The Fabulosity of the You Must Remember This Podcast

One day on Twitter, a person that I follow linked to a podcast celebrating Ida Lupino.  Since it was Ida’s birthday I decided to check it out even though I had never heard of the podcast before.  Thirty minutes later I was completely and utterly hooked on a podcast called YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS.

If you have never listened to this podcast, or even if you have, let me give you a little back story.  Written, edited, and narrated by Karina Longworth this is a podcast for every true classic Hollywood fan.  Longworth was a former editor at, had worked defending bloggers and online journalists at Cinematical, and held the position of chief film critic at LA Weekly before leaving it all behind to author several fantastic books.  So when I tell you that this podcast is her brainchild you know that it is going to not only be good but also extremely well-written and researched.  Touted as a podcast about “the secret and or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century”, YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS is a podcast that should be neither of those things.

Each episode features a different star and focuses on different parts of their history.  Ever wonder how Ida Lupino became a director?  Curious about Bette Davis and her role in the Hollywood Canteen?  Itching to learn more about Marilyn Monroe when she was still Norma Jeane Baker?  And yes, pretty much every young woman ended up on at least one date with Howard Hughes.  Most recently Longworth has issued a series of podcasts about Hollywood stars during wartime entitled, aptly enough, Star Wars.  Every episode details the history of the featured star or stars with the storytelling ability of the finest screenwriter of Hollywood’s heyday.  The great writing, Longworth’s immense talent, and skill all add up to create a podcast that is as addicting as SERIAL ever was.  And lest you think that this is a podcast that would only interest classic film fans, each episode brings to life such entertaining and fascinating history that anyone who has even a spark of curiosity or intellectual desire in them will be sucked in.

So do yourself a big favor and check out YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS and Karina Longworth (and follow them too).  Podcasts like this are a rare and wonderful thing, much like the classic movies that we all love so much.


March 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

As the 31 Days of Oscars draws to a close, Turner Classic Movies goes back to more regularly scheduled programming.  Here is what is coming up in March as well as some things I think you should check out!

The Star of the Month for March is the lovely Ann Sothern!  Possibly best known for the Maisie films, Ann Sothern will be highlighted every Wednesday night in March starting at 8PM EST.  Guest Programmer Robin Quivers will present her four movie choices on March 10th, ranging from A PLACE IN THE SUN to THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  Fridays in March will showcase Roadshow Musicals and March 15th will bring out Treasures from the Disney Vault.  Director Bert I. Gordon will be highlighted on March 19th with seven of his films, including THE CYCLOPS from 1957.  March 24th will be all about Alan Arkin, showing four movies and one documentary of Alan Arkin’s interview from the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.  I am really excited for March 26th when TCM features an evening of Hammer Noir.  A night of premieres from the Hammer Film Company in England, TCM will bring us THE GAMBLER AND THE LADY, PAID TO KILL, DEAD ON COURSE, and HEAT WAVE.


Now, here are some films that I am planning to check out in March and I think you might enjoy them too! March 1st – GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 6:30AM EST Part of my ten classic movies for 2015 list this is an essential pre-code that I definitely plan on checking out!, THE MUSIC MAN 2PM EST I am a sucker for a good musical and I have fond memories of watching this as a kid. March 3rd – NOW, VOYAGER 2:45 PM EST See title of this blog…need we say more? March 5th – A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH 12:15 PM EST A great movie about a pilot played by David Niven who argues with the angels for a chance to keep on living, ARROWSMITH 8PM EST Ronald Colman in a dramatic pre-code about a doctor finding his true calling in spite of personal tragedy, THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET 2 AM EST The story of a woman taking to the streets to provide for her illegitimate son is just too enticing of a pre-code to miss. March 7th – AN ACT OF MURDER 8AM EST Another film that intrigues me…Frederic March playing a judge who is considering mercy killing his brain cancer striken wife. March 8th – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD 2PM EST Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR I saw this movie years ago and it is a very lovely and haunting tale of a woman who falls in love with a ghostly sea-captain, TOPPER 10PM EST Another one from my ten classic film list and this one has Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in it! March 9th – LIFE BEGINS 6:45 AM EST A pre-code maternity ward with Loretta Young, MARY STEVENS, MD 8AM EST The great Kay Francis in a great pre-code melodrama, A CHILD IS BORN 9:15AM EST I saw the end of this movie some time ago and now I need to see how it starts! March 10th – BORN YESTERDAY 12:30AM EST Judy Holiday is fantastic as a dizzy girlfriend of a crooked business man who learns how to improve herself and William Holden, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY 2:30AM EST This is one of my all time favorite movies ever so I must watch. March 11th  – MAISIE 8PM EST The first of a night of Maisie films with Ann Sothern and since I have never seen any of them I might as well start here! March 13th – THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS 3:30PM EST I have heard a lot about the Bowery Boys but have yet to see a film so I will be checking this one out. March 14th – THE BIG CLOCK 8:15 AM EST Ray Milland and Charles Laughton and someone is getting framed for murder. March 15th – DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE 8PM EST I remember watching this with my sister as a kid and I can’t wait to see it again! March 18th – A KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR 12PM EST A fantastic film with Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich, very romantic and exciting movie about a British spy helping a Soviet countess escape communist Russia, THE CITADEL 2PM EST Robert Donat and Rosalind Russell in a  film about a doctor tempted to give up his ideals for money. March 19th – CHRISTOPHER STRONG 10AM EST Part of a morning dedicated to Katherine Hepburn this is a pre-code film I have been meaning to catch, a story about an aviatrix and her affair with a married man. March 20th – HIGHWAY 301 10AM EST Kristina at Speakeasy wrote a great review of this film and inspired me to want to see it, 42ND STREET 1;15PM I can’t believe that I have never seen this definitive backstage musical! March 21st – ENCHANTMENT 12AM EST I heard about this film starring David Niven and Teresa Wright on a Warner Archive Podcast and I was intrigued…looking forward to check it out. March 22nd – PRIMROSE PATH 6AM EST Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea in a film about a girl from a family of prostitutes who tries to hide her past from her new husband. March 26th – THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE, THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS, THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS, THE CASE OF THE BLACK CAT, THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING BISHOP 1PM EST to 6:30PM EST A full afternoon of Perry Mason movies, yes please! March 29th – I TAKE THIS WOMAN 6 AM EST Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr in a story of a doctor’s marriage to a European refugee and the threat it places on his practice, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE 2:15PM Another favorite movie that I remember watching with my sister. These are just a few of the terrific films coming in March to TCM!  Let me know what ones you are looking forward to!  Here are some suggestions for movies in March from Danny at, Kristina at Speakeasy, Laura and her musings, and Cliff from Immortal Ephemera.

