Busby Berkeley

She Had to Say Yes (1933)

In the midst of the Great Depression, companies are doing whatever they have to to keep any business they can get and things are no different for Sol Glass’ (Ferdinand Gottschalk) clothing company.  When buyers come in from out of town, he had been arranging for call girls to take them out on dates, but the buyers were getting tired of being set up with gold diggers, so he decides to start setting the buyers up with the company’s stenographers instead.

Florence Denny (Loretta Young) is one of Sol’s stenographers, but she’s engaged to salesman Tommy Nelson (Regis Toomey) and Tommy doesn’t want her going out on dates. Florence agrees to stay out of it, but when fellow stenographer Birdie (Suzanne Kilborn) gets sick before she’s supposed to go out with Danny Drew (Lyle Talbot), Tommy agrees to let Florence fill in. Florence and Danny get along very well, but when Danny has too much to drink and gets a little too forward with her, she leaves, not wanting to be unfaithful to Tommy.

However, Tommy isn’t as faithful to Florence as she is to him.  He’s been seeing Bridie on the side, but after she finds out about it, Danny comes by to apologize for his behavior and takes her out on a real date. They continue to see each other and while they’re having dinner one night, she steps in to help Danny seal a major business deal with Luther Haines (Hugh Herbert).  But when Luther complains about Florence’s high pressure tactics, he makes Danny think that Florence has been living in sin with Tommy.

Danny is disappointed to think that Florence isn’t as virtuous as he thought she was. He brings her out to his friend’s empty house out in the country and tries to rape her, but doesn’t have it in him to actually go through with it. Unbeknownst to them, Tommy had followed them out and when Florence runs to him, Danny overhears Tommy accuse her of prostituting herself. Danny realizes that Florence was telling the truth after all and reams Tommy out for accusing her of such things.

On the whole, She Had to Say Yes is only a so-so movie.  The story has issues (who says stenographers can’t be gold diggers?) and despite the fact that Busby Berkeley was a co-director (his directorial debut, actually), it is surprisingly devoid of visual style. But if you like pre-codes, this is easily one of the wildest ones you’re apt to find.  It ranks up there with Baby Face, Red Headed Woman, The Story of Temple Drake, and Three on a Match.  Loretta Young is pretty good in it, but its pre-code appeal is definitely the movie’s strongest selling point. Even if you’re familiar with pre-codes, She Had to Say Yes still manages to be pretty shocking.

Fashions of 1934

What do you do when the investment firm you own goes under?  Why, naturally you decide to get into the fashion game!  Well, at least that’s what Sherwood Nash (William Powell) does.  When he meets aspiring fashion designer Lynn Mason (Bette Davis), Sherwood, Lynn, and Sherwood’s partner Snap (Frank McHugh) decide to start making copies of designs by famous designers and selling them to discount shops for a fraction of the cost.  When the owners of shops that sell the real deals find out about this, they want to put a stop to it, but Nash smooth talks them into selling his knock-offs, too.  Not only that, he gets them to send them to Paris to better copy the designs.

To get in to see the designs, Lynn pretends to be interested in buying something while Snap stealthily takes pictures.  But when their film gets confiscated, they have to come up with another plan.  By pure chance, they find out that the famous designer Oscar Baroque (Reginald Owen) turns to old costume design books for inspiration.  So they get some costume design books and let Lynn design some pieces based on what she finds in the books, then forge famous designers’ signatures to them.  The stores back in New York buy the designs up like hotcakes, but Sherwood can’t resist an opportunity to make money.  When he meets a man with an abundance of ostrich feathers, he gets an idea.  He buys up the feathers and goes to see Baroque’s fiancée Grand Duchess Alix (Verree Teasdale).  He knows Alix is no Grand Duchess, she’s really just Mabel from Hoboken.

Since Alix doesn’t want Sherwood to tell Baroque who she really is, he blackmails her into convincing Baroque to design a musical show full of ostrich feathered clothes that Alix could star in.  He agrees and the show is a big success, so then he decides to open his own boutique.  But Lynn is getting fed up with Sherwood’s schemes.  Also, she’s fallen in love with him and is jealous of all the attention he’s giving Alix.  Even though her designs are once again hugely popular at the boutique, the idea of running off with Jimmy the piano player sounds pretty appealing to Lynn.  But by now, Baroque has found out about the forged designs and calls the police on Sherwood.  Sherwood gets arrested, but he has one more trick up his sleeve to get out of jail, get Baroque to buy the boutique from him, and get Lynn.

