Warner Baxter

42nd Street (1933)

42nd Street 1933When word gets out that producers Jones and Barry are putting on a new show, it’s the talk of the theater world.  Since the nation is in the midst of the Great Depression, a lot of people are depending on this show; everyone from electricians and set builders to chorus girls and the show’s director need it to be a hit.  Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) agrees to direct the show despite his doctor’s advice.  Julian has recently suffered a nervous breakdown and was advised to find a less stressful profession.  But Julian can’t afford to retire, so he needs it to be a hit so he can afford to get out of the business.

One person who is living comfortably, despite the Depression, is Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels).  She’s the girlfriend of Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), the show’s financial backer, which means she has no problem securing a position as the show’s leading lady. Other ladies clamor for the chance to be in the chorus, including Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), who is new to the theater world.  But Peggy has no problem fitting in and quickly makes friends with fellow chorines Annie (Ginger Rogers) and Lorraine (Una Merkel) and catches the eye of Billy Lawler (Dick Powell).

After rehearsals get underway, the producers find out that Dorothy has been seeing her former vaudeville partner Pat Denning (George Brent) on the side.  Not wanting to endanger the show, they try to put a stop to it.  But just before the show is set to open, Abner finds out about Dorothy’s two-timing, they get into a fight, and he wants her out of the show.  The producers protest, but when Dorothy injures her ankle, they have no choice but to re-cast the lead.  Abner wants Annie to take the lead, but she knows she isn’t up to the task.  However, she believes Peggy is.

When 42nd Street was released in 1933, the concept of the backstage musical had already been done before in movies like The Broadway Melody.  But when 42nd Street came along, it not only became the ultimate backstage musical, it revolutionized the entire genre of musicals.  Everyone wanted to mimic Busby Berkley’s style of choreography.  But unlike many early musicals, 42nd Street can hardly be described as creaky or dull.  Its slick production values, catchy songs, memorable choreography, and witty banter keep it fresh even after eighty years.

What’s on TCM: March 2013

Greer GarsonHappy March, everyone!  Hopefully you’ve all been enjoying 31 Days of Oscars, I know I have.  But we already have just a few days left of that before it’s back to the standard TCM schedule.  Greer Garson will be the Star of the Month for March and her movies can be seen every Monday night this month.  TCM will also be shining the spotlight on director Roberto Rossellini every Friday night in March.  Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the schedule:

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1928-1929: Oscar’s Most Awkward Year

Mary Pickford Oscar

Mary Pickford with her Oscar.

As popular as the Academy Awards are, they can be a very controversial topic amongst movie lovers.  I think virtually every cinephile has their own list of movies that they think got robbed at the Oscars.  Some may even have their favorite and least favorite Academy Award years.  But one thing I think we can all agree on is that the nominees for the second Academy Award ceremony (covering 1928-1929) definitely weren’t the strongest group of movies ever nominated.

It’s not so much that 1928-1929 was a completely terrible year for movies, but the film industry had been turned completely upside down that year.  During the first Academy Award ceremony, The Jazz Singer was given an honorary award for revolutionizing the film industry.  By the following year, the impact of The Jazz Singer was undeniable.  The movies eligible for the 1928-1929 Oscars were part of the first wave of movies to come out in the wake of The Jazz Singer and the nominees that year are a better reflection of how in flux the industry was at the time than what the best movies really were.

Even though studios were scrambling to hop on the talkie bandwagon, the production of silent films didn’t come to an immediate halt.  Some truly excellent silent films were produced that year, but you’d never know it by looking at the list of nominees.  However, if some of those silent films had been nominated, that year would probably now be looked back upon more favorably.

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Adam Had Four Sons (1941)

Things couldn’t be better for Adam (Warner Baxter) and Molly (Fay Wray) Stoddard at the turn of the 20th century.  Adam’s business is doing well, they have a beautiful home, and they have four wonderful sons: Jack (Richard Denning), David (Johnny Downs), Chris (Robert Shaw), and Phillip (Charles Lind).  They hire Emilie Gallatin (Ingrid Bergman) to be the boys’ governess and she quickly becomes one of the family.  Times get tough for the Stoddards, though, after Molly dies and Adam loses all his money in a stock market crash.  Unable to keep the family home, he has to send Emilie back home to France, but promises to send for her as soon as he gets the house back.

Seven years later, Adam’s luck has finally turned around and he buys the house back and sends for Emilie.  When Emilie returns, she comes back to find all four boys are now grown up and have all gone into the military and David has some news that surprises the entire family — he’s gotten married.  His new bride Hester (Susan Hayward) puts up a front of being a nice woman, but she really has her sights set on the Stoddard’s fortune and isn’t happy to have Emilie standing in her way.

David gets called to fight in World War I, and while he’s gone, Hester lives with Adam and Emilie.  When Jack comes home for a while, Hester seduces him.  Adam nearly catches them together, but Emilie knows whats happening, so she pretends it was her with Jack.  Adam is shocked and Jack doesn’t want Emilie to be stuck in that awful position, but she knows the truth would only hurt Adam.  But as Hester’s actions continue to tear the family apart, Jack realizes he must tell the truth.

Adam Had Four Sons is an enjoyable, but not great, little drama.  However, if you’re a big fan of Ingrid Bergman or Susan Hayward, this is one you’d definitely be interested in seeing.  Warner Baxter and Fay Wray were no strangers to film audiences in 1941, but Ingrid and Susan were very new to the game at the time.  Adam was only Ingrid Bergman’s second American film and Susan Hayward only had a few credited roles under her belt, but both of them show serious star quality here.  The two of them absolutely steal the movie and are far more memorable than their more experienced co-stars.