Neil Hamilton

Why Be Good? (1929)

 

Why Be Good 1929

Pert Kelly (Colleen Moore) is a vivacious young woman who spends her days working as a department store salesgirl and loves to spend her nights out on the town dancing the night away. Her flirtatious, playful nature leads many to believe that she’s a bad girl, but in reality, she’s a very good girl. While out dancing one night, Pert meets Wintrhop Peabody Jr. (Neil Hamilton) and they fall in love with each other and they make a date for the following night. What Pert doesn’t know is that Winthrop is the son of the man who owns the department store where she works and is about to start working there the next day. Winthrop’s father has also wants him to stay away from the store’s salesgirls.

Due to her late night, Pert is a little late for work in the morning and much to her surprise, sees Winthrop. But when his father realizes there’s something between him and Pert, Winthrop’s father has Pert fired, despite the fact that she’s worked there for two years and was an excellent employee. Obviously, Pert assumes Wintrhop is the one who fired her and is very hurt, but he had nothing to do with it and tries to smooth things over with her by inviting her out again, much to his father’s dismay. His father warns him about how dangerous those wild, young girls can be and Winthrop decides to test Pert to find out whether or not she truly is a good girl.

I saw Why Be Good? for the first time at the 2015 TCM Film Festival and it was most decidedly one of my favorite movie discoveries from the festival. I had never had the pleasure of seeing a Colleen Moore movie before and after just a few minutes of seeing her in this movie, I had absolutely no problem understanding why she was such a popular star. She was an absolute delight to watch; bubbly, charming, and positively effervescent. For a movie that’s nearly 90 years old, Why Be Good? remains remarkably fresh and modern with a great commentary on the double standards for women. This is a great movie to show someone who thinks old movies are all stuffy, dull, and completely detached from the realities of modern life.

Pre-Code Essentials: Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Tarzan and His Mate Weissmuller O'Sullivan

Plot

Some time has passed since Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) gave up on civilization style to live in the African wilderness with Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and she couldn’t be happier with her new life. Some of Jane’s old friends miss her and when Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) and Marlin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh) return to Africa to find an elephant graveyard so they can collect their tusks, they also plan to return with Jane. They bring her some of the latest fashions, cosmetics, and music, and although Jane is happy to have a little taste of civilization again, she wants to stay with Tarzan.

Harry and Marlin are also hoping Tarzan can lead them to the fabled elephant graveyard, but when Tarzan learns they plan to take the tusks, he refuses to help. When Harry and Marlin go ahead to the elephant graveyard anyway, he arrives with a herd of live elephants to stop them; forcing them to give up the ivory. Unfortunately, Harry and Marlin aren’t willing to go down without a fight, but they fail to realize the kind of power Tarzan has on the other jungle inhabitants.


My Thoughts

Adventure movies aren’t always my cup of tea, but I do have a soft spot for the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan series. Even some of the lesser Tarzan movies are still pretty entertaining. But Tarzan and His Mate is without a doubt one of the best of the series; I like it even more than Tarzan the Ape Man. It’s got plenty of action and excitement and is very fun to watch.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

Without a doubt, that distinction goes to Jane’s infamous nude swimming scene.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Some movies have one scene that is so infamous, that one scene alone is enough for them to be considered an essential pre-code. Just like Miriam Hopkins’ undressing scene made Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde an essential pre-code, Jane’s nude swimming scene puts Tarzan and His Mate in that same level of notoriety.

Although many people think Maureen O’Sullivan did her own swimming in that scene, Jane’s swimming skills can actually be credit to Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim. Quite famously, three different versions of this scene were filmed and sent out to different areas. Of course, there’s the version where Jane swims completely nude. In another version, Jane is topless, but has a bottom on, and in the third version, Jane swims in her usual outfit. The fully nude version of this scene wasn’t rediscovered until the 1990s and has since been restored.

As much attention as the nude swimming scene gets, Tarzan and His Mate is one of the few (if not the only) pre-codes I’ve ever seen that has gratuitous male undressing scenes in it.

The Wet Parade (1932)

The Wet Parade 1933

File this one under “misleading posters.” It really isn’t much of a romance.

In 1916, the Chilcote family is known for their wealth.  But all of that is lost when family patriarch Roger (Lewis Stone) goes on a bender and gambles away the family fortune.  Distraught over what he has done, Roger commits suicide.  His teetotaler daughter Maggie (Dorothy Jordan) wishes for prohibition, but her brother Richard, Jr. (Neil Hamilton) loves alcohol as much as his father did.  After his father’s death, Richard, Jr. heads north to write a play and moves into a hotel run by his friend Kip Tarleton (Robert Young) and his family.

