Aline MacMahon

Aline MacMahon: The Underrated Gold Digger of 1933

Aline MacMahon Gold Diggers of 1933

Gold Diggers of 1933 has a wonderful ensemble cast, but if anyone doesn’t get enough love, it’s Aline MacMahon.  Busby Berkeley tends to get a lot of the credit for Gold Diggers of 1933 thanks to his unforgettable musical numbers. After Busby, people tend to think of Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, and Dick Powell. Keeler, Blondell, and Powell are some of the stars most strongly associated with Busby Berkeley musicals and Ginger’s part may be small, but she sure made a splash in the opening “We’re in the Money” number. Poor Aline MacMahon as Trixie tends to go overlooked.

Ruby Keeler may get to be the cute, girl next door and Joan Blondell may be the pretty one, but Aline MacMahon gets to be funny one in Gold Diggers of 1933. Busby Berkeley musicals aren’t just great because of the dazzling, kaleidoscopic musical numbers; they also have a lot of humor in the non-musical scenes as well. So while Keeler, Blondell, and Powell may get to shine in the musical numbers, Aline steals the spotlight in the other scenes.  She gets practically every good quip in the movie.

Fay: “If Barney could see me in clothes…”
Trixie: “He wouldn’t recognize you.”

Barney: “It’ll be the funniest thing you ever did.”
Trixie: “Have you ever seen me ride a pony?”

(After Trixie gives Fay out of a little kick toward the exit of a nightclub for having designs on Fanuel, causing her to yell.)
Fanuel: “Did little Fay cry out?”
Trixie: “No, that must have been the coronet you heard.”

Trixie: “After what he called you? A parasite? Say, what is a parasite? You better resent it.”

Aline MacMahon gets her biggest moment in the spotlight in the scene when Fanuel and Lawrence show up at Carol, Trixie, and Polly’s apartment, looking to pay Polly to break things off with Brad.  Not amused at being called parasites, Carol and Trixie decide to have a little fun with the stereotype just to mess with Fanuel and Lawrence.  Aline plays the stereotypical gold digger to a hilarious degree.  She always cracks me up in those scenes.

The Mouthpiece (1932)

As a prosecuting attorney, it’s Vincent Day’s (Warren William) job to see that guilty parties get the punishments they deserve.  But when Vincent mistakenly sends an innocent man to the electric chair, the guilt is too much for him to bear and he vows to never prosecute again and becomes a defense attorney instead.  He starts out defending the innocent and the satisfaction of helping them out is good and all, but then he discovers the real money is in defending the guilty.

Once Vincent starts working with the seedier crowd, business is booming.  He even has to hire Celia (Sidney Fox) as a second secretary to help out Miss Hickey (Aline MacMahon), his main secretary.  Celia is young, beautiful, and very naive.  Vincent is very attracted to her, but she only has eyes for her fiance Johnny (William Janney).  However, she admires the work Vincent does, thinking he’s honestly protecting innocent people.  One day in court, she watches in awe as he drinks a bottle of poison from the evidence to prove that it’s harmless.  Little does she know that afterward, Vincent went straight from the courthouse to a two-bit doctor to have his stomach pumped.

Later that night, Vincent has Celia come to his apartment under the guise of needing some work done, but he comes on to her instead and she turns him down.  Worst of all, she finds out the truth about what happened in court that day.  Completely disillusioned, she gives her two weeks notice, but refuses to be paid for it.  She doesn’t want to take any money gotten through such dirty ways.  Vincent has no problem meeting women, but Celia’s rejection really stings him badly.  On Celia’s last day, Vincent gives her a check for a hundred dollars and proves that he earned it through legitimate means.

Celia and Johnny are planning to get married right away, but then Johnny is framed for stealing some bonds and gets arrested.  Of course, Celia knows Vincent is the only one who can help him, but when she tries to find him, he’s gone off on a very long bender.  Miss Hickey sobers him up and he gets to work clearing Johnny’s name and getting the person who was really responsible for stealing the bonds arrested.  This move costs him the trust of the criminal underworld, but that doesn’t bother Vincent at all since he’s decided to go straight again.  As he leaves to see Cecile get married, he’s gunned down outside his office.

I have been very excited to see The Mouthpiece for a long time now, since I’d heard Cliff from Immortal Ephemera speak very highly of it.  I was not disappointed at all, it’s now my favorite Warren William movie.  This is exactly the kind of character Warren William is best known for playing and he plays Vincent to the hilt.  The Mouthpiece also has a phenomenal supporting cast.  Aileen MacMahon was a flawless choice to play Vincent’s loyal secretary and Sidney Fox sure had that wide-eyed and innocent act down pat.

The Mouthpiece also has a nice, fast pace and great dialogue, so it’s rather surprising that it’s not a more well-known movie.  I don’t see it on TCM very often, nor has it even been released by Warner Archive.  Let’s hope that changes, because The Mouthpiece deserves to be rediscovered.  Any fan of pre-codes would go crazy for it.

