Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

A Woman of Affairs (1928)

A Woman of Affairs Garbo Gilbert

Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo) and Neville Holderness (John Gilbert) have been friends since childhood and ever since they were very young, Diana has been madly in love with Neville. They want to get married, but Neville’s father doesn’t approve and sends him to work in Egypt for a few years, where he will be able to make a lot of money. Diana wants to wait for him, but after a couple of years, she marries David Furness (John Mack Brown), someone Diana’s brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) adores. It isn’t that Diana doesn’t like David, it’s that her heart will always belong to Neville. On their wedding night, David and Diana are visited by the police and David suddenly commits suicide.

Diana knows why he killed himself, but won’t say, and Jeffry believes David did it because of her. David’s death drives a huge wedge between Jeffry and Diana. Jeffry, already a heavy drinker, keeps drinking his way down a path of self-destruction while Diana becomes a woman notorious for having lots of affairs. The years go by and Neville comes home, but he’s engaged to marry Constance (Dorothy Sebastian). Just before their wedding, Diana calls for a doctor friend of theirs, who happens to be having dinner with Neville and Constance that night, to get help for Jeffry. Jeffry is extremely ill and won’t let Diana help. After she leaves, Neville follows her out and they end up spending the night together.

Several months later, after Neville and Constance are married, Neville gets a message saying that Diana is sick and she keeps asking for him. She’s been recovering from a miscarriage and is in a delirious state. When he goes to see her, she doesn’t even recognize him. But when she comes to her senses a little bit, she declares her love for him, not realizing he’s brought Constance with him. Neville’s never stopped loving her, but now that he has a chance to be with his true love, does he leave Constance behind?

A Lady of Affairs is pure melodrama, but it’s really great melodrama. Few actresses were made to work in silent film the way Greta Garbo was. The simple movement of her eyebrows spoke volumes and she is positively radiant in this movie. She gives a fantastic performance and although I wouldn’t say this is the best pairing of Garbo and John Gilbert (it’s awfully hard to top the cinematic explosion that is Flesh and the Devil), but Gilbert is very good in it, too, and it’s easy to see why they were such a hit with movie audiences. Great stars, beautiful cinematography, an interesting story (a bit scandalous for its time, but still toned down from the book it was based on), it all adds up to one entertaining movie.

Captured! (1933)

Captured 1933

Captain Fred Allison (Leslie Howard) has been stuck in a German P.O.W. camp for two years. Not only is he stuck in terrible conditions, he misses his wife Monica (Margaret Lindsay) dearly and although it’s been a long time since he last got a letter from her, the hope of hearing from her is the big thing that keeps him going every day. He also tries to make life better for himself and his fellow prisoners and even makes a deal with the new commandant Carl Ehrlich (Paul Lukas) to personally be responsible for the behavior of the other prisoners if they are granted more privileges.

One day, Jack Digby (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), Fred’s best friend, is brought to the camp with a group of new prisoners. Fred is thrilled to see his old friend, plus he knows Jack had seen Monica just a few months ago and he’s eager to know how she is. But when Fred talks to him, Jack seems unusually distant and uncomfortable, and eager to escape, even though Fred tries to talk him out of it. What Fred doesn’t realize is that Jack has fallen in love with Monica and feels terribly guilty for it. He doesn’t find out the truth until Jack makes an escape attempt and he sees a letter to Jack in Monica’s handwriting.

The same night Jack tries to escape, another soldier rapes and murders a woman and the German officers think Jack is the guilty party, so they set out to bring him back and execute him. After he’s brought back to the camp, Jack accuses Fred of doing this to him to out of anger about his affair with Monica. Just as Jack is about to face the firing squad, Fred finds a letter of confession from the real murderer and has to decide whether or not to tell the truth.

Captured! is a pretty good little movie that deserves to be a little more widely known. I don’t think I would have heard of it if it hadn’t been on today’s Summer Under the Stars lineup. Like many other pre-codes, it’s only a little over an hour long, but manages to fit a lot in during that time thanks to good pacing and generally effective storytelling. It’s got a great cast with very good performances from Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Leslie Howard, and Paul Lukas. If you’re a fan of either one of them, Captured! is definitely worth your time. Perhaps a little forced and overly dramatic near the end, but still, a pretty enjoyable movie and I’m glad I decided to take a chance on it today.

