Paul Lukas

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.

What’s on TCM: January 2013

Annex - Young, Loretta (He Stayed for Breakfast)_03Happy new year, everyone!  With winter officially underway, it’s very tempting to spend every night at home watching movies with a cup of hot chocolate, and TCM has plenty of reasons to do just that.

Loretta Young is January’s Star of the Month, in honor of her 100th birthday, and will be spotlighted every Wednesday night this month.  If you’re a fan of pre-codes, you’re bound to adore the first two Loretta Young nights.  I tend to enjoy heist films, so I’m really looking forward to every Tuesday night this month being dedicated to movies about big robberies.

Another star who would be celebrating their 100th birthday this month is Danny Kaye.  If you only know him from White Christmas, be sure to tune in on January 20th because TCM will be playing his movies for a full 24 hours, including an episode of The Danny Kaye Show and an interview he did on The Dick Cavett Show.

(more…)

Downstairs (1932)

Downstairs 1932 John Gilbert

If you work for Baron Nicky von Burgen (Reginald Owen) and Baroness Eloise von Burgen (Olga Baclanova) long enough, you will be treated like family.  So when their longtime butler Albert (Paul Lukas) marries Anna (Virginia Bruce), their maid, the Baron throws them a lavish wedding.  During the reception, the family’s new chauffeur Karl (John Gilbert) shows up and we know right away he’s up to no good when he runs into Countess De Marmac (Hedda Hopper), his former employer with whom he had an affair.  Little do we know just how evil he really is.  That night, Albert is called into work on his wedding night after another butler gets drunk on the job.  When Anna is alone, Karl makes his first move on her by telling her a made-up story about how she reminds him of his dead mother.  But Anna isn’t the only woman in the house he tries to start something with.  He also sleeps with Sophie, the cook, and the Baroness.  He’s not terribly interested in Sophie, though, he only uses her for money.  He makes friends with Albert, but continues to pursue Anna.  One day, Karl gives Anna a piece of the Baroness’s jewelery.  When the Baroness confronts her about wearing her jewelery, Karl steps in and says he gave it to her as a gift and subtly reminds her that he’s got dirt on her.  The Baroness drops the subject and Karl endeared himself closer to Anna with that move.

The Baroness is now keen to get rid of Karl.  So when she knows Albert is listening, she mentions to the Baron that she thinks Anna and Karl are having an affair.  Later, just before the Baron and Baroness are set to leave on a boating trip, she tells Albert to go ahead and get rid of some of the staff while they’re gone.  But before they leave, the Baron changes his mind and decides he wants Albert to come on the trip with him, leaving Anna and Karl alone for the duration of the trip.  Karl takes Anna out for dinner, gets her drunk, and finally gets her to give into his advances.  When Albert comes home, he fires Karl and Anna admits to what happened.  But before he leaves, Karl goes to the Baroness and threatens to reveal their affair unless she keeps him on board and she relents.  Humiliated, Albert goes to the Baroness to resign, but she tells him what Karl has done and begs him to stay.  Karl plans to leave the next day, but not before he gets more of Sophie’s money.  He tries to convince Anna to leave with him, but she refuses.  Karl and Albert end up getting into a huge fight and when the Baron is in the room, Anna forces Karl to give Sophie her money back.  Karl finally leaves, but he only moves onto another victim.

Wow!  I have to say, there are a lot of extremely unlikable characters in pre-code movies, but John Gilbert as Karl is one of the most impressively deplorable characters I’ve ever seen.  He is just so incredibly shameless and ruthless!  And John Gilbert plays him extraordinarily well!  And he should, considering he wrote the story himself.  If you only really know John Gilbert as a silent film actor, then you should definitely check out Downstairs.  His performance here dispels the widely spread story that John Gilbert had a terrible voice and acting style for talkies.  Clearly his lack of success in talkies had more to do with him daring to cross Louis B. Mayer because, as can be seen here, there is nothing wrong with his voice or his acting.  Considering he had to resort to writing a story and selling it to MGM for $1 just to get a good talkie role speaks volumes of just how much Mayer had it out for him.

Virginia Bruce was also great, gotta love the very pre-code scene where she confesses to cheating on her husband and blames him for it.  I also liked seeing Olga Baclanova playing a fairly honest and likable character since the only other movie I’ve seen her in is Freaks, where she was anything but honest and likable.  All in all, a darn good movie.  Not only one of John Gilbert’s best talkies, but a real highlight in his whole career.