Estelle Taylor

Don Juan (1926)

Don Juan 1926As a young child, Don Juan (John Barrymore) is warned of one thing by his father — take all the love he can get from women, but be careful to not give them your love in return. Don Juan’s father Don Jose (also John Barrymore) knows a thing or two about being spurned by women, first when he finds out his wife is cheating on him, then he’s killed by a woman who stabs him. Don Juan takes his father’s advice to heart and after graduating college, he lives in Italy and establishes quite the reputation with women. At the time, Italy was being ruled by the Borgia family and Lucrezia Borgia (Estelle Taylor) has heard all about him. She personally invites Don Juan to a party she’s throwing and he goes, knowing what happens to people who defy the Borgias.

At the party, Don Juan is quite unimpressed with Lucrezia, but is instantly enamored with Adriana della Varnese (Mary Astor). Adriana is the kind of woman who makes him forget about all those warnings his father had given him about women. Lucrezia becomes extremely jealous and tries to get her to marry Count Donati (Montagu Love) and plots to kill her father. But then Don Juan get in the way of her scheme and officially wins Adriana’s affections. But Lucrezia isn’t willing to give up so easily and continues to threaten Adriana into marrying Donati. Even knowing how dangerous it can be to cross the Borgia family, Don Juan still refuses to marry Lucrezia and stops Adriana’s wedding. Lucrezia tries to have Don Juan locked up and put to death, but he stops at nothing to marry the woman he loves.

Although it doesn’t feature any spoken dialogue, Don Juan is significant for being the first commercially released feature film with a synchronized soundtrack and sound effects on Vitaphone. Don Juan was definitely meant to be a big prestige picture for Warner Brothers. Not only did it utilize the new Vitaphone technology, it starred John Barrymore, one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, and featured a lot of lavish sets and costumes, plus some exciting action scenes. It even does a good job of using first-person camera perspective in some shots. Warner Brothers clearly pulled out all the stops and it definitely shows. Although the story drags a little bit, it’s generally a very entertaining movie and an excellent action role for the great John Barrymore. It’s not hard to see how this one was a huge hit when it was released and it remains very likable today. (Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for Myrna Loy in a small role!)

Call Her Savage (1932)

Call Her Savage PosterLike so many young women, Nasa (Clara Bow) loves to rebel against her father Pete Springer (Willard Robertson).  Or at least the he’s man she believes is her father.  Nasa’s real father is a Native American her mother Ruth (Estelle Taylor) was having an affair with until he was forced to marry another woman. Nasa is a very high-spirited and hot-tempered young woman, which drives her father crazy.  When he sends her off to a boarding school in Chicago, he hopes they will be able to get her to behave, but instead, she’s as wild as ever.

In a last ditch attempt to get Nasa to clean up her act, Pete tries to force her into marrying a man she doesn’t want to marry and plans to announce their engagement at a big party.  Nasa heads him off by inviting notorious playboy Larry Crosby (Monroe Owsley) to the party so she can have someone to cavort with.  When Larry’s girlfriend Sunny (Thelma Todd) shows up, she and Nasa get into a brawl.  And to top things off, Larry proposes to Nasa after the big fight and they get married right away.  That’s the last straw for Pete, who tells Nasa that he never wants to see her again.

Nasa and Larry’s marriage is extremely short lived, though.  After Nasa decides she’s done with him, she has a grand time living the high life on Larry’s dime.  But when she gets word that Larry is very sick, she goes to see him and Larry attacks her.  When she finds out the extent of Larry’s illness, she realizes she can’t count on him anymore.  And to make things worse, Nasa is expecting a child.  Her baby is born prematurely and she is left to care for him in a run-down boardinghouse.  When she needs medication for the baby, she resorts to selling herself to get the money.  But while she’s gone, there’s a fire in the building and her baby dies of smoke inhalation.

Even though Nasa has faced terrible tragedies, things start to turn around for her when she gets a visit from her old friend Moonglow (Gilbert Roland).  He’s come to tell her that her grandfather has died and left her $100,000.  She heads to New York, takes out an ad looking for an escort to accompany her, and  meets Jay Randall (Anthony Jowitt) when he responds to her ad.  Jay is the son of a millionaire, but keeps that a secret from Nasa, even though she figures it out for herself pretty quickly.  Jay loves Nasa, but their relationship ends after his father gets involved.  With Jay out of the picture, she gets word that her mother is dying and Nasa heads home to make peace with her past.

I have seen Lifetime movies that aren’t as overly melodramatic as Call Her Savage is.   Seriously, what doesn’t this movie have?  I think the only way this movie could have been any more dramatic is if they also made Nasa a drug addict.  Storywise, Call Her Savage is a bit disjointed.  There are times when it switches gears with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball.  Like after the scene when Nasa goes to visit Larry when he’s sick and he attacks her, then all of a sudden, Nasa is totally destitute and has a baby.  There’s not much of a transition there at all.  I also found the whole morality message about the sins of the father being passed on to his children to be really tacked on and forced.

By far, Call Her Savage‘s biggest redeeming quality is Clara Bow’s pure star quality.  She really saved this movie.  This was the second-to-last movie Clara Bow starred in and based on what I saw here, it’s really too bad she didn’t continue to make more movies.  Her voice was fine, her energy was terrific, and her acting was great.  This was the first time I saw Clara Bow in a movie that wasn’t a silent film and even though I thought she was great in silents, I actually liked her even more in this. Even if this is the only Clara Bow movie you’ve seen, you’ll have no problem understanding why she was such a big star.

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.