Watching With Warner: ARSENE LUPIN (1932) / ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS (1938)

My month of Warner Archive is coming to a close and we are wrapping things up with a double feature!  First up we have ARSENE LUPIN from 1932, starring Lionel and John Barrymore, followed by ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS from 1938 which stars Melvyn Douglas, Warren William, and Virginia Bruce.

In ARSENE LUPIN, Lionel Barrymore is police detective Guerchard who is called out to a robbery in progress.  Once there the police chase a fleeing car only to find the passenger tied up in the backseat.  The man (John Barrymore) claims to have just been robbed by the notorious Arsene Lupin, saying he is the Duke of Charmerace.  Guerchard doesn’t believe this for a second and suspects that this man is in fact Arsene Lupin.  However another man named Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall) returns to the house and confirms the identity of the passenger as the Duke of Charmerace.  Strangely enough the next day Guerchard finds that the shoe impressions taken from the outside of the scene of the crime are an exact match for his own shoes!  Perplexed he goes to see the chief of police where he is told that if he wants to retire quietly to the country with his daughter he needs to do one last thing, and that is to catch Arsene Lupin!  The police have just received a note from Lupin telling them that he will be at the Duke of Charmerace’s ball that night to take whatever he wants.  Geurchard decides to go to the ball himself just to make sure that nothing goes wrong.

The Duke of Charmerace is having some issues of his own.  Two bailiffs have arrived asking to collect past due bills.  He manages to fob them off with drinks and food, while he returns to his ball.  He sees Geurchard enter and begin talking to another male guest, who is an undercover policeman.  It turns out that there are hidden police officers throughout the ball in an effort to trap Arsene Lupin should he try anything.  At this point, the Duke is up in his bedroom where he has found a naked woman in his bed.  The Countess Sonia Krichnoff (Karen Morley) claims that her evening gown is being mended in the other room and since she was cold, she took refuge under the covers of the Duke’s bed.  After some risqué flirtation the Duke and Sonia rejoin the party and just in time for some cake.  Unfortunately, as the lights are down for the cake’s arrival several ladies find that they are missing various pieces of jewelry.  Sonia has lost a bracelet and she hurries to find the Duke.  At this moment Guerchard’s men spring into action but Geurchard is nowhere to be found.  He is a little preoccupied at the moment, being held at gunpoint by the two bailiffs upstairs who have mistaken him for Arsene Lupin.  Once released by the two men, Geurchard begins the send all the guests downstairs to be questioned.  However, he has a private word alone with the Countess Sonia before sending her on with the others.

Later the Duke and the Countess find themselves invited to Gourney-Martin’s home for the weekend.  While there the Duke and Sonia continue their flirtations and Gourney-Martin demonstrates his new electrified safe.  One morning Sonia awakes to find a real bracelet in place of her fake one from none other than Arsene Lupin.  Tourney-Martin has also had a visit from Lupin, though his is far less pleasant.  Lupin has left a note saying that he will come back and steal everything Tourney-Martin has because he is a war profiteer.  Geurchard is called to the house at once to be there when Lupin makes his entrance.  But who Arsene Lupin really?  Is everyone who they appear to be?

In ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS, F.B.I. agent Steve Emerson (Warren William) is the hottest ticket item since Arsene Lupin.  And that is just the problem.  Every newspaper in the country has his face plastered all over it and so every criminal knows just what he looks like.  His boss requests that Steve hands in his resignation and Steve does so with little hesitation.  Taking on the job of private detective he goes to meet his first client and finds a room of people bound and gagged.  It turns out that the Count de Grissac (John Halliday), his niece Lorraine (Virginia Bruce), and cousin George Bouchet (Monty Woolley) have been robbed.  Luckily it turns out that the thief made off with a paste imitation of the famous de Grissac emerald.  Steve notices a card with the signature Arsene Lupin on it, along with a bullet left behind in a wall.  He hurriedly takes both pieces of evidence and then offers to return to France with the de Grissac family in an effort to help them protect the emerald.  He also has become taken with Lorraine and is anxious to find more time to spend with her.

Disembarking in Paris, Lorraine and Steve are met at the dock by Lorraine’s fiancee Rene Farrand.  Rene comes bearing gifts and Steve, whether from jealousy over Lorraine’s affections or actual police instinct, is immediately suspicious of the gentleman farmer.  It turns out that he has reason to be suspicious as we will soon see.  Two men show up at Rene’s home later that week.  They are Joe Doyle (Nat Pendleton) and Alf (E.E. Clive), and they are looking for Arsene Lupin.  They find him in the back taking in some target practice, because as it turns out Rene is Arsene Lupin.  Joe and Alf present Rene with the day’s newspaper which is splashed with the headline ARSENE LUPIN ALIVE?  They wonder if Rene is getting back in the game but they are to be disappointed.  Rene is retired and he had nothing to do with the emerald or any of the other crimes being attributed to Lupin.  Obviously there is a copycat at large.