Pre-Code Essentials: Union Depot (1932)

Union Depot Joan Blondell Douglas Fairbanks Jr.


After getting out of jail, Chick Miller (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) heads over to the train station and hits the jackpot when he finds an abandoned suitcase with a nice suit and a bunch of money inside. He puts on the suit, gets some dinner, and starts looking around the station for a companion for the night. The train station is full of prostitutes and he sets his sights on Ruth Collins (Joan Blondell). Ruth is a dancer who was stranded in town when she was injured and had to recover. To get by, Dr. Bernardi, a lecherous, blind doctor, has been paying Ruth to read smutty books aloud to him. She can go back to her old job, but she needs money for a train ticket to Salt Lake City and she’s afraid Dr. Bernardi is following her.

Chick takes pity on Ruth and offers to buy her a train ticket, no strings attached. He buys her a ticket, he buys her dinner, and he insists on buying her some new clothes. Although they have a lovely night together, everything goes awry when they find themselves mixed up with some counterfeit money and Dr. Bernardi makes a return.

My Thoughts

If you like movies that don’t waste time, Union Depot is right up your alley. It takes a couple of minutes before the plot actually gets moving, but the first few minutes do a great job of establishing the atmosphere of this train station. Blondell and Fairbanks are a really likable duo; it’s too bad they weren’t teamed up again in any other movies. Union Depot is an excellent example of the types of movies Warner Brothers was known for making at the time: gritty and fast-paced. All in all, a pretty great way to spend 67 minutes.

The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

The amount of prostitutes you see within the first few minutes of the movie.

Poor Ruth’s job with Dr. Bernardi.

The sheer creepiness that is Dr. Bernardi.

Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Union Depot doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being one of the all-time great pre-codes. I have no idea why that is because it’s one of the most thoroughly pre-code movies I’ve ever seen. (And unlike a lot of other movies I can think of that are only worth watching for the pre-code content, Union Depot actually is a pretty decent little movie.) If you aren’t familiar with the pre-code era and are under the impression that classic films were all sweet and wholesome, the first ten minutes alone of Union Depot will make your jaw hit the floor. But what really cinches this as an essential pre-code is the character of Dr. Bernardi. The pre-code era had plenty of lecherous characters, but Dr. Bernardi was one of the creepiest. It’s made so clear that he was a complete pervert who preys on vulnerable women that it’s easy to understand why poor Ruth was so desperate to get away from him.

Parachute Jumper (1933)

Parachute Jumper 1933 After leaving the Marines, Bill Keller (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and Toodles Cooper (Frank McHugh) head to New York, thinking they have jobs as commercial pilots lined up.  But when they arrive, it turns out the company has gone out of business. Bill and Toodles have no other choice but to stay and look for jobs, but the Depression, there aren’t many jobs to be found.  One day, Bill meets Patricia “Alabama” Kent (Bette Davis), who is also struggling to find work.  She and Bill hit it off and he invites her to live with him and Toodles.

Bill finally gets a break when he finds a company looking for people to skydive an audience.  His stunt doesn’t go exactly as planned so that’s the end of that gig.  But he takes his paycheck, buys a chauffeur’s uniform, and gets a job driving Mrs. Newberry (Claire Dodd) around.  Mrs. Newberry is the girlfriend of gangster Kurt Weber (Leo Carrillo) and Kurt sees that Bill could potentially be an asset to his organization.  But after Bill gets into some trouble smuggling drugs into Canada, Bill decides he needs to get out of the racket before it’s too late.

To be perfectly honest, my main reason for wanting to see Parachute Jumper is because Bette Davis hated that movie with a passion.  She spent years badmouthing that movie at any chance she got.  In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, a clip of Parachute Jumper was used to show what a lousy actress Jane Hudson was.  Now that I’ve finally seen the infamous Parachute Jumper for myself, I can see why Bette loathed it.  The southern accent she used in it is hardly one of her finest acting moments.  Not only is Bette not very good in it, the story is forgettable. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Frank McHugh aren’t much more memorable, either.  It’s not quite as bad as Bette made it out to be; I’ve certainly seen far worse movies.  But it’s a movie that I’d only recommend if you really want to watch every movie Bette Davis was ever in.

