Leslie Howard

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.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

The Scarlet Pimpernel 1934It’s the middle of the French Revolution and many French aristocrats are meeting their demise at the guillotine. But much to the dismay to the people of France, many of the aristocrats are being rescued from facing the guillotine with help from the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel and his band of 19 men. French leader Robespierre (Ernest Milton) is eager to put a stop to this and orders Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) to find out who the Scarlet Pimpernel is and arrest him.

The elusive Scarlet Pimpernel is none other than Sir Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard), who is so good about keeping his identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel a secret, not even his wife Marguerite (Merle Oberon) knows the truth. He doesn’t want her to know, either, because she denounced one of the executed aristocrats, something he doesn’t agree with. Marguerite’s brother is also part of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s band of men and when Chauvelin finds this out, he forces her to help him find the Scarlet Pimpernel.

When Chauvelin gets word that the Scarlet Pimpernel will be at a ball, he makes a point to be there. During the party, Chauvelin finds out the Scarlet Pimpernel will be in the library at midnight. When he goes to wait for him, he only finds Percy sound asleep on a couch. After dozing off himself, Chauvelin wakes up to find he’s been bested by the Pimpernel. But when Marguerite tells Percy about her brother being arrested and explains her reasons for denouncing the aristocrat, Percy has to do anything he can to save her brother. But when Marguerite realizes her husband is the Pimpernel, she has to try to save Percy.

The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t one of my absolute favorite movies, but it was well produced, well written, and very enjoyable. This is Leslie Howard’s signature film role with very good reason. He had the perfect demeanor for the role and does a fantastic job delivering his lines. Not to mention that seeing him disguised as an old woman is truly something to behold. Raymond Massey was a perfect fit as the villain Chauvelin. On the whole, I really liked The Scarlet Pimpernel a lot more than I expected to as, I just said in my review of The Lion in Winter, historical sagas aren’t always my kind of thing. But this is so smartly written, very witty, it still feels very fresh even over 80 years later. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch and I’d gladly watch it again someday.

The Animal Kingdom (1932)

The Animal Kingdom Poster

Tom Collier (Leslie Howard) is a publisher who has lived out of wedlock with his good friend Daisy (Ann Harding) for quite some time. But while she is away on business, Tom decides to marry Cecilia (Myrna Loy).  When Daisy returns, he swears to Cecilia that any romantic feelings that he and Daisy might have once had are long gone.  But when he goes to see Daisy to tell her about his engagement, he finds that Daisy still has feelings for him after all.  When he tells Daisy about his engagement, he also tells Daisy he still wants to be friends with her, but she wants nothing to do with him.

After some time passes, Tom is becoming less and less satisfied with his life with Cecilia.  She’s pressured him into turning his publishing company into a factory for cheap, trashy novels instead of the more artistic novels he used to prefer.  He doesn’t spend time with his old friends anymore and Cecilia even wants him to fire his friend Red (William Gargan), a former prizefighter who now works as their butler.  When he finds out Daisy is having an art exhibition in town, he wants to go, but Cecilia convinces him to stay home at the last minute.  He eventually goes to visit Daisy on his own to make amends with her, but the encounter is enough to make Daisy want to leave town ASAP.  But when Cecilia invites her to Tom’s birthday party, she reluctantly accepts.

During the party, Daisy realizes what Tom’s life has become and can’t help but pity him.  He’s clearly not truly happy and when he sees Cecilia in a compromising position with Tom’s attorney Owen (Neil Hamilton), she can’t stand to stay around anymore.  After the party, Tom and Cecilia get into an argument and realizes that he doesn’t really belong with Cecilia after all.

The Animal Kingdom is a pretty decent movie with an intelligent story.  It reminded me a lot of Platinum Blonde with Jean Harlow.  Not the greatest performances from either Myrna Loy or Leslie Howard, but they do just fine, as does Ann Harding.  However, I enjoyed being able to see all of them working together.  Keep in mind The Animal Kingdom was based on a play so it does get a bit dialogue heavy at times.  But viewers who are unfamiliar with the pre-code era are sure to be surprised by how frank the dialogue gets.

A Free Soul (1931)

A Free Soul Norma Shearer Leslie HowardJan Ashe (Norma Shearer) and her father Stephen(Lionel Barrymore) have a very close relationship.  Even though a lot of their family judges Stephen for his alcoholism, Jan stands by him every step of the way. When she and Stephen are invited to a family dinner, Jan’s grandmother asks her to keep an eye on Stephen and make sure he doesn’t drink. But sure enough, he shows up to dinner drunk.  Not only does he come over drunk, he brings gangster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) along with him.  Stephen is an attorney and had just defended him in court earlier that day.

Even though she’s engaged to Dwight Wintrhop (Leslie Howard), Jan is very attracted to Ace, who she finds much more exciting than Dwight.  They start seeing each other and before long, Ace asks Stephen for permission to marry Jan.  Stephen does not approve of their relationship, but that doesn’t stop Jan from seeing him.  However, when Jan finally can’t take any more of Stephen’s boozing, she makes a deal with him that she’ll leave Ace if he quits drinking. Stephen and Jan take a trip out of town to get their minds off their vices and at first, all is going well for them.  But as soon as they get home again, they’re right back where they started.

When Jan goes to see Ace, he’s angry at her for leaving him and insists they get married right away.  She doesn’t want to marry him and wants to go back to Dwight, but Ace continues to force her into it.  Finally, Dwight is ready to put an end to this once and for all and shoots Ace.  Dwight owns up to it and is willing to take the fall for everything, just to keep Jan’s name out of the whole mess.  But Stephen isn’t willing to let him throw his life away and makes a very dramatic appearance in court to defend him.

A Free Soul isn’t one of my favorites, the story really drags at times.  But it does have some excellent performances and it’s worth seeing for that reason alone.  Norma Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, and Clark Gable all shine in it.  Barrymore won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance, Shearer earned a Best Actress nomination, and it was a big breakthrough for Gable, who was pretty new to the film world at the time.  Leslie Howard was also a movie newcomer then, and he’s fine in A Free Soul, but he wasn’t given a chance to do very much in it. Of course, it’s interesting to see Gable and Howard together in a movie as newcomers eight years before they co-starred in Gone With the Wind when they were both at the peaks of their careers.

What’s on TCM: July 2012

Happy July, everyone!  Hard to believe that it’s already almost time for Summer Under the Stars, but TCM has lots of fun stuff going on in July to keep us busy until then.  Leslie Howard is the Star of the Month and his movies will be on every Tuesday night this month.  Every Monday in July will be dedicated to showing 24 hours of adventure movies.  Spike Lee is this month’s guest programmer and has chosen some excellent movies for the night of July 5th.  There are a lot of good things to mention, so let’s get to it:

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It’s Love I’m After (1937)

Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) and Joyce Arden (Bette Davis) are two actors known for their chemistry together on stage.  Off-stage, the two of them are in love with each other, but have quite a volatile relationship.  They’ve  been wanting to get married and have planned to do so plenty of times, but for various reasons, it’s never actually happened.  But after finishing a performance of “Romeo and Juliet,” they decide once and for all that they’re really going to make it happen this time.  However, during their performance that night, heiress Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland) was in the audience and she fell deeply in love with Basil.

After the show, Marcia went backstage to tell Basil what his performance meant to her and decides that Basil is her ideal man.  However, her fiance Henry (Patric Knowles) isn’t too thrilled with this and goes to see Basil himself.  Henry asks Basil to come out to her home and act like a total heel so she’ll get over her infatuation with him.  Basil agrees, much to Joyce’s dismay.  Once Basil arrives, he puts on his worst behavior and is shocked to find that Marcia loves him anyway.  Not only that, he quickly begins to enjoy her adoration.

When you think of Leslie Howard, you generally think of movies like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Romeo and Juliet, and Gone With the Wind.  He’s definitely not the first guy you think of when you hear the words “screwball comedy.”  But did you know that Leslie Howard could be really funny?  And by “really funny,” I mean downright hilarious.  Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland also aren’t generally remembered for being in comedies, but they both prove to be quite funny here.  I’d seen Olivia and Leslie together in Gone With the Wind, Bette and Olivia together in a few other movies, and Bette and Leslie together in other movies, so I really loved getting to see the three of them together and doing something so different for all of them.  Why this movie isn’t better remembered for any of them is beyond me, because it’s witty, well-acted, and fast paced; an absolute delight.

What’s on TCM: July 2011

TCM for July is one of those months that’s kind of odd, but I can’t help but love the fact that it’s odd just because where else are you going to see this kind of schedule?  I challenge you to find another network where you can see a night dedicated to portrayals of Arabs in film one night and then singing cowboys the next.  I don’t particularly care so much about the singing cowboys, but I like when TCM does the spotlights on minorities in film because a: I find it interesting, and b: they usually play some stuff that doesn’t get shown too often.  Other than that, it’s a little bit of a slow month to me, but I’m going to welcome that break because next month is Summer Under the Stars time again!

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