Bebe Daniels

42nd Street (1933)

42nd Street 1933When word gets out that producers Jones and Barry are putting on a new show, it’s the talk of the theater world.  Since the nation is in the midst of the Great Depression, a lot of people are depending on this show; everyone from electricians and set builders to chorus girls and the show’s director need it to be a hit.  Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) agrees to direct the show despite his doctor’s advice.  Julian has recently suffered a nervous breakdown and was advised to find a less stressful profession.  But Julian can’t afford to retire, so he needs it to be a hit so he can afford to get out of the business.

One person who is living comfortably, despite the Depression, is Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels).  She’s the girlfriend of Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), the show’s financial backer, which means she has no problem securing a position as the show’s leading lady. Other ladies clamor for the chance to be in the chorus, including Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), who is new to the theater world.  But Peggy has no problem fitting in and quickly makes friends with fellow chorines Annie (Ginger Rogers) and Lorraine (Una Merkel) and catches the eye of Billy Lawler (Dick Powell).

After rehearsals get underway, the producers find out that Dorothy has been seeing her former vaudeville partner Pat Denning (George Brent) on the side.  Not wanting to endanger the show, they try to put a stop to it.  But just before the show is set to open, Abner finds out about Dorothy’s two-timing, they get into a fight, and he wants her out of the show.  The producers protest, but when Dorothy injures her ankle, they have no choice but to re-cast the lead.  Abner wants Annie to take the lead, but she knows she isn’t up to the task.  However, she believes Peggy is.

When 42nd Street was released in 1933, the concept of the backstage musical had already been done before in movies like The Broadway Melody.  But when 42nd Street came along, it not only became the ultimate backstage musical, it revolutionized the entire genre of musicals.  Everyone wanted to mimic Busby Berkley’s style of choreography.  But unlike many early musicals, 42nd Street can hardly be described as creaky or dull.  Its slick production values, catchy songs, memorable choreography, and witty banter keep it fresh even after eighty years.

Book Vs. Movie: The Maltese Falcon

When you have more than one screen adaptation of a novel, usually one is more faithful to the novel than the other.  However, in the case of The Maltese Falcon, it has two pretty accurate adaptations.  The first version, released in 1931 and stars Ricardo Cortez, Thelma Todd, and Bebe Daniels, does a pretty good job of sticking to the source material.  However, the 1941 Humphrey Bogart version is an even more accurate representation of the book.  It doesn’t stick to the novel exactly, but most of the dialogue is taken verbatim and the key story elements are kept in tact.

Most of the differences are pretty subtle and probably were changed for the sake of pacing.  For example, in the movie Sam finds out about La Paloma after he wakes up in Gutman’s hotel room and starts looking around the room.  It’s a much more drawn out process in the book.  In the book, Sam finds out Miss O’Shaugnessy didn’t go to Effie’s apartment like she was supposed to.  Instead, she had the cab stop to get a newspaper, then she asked to be brought to the ferry building.  So Sam gets a copy of the paper in question to look for clues, but doesn’t figure it out until he starts snooping around Cairo’s room and notices that the newspaper section with ship arrivals was of particular interest to him.  Although there’s nothing wrong with the way that part plays out in the book, if it were filmed that way, it would have slowed the movie down.  Another difference is that the character of Gutman’s daughter is completely absent from the Bogart movie (as well as from the Ricardo Cortez version, for that matter), but she wasn’t exactly a vital character in the book.

A lot of the other changes were definitely made because of the production codes.  What’s interesting about that content is that neither the 1931 or the 1941 version gets it exactly right.  The 1931 version tends to be a bit more scandalous than the book was, but it does include things that were in the book that couldn’t be included in the 1941 version.  There’s no way the 1941 version could have gotten away with the scene where Spade strip searches O’Shaugnessy after noticing that $1,000 of the $10,000 Gutman promised him was missing, but it was in the 1931 version.  The 1941 version also really had to downplay the fact that Cairo and Wilmer were both supposed to be gay, the 1931 version made that much clearer.  In the book, when O’Shaugnessy finds out that Sam has been talking to Cairo and that he’s prepared to offer more money than she can, she offers to sleep with him and proceeds to spend the night at Sam’s apartment.  When it comes to that part in the 1941 version, O’Shaugessy can’t offer herself to Spade or spend the night, so Sam just kisses her instead.  As for Spade’s affair with Iva Archer, the 1941 version actually depicts what went on more accurately than the 1931 version.  The 1931 version made that affair more salacious than the book described.  First of all, the book made Iva Archer out to be a little past her prime, which Thelma Todd most certainly was not.  There also weren’t any scenes involving Iva showing up at Sam’s apartment and finding O’Shaugnessy wearing her kimono nor were there any of Miles listening on the extension while Sam and Iva set up a tryst.

