymore as the Duke/Arsène Lupin.  He was so suave and smooth, it’s easy to see how his character got away with the things he did.  This is another one that you’d probably enjoy if you liked The Thin Man.

I’m No Angel (1933)

Tira (Mae West) is a circus sideshow burlesque performer, but Tira loves the finer things in life and you can’t buy diamonds and furs on a sideshow performer’s salary.  But if she can’t buy them herself, she has no issues with doing the next best thing: hopping from one rich man to another and letting them buy things for her.  In fact, she can spot a rich man from the stage while she’s performing.  Tira knows she isn’t exclusive, but Slick Wiley (Ralf Harolde) seems to be under the impression that he’s Tira’s one and only boyfriend.  One night, Tira has a date with yet another rich man and all is going well until Slick shows up.  Slick hits Tira’s date over the head with a bottle, knocking him unconscious.

Slick and Tira both think he’s dead and try to get rid of the body.  He lives, but the police catch up to Slick and he is arrested.  Even though Tira did nothing wrong, she needs to get a lawyer to see that she also doesn’t wind up behind bars, too.  She doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer and the only way the boss will give her the money is to become the lion tamer in a new act and stick her head inside a lion’s mouth.  Naturally, Tira is a bit hesitant about this, but she does it anyway and the new act is a huge success.  She becomes a big star and wins over a whole new audience of wealthy men.

Among her new admirers is Kirk Lawrence.  He’s already engaged to Alicia Hatton, but just can’t resist lavishing expensive gifts upon Tira.  Eventually, Alicia comes to Tira personally to ask her to stop seeing Kirk and Tira refuses.  So then Alicia steps it up and gets Kirk’s friend Jack Clayton (Cary Grant) to talk to her and see what he can do.  Tira may not have been willing to listen to Alicia, but she’s always more receptive to a handsome man.  She gladly pushes Kirk aside in favor of Jack and even begins to do the unthinkable — think about marriage.  Just when she’s ready to walk down the aisle, her old pal Slick gets out of jail and tries to come back into her life.  He even tells Jack that he’s been seeing Tira and of course, Jack believes the worst and breaks off the engagement.  But Tira isn’t about to take this sitting down, sues him for breach of contract, and defends herself in court.  But when Slick is called to the witness stand, Tira not only manages to win her case but also wins Jack back.

Mae West movies are all about one thing and one thing only — Mae West.  So if you like Mae, then you’re bound to love I’m No Angel.  She purrs and quips and shimmies her way through the whole movie in her signature style.  Luckily for me, I do like Mae so I really got a kick out of this one.  If you’ve never seen a Mae West movie before, this is a good one to start with because this is truly her in all her glory.  But if Mae’s style isn’t your cup of tea, then you might as well sit this one out because there’s not really anything else to watch it for.  Even fans of Cary Grant might be a little disappointed since he doesn’t really have a big part, he doesn’t even come in until late in the film.  But when he does show up?  Their chemistry is awesome.

My Week With Marilyn (2011)

Anyone will tell you that the hardest part of the movie industry is getting your foot in the door.  Things are no different for 23 year old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne).  He desperately wants to work in the film industry and eagerly waits around the offices of Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) production company, ready to take any job at all that comes along.  Eventually, he ends up getting a job as the third assistant director on Olivier’s new film, The Prince and the Showgirl.  The production of The Prince and the Showgirl was anything but smooth sailing, with Olivier and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) constantly at odds with each other.  When Marilyn’s new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) leaves England to visit his children in America, Marilyn becomes desperately lonely but begins to find a true friend in Colin.  The two of them become very close, and although their friendship is brief, it leaves a lasting impression on Colin.

Although the movie was good, I don’t expect it to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination come award season.  Maybe at the Golden Globes, but not at the Oscars.  However, I do see it doing well in the acting categories.  Michelle Williams totally nailed it as Marilyn.  When I first heard about her being cast in this film, even though she isn’t a dead ringer for Marilyn, I was happy since I knew she would give a very thoughtful performance and I was not disappointed.  She really did her homework and it paid off big time.  Michelle has talked a great deal lately about how she got into character and I’ve been enjoying hearing what she had to say about that process.  Not only did she read biographies and watch her films, but she also studied the things that Marilyn studied as well.  She read the same books on body language and how to present yourself that Marilyn studied and used to shape her image.  Michelle has also discussed how it was a challenge for her to find Marilyn’s natural voice.  You can listen to plenty of recordings of Marilyn’s voice, but just because she spoke that way in films doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the same way she would speak to a friend while having lunch.  And there aren’t any recordings of Marilyn just having a casual conversation with a friend, so Michelle had to imagine what that voice sounded like and I think she did a good job of figuring that out.