 

Like the Chilcotes, the Tarleton family is also dealing with a loved one’s alcoholism.  Mrs. Tarleton (Clara Blandick) doesn’t drink and neither does Kip, but Kip’s father Pow (Walter Huston) drinks like a fish.  Richard arrives at Kip’s hotel just in time to hear the results of the 1916 presidential election.  When Woodrow Wilson wins, Pow and Richard are happy since Wilson is opposed to prohibition.  But despite Wilson’s anti-prohibition platform, prohibition soon becomes the law, and bootleg liquor becomes readily available.  When Pow drinks some bad bootleg alcohol, he flies into a rage when his wife confronts him about it and beats her to death.  Pow is sentenced to life in prison.

With his mother and father both out of the picture, Kip has no other choice but to close the family hotel.  But Kip gets a lot of support from Maggie, who he has since fallen in love with.  They get married and vow to wage war against bootleggers.  Meanwhile, Richard continues spending all his time drinking bootleg alcohol and starts dating nightclub owner Eileen Pinchon (Myrna Loy).  Kip gets a job working with Abe Shilling (Jimmy Durante) at the Treasury Department as a prohibition officer.  He does very well at his new job and the two of them even successfully shut down Eileen’s nightclub.  But Kip is so good at his job, bootleggers begin to target him and with Maggie now expecting a baby, Kip has to decide if his job is worth it.

The Wet Parade is an ambitious movie, but perhaps too ambitious for its own good.  I see the messages it was trying to convey, but the final result was heavy-handed and overly long.  I thought the character of Maggie was very underutilized. The movie opens with the story of her family, so it’s easy to think that she would be a prominent character in the rest of the movie, but no. Instead, she’s relegated to supporting character status after that and serves no real purpose other than to be on Kip’s side.  After her father’s death, she seemed quite passionate about prohibition but unfortunately, we don’t actually see her being active in the prohibition movement, it’s just talk.  It would have been nice to see her actually trying to do something about it.

But one thing The Wet Parade does have going for it is a strong cast.  The idea of Jimmy Durante the prohibition agent may sound strange, but I appreciated the comic relief he brought and will probably be one of the few things I strongly remember about The Wet Parade.

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.

Laughing Sinners (1931)

For two years, nightclub dancer Ivy Stevens (Joan Crawford) has been carrying on an affair with traveling salesman Howdy Palmer (Neil Hamilton).  Howdy means the absolute world to Ivy, but what she doesn’t know is that he’s about to leave her to marry another woman.  He knows how heartbroken she would be and can’t bring himself to end things in person, so he leaves a note for her to find as soon as she’s done on stage one night.

Ivy is so devastated that she wants to throw herself off a bridge, but just as she’s about to jump, Salvation Army worker Carl Loomis (Clark Gable) stops her and offers her some reassuring words.  He also invites her to join him at a picnic for disadvantaged children he’ll be working at.  Ivy turns him down at first, but when she reads about Howdy’s wedding in the newspaper, she changes her mind.  That afternoon, she trades her flashy clothing for the more modest Salvation Army uniform.

Time passes and Howdy isn’t happy with his marriage, so when he runs into Ivy one day, he tries to rekindle their relationship.  But by then, Ivy has found happiness with Carl and in her new, more wholesome life, so she turns him down.  Howdy doesn’t want to let her go and continues to pressure her into getting back together with him, and eventually she gives in.  Ivy had thought her past was now firmly behind her, but being with Howdy again has brought out her former self again.  When she starts dancing around the way she used to, she catches the attention of everyone in her hotel, including Carl.  She’s horrified for Carl to see her that way, but ultimately, she realizes the life she could lead with Carl is the one that would bring her the most happiness.

Laughing Sinners has a pretty mediocre story, but if you’re a big fan of either Crawford or Gable, it’s worth seeing just for the sake of seeing them working together for the second time.  Crawford gave a pretty engaging performance and there’s a definite rapport between her and Gable, but he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable playing a Salvation Army worker.  It’s easy to forgive Gable for being awkward, though, since this is another very early movie in his career and it’s not surprising that MGM wanted to see how he’d do as a different type of character.  But really, even if Gable had totally hit it out of the park, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference since the story is so flimsy, it was never going to amount to a great movie. Any other Crawford/Gable pairing is more worth your time.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

About a year after the events of Tarzan the Ape Man, Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) returns to the African jungle with Martin Arlington to go back to the elephant graveyard to gather some ivory.  But Harry isn’t just hoping to go home with some ivory.  He’s still in love with Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and wants to convince her to come back with him.  In hopes of winning her over, he’s brought along lots of beautiful clothes, stockings, perfume, and records to remind her of all the things she’s missing back in civilization.

