Beulah Bondi

Street Scene (1931)

Street Scene 1931 PosterWhile New York City is in the grips of a heat wave, the residents of one building beat the heat by sitting on the building’s stoop and catching up on gossip.  Emma Jones (Beulah Bondi), the building’s resident busybody, is only too happy to make sure everyone knows what Anna Murant (Estelle Taylor) has been up to.  Anna, married to the abusive and controlling Frank (David Landau), has been not-too-discreetly carrying on an affair with Steve Sankey (Russell Hopton), her married milkman.  Everyone knows what has been going on with Anna and Steve, but Frank is only suspicious at this point.

Meanwhile, Anna’s daughter Rose (Sylvia Sydney), like her mother, longs for something more satisfying out of life.  She has a job, but has to put up with constant advances from her boss, who wants to turn her into a kept woman.  However, Rose doesn’t want to take the easy way out.  Rose’s best friend is her neighbor, Sam (William Collier, Jr.), who is in love with her, even though she doesn’t feel the same way about him.  He’s studying to become a lawyer, but would gladly throw everything aside for the chance to be with Rose.

When Frank leaves town on business, of course Steve goes to see Anna.  But when Frank returns unexpectedly, the neighbors are powerless to stop the confrontation they know is about to happen.  When Frank finds Anna and Steve together, he shoots and kills both of them and runs away.  The police get to work investigating the crime while the neighborhood is both aghast and morbidly excited by the scandal.

Movies set during heat waves tend to fascinate me because they often seem to show how the heat can bring out the worst in people.  In Rear Window, L.B. Jeffries’ neighbor murders his wife.  Do the Right Thing is about racial tensions that are brought to a head on the hottest day of the year.  Even in comedies like The Seven Year Itch, it’s still a movie about a married man tempted to cheat on his wife.  Street Scene is definitely an early example of that theme.  Amidst the gossip about Anna’s affair with Steve, we see the residents of this neighborhood reveal their prejudices and other negative traits.  In fact, Street Scene is more of a character study than it is about the affair between Anna and Steven.  This is the kind of material that director King Vidor excelled at handling.  Street Scene isn’t one of my favorite heat wave movies, but I still found it very interesting and it is absolutely worth watching at least once.

Vivacious Lady (1938)

After his cousin Keith (James Ellison) runs off to Manhattan, Peter Morgan, Jr. (James Stewart) is sent after him to bring him home again.  Peter finds Keith, all right, but he also finds Francey (Ginger Rogers), a night club singer.  It’s love at first sight for Francey and Peter and after knowing each other for one whole day, they get married before getting on a train with Keith to Old Sharon, Peter’s hometown.  Peter’s parents, Peter Morgan, Sr. (Charles Coburn) and Martha (Beulah Bondi), have no idea about Francey and they’re pretty conservative, so they wouldn’t be too wild about Peter having eloped with a nightclub singer.

When Peter’s parents meet them at the train station, they assume that Francey came with Keith.  Peter really wants to tell his parents, but every time his father starts going on about Francey, his mother feels weak from a heart condition.  So then he decides to tell his parents during the prom held at the university where Peter teaches and Peter, Sr. is president.  There’s one other person Peter needs to break the news to: his first fiancée Helen (Frances Mercer).  Francey poses as a new student and Keith’s date to get into the prom.  She even meets Martha and hits it off with her.  But just as Peter is ready to tell everyone the news, Francey and Helen get into a fistfight that ends with Francey accidentally punching Peter, Sr.

Francey moves into an apartment and continues posing as a student so she can see Peter during his classes.  Peter does eventually manage to break the news to his father by blurting it out right before Peter, Sr. has to make a speech.  As expected, Peter, Sr. is not happy and Martha’s heart problems suddenly flare up again.  Except Martha missed the part where Peter said he was married to Francey and Peter, Sr. orders Peter to not tell Martha so she won’t get upset.  By now, Francey is getting frustrated with the situation and starts considering going back to Manhattan.  But when Helen catches Peter sneaking out of Francey’s apartment one night, she decides to tell Martha that Peter and Francey are together.  Martha goes to Francey’s apartment to investigate further and Francey accidentally admits to being married to Peter.  But rather than be upset, she’s happy.  She likes Francey and we quickly find out she’s not as uptight as Peter, Sr.  When Peter, Sr. insists that Francey and Peter divorce, Martha decides she’s fed up with his controlling behavior and leaves him.  Francey also reluctantly decides to leave Peter.  Martha and Francey unintentionally get on the same train together, but while they’re headed out of town, Peter and his father are trying to chase the train down and get their wives back.

I loved Vivacious Lady!  It instantly became one of my favorite Ginger Rogers movies, she was hilarious in it.  This was a perfect vehicle to show off Ginger’s comedic skills and she had wonderful chemistry with Jimmy Stewart.  Actually, this had a fantastic cast all around.  Jimmy was excellent, Beulah Bondi’s scenes with Ginger were so much fun, James Ellison made a great playboy type, and of course, if you want a stuffy, rich, older guy with good comedic timing, you can’t go wrong with Charles Coburn.  A wonderful bit of purely cheerful entertainment!