Charles Coburn

In This Our Life (1942)

In This Our Life 1942

Sisters Stanley (Bette Davis) and Roy Timberlake (Olivia de Havilland) both come from a prominent family, but lead very different lives. Roy is the more humble and sensible sister and is married to Peter (Dennis Morgan) while Stanley is very selfish and is much more wild than Roy. Stanley isn’t a particularly likable person, but her uncle William (Charles Coburn) adores her and loves giving her expensive gifts and foots the bill for her reckless lifestyle. Stanley is engaged to Craig (George Brent), a lawyer, but the night before they are to be married, Roy runs off with Peter, marries him, and they leave for Baltimore.

Roy isn’t one to wallow in self-pity so she gladly divorces Peter and channels her energies into her work. One day, she runs into Craig and the two of them hit it off and start seeing each other. Craig is a very good man; an honest lawyer and even gives a job to Parry Clay (Ernest Anderson), the son of the Timberlake family’s maid Minerva (Hattie McDaniel), so he can put himself through law school. Meanwhile, Roy and Peter’s marriage is a complete disaster. Roy is still incredibly selfish and Peter doesn’t approve of her spending habits; they’re both completely miserable. Eventually, it drives Peter to kill himself, just as Roy and Craig decide to get married.

Stanley comes back home and it isn’t long before she’s bored and wants to leave. However, she needs money to leave and she can’t get it from her father or her uncle, so she tries talking to Craig to see about getting money from Paul’s insurance policy early. She invites him to come join her for dinner one night and when he stands her up, she gets raging drunk and tries to drive home. Along the way, she hits a child, who dies. Stanley’s car is pretty recognizable to people around town so it isn’t long before the police come to see her. Desperate to avoid accepting responsibility, Stanley tries to pin it all on Parry, but she doesn’t realize how protective Roy is of Troy.

In This Our Life is a really overlooked movie. With lesser stars and a lesser director, it easily could have become a completely forgotten film. But Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland are both so perfect for their roles in it, plus the supporting cast is fantastic, as is John Huston’s direction. Together, they all took what easily could have been a mid-rate melodrama and made it something memorable. Stanley is exactly the type of character Bette Davis reveled in playing and Olivia de Havilland made the perfect calm, yet strong, contrast to Davis. If you’re a fan of Davis or de Havilland, there’s a lot to love about this movie. In This Our Life is also very noteworthy for having a rather progressive representation of African-American characters, which is indeed refreshing to see in a 1940s-era film. Definitely keep an eye out for this on the TCM lineup; it’s well worth a watch.

Advertisements

Made For Each Other (1939)

Made For Each Other 1939

When up-and-coming attorney John Mason (James Stewart) impulsively marries Jane (Carole Lombard), most of his friends and co-workers are happy for him. However, two very important people in his life aren’t so happy — his boss Joseph Doolitle (Charles Coburn) and his mother Harriet (Lucile Watson). Joseph had been hoping John would marry his daughter Eunice and Harriet would have much rather had Eunice for a daughter-in-law. Joseph and Harriet make their displeasure known from day one and do everything in their power to make things difficult for the newlyweds. First Joseph and Jane have to cancel their honeymoon because of an important case John has to work on. Then Jane has to tolerate Harriet living with them in their very small apartment. But through it all, Jane and John do their best to keep their heads up.

One night, Jane hosts an important dinner for Joseph and some of the other lawyers at John’s firm. John is expecting to be made partner that night, so Jane wants everything to be perfect. But Harriet does everything she can to sabotage Jane’s efforts and to make things worse, Joseph brings Eunice along to the dinner. Everything that can go wrong does and worst of all, John doesn’t even make partner that night. John isn’t making much money at the law firm and times are tough for him and Jane. Things get even tougher when they have a baby. Just as John gets the courage to demand a promotion and raise, Joseph announces that everyone at the firm will have to take a pay cut. The bills keep piling up and Jane is forced to look for work.

Tensions continue to rise until they reach a breaking point on New Year’s Eve when John and Jane decide to separate while at a party. But before they even have a chance to leave the party, Jane finds out their baby is seriously ill. If the baby doesn’t get a special medicine, he will not survive, and the medicine would have to be flown in from Salt Lake City, which is snowed in. The only pilot willing to make the trip would need to be paid $5,000. With no one else to turn to, John turns to Joseph for the money

Made For Each Other starts out as a run-of-the-mill drama about a young couple trying their best, then it turns the melodrama up to 11 for the ending. The standard drama parts probably would have been pretty forgettable if it weren’t for the first-rate cast. As wonderful as Carole Lombard, Jimmy Stewart, and Charles Coburn are, Lucile Watson did a fantastic job of stealing her scenes. Watson did a phenomenal job of playing one of those completely insufferable bitter old hags you’d just love to give a good smack across the face. Made for Each Other also does a great job of creating a sense of tension and frustration. I liked the movie, but I found myself getting so frustrated for Jane and John that I don’t think I’ll be watching it again anytime soon just because it made me so tense. The movie just lost me when it it suddenly switched from being about fairly believable situations to being a total melodrama at the very end.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Heaven Can Wait PosterWhen Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) dies, he has no delusions about going to Heaven.  But before he can go anywhere, he has to explain to the devil why he belongs in Hell.  So he starts telling his life story, beginning with his privileged childhood spent living with his parents and doting grandfather (Charles Coburn).  As a teenager, his family hires a maid and tutor who helps put him on the path to becoming a real playboy.  Just as Henry is about to turn 26, Henry meets Martha (Gene Tierney), the woman of his dreams.  The only problem is that she is already engaged to his cousin.  However, Martha is more interested in Henry so they elope.

Ten years later, on the morning of Henry’s 36th birthday, Martha tires of him stepping out on her so she leaves.  With encouragement from his grandfather, Henry patches things up with her and they elope all over again.  Another twenty-five years pass and Henry has settled down, but their son Jack (Tod Andrews) is behaving much like Henry had when he was younger.  On the night of their twenty-fifth anniversary, Henry notices Martha hasn’t been feeling well and she dies a short time later.

Without Martha in his life, 60-year-old Henry is back to staying out late and cavorting with women.  Jack, on the other hand, has settled down and become a responsible business man.  Henry lives to be 70 years old and dies in his bed, under the care of a beautiful nurse.  After hearing Henry’s life story, the devil decides that Henry does not belong in Hell, for he has made many people in his life happy.

Considering its cast and director, I went into Heaven Can Wait with very high expectations.  For me, this was an example of the adage, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  Heaven Can Wait isn’t one of my favorite Ernst Lubitsch films, but I’m so fond of Lubitsch that even if one of his movies isn’t a favorite of mine, I still enjoy it very much.  Gene Tierney and Don Ameche made a wonderful couple and Charles Coburn was perfectly cast as Henry’s grandfather.  The story is very sweet and has a great deal of warmth to it.  However, I just didn’t feel like it was quite in the same league as some Lubitsch’s other films like Ninotchka, Trouble in Paradise, or The Shop Around the Corner.  But those are some very lofty standards to live up to and even if Heaven can Wait doesn’t quite reach them, it’s still a pleasure to watch.

H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)

Harry Pulham (Robert Young) has always lived his life by the book.  He came from a wealthy background, went to all the right schools, has a respectable job, has two children, and is married to Kay Motford (Ruth Hussey), an ideal woman for a man of his stature.  Now middle-aged, he meets up with some of his old college friends for lunch one day and is put in charge of getting all their classmates’ biographies together for their 25-year reunion.  Later, he gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Marvin Myles (Hedy Lamarr) inviting him out for a drink.  He accepts, but when he gets to the restaurant and sees her again, he can’t bear to talk to her.

He goes home and starts to write his biography, but when he starts looking back on his life, he realizes that he has never lived life on his own terms.  Everything he’s done in life has been because his family expected it of him.  After graduating from Harvard, he fights in World War I, and after the war, his college friend Bill (Van Heflin) gets him a job at an advertising agency in New York City.  Marvin was working at the same agency and was kind of a 1940s Peggy Olson.  Bill had certainly never met an independent girl like Marvin in any of his upper-class schools and they soon fall deeply in love with each other.

