Robert Young

The Bride Wore Red 1937

The Bride Wore Red (1937)

Count Armalia (George Zucco) has few illusions about his wealth — he firmly believes that being wealthy instead of being poor is a matter of sheer luck. To prove his point, he decides to send Anni (Joan Crawford), a singer in a seedy nightclub, to an exclusive resort where his stuck up friend Rudi (Robert Young) is staying. He agrees to pay for Anni’s stay at the resort, buys her new clothes, and has her pretend to be the aristocratic Anne Vivaldi.

When Anni arrives at the resort, she succeeds in getting everyone to believe her rouse, but it isn’t long before she finds herself in the middle of a love triangle. When Rudi sees Anni at dinner during her first night at the resort, he’s immediately drawn to her, even though he’s already engaged to be married. At the same time, Anni has caught they eye of Giulio (Franchot Tone), a postal worker who, unlike all the elite society figures around, has no interest in having money.

Although Anni is more attracted to Giulio, she’s really grown to love having the best of everything and now she doesn’t want to give it up. If she married Rudi, she could keep the lifestyle, so she decides to try everything she can to get Rudi to propose to her. Meanwhile, some of the other guests at the resort send for information about Anni and when the truth about Anni arrives at the resort, Giulio is the first one to find out who she really is and loves her anyway. Before her time at the resort is up, Rudi proposes to Anni. But what happens when other people at the resort finally find out the truth about Anni?

During a certain period of Joan Crawford’s career, she, quite famously, found herself labeled as “box office poison.” Although she certainly had some good company on that list (Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Fred Astaire also made the list), the film that reportedly earned her that notorious “box office poison” label is The Bride Wore Red. All I have to say to that is, “…Really?”

The Bride Wore Red isn’t anything earth shattering; this is not a Mildred Pierce or Humoresque caliber movie and it never tries to be that. But when you’re talking about someone like Joan Crawford, whose career had so many highlights, saying a movie doesn’t live up to the highest high points isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And in the case of The Bride Wore Red, it’s certainly not something to label someone “box office poison” over. (Even if you only look at her 1930s films, this isn’t one of the best, but it’s hardly one of the worst, either. Movies like The Bride Wore Red were meant to be light bit of escapism and that’s all. Sure, it’s a bit formulaic, but sometimes that’s exactly the sort of thing you want. You can be formulaic but still pull it off well and that’s what The Bride Wore Red does. It’s a pure “1930s MGM era” Joan Crawford role — she gets Franchot Tone as a love interest, she dreams of going from rags to riches, and there are excuses to get her into some Adrian gowns. But, what can I say? I like the formula.

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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.

H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)

Harry Pulham (Robert Young) has always lived his life by the book.  He came from a wealthy background, went to all the right schools, has a respectable job, has two children, and is married to Kay Motford (Ruth Hussey), an ideal woman for a man of his stature.  Now middle-aged, he meets up with some of his old college friends for lunch one day and is put in charge of getting all their classmates’ biographies together for their 25-year reunion.  Later, he gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Marvin Myles (Hedy Lamarr) inviting him out for a drink.  He accepts, but when he gets to the restaurant and sees her again, he can’t bear to talk to her.

He goes home and starts to write his biography, but when he starts looking back on his life, he realizes that he has never lived life on his own terms.  Everything he’s done in life has been because his family expected it of him.  After graduating from Harvard, he fights in World War I, and after the war, his college friend Bill (Van Heflin) gets him a job at an advertising agency in New York City.  Marvin was working at the same agency and was kind of a 1940s Peggy Olson.  Bill had certainly never met an independent girl like Marvin in any of his upper-class schools and they soon fall deeply in love with each other.

However, Harry’s family back home in Boston just doesn’t understand his new life.  His parents (Charles Coburn and Fay Holden) wish he would just come home and settle down with Kay, who he has known since he was a child.  Harry has never had any real interest in Kay and certainly doesn’t want to marry her, but he wants to marry Marvin instead.  But Marvin isn’t ready to get married yet and she realizes she just doesn’t fit in with Harry’s privileged background.  They go their separate ways, but Marvin promises to always be waiting for him if he wants to come back to her.  Harry decides to settle into his predetermined life in Boston and marry Kay, even though he doesn’t really love her.  After looking back on it all, he decides to call Marvin back to see if her offer still stands.  They meet for lunch, but are still things still the same between them?

I loved this movie!  First of all, this is a King Vidor movie through and through.  It reminded me a bit of The Crowd in the sense that both movies deal with men who aren’t satisfied with where they’re at in life and are yearning for something more.  This is the kind of material that King Vidor was best suited to direct.  The cast in general was pretty stellar; Robert Young and Hedy Lamarr had good chemistry together.  Hedy Lamarr may seem like kind of an odd choice to play a free-spirited, independent woman, but she gave a very thoughtful and nuanced performance.  Ruth Hussey, Van Heflin, and Charles Coburn were all excellent supporting players.  My only complaint about it is that it could have stood being about fifteen minutes shorter.  But if you’re in the mood for something bittersweet, I very highly recommend H.M. Pulham, Esq.  It’s another one of those overlooked gems that deserves to be better remembered today.