The rest of the cast is also very strong, particularly Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike.  Between Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, it’s easy to forget that they’re not playing the main roles, Eddie Redmayne is.  He was good, too, but is totally eclipsed by Branagh and Williams.  The only casting choice I didn’t care for was Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh.  Julia looked older than Vivien Leigh did at that time.  When it comes to portraying real people in films, I think you can get away with not casting a dead ringer if they compensate by giving an amazing performance.  But if it’s a small part, then you’re better off going for a lookalike since there isn’t much time to make up for it performance-wise.  Since the part of Vivien Leigh isn’t terribly big, I think they could have tried a little harder with that casting.

The important thing to remember about My Week With Marilyn is that it is not a Marilyn Monroe biopic.  If you go into this expecting that, you will be disappointed.  However, if you saw 2008’s Me and Orson Welles and liked that, you’ll probably enjoy My Week With Marilyn as well.

Disclosure:  I saw this at a free advance screening, the passes were given away by a local television station.

Love is a Racket (1932)

It’s never a good idea to give too much of yourself in a relationship, and that’s a lesson newspaper columnist Jimmy Russell (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is about to find out the hard way.  He’s in love with aspiring actress Mary Wodehouse (Frances Dee), and since he writes the Broadway gossip column, he uses that to help influence her career.  His friend Sally (Ann Dvorak) has been in love with him, but he’s too blind to see that Mary will take him for everything she can get.  Even though Mary has also been seeing a Broadway producer, when Mary writes a bunch of bad checks, of course Jimmy wants to jump in and pay them off for her.  But it turns out someone has beaten him to the punch.  Gangster Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot) isn’t too happy with Jimmy or his newspaper since he found out they were planning to break a story about a racket he’s involved in.  Even though Jimmy agreed to kill the story, Eddie went ahead and bought up all of Mary’s bad checks.  Eddie tells Jimmy that he’s headed off to Atlantic City for a few days and Jimmy follows them, but when Jimmy arrives, he finds out it’s a trap and is held captive by one of Eddie’s cronies.

Meanwhile, in New York, Eddie takes this opportunity to start winning Mary over.  He sends her a bracelet and a telegram telling her to come over to his place.  Mary is scared and with Jimmy out of town, doesn’t know what to do.  Finally, her Aunt Hattie decides she can’t sit idly by and watch Mary fall in with a guy like Eddie, so she decides to settle the score herself.  By now, Jimmy has gotten away from Eddie’s cronies and makes it back to Eddie’s apartment just in time to see Jimmy dead and Hattie ditching the evidence.  Still wanting to protect Mary, he destroys all the evidence and makes it look like Eddie killed himself.  But in yet another crazy twist of fate, Jimmy’s friend Stanley (Lee Tracy) also comes by just in time to see Jimmy shove Eddie’s body off the building and assumes that Jimmy was the one who killed him.

Everyone believes that Eddie committed suicide, but Stanley doesn’t know the real story.  To protect his friend, he took some incriminating evidence from the scene of the crime and hands them over to Jimmy.  He has no intention of ratting his friend out, he just doesn’t want them falling into the wrong hands.  Later, they head back to Jimmy’s apartment and get a telegram from Mary announcing her sudden marriage to that Broadway producer.  Finally, Jimmy realizes what a sap he’s been.  He sends Aunt Hattie a little wedding present — the gun she used to kill Eddie — and declares that he will never fall in love again.  But the way he looks at Sally lets us know that won’t last long.

I think Love is a Racket is something of an underrated pre-code.  The story is pretty convoluted, but its sharp script and strong cast make it pretty enjoyable.  Doug Fairbanks, Jr., Frances Dee, Lyle Talbot, and Lee Tracy are all great, although it’s too bad that there wasn’t more to Ann Dvorak’s character.  She gets some witty lines to say, but other than that, there’s just not a whole lot of substance to her part.  Give this one a shot next time it’s on TCM.  With a runtime of just over an hour, what have you got to lose?

Trouble In Paradise (1932)

If you want to steal from wealthy people, you have to get close to wealthy people.  And what’s the best way to get close to wealthy people?  Pretend to be a fellow wealthy person!  That’s just what Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) does when he goes to Venice.  While pretending to be a Baron, he steals from plenty of prominent guests, including a countess named Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Only Lily isn’t really a countess, she’s also a thief so she recognizes what Gaston is really there for.  He had her pegged, too, after she swiped his wallet.  The two of them are so impressed with each other’s thieving skills that they fall madly in love with each other on the spot.