If I had a rating system, I’d give Fashions of 1934 2.5 out of 4 stars.  William Powell is pretty good in it, but poor Bette Davis is woefully out of place.  It’s pretty well-known that Warner Brothers really didn’t know what to do with Bette Davis when she first started working for them.  She wasn’t a glamour girl, but Warner’s insisted on trying to make her into one and this was their biggest attempt to shoehorn into that type.  She had blonde hair and was decked out in all sorts of fancy Orry-Kelly gowns, it was so not her style.  At least in movies like 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, even though they tried to make her somewhat glamorous, her part still had some grit to it.  There’s nothing gritty or raw about Fashions of 1934.  It’s a fun and entertaining little movie, but think of it as a William Powell movie more than anything else.  Bette isn’t outstanding here and although Busby Berkeley was involved, there’s only one musical number.  But at least he made the most of his one number, Spin a Little Web of Dreams is a really beautiful scene.  And if you’re interested in costume design, there’s a lot to appreciate here.

What’s on TCM: November 2011

If you’re a fan of blonde bombshells, this is the month for you!  Rather than having just one star of the month, TCM will be spotlighting two classic blondes every Monday and Wednesday this month.  All the classic blondes like Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow, and Jayne Mansfield (just to name a few) will be getting their time to shine.  And in preparation for the TCM Classic Film Cruise, they’ll be playing a night of movies set on ships every Thursday.  Lots of fun stuff to look forward to, so let’s get to my picks for the month:

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Dames (1934)

Dames 1934 Busby Berkeley

Busby Berkeley loved to taunt censors and uptight people, so I guess it’s no big surprised that he did a whole movie making fun of the morally self-righteous.  In Dames, Hugh Herbert plays Ezra Ounce, an eccentric millionaire with exceptionally high moral standards.  He’s looking for family members he can leave ten  million dollars to in his will and it looks like his cousin Matilda Hemingway (ZaSu Pitts) is one of his few options.  The catch is that he wants to leave his money only to the most upstanding family members, so nobody like his distant relative Jimmy Higgens (Dick Powell), who has his career in showbiz.  To make sure Matilda and her family meets his high standards, he goes to New York to live with them for a while and his stay is a disaster before he even arrives.  Matilda’s husband Horace (Guy Kibbee) accompanies him on the trip by train and returns to his cabin to find showgirl Mabel Anderson (Joan Blondell) sleeping in his bed.  She needed a way to get out-of-town after her show closed so she snuck into his cabin.  Trying to avoid a scandal, Horace gives her $200 and tells her not to mention it to anybody.

Meanwhile, Horace’s daughter Barbara (Ruby Keeler) has been having an affair with Jimmy (they’re 13th cousins) and wants to star in one of his shows someday.  With Uncle Ezra in town, it’s a challenge to keep all these juicy details from costing them their inheritance.  Especially when Mabel comes back and blackmails Horace into giving her the money Jimmy needs to put on his new show so that she can star in it.  When the press writes about the new show, they say it’s positively scandalous and that it’s being backed by a mysterious millionaire.  On opening night, Horace, Ezra, and Matilda show up just to see how bad it is.  The first musical number doesn’t shock them too much, but then Barbara does her first number and they’re pleased with how harmless it was.  By the end of the show, they think it’s great!  But their change in mood also had something to do with the fact that they spent the entire show drinking a health tonic that happens to be 23% alcohol.  But at long last, Uncle Ezra realizes that being high and mighty is awfully overrated!

1933 was a truly spectacular year for Busby Berkeley.  He added his signature touch to three of the most iconic musicals of all time, 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, all in the same year.  With a year like that, it should come as no surprise that by 1934, he’d be slowing down just a little bit.  Dames most definitely doesn’t live up to the standards of Footlight Parade, but in all fairness, it would have been extremely difficult for him to live up to anything he had done the previous year.  The story and the musical numbers simply aren’t as solid or memorable as some of his previous efforts.  I’ll walk around with The Shadow Waltz stuck in my head all day, but Girl at the Ironing Board doesn’t have the same effect on me.  Even though we get to see a lot of the classic stars of Busby Berkeley movies like Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, and Ruby Keeler, they just don’t shine as brightly as they had before.  But with all that being said, I did enjoy Dames.  I loved the Dames number and I Only Have Eyes For You.  It was also very funny.  Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade definitely had comedy in them, but Dames was a lot sillier than either of those.  And just because the stars didn’t have quite the same spark as they had before, they certainly weren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s a fun three-star follow-up to an unbeatable four-star streak of movies.

My Top 100, 20-11

Another week, another ten movies!  This week, I’ve got lots of musicals, some silents that have only gotten better with age, and movies with some of my favorite snappy lines.  Now, onto the movies!

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My Top 100, 30-21

Wow, I can’t believe we’re already up to number 30! This week is another week where if you don’t know anything at all about my style and only saw these ten movies, you’d get a pretty good idea of what my taste is.  So, let’s get on with the list!

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My Top 100, 60-51

Welcome to the next installment of my top hundred movies!  This week is another rather diverse bunch of movies.  Silents, modern stuff, foreign, musicals, suspense, it’s just all over the board.  So let’s get to number 60…

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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.

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