Monday, September 24, 2012

Lady for a Day (1933)

Lady for a Day Poster 

There are some movies that you wouldn't go out of your way to recommend to a non-classic movie lover, but this is not one of them.  "Lady for a Day" stands the test of time: it's still just as funny and touching and fun to watch, almost 80 years after its release.  The fact that it is leagues ahead of the remake, "Pocketful of Miracles," doesn't hurt its case a bit.  I realize there are some of you out there who would rather read the dictionary than watch a black and white film.  If you're ever faced with the choice of watching this version of Damon Runyan's classic tale, or the very colorful version starring Glenn Ford and Bette Davis, I hope you'll listen to me and choose the 1933 offering.  I'd hate to have to say I told you so...

Set aside my strange affinity for Warren William, just for a moment, because while he gets top billing, this is hardly "his" movie.  That honor goes to May Robson, who is such an amazing Apple Annie that you really believe she goes from alcoholic apple seller to society dame.  Her Oscar nomination for the role was well-deserved.  The characters that surround her and help her fulfill her dream of fulfilling the dreams of her daughter add color and comedy to what could be just another maudlin tale of bad parenting gone right.  

Need I even mention that it was directed by Frank Capra?  I don't usually think of this as a Capra film, though, because it's the Damon Runyon story that stands out.  I love a movie with characters like "Happy" and "Missouri Martin" and "Shakespeare." It might be far removed from reality maybe, yet nothing is more real than the love a mother has for her daughter, and the power of community, no matter how rag-tag and offbeat.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

The Bride Came C.O.D. is only one in a large group of movies that feature that commonality of the 1930's: the madcap heiress. This time it's Bette Davis as the heiress, thinking she's on her way to wed Jack Carson, in the role of a popular playboy/bandleader. The bride is separated from her potential bridegroom by Jimmy Cagney, a pilot trying not to lose his airplane to creditors. The pilot makes a deal with the heiress' father to hijack the bride and prevent the wedding, with the promise of cash on delivery coming from the oil man father.

It's all pretty cut and dried until they crash in the desert and get to know each other. It being a comedy from the 1940's, you can guess what happens next.

This movie isn't the best example of Bette Davis' amazing acting ability, but Jimmy Cagney carries the film so adeptly you won't mind. There's also the usual supporting cast of wonderful character actors (probably the best thing that ever came out of the studio system: character actors that show up in all your favorite movies). Eugene Pallette, George Tobias, Harry Davenport, and William Frawley all provide plenty to like about this movie. Throw in some nifty old planes and cars, a musical score by Max Steiner, and you'll have an hour and a half of classic comedic fulfillment.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Andy Hardy's early days

I grew up watching re-runs of old Andy Hardy movies, and when I got older, I revisited them on TCM. About 10 years or so ago, I decided that if I patterned my life after Mrs. Hardy, then there would always be a delicious meal ready for my family, all the cleaning, washing, ironing and mending would always be caught up and if there were unexpected visitors for dinner, a homemade cake would magically appear for dessert. Love that woman!

Recently I saw the very first of the Andy Hardy movies (A Family Affair -- 1937) and it was a good bit different from those that followed. To begin with, it was not really a vehicle for Andy at all. Lionel Barrymore was the undisputed star of this film, although it was a little tough for me to see him as Judge Hardy, a role that Lewis Stone seemed to play with complete authenticity. Fay Holden's Mrs. Hardy was first incarnated by Spring Byington for "A Family Affair." Both actresses seemed equally able to handle the role.

This movie was far removed from the light-hearted comedy that the Andy Hardy movies would eventually become. It was certainly no Hollywood heavy hitter, but it was a serious film in many ways. I like to see the progression of things, the way things change over the years, so seeing this movie was fascinating. You can almost hear the producers and studio heads watching it, saying, "That little Rooney boy is dynamite! Let's make a sequel and feature him more prominently!"

If you have ever seen an Andy Hardy film, then be on the lookout for "A Family Affair." I think it will surprise you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

That Wonderful Urge (1948)

Knitwear! Amazing sweaters! Oh, yeah, and Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power. And a nifty old airplane, too. By this time (maybe 15 minutes into the movie) I really should have turned it off. Instead, I kept watching, something I don't recommend to anyone else. Let me just give you the gist of it and you can learn from the mistake I made watching this dog, which is: catch the first 15 minutes of beautiful Sun Valley scenery, groovy knitwear and fantastic plane, then go do something else with the rest of your day.

