Alice Faye

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.

Alice Faye Tyrone Power Alexander's Ragtime Band

Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938)

Roger Grant (Tyrone Power) is a young musician with a lot of potential ahead of him. His aunt and professor both expect him to go on to become a fine musician, but secretly, the style of music Roger loves playing the most is not the most respectable of styles at the time. After playing a recital for a bunch of high society types, he and a bunch of fellow musicians head over to audition at a seedy saloon. The same night, Stella Kirby (Alice Faye) also comes to the saloon looking for work as a singer. As the band is getting ready to audition, they realize their sheet music has disappeared, so they end up auditioning with the same song Stella had brought to sing — “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” As the band plays, Stella seizes the opportunity and starts singing with the band and the audition is a big success and the bartender gives Roger the nickname of Alexander.

Stella isn’t fond of Roger and Roger isn’t fond of Stella, but their bandmate Charlie (Don Ameche) talks them into sticking together. The band starts performing under the name Alexander’s Ragtime Band and it isn’t long before they start becoming more and more popular. But behind the scenes, Charlie is falling in love with Stella while Stella and Roger have fallen in love with each other without even realizing it. Once they do realize how they feel about each other, Charlie steps aside and Roger and Stella continue seeing each other as their band grows in status.

Their happiness comes crashing down when Stella catches the eye of a prominent talent agent who wants to turn her into a star — but only her. Roger kicks her out of the band and Charlie leaves with her. While Roger goes into the military during World War I, Stella becomes a big star in her own right and marries Charlie. Roger is heartbroken when he hears the news, but tries to move on with Jerry (Ethel Merman), the new singer for his band. Jerry realizes he doesn’t love her and Charlie realizes Stella will always love Roger, but with years of bitterness between them, do Roger and Stella still have a chance?

Now, this is a movie with a whole lot of star power! Not only do you have Tyrone Power and Alice Faye, both on top of their games, there’s Don Ameche, Ethel Merman, Jack Haley, Jean Hersholt, and of course, a whole lot of Irving Berlin songs. The love triangle between Roger, Charlie, and Stella was pretty formulaic, but like I said yesterday when I wrote about The Bride Wore Red, a movie can be formulaic and still be worth watching if it’s produced effectively enough. The same holds true for Alexander’s Ragtime Band. It may not be anything mind blowing, but with a cast like that and all those Irving Berlin songs, it’s still good fun. This would be a kind of movie that I put on in the background while I’m busy doing other things because the music makes it nice just to listen to.

Fallen Angel (1945)

Drifter Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) had been hoping to get to San Francisco by bus, but when he gets thrown off the bus for not being able to cover the fare, he finds himself in small town Walton, California instead.  He stops into Pop’s Eats and overhears Pop talking to police about Stella (Linda Darnell), one of his waitresses, being missing.  Detective Mark Judd (Charles Bickford) isn’t too concerned and tells Pop that she’ll probably turn up sooner or later.  Luckily, he’s right, and Stella walks in while Eric is still there.  As soon as he sets eyes on her, he joins Stella’s big group of admirers, but she doesn’t fall for his charms so easily.  After leaving the diner, Eric needs a place to stay for the night.  When he sees that a psychic act is in town, he goes to the hotel and pretends to be a friend of the psychic’s to get into their room for the night.

Eric makes friends with the psychic’s assistant and the next day, he finds out that ticket sales for the psychic’s show have been slow due to Clara Mills (Anne Revere), the daughter of a former mayor, claiming the psychic is a fraud.  Eric decides to help him out and goes to see Clara to convince her to stop interfering with their show.  Clara doesn’t buy his smooth talk, but her sister June (Alice Faye) does and convinces Clara that they should give them a chance and go see their show.  Once word gets out that Clara and June are going to the show, Eric has no problem selling tickets.  But of course the act is a fraud and thanks to a little pre-show research, the psychic finds out that Clara and June had been conned out of much of their father’s inheritance, which gets mentioned in the show.  After the show, Eric continues to pursue Stella.  Stella makes it very clear that she’s looking to get married and settle down and Eric would need more money before he would able to do that.

Even though Eric had been offered a job with the psychic, he decides to stay in Walton because he’s got a plan to get the money he needs fast.  Although Clara and June had been swindled out of a lot of their money, they still have about $25,000 left.  So he starts seeing June and June quickly falls head over heels for him.  After a few dates, Eric brings June and Clara to San Francisco.  He tells them that they would be going to a concert, but really, he plans to marry June to get to her money.  Clara is skeptical, but June is thrilled to be married.  When they get back home that night, Eric sneaks out to tell Stella what he’s doing.  He explains that he will divorce her ASAP, but she is furious and goes out on a date with another man instead.

When he wakes up the next morning, he’s shocked to hear that Stella had been murdered.  Clara had followed Eric to his meeting and could have easily framed him for the murder, but instead she tries to cover for him when Detective Judd questions his whereabouts the previous night.  With Clara’s alibi, the prime suspect becomes another one of Stella’s boyfriends.  But then it turns out the other boyfriend has an air-tight alibi and the focus turns back to Eric.  Eric is afraid of being framed and he and June sneak off to San Francisco together.  Even an ordeal like this isn’t enough to shake June’s love of Eric and as the two of them hole up in a hotel room, they get to know each other better and Eric begins to really love June back.  When they leave the hotel so that June can get the $25,000 out of her safe deposit box, she is arrested and brought back to Walton.  But now Eric is more determined than ever to prove who the real killer is and, with a bit of research, is able to prove who left a vital clue at the scene of the crime.

Fallen Angel is one of those wonderful overlooked movie gems. I don’t hear it talked about much, but it really packed a punch.  It’s full of classic film noir cinematography, Otto Preminger’s direction was first-rate, Dana Andrews brought plenty of suave charm, Linda Darnell positively smoldered in her role, and Alice Faye totally hit it out of the park.  At first, you might think Alice Faye would be a little out of place here since she is so strongly associated with musicals, but she was excellent.  Unfortunately, many of Alice’s best scenes were cut from the film in favor of adding more of Linda Darnell, which prompted Alice to stop making movies for many years.  But despite having so many fine moments end up on the cutting room floor, Alice Faye still delivers big time.  Overall, it’s a first-rate noir that deserves more recognition.