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:
Happy 2012, everybody! January is, as always, chock full of good stuff on TCM. The first star of the month in 2012 is Angela Lansbury and her movies can be seen every Wednesday night this month. Every Thursday night will be dedicated to showcasing the work of cinematographer Jack Cardiff. With no further ado, let’s get to my picks for January.
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.
During World War I, Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess) goes off to fight with his hometown friend Roger Winston (Gordon Westcott). At one point, Roger is supposed to undertake a risky maneuver to capture a German prisoner. When it comes time to go through with it, Roger is paralyzed with fear and Tom jumps in to finish the job. But then Tom is shot and Roger has to finish it himself. Roger believes Tom is dead and is given some very impressive accolades for his bravery. Even though Roger knows the truth, he doesn’t have it in him to tell the truth. Meanwhile, Tom is still alive and has been getting treatment in a German P.O.W. camp. After the war is over, Tom is released but is sent home with a bad morphine addiction. He runs into Roger on the boat home and Roger tells Tom how awful he feels about taking his awards, but Tom is surprisingly forgiving about it.
Once they get back home, Roger is given a hero’s welcome but makes sure that Tom is given a job at his father’s bank. However, Tom’s dependency on morphine proves to interfere with his work and Roger’s father fires him. Tom is sent to rehab and successfully beats his addiction, and once he is released, he moves to Chicago and things finally start to look up for him. He meets Ruth (Loretta Young), a woman who lives in the same building as him. She works at a laundry service and suggests that he try to get a job there, too. He starts out as a truck driver, but when his boss notices that he is the only driver bringing in new business, he is promoted. Not only is he now bringing in more money, but he marries Ruth and the two of them soon are expecting a baby.
All is going well until Tom and Ruth’s neighbor Max comes to him with a laundry machine idea, looking for money to get a patent for it. Tom helps Max get the money together and sells the machine to the laundry service he works at under the condition that nobody lose their job because of it. And at first, that’s great, but then the owner of the laundry service dies suddenly and it is taken over by new management who have no interest in abiding by that rule and 75% of the employees are fired, including Tom. The fired workers start a riot that kills Ruth, and even though Tom tries to stop them, he is sent to jail.
While in jail, Tom earns a fortune from his machine, but refuses to touch even one cent of it because he considers the money dirty. He’s released after five years and finds that he barely recognizes his own son anymore. He also finds out that he is a suspected communist and a group of anti-communist officers want to run him out of town. With no other option, Tom decides to leave town, but gives all his money to his friend Mary (Aline MacMahon), who has been taking care of his son and runs a restaurant with her father. He tells Mary to use the money to feed anybody who needs it free of charge and to take care of his son. Once Tom leaves town, he becomes one of the many homeless drifters and finds his old “friend” Roger among them. Roger’s father’s bank has closed and he had done some time in jail for illegal investing. The two of them remain hopeful that the New Deal will improve things for them, and back in Chicago, we find that Mary has made sure that Tom’s son knows what an honorable man his father is.
Heroes for Sale is one of the great hard-hitting social commentary type of pre-codes. That poster with Loretta Young in the slinky evening gown is pretty misleading. This is such a brutally honest movie that doesn’t try to gloss over anything in the slightest. Between the way it showed a blind veteran coming home after the war, drug addiction, and even the way Ruth died, there is absolutely nothing pretty about this movie. And Loretta Young’s character most certainly was not wearing any glamorous evening gowns like that. This is one of my favorite sound films by Richard Barthelmess, I thought he really hit it out of the park. And for how much stuff happens in this movie, it is amazing that director William Wellman was able to fit all of it in in a little over an hour. Don’t miss this movie!
For Kurt Anderson (Warren William), Franklin Monroe department store is his life. He’s the manager and doesn’t think twice about dismissing anyone he thinks isn’t helping the store reach its full potential, no matter how damaging it is to the other person. When an up-and-coming clothing company can’t deliver a shipment on time, Kurt cancels the order and sues them for damages, knowing it would completely wipe out the company. When he decides a long-time employee is no longer useful, he fires him and the employee ends up throwing himself out of a window. None of these things faze Kurt at all, he figures they aren’t his problem.
Before leaving one night after closing, Kurt finds a young woman named Madeline (Loretta Young) trying to spend the night in the furniture section. She desperately wants a job in the store and although she has a place to stay, the store’s furniture displays are much nicer. Kurt takes her out for dinner and promises to give her a job. But don’t think that Kurt has a soft side, he later takes advantage of her. She gets a job as a model in the womens’ department and meets and falls in love with Martin West (Wallace Ford), who also works in the store, but works under Kurt. Martin suddenly finds himself on the rise in company after he makes some good suggestions about how to increase sales and Kurt makes him his assistant. By now, he and Madeline want to get married, but his new job is very demanding and Kurt warns him right off that this is not a job suitable for married men. Despite Kurt’s warning, Martin and Madeline get married anyway but keep it a secret from Kurt.
