John Barrymore

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!)

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Cedric Gibbons and Grand Hotel (1932): One of Oscar’s Biggest Oversights

Grand Hotel 1932 LobbyGrand Hotel (1932) is best remembered for being the movie to popularize all-star casts. Before Grand Hotel, the only movies that featured so many big stars together were “revue” type movies like The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Show of Shows, which were popular in the early days of talkies and featured many of a studio’s top stars in a series of skits and musical numbers. While most other movies had just one male lead and one female lead, Grand Hotel took five of the biggest movie stars working at the time — Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John and Lionel Barrymore, and Wallace Beery — and put each of them in a leading role.

However, there is one other person who should be mentioned along with Garbo, Crawford, Beery, and the Barrymores as being a major star of the movie: art director Cedric Gibbons. The exquisite Art Deco style sets he designed for Grand Hotel refuse to be relegated to the background.

Grand Hotel 1932 Lobby Desk

Grand Hotel is also noteworthy for being the only movie to win a Best Picture Academy Award without being nominated in any other categories — no nominations for writing, direction, or even acting. Despite the sheer magnitude of Grand Hotel‘s stars, it’s easy to see how they failed to get nominated in acting categories. Grand Hotel doesn’t have just one male or one female lead to choose from and categories for Supporting Actor/Actress wouldn’t be introduced until the 1936 Academy Awards.  However, it’s not nearly as easy to understand how Cedric Gibbons wasn’t nominated for Best Art Direction, which is one of the biggest Oscar oversights I can think of.

Cedric Gibbons was MGM’s top art director for most of its peak years. He started working at MGM in the 1920s and stayed there until he retired in 1956. Name a big hit MGM movie from the 1930s through the mid-1950s and it’s very likely Cedric Gibbons had a hand in it. He is credited as the art director for The Wizard of Oz, The Thin Man, Ziegfeld GirlMeet Me in St. Louis, Gaslight, On the Town, The Great Ziegfeld, The Good Earth, The Women, The Philadelphia Story, National Velvet, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Marie Antoinette, and Forbidden Planet, just to name a very select few. He even designed one of the most widely recognizable symbols of Hollywood: the Academy Award statuette. But for all of his contributions to film, Gibbons’ work for Grand Hotel is undoubtedly one of the crowning achievements of his career.

Grand Hotel 1932 Exterior ShotEven with Garbo, Crawford, Beery, and two Barrymores to contend with, Gibbons’ sets stand out so much, they become a character unto themselves. Some people might even argue the sets outshine the actors. Although the sets are extravagant, there’s nothing about them that feels artificial. After all, this is a movie set in the finest hotel in Berlin, the sets need to exude an aura of luxury and represent the epitome of early 1930s glamour. But the sets are so believable as a lavish hotel, it’s very easy to forget Grand Hotel was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage and not on location.

Cedric Gibbons’ Grand Hotel sets demonstrate what an integral part art direction plays in creating Hollywood fantasy. This is a movie about characters going through difficult times in their lives, so it’s not a movie people watch and think, “I want to be just like them.” However, the sets are so breathtaking, people do look at them and think, “I want to go there!” If you’re a lover of Art Deco style, you’ll desperately want to believe this was a real hotel you could go visit. The hotel may not be real, but you’ll wish the sets had been preserved and put in a museum somewhere. These were movie sets that went far beyond being sets and were works of art.

 

31 Days of Oscar 2015 Blogathon

For more Oscar related articles, stay tuned to Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club all month long!

 

What’s on TCM: January 2015

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Happy January and happy 2015! I hope you had a nice holiday season. After all of the chaos of December, it’s time to relax with some TCM.

Overall, it’s a pretty calm month, but still has a lot to offer. January’s Star of the Month is Robert Redford, whose movies will be featured every Tuesday night this month. The theme for this month’s Friday Night Spotlight is movies based on the works of Neil Simon. On January 22nd, TCM will show a night of Debbie Reynolds movies in recognition of her receiving the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the schedule…

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DVD Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) Blu-Ray

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1920 Kino Blu-Ray CoverWhen it comes to silent horror films, John Barrymore’s performance in 1920’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the best of the genre; it easily ranks up there with Max Schreck’s in Nosferatu and Lon Chaney’s in The Phantom of the Opera.  The story of Dr. Jekyll has been adapted for film, television, radio, and the stage numerous times in the 94 years since this version was released.  But it’s John Barrymore’s masterful performance that makes this version remain one of the absolute best versions you will ever see.

