Guy Kibbee

It’s a Wonderful World (1939)

It's a Wonderful World

After millionaire Willie Heyward (Ernest Truex) is accused of murdering his girlfriend, detective Guy Johnson (Jimmy Stewart) gets the job of defending him. Since there is so much evidence to suggest that Heyward is guilty, Guy tries to hide him until he can break the case. But then Guy gets arrested for hiding Heyward and is sentenced to a year in prison. Determined to prove Heyward’s innocence, Guy escapes on his way to prison. Since Guy was handcuffed to a police officer at the time, Guy has to knock him out to get away and poet Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert) witnesses the whole thing. To keep her from talking, Guy kidnaps her and takes her car.

After hearing Guy’s story, Edwina insists on helping him prove Heyward’s innocence. The last thing Guy wants is to have Edwina tagging along, but despite his best efforts, he just can’t seem to shake her. Together they make their way to upstate New York where Guy believes he can crack the case by joining a theater troupe so he can do some undercover investigating. With help from his colleague Cap Streeter (Guy Kibbee) and Edwina, they manage to capture the real culprit.

I love Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert, so there’s no way I could resist seeing a movie that stars both of them. I was certainly not disappointed; It’s a Wonderful World (not to be confused with Jimmy Stewart’s other, more famous film) was a real delight. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know how much I love finding those often overlooked movie gems and that’s precisely what It’s a Wonderful World is. It’s a great little screwball comedy that absolutely deserves to be more well-known. It may not be one of the best movies of either Colbert or Stewarts’ careers, but when you consider the careers they both had, even their second tier movies are still better than a lot of other actors’ best films. And you’ve got to see It’s a Wonderful World if only to see Jimmy Stewart wearing a ridiculous scoutmaster disguise.

Blonde Crazy (1931)

Blonde Crazy PosterWhen Anne Roberts (Joan Blondell) tries to get a job as a hotel housekeeper, bellhop Bert Harris (James Cagney) takes one look at her and knows he wants her to work at the hotel.  The position has already been filled, but Bert fixes it so that Anne gets the job.  Even though Bert is a bellhop by day, he’s got gambling and bootleg alcohol rackets going on the side and he wants Anne to be his partner in crime.

After catching hotel guest A. Rupert Johnson, Jr. (Guy Kibbee) in a compromising situation, Johnson gives Bert quite a bit of money to keep his mouth shut.  Bert and Anne go to a fancy hotel in another city to celebrate and end up meeting fellow con artist Dan Barker (Louis Calhern).  Dan and Bert plan a scam to pull together, but in the end, it’s Bert and Anne are the ones who get ripped off.  They hop on a train to try to find Dan, but on the way, Anne meets and falls in love with Joe Reynolds (Ray Milland).  Joe is more sophisticated and cultured than Bert and Anne can’t resist that.  Even though Bert confesses his feelings toward her, Anne decides marries Joe instead.

A year passes and turns out Joe is much more like Bert than Anne realized.  He’s stolen $30,000 from the company he works for and is facing a prison sentence.  Anne knows the only person who can possibly get him out of this mess is Bert, so she turns to him for help.  Bert comes up with a plan, but it backfires and Bert is the one who ends up in prison.  When Anne comes to visit him, she tells Bert that she loved him all along.

What a duo James Cagney and Joan Blondell were!  I’ve seen nearly all of the movies they made together and I’d say Blonde Crazy is one of their best, second only to Footlight Parade.  Blonde Crazy is practically tailor-made for Cagney and Blondell — snappy dialogue, pre-code antics, and plenty of chances for Blondell to be sassy and for Cagney to be his high-energy self.  They make it an absolutely irresistible movie.  Whether you’re a fan of Cagney, Blondell, or pre-codes in general, you will have a lot of fun with Blonde Crazy.

Havana Widows (1933)

Havana Widows After losing their jobs dancing in a chorus, Mae (Joan Blondell) and Sadie (Glenda Farrell) take some advice from one of their friends and head to Havana to meet rich men and snare them in breach of promise lawsuits.  But first they need money to get to Havana.  Mae decides to hit up Herman Brody (Allen Jenkins) for a loan, claiming she needs the money to go tend to her sick mother in Kansas.  He loans her the money, but since he doesn’t have the cash, he has to get a loan from his boss.  But before he can get the money to Mae and Sadie, Herman gambles the money away and gets involved in a convoluted scheme involving an insurance policy to cover the lost money.