Loose Ankles (1930)

Loose Ankles 1930 PosterWhen Ann Harper’s (Loretta Young) grandmother passes away, the family gathers for the reading of the will.  Ann’s grandmother was a very wealthy woman, so Ann’s family members are all eager to find out what she’s left to them.  Much to everyone’s surprise, most of the estate is left to Ann, but there are strings attached — she will not receive her inheritance until she gets married to a man approved by her repressed aunts Katherine (Ethel Wales) and Sarah (Louise Fazenda).  Not only that, the only way anybody in the family will get their inheritance is if Ann gets married without being involved in any scandals that make the newspaper.

Ann has no desire to get married and resents being forced into it, so she needs to get involved in a scandal and fast.  She puts an ad in the paper looking for a young, attractive, unscrupulous man and when Gil Hayden (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) sees it and decides he’s the man for the job.  He shows up at Ann’s apartment to find Ann and her eager maid ready to set up the big scandal.  But while they’re waiting for the newspaper reporters to arrive, Ann’s aunts come over and try to force Gil into marrying Ann, so Gil jumps out of the window.  However, during their brief time together, Gil and Ann start to fall in love with each other.

When Gil goes home and tells his roommate about his meeting with Ann,   Gil’s roommate decides Gil needs to marry Ann for her money.  One night when Ann is out at a new nightclub, her aunts go to keep an eye on her.  Gil and his roommates are also there.  Gil’s roommates ply Ann’s aunts with alcohol, leaving Gil to spend time with Ann.  But when the club is raided, it turns out Ann’s aunts are the ones most likely to make the scandal sheets.  The only way Ann will save their reputations is if they allow her to marry Gil.

Loose Ankles‘ plot is flimsier than a piece of paper, the acting isn’t good, and at 70 minutes, it still manages to drag on for too long.  But if you’re just in it for the pre-code factor, you might have a little fun with it for that reason alone.  It’s certainly not a great movie, but if you want pre-code material, it at least delivers on that.

Love is a Racket (1932)

It’s never a good idea to give too much of yourself in a relationship, and that’s a lesson newspaper columnist Jimmy Russell (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is about to find out the hard way.  He’s in love with aspiring actress Mary Wodehouse (Frances Dee), and since he writes the Broadway gossip column, he uses that to help influence her career.  His friend Sally (Ann Dvorak) has been in love with him, but he’s too blind to see that Mary will take him for everything she can get.  Even though Mary has also been seeing a Broadway producer, when Mary writes a bunch of bad checks, of course Jimmy wants to jump in and pay them off for her.  But it turns out someone has beaten him to the punch.  Gangster Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot) isn’t too happy with Jimmy or his newspaper since he found out they were planning to break a story about a racket he’s involved in.  Even though Jimmy agreed to kill the story, Eddie went ahead and bought up all of Mary’s bad checks.  Eddie tells Jimmy that he’s headed off to Atlantic City for a few days and Jimmy follows them, but when Jimmy arrives, he finds out it’s a trap and is held captive by one of Eddie’s cronies.

Meanwhile, in New York, Eddie takes this opportunity to start winning Mary over.  He sends her a bracelet and a telegram telling her to come over to his place.  Mary is scared and with Jimmy out of town, doesn’t know what to do.  Finally, her Aunt Hattie decides she can’t sit idly by and watch Mary fall in with a guy like Eddie, so she decides to settle the score herself.  By now, Jimmy has gotten away from Eddie’s cronies and makes it back to Eddie’s apartment just in time to see Jimmy dead and Hattie ditching the evidence.  Still wanting to protect Mary, he destroys all the evidence and makes it look like Eddie killed himself.  But in yet another crazy twist of fate, Jimmy’s friend Stanley (Lee Tracy) also comes by just in time to see Jimmy shove Eddie’s body off the building and assumes that Jimmy was the one who killed him.

Everyone believes that Eddie committed suicide, but Stanley doesn’t know the real story.  To protect his friend, he took some incriminating evidence from the scene of the crime and hands them over to Jimmy.  He has no intention of ratting his friend out, he just doesn’t want them falling into the wrong hands.  Later, they head back to Jimmy’s apartment and get a telegram from Mary announcing her sudden marriage to that Broadway producer.  Finally, Jimmy realizes what a sap he’s been.  He sends Aunt Hattie a little wedding present — the gun she used to kill Eddie — and declares that he will never fall in love again.  But the way he looks at Sally lets us know that won’t last long.