On January 28th, Kino Lorber will be giving Barrymore’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the royal treatment it deserves with a new Blu-Ray/DVD release.  Kino has long been one of my favorite companies for DVDs.  In terms of picture quality and bonus features, Kino has always delivered.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is my first time checking out one of Kino’s Blu-Ray releases and I am thrilled with it.  The picture quality is, for the most part, excellent.  There are a few scenes that aren’t as clear as the rest of the film, but they don’t significantly detract from the movie’s overall quality.  The quality of a Blu-Ray/DVD release can only be as good as the source material available and fortunately, Kino had 35mm elements in great condition to work with and they are presented here in beautiful 1080p.  This new Blu-Ray/DVD release also features a wonderful score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and includes five minutes of footage that had been missing from Kino’s previous DVD release of Dr. Jekyll.

The new Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Blu-Ray/DVD also includes a 12-minute version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1912, a 15-minute excerpt from a rival production of Dr. Jekyll also released in 1920, a rare audio recording from 1909 titled “The Transformation Scene,” and 1925’s Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride starring Stan Laurel. (Fun fact: Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride was written by Tay Garnett, who went on to direct 1932’s One Way Passage, 1935’s China Seas, and 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.)   Dr. Pyckle and the 1912 version of Dr. Jekyll both look quite good, but the excerpt from the rival 1920 production doesn’t look as sharp.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from Kino Lorber.

Twentieth Century (1934)

Twentieth CenturyTheater producer Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) is one of the most renowned producers in the business.  His name being attached to a show is essentially a guarantee that the show will be of the highest quality.  So when he casts lingerie model Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) as the lead in his new show, even his closest associates start to question his judgment.  Mildred shows little acting ability during rehearsals, but with Oscar’s forceful directing technique and a new stage name — Lily Garland — she is a sensation when the show opens.

Lily and Oscar continue to collaborate on stage and carry on a romantic relationship behind the scenes as well.  But when Lily finally decides she’s had enough of Oscar’s controlling tendencies, she heads off to Hollywood to try her luck in films.  Oscar is completely lost without Lily and even though he tries to replace her, nobody can really fill her shoes.  After a string of his shows fail, Oscar has to get out of Chicago before the sheriff can get him first so he gets on the train to New York.  As luck would have it, Lily, now a successful movie star, and her new boyfriend George (Ralph Forbes) are taking a trip on the same train.

When some of Oscar’s associates realize she’s on board, they try to convince her to do another show with Oscar just to get him out of trouble.  She still wants nothing to do with Oscar, but Oscar just takes her refusal as a challenge and will stop at nothing until she agrees to star in his next show.

If you ever want to see two actors clearly having the time of their lives, look no further than Twentieth Century.  John Barrymore and Carole Lombard really sink their teeth into their roles and it’s hard not to be drawn in by their sheer enthusiasm.  Reportedly when director Howard Hawks offered John Barrymore the part of Oscar, Barrymore asked him why he wanted him to play this part. Hawks explained that Twentieth Century is the story of the biggest ham on Earth and Barrymore was the biggest ham he knew.  That was all Barrymore needed to hear and accepted the part on the spot.  And boy did Barrymore ever revel in being a ham here!  If he were any more of a ham, he’d need a honey glaze.  But that is exactly what the part called for and I can’t imagine who else could have played it better.

At the time he made Twentieth Century, Barrymore’s career had peaked, but Carole Lombard’s was about to take off.  Lombard had been making movies for a few years already but hadn’t quite had that definitive movie role to launch her career to the next level. Twentieth Century turned out to be that movie.  Even though Barrymore was the more experienced actor, Lombard had absolutely no problem keeping up with him.  Barrymore even later referred to Lombard as the greatest actress he had ever worked with.  And considering some of the names Barrymore had worked with, that is a compliment of the highest order.

Night Flight (1933)

Delivering the mail by air through South America is a dangerous game and Riviére (John Barrymore) is determined to be the best at it.  He manages a mail-carrying airline and stops at nothing to uphold his its reputation for punctuality.  Even the owners of the airline think he’s too strict with the pilots.  He doesn’t even like airline employees to be friends with each other outside of work.  When he finds out that his inspector Robineau (Lionel Barrymore) had dinner with pilot Auguste Pellerin (Robert Montgomery), he forces Robineau to give Auguste a citation for something he didn’t do just to prove to Auguste that being friends with a higher-up won’t do him any favors.

Riviére also fines the pilots 200 Francs if they’re late, which means the pilots often find themselves flying through dangerous situations even though common sense would suggest they land.  When Auguste has to make a flight to Buenos Aires, he runs into some very treacherous conditions along the way.  He gets there ten minutes behind schedule, but luckily he does make it.