Once Mae and Sadie make it to Havana, they pose as rich women and quickly meet Deacon Jones (Guy Kibbee).  Deacon Jones can’t hold his liquor and can’t afford to be involved in any scandals, so it seems like the perfect target!  Plus he has a son named Bob (Lyle Talbot), who catches Mae’s eye.  Unfortunately for Sadie and Mae, Bob doesn’t have any money of his own and they meet Deacon’s wife, so a breach of promise suit is out of the question.  But they can at least try to trap the Deacon in a scandalous situation and try to get money from him that way.

Meanwhile, Herman is getting into hot water over his insurance scheme and needs to find Mae and Sadie to get his money back.  When he finds out he’s been scammed, he hops on the next boat to Havana.  But when he arrives, he gets pulled into Sadie and Mae’s scheme to scandalize the Deacon so he can get his money back that way.  They cause a scandal all right, but it gets so out of hand that the Deacon can’t buy his way out of it.  In fact, the whole lot of them are court ordered to leave Cuba immediately.  But that’s okay, because everybody winds up happy in the end.

I can sum up Havana Widows in one word: convoluted.  But it’s convoluted in a way that only Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell could pull off.  Both Blondell and Farrell are so good at, well, being Blondell and Farrell, they can do just fine with such cockamamie material.  It’s nonsense, but it’s fun nonsense full of rapid-fire dialogue, wisecracks, and a good cast.

42nd Street (1933)

42nd Street 1933When word gets out that producers Jones and Barry are putting on a new show, it’s the talk of the theater world.  Since the nation is in the midst of the Great Depression, a lot of people are depending on this show; everyone from electricians and set builders to chorus girls and the show’s director need it to be a hit.  Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) agrees to direct the show despite his doctor’s advice.  Julian has recently suffered a nervous breakdown and was advised to find a less stressful profession.  But Julian can’t afford to retire, so he needs it to be a hit so he can afford to get out of the business.

One person who is living comfortably, despite the Depression, is Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels).  She’s the girlfriend of Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), the show’s financial backer, which means she has no problem securing a position as the show’s leading lady. Other ladies clamor for the chance to be in the chorus, including Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), who is new to the theater world.  But Peggy has no problem fitting in and quickly makes friends with fellow chorines Annie (Ginger Rogers) and Lorraine (Una Merkel) and catches the eye of Billy Lawler (Dick Powell).

After rehearsals get underway, the producers find out that Dorothy has been seeing her former vaudeville partner Pat Denning (George Brent) on the side.  Not wanting to endanger the show, they try to put a stop to it.  But just before the show is set to open, Abner finds out about Dorothy’s two-timing, they get into a fight, and he wants her out of the show.  The producers protest, but when Dorothy injures her ankle, they have no choice but to re-cast the lead.  Abner wants Annie to take the lead, but she knows she isn’t up to the task.  However, she believes Peggy is.

When 42nd Street was released in 1933, the concept of the backstage musical had already been done before in movies like The Broadway Melody.  But when 42nd Street came along, it not only became the ultimate backstage musical, it revolutionized the entire genre of musicals.  Everyone wanted to mimic Busby Berkley’s style of choreography.  But unlike many early musicals, 42nd Street can hardly be described as creaky or dull.  Its slick production values, catchy songs, memorable choreography, and witty banter keep it fresh even after eighty years.

Laughing Sinners (1931)

For two years, nightclub dancer Ivy Stevens (Joan Crawford) has been carrying on an affair with traveling salesman Howdy Palmer (Neil Hamilton).  Howdy means the absolute world to Ivy, but what she doesn’t know is that he’s about to leave her to marry another woman.  He knows how heartbroken she would be and can’t bring himself to end things in person, so he leaves a note for her to find as soon as she’s done on stage one night.

Ivy is so devastated that she wants to throw herself off a bridge, but just as she’s about to jump, Salvation Army worker Carl Loomis (Clark Gable) stops her and offers her some reassuring words.  He also invites her to join him at a picnic for disadvantaged children he’ll be working at.  Ivy turns him down at first, but when she reads about Howdy’s wedding in the newspaper, she changes her mind.  That afternoon, she trades her flashy clothing for the more modest Salvation Army uniform.

Time passes and Howdy isn’t happy with his marriage, so when he runs into Ivy one day, he tries to rekindle their relationship.  But by then, Ivy has found happiness with Carl and in her new, more wholesome life, so she turns him down.  Howdy doesn’t want to let her go and continues to pressure her into getting back together with him, and eventually she gives in.  Ivy had thought her past was now firmly behind her, but being with Howdy again has brought out her former self again.  When she starts dancing around the way she used to, she catches the attention of everyone in her hotel, including Carl.  She’s horrified for Carl to see her that way, but ultimately, she realizes the life she could lead with Carl is the one that would bring her the most happiness.