Sure enough, it turns out that Kurt was right. Martin is always working late and it puts a strain on his relationship with Madeline. The two of them end up having a huge fight one night at a company party and Martin gets so drunk that he passes out and spends the night in the store. As for Madeline, she runs into Kurt and the two of them end up spending the night together. Unaware that she’s married, he asks her out again the next day, so she finally admits that she’s married to Martin. Wanting to break them up, he tries bribing fellow salesgirl Polly Dale (Alice White) to seduce Martin away from Madeline, but she refuses. Later, he makes sure that Martin finds out that Madeline has slept with him. Devastated, Madeline tries to kill herself and Martin goes to see Kurt, ready to kill him. See, Kurt has gotten into some trouble with the board of directors and with his job now on the line, Kurt welcomes the idea of being shot and even gives Martin the gun. Martin does shoot him, but doesn’t seriously hurt him. With Kurt on the mend and once his job has been secured again, Martin and Madeline decide it’s for the best for them to find jobs elsewhere.
Employees’ Entrance is pretty fascinating stuff. It’s not so much that the story is super compelling, but watching Kurt is kind of like watching a trainwreck. I don’t mean that Warren William did a lousy job, actually he was excellent in it, I mean that Kurt was such an incredible jerk that I couldn’t stop watching because I just had to see what horrible thing he was going to do next. And the most interesting thing about Employees’ Entrance is that it doesn’t try to redeem Kurt in any way, shape, or form. He doesn’t have any big revelations about how awful he was, he doesn’t try to better himself. No, instead he just keeps on being the same old heel he always was with zero redeeming qualities. It’s not often that you see a character so very unapologetically heartless as Kurt Anderson.
After World War II, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) is hard at work rounding up Nazi war criminals and seeing that they are punished. One Nazi in particular who has evaded his reach is Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). In hopes of finding Kindler, Wilson releases Kindler’s old friend Konrad Meinike thinking that Meinike will go to see Kindler, wherever he is. Sure enough, he does and Wilson follows him to Harper, Connecticut where Kindler has assumed the identity of Professor Charles Rankin and is engaged to Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice.
In fact, Meinike and Wilson arrive in Harper on the day Mary and Charles are set to be married. Meinike knows he’s being followed and evades Wilson long enough to find Charles, but obviously, this is not a happy reunion. Meinike has seen the error of his ways and tries to convince Charles to turn himself in, but Charles isn’t about to give up his new life so easily. He strangles Meinike and buries the body in the woods before going on with the wedding. But what Charles doesn’t realize is that Meinike had talked to Mary about where to find him. Over the next few days, Wilson does some investigating and concludes that Charles is really Kindler. He even recruits Mary’s brother Noah (Richard Long) to help him nab Charles. But the only person who can definitely tie Charles to Meinike is Mary. Meanwhile, there’s someone else posing a threat to Charles’ new identity — Mary’s dog. When Charles takes Mary’s dog for a walk in the woods, it starts digging at the area where Charles buried Meinike, so he poisons the dog. When Noah finds the dog dead, he and Wilson start investigating more and Meinike’s body is found.
Charles really starts getting nervous when Wilson questions Mary about whether or not she’d seen Meinike. Charles tries to keep her quiet by concocting a story about how Meinike had been trying to blackmail him so he killed him to protect her. Mary desperately wants to believe her husband and protect him, but it gets harder when Wilson shows her horrifying footage from concentration camps and tells her about how her husband was responsible for all that suffering. Even then, Mary doesn’t want to believe this about her husband. But Wilson knows that Charles is very likely to try to kill Mary next and he’s right. At last, Mary is able to accept the awful truth about the man she married.
There isn’t a single thing about The Stranger that I didn’t like. The cast was great all around. Loretta Young totally nailed the innocence and naivety her character needed. It’s got plenty of suspense, I didn’t think there was a dull moment in the movie. I know Orson Welles didn’t think very highly of this movie, largely because he wasn’t given as much creative control as he would have liked. But I think this is a case where limitations may have worked to the film’s advantage. There were about 20-30 minutes worth of scenes that Welles had wanted in the film that were cut by the studio. Although I’d love for those lost scenes to surface someday, I thought the movie was just right in terms of length. For how outstanding The Stranger is, it’s a somewhat underrated Orson Welles movie. It’s awfully hard not to be overshadowed by The Third Man, Citizen Kane, or The Lady From Shanghai and I wouldn’t put The Stranger on par with any of those, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic movie.
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: