David Manners

Man Wanted Kay Francis David Manners

Man Wanted (1932)

Lois Ames (Kay Francis) is the very hard-working editor of “400 Magazine.” Although she is married to Fred (Kenneth Thomson), their marriage is very open and Fred parties all the time while Lois is working and carries on lots of affairs. Her job involves a lot of long hours, and when her secretary gets fed up with working late, she quits and leaves Lois in need of a new secretary ASAP! As luck would have it, Tom Sheridan happened to be in her office at the time to demonstrate a rowing machine, but since he’s up for a new challenge.

Tom likes his new job and working for Lois. He and Lois have also become very romantically interested in each other. But Tom is engaged to Ruth (Una Merkel) and when she begins to suspect there’s something going on between him and Lois, she’s not nearly as tolerant of it as Lois is with her husband’s adultery. Although Tom loves Lois, he knows she’s married and thinks their affair will ultimately go nowhere, so he decides to quit his job to be with Ruth. With Tom leaving, Lois tries to refocus her attentions on her marriage, but much to her delight, Fred announces he wants a divorce instead. Now Lois has one last chance to win Tom over.

Man Wanted is nothing Earth shattering, but it’s a darn fun movie. If you’re interested in the pre-code era, you’ll love Man Wanted because it is extremely pre-code; the shamelessly open adultery makes it an essential pre-code. The cast is fantastic and I would expect nothing less from Kay Francis, Una Merkel, and David Manners. It’s very fast paced, clocking in at slightly over an hour, with a smart script and great direction from William Dieterle. I absolutely loved the sets, too; how amazing was Lois’s office? It’s terrific all around!

The Miracle Woman (1931)

The Miracle Woman 1931Florence Fallon’s (Barbara Stanwyck) father dedicated his life to being a minister.  After spending twenty years giving his all to his congregation, he is forced out by his church and it’s too much for him to bear.  He dies the morning he was to give his final sermon, leaving Florence heartbroken and furious at the congregation for the way they treated him.  When she gets up to deliver what would have been his final sermon, she tells the congregation exactly what she thinks of them.  The congregation does not appreciate Florence’s brutal honesty and leaves, but she catches the attention of Hornsby (Sam Hardy), a promoter who wants to turn her into a popular, albeit phony, evangelist.

Florence goes along with his plan and makes it big. When John Carson (David Manners), a former aviator who has gone blind, hears one of her sermons over the radio, it changes his life.  He goes to see one of her shows and waits to meet her afterwards.  After they meet, Florence goes back to John’s apartment and they have a wonderful evening together. When Florence realizes how genuinely touched he was by her sermon, she feels extremely guilty about the shady nature of her business and wants to get out of it. But Hornsby has been harboring secret feelings about her and refuses to let her go.  Florence continues to see John and falls madly in love with him, but Hornsby blackmails her into going on a romantic trip to Monte Carlo.  As she says goodbye to John, she admits to being a phony, but even that isn’t enough to make him stop loving her.

Just before Florence is to go on stage for her last show before her trip, John comes backstage and tries to convince her that he has been miraculously cured.  He isn’t very convincing, but the effort inspires Florence to go out and tell her followers the truth.  Hornsby tries to stop her by turning off the lights, which accidentally causes a fire to break out.  Every0ne escapes and John rescues Florence.  After that incident, Florence leaves everything behind to join the Salvation Army.  One day, she gets a telegram from John letting her know that he may be able to get his vision back and still wants to marry her.

I’ve seen most of the movies Barbara Stanwyck made in the first few years of her career and The Miracle Woman ranks as one of my favorites from that era.  Any movie that opens with Barbara Stanwyck telling off a whole crowd of people is my kind of movie.  Her performance is wonderful throughout the movie, but the way she mixes vulnerability, sadness, and anger in that first scene is incredible and a powerful way to start the movie off.  It’s one of my favorite scenes Stanwyck has ever done.

Another thing I adored about The Miracle Woman was Frank Capra’s direction.  When John comes to see Florence’s show for the first time, she delivers her sermon standing in a cage with lions.  (Yes, The Miracle Woman opens with Stanwyck telling people off, then later she does a scene in a cage with lions. How awesome is that?)  The way Capra filmed this scene really stayed with me after the movie was over.  Florence wears a robe that isn’t particularly ornate, but it does have a sheer overlay with long sleeves.  As she moves her arms, the light hits those sheer sleeves and it makes her look almost angelic, like there’s an aura surrounding her.  Given the way Florence’s followers view her, I thought that making her look as heavenly — literally– as possible was a such a perfect choice for that scene.

Lady With a Past (1932)

Venice Muir (Constance Bennett) is rich, beautiful, stylish, and very intelligent, so you’d think she’s the kind of woman guys line up to meet, right? Nope. Venice wishes she were more appealing to men, but she’s just too dull to get their attention.  She’s knows darn well that all the men she meets want someone exciting, but how does one get an exciting reputation without actually having to earn it? It turns out the answer is to make one up.

Donnie Wainwright (David Manners) is the man she longs for the most, and Venice’s friend tries to get him to talk to her.  One night at a party, he gets drunk and takes a chance on Venice and talks her into running off to Paris to elope with him. But the next day, he leaves her for another woman. Venice goes ahead with the trip and along the way, comes up with a plan to win Donnie back.

While in Paris, she meets an unemployed American named Guy Bryson (Ben Lyon) and hires him to pose as her gigolo. He helps her concoct a whole new persona with a slew of fake rumors about her love life to go with it.  Sure enough, this plan works and Venice quickly becomes one of the most sought after women in Paris. When Donny comes to Paris for a few days, of course he’s shocked to see that Venice now has a band of admirers, which Venice uses to make Donny very jealous.

However, the plan hits a snag when Rene (Albert Conte), one of Venice’s suitors, proposes to her and she turns him down. He had been very deep in debt and was hoping to marry her to save himself, but when she rejects him, he kills himself.  Meanwhile, Venice is at the train station with Donny, who proposes to her again. But when she hears about Rene, she is devastated. She never meant for her scheme to hurt anyone, so she and Guy head back to America, where they quickly realize that Venice’s new reputation has already made its way overseas. When she goes to a party, all the men flock to her, but Donny doesn’t approve of her new image. She calls him out for being a hypocrite, but he manages to win her over once and for all.

Lady With a Past is far from being great cinema, but it is a pretty likeable bit of fluff.  By far, the most far-fetched thing about this movie is that we’re supposed to believe that no man is interested in Constance Bennett.  I thought it was interesting that they didn’t try to make Venice even the slightest bit dowdy; she was glamorous and stylish the whole time. Venice is a bit socially awkward at first, but come on! Plenty of men would let that slide for a woman who looks like that.  But if you’re able to suspend your disbelief, Constance, David Manners, and Ben Lyon do a good job of making the movie fun to watch.