Arsene Lupin is a gentleman thief and master of disguise created by Maurice LeBlanc, and featured in twenty novels and twenty-eight short stories.  Lupin first appeared in Je sais tout issue number six in 1905, and has been inspiring adaptations ever since.  The first Arsene Lupin movie was made in 1908 and even as recently as 2011.  These two films are not the only Arsene Lupin films but they are definitely among the best.  Both are well written and enjoyable caper films, each having a great cast of actors to bring the stories to life.  But how do they compare to each other?

The 1938 film is often dismissed as being not as good as the 1932 film, and is usually not rated very well.  I am guessing that this is because it is being compared directly to the 1932 film and not by itself.  I found this film quite enjoyable and well done.  The dialogue is witty and fun, the story is well plotted and moves quickly.  The cast is terrific with Melvyn Douglas doing a great job as a suave ne’er do-well and Warren William is perfectly cool as the American G-Man on the hunt for Lupin, as well as love.  And any time that I see Monty Wooley on-screen makes me very happy.  My only quibble would be that Virginia Bruce’s character is very under-utilized, to the point that the entire “love triangle” subplot could probably be cut out without changing much of the film.  However, this film is a very good example of a 1938 romantic comedy/romp and should not be so easily dismissed.  I think that this is an example of a film suffering because it is considered a sort-of sequel to the 1932 version and that is a shame because it really is quite a fun movie.

That having been said there is a definite magic in the 1932 ARSENE LUPIN.  Both Barrymore brothers are hitting on all cylinders, and John Barrymore especially seems to be having a ball.  This film really has you guessing for a little while, wondering who is Arsene Lupin really and how will he get away with everything?  The story is engaging and surprising, and the entire cast is fantastic.  The character of Sonia especially deserves to be mentioned because she might just be the entire reason why this movie is in some ways superior to the 1938 version.  Where the Virginia Bruce character is relegated to window dressing between Warren William and Melvyn Douglas, Karen Morley is given a much meatier role with far more impact on the film.  You simply could not have this film without her character or her story.  Sonia is a complex, clever, and interesting woman, and is more than capable of handling Arsene Lupin and his ruses.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these films which are part of a double-feature from the Warner Archive.  Even though I have a preference for the 1932 film, both are well worth seeing and I can recommend both.  You can also see ARSENE LUPIN on Warner Archive Instant so you have no excuse not to!

Watching With Warner: KINGS ROW (1942)

For one of my final entries into my Warner Archive Watch-a-Long we travel to the small town of Kings Row for a good, old-fashioned melodrama.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to recap this movie, because honestly half the fun of a melodrama is going along with the story and being surprised by all the twists and turns.  So, this is going to be a little briefer than my other recaps but hopefully it will preserve the surprises for future viewers.

In the small town of Kings Row several children are growing up.  Among them are Parris Mitchell who is being raised by his French grandmother, and Parris’ best friend Drake McHugh.  Drake is the orphan son of some very wealthy people but who basically does as he likes while paling around with Parris.  Other members of the town are Cassandra Tower, daughter of Doctor Tower (Claude Rains), and Louise Gordon, daughter of Doctor Henry Gordon (Charles Coburn).  Both doctors are not what they first appear to be, and both harbor secrets.  Doctor Gordon is the more popular and accepted of the two, and so it is that almost no one turns up to Cassandra’s birthday party.  Louise has decided to throw her party on the same day and has stolen away all Cassandra’s guests, as most inhabitants of Kings Row would prefer to avoid the Tower home with its secrets and whispers.  Parris, having always cared for Cassandra, has gone to the Tower party and is met on his way home by Drake.  Drake has attended Louise’s party but admits to Parris that he probably should have gone to Cassandra’s instead.  As they walk they stop by another friends home, where they find that his father is to be operated on by Doctor Gordon for treatment of his ulcers.  Hideous screams come from the room above and the boys hurry away, while their friend bangs and cries on the front door.  Continuing on their walk the two friends begin playing with Randy Monaghan (who will be played by Ann Sheridan), a girl from the wrong side of the tracks.  Randy is easy-going and fun to play with, and the three children have a wonderful time.  Later that night, while on his way home, Parris runs into Cassandra who tearfully tells him that her father is taking her out of school.  She won’t tell Parris any more than this and runs off.

Many years pass and Parris (Robert Cummings) is now a grown man, interested in pursuing medicine.  He is still friends with Drake (Ronald Reagan), and still pines for Cassandra (Betty Field).  The year is now 1890, and Parris decides to take up studying medicine under the tutelage of Doctor Tower.  While in the house, he finally sees Cassandra again for the first time in years.  After some difficulties the two begin a secret relationship, with Drake as the only confidant.  Drake meanwhile, intends to marry Louise but her parents are staunchly against the union.  Drake is persistent and is willing to go against their wishes in order to be with Louise, but Louise is not wiling to go against her parents wishes.

Parris’ grandmother is now older and has fallen ill.  It is decided that no one will tell Parris the true magnitude of her diagnosis until he is ready to attend medical school.  Doctor Gordon is attending to her and it is soon discovered that her terminal cancer is progressing more rapidly than previously thought.  She soon succumbs and in his grief, Parris turns to Doctor Tower for comfort.  Through his conversations with the older man, Parris decides to take up the new medical field of psychiatry.  Doctor Tower tells Parris that his studies with him are now complete and that he will send on an application for entry into a medical school in Vienna.  Cassandra is becoming more and more agitated around Parris but continues to refuse to tell him why she is not allowed out of the house, and why her father kept her out of school.  Parris is convinced that Cassandra is being mistreated by her father and resolves to take her away with him.  He proposes marriage to Cassandra but she refuses him and runs from the room.  Later that night, while Parris and Drake are talking, Cassandra bursts into Drake’s house and wildly begs Parris to take her away with him when he goes to medical school in Vienna.  Then just as quickly she turns and runs from the house, leaving a bewildered Paris behind.  He hurries after her and sees Doctor Tower sitting on the front porch.  Intending to have it out with the man, Parris steps forward but is stopped by Drake who advises waiting until the morning.