I really enjoyed reading The Maltese Falcon and I think anyone who likes either movie version would, too.  Like I said, what you see in either movie version is pretty much what you get in the book.  And since it’s not a terribly long book, either, I definitely recommend reading it.  As for which movie version I prefer, I think it goes without saying that the Humphrey Bogart version wins hands down.  The Ricardo Cortez version is good, but it doesn’t have the flawless cast and direction that the Humphrey Bogart version did.  I always loved the cast of the Bogart version, but while I was reading the book and got to read exactly how each character was described, I feel like that version had some of the most perfect casting of all time.  Nobody will ever make a better Sam Spade than Humphrey Bogart.

For more Bogie, be sure to visit Forever Classics for more Humphrey Bogart Blogathon contributions.

Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

After a decade of marriage, Robert Gordon (Thomas Meighan) begins to realize that his wife Beth (Gloria Swanson) just isn’t the same woman he married.  She’s dowdy (yes, Gloria Swanson is the dowdy one here), preachy, and is always trying to force her more cultured tastes upon Robert.  Not willing to give up on their marriage just yet, Robert tries to liven things up by buying something nice and vampy for Beth.  Robert is pretty hilariously uncomfortable in the lingerie store, but he does meet Sally (Bebe Daniels), one of the store’s models, while he’s there.  Beth isn’t too happy about Robert’s gift and when she’d rather listen to a violinist than accompany him to the Ziegfeld Follies, Robert decides to invite Sally to go with him to the Follies.  Of course, Beth isn’t stupid, and when Robert comes home smelling of Sally’s perfume, she decides she wants a divorce.

After the divorce, Beth’s aunt takes her shopping to make her feel better.  However, they wind up at the same store that Sally works in and Beth overhears some of the models gossiping about how her lack of style is what must have caused the divorce.  Not willing to take this laying down, Beth decides then and there to spice up her image.  While things are looking up for Beth, they’re not looking as good for Robert.  He went ahead and married Sally, but is finding out that Sally can be just as annoying as Beth was.  Robert, Sally and Beth all run into each other when they all wind up being on vacation at the same resort together.  By now, Beth has truly become the life of the party and Robert definitely notices the change and likes what he sees.  Beth also realizes that she misses Robert, too.  Each of them wants to rekindle their relationship, but Robert is hesitant.

Later, Robert and Beth meet again on a train.  As they’re leaving the train, Robert slips on a banana peel and hits his head.  When doctors arrive, Beth tells them that she is his wife and they bring him to her place so he can lay still for twenty-four hours.  Beth calls Sally and the two of them get into a fight over Sally wanting to move Robert to their place.  But Beth wins that fight and when it becomes clear that Robert’s going to be just fine, he realizes that it’s Beth he wants, not Sally.

I really enjoyed Why Change Your Wife.  For a Cecil B. DeMille movie, this is a pretty small-scale movie, but it’s still great.  The cast is fantastic, I especially got a kick out of seeing Gloria Swanson as the uptight, plainly dressed one.  But of course, sticking Gloria Swanson in a conservative outfit is sort of like how in newer movies, they have nerds played by gorgeous actors who just happen to be wearing glasses.  I also really loved the intertitles, they were very sharply written.  It’s sort of hard to call silent movies “quotable,” but it’s hard to resist wanting to go around saying stuff like, “You know, the more I see of men, the better I like dogs,” or, “When a girl can wear a bathing suit like this, it is her duty to do so!”  It’s a very fun movie to watch.