The Fabulous Films of the 30s Blogathon: THE AWFUL TRUTH (1938)

This post is part of the CMBA Spring Blogathon, The Fabulous Films of the 30s.  To check out the other fabulous entries click here!

To me the 1930s are the epitome of two genres of film.  The first is the Pre-Code film, but this is inevitable as the Hayes Code went into strong effect in 1934.  The second is the screwball comedy.  With such films as IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, TWENTIETH CENTURY, BRINGING UP BABY, and MY MAN GODFREY the 1930s brought us films with quick and clever dialogue, zany situations, and hysterical physical comedy which usually ended up being sealed with a kiss.  These films are some of the first ones I fell in love with during my initiation into classic films.  They are a good start for the new fan, easy viewing if you will, but ones that only become richer and more fabulous with repeated viewings.  Even today I find these comedies far more amusing than most modern films.  So when it came time to choose a film for this blogathon I decided to pick one of the quintessential screwball comedies, and the one that debuted the classic Cary Grant “comedic light touch” persona that would catapult him into world-wide stardom.

Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) is in need of a sun tan.  He is currently under the lights at his sports club trying to get one because he has to prove to his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), that his recent trip out-of-town was to Florida as he said it was.  Which of course it was not.  Later that night armed with a gift basket of oranges from California and surrounded by several friends, Jerry returns home expecting to find Lucy there waiting for him.  Which of course she is not.  Everyone sits around somewhat awkwardly while Jerry reassures them that Lucy is most assuredly with her Aunt Patsy and will be home soon.  Enter Aunt Patsy.  Soon after Lucy returns, terribly happy to see Jerry, followed closely by her über suave singing instructor named Armand Duvalle.  Friends and Aunt Patsy slowly filter out as Lucy explains that she and Armand spent the night together, quite innocently, when Armand’s car broke down on their way back to the city.  Jerry is none too pleased with this situation and Armand senses that this is his cue to leave.  Once alone Jerry and Lucy have one of those not so pleasant conversations where Jerry pretty much accuses Lucy of sleeping with her singing instructor and Lucy, denying the first accusation, points out that Jerry never mentioned the terrific rains that Florida was having in any of his letters home.  After some back and forth, and increasingly sharp digs and accusations, the couple decides that without faith there can be no marriage so it is best to call it quits.

Really Jerry? And how were those California oranges?

Their day in divorce court comes and the judge grants the motion.  The only matter left to resolve is who gets custody of Mr. Smith, the family dog.  Both Jerry and Lucy claim ownership so the judge decides to play King Solomon and let Mr. Smith decide.  Much to Jerry’s dismay he chooses Lucy, thanks in large part to the sudden appearance of his favorite toy in her hand, and the group leaves the court room while the judge promises to consider visitation rights for Jerry.  Some time later Lucy is at home in the apartment she now shares with Aunt Patsy.  Patsy is bored with Lucy staying home every night, her only male companion of late being Mr. Smith, and decides to get out for a while.  As she heads to the elevator she runs into Daniel Lesson (Ralph Bellamy), a good old country boy from Oklahoma, who not only happens to be single and handsome but also an oil man.  She brings him home to introduce to Lucy and soon the pair is going out almost every night.  It is during one such date that they run into Jerry and his new squeeze Dixie Bell Lee.  Dixie works at a nightclub singing songs with a backup wind machine, an act which she soon demonstrates, leading Jerry to comment “I just met her.”

Lucy and Daniel become engaged, and Jerry begins his personal mission of trying to breakup the engagement.  Through a series of misadventures he finally does just that, through a complete misunderstanding of course, but by the time that Lucy is single again (and beginning to realize that maybe she still loves Jerry after all) Jerry is not.  Through some misunderstandings of his own, Jerry has taken up with “madcap heiress” Barbara Vance and is himself now engaged.  It is going to take some scheming, some drinks, a fake wind machine, and a sudden appearance by Jerry’s heretofore unknown sister Lola to work things out.

How’d you do? I’m the nut of the family tree!

Director Leo McCarey scared Cary Grant.  McCarey shot THE AWFUL TRUTH with a different style than most directors of the time, preferring to improvise most of it even going into a scene with no idea of what would happen more than the overall plan (i.e. get from point A to point B). In a style that sounds more like the filming of Buster Keaton, McCarey started making THE AWFUL TRUTH and Cary Grant became convinced that the whole thing was going to be a terrible flop.  He even went to see Harry Cohen, head of MGM, to beg him to be let out of the film.  Failing that he asked to be allowed to at least switch to the Ralph Bellamy role.  Harry Cohen basically told him to not let the door hit him on the way back to the studio lot, which thankfully Cary Grant did.  After some time he began to see that the film was not only working but turning out to be a great hit.  McCarey also gets the credit for helping Cary Grant craft the urbane, witty, subtly comedic persona that would become his signature for years to come.  As Peter Bogdonavich said after THE AWFUL TRUTH when it came to light comedy, “there was Cary Grant and everyone else was an also-ran.”  McCarey is said to have borne an eerie physical similarity to Grant as well, so perhaps we have more even more to thank him for.  The sense of improvisation that runs through this film makes it a bit beyond other screwball comedies, in my opinion.  The dialogue flows fast and feels off the cuff, which indeed much of it was, thus making the whole thing feel more realistic and less staged which can sometimes happen in a farce.  Instead of feeling like an excuse to get from gag to gag each scene feels like the natural progression in Jerry and Lucy’s lives and we are just along to enjoy the ride.

THE AWFUL TRUTH helped catapult Cary Grant into worldwide stardom.  Where before he was simply a good actor, now he become a persona and one that would continue to endure to this day.  To say that Cary Grant is good in this movie is like saying that the sun is hot in the middle of August.  It simply doesn’t begin to cover it.  We all know that Cary Grant can act and we all know that he can deliver snappy dialogue better than most.  But let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge the physical comedy that he brings to the film.  Having started his career in vaudeville, Cary Grant is no stranger to the tumbling and acrobatics needed for the more slapstick humor.  THE AWFUL TRUTH is different in that it actually requires the lead actors, not the second tier ones as most other films did, to take pratfalls and do physical comedy.  And Cary Grant does it with the style, the grace, and the wit that we have come to expect from his more “verbal” performances for example, HIS GIRL FRIDAY.  Go back and watch again and see how Cary Grant manages to take pratfalls and tumbles, all while never losing that sense of grace, style, and above all wit.

Of course we can’t talk about THE AWFUL TRUTH without talking about Irene Dunne.  I love Irene Dunne.  She is an actress who is able to bring a lovely light-headedness to her comedic roles without fully straying into ditz.  She and Myrna Loy have a very similar approach to their female comedy roles, I think that Nora Charles and Lucy Warriner would get along swell actually, and I think this is part of why I love her.  After having seen her in films like THEODORA GOES WILD and MY FAVORITE WIFE (another film with Grant and McCarey) I began to really appreciate Irene Dunne’s flair for comedy.  But to me she takes it to a whole new level in THE AWFUL TRUTH.  Lucy is a character that is both serious and funny, in love and hurt, clever and just a little dizzy.  In another actress’s hands one trait could have become more pronounced or outshone the others.  But Irene Dunne manages to balance all these traits perfectly, giving us a character that feels more real than made up.  And she does more than enough to keep up with Cary Grant in the comedy department!

There is some talk that maybe this kind of movie, the marriage/remarriage comedy, is not timeless and might feel dated to today’s audience.  Maybe that is true but maybe it isn’t.  While it is true that the idea of divorce and remarriage is not looked upon with the same societal mores as it was in the 1930s, I think that deep down we all want to see people end up with the ones that they love.  Why else would the whole boy meets girl/boy gets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl back formula still be so popular today?  So maybe instead of looking at THE AWFUL TRUTH as simply a movie about divorce and remarriage, perhaps we should look at it as a movie about people learning to trust each other and learning that telling the truth isn’t so bad after all.  Because the awful truth is that we can be our own worst enemies, creating lies where there don’t need to be any and mistrust where there should be faith.  Because really the truth isn’t so awful, especially when we have Irene Dunne and Cary Grant telling it to us.

I solemnly swear that I love this movie

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955)

A few weeks ago I celebrated my return to blogging with a giveaway.  I asked people to enter by leaving me a comment with a suggestion of a movie that I should watch and blog about.  I had several great suggestions, all of which I plan on watching at some point in the future, and the winner of the giveaway was Kristina of Speakeasy!  Her suggestion was a movie starring Doris Day and James Cagney and it was one that I had never heard of before, a movie called LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is a biopic about Ruth Etting (Doris Day) and Martin Snyder (James Cagney) aka Marty the Gimp, a Chicago gangster who helped start her career.  Marty meets Ruth at a taxi club in Chicago in the 1920s.  Although he is there to shake down the owner, Marty is distracted when a fight breaks out on the dance floor.  Ruth has kicked yet another customer in the shins for getting fresh and her boss has had enough.  Marty sees Ruth get fired and follows her into the back dressing room.  Ruth initially resists Marty’s offers for help, suspecting he only intends to use her and discard her, but she finally agrees to take his card.  Marty uses his nightclub connections to get Ruth a job in the chorus at a fancy club and it is here that she meets handsome pianist Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell).

Ruth soon tires of just being part of the chorus and sets her sights on her true ambition, to be a singer.  Marty in the meantime is now ready to claim his reward for helping Ruth and tells her she is going to Miami with him.  Ruth refuses to be his mistress however, and Marty relents even offering to get her singing lessons with Johnny.  Ruth turns out to have natural talent and Marty gets her a gig headlining at the club.  Johnny warns Ruth that Marty’s intentions are not honorable and that she should make her own way, without the gangster’s help.  Ruth maintains that she knows what Marty is expecting but that she needs his connections, besides what is the harm in just playing along?

Ruth’s career begins to take off, her debut as headliner at the club a great success, and Marty begins to fall in love with her.  One night after a show Ruth introduces Marty to Bernard V Loomis, an agent from New York.  Loomis says that he has lined up auditions for Ruth but Marty jealously dismisses him.  Marty tells Ruth he has bigger plans for her and soon sets her up with her very own radio show with Johnny as conductor.  Ruth’s popularity grows and soon Marty has set her up with that Ziegfeld Follies.  Johnny has fallen in love with Ruth by this time and pleads with her again to leave Martin and let Loomis represent her, but she still refuses.  Johnny tells Marty that he won’t accompany Ruth the New York and the two men argue about the woman they both love.

In New York Ruth is fitting in well with the follies but Marty isn’t so happy.  New York folks don’t hold him in the same regard as the ones in Chicago and Marty is chaffing at the perceived slights and insults.  He continues to act as Ruth’s manager while Loomis keeps a low profile to avoid damaging Ruth’s chances and angering Marty.  During Ruth’s big night Marty tries to reign in his jealousy but when he is prevented from visiting her backstage between acts, Marty flies into a rage and becomes violent.  He attacks and beats a stagehand before he is forcibly removed while a shaken Ruth goes back on stage.  Back in their hotel Marty is making phone calls to Chicago when Ruth returns.  He tells her that she is no longer going to be part of the show in New York and that he is breaking her contract.  Ruth refuses and angrily tells Marty that she hates the way he is acting and that his actions are ruining everything.  Marty in turn reproaches Ruth for not standing beside him when he has done so much to help her.  Ruth tearfully says that there is no way to pay Marty back for what he has done but Marty begs to disagree and forcibly kisses her.  Soon after Ruth agrees to marry Marty, even though she does not love him, out of a sense of obligation and leaves the production in New York.  Marty takes Ruth all over the country and her career continues to grow and thrive under his direction.  Ruth is miserably unhappy and takes up drinking.  One night Marty comes into her dressing room at a club with big news…he has gotten Ruth a part in a major Hollywood motion picture!  Ruth is less than enthused, much to Marty’s frustration and irritation, but she perks up considerably when a phone call comes in from none other than Johnny Alderman.

When I first saw Kristina’s suggestion I was intrigued, as well as a little unsure of what to expect.  I knew Doris Day, in fact I had many fond memories of watching PILLOW TALK and LOVER, COME BACK with my sister during our slumber parties.  I knew James Cagney too and somehow the mash-up of WHITE HEAT and PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES wasn’t something I could get my head around.

The real Ruth Etting and Marty Snyder

From dorisday.net

Ruth Etting had over sixty hit recordings and working in stage, screen, and radio.  She grew up wanting to be an artist, sketching and drawing wherever she was able, before attending art school in Chicago when she was sixteen.  While attending classes Ruth got a job at the Marigold Gardens nightclub and it was there that the showbiz bug bit.  Ruth had sung in school and in the church choir, but had never taken formal vocal lessons.  She styled her singing after Marion Harris but varied her tempos and phrases in order to make it uniquely her own.  Her big break came one night when the featured soloist, who happened to be male, became ill and dropped out.  Ruth quickly changed costumes, scanned the music, and lowered her register (something that added to her singing appeal) and the rest is history.  She did marry Martin Snyder in 1922, at the age of 25, and stayed married to him until 1937.  There was another man named Alderman but his first name was Harry and he was married when he and Ruth started seeing each other.  Ruth and Alderman married in 1938 and moved to a farm in Colorado Springs where they lived mostly out of the public eye for the rest of their lives.  Of course with any film based on the life of a real person, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME takes some liberties with historical fact.  For example, Ruth never worked as a taxi club dancer this was simply done to highlight the song “Ten Cents a Dance”.  But historical accuracy is not what makes this movie so good.  It comes from the fact that Ava Gardener said no.

There was some discussion of Jane Powell taking the lead role, but the studios could not see her in the role of a nightclub singer.  Ava Gardener was a front-runner for the part but she turned it down because she didn’t want to have her singing dubbed again as it was in SHOWBOAT, as did George Cukor when he was offered the chance to direct though his reason was not wanting to direct a film with gangsters.  According to Robert Osborne on TCM, the story goes that when the film came out both Gardener and Cukor went to see it.  Exiting the theater Gardener said, “George, we made a mistake.”  Cukor responded, “No we didn’t because if we had said yes it would not have been THAT good.”

James Cagney is the one who suggested Doris Day for the role of Ruth Etting after the two had worked together on WEST POINT STORY.  Doris Day was unsure about playing Ruth Etting because she was concerned about portraying a woman who was basically a gold-digger or a kept woman.  This role would force her to portray Ruth’s struggle from seedy nightclubs to the New York spotlight complete with skimpy costumes, drinking, swearing, and other lewd behavior.  Director Joe Pasternak told her that she would bring a sense of dignity to a part that would offset the otherwise vulgar behavior of Ruth Etting.  I think that this is true because the usual Doris Day “how dare you” indignity comes out in scenes but not like when Rock Hudson slings her over his shoulder in PILLOW TALK.  There it is used for comic effect but in this film it gives Ruth a sense of moral fiber and changes her reasons for doing what she does from just trying to get ahead to world-weary knowledge.  By that I mean that through Doris Day’s portrayal we see Ruth as a woman who is using Marty and manipulating him not because she is a floozy looking for a meal ticket, but because she is a woman who has seen what is needed to get ahead in show business and is trying to avoid paying that price.  She doesn’t want to sleep with Marty so she plays along just enough to keep him happy but without compromising her morals.  In that light we can start to sympathize with Ruth, especially after Marty attacks her.  After that moment she is defeated and deflated, becoming more like an abused spouse than a scheming gold-digger.  The scene where Marty attacks Ruth actually went much further than what ended up in the final cut of the film.  In a scene that was mostly removed by the censors, Doris Day recalled: “[Co-star James Cagney] attacks me savagely; and the way Cagney played it, believe me, it was savage. He slammed me against the wall, ripped off my dress, my beads flying, and after a tempestuous struggle, in which I tried to fight him off with every realistic ounce of strength I had, he threw me on the bed and raped me. It was a scene that took a lot out of me, but it was one of the most fully realized physical scenes I have ever played…It wasn’t until I saw the movie in its release that I became aware that most of the scene had been cut.”  I was surprised at how frankly this film dealt with issues like sex, abuse, and even rape.  It seemed a much more modern film than 1955, and it is even more surprising that the censors let so much through.  Or maybe it is simply to the credit of the writing (Oscar winning writing from Daniel Fuchs), directing, and the superb acting of James Cagney (who received an Oscar nomination for his role) and Doris Day that the message and true intentions behind Marty and Ruth’s relationship comes through in spite of the Hayes Office.

Doris Day is an actress that mostly is remembered for happier roles.  Her films with Rock Hudson, PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES, and YOUNG AT HEART are far more familiar roles but beneath this happy, comic actress was a truly great talent for the dramatic.  This is a much darker movie than Doris Day usually made but it is an example of what a truly talented and engaging actress she was.  In her hands Ruth Etting becomes a woman who is trapped, first by her circumstances and then by a jealous and possessive man, but who struggles to preserve her dignity while having the strength to pursue her dreams.  Joe Pasternak was right when he told Doris Day that she would bring dignity to the role.  She brings not only that but also her immense talent to a role that really should have garnered her an Oscar nomination, if not the award.


Thanks to Kristina at Speakeasy for the suggestion!  If you have a film that you think I should see let me know in the comments below!

My Very First Liebster Award!

I am beyond thrilled to report that I have just received my first nomination for a Liebster Award!  This honor was bestowed on me by none other than Ms. Coolsville herself!  If you haven’t already checked out her blog you totally should…and here is the link so you no longer have any excuse not to!


The Rules:
1. Thank the blog who nominated you and link back to them.
2. Nominate up to 11 other bloggers to receive the coveted award.
3. Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.
4. Tell your readers 11 random facts about yourself.
5. Give the nominees 11 questions to answer on their blog when they post their nomination.

Here are the questions asked by Ms. Coolsville:

1. What advice can you give to a blogger just starting out?

Gosh, I still feel like I am just starting out but here goes!  I would say start making friends with other bloggers because not only are they your best resource but they are also your biggest support!  Also, take part in as many blogathons as you can because not only do they help you get more exposure, they also help you develop and refine your writing.  Finally, watch movies and write about them!  Even if you hated the movie or if no one has ever heard of it before, write a post about it!  It is great practice and also promotes your blog!

2. Imagine eating the perfect meal. What’s on the menu?

Peking Duck with the pancakes and plum sauce, sushi and sashimi, hot and crusty bread with butter, a bowl of my Mom’s potato salad, and brownies with chocolate chips and raisins in them!

3. What’s your favorite album of all time?

Wow…this is tough but I think I would go with ECLIPSE by Imogen Heap.  This is the first adult album I went to hear in concert and I just love all the songs.

4. If you could nominate one book as required reading for high school students, which one would it be?

I think I would pick a book called SOPHIE’S WORLD.  It is a fictional book that actually teaches about philosophy and the history of the philosophers.  At a time when you are trying to figure out who you are and what your world view is, I think it is important to have a basis to draw from and philosophy is such an under-taught subject.

5. What’s your favorite black and white film?

Argh!  This is a tough one.  Growing up I loved THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and I still do.  But as I got older I think my favorite movie has become NOW, VOYAGER.  I saw it at a time when I felt very much like the pre-makeover Bette Davis and it just was the first film that I saw that gave me such a strong emotional reaction.  I had never resonated so closely with a film before and it has always stuck with me.

6. Name three things that bring you joy.

My family, traveling to new places, exploring used bookstores.

7. Coffee, tea, or juice?

Tea, all the way.

8. What is your astrological sign?

Cancer

9. What’s your favorite element on the periodic table?

Manganese

10. If you could be fluent in another language, which one would you choose?

Cantonese.  It is my husband’s first language and spoken by his family, including his mom who isn’t totally comfortable with English.  I want to learn it not only for myself but also to teach to our son.

11. If you were given a yacht, what would you name it?

The Vagabond of Destiny


Now here are 11 Random Facts About ME!

1.) I was homeschooled from fifth grade until I went to college

2.) I have moved four times in the last three years, but hopefully this time was the last!

3.) I don’t buy clothes or shoes, I buy books and old movies

4.) I worked as an ICU nurse until last year when my son was born

5.) I started this blog while I was home alone with the baby because I wanted to have something to do when he was napping as well as something to share with him when he is older…

6.) …But it was something I had always thought of doing and I had even started a blog years earlier but it didn’t last

7.) I think that the book of GONE WITH THE WIND is better than the movie

8.) I hate fingernail clippings, even my own

9.) My favorite candy is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

10.) I am a fantasy geek…I played World of Warcraft and read all the books (so far)  in the SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series 

11.) I have never eaten at a Taco Bell or a Denny’s 


Now it is my turn to nominate some fabulous fellow bloggers!

1.) Movies Silently

2.) Speakeasy

3.) Pre-Code.com

4.) Let’s Misbehave

5.) Silver Screenings

6.) Noir Girl

7.) Shadows and Satin

8.) Journeys in Darkness and Light

9.) Margaret Perry

10.)  Comet Over Hollywood

11.) The Hollywood Revue


My Questions for the Nominees

1.) What is your favorite “bad” movie?

2.) What inspired you to start blogging?

3.) What person alive or dead would you choose to go to lunch with?

4.) Who is your favorite classic film star?

5.) Describe your perfect day.

6.) What is the funniest joke you know?

7.) What is your favorite book of all time?

8.) Where is the best place you have ever visited?

9.) What advice would you give the fellow bloggers?

10.) Why do you love classic films?

11.) What is your favorite color?

The Great Villain Blogathon: THE UNSUSPECTED (1947)

This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Kristina at Speakeasy, Ruth at Silver Screenings, and Karen at Shadows & Satin.  Check out the other entries here!


“The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist” – Charles Baudelaire

The opening scene of THE UNSUSPECTED shows us the murder of a young woman.  It then follows this up with several shady characters, all of whom could be the murderer.  But as we will see it is the unseen person, the unsuspected man, who is the most dangerous. 

Warning Spoilers Ahead! The ending of the film will not be revealed but we are going to talk about several plot points!

 Victor Grandison (Claude Rains) is a famous radio personality, known for his gory and thrilling crime dramas.  He is on the air sharing one such story when his niece Althea (Audrey Totter) phones his home and reaches Victor’s secretary, Roslyn White.  Althea is looking for her lay about husband Oliver but Roslyn hasn’t seen him.  While Althea is speaking with her, Roslyn is interrupted by a shadowy figure at the door.  She screams and then the line goes dead.  Althea slowly hangs up the phone and returns to her dinner companion.  Meanwhile Roslyn’s dead body is set up to make it appear that she committed suicide.

Not too long after Althea is throwing a surprise birthday party for Victor when she receives the unwelcome news of a party crasher.  A young man by the name of Steven Francis Howard (Michael North) has arrived and claims to have been married to Victor’s other niece, Matilda (Joan Caulfield).  Matilda had been in love with Oliver and was devastated when Althea stole him away.  To recover from her broken heart, Matilda went on a cruise abroad only to be lost at sea.  Victor soon turns up with his director Jane Monyihan (Constance Bennett) and is shocked to hear of this new addition to the family, especially since Matilda’s estate is about to be settled. Suspicious, Victor invites Steven to stay at the house while friend of the family and policeman, Richard Donavan, does some digging into Steven’s story.  But Steven checks out and it seems that his story is genuine.  It is about this time that Victor receives news that Matilda is alive and on her way home, after spending some time to recover in Brazil.

Steven goes to meet Matilda at the airport and while she is very grateful for his kindness and assistance, she does not remember being married to him.  She is surprised when Steven knows information about her family and when she meets the Justice of the Peace who married them.  She still has no memory of the marriage and refuses to believe Steven, however.  Back at Victor’s estate, Matilda tries to settle in when she finds that Althea has taken over her room.  The two women argue, mostly about Oliver who is now drinking quite heavily, and Matilda kicks Althea out of her room.  Victor meanwhile has been snooping and has found a snapshot of Roslyn in Steven’s coat pocket.

Steven is elsewhere, having a secret meeting with none other than Jane.  The two are convinced that Roslyn did not commit suicide and Jane provides Steven with a letter that Roslyn wrote the day before she died.  Steven takes the letter to Richard, to have the homicide department look into.  The police reopen the investigation of Roslyn’s death now with a motive of murder.  The police come to visit Victor to examine the crime scene more closely.  Althea meanwhile has taken Steven off for a private chat where she confesses to him that she called Roslyn the night that she died and heard her scream.  Victor is close by and overhears everything.  He later takes the time to record an argument between Althea and Oliver, regarding Oliver’s continued pining for Matilda, and then goes to speak with Althea in his private (and sound proof) office.

Althea confesses that she knows that Victor killed Roslyn but that she didn’t tell the police because she didn’t want anything to happen to him.  It seems that Victor and Althea have been enjoying spending Matilda’s money, something that Roslyn suspected.  Victor admits his part in Roslyn’s demise readily and then shoots Althea, killing her.  Moving quickly he goes out to one of his cars and cuts the brake lines.  When Oliver tells him that he is leaving the estate, Victor hands him the keys to his private car and then goes to get Oliver his coat.  Into the pocket Victor slips the gun that killed Althea and then sends Oliver on his way.  Not long after Oliver is killed in a fiery car crash, the murder weapon still in his pocket.  Victor then rigs up the recording of the earlier argument and lets it play as Steven and Matilda come down the stairs.  Shots ring out and the party finds Althea’s body.  The police now believe that Oliver killed Althea and Roslyn before being killed himself.  Satisfied they close the case but Steven is not so convinced.  He meets with Matilda to tell her three things.  One; that he lied to her about their marriage, two; that he grew up with Roslyn and is searching for the truth behind her death, and three; that she is not safe because her dear uncle Victor is the murderer.

At its original opening the film was not well reviewed, rather it looked upon as a weak version of LAURA.  And yes there are similarities, the painting over the fireplace for one, but this is a far more stylized and modern noir than it is given credit for which may have led to this film being somewhat overlooked.  This is a shame because not only is there a terrific film pedigree to be had here, Michael Curtiz and Max Steiner for heaven’s sake, but there is also a deliciously evil villain played by the fabulous Claude Rains.  While he will always be the only Prince John for me, Claude Rains does a great job as Victor Grandson and creates a villain that not only commits terrible crimes and diabolical schemes, but one that we enjoy watching right up to the end.  Victor Grandison is a villain that would be just as comfortable in the world of GAME OF THRONES as he is in this 1940s noir.

There is some question as to why Victor decided to kill Roslyn and I think that the reason is much darker and twisted than just she got too curious about the money.  I think Victor kills because he wants to and he knows he can.  He kills because he thinks he is smarter than everyone else and wants to prove it by remaining unsuspected even while he is committing terrible crimes.  I think his true ambitions are much more motived by personal satisfaction than simple material gain, and this is what makes him such a modern villain.  Now it is very common to make television shows and movies about serial killers and murders who commit crimes simply because they want to, because it is fun, because they enjoy the sense of superiority, even because they were bored.  To us, Victor and his desire to kill because he can is nothing new or even really shocking.  But in the 1940s this wasn’t the usual motivation of the film villain.  More often than not they committed crimes because they were bad people, fallen women, or hardened criminals.  They killed because they were insane, violent, or just evil.  To create a villain who kills for different reasons entirely made this film distinctly different from other noirs of the time.

Here is my theory on Victor and his descent into murder.  He created a radio drama about crime because it always interested him.  For a time he was able to create stories that satisfied him and his listeners, but then one day he decided to seek out some outside help for greater authenticity. Somehow he found Pres, his pet murder, and managed to get a recording of Pres’ confession of his crimes.  Using this recording as blackmail he milked Pres for more and more gory tales of the world of murder.  Perhaps he even coerced Pres into committing more crimes and more murders.  Pres was good inspiration for a time but soon Victor began to wonder how hard could committing crimes be if an idiot like Pres could do it?  Why couldn’t an intelligent person like Victor do it, and do it better?  So maybe he began stealing Matilda’s money and this satisfied him for a time.  He enjoyed the feeling of superiority he got from taking money that wasn’t his, and no one ever questioned it.   But then Roslyn started poking around and Victor decided that he would have to kill her.  But he wouldn’t do it in the same rough handed way that Pres did.  He was different, more intelligent, and so his murder would be complex and fool-proof.  He would commit the perfect murder and remain free because no one would suspect him.  When Althea threatens to reveal everything Victor decides to kill her and Oliver, once again committing a complex crime that would keep him free from suspicion.  Moving like a puppet master above the entire scene, Victor sets in motion a series of events that will keep his past crimes hidden and his cash flowing.  He is the king of his castle and all the world.  As he tells Pres;

Don’t come here again. I’ll call you if I need you. In your place I rather enjoy playing God.

The Return of the Blog…and a Giveaway!

I am finally back to mostly normal and the house is about 80% unpacked!  To celebrate my survival of this move I have decided to hold a giveaway!  I love classic films and I love books, so why not combine the two?

I will be giving away a copy of A TOUCH OF STARDUST by Kate Alcott to ONE lucky reader!

Here is how to enter!

Leave a comment below and tell me one film that you think I should watch/blog about and why. I will pick one winner at random on April 14th so you have a whole week to enter!  Remember to include your email address because I will be contacting the winner that way.  Good luck and stay tuned for more blog entries coming soon!


Full Disclosure: This giveaway is purely my own design with no help/endorsement/support/advertising from anyone associated with A TOUCH OF STARDUST or Kate Alcott.  The copy is a private copy owned by me.  The shipping and handling will be paid for by me.  This giveaway is strictly from Now Voyaging and no one else!  🙂

The Pre-Code Blogathon: SAFE IN HELL (1931)

This post is part of the The Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Danny at Pre-Code.com and Karen at Shadows and Satin. Check out the other entries here!

Dorothy Mackaill was an actress I had never heard of before.  I knew nothing about her background in silent films, her British background and her native Yorkshire accent, nor her tumultuous career.  But then a little film called SAFE IN HELL was released by the Warner Archive and I was hooked.  Not only on Ms. Mackaill but on this amazing and fearsome film from William Wellman.

New Orleans prostitute Gilda (Dorothy Mackaill) gets a phone call from her madame, telling her that she has been specifically requested by a man whose wife is out-of-town.  Gilda glams up and heads downtown only to find out that her client is Piet Van Saal (Ralf Harolde), an insurance salesman and her old boss.  Clearly he and Gilda have a past, and one that she is in no hurry to relive.  Piet continues to try to get his money’s worth out of Gilda telling her that there is “no chance of the wife walking in this time”, but Gilda is having none of it.  She fends Piet off and manages to get away from him but when it looks like he is coming for her again, Gilda heaves a wine bottle at him.  Shocked she watches as Piet crumples to the floor and she hurries from the room, not noticing the small fire starting in the corner.

The next morning Gilda wakes up to the sound of the telephone ringing off the hook.  It is her madame again, this time calling to tell her that the police are on the way over to her apartment.  It seems that the hotel where she met with Piet last night has burned to the ground and Piet was killed, not only that but Gilda was seen leaving the apartment by a bell boy.  Gilda takes advantage of the heads up and begins packing her things when the door to her apartment opens.  In walks her old lover Carl (Donald Cook), a naval officer who has been at sea all this time.  Gilda is stunned at first but quickly runs into Carl’s arms, embracing him gratefully.  Carl is full of kind words and lovely presents for Gilda but soon she has to break the news to him.

It seems that before Carl shipped out he managed to get Gilda a job working for Piet at his insurance company.  It was going well until one night, as Gilda says, Piet came into her room “and never left”.  After his wife found them Gilda left the company to make money the only way she could, which lead to the madame and her fateful evening with Piet and the wine bottle.  Carl takes this about as well as you might expect him to and he belts Gilda across the face (real nice guy), but is stopped by the approach of police sirens.  Gilda knows they are coming for her and Carl now resolves to help her escape, bundling her off to his ship down at the docks.  For the next few days Gilda remains secreted below decks, thanks to Carl, in spite of the APB sent out by the police.  Carl’s plan is simple, he will take Gilda to the small island of Tortuga from where she cannot be extradited even if the police find her.  From there Carl and Gilda will try to figure out their next move, after Carl comes back from his current assignment.  Once docked on the island Carl takes Gilda to the local hotel, run by Leonie (Nine Mae McKinney) and Newcastle (Clarence Muse).  Leonie takes a liking to Gilda right away as they are both from New Orleans, and Newcastle takes her bags upstairs.  Carl prepares to take his leave but first he and Gilda head to the local chapel.  Because the pastor died a few months back, Carl and Gilda hold their own little marriage ceremony promising to be true to each other.  Before heading back to the ship Carl admonishes Gilda to stay away from the other hotel patrons, recommending that she keep to herself and stay in her room while she waits to hear from him.  Gilda agrees and promises that there will be no other man in her life ever again.  One last big kiss, one to last a long long time, and Carl is gone leaving Gilda behind.

As the only white woman on the island, Gilda soon finds herself the center of attention among the cast of unsavories at the hotel.  There is Eagan (John Wray) the safe cracker, Crunch (Ivan Simpson) the pickpocket, Gomez (Victor Varconi) the president killer, Larson (Gustav von Seyffertitz) the arsonist/murder, and Jones (Charles Middleton) the crooked lawyer.  There is also Bruno (Morgan Wallace) the friendly, local executioner.  Each man takes his turn trying to seduce Gilda and each one is turned down, Gilda holding true to her promise to Carl and staying in her room.  Eventually most of the men are duly impressed by Gilda’s sincerity and back off, all but one.  Bruno still has designs on Gilda and he has a plan to get her to betray Carl.  Whenever the mail is delivered Gilda rushes to see if there are any letters from Carl, bringing both news and much-needed money.  But each time she is disappointed and returns to her room empty-handed.  There is a simple reason for this and it is Bruno.  He has been intercepting Gilda’s mail and pocketing her money, all in an effort to get her to believe that Carl has abandoned her.  His plan is working and Gilda begins to go stir crazy in her room, just as the men downstairs decide to have a party.

Gilda finally lets loose and spends the night drinking with the men, hearing their stories, sharing her own, and rebuffing Bruno’s continued advances.  The next morning, or rather afternoon, Gilda is awakened by a knock on her door.  Leonie enters bearing a gift from Gomez, a bottle of alcohol with the gentleman’s compliments.  Gilda refuses the gift and tells Leonie that the men downstairs mean nothing to her, that she only did what she did because she needed one night to let loose or she would have gone crazy.  Now that she has gotten it out of her system she intends to go back to doing just what she was doing before, ignoring the men and Bruno.  Leonie advises her to reconsider saying, “You’re mighty high-handed now, but the rent’s coming due and you’ve got to eat. Why they all got money … and maybe you’re gonna need somebody before you get through, because I’ve been fooled by them sailor boys myself.”

Spoiler Warning…we are going to talk about the ending of the movie now so if you don’t want to know what happens from here this would be a good moment to duck out.

Later on Gilda is walking down by the docks, hoping to find a boat that carries mail, when she spots a familiar face.  Following the man’s retreating back to the hotel Gilda finds herself face to face with…Piet!  It turns out that the wine bottle didn’t kill Piet as much as knock him silly and he managed to escape the fire, before spending a few days hiding out in a motel.  Once the press assumed he was dead, Piet and his wife decided to cash in his life insurance policy and have a little insurance scam.  Of course once he had the money, Piet decided to cut his wife out of the deal altogether and hightailed it to wait out the ensuing police investigation.  And now that he has found himself with Gilda again Piet is ready and willing to pick things up where they left off, but Gilda has bigger things on her mind namely the fact that she is no longer a murderess!  This means that she can leave the island and she runs off to the telegraph office to let Carl know the good news.  On her way back to the hotel she runs into Bruno and she can’t help but tell him that she will be leaving the island soon, something he doesn’t seem as thrilled about.

Piet meanwhile has been bragging to the hotel tenants about his previous relationship with Gilda, even going so far as to claim that Gilda and he are going to continue their relationship as before.  The other men seem doubtful and this is the moment that Gilda returns, followed by Bruno.  Gilda goes upstairs to pack and Eagan, who has taken a particular interest in Gilda, confronts her on the stairs about her relationship with Piet.  He is angry at the assertion that Gilda, who until now has rebuffed all men because of her vow to Carl, had a relationship with Piet and might be ready to continue with it now.  He lunges for Gilda and Bruno stops him, while Gilda hurries up the stairs.  Once in her room she begins to pack only to be interrupted by Bruno, who claims to be worried for her safety.  He offers her a gun, for her protection of course, which she at first refuses but finally agrees to take.  Bruno then heads out but tells his guard to make sure that Gilda does not leave the hotel because “she has a gun in her room!”  This is strictly against the law and Bruno goes off to draw up the warrant for her arrest.

Piet now deems this the perfect time to go up and try to put the moves on Gilda, telling the men to watch how its done.  Gilda is less than thrilled to see him and naturally turns him down flat.  Piet won’t take no for an answer and the two begin to struggle.  Downstairs the men are waiting when a shot rings out and rushing upstairs they find Piet dead, and a stunned Gilda holding the gun.

Gilda is put on trial for Piet’s murder but, defended by Jones, seems to be likely to be let off.  While waiting for the jury to come back with a verdict Gilda is listed by Bruno, who has some news for her.  Even though she will most likely be acquitted for Piet’s death there is still the matter of the illegal firearm, and Bruno is not willing to come forward to admit his part in giving it to her.  What he is willing to do is make her as comfortable as possible in his prison camp, complete with house calls of course.  Gilda is horrified at the prospect of being Bruno’s personal call girl for the next six months and worse, the prospect of betraying Carl.  Bruno laughs, saying that Gilda can do nothing to escape her fate but she rushes out to the judge confessing to murdering Piet.

Now condemned to die, Gilda is preparing herself to meet the hangman’s noose when she hears the blast of a ship horn.  Carl comes rushing towards the hotel and Gilda pleads with everyone to let her speak to him alone, not wanting Carl to be drawn into Bruno’s web of control.  Carl enters the hotel and they embrace as Carl asks if Gilda got his last letter.  Realizing that Carl never forgot her, Gilda tearfully embraces him as Carl tells of his plans to take a new assignment in New Orleans and start a life there.  The horn blasts again and Carl has to leave but before he does he turns to Gilda and asks if she is alright.  Yes of course she is, she says, and Carl makes her promise to send him a wire when she leaves and they will meet in New Orleans.  Gilda promises and with one more kiss to last a long long time, Carl leaves.  Resigned to her fate, but at peace with the knowledge that she never betrayed Carl, Gilda goes out to meet her fate at the gallows.

Watching this movie I found myself wondering how a dynamo like Gilda ended up with a wet blanket like Carl.  I know that he is supposed to be on the straight and narrow to help to redeem Gilda from her wicked ways, and I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves him, but he almost seems too good and pure to ever have been much fun for Gilda even in her more innocent days.  But perhaps he is there to indicate what Gilda has lost because of her sordid past.  If you consider that she must have been just as pure and good in order to attract Carl, then it makes her transformation to call girl all the more shocking.  But regardless of how good and pure she was, Gilda has had to change in order to survive.  The difference between her and the other “crooks” who inhabit the hotel however, is that Gilda never seems to enjoy her baseness and never seems happy to be among the more unsavory element.  She seems to want to be better than her circumstances allow but is continually prevented from doing so.  When Carl comes back into her life she expects him to hit her, to hate her for what she has becomes, to abandon her to the police.  When he doesn’t she realizes that there might be hope for her after all, that if Carl can forgive her and still love her then maybe there is a chance for her to redeem herself.  When he marries her and then asks her to stay away from the other men in the hotel she agrees, after all it would only be her rightful penance to do so.

When Bruno keeps Carl’s letters away, Gilda begins to wonder whether he has abandoned her.  When it seems like he has, she wonders if he really did love her and forgive her, or was he just trying to get rid of her?  It seems futile to continue to keep her promise much longer and she finally gives in.  It is telling that when she joins the party downstairs she is wearing her call girl outfit once again because that is what she feels like she is, a crook and a floozie.  The next morning she resolves to go back to her promise to Carl, resolving to continue to have faith that Carl will still come through for her.  How many of us have had the same thing happen?  To spend a night feeling one way and then wake up the next morning to realize how silly we had been?

Her decision at the end, to reject Bruno and confess to murder rather than betray Carl, is a bit more than just a woman redeemed by the love of a good man in my opinion.  I think it is the first time that she sees herself in the way that Carl does.  She finally sees that she is a good person and that she can be better than the people and places around her.  Her pledge to Carl is more than just a promise, it is a penance and a road back to the person she wants to be.  She lost her virtue at the hands of a man, sold her body to many men, but she redeemed herself by refusing all the men at the hotel.  Because of that she is no longer just Gilda the call girl or even Gilda the mistress of Piet.  She is finally back to being Gilda, back to being herself or at least on the road there.  So when Bruno comes and tells her his plans she makes a decision, one that will mean her life, but one that for the first time will allow her to feel proud and worthy.  At the end she is remorseful to lose Carl but look at her walking into the sunset.  Her head is held high and she isn’t afraid, and even Bruno has to walk behind her.


This is my second posting for The Pre-Code Blogathon!  Check out my other posting on THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN!

The Pre-Code Blogathon: THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN (1932)

This post is part of the The Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Danny at Pre-Code.com and Karen at Shadows and Satin.  Check out the other entries here!

As a film company, Warner Brothers had a reputation for making the films of the people.  Not focusing on the problems of the elite few, the films made at the Warner studios were concerned with the common man and the challenges he faced.  No period of films are more evident of this than the pre-code films, made between the years of 1927 and July of 1934.  A fine example of a common man film, focusing on the effects of the Depression, is THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN.

molly louvain 1

Madeline Maude Louvain aka Molly (Ann Dvorak) works as a cigarette counter girl at small hotel where she fends off the daily advances of slick salesman Nicky Grant (Leslie Fenton), as well as the bashful flirtations of bellhop Jimmy Cook (Richard Cromwell).  But Molly does not plan on staying behind that cigarette counter forever having recently become secretly engaged to wealthy Ralph Rogers, with whom she has been having an affair.  When Ralph invites her to a party at his home that evening she is thrilled.  Assuming that this will  be their engagement  party Molly goes back to the hotel to finish her shift behind the counter and then get dressed for her big night.  While getting ready, Molly finds that she has a run in her last pair of stockings and Jimmy offers to get her another pair.  Molly has a better thought and calls up Nicky, asking him if he could get her some.  Nicky offers to bring her up some free samples himself, much to Jimmy’s chagrin.  Later that night, looking for all the world like a true lady, Molly arrives at Ralph’s home only to be told that he and his mother have left the country and that the party is cancelled.  But it is much worse for Molly than just being dumped, she is pregnant with Ralph’s baby.

Molly Louvain 2

Three years pass and Molly now has a beautiful daughter whom she loves very much.  She also has been hanging around with Nicky, whom she loves not so much.  Nicky, it seems, fancies himself a bit of a thief and is constantly bringing trouble to Molly’s door.  Growing tired of this supposed gangster lifestyle, Molly takes her daughter to stay with a Mrs. Schiller who will watch her while Molly goes to work as a taxi dancer.  After dropping her little girl off with Mrs. Schiller, Molly goes back to the apartment she shares with Nicky to get her belongings.  While she is there Nicky comes back and demands to know what Molly is doing.  She tells him that she is through with him and his way of life and hurries out of the apartment, Nicky’s angry words following her.  While working at the club that night Molly runs into Jimmy, who is now a student at a college and who still has a thing for Molly.  The two leave the club together and run into Nicky who demands that Molly gets in the car that he has magically obtained.  Molly asks Jimmy to come along with them and all three climb into the car.

Not surprisingly Nicky has not been entirely honest about how he got the car, having of course stolen it, and it isn’t long before the police spot them.  Nicky yells at Molly to drive on and he engages in a shoot out with the officers, until he kills one and is shot himself.  Molly and Jimmy ditch the car and go on the lam.  Since the police are searching for a brunette accomplice Molly dyes her hair platinum blonde, and she and Jimmy pose as a married couple in order to rent an apartment for a week.  Jimmy pleads with Molly to just go to the police and explain what happened but Molly dismisses the idea.  The police would never believe that she had nothing to do with what happened especially since she has been living with Nicky for the last three years.  Jimmy might have a chance to get out of things unscathed but he refuses to leave Molly alone.  At that moment the phone in the apartment starts to ring and the door swings open.  Enter Scottie Cornell (Lee Tracy), fast talking reporter, who takes a call from a source and learns about Nicky’s capture by police which is overheard by Molly and Jimmy.  Scottie now takes a moment to focus on his new neighbors and is immediately drawn to Molly.  Molly gives as good as she gets in the verbal back and forth and Jimmy just looks on before Scottie sends him out for groceries.

molly louvain 3

A few days pass and Scottie continues to flirt with Molly, while Jimmy continues to mope.  Molly is desperate to see her daughter but sends Jimmy to visit instead, knowing that Nicky has probably talked and the police will be looking for her.  Jimmy comes back quickly and the news is worse than they imagined.  Not only are the police looking for Molly but they think that she was the mastermind of it all and that she is running a big gang of thugs.  Worst of all someone let it slip that Molly has a daughter and now the police are camped out around Mrs. Schiller’s hose, preventing Jimmy from getting in to see the little girl.  Jimmy begs Molly to come away with him, and this time offers to marry her.  Molly tries to convince him that she is bad news but Jimmy won’t be swayed.  Finally, Molly agrees to marry Jimmy and just then Scottie enters the apartment.  While Jimmy rushes out to get their luggage, Scottie turns on Molly and begins taunting her.  Marrying Jimmy will be the worse mistake she ever made, he says, she will ruin his life.  Not only that but Molly will hate her life with Jimmy, but Scottie has a solution.  He kisses Molly and asks her to come away with him to live the high life.  But, he warns, Jimmy wants to marry Molly and he doesn’t.  He will never give Molly the home and life that Jimmy will, but he will give her passion, lights, laughs, and excitement.  Molly remembers now how her mother left her as a child, leaving with such tender parting words as “don’t let them put starch in your underwear…and always remember your mother was a lady”, and she suddenly realizes why her mother left in the first place.  Hoping to give her daughter a chance at a better life, one without her in it, she agrees to go with Scottie and breaks Jimmy’s heart.  Scottie goes off to the press room at the police station but promises to return soon.  Little does he know that the woman he is leaving back in the apartment is the very same woman he is writing about in his column, the infamous Molly Louvain.

molly louvain 4

The police are growing frustrated in their search for Molly Louvain and are almost ready to give up when Scottie comes up with an idea.  In order to lure Molly out of hiding he proposes using the one thing that Molly is sure to care about more than anything, her little girl.  So Scottie cooks up a phony message to be read over the radio pleading with Molly to come to police headquarters because her little girl is terribly ill.  “Your little girl is crying for you Molly, she needs you”, intones the radio announcer into his microphone.  The broadcast goes out and is picked up by the radio that is playing across the street from Molly’s apartment where, at that moment, Molly is lying on the bed next to the open window.

Spoiler Warning: I am going to give a brief rundown of the ending of the movie in order to have a more complete discussion of it at the end.  But, if you don’t want to know what happens this would be the moment to stop!

Molly rushes to the police station eager to confess, but finds that no one will believe her when she says that she is Molly Louvain.  Finally she insists on being taken to Nicky, who has survived his brush with the law, and let him identify her.  The police are now eager to question her, demanding that she confess to the myriad of crimes, both real and imagined, that have been placed at her door.  She resists at first and insists upon her innocence all while demanding to see her daughter.  At last she realizes that the police have no intention of letting her see her little girl until they have a full confession even if it isn’t true, which she finally gives them.  Taking her back to the infirmary she finds her daughter playing horsie with an officer and not sick at all.  When she demands to know who came up with this horrible trick, Scottie is pushed forward as the mastermind.  Stunned and hurt, Molly refuses to listen as Scottie tries to explain.  The police, now satisfied with their trumped up charges and co-erced confession, leave the two alone for a few minutes before taking Molly for processing.  In their final precious moments together, Scottie begs for forgiveness and pledges to wait for Molly until she is released.  She relents and the two share a kiss before being interrupted by the press, who are using the moment as a photo-op.  Scottie doesn’t mind and goes in to kiss Molly, saying to the gentleman of the press “Do it again!”

The New York Times reviewer in 1932 wrote that;

All that can be said in favor of “The Strange Love of Molly Louvain,” the film now at the Warners’ Strand, is that it has a cast of twenty players and that several of them strive hard to make their scenes diverting. But, with due respect for the zealous efforts of Lee Tracy and Ann Dvorak, this film is both wearying and unsavory.

Ouch.  He goes on to call Molly Louvain “reckless and brainless”, unable to conceive of any possible reason why any woman would allow herself to fall in with the likes of Nicky.  Clearly this reviewer wasn’t paying much attention because it is made abundantly clear that the only reason why Molly is with Nicky is because he can provide for her daughter.  When it becomes clear that he won’t be able to do that safely, Molly takes matters into her own hands in order to do what she thinks is best for her little girl.  Working as a taxi dancer to help pay the bills is a start, but clearly isn’t Molly’s ideal profession.  Even Nicky seems to be somewhat inept at his job as a small time crook, simply because he wasn’t cut out for it.  Rather he gets into the seedier side of sales because that is where the money is, something that is harder and harder to come by during the years of the Depression.  In fact this search for a stable income is the main motivation behind the majority of the characters in this film.  From Mrs. Schiller taking in children to watch, to the landlady renting out apartments, to Molly spending her nights dancing with lonely men at the taxi club, everyone is looking for a way to make an honest (and sometimes not so honest) buck.

Lee Tracy is like a force of nature, hands moving like a blur and talking faster than most people can think.  He often plays characters similar to Scottie, guys with an angle and a patter, but there is always an element of goodness and heart in them.  For every angle and sly gag, there is a reason and a decency behind it and you feel like through it all Lee Tracy is a stand up guy.  And that is why the character of Scottie works so well.  He is sarcastic and cutting but it isn’t who he is at his core so the ending, when Molly and he must come to terms with their parts in what has happened, has a ring of truth in it because it makes sense.  Even Leslie Fenton portrays Nicky as more than just a one dimensional hoodlum.  You can feel his desperation, not only to get the job done, to be respected, and to make it big but also to keep Molly by his side.  The desperation makes him a sadder character than you might expect and definitely one with more depth than previously thought.  Interestingly, Ann Dvork and Leslie Fenton apparently met and fell in love during this film.  They would eventually marry and remain together until their divorce in 1945.  If there is a weak link among the principal actors it would have to be Richard Cromwell.  Jimmy comes off as a lovesick puppy and we can totally understand why Molly is trying to convince him to leave, though perhaps that is the point.  Maybe Jimmy is supposed to be so naive and childish in his affections that it is in direct contrast to the worldly cynicism of Molly and Scottie.

This is clearly Ann Dvorak’s movie, in my opinion even more so than THREE ON A MATCH.  Warner Brothers bought her contract from Howard Hughes and cast her in the title role of Molly Louvain, appearing to be grooming her for leading lady status.  Ann Dvorak is an actress that I am quickly growing in appreciation of.  Molly is a damaged woman but one who still has strong morals and heart, something that Ann Dvorak is able to portray so well.  Without that ability to show Molly as a woman doing the dark and dirty deeds in order to provide a better life for her child, this film wouldn’t work and we would be forced to agree with the aforementioned New York Times reviewer.

The fallen woman isn’t a new or unique storyline, especially among pre-code movies.  But I think the thing that makes this movie so striking and the ending so powerful is that while Molly has done bad things in her life, she now rejects the easy way out in order to give her child a better life even if that means that she won’t be in it.  She could have run away with Jimmy or Scottie, or even just taken off by herself.  But she didn’t and when the moment comes to decide whether or not to confess to everything, even crimes she didn’t commit, in order to finally get in to see her baby Molly does it without a moment of thought.  And this is what I liked so much about this movie and the character of Molly.  She is a fallen woman but she does not need anyone to feel sorry for her nor does she need a man to come and pick her back up.  Quite often in movies that portray the bad girl turning good, it is because the love of a good man has saved her.  But in this movie it is Molly saving herself that turns her into a good woman and a good mother.  She finally understands and forgives her own mother for leaving but decides on a different path for herself.  In doing that she is redeemed and is no longer a fallen women, and in fact it is Scottie who must atone and apologize for his actions in the end.  And because of the terrific acting by both Lee Tracy and Ann Dvorak we not only believe this transformation and apology, we accept it all wholeheartedly.


Stay tuned because I am bringing you a second posting in this fabulous blogathon!  Coming up we will be SAFE IN HELL!