The next day dawns and Drake brings Parris some coffee and his breakfast.  He wants Parris to drink his coffee before he tells him the terrible news he has just learned.  It has to do with Cassandra and her father…

I honestly don’t want to go any further into the story because I don’t want to ruin it.  The best part of this film is the way it just sweeps you up into the soap opera drama with twists and turns and shocks galore.  This was a tough sell for a movie script during the time of the Hayes code.  The book it is based on, written by Henry Bellmann, featured such things as incest, adultery, and suicide.  In fact, the head of the Hayes office wrote an open letter about the novel’s unsuitability for filming.  The producers agreed to remove much of the offending content and instead make a movie focusing on an idealistic young doctor’s journey and his reactions to the world he sees around him.  If this is what was left in, I can’t imagine what was cut out from the book!

While Robert Cummings plays the “hero” of the story, I found myself drawn to the story of Drake and Randy much more.  Ronald Reagan called this film the best he was ever in, and I tend to agree with him.  The breadth and scope of this story is sweeping, and the challenges faced by the characters are many.  As an actor, Ronal Reagan must have enjoyed the chance to play such a wide range of emotions and situations.  Ann Sheridan is also great, portraying a real “stand-up gal”.  Randy is no wilting daisy and she stands up to meet any challenge head on.  It was a refreshing change, even from the other female leads in the film.

KINGS ROW is a soap opera if ever I saw one, but it is a soap opera of quality.  Peyton Place has nothing on the people of Kings Row!  It also is worthwhile to note that the novel was based on the town of Fulton in Missouri, Bellamann’s hometown.  Just think if this is what went on in Fulton, what could be happening behind closed doors in your hometown?

Watching With Warner: FROM HEADQUARTERS (1930)

Who’s up for a lovely murder?  If you like LAW AND ORDER or NCIS or any of their various incarnations, you might just like this forgotten pre-code from the Warner Archive!

It’s a usual day in police headquarters.  The usual suspects are being brought in for a lineup, complete with at least one person claiming to be a friend to the commissioner.  Reporters are poking around for a story and bailsmen are poking around for a customer.  Safecracker Muggs (Hobart Cavanaugh) has been brought in for questioning in a recent rash of robberies (who doesn’t love a good bit of alliteration?).  In the police laboratory things are going like clockwork causing the pathologist to sigh, “What I wouldn’t give for a nice juicy murder.”  Well, he is about to get his wish.

A dead body has been found, you say? Marvelous!

The call comes in that a dead body has been found in a uptown apartment in the city.  The victim, one Gordon Bates, is an eccentric gun collector.  However, the cause of death is quickly ruled a homicide and not a suicide as first thought.  Young Lt. Jim Stevens (George Brent) is paired with veteran detective Sgt. Boggs (Eugene Pallette), and the pair hurries off to the scene of the crime.  There they find Bates dead of a gunshot through the eye and a set of finger prints on a dueling pistol.  Bringing the evidence back to headquarters, the lab technicians get to work and soon identify the fingerprints as belonging to Broadway actress Lou Ann Winton (Margaret Lindsey).

What do you mean my old flame is accused of murder?

Jim is shocked and certain that Lou Ann can’t have anything to do with the murder.  He admits that he knows her and can’t think of any reason why she would kill Bates, though he hasn’t seen her for some time.  About this time, Bates’ lawyer turns up along with a man named Anderzian (Robert Barrat).  The lawyer says that he is the sole executor of Bates’ will and that Anderzian has some letters that were in the dead man’s possession and that he would like returned.  Since no such letters have yet been recovered the two men take their leave, with Anderzian being very careful to hide his face as they pass Muggs on the way out.

The police begin to question members of Bates’ household, starting with his butler Horton (Murray Kinnell).  Horton relates that he heard Bates’ talking to someone in his study around 10:30 or so last night.  After that he went to bed and heard nothing all night.  In the morning when he went into the study he found the lights still on and Bates dead on the floor.  He can offer no more information except to identify Lou Ann as Bates’ fiancée, much to Jeff’s surprise.  Lou Ann is soon brought in for questioning and she denies knowing anything.  After some prodding she finally admits that she was at Bates’ apartment and touched the dueling pistols when he showed them to her.  She also admits that she struggled with him when he tried to make her his mistress, but she insists that she did not kill him.  Her story is backed up by the forensics lab, who have found hairs under Bates’ fingernails that do not belong to her.  They are the hairs of a young man with red hair, and one such man has just turned up at headquarters asking for his sister Lou Ann.

There’s your problem right there…

Boggs is now convinced that Lou Ann’s brother Jack (Theodore Winton) is the true murderer and that Lou Ann is helping to cover it up.  He subjects Lou Ann and Jack to more extensive questioning while Jeff goes back over the evidence.  Jack admits that he was in Bates’ apartment and that he walked in on him assaulting his sister.  He admits to beating Bates’ up and that Bates drew a gun on him.  He says that Bates fired a shot and then he disarmed him.  He sent Lou Ann from the room and read Bates’ the riot act, but then he says he left and Bates’ was alive when he did.  Frustrated, Boggs goes out into the hallway where he is met by Muggs who has just seen in the paper that Bates’ is dead.  He tries to tell Boggs that this could not be true because he saw Bates alive and well in his apartment after 11:30 last night.  Boggs thinks that this is hogwash because not only did the lab tests put the time of death between 10:30 and 11 o’clock, but also because Muggs claims that Bates didn’t have a mark on him and they already know Jack beat him up.  New results are in from the lab and they don’t help matters much.  The dueling pistol that was thought to have been the murder weapon turned out not to be, and the one that did kill Bates has been wiped clean of prints.  Jeff goes back to Lou Ann and begs her to tell him the whole story.