One Way Passage (1932)

When Dan (William Powell) meets Joan (Kay Francis) in a bar in Hong Kong, it’s love at first sight.  They have a drink together, but end up going their separate ways. What neither of them realizes is that the other doesn’t have much time to live.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but Joan is extremely sick.  She’s about to set sail for San Francisco so she can go to a sanitarium, but there’s a good chance she won’t survive the trip.  Dan is a murderer on the run from the law and gets arrested by Steve Burke (Warren Hymer) as soon as he leaves the bar that night.  Steve’s going to take Dan back to San Francisco where he will be executed.

As fate would have it, Dan and Joan wind up on the same boat to San Francisco.  Joan’s doctor wants her to spend the trip resting, but she knows she doesn’t have much time left so she wants to live it up while she can.  When she finds out Dan is on board and has been looking for her, she ignores the doctor’s orders and spends all the time she can with Dan.  She remains in the dark about his criminal background and he has no idea about her illness, but they are madly in love with each other.  Dan is able to spend so much time with Joan thanks to some help from his criminal friends Skippy (Frank McHugh) and Betty (Aline McMahon).  Betty is on board posing as a countess so she and Skippy keep distracting Steve so that Dan can be with Joan.  But Betty ends up spending so much time with Steve that they also end up falling in love.

When the ship makes a stop in Honolulu, Dan and Joan spend an unforgettable day ashore together and Dan wants to come clean to her about his past.  But just as he’s about to break the news, she faints and he takes her back to the ship.  Her doctor warns Dan that any more shocking news could kill her, so Dan keeps his secret.  She ends up discovering the truth about Dan just before the ship docks in San Francisco and, naturally, she’s surprised.  But that doesn’t stop her from saying goodbye to Dan and agreeing to meet him at a bar in Mexico on New Year’s Eve, even though they both know they won’t be able to keep the date.

What’s not to like about One Way Passage?  Kay Francis and William Powell were perfection in it.  Their chemistry together was superb and both of them give excellent performances.  Powell in particular gives one of the best performances of his career.  Aline McMahon and Frank McHugh make the supporting cast every bit as memorable as Powell and Francis.  I loved the very dreamlike atmosphere of the movie.  One Way Passage is a prime example of those early 1930s gems that aren’t very long, but make every single second count.  If you haven’t already seen it, definitely be sure to keep an eye out for it.  I know I wish I had seen it sooner.

Heroes For Sale (1933)


Heroes for Sale 1933During World War I, Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess) goes off to fight with his hometown friend Roger Winston (Gordon Westcott).  At one point, Roger is supposed to undertake a risky maneuver to capture a German prisoner.  When it comes time to go through with it, Roger is paralyzed with fear and Tom jumps in to finish the job.  But then Tom is shot and Roger has to finish it himself.  Roger believes Tom is dead and is given some very impressive accolades for his bravery.  Even though Roger knows the truth, he doesn’t have it in him to tell the truth.  Meanwhile, Tom is still alive and has been getting treatment in a German P.O.W. camp.  After the war is over, Tom is released but is sent home with a bad morphine addiction.  He runs into Roger on the boat home and Roger tells Tom how awful he feels about taking his awards, but Tom is surprisingly forgiving about it.

Once they get back home, Roger is given a hero’s welcome but makes sure that Tom is given a job at his father’s bank.  However, Tom’s dependency on morphine proves to interfere with his work and Roger’s father fires him.  Tom is sent to rehab and successfully beats his addiction, and once he is released, he moves to Chicago and things finally start to look up for him.  He meets Ruth (Loretta Young), a woman who lives in the same building as him.  She works at a laundry service and suggests that he try to get a job there, too.  He starts out as a truck driver, but when his boss notices that he is the only driver bringing in new business, he is promoted.  Not only is he now bringing in more money, but he marries Ruth and the two of them soon are expecting a baby.

All is going well until Tom and Ruth’s neighbor Max comes to him with a laundry machine idea, looking for money to get a patent for it.  Tom helps Max get the money together and sells the machine to the laundry service he works at under the condition that nobody lose their job because of it.  And at first, that’s great, but then the owner of the laundry service dies suddenly and it is taken over by new management who have no interest in abiding by that rule and 75% of the employees are fired, including Tom.  The fired workers start a riot that kills Ruth, and even though Tom tries to stop them, he is sent to jail.

While in jail, Tom earns a fortune from his machine, but refuses to touch even one cent of it because he considers the money dirty.  He’s released after five years and finds that he barely recognizes his own son anymore.  He also finds out that he is a suspected communist and a group of anti-communist officers want to run him out of town.  With no other option, Tom decides to leave town, but gives all his money to his friend Mary (Aline MacMahon), who has been taking care of his son and runs a restaurant with her father.  He tells Mary to use the money to feed anybody who needs it free of charge and to take care of his son.  Once Tom leaves town, he becomes one of the many homeless drifters and finds his old “friend” Roger among them.  Roger’s father’s bank has closed and he had done some time in jail for illegal investing.  The two of them remain hopeful that the New Deal will improve things for them, and back in Chicago, we find that Mary has made sure that Tom’s son knows what an honorable man his father is.