Meanwhile, pilot Jules Fabian (Clark Gable) is making his first night flight.  His wife Simone (Helen Hayes) is waiting for him at home with a nice dinner, eagerly awaiting his return.  He’s flown that route before so she has no reason to suspect there will be any problems.  Everything is going smoothly for Jules until he unexpectedly gets caught in a terrible storm.  Rather than land, Jules keeps on going through the storm, loses communication with ground control, and gets thrown off course.  The airline frantically tries to make contact with Jules and Simone starts to worry when she finds out he’s been delayed. When she tries to contact Riviére, he won’t tell her anything, which only upsets her more.  She knows that he would be running low on fuel by then.

Despite Jules being lost, Riviére pushes ahead with the schedule and calls a Brazilian pilot (William Gargan) to deliver some mail to Rio de Janeiro, which his wife (Myrna Loy) begs him not to do.  Despite her protests, he goes ahead with the flight and manages to make it safely.  However, Jules isn’t nearly as lucky.  Lost over the ocean with no fuel left, Jules and his wireless operator have no other choice but to jump from the plane into the dangerous waters.

I really wanted to love Night Flight, and I did enjoy it, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with it and I’m having a hard time pinpointing exactly why.  I loved the cinematography and I really liked Helen Hayes, especially in the scene where Simone has dinner by herself and pretends Jules is there with her.  And, of course, it does have some pretty exciting flight scenes.

If you’re curious about Night Flight because of its cast, don’t go into it expecting to see a lot of interaction between all these great stars because you will be let down.  For example, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy have no scenes together.  In fact, Myrna Loy doesn’t even have a very big role and most of Clark Gable’s scenes are him by himself.  But that isn’t what disappointed me about the movie.  Like I said, I really wanted to love Night Flight, but something about it just didn’t resonate with me the way I hoped it would.  If I had my choice, I’d definitely pick Only Angels Have Wings over Night Flight, but I’m really glad Night Flight is finally becoming available after being out of circulation since 1941.  If you like movies about aviation or you’re a big fan of anyone in the cast, it’s worth seeing, but there are better movies about pilots and all of the cast has been in better movies.

Arsène Lupin (1932)

Detective Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) is hard at work tracking down the burglar Arsène Lupin, who has been stealing his way across Paris.  When a robbery is reported at the home of Gaston Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall), the police immediately suspect that Arsène Lupin has struck again and hurry over to Gourney-Martin’s.  When they see a car speeding away from his house, they stop the car and find the Duke of Chamerace (John Barrymore) tied up in the back seat, claiming that he had been robbed.  Guerchard doesn’t buy his story for a minute and suspects that the Duke is really Arsène Lupin, but when Gourney-Martin arrives, he verifies that the Duke of Chamerace is indeed the Duke of Chamerace.

The next day, Guerchard realizes that not only did he not capture Arsène Lupin, he didn’t even get any good evidence to help the case.  And to top it off, his boss is putting pressure on him to capture Arsène Lupin within a week.  When Guerchard gets a note from Arsène Lupin himself saying that he will be at a party thrown by the Duke of Chamerace, Guerchard decides to crash the party.  During the party, the Duke steps into his bedroom where he finds the beautiful Sonia (Karen Morley) sitting in his bed, waiting for her dress to be fixed.  The two begin to flirt, but neither one is who they say they are.  The Duke really is Arsène Lupin and Sonia is actually a prisoner working for Guerchard to help nab Arsène.  While Guerchard is hard at work snooping around, trying to get dirt on the Duke, several of his guests are robbed when a birthday cake is brought out and the lights are turned off.

After the party, the Duke and Sonia take a trip out to the country with Gourney-Martin. Since Gourney-Martin stores his most valuable things at his country home, the Duke thinks this will be the best place to rob him.  But it turns out there is one thing that can stop the unstoppable Arsène Lupin — an electrified safe.  Not willing to give up that easily, Gourney-Martin gets a letter from Arsène Lupin threatening to steal everything he has.  Guerchard is called in, and even on his watch, Gourney-Martin is robbed blind.  Guerchard does manage to nab several of Arsène Lupin’s partners in crime, but he doesn’t quite nab Arsène.  The Duke and Sonia run off and begin plotting to steal the Mona Lisa.  Through a series of tricky diversions, they do succeed, but not for long.  Guerchard does catch up with them, but the Duke sees to it that Sonia is able to go free.  However, Guerchard may have won the battle for Arsène Lupin, but he doesn’t win the war.  The Duke makes a break for it and escapes to start a new, more honest life with Sonia.

Arsène Lupin is a great movie, very slick, sophisticated, and witty.  Not to mention very risqué, just watch the scene where the Duke meets Sonia.  And how can you go wrong with both John and Lionel Barrymore?  I especially loved John Barrymore as the Duke/Arsène Lupin.  He was so suave and smooth, it’s easy to see how his character got away with the things he did.  This is another one that you’d probably enjoy if you liked The Thin Man.