Lily and Gaston are quite the crooks and they steal their way across Europe.  While in Paris, they steal a diamond-studded handbag belonging to Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the owner of a very famous perfume company.  But when Mariette puts out an ad offering a 20,000 Franc reward for the bag’s return, they realize they’d make more by turning it in than by selling it and Gaston goes to turn it in.  But when Gaston gets there and realizes that Mariette is awfully careless with her money, he convinces her to hire him as her secretary, planning to embezzle money from her company.  The plan works and Lily even gets hired on as Gaston’s assistant.  The only thing that doesn’t go according to plan is that Gaston and Mariette fall in love with each other.

Eventually, Mariette starts bringing Gaston along with her to social gatherings, but some of Mariette’s wealthy friends recognize Gaston.  Plus people in the company are starting to suspect that Gaston has been stealing money for them.  Even though her friends warn her about him, Mariette doesn’t want to give up on Gaston.  Meanwhile, Gaston and Lily are planning to skip town, but Gaston is torn between staying with Mariette or leaving with Lily.  The last thing they had planned to steal was 100,000 Francs from her safe, but before they leave, Gaston decides to come clean to Mariette about who he is and what he was really there to do.  Lily interrupts his confession to announce that she is the one who has stolen the 100,000 Francs and that Mariette is welcome to have Gaston for that price and leaves Gaston to decide who he wants to be with.

I positively adore Trouble in Paradise.  It’s sharp, witty, got plenty of lavish sets, and a top-notch cast.  There’s no going wrong with Miriam Hopkins in an Ernst Lubitsch comedy, but when you add in Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall, plus Charlie Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton in some supporting roles, you’ve got cinematic gold.  I just love everything about it.  Trouble in Paradise is total pre-code and pure Ernst Lubitsch.

Fashions of 1934

What do you do when the investment firm you own goes under?  Why, naturally you decide to get into the fashion game!  Well, at least that’s what Sherwood Nash (William Powell) does.  When he meets aspiring fashion designer Lynn Mason (Bette Davis), Sherwood, Lynn, and Sherwood’s partner Snap (Frank McHugh) decide to start making copies of designs by famous designers and selling them to discount shops for a fraction of the cost.  When the owners of shops that sell the real deals find out about this, they want to put a stop to it, but Nash smooth talks them into selling his knock-offs, too.  Not only that, he gets them to send them to Paris to better copy the designs.

To get in to see the designs, Lynn pretends to be interested in buying something while Snap stealthily takes pictures.  But when their film gets confiscated, they have to come up with another plan.  By pure chance, they find out that the famous designer Oscar Baroque (Reginald Owen) turns to old costume design books for inspiration.  So they get some costume design books and let Lynn design some pieces based on what she finds in the books, then forge famous designers’ signatures to them.  The stores back in New York buy the designs up like hotcakes, but Sherwood can’t resist an opportunity to make money.  When he meets a man with an abundance of ostrich feathers, he gets an idea.  He buys up the feathers and goes to see Baroque’s fiancée Grand Duchess Alix (Verree Teasdale).  He knows Alix is no Grand Duchess, she’s really just Mabel from Hoboken.

Since Alix doesn’t want Sherwood to tell Baroque who she really is, he blackmails her into convincing Baroque to design a musical show full of ostrich feathered clothes that Alix could star in.  He agrees and the show is a big success, so then he decides to open his own boutique.  But Lynn is getting fed up with Sherwood’s schemes.  Also, she’s fallen in love with him and is jealous of all the attention he’s giving Alix.  Even though her designs are once again hugely popular at the boutique, the idea of running off with Jimmy the piano player sounds pretty appealing to Lynn.  But by now, Baroque has found out about the forged designs and calls the police on Sherwood.  Sherwood gets arrested, but he has one more trick up his sleeve to get out of jail, get Baroque to buy the boutique from him, and get Lynn.

If I had a rating system, I’d give Fashions of 1934 2.5 out of 4 stars.  William Powell is pretty good in it, but poor Bette Davis is woefully out of place.  It’s pretty well-known that Warner Brothers really didn’t know what to do with Bette Davis when she first started working for them.  She wasn’t a glamour girl, but Warner’s insisted on trying to make her into one and this was their biggest attempt to shoehorn into that type.  She had blonde hair and was decked out in all sorts of fancy Orry-Kelly gowns, it was so not her style.  At least in movies like 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, even though they tried to make her somewhat glamorous, her part still had some grit to it.  There’s nothing gritty or raw about Fashions of 1934.  It’s a fun and entertaining little movie, but think of it as a William Powell movie more than anything else.  Bette isn’t outstanding here and although Busby Berkeley was involved, there’s only one musical number.  But at least he made the most of his one number, Spin a Little Web of Dreams is a really beautiful scene.  And if you’re interested in costume design, there’s a lot to appreciate here.