Laughing Sinners has a pretty mediocre story, but if you’re a big fan of either Crawford or Gable, it’s worth seeing just for the sake of seeing them working together for the second time.  Crawford gave a pretty engaging performance and there’s a definite rapport between her and Gable, but he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable playing a Salvation Army worker.  It’s easy to forgive Gable for being awkward, though, since this is another very early movie in his career and it’s not surprising that MGM wanted to see how he’d do as a different type of character.  But really, even if Gable had totally hit it out of the park, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference since the story is so flimsy, it was never going to amount to a great movie. Any other Crawford/Gable pairing is more worth your time.

Merry Wives of Reno (1934)

Frank and Madge Hammond (Donald Woods and Margaret Lindsay, respectively) have been married for one year and couldn’t be happier together.  However, all of that comes to an end on the day of their first anniversary.  Madge had made a special dinner that night, but then Frank has to go see Bunny Fitch (Glenda Farrell) about selling her a boat.  But when he gets to her apartment, he quickly realizes she’s not interested in a boat, it’s him she’s interested in. And with her husband Colonel J. Kingsley Fitch (Hugh Herbert) out of town, she’s looking for some company.

While Frank is trying to fight off Bunny’s advances, Tom Fraser (Guy Kibbee) comes by to see Bunny and Frank ends up sneaking out down the fire escape, leaving behind his new coat, an anniversary present from Madge.  What Frank doesn’t realize is that Tom is actually his neighbor.  Tom and his wife Lois (Ruth Donnelly) aren’t nearly as happily married as Frank and Madge and Lois is well aware of his womanizing, heavy-drinking tendencies.  But then Colonel Fitch comes home unexpectedly early and Tom also ends up leaving through the fire escape, also leaving his coat behind.  When the Colonel asks about the extra coats, Bunny tries to make him think they’re his.

When Madge asks Frank where his coat is, he says he gave it to a homeless person.  Madge is skeptical, but when she goes to the salon and overhears Bunny telling the real story, she decides then and there that she wants a divorce and gets on the train to Reno. It just so happens that Lois, Bunny, and the Colonel are all on the same train and Tom and Frank aren’t far behind them. Once everyone makes it to Reno, the states of each of their marriages are constantly up in the air.  But when Bunny realizes that she’s responsible for all of their heartaches, she comes up with a scheme to set everything right again.

If you love extremely fast-paced screwball comedies, Merry Wives of Reno should be right up your alley.  This is the kind of movie that I had to watch twice to fully catch everything. But this is a movie I didn’t want to tear myself away from for more than a few seconds at a time because it’s an absolute riot.  Not only is it hilarious, but the cast is perfect.  Guy Kibbee was hilarious in it and who doesn’t love a wise-cracking Glenda Farrell?  It’s too bad more people don’t seem to know about Merry Wives of Reno (as of writing this, it only has 4 reviews on IMDB and doesn’t have a Wikipedia page), because it’s a real gem.  Keep an eye out for this one because you’ll be in for 64 minutes of total fun.

What’s on TCM: March 2012

Happy March, everybody!  There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month!  First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars.  The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents.  Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there.  Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials.  Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work.  Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see.  So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:

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Taxi! (1932)

The taxi business can get pretty cutthroat in New York City.  Pop Riley (Guy Kibbee) is an independent cabbie who for the past six years has laid claim to a choice corner outside of the restaurant where his daughter Sue (Loretta Yong) works as a waitress.  When rival Consolidated Cab Company decides they want his spot, they’re willing to stop at nothing to get their way.  First they try telling him to go someplace else.  Then while Pop is having lunch one day, someone working for Consolidated intentionally drives a truck into Pop’s cab, completely demolishing it.  Pop is so furious that he pulls out a gun and shoots and kills the person responsible for it.  He is sentenced to ten years in prison, but soon becomes ill and dies.

One cabby who isn’t willing to be pushed around by Consolidated is Matt Nolan (James Cagney).  He becomes a leader to the other independent cabbies and tries to rally them to overthrow Consolidated.  Although Sue hates Consolidated for what they did to her father, she can’t stand violence anymore and tries to stop them.  At first, Matt is upset that she isn’t helping them, but since she’s pretty, he decides to ask her out on a date anyway.  Although Sue loves Matt, the only thing she can’t stand about him is his awful temper.  They can’t go anywhere without him trying to start a fight with somebody.

