Johnny Mack Brown

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.

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Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Our Dancing Daughters 1928

Diana Medford (Joan Crawford) is one of the most popular young women in town. She’s outgoing, flirtatious, and loves to go out dancing until dawn. Her freewheeling image leads many people to believe she’s a real wild girl and a generally bad influence, but although she may flirt with all the young men, she’s very virtuous and old-fashioned at heart. Her friend, Ann (Anita Page) is quite the opposite. She’s a gold digger, raised to be one by her mother, and is more like the person people think Diana is, although she tries to keep that under wraps.

While at a party one night, Diana meets Ben Blaine (Johnny Mack Brown), who comes from a very wealthy family. He admires Diana and the feeling is mutual, but when Ann finds out he has money, she sets her sights on him. As Diana and Ben get closer, he really loves her but mistakenly thinks she’s not interested in him. So when Ann gets him alone and convinces her she’s a good girl who wants marriage and a family, he buys it and they soon get married, much to Diana’s disappointment.

After 10 months of marriage, Ann is already cheating on Ben. Diana is still heartbroken without Ben and on her last night of visiting with friends, they throw a big going away party in her honor. Ben won’t let Ann go, so she tries to sneak out with her lover and gets caught. After getting into a fight with Ben, Ann goes off with her boyfriend to get drunk while Ben goes to the party alone to see Diana. Ben still has feelings for her and Diana would love to be with him, but then Ann shows up, drunk as can be, and causes a scene, showing everyone her true colors.

There isn’t nearly enough love out there for young, flapper-era Joan Crawford. Our Dancing Daughters is the movie that made her a star and it’s easy to see why. She’s the absolute height of the youthful, exuberant flapper image that was so popular at the time. Watching her wild dancing scene early in the movie is truly something wonderful to behold and it doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being such an amazing dance scene. Joan is positively mesmerizing so even though she certainly had many more interesting and complex roles ahead of her, it’s not hard to see how she was such a hit with moviegoers of the time. Plus there’s Anita Page, who is a rather delightful villain. I always love watching her when Ann starts showing her true self at near the end of the movie.

In the grand scheme of things, Our Dancing Daughters isn’t one of the all-time greats or anything, but I love it because I have a soft spot for these types of flapper-oriented movies. In terms of style and fashion though, it’s truly amazing. Because it’s one of those movies that tries to embrace a cultural movement as it’s happening, the fashion and style of set design you see in it is a very heightened version of what was in style at the time. As someone who loves 1920s fashion, I could watch Our Dancing Daughters over and over again just to admire all those spectacular flapper dresses Joan Crawford and Anita Page wear in it. In terms of style, this is absolutely one of my favorite movies.

The Secret Six (1931)

The Secret Six 1931 PosterLooking to make some fast money, Scorpio (Wallace Beery) meets with gangsters Johnny Franks (Ralph Bellamy) and Mizoski (Paul Hurst) about joining a bootlegging racket.  They work for Newton (Lewis Stone) and he wants to muscle fellow bootlegger Joe Colimo (John Miljan) out of some of his territory.  Of course, Colimo isn’t about to take that sitting down. He gets into a gunfight with Newton’s guys and Colimo’s brother is killed in the crossfire.  When Colimo comes looking to get even, Johnny tries to set Scorpio up to take the fall, but Scorpio figures out what’s going on and turns the tables on Johnny.

With all the excitement, police and newspaper reporters flock to Newton’s headquarters.  Among them are reporters Hank (John Mack Brown) and Carl (Clark Gable), who take a linking to Newton’s associate Anne (Jean Harlow).  Each of them is hoping to get the scoop from Anne.  After the excitement surrounding Johnny and Colimo dies down, Scorpio  continues to prove to be a valuable asset to the gang and even helps get Mizoski elected as Mayor.  Not content with just running a small town, Scorpio sets his sights on taking over the big city, too.  But the big city doesn’t want Scorpio around. A group called The Secret Six is formed to fight his influence and Carl is recruited to help their cause.

The Secret Six is a somewhat unusual MGM movie in that it has none of the gloss generally associated with MGM movies and instead has all of the grit of a Warner Brothers movie.  Indeed, The Secret Six was produced by Irving Thalberg in an attempt to compete with Warner Brothers’ gangster hits like The Public Enemy. Although The Secret Six is an enjoyable movie with a good cast, it lacks the organic quality that Little Caesar and The Public Enemy have.   It’s a movie that tried so hard to follow a trend that it simply could not have that effortless quality of the trendsetter.

Female (1933)

Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) is a woman with no interest at all in conforming to stereotypical expectations of women.  Rather than being a secretary or a shopgirl, she is perfectly happy running her father’s car company.  She runs a tight ship, but it doesn’t leave her much time for romance.  So rather than having long-term relationships, she prefers to seduce some of her male coworkers every now and then without getting too attached.

When she gets a visit from Harriet (Lois Wilson), an old school friend who is now married with children, Harriet finds Alison is a different woman than she remembered.  The Alison she went to school with was hopeful and romantic, nothing like the hardened, cynical woman she now is.  Harriet doesn’t try to change Alison and after she leaves, Alison continues on with her life as usual.  But eventually, Alison finds herself getting frustrated with her life.  When she throws a big business party at her house one night, she realizes that not a single person there likes her for who she is, they’re all only interested in the fact that she’s the president of her company.

Alison sneaks away from her party and finds herself at a shooting gallery, where she meets Jim Thorne (George Brent).  She comes on to him in her usual fashion, but he turns her down.  The next day at the office, Alison is waiting to meet an acclaimed engineer who has just been hired.  She’s surprised to find that the new engineer is none other than Jim, but not more surprised than Jim is when he finds out Alison is his new boss.  Alison may have had a lot of men in her life, but Jim is the only one to make her feel differently about everything.  She tries every trick in the book to seduce Jim, but he’s not falling for it.  At last she succeeds when she invites him to an employee’s picnic and he was the only employee invited.  That evening, Jim impulsively proposes to Alison, but Alison is so thrown off guard that she turns him down.  Jim quits his job and goes to New York, leaving Alison to realize that she loves Jim so much that she’s willing to put her business on the line.

Female is definitely one of my favorite pre-codes and it’s another essential pre-code movie.  Even though I’ve always found the ending slightly disappointing, Ruth Chatterton truly shines in it, the art deco sets are stunning, and the script is very sharp.  I love how in the beginning of the movie we see the exterior of the car factory, then some of the secretaries talking to each other about how the president is busy giving someone what for.   And then it cuts to the inside of the conference room where we see the back of a man talking, and the audience expects him to be the boss, but then the camera moves around him and we see Ruth Chatterton and that she’s the boss.  It’s such a great reveal.  And be sure to look for all the references to other Warner Brothers movies from that era like Picture Snatcher, Footlight Parade, and 42nd Street.

A Lady of Chance (1928)

Welcome to what may be the first of many reviews of Norma Shearer movies to come in the near future.  I recorded about half the movies TCM played during Norma Shearer day last week, so I’ve been having a lot of fun watching them all.  The first one I watched was A Lady of Chance, and it sure was a good one to start off with!

In A Lady of chance, Norma Shearer plays Dolly “Angel Face” Morgan, gold digger extraordinaire.  Dolly works as a telephone operator in a ritzy hotel and while at work one day, con-artists Brad and Gwen spot her trying to get the attention of the wealthy Mr. Hammond.  Brad and Gwen recruit Dolly to go out with Mr. Hammond, get him to give her ten thousand dollars, and just when it looks like Mr. Hammond is getting too serious, Brad comes in, posing as Dolly’s husband, and makes off with the money.  While Brad cashes the check, Mr. Hammond goes to the police to report Dolly.  Brad and Gwen then try to tell Dolly that they couldn’t cash the check., but Dolly knows better and manages to sneak away with all ten thousand dollars.

The next day, Dolly happens to meet Steve Crandall (Johnny Mack Brown), who is in town for a concrete and tile exposition.  Since Dolly assumes Steve must be rich, she really turns on the charm.  She pays for his telegram, tells him that she doesn’t have a mother, pretends to sprain her ankle, the works.  Before she knows it, Steve is officially in love with her and proposes.  She accepts and they plan to get married right away, but just as she is packing to leave, Brad shows up and wants the money back.  She doesn’t give him the money and instead pretends that she’s willing to go in on another scam.  When Brad isn’t looking, she sneaks away, gets married, and joins Steve on a trip back to Alabama.

When they arrive in Alabama, Dolly quickly realizes that Steve isn’t rich after all.  He didn’t own a plantation, only lived next door to one.  Dolly was all set to return to New York, but realized she couldn’t leave him because she really does love him, even if he isn’t rich.  Meanwhile, Brad and Gwen have come down to Alabama and pose as Dolly’s cousins.  Dolly tries to convince them that Steve isn’t rich, but they don’t believe her.  She gives them the ten thousand dollars just to get rid of them.  But before they can leave, Steve comes home with the news that he has just sold a cement formula for $100,000.  Brad and Gwen decide they’re not going anywhere.

Dolly is terrified that Gwen and Brad are going to tell Steve all about her history.  She manages to get Gwen to keep quiet, but can’t figure out a way to keep Brad from fleecing Steve without admitting to her past.  Dolly eventually decides to go ahead and come clean and turn herself into the police.  She tries to tell Steve to go ahead and find a more deserving girl to be with, but in spite of everything, Steve still only loves Dolly.

I really loved this movie.  I’ve only seen a couple of Norma’s silent films, but after seeing this A Lady of Chance, I think she doesn’t get enough credit for her work in silents.  She gave a great performance, pretty restrained for silent film acting, and I really liked Norma and Johnny Mack Brown together.  Plus Norma got to wear many awesome hats!  I love great hats, and Norma wore so many great cloche hats here.  I wish they still made hats like those.  I’m a big fan of movies that pack a lot of great stuff into a short amount of time, and with a runtime of 78 minutes, I think A Lady of Chance certainly falls into that category.  It’s just a great little movie.

While we’re on the subject of Norma Shearer, if you haven’t seen this Norma fanvid set to Tik Tok by Ke$ha, you should check it out.  Alas, I can no longer say that I’ve never heard an entire Ke$ha song, but the video is really cute, I like it a lot.