The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social: ROUGHLY SPEAKING (1945)

This post is part of The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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Sometimes there is a part of me that yearns for a simpler time. I don’t want to go back to olden days completely, I’m much too big a fan of air-conditioning, vaccines, antibiotics, and Wifi to do that. But there is a part of me that wishes for a bit more of that sense of simple community life and family connectedness, the days when kids went out when the sun came up and came home when the fireflies came out, a time when you knew your neighbor and where your food came from, a time of soda jerks and ice cream parlors. So when the nostalgia hits me, I try to find a movie that can show me that simpler time which is why I ended up buying ROUGHLY SPEAKING from the Warner Archive.

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In the 1920s, Louise Randall (Rosalind Russell) learns that not only has her father died but that her family is also penniless. In an effort to help Louise attend college her mother sells her own jewelry to pay for the tuition. Louise throws herself into her work determined to “be on the inside looking out”, and soon excels in her secretarial courses. Her first temp job is at a shipyard where she wins over her misogynistic boss with her wit and skill. Soon after Louise and her friend, Alice move out to New Haven, Connecticut and rent a room in the same building as two Yale University students. These two young men are Rodney Crane (Donald Woods) and Jack Leslie and the four become quite important to each other. Jack and Alice soon fall in love and marry, and Rodney eventually proposes to Louise.
Louise agrees to marry Rodney but their wedding is anything but acceptable. At the ceremony, Louise refuses to wear white, will not take her husband’s name, and refuses to vow to obey. Problems arise after the wedding too as Louise wants to continue working while Rodney insists that she stay home. The “happy couple” move to New York City where Louise quickly gives birth to four children, Barbara, John, Rod, Jr. and Louise, Jr. World War II breaks out and Louise does her bit, complete with victory garden and selling war bonds. She also finds a large although somewhat run down house along the Hudson River and moves her growing family there.

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Life is happy despite the hard times but one day Louise Jr. falls ill. When the doctor leaves Louise must deal with the fact that every one of her children has been diagnosed with polio. Louise now throws herself into caring for her children, nursing each one back to health even Louise Jr. who is sickest and left slightly lame from her illness. Undaunted in the face of adversity, Louise keeps her spirits high even when Rodney comes home after being laid off. In fact, she simply goes out and gets a job herself in order to help support the family while her husband gets back on his feet. But Rodney doesn’t see things in such a sunny way and takes this as a slight and a lack of sympathy on his wife’s part. Eventually Rodney finds a new job and a much younger woman. He comes home one evening to tell Louise that he is leaving her and the children after ten years of marriage.

Based on the bestselling autobiography of Louise Randall Pierson, who also wrote the screenplay, ROUGHLY SPEAKING is a great offering from Michael Curtiz.  Made a time when morale was low, this film seems to speak to the spirit of the America that was and that could be again.  Showing the indomitable spirit of a woman raising her family in spite of the obstacles thrown in front of her was most likely meant to encourage the movie going public to believe in the possibility of “the good life” once again.

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Apparently, Bette Davis turned down the lead role and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that was a good thing.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Bette Davis.  But there is a quality to her that doesn’t quite fit with the picture of Louise Randall.  Bette Davis always has a classiness to her, a level of being slightly above, and while I don’t doubt that she can play down to earth women there is definitely something about her that makes me feel like it doesn’t quite ring true.  On the other hand, Rosalind Russell strikes me as the perfect actress for this role.  There is a realness and “ready for anything” quality that makes her infinitely watchable and believable as an ordinary wife and mother who made her life what she wanted it to be.  I love Rosalind Russell, she just seems willing to jump into anything be it comedy, drama, romance, action, you name it.  If Rosalind Russell is in a film chances are I’ll watch it and end up liking it, if only just for her.  Luckily, ROUGHLY SPEAKING boasts a great supporting cast and director as well as a terrific story.  It is a film that I just flat out enjoyed and had fun watching which is sometimes the best kind of film of all.

 

Watching With Warner: THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (1934)

Things have been a bit slow around here on the blog.  Life got a bit hectic in the last two months and so I didn’t have the time that I wanted to watch movies to blog about.  But hopefully things will be getting back to normal now and so I have returned with a film from the Warner Archive about the courtship of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, as well as the Barrett family and their patriarch.

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In the home of Edward Barrett (Charles Laughton), the doctor has come to visit the eldest daughter.  Elizabeth Barrett (Norma Shearer) has been ill for many years and standing, let alone walking, is very difficult and painful.  Despite her misgivings, Elizabeth’s doctor assures her that full recovery is possible if only she has the will to make it so.  Elizabeth has no outlet aside from her beautiful and brilliant poetry, which is often published, and her many siblings.  In particular she enjoys spending time with her sister Henrietta (Maureen O’Sullivan) but their fun is cut short by the disapproval and tyrannical behavior of their father.  Edward Barrett wastes no time in telling Elizabeth that her doctor is mistaken and that she is still very ill, in fact she may very well be close to death.  He even defies the doctors orders in his almost perverse attempt to keep her confined to her rooms.  He demands strict obedience from all his children and has forbidden any of his children from marrying.