However, Harry’s family back home in Boston just doesn’t understand his new life.  His parents (Charles Coburn and Fay Holden) wish he would just come home and settle down with Kay, who he has known since he was a child.  Harry has never had any real interest in Kay and certainly doesn’t want to marry her, but he wants to marry Marvin instead.  But Marvin isn’t ready to get married yet and she realizes she just doesn’t fit in with Harry’s privileged background.  They go their separate ways, but Marvin promises to always be waiting for him if he wants to come back to her.  Harry decides to settle into his predetermined life in Boston and marry Kay, even though he doesn’t really love her.  After looking back on it all, he decides to call Marvin back to see if her offer still stands.  They meet for lunch, but are still things still the same between them?

I loved this movie!  First of all, this is a King Vidor movie through and through.  It reminded me a bit of The Crowd in the sense that both movies deal with men who aren’t satisfied with where they’re at in life and are yearning for something more.  This is the kind of material that King Vidor was best suited to direct.  The cast in general was pretty stellar; Robert Young and Hedy Lamarr had good chemistry together.  Hedy Lamarr may seem like kind of an odd choice to play a free-spirited, independent woman, but she gave a very thoughtful and nuanced performance.  Ruth Hussey, Van Heflin, and Charles Coburn were all excellent supporting players.  My only complaint about it is that it could have stood being about fifteen minutes shorter.  But if you’re in the mood for something bittersweet, I very highly recommend H.M. Pulham, Esq.  It’s another one of those overlooked gems that deserves to be better remembered today.

In Name Only (1939)

Julie Eden (Carole Lombard) and Alec Walker (Cary Grant) are both lonely for two different reasons.  Alec is married to Maida (Kay Francis), but neither of them actually loves the other.  Maida only married him because of his money.  Julie is a widowed illustrator who lives with her young daughter and divorced sister.  The two meet when Julie rents a house in the town where Alec lives and naturally, they end up falling in love.  When they first meet, they hit it off right away and it starts off innocently enough.  Julie doesn’t know he’s married and Alec sees that Julie is everything Maida isn’t.  But complications arise one night when Alec and Maida’s friend Suzanne get into a car accident near Julie’s house.  Suzanne asks Julie to call Alec’s wife and a doctor for him and before Julie knows it, she’s face to face with Maida.  But Maida immediately knows there’s something between Alec and Julie when she notices Julie’s sketchbook sitting in Alec’s wrecked car.

When Julie finds out about Maida, she’s heartbroken.  After her sister’s marriage ended because of another woman, she absolutely does not want to be the other woman.  But Alec is more determined than ever to get out of his loveless marriage and demands that Maida give him a divorce.  The only way he can get her to give him a divorce is if he lets her take a trip to Paris with his parents to get it.  Desperate to be rid of her, he gladly agrees to this plan and as soon as Maida and his parents are on the boat, Alec and Julie’s relationship moves very quickly.  When Julie goes to New York for work, Alec goes with her and proposes.

The only thing standing in their way of happiness is Maida.  Their marriage plans keep being pushed back because Maida keeps running into delays with the divorce.  Or so they think.  The truth is that Maida never had any intention of giving him a divorce and she makes that point quite clear to them when she and Alec’s parents return to New York on Christmas Eve.  When Alec threatens to go to Reno himself, Maida vows to make the whole legal affair as ugly as possible.  Tired of all the frustrations, Julie breaks it off with Alec, who then heads out to a bar to drown his sorrows.  Alec stumbles into a cheap motel for the night and passes out in front of an open window.  The motel staff finds him the next morning seriously ill and Julie is called to take care of him.  At first they only think he has the flu, but it turns out to be a much more serious bout of pneumonia and he is rushed to the hospital.  The hospital won’t let Julie in to see Alec since they’re not married, but when the doctor tells Alec’s father (Charles Coburn) that Alec needs a reason to want to get well again, he lets Julie see him so he’d have that reason.  But the movie wouldn’t be complete without one last showdown between Julie and Maida.  Not only does Maida get told off by Julie, Maida accidentally reveals her true motives to Alec’s parents.  Now that Alec’s parents have finally seen the real Maida, they fully support the idea of Alec getting that divorce.