Time to talk Lou Ann…

This is a really interesting pre-code.  There is some violence and up-front talk of sexuality, but that isn’t why I found it so intriguing.  From what I read, this is a very accurate portrayal of police technology of the time.  The scenes in the police laboratory are really fascinating, depicting finger print, blood type, and bullet analysis.  The police utilize an electronic sorting matching and IBM punch cards to search their database of suspects, perhaps the earliest example of this on film.  There are plenty of examples of how police work has changed over the years, for example police getting fingerprints from their suspects without their knowledge and questioning them without an attorney.  For someone who has watched more modern police dramas this was an interesting juxtaposition, and I can’t help but wonder what police detectives from the 1930s would make of our society today.

The murder mystery is pretty well done, and for a sixty-five minute film it is a fun ride.  Robert Barrat is always a favorite of mine and his character of Anderzian is a cool customer.  George Brent and Eugene Pallett are quintessential young blood/old blood police officers, and the pathologist played by Edward Ellis is hysterical.  All in all this is a unique look into the police force of the 1930s and the scientific breakthroughs that were in use at the time.  Director William Dieterle has put together a fast paced murder mystery to go along with this inside look, and the result is crime solving fun.

Watching With Warner: H.M. PULHAM ESQ (1941)

Sometimes I just want to watch a good story.  You know the kind, the sort of story that you can just get lost in.  So after reading the description of H.M PULHAM ESQ, I was intrigued.  A movie about a man looking over his life as he writes his biography for his Harvard class 25 year reunion sounded promising, and was certainly a good story.  The fact that it featured Hedy Lamarr and Robert Young, and was directed by King Vidor only heightened my interest.

Harry Moulton Pulham Jr. (Robert Young) is a man of habits.  He has the same thing for breakfast every morning, reads his same newspaper, kisses his wife, Kay (Ruth Hussey), on the same cheek, takes two peanuts for the squirrels, and walks to his office.  He arrives precisely at the same time every morning and begins answering letters with his secretary.  One such morning he receives a phone call from Bo Jo Jones, an old classmate from Harvard.  Bo Jo is loud and overbearing, if friendly, and has soon cajoled Harry into coming out to lunch with him and several other old classmates.  At lunch Bo Jo reveals that he is planning their class 25 year reunion and tasks the other men to write their biographies, giving Harry the assignment of compiling them.  That evening Harry begins writing his own biography, beginning of course with his birth.  He recalls that as soon as he was born in Back Bay in Boston, his father enrolled him in Saint Swithen’s School.  It was at this school that he first met Kay, a bossy young girl who Harry accidentally was paired with at a school dance.  Even at that young age Kay was particular, directing Harry on how he should dance with her.  Harry’s memories are interrupted by Kay, who is much the same as she was as a child.

The next day Harry receives a phone call from a woman named Marvin Myles (Hedy Lamarr), now Mrs. John Ransome.  She asks to meet him for lunch and Harry agrees.  That afternoon Harry makes his way to the restaurant to meet Marvin.  He arrives and checks his coat, and looking out into the dining room he sees Marvin.  In that moment he has a change of heart and hurries out, ending up at a florist not far away.  He orders some roses to be sent to Marvin, along with a card apologizing for standing her up, and a gardenia for Kay.  It seems that Marvin was a woman who Harry loved years ago, and now he cannot bear to meet with her agin.  He returns home and finds Kay on the phone, gossiping with her friends.  Leaving the gardenia unnoticed, Harry goes to walk the dog.  As they walk, Harry wonders if he has ever really been happy in his life and begins to think back on his past.

At this point flashbacks of Harry’s life become the majority of plot, so in an effort to not forget any important points I will recount Harry’s life chronologically here.

While at Harvard, Harry befriends the more worldly Bill King (Van Heflin) and the bespectacled Joe Bingham (Phil Brown).  After his college days, Harry joins the army and enters World War I.  During his time in service Harry displays extreme bravery and is decorated for holding off a squadron of Germans with his men.  Once he returns to civilian life, Harry finds that he has no desire to return home to Boston and so travels on to New York City where he meets up again with Bill.  Bill offers to help Harry get a job at the advertising firm where he works.  Harry gets a job and it is here that he meets Marvin.  Marvin, who works as a copywriter, is very different from any of the women that Harry knew in Boston.  Her independence and ambition puzzle Harry, and at first the two do not get along well.  But after working together on a soap campaign they grow closer and soon the two are in love.  Harry travels home one weekend to visit his mother, who is in poor health, and while there he and his father talk about life.  Harry’s father cannot understand why Harry enjoys his life in New York City, and urges him to consider coming back home and taking over the family business.  Harry returns to New York and Marvin, and the two enjoy their time together.  However, Marvin has no desire to get married quickly and is concerned about the difference in their backgrounds.

One night Harry gets a phone call, telling him to hurry home because his father is dying.  Harry rushes back and is able to say goodbye to his father, who again urges him to come back home.  After his father’s death, Harry remains in Boston to take care of business matters but soon sends for Marvin and Bill to come visit.  Harry tries to help Marvin feel at home but she is unsettled and uncomfortable with the formal Bostonian living, especially when she realizes that Harry’s mother has not been told about their relationship.  While visiting Harry also runs into Kay, who is now engaged to Joe, much to Bill’s delight.  Bill has always had a thing for Kay and now he takes advantage of his close proximity, the two of them flirting shamelessly.  Several days later Joe comes to see Harry with terrible news.  Kay has suddenly broken their engagement and he has no idea why!  Harry encourages him to have a “showdown” with Kay, and realizes that he needs to do the same with Marvin who has since returned to New York.  However, when Harry confronts Marvin about getting married she reveals that she felt stifled in Boston and that she could never be happy there.  The two realize that they cannot get married, and Harry returns to Boston as Marvin promises to wait for him if he every wants to come back.