The gist of this film: Tierney plays a rich heiress who is stalked in the papers by Power's character. Power's character tricks her into thinking he's someone else to get a story out of her, she finds out, tells everyone that they were secretly married and then won't recant that story despite his threats to embarrass her in front of her friends as a bumpkin hubby. They go back and forth for the rest of the movie...first he wants out, then she does, but this never happens at the same time. They are so bent on perpetrating on each other the punishment they think they deserve, that by the time it is all over and they are (naturally) in love, you just don't care anymore.

I'm disappointed. I have seen so little of either Tierney or Power and heard such great things about their work.

Aside from a delightful bit from Gene Lockhart (no relation to the leading lady--haha!) as the judge, a role similar to the one he played in Miracle on 34th Street, there's just not much here to give me any kind of "urge" to watch this again.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Private Lives (1931)

It is commonly known that I have a huge, husband-irking crush on Robert Montgomery. I also have more than a passing appreciation for the brilliant work of Norma Shearer. To have them in the same movie is always a treat, and to have them in a movie based on a play by Noel Coward...well, few cinematic treasures can compare.

According to Robert Osborne at TCM, Noel Coward did not like how this movie turned out, and while that might annoy some people, as a fellow writer I totally understand. It's all part of being a genius playwright, I suspect, that one would naturally have high standards that would preclude one from liking a production of your work in which you do not appear. He's one of the best, people. Don't judge.

Private Lives the movie is 30% screwball comedy and 70% clever dialogue, written with so much sophistication that you have to pay attention. And if you watch it with your children, they might think you're a trifle daft because you'll be laughing a lot and they won't know why. Just a hypothetical thought.

Shearer truly shines in this movie, stealing scenes from Montgomery quite ably. Also along for the ride are the always fun to watch Una Merkel and Reginald Denny (who will always be to me the architect in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Maltese Falcon (1931)

If you're like me, you might not have known off-hand that there was a Falcon that pre-dated the 1941 classic starring Humphrey Bogart. Both are based on the book by Dashielle Hammett and feature the hard-hitting Sam Spade as our hero. A lot of the dialogue is the same in both movies, almost as though, for the second film, director John Huston merely copied the screenplay of the original and then modified it to put his personal stamp on it.

The 1931 version was shown recently on TCM during Thelma Todd day--she played the wife of Spade's partner, much too small a role for her, in my opinion. It was nice, though, to be able to catch this film and, naturally compare it to the later one. Spade was played by Ricardo Cortez, who, despite his name was born in Austria and raised in Brooklyn. His hard-boiled detective was more obviously interested in the ladies than Bogart's, and a lot less, well, hard-boiled. He made it from Point A to Point B, but his character lacked the ominous growl that Bogart had, substituting instead a jaunty air that was a distracting difference. Maybe it's because I've seen the 1941 version so many times, and have an affectionate regard for its stars (Bogart, Greenstreet, Astor, Lorre) that has made me truly appreciative of their performances, but it seems that the stars of the 1931 version lacked sparkle. The pacing of the average movie in that era was a bit slower compared to 10 years later, too.

Of interest though is Cortez, he of the Latin name and jaunty air (pictured here). I have not read the original novel, so I have no insight into whose portrayal of Sam Spade was closer to Hammett's intent, but seeing him as more of a playboy and actually less of an effective investigator was interesting. Cortez also put in a one-time stint as Perry Mason in the 1936 film The Case of the Black Cat, to which I feel justified saying, he's no Raymond Burr. I would like to see Cortez in a role that doesn't already "belong" to someone else, because he isn't a bad actor.

The lovely Una Merkel played Spade's faithful secretary, and this version differs from the 1941 in that it was pretty obvious here that Effie had a definite thing for Spade, who rarely turned away an interested female.

If you're a big fan of film noir and old mystery/crime dramas, this Falcon is worth a look, but be warned: if you've seen the Bogart film, you WILL draw some comparisons, and it might not be the stuff that dreams are made of.