I must say, it was a pretty bold move to take Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, and Charles Coburn, what would have been one of the most brilliant comedic casts ever assembled, and put them in a drama.  But the good news is that none of their talents are wasted here.  Actually, I think this is a completely underrated movie for both Cary Grant and Carole Lombard.  Even though this gets a 7.0 on IMDB, for some reason, I didn’t go into it expecting anything special.  But I was very pleasantly surprised.  It may be pretty melodramatic, but at least it’s well acted melodrama.  Kay Francis was definitely somebody I loved to hate and I liked the chemistry between Carole and Cary.  I really wish Carole and Cary had made another movie together, perhaps they would have if Carole hadn’t died so young.  They were wonderful in a drama together, but in a comedy, they would have been absolutely unstoppable.

Be sure to visit Carole & Co. for more of her 103rd birthday celebration!

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!

Kings Row (1942)

Back at the turn of the last century, Kings Row was thought to be a picture-perfect small town.  But just like Peyton Place and Twin Peaks, Kings Row has got a very dark side.  The movie begins in 1890 when all the main characters are just children.  Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings) and Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan) are best friends and some of the rich kids in town.  Parris wants to be a doctor when he grows up and is sweet on Cassandra Tower (Betty Field).  Cassandra is the daughter of Dr. Alexander Tower (Claude Rains), who pulls her out of school under very mysterious circumstances.  Parris doesn’t see her again until he returns to Kings Row as an adult to study medicine with her father, but he never forgets her.

When he returns to Kings Row, he’s also reunited with his old best friend, Drake.  Drake is ready to propose to Louise Gordon (Nancy Coleman), daughter of the town’s other doctor, Henry Gordon (Charles Coburn).  However, Dr. Gordon refuses to let him marry Louise, which absolutely devastates Louise.  However, Drake quickly finds solace in another childhood friend, Randy Monaghan (Ann Sheridan).  Meanwhile, Parris has been quite busy.  His studies have been going very well and he’s set to be going to medical school in Vienna soon.  He’s also started a secret affair with Cassandra, but he’s also had to deal with his grandmother dying of cancer.  Before he leaves for Vienna, Cassandra begs him to take her with him, but there’s nothing romantic about it, she seems terrified of something.  The next day, both Cassandra and Dr. Tower are dead.  After Parris starts reading Dr. Tower’s notebook, he finally finds out why she was pulled out of school all those years ago.

Parris leaves for Vienna and life is great for him there.  He decides to go into psychiatry and he proves to be a first-rate student.  When he’s done with school, he’s offered a job with the school.  But things haven’t been so great for Drake.  He lost all his money in a bank scandal and the only job he could get was at the railroad yard.  Unfortunately, he is injured in an accident and Dr. Gordon amputates both of his legs.  Drake becomes deeply depressed, but at least he’s got a good caretaker in Randy, who never leaves his side.  She even marries him after the accident.  When Parris finds out about the accident, he takes a leave of absence to return to Kings Row.  As soon as he gets back to town, he is called to Louise’s house by her mother.  Her mother is concerned about her mental state, but when he talks to Louise, he finds out some very disturbing details about her father.  Details that directly relate to Drake’s accident.  Now Parris is stuck in an ethical quandary.  If Drake found out the truth, it could potentially destroy him even further.  But the only way he could make sure the truth would never come out would be to have Louise committed to a mental institution, where she’d surely face a lifetime of horrid conditions.

If you liked Peyton Place, then Kings Row is right up your alley.  They’re both all about exploring the darker side of seemingly idyllic small towns, only Kings Row focuses on a male friendship instead of a mother-daughter relationship.  I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Kings Row just because I’ve always been pretty “meh” about Ronald Reagan as an actor.  But I’ve got to admit that I loved this movie.  The whole cast is fantastic; I even actually really liked Ronald Reagan in it.  But the most surprising performance to me was from Charles Coburn.  I always associate Coburn with more lighthearted roles like the ones he had in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The More the Merrier, so seeing him playing an incredibly dark, sinister character was definitely a change, but he sure was amazing.  He doesn’t get a lot of screen time in this movie, but he made the most of the time he did get.  I’d say this is a “must see” kind of movie.