I think Love is a Racket is something of an underrated pre-code.  The story is pretty convoluted, but its sharp script and strong cast make it pretty enjoyable.  Doug Fairbanks, Jr., Frances Dee, Lyle Talbot, and Lee Tracy are all great, although it’s too bad that there wasn’t more to Ann Dvorak’s character.  She gets some witty lines to say, but other than that, there’s just not a whole lot of substance to her part.  Give this one a shot next time it’s on TCM.  With a runtime of just over an hour, what have you got to lose?

Union Depot (1932)

Train Stations are always full of activity and the night that drifters Chick Miller (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and his friend Scrap (Guy Kibbee) get out of jail is no exception.  Once they’re out, they head over to the train station to try to catch a break.  Chick hits the jackpot when he finds an abandoned suitcase that happens to have a nice suit and some money inside.  He gets himself cleaned up, gets some dinner, and sets out to look for a woman to spend the night with.  The station is full of hookers actively trying to pick him up, but he finds himself drawn to Ruth Collins (Joan Blondell).  Ruth needs to catch a train to Salt Lake City ASAP, but desperately needs the money to get there.  He takes her to a motel, buys her dinner, and listens to the story of how she wound up in the train station that night.  She’s a showgirl who found herself stranded after breaking her ankle and had to wait for it to heal.  To support herself, she had been getting paid to read smutty books to a blind old doctor.  And to top it all off, now she’s worried that the creepy doctor might be following her.  Luckily, her boss is willing to give her her job back if she can make it to Salt Lake City that night.  After hearing her story, Chick offers to buy her ticket for her, no strings attached.

Meanwhile, counterfeiter Bushy Sloan (Alan Hale) has come to town with a violin case full of counterfeit money.  He checks the case and puts the claim check in his wallet, but then his wallet is stolen.  The thief takes the money and ditches the wallet, which is found by Scrap.  When Chick and Ruth come back to the station, Scrap sees him and gives him the claim check so that he can bring whatever it is that’s checked to the pawn shop.  Chick gets the violin case, but when he sees it’s full of money, he takes some, has Scrap help him hide the case, and goes to buy Ruth a new dress.  He leaves Ruth to buy the dress and while she’s in the store, a ticket is delivered to her.  Naturally, she assumes it’s from Chick, and hurries over to the train.  When she gets there, she realizes her worst fear has come true — that creepy doctor really was following her.  But that’s not even the worst of her problems.  By now, the store clerk has realized she paid with counterfeit money and both Chick and Ruth are arrested.  Fortunately, Chick is able to clear both of their names.

I loved Union Depot!  It’s usually described as being kind of like Grand Hotel, but in a train station, which isn’t a bad description of it.  It doesn’t have as many different stories going on as Grand Hotel, but isn’t as long as Grand Hotel, either.  Union Depot is one of those wonderful movies that wastes absolutely no time at all.  It’s only a little over an hour long, but it sure made the most of its time.  If you love pre-codes, Union Depot is so up your alley because it is jam-packed with pre-code goodness.  Within the first five minutes alone, it’s got hookers looking for some sailors and a person posing for pictures by a train while the photographer asks her to show more leg.  And then when you factor in Ruth’s story about being paid to read smutty books to a creepy old doctor, more hints at prostitution, and the fact that the movie’s hero is also a criminal, I think this is one of the most awesomely sordid pre-code movies I’ve ever come across.

What’s on TCM: October 2011

This month’s schedule is one that I’m definitely a big fan of.  Being the big silent film fan that I am, obviously I am very excited for Buster Keaton being the star of the month!  Every Sunday night will be all Buster Keaton, all night long.  Not only that, since it’s October, it goes without saying that there will be plenty of classic horror movies to get you into the Halloween spirit. Monday nights are classic horror nights starting at 8:00 PM, with plenty more to come on October 29th , 30th, and 31st.  TCM will also be commemorating the 100th birthday of director Nicholas Ray by playing a night of his movies every Tuesday night this month.