After Matt and Sue get married, they go out to a nightclub with some friends and Matt’s brother Danny to celebrate.  As it turns out, Buck Gerard, head of Consolidated, is also at the same club with his girlfriend Marie.  Buck is pretty drunk and tries to start trouble with Matt.  Marie also doesn’t like it when Buck tries to start fights, so she pulls Sue aside and tells her to just ignore Buck to avoid problems.  But when Buck questions whether or not their wedding was a shotgun wedding, Matt can’t resist punching him.  Danny tries to get Matt away, but Buck pulls a knife out and accidentally stabs Danny to death.  Now Matt really wants revenge.  Marie has been hiding Buck and has found a way for him to sneak down to South America, but needs money to get him there.  Since she knows Sue wouldn’t want Matt to kill Buck and be sent to prison, she asks her for it.  Sue gives her the money, taking it from the money Matt was saving to buy Danny a headstone.  But when Matt’s friend spots Marie talking to Sue and finds out about the money, he storms over to Buck’s apartment to settle the score before he can get on the train to South America.

Taxi! isn’t bad, but isn’t particularly memorable either.  My biggest complaint about it movie is that I just don’t understand why Sue wouldn’t call the police when she knows exactly where the man who killed her father and husband’s brother is hiding.  But if you’re a big James Cagney fan, it’s worth seeing.  This movie was released a little less than a year after The Public Enemy had made Cagney a star and Taxi! is definitely pure Cagney.  Not even five minutes into the movie and he’s already beating somebody up.  Not only do we get to see Cagney the tough guy, it also gives us a glimpse at Cagney the dancer, which we got to see more of later in Footlight Parade and Yankee Doodle Dandy.  There’s also an interesting scene where Cagney speaks Yiddish to a passenger.  So really, this is a showcase for a lot of different sides of James Cagney.  Loretta Young isn’t bad in it, either, but she actually wasn’t Warner Bros.’ first choice for the part of sue.  When I was looking for a picture to use for this post, I stumbled across an old Carole & Co. post that talks about how they originally wanted Carole Lombard for the part.  I would have loved to have seen Carole and Cagney together, but I liked him and Loretta well enough.

Girl Missing (1933)

Kay (Glenda Farrell) and June (Mary Brian) are a couple of shameless, gold digging chorus girls.  They’re on vacation in Palm Beach with Kenneth Van Dusen (Guy Kibbee), the latest rich guy they’ve latched themselves onto.  But when he comes on to June and she turns him down, Kenneth takes off and leaves the girls with the $700 hotel bill.  While they’re scheming up a way to get the money for the bill, they run into Daisy (Peggy Shannon), a rather dim chorus girl they used to work with.  She’s at the hotel to get married to the wealthy Henry Gibson (Ben Lyon), but when they go up to talk to her (and hopefully get some money), she gives them the could shoulder.  They try their luck in the casino instead, and even though Kay wins enough money to cover the bill, she looses it all when she pushes her luck to the breaking point.  But luckily for them, they run into Raymond (Lyle Talbot), one of Daisy’s ex-boyfriends.  He offers them the money for their hotel bill and train tickets out of town.

The next day, Raymond sends the money and train tickets over to the hotel, but before they leave, June runs into Henry Gibson in the elevator and flirts with him so long that they miss their train and they have to stay in town another night.  Meanwhile, Daisy and Henry have gotten married and are on their way out of town for their honeymoon.  After they get to the hotel, Daisy complains of having a headache so while she goes to lay down, Henry steps out to have a cigarette.  When he comes back in to check on her, she’s gone, apparently kidnapped.  When news of Daisy’s disappearance hits the newspaper the next day, Kay and June decide to stay and help look for Daisy.  Not that they’re terribly concerned about finding Daisy, but because there’s a $25,000 reward for any information that leads to finding Daisy.

They suspect she’s run off with Raymond and rush to tell Henry their theory, but when a detective overhears them, he assumes that they are involved and brings them in for questioning.  They tell the police their theory about Raymond, but when they question him, he doesn’t strike them as suspicious.  But later that night, they see Raymond’s chauffeur messing with Henry’s car.  They try to warn Henry, but he’s in a hurry and won’t listen, so they have no other choice but to hop in a car and chase him down.  When they finally do stop him, they’re able to prove his car has been tampered with.  Kay has the idea that if he wrecks the car, the person trying to kill him would come out of hiding.  So he wrecks the car and Kay plants a story about Henry being killed in a car wreck and sure enough, her plan works.  When Daisy hears the news, she goes to the police station.  But by now, the police have some real dirt on Daisy and even though she almost weasels her way out of the situation, Kay manages to get the truth out of her.

Girl Missing is a lot of fun.  I adored Glenda Farrell and Mary Brian in it, they made a great couple of wise cracking show girls.  The two of them made it fun to root for the characters you’re not always supposed to root for.  It’s full of snappy lines and I love a movie full of snappy lines.  Not only is it funny, but the mystery element of the movie is also pretty enjoyable.  Definitely keep an eye out for this one on TCM.  If you like The Thin Man, you would probably like Girl Missing.

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.