Heroes for Sale is one of the great hard-hitting social commentary type of pre-codes.  That poster with Loretta Young in the slinky evening gown is pretty misleading.  This is such a brutally honest movie that doesn’t try to gloss over anything in the slightest.  Between the way it showed a blind veteran coming home after the war, drug addiction, and even the way Ruth died, there is absolutely nothing pretty about this movie.  And Loretta Young’s character most certainly was not wearing any glamorous evening gowns like that.  This is one of my favorite sound films by Richard Barthelmess, I thought he really hit it out of the park.  And for how much stuff happens in this movie, it is amazing that director William Wellman was able to fit all of it in in a little over an hour.  Don’t miss this movie!

The Lady is Willing (1942)

It’s not unusual for Liza Madden (Marlene Dietrich) to go out shopping and come back with fancy new dresses, hats, or jewelry.  After all, she’s a glamorous actress and she’s got an image to maintain.  Imagine her assistant Buddy’s (Aline MacMahon) surprise when Liza goes out shopping one day and comes back with a baby.  She had found an abandoned baby while she was out and decided on a whim that she wanted to adopt it.  The first thing she does is find out who the best pediatrician in town is and has him come over to check the baby over.  Dr. Corey McBain (Fred MacMurray) comes right over and even though the baby is fine, the doctor corrects her belief that she’s got a baby girl.  She names the baby Corey and is determined to be the best mother she can be.  She buys silk pajamas for him and even has the bar removed from her apartment so it won’t be a bad influence on him.

But however much Liza wants to keep Corey, she has to face the fact that in 1942, nobody was going to let an unmarried woman with lots of debt adopt a baby.  Since she figures it would be easier to find a husband than it would be to get her finances in order, she starts looking for someone willing to marry for platonic reasons.  A solution comes one night when little Corey gets a rash from his silk pajamas and she calls Dr. McBain.  At first, he’s unamused by Liza’s cluelessness about how to care for a baby, but can’t help but be touched by how much she clearly loves that baby.  Liza starts talking to Dr. McBain and finds out that he’d rather be in the research side of medicine, but doesn’t have the money to do it.  She talks him into marrying her so she can adopt Corey and she can let him use part of her apartment to do his research in.

Even though this was intended to be a marriage of convenience, deeper feelings quickly develop and Liza gets jealous when she and Dr. McBain run into his first wife Frances (Arline Judge) and Dr. McBain gets jealous of the leading man in Liza’s show.  All seems to be going well in their marriage, though, and Dr. McBain comes to the rescue one night when two people and their lawyer show up claiming to be Corey’s parents.  They either wanted the baby or $25,000, but they didn’t count on trying to extort money from someone who could easily do a blood test to disprove parentage on the spot.  They go out the next night to celebrate their victory over scammers, but also to celebrate Dr. McBain being granted a $5,000 research grant.  The two of them have a wonderful night and a lot of true feelings are revealed.

But by the next morning, word of Dr. McBain’s grant has hit the newspapers and his ex-wife Frances shows up wanting a piece of it.  Liza is furious when she goes to bring him breakfast and finds Frances in their bedroom.  She locks Dr. McBain in his part of the apartment while she cancels her show and gets ready to take it to Boston immediately.  She won’t even let him come examine Corey when he isn’t feeling well.  Liza has another doctor examine Corey and is told that he only has a cold, so she goes on ahead with her plan to go to Boston.  But once she gets there, it becomes clear that Corey actually is very ill and needs surgery.  The only person she trusts to do the operation is Dr. McBain, so she flies him out to Boston.  When he arrives, she begs for forgiveness and even though he has reservations about operating on Corey, Liza promises to love him no matter what.  Dr. McBain gets to work on Corey and Liza anxiously awaits the results.  When it’s time for Liza to get to the theater for her show, Dr. McBain encourages her to go ahead and do her show.  She can barely keep her mind on the show, but by the time the show is over, Dr. McBain is waiting for her with good news about Corey.

It seems like people either like The Lady is Willing or hate it and I happen to be in the camp that likes it.  This is a rather unusual movie for Marlene Dietrich since she didn’t really do much comedy during her career.  Marlene Dietrich was never going to be another Carole Lombard or Myrna Loy, but The Lady is Willing happens to be the right type of comedy for her style.  I got a kick out of her clueless but well-intended character and it’s fun to see her play with the baby and poke a little fun at her glamorous image.  Watching Fred MacMurray try to see around Dietrich’s extravagant hats definitely made me smile.  Fred MacMurray was pretty charming as well, but I wasn’t feeling much chemistry between him and Dietrich.  I thought the baby and Aline MacMahon had better chemistry with Dietrich than Fred did.  As for the story, it’s pretty fluffy and nonsensical, but at least it’s fun nonsense.  I got a lot of laughs out of it and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual Marlene Dietrich fare.

Gold Diggers of 1933

Right now, I’m kind of obsessed with Busby Berkeley musicals.  42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Dames, I love them all.  I can’t watch one of his musical numbers without wondering what on Earth was going through Berkeley’s mind when he came up with these kaleidoscopic extravaganzas.  As much as I love 42nd Street and Footlight Parade, if I had to take one Busby Berkeley musical with me to that deserted island, I think I’d go with Gold Diggers of 1933.