Ann Harding

The Unknown Man (1951)

The Unknown Man 1951Brad Masen (Walter Pidgeon) really has it all. He’s a highly respected attorney, known for his dedication to upholding the law. He has a lovely wife Stella (Ann Harding) and his son Bob (Richard Andersen) is about to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer, too. But it all starts to fall apart when Brad’s friend approaches him about defending Rudi Wallcheck (Keefe Brasselle), who is facing a murder charge. Since Brad doesn’t handle criminal cases, he initially turns the case down. But after thinking it over and meeting with Rudi, he changes his mind since he believes Rudy is sincerely innocent and wants to help him.

Despite his lack of experience with cases like this, Brad successfully convinces the jury that Rudi is not guilty. But it isn’t long before Brad realizes that Rudi is nothing more than a good actor. In reality, he was a known thug who was indeed guilty. Horrified at his failure to uphold the law, Brad immediately starts doing everything he can to right his wrong. He does some investigating and finds out Rudi has been involved in a crime syndicate that shakes down local business owners for “protection money.” Even worse, it turns out the syndicate is run by Brad’s friend Andrew (Eduard Franz). When Andrew realizes that Brad knows what he’s doing, he starts cautioning Brad about what getting tangled up with him could mean. In a rage, Brad stabs Andrew to death using a knife he had taken from Rudi’s apartment.

Since the police find Rudi’s fingerprints all over the gun, he immediately becomes the top suspect. But even in a situation like this, Brad is still deeply committed to the law and doesn’t want Rudi to be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Brad represents Rudi in court once again, but can he save Rudi?

If I were to sum up The Unknown Man with one word, I would pick “adequate.” It’s likable enough, but not a movie to go out of your way for. It’s worth seeing if you’re a big Walter Pidgeon fan as he’s quite good in it. But the rest of the cast doesn’t rise above being simply sufficient (Ann Harding’s role is fairly small). The story had potential, but other pieces of the puzzle aren’t strong enough for the movie to become as good as it could have been. There are certainly worse ways you could spend an hour and a half and it’s the sort of thing I might watch again if there isn’t anything else on, but it’s just an average movie.

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The Animal Kingdom (1932)

The Animal Kingdom Poster

Tom Collier (Leslie Howard) is a publisher who has lived out of wedlock with his good friend Daisy (Ann Harding) for quite some time. But while she is away on business, Tom decides to marry Cecilia (Myrna Loy).  When Daisy returns, he swears to Cecilia that any romantic feelings that he and Daisy might have once had are long gone.  But when he goes to see Daisy to tell her about his engagement, he finds that Daisy still has feelings for him after all.  When he tells Daisy about his engagement, he also tells Daisy he still wants to be friends with her, but she wants nothing to do with him.

After some time passes, Tom is becoming less and less satisfied with his life with Cecilia.  She’s pressured him into turning his publishing company into a factory for cheap, trashy novels instead of the more artistic novels he used to prefer.  He doesn’t spend time with his old friends anymore and Cecilia even wants him to fire his friend Red (William Gargan), a former prizefighter who now works as their butler.  When he finds out Daisy is having an art exhibition in town, he wants to go, but Cecilia convinces him to stay home at the last minute.  He eventually goes to visit Daisy on his own to make amends with her, but the encounter is enough to make Daisy want to leave town ASAP.  But when Cecilia invites her to Tom’s birthday party, she reluctantly accepts.

During the party, Daisy realizes what Tom’s life has become and can’t help but pity him.  He’s clearly not truly happy and when he sees Cecilia in a compromising position with Tom’s attorney Owen (Neil Hamilton), she can’t stand to stay around anymore.  After the party, Tom and Cecilia get into an argument and realizes that he doesn’t really belong with Cecilia after all.

The Animal Kingdom is a pretty decent movie with an intelligent story.  It reminded me a lot of Platinum Blonde with Jean Harlow.  Not the greatest performances from either Myrna Loy or Leslie Howard, but they do just fine, as does Ann Harding.  However, I enjoyed being able to see all of them working together.  Keep in mind The Animal Kingdom was based on a play so it does get a bit dialogue heavy at times.  But viewers who are unfamiliar with the pre-code era are sure to be surprised by how frank the dialogue gets.

Janie (1944)

Janie 1944 PosterHortonville is a small, quiet town and that’s the way Charles Conway (Edward Arnold) likes it.  His hands are full enough with running a newspaper and trying to handle his teenage daughter Janie (Joyce Reynolds).  Charles just can’t make sense of all the modern slang he hears Janie and her friends using and doesn’t approve of the things she likes to go out and do with her friends.

But Hortonville gets turned upside down when the Army opens a base nearby.  Charles is horrified and writes an editorial about how all those soldiers are bound to distract all the teenage girls in town.  When Janie meets Private First Class Dick Lawrence (Robert Hutton), son of her mother Lucille’s (Ann Harding) friend, it’s love at first sight.  She gladly throws her boyfriend Scooper (Richard Erdman) aside for the more sophisticated soldier, but if Scooper can’t have Janie, he doesn’t want anyone else.

When her parents go out for a night, Janie plans to have Dick come over for a nice, quiet evening at her house.  Her friends, however, throw a wrench into her plans when they show up with their soldier boyfriends because they have no other place to go.  Not only that, Janie’s little sister Elsbeth (Clare Foley) keeps getting in the way so Janie gets Dick to escort Elsbeth to her grandmother’s house by bus.  While he’s gone, Scooper tries to sabotage Janie and Dick’s date by calling up the army base and telling them to send all the soldiers to Janie’s house for a party.  Luckily for Janie, April (Hattie McDaniel), the family’s maid, loves the soldiers and is happy to make hot dogs for all the guests.  Janie’s friends call all the girls they know and before she knows it, it turns into the biggest party Hortonville has ever seen.

Janie is nothing amazing, but it’s a very fun little movie.  I really liked how energetic the movie is; the party scenes had me wanting to get a hot dog from April and to join the conga line.  Janie is very much a product of its time, but I found it interesting to see a movie that is so much about teen life during that era.  The whole story of a party getting out of hand while a teen’s parents are away has been done in movies many times over the years, but Janie has got to be the most patriotic version of that story ever made. It’s a very pleasant comedy that deserves a little more recognition than it gets.