Some time later Kay, whose engagement has also fallen through, calls Harry and the two go sailing together.  While out on the boat they discover that they have had very similar problems in life and that they are very alike.  Kay notes that they have always been in each other’s life somehow, and the two eventually fall in love and get married.

Coming back to the present, Harry awakes the next day to find his life in disarray.  He feels out of sorts and rejects his usual morning paper.  Kay notices the change and asks if everything is alright.  Harry begs Kay to go away with him in the car right away, no schedules or appointments.  Kay refuses, citing her many social engagements, and Harry leaves for work.  Once there he picks up the phone to  call Marvin once again.

This film is based on a novel by John P. Marquand, which started life as a serial called GONE TOMORROW in McCall’s magazine in early 1940. It is a story that might seem familiar but is much more than what it might first appear to be.  Even though there are plenty of movies made today about people and their lives, even people looking back over their lives, I don’t think that this sort of story is told that much today.  The point of this film is to look back over Harry’s life and to ask the question, can a man be happy if he lives the life that he should live or the life that he wants to live.  The life that Harry has lived is not particularly remarkable, even for the time, nor is it particularly glamorous.  In fact he is fairly average for what he is, a Back Bay Boston son born into an “old money” family with all the responsibilities and expectations that come with that.  But that is what makes the story so strong, as well as the movie.  This is a story of a normal man, a man that could be anyone’s father, brother, son, or husband.  I think that is one of the things I enjoy so much about King Vidor.  He often seems to tell the stories of ordinary people, but he does it in such a way as to make it feel extraordinary.  He co-wrote this screenplay with his wife, Elizabeth Hill Vidor, and I think that makes the movie and especially the ending even stronger.  The conversations and relationships between the characters feels real and honest, and these are conversations that you can picture people having in their own homes.  It also makes the ending more impactful, realizing that it came from the minds of a husband and wife.

Without spoiling too much, I think that the ending of this movie is what makes it special.  Some people watching it today might think that it is a poor ending, or one that doesn’t ring true but I disagree.  There is something quite lovely in the way that it ends, and the place that Harry, Kay, and Marvin are in when it does.  It is a very different ending then would be made today, in much the same way that the ending of A BRIEF ENCOUNTER would most likely be changed today, but I do think that it is the right ending for these characters.

Hedy Lamarr counted this as her favorite film and many critics called out her performance as the best of her career.  This is my first time seeing her, so I can’t compare, but she is fantastic.  Marvin could easily be a very one-dimensional character but she manages to make her into a complex woman.  Her scenes with Robert Young are charming and natural, and you feel the attraction between these two people.  Harry is completely bewildered by her and she cannot understand his stuffiness.  Together they help improve the other, Harry coming out of his shell and Marvin blossoming under the love of a good man.  Also, and this is a small thing, the “old people” makeup in this film is great!  It is by far the most natural and believable makeup that I have seen in an older film.  Subtly done, you really feel like you are seeing a natural progression of age rather than two younger actors put into makeup.  It is a little thing, but it is nice not to watch a movie noticing how much makeup is put on the younger actors to make them look old.

All in all this is a lovely movie that I highly recommend!  The performances are natural and effortless, and the characters are ones that you don’t mind investing two hours of your time in.  King Vidor has given us a window into the life of Harry Pulham and the journey we take with him is quite enjoyable.

Watching With Warner: ESCAPE (1940)

In the mountains of Bavaria a woman lies in a bed, a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.  She and her roommate are kept by a surly nurse, who seems less concerned with their actual health, and more with their ability to walk come Saturday.  When the roommate begins to hack and cough, the nurse calls for the doctor.  Doctor Ditten (Phillip Dorn) enters and sends the roommate out for treatment.  He now turns to the other woman, a German-born actress named Emmy Ritter (Nazimova).  Ditten recognizes her from her days on the stage, and it is implied that he has gone above and beyond in her treatments in an effort to keep her alive.  This seems to be a cruel irony because Emmy has been sentenced to death and her execution is to take place on Saturday.  Ditten takes pity on the poor woman and offers to let her write a letter to her son, however he will not be able to deliver the letter until after the execution.  Convicted as a traitor for harboring refugees, Emmy is surprised at this offer of kindness and gladly accepts.

Unbeknownst to both of them, Emmy’s son Mark Preysing (Robert Taylor) has arrived in the country looking for any information on his mother’s whereabouts.  He is stymied however, when everyone he talks to gives him the same response.  No one will talk about what has happened to his mother and instead recommend that he go back to America as quickly as possible.  Mark is relentless and goes the police commissioner to find out what he can about his mother.  It is here that he finally learns what charges have been brought against his mother and he pleads with the commissioner to see sense.  His mother is a kind woman who has no traitorous inclinations at all, she must have been confused and certainly didn’t mean anything treasonous!  The commissioner won’t listen and is only interested in learning who told Mark that his mother was being held at all.  Mark won’t reveal his source and is told to return next Friday.

Mark now travels to a small Bavarian town in search of an old servant of his mother’s, a man named Fritz Keller (Felix Bressart).  When he finally finds him however, Fritz claims not to know him and brushes him aside.  Dejected, Mark wanders down to a frozen lake where several young women are skating.  They call to a nearby woman who they call “Countess”.  The Countess Ruby (Norma Shearer) soon falls into conversation with Mark and reveals that she is also American.  Having moved to the country over ten years ago, she stayed on after her husband died and now runs a finishing school out of her home.  Ruby is sympathetic to Mark’s situation but has no information to give him, though she promises to get in touch with him if she finds anything out.