Since Harry has made the trip before, he knows one thing for sure — they won’t be able to make it to the elephant graveyard without help from Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller).  They set out on their expedition and naturally, it’s very treacherous.  Eventually they meet up with Tarzan and Jane and despite Jane very firmly insisting that she’ll never leave Tarzan, Harry tries winning her over anyway.  He shows her all the fashionable gowns he brought for her and although they are tempting, Jane has become too fond of jungle life and of Tarzan. The expedition continues and Tarzan is only too happy to help them along the way.  At least he is until he finds out that they’re planning to take ivory from the elephant graveyard.  After that, he wants nothing to do with them. But Martin is determined to get to that elephant graveyard and shoots one of Tarzan’s elephant friends, knowing it would go there to die so they could follow it. 

The plan works, but before they can take any of the ivory, Tarzan and Jane come charging in with a herd of elephants to put a stop to it.  To get him off their case, Martin and Harry say they won’t take any ivory with them when they leave, but the next day, Martin shoots Tarzan and leaves him for dead.  When Jane realizes Tarzan is missing, everyone searches for him, but can’t find him anywhere.  She can’t help but fear the worst when Martin tells her he’s dead.  With no other option, a heartbroken Jane starts to head back with the expedition party.  But along the way, Cheeta comes to tell Jane that Tarzan is still alive after all!  He had been found by some chimpanzees who nursed him back to health.  She goes to find him, but the expedition party is suddenly attacked by a native tribe.  Just when it looks like this is really the end for Jane, sure enough, Tarzan comes swinging in on a vine to rescue her.

Tarzan and His Mate is one of those rare sequels that is just as good, if not better, than the original.  It’s got all the action, adventure, and hilarious rear projection shots that made Tarzan, the Ape Man entertaining, but with even more risqué pre-code stuff.  There’s lots of innuendo between Jane, Harry, and Martin.  Maureen O’Sullivan spends most of the movie wearing next to nothing, or in one memorable scene, nothing at all. Surprisingly, for once, the skimpy outfits and gratuitous undressing aren’t only for the women.  Johnny Weissmuller isn’t wearing very much either and early in the film, there’s a gratuitous shot of a man getting undressed and sitting in a bath.  This is my favorite of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films.  Anything after this one is a little hit or miss, but Tarzan, the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate are the two Tarzan movies most worth seeing.

Strangers May Kiss (1931)

Strangers May Kiss 1932 Norma Shearer

Lisbeth Corbin (Norma Shearer) is a forward thinking young woman who isn’t one to bow to social norms.  The expectation that she particularly loathes is the idea that all women want to get married.  She and her boyfriend Alan (Neil Hamilton) are both perfectly happy with not being married.  On the other hand, there’s Steve (Robert Montgomery), Lisbeth’s former lover and current friend.  Steve still loves Lisbeth and repeatedly asks her to marry him, but she’s not budging on the whole “no marriage” thing.  Her anti-marriage stance is further cemented when one evening, she goes out to a nightclub with her aunt Celia and Celia catches her husband cavorting with another woman.  Devastated, Celia throws herself out of her apartment window.  When Alan has to go to Mexico for work, she follows him.  However, she soon learns the real reason Alan is content with not being married: he’s already married to another woman.  To add insult to injury, when Alan is sent on another assignment in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t arrange for Lisbeth to come with him.  Instead, he arranges a trip home for her.  Lisbeth is absolutely heartbroken and instead of going home, she goes to Europe, where she becomes famous for being the life of every party.

Two years pass and men are flocking to her left and right, including Steve, who has followed her all over Europe.  Steve still wants to marry her, but she’s even less interested in marriage than before.  She’s still carrying a torch for Alan and when she gets a telegram from him saying that he’s gotten a divorce, she’s thrilled and immediately goes to see him.  Unfortunately, he sent that telegram before he found out about Lisbeth’s new reputation and he is not at all pleased about it.  When she arrives, he refuses to see her.  Lisbeth is heartbroken again, but Steve proposes yet again, and she still turns him down.  The two of them return to New York and resume a relationship, until they run into Alan at the theater one night.  In the time they’ve been apart, Alan has forgiven Lisbeth and once again, Lisbeth goes running right back to him.

I really liked Strangers May Kiss.  The story had some flaws, but it had a good cast.  As always, Norma was fabulous in it.  So very charming, natural, and with just the right amount of vulnerability.  Plus it’s always a joy to see her with Robert Montgomery, who proves to be quite the scene stealer as the eternally boozy Steve.  I’ve been really into watching the 1960s Batman TV series lately, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a young Neil Hamilton in a starring role here.  Too bad I liked him much better as Commissioner Gordon because Alan was a real jerk.  I was definitely rooting for Lisbeth to wind up with Steve over Alan because it’s completely beyond me why anyone would want to end up with Alan.  Charming but tipsy should win out over someone who hides being married any day.  It’s also interesting to see a movie so openly challenging the idea that everybody must get married.  It’s just not an idea put forth too often in movies or on television, especially when it’s a female character.  Strangers May Kiss isn’t a perfect movie, but still very pre-code and worth taking a look at.