Lili Damita

The Match King (1932)

The Match King 1932Paul Kroll (Warren William) left his home in Sweden to make a name for himself in America.  When he settles in Chicago, he gets a job sweeping the sidewalks outside of a baseball stadium.  He still dreams of making something of himself though and isn’t above breaking the rules to make it happen.  When he gets one of his fellow sidewalk sweepers fired, he convinces the foreman (John Wray) to keep him on the payroll, but just so the two of them can split the salary he would have received.  Paul and his foreman get to be good friends, but while they’re raking in the money, Paul has been seducing Babe (Glenda Farrell), the foreman’s wife.

Paul has led his family in Sweden to believe he’s already become a successful business man, so when a match factory back home is in danger of closing, his family writes to him for help.  When he makes it back home, he scams a bank into giving him a loan, uses it to buy another match factory, and merges them.  He keeps buying match factories with ill-gotten loans until he owns all the match factories in Sweden.  Then he expands his match empire to other European countries and eventually to other continents.

While in Germany on business, Paul falls in love with actress Marta Molnar (Lili Damita).  Being in love is a terrible distraction for Paul and his business suffers because of it.  Even though he has enough money to leave the business, the business is too far in the red.  He just keeps on taking out loan after loan to keep everything afloat.  On top of that, he hears about a man who has invented an everlasting match that could put him out of business.  To eliminate the competition, he has the man committed to an asylum.

When the stock market collapses, everything falls apart. The only way Paul can get a loan is to use $50 million worth of forged bonds as collateral.  Marta has since gone to Hollywood to pursue a film career and when Paul returns to America, he finds out that she has fallen in love with another man.  It doesn’t take long for the bank to realize his bonds are phony and when they do, Paul knows he is finished and kills himself.

Did anyone play unscrupulous businessmen better than Warren William did during the pre-code era?  I don’t think so.  Between The Match King, Employees’ Entrance, and Skyscraper Souls, you’ve got the perfect trilogy of bad business ethics.  Warren William had the perfect balance of being hard yet smooth that made him perfect for that type of character.  Not only is Warren William as slick ever, the entire movie is slickly produced.  It’s one of those movies that grabs your attention right from the start and doesn’t let it go.  You really want to keep watching to see how far this guy will go and if he’s going to get away with it.

If it seems like Lili Damita was really drawing on Garbo for inspiration for her performance, there’s a good reason for that — Garbo was the first choice for the role, but they weren’t able to get her on loan.  It’s easy to dismiss Damita as being a poor man’s Garbo in The Match King, but for some reason I found her endearing for that exact reason.

My only real complaint about The Match King is that I wanted more Glenda Farrell.  But then again, I almost always want more Glenda Farrell.

This is the Night (1932)

Claire Mathewson (Thelma Todd) is married to Olympic javelin thrower Stephen Mathewson (Cary Grant), but that doesn’t stop her from carrying on an affair with Gerald (Roland Young) while her husband is out of town for the Olympics.  One night, Clarie and Gerald were supposed to go to the theater, but then her dress gets caught in the car door and is ripped completely off, much to the amusement of the crowd in front of the theater.  They cut the night short and head back to her place, but on the way back, Claire tells Gerald that she’s planned a trip to Venice for the two of them.  Meanwhile, Gerald’s friend Bunny (Charlie Ruggles) stops by Claire’s apartment to drop off their train tickets.  What he doesn’t expect is to run into Stephen, who has decided to not go to the Olympics after all.  Of course, Stephen coming back really throws a wrench into Claire’s plans for Venice.  Thinking quickly, Bunny tries saying that the tickets were for Gerald and his wife, Claire was just going to tag along on their trip.  Stephen doesn’t quite buy that story, but he calls their bluff and insists on coming along, too.

The only problem is that now they need to find someone to pretend to be Gerald’s wife.  He tries hiring an actress, but she doesn’t want to upset her boyfriend and the she gets the out-of-work Germaine (Lili Damita) to go in her place.  Germaine goes to meet with Gerald, and of course Bunny can’t resist crashing the interview.  They initially have their doubts about her, but she manages to win them over and the next thing she knows, she’s on the train to Venice.  Claire doesn’t like her right off the bat and can’t stand seeing Gerald with her.  She tries to get Gerald to send her back to Paris, but she refuses to leave and threatens to tell Stephen what’s really going on.  But it turns out that Gerald isn’t the only one Claire has to worry about.  Stephen is a bit infatuated with Germaine.  In fact, Germaine is turning out to be the most popular lady on this trip because Bunny and even Gerald, despite his “strictly business” attitude, also begin to fall for Germaine.

Later, as Germaine is getting ready for a night out with Bunny, Gerald gets jealous and sends him away when he arrives.  Gerald takes the opportunity to really win her over and she falls for him, but is getting frustrated by this whole set-up and wants to leave.  But Bunny isn’t willing to give up so easily and tries climbing a ladder into her bedroom.  She tries to get rid of him, but he’s drunk and when he tries to leave on the ladder, he falls into a canal.  Stephen overhears the commotion, thinks there’s a burglar in Germaine’s room, and goes to investigate.  Gerald and Claire also both rush in and when they see Stephen and Germaine together, they get the wrong idea.  After he gets out of the canal, Bunny comes back to explain what happened and Claire realizes that the idea of her husband being in love with another woman has made her fall back in love with him.  Claire ends things with Gerald, leaving Gerald free to pursue Germaine.

This is the Night was Cary Grant’s film debut and was actually nearly his last.  He really didn’t care for this movie at all and hated it so much that he almost left the industry all together.  But luckily, he was talked out of it and the rest is history.  But even if Cary Grant didn’t like it, I absolutely adore it.  Actually, I’m kind of obsessed with it and I’ve mentioned before that I wish I could live in that movie.  I’ve heard some people call it a “poor man’s Ernst Lubitsch film,” but even a poor man’s Ernst Lubitsch is still pretty darn entertaining.  It’s hilarious and very pre-code.  The cast had great chemistry together, especially Charlie Ruggles and Roland Young.  And I just love how stylized it is.  I’m not even quite sure what to compare it to.  There are times when it kinda reminds me of a silent film with the way the outdoor night scenes are tinted blue and how in the very beginning, it’s just music and synchronized sound effects.  Then there are moments where it almost turns into a musical, but it doesn’t quite go all the way with it.  It’s certainly a unique one, that’s for sure.  I can’t get enough of it.

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Movies I Want to Live In: This is the Night (1932)

Sometimes I come across a movie that is so incredibly charming, funny, and all-around stylish that I wish I could walk right into the movie and live in it.  1932’s This is the Night is definitely one of those movies.  Here are eight reasons why:

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What’s on TCM: January 2011

Welcome to 2011!  This is a little bit of a slow month for me, but there’s still plenty of great stuff to be seen.  Every Tuesday night and Wednesday daytime is a salute to Hal Roach studios so that means tons of Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy shorts, plus lots of other various short films and some features, too.  Peter Sellers is the star of the month, so lots of fun movies come along with that.  Even though there are always quite a few birthday tributes on TCM every month, but they’re not usually as notable as Luise Rainer’s.  She’ll be turning 101 on January 12 so there’s a whole night of her movies to look forward to.  Now, onto my picks for the month:

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