Ruby has indiscretions of her own and is the mistress of a high-powered Nazi general, Kurt Von Kolb (Conrad Veidt).  Kurt and Ruby have known each other for many years and became involved soon after Ruby’s husband died.  Kurt suffers from a heart condition and so must avoid excitement.  So when Ruby broaches the topic of Emmy Ritter, she does so subtly.  Kurt reveals that Emmy is being held in a camp not far from the village and will be executed on Saturday.  The next day Ruby heads into town with her girls to see a military parade.  Feigning a headache, she slips off into Mark’s hotel.  Once there, however, she loses her nerve and cannot bring herself to tell him what she has found.  Mark, for his part, has begun to fall in love with Ruby but once he finds out that she is involved with Kurt he pulls away.  Later that night, Kurt mentions to Ruby that she was seen talking with Mark.  He warns that if Mark continues poking around there will be consequences, regardless of whether he is an American or not.

Ruby asks Mark to meet her that night at a concert and he reluctantly agrees.  Once there, Ruby warns him that he must leave Bavaria as soon as possible.  Mark is enraged at what he takes as callousness on her part and lashes out at her.  At this point the concert lets out and the pair find themselves in the lobby surrounded by people.  Ruby sees several people she knows, including Doctor Ditten.  She soon leaves with a group of friends, leaving Mark and Ditten to share an umbrella.  The two men decide to go and get a drink at a local pub.  It is here that Ditten reveals his party affiliations, and asks Mark to send him some American medical journals.  Mark agrees and the two men exchange addresses, and names.  Ditten is shocked to learn that he is drinking with the son of Emmy Ritter and produces the letter written for him.  He finally tells Mark the truth of his mother’s situation and that there is nothing to be done.  He also advises Mark to leave, something he refuses to do.  Ditten leaves but invites Mark to his apartment the following evening.  Mark returns to his hotel and finds Fritz waiting for him.  He admits that he was afraid to be seen talking to Mark but offers to help bury Emmy properly after the execution.

The next day, Emmy suffers what appears to be a fatal heart attack.  Ditten pronounces her dead and signs her certificate.  That night Mark comes to Ditten’s apartment where, after dismissing his maid for the evening, Ditten reveals that Emmy is not truly dead.  She is in a coma after being administered a drug by Ditten.  Mark must now find a way to go and retrieve her body within the next three hours or Emmy will suffocate in the coffin.  He must also bring with him many blankets and coats to help warm her up.  Mark is at a loss but soon decides to call Fritz, telling him to that Emmy has died.  Fritz is instructed to collect Emmy and then meet Mark at a local pub.  However, when Mark arrives at the pub he finds that two Nazi officers are also stopping there and they have developed an interest in this American with his large bundle of blankets and coats.

I will admit that when I first started watching this film I found Robert Taylor’s character sort of annoying.  ESCAPE is based on a book and I am not sure how close to the source material the screenplay is, so I can’t say if this is how he is in the book.  The character of Mark comes off as a “typical American”, running around Bavaria demanding to know where his mother is.  He is confounded by the reluctance of the townspeople to help and their insistence that he return to America.  I found this a little irritating but then I was coming at it with the benefit of history on my side.  The important thing to realize is that the time when this book was written and when this film was made was a very crucial moment in history.  Hitler had been in power for almost seven years, World War II was happening but America was not yet involved, the full and terrible truth of the Nazi regime was not yet fully realized.  So if you look at it like that, the reaction of Mark to the people of Bavaria makes more sense.  He is the typical American in that he cannot conceive of a life where you are not free to question, to challenge, to investigate.  The very idea that there might be a place where people can be arrested and sentenced to die simply for helping those who wish to leave the country is so completely alien and foreign to him that he simply cannot accept or process it.

Ruby is a much more complex character, an American who has chosen to give up her citizenship in order to remain in a country that is not her own.  This country is now swept up on the Nazi tidal wave and yet she remains.  Not only that, but she has a lover who is a high-ranking Nazi official.  She seems to still believe that just because Kurt wears the uniform he remains pure of heart, rejecting the Nazi rhetoric.  That her adopted country, though now controlled by the Nazis, is not changed by the events surrounding it and remains the same place she fell in love with.  As time passes she begins to see that the Nazi poison has in fact taken hold of all that she once held dear, including Kurt.  She must then decide where her loyalties lie, whether it is with her adopted country and German lover or with her birthplace and Mark.

Kurt is a devious man.  I think that the fact that his heart is damaged (irony intended) has caused him to be far more underhanded than perhaps he once was.  Some of the comments he makes to Ruby, glancing blows at first and far more savage digs later, seem almost diabolical.  It is his way of keeping her off guard, keeping himself in control of the relationship.  Further, he is a complete convert to the Nazi ideology whatever Ruby might hope for.  By the end he has shown himself to be an enemy in every sense of the word.

As I noted before, this film was made at a strange moment in history.  People were aware that bad things were happening, that Hitler was trouble, and yet there was still this moment of peace when all the world was at war except America.  And so, this movie does not wish to disturb that peace.  For the entirety of the film no mention is ever made of Germany or Nazis.  It is rather “that country” and “political police”.  Even Hitler avoids much mention beyond a Nazi salute.  While the message is clear, that this is a dangerous regime and the world should be on watch for it, the political constraints of the time prevent it from being made obvious.  All in all ESCAPE is a good film and compelling story, one that is almost made more powerful for all the things that it doesn’t say as well as what it does.

Watching With Warner: WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT (1935)

Those who know the Warner Archive Podcast will also know the name Allen Jenkins.  You will also have heard of the Jenkins Awards.  This is an award designed by DW Ferranti on the Warner Archive Podcast to celebrate great actors who have been forgotten by popular culture, such as namesake Allen Jenkins.  Listeners are invited to write in and nominate their favorite actors or actresses for a chance at the Jenkins Award, which I also encourage you all to do.  My personal nominee is one Aline MacMahone, a fabulous actress who is most well-known for playing good-hearted wives and mothers but who is sadly mostly forgotten today.  So imagine my delight when I found a movie that not only stars Aline MacMahone as a crime solving nurse, but that also features Allen Jenkins!  Being that this movie is pretty short, only sixty-five minutes long, and is also a whodunit mystery in an effort to not spoil anything my recap will be briefer than usual.

One stormy night Richard Federie receives a telegram.  The message is brief but the contents are shocking enough to give Mr. Federie a stroke, just as he was reaching for his green model elephant above the fireplace.  He falls to the floor and drops the elephant, and this is where his family finds him.  His clan is full of the usual suspicious characters, a devoted granddaughter (Patricia Ellis) and her lover (Lyle Talbot), a bitter niece (Dorothy Tee), a spiteful daughter-in-law (Helen Flint), an insufferable cousin (Hobart Cavanaugh), a lawyer (Henry O’Neill) and a greedy son (Robert Barrat).  In fact it is the son that will cause the most trouble, as we will soon see.

Through the stormy night comes a car bearing nurse Sarah Keate (Aline MacMahone).  She has been sent for to care for the ailing Mr. Federie and that is just what she intends to do.  Before settling in for the night Federie’s granddaughter, March, comes in to check on her beloved grandfather and his nurse.  After asking if Sarah needs anything else, March requests to be summoned first if her grandfather should awaken as she is certain that he will want to speak to her first before anyone.  She then leaves and is soon followed by Mr. Federie’s son, Adolf.  Adolf also requests to be summoned first if his father wakes up as he is also certain that his father will wish to speak with him first.  In rapid succesion Sarah is accosted by the rest of the Federie clan, all of whom believe that they are the one that will be asked for first when the old man awakens.  By the time that cousin Eustace appears Sarah has had enough, and shoos him from the room after she assures him his name will be placed on the list!

Later that night, while everyone sleeps, March slips through her boyfriend’s room to check on her grandfather.  Her boyfriend, Ross, sees her go through but says nothing and lies back down.  After assuring herself that everything is as it should be, March leaves the room just moments before another visitor enters.  Adolf checks on the sleeping form of nurse Sarah and then hurries to the fireplace to retrieve the green elephant left there by his father.  He takes the elephant and begins to climb the stairs towards Ross’ room when suddenly a shot rings out.  Adolf falls and rolls down the stairs where he is discovered by Sarah.  Awakened by her cries the rest of the family converges on her room where they find Adolf, lying dead.  The family decides to call the police and it is at this moment that Adolf’s wife Isobel, now widow, appears asking what has happened.  When they tell her, Isobel seems slightly surprised but not as upset as you might expect her to be.

Policeman Lance O’Leary (Guy Kibbee) is on the case, along with his right hand man Jackson (Allen Jenkins)!  O’Leary and Jackson have worked with Sarah before, and O’Leary is pleased to be alongside her again.  With a love light in his eye, O’Leary sets about questioning the house staff and various family members.  Each seems more guilty than the next, but Sarah believes that March is the only family member who is above suspicion.  At that moment though, March is out in the rain talking with a mysterious man.  He pleads with her to do as he asks and she agrees before hurrying back inside.  She enters through the kitchen where she runs into Sarah and the cook.  She has also been spotted by the police who are in hot pursuit, and so she quickly slips out of the room.  Sarah, noticing the trail of water on the floor, hurriedly mops the floor just before the two policeman enter the kitchen.  When they ask if anyone has passed through Sarah answers, quite truthfully, that it doesn’t look like anyone has.

O’Leary bemoans to Sarah his surplus of suspects, and the fact that they are all lying so hard to make themselves look innocent that it makes them all look guilty.  At this point, the ballistics expert has arrived and delivers his findings to the detectives.  He believes that Adolf was shot from the balcony above, but Sarah remembers seeing movement behind the curtains just below the stairs.  In fact, she wonders, if Adolf was leaning over the railing at the time when he was shot could it not appear that he was shot from above?  It could!  And Sarah has now remembered something more!  When she discovered the body the little green elephant was lying nearby, the very same little elephant that she returned to the mantelpiece before the rest of the family arrived.  This elephant must be the key to the entire case!  But when Sarah and O’Leary go to retrieve it, they find that it has disappeared!  Where could it have gotten to?  Sarah soon learns that the butler has taken it, but he quickly returns it to her saying that he has felt eyes on him ever since he took it.  O’Leary now believes that the butler is the most likely suspect but he is forced to reconsider when the butler is also found dead at the hands of the unknown assailant.

This is such a fun film, I really enjoyed it!  It is based on a character created by American author, Mignon G. Eberhart, who was thought to be the equivalent of Agatha Christie.  Sarah Keates was featured in several novels, two more of which have been made into feature films from the Warner Archive.  They each feature Ann Sheridan as Sarah Keates, and I am definitely planning on checking them out.  But I will say that I am sad that this is the only time that Aline MacMahone took on the role.

Aline MacMahone is really an underrated actress, and not one that many people know today.  My first time seeing her was alongside Ann Dvorak in HEAT LIGHTNING and I was blown away immediately.  After seeing her in other films, such as HEROES FOR SALE, I was convinced that this was a great actress.  Some have called her homely or plain, but I think she is beautiful and real.  Her acting is always a wonderful combination of sharp wit, humor, pathos, and intelligence.  Her banter with O’Leary is quite funny and you get a good sense of what the relationship between these two characters is. The supporting cast is also terrific with Guy Kibbee putting on a great performance as the quick talking detective, Robert Barrat (reuniting with Aline MacMahone from HEROES FOR SALE) as the duplicitous son, and Allen Jenkins at his Allen Jenkins-iest as the right hand man who just wants to make captain!  This preview clip gives a good sense of what this movie is:

If you get a chance to see this film I highly suggest you do!  If you like Agatha Christie you will most likely be charmed by Sarah Keate and Detective O’Leary, I know that I was!