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In spite of her father’s wishes, or perhaps in part because of them, Henrietta continues to see a friend of her brothers named Surtees Cook (Ralph Forbes).  The two secretly see each other and love begins to blossom.  Surtees has a promising career in the military and wants to marry Henrietta.  She loves him and wishes to be his wife but refuses him due to her father’s iron rule, as she can see no way around it.  It is Elizabeth who encourages her to do whatever she can in order to be happy.  It is soon after, during a snowstorm, that Elizabeth Barrett meets Robert Browning (Fredric March).  A fellow poet, Robert Browning is quite famous throughout London and has fallen in love with Elizabeth over several months of reading her poetry.  Deciding that he must meet her, he arrives in a swirl of life and snow and changes everything.  He declares his admiration for her and Elizabeth responds by telling him that she could die at any moment.  He responds by laughing this off and encouraging her to seize the day and live her life fully.  As he takes his leave, Elizabeth stands and makes her way unsteadily to the window for the first time in years just to see him once more.

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Months pass and Elizabeth blossoms.  She becomes stronger and healthier with each passing day, her new found lust for life astounding her doctors and worrying her father.  For his part, Edward continues to admonish his daughter against becoming too adventurous and warns her that another relapse may be close at hand.  Elizabeth’s doctors propose a trip to Italy in order to aid in her recovery and Robert is more than happy to support this plan.  In fact, he had plans to go to Italy himself at just about the same time.  He comes to call on Elizabeth and in her joy, she walks down the stairs to greet him surprising everyone.  Of course, her father not only squashes her plans to go to Italy but also her new found spirit and carries her back upstairs.  Some time later, the Barrett’s chatty cousin Bella has come to visit Elizabeth.  When she hears that Elizabeth is not going to Italy she resolves to convince her uncle Edward to allow it because she firmly believes that she can talk any man into anything.  She goes downstairs to prove this point when Henrietta announces that Robert Browning has come to visit Elizabeth.  Elizabeth and Robert declare their love for each other but Elizabeth still fears her father finding anything out about Robert’s and her relationship.  Downstairs meanwhile, Bella has just spilled the beans that Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett are rather more than good friends just as Edward Barrett was beginning to consider the trip to Italy.  Instead, he begins to plot a trip of his own for Elizabeth…one that will take her far away from Robert Browning.

THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET made me think of THE HEIRESS…if the father in THE HEIRESS was just ever so slightly, oh what’s the word, insane.  Based on the famous 1930 play of the same name, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET omitted most of the references to Edward Barrett’s sexually aggressive behavior towards his children, which was a large part of the play but which has no basis in historical record.  The real Edward Barrett did have a strange habit of disinheriting any of his children who married, but that is as far as it went as far as documentation is concerned.  In the play, Edward has rather incestuous intentions towards his daughters with special attention lavished on Elizabeth.  In the film however, there is only vague reference to this with a great deal of euphemisms used to imply that Edward is a sex addict who not only has designs on his daughters, but also had many child with his late wife as a result of marital rape.  Yeah.  Of the script changes, Charles Laughton said “They can censor it all they like, but they can’t censor the gleam out of my eye”.  Watching the film you definitely get the sense that all is not quite right in the Barrett household and this unease only increases as the story progresses.  I started off watching this and thinking it was a perfectly fine historical romance and about halfway through things started taking a turn that made it something more.

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This is really Norma Shearer’s movie.  She has to carry the entire story and much of it while sitting on a couch, unable to move about freely, in the same set-piece for most of the film.  Even when she is offscreen her presence is still felt, just waiting until she appears again.  I think that too often Norma Shearer gets pegged as either “The Divorcee”, “The Woman from THE WOMEN”, or “Mrs. Irving Thalberg”.  Well, yes she was all of these but she was also a really good actress who could do more than put on a slinky gown and be charming.  She could also be quiet, emotional, and dramatic.  She could be intelligent, witty, and strong.  She does a wonderful job as Elizabeth Barrett and it isn’t until the credits roll that you remember that she isn’t.  I will admit that at first I felt like I was watching Norma Shearer in a costume but after some time I forgot all that and only saw Elizabeth.

THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET was definitely different than I thought it would be.  More than a romance based in history and more than a historical saga with a love story, this is a film that tells of a love and of a darkness that came about when Robert Browning met Elizabeth Barrett.

 

Watching With Warner: BREAKFAST FOR TWO (1937)

Let me list some names for you.  Barbara Stanwyck, Herbert Marshall, Glenda Farrell, and ERIC BLORE!  Intrigued?  Too good to be true, you say?  Not at all!  In fact this amazing cast can be found in BREAKFAST FOR TWO from the Warner Archive.

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Morning comes to the apartment of rich playboy, Jonathan Blair (Herbert Marshall), and the staff goes about their daily routines.  Jonathan’s valet, Butch (Eric Blore), enters the master suite and is surprised to find that there is a strange woman (Barbara Stanwyck) in the shower and his employer is sleeping on the couch with various party favors tucked around him.  It seems that Jonathan had too much of a good time the night before and he needed to be escorted home by the mystery woman exiting the bathroom.  She is prevented from leaving by Jonathan’s massive dog and so has no choice but to accept his invitation to get to know him better.  The two sit down for breakfast while Jonathan tries to remember the events of the previous evening.  The pair are progressing marvelously, much to Butch’s delight, and it is quite obvious that the young woman is smitten with Jonathan.  Their stroll down memory lane is interrupted by the arrival of Jonathan’s girlfriend, actress Carol Wallace (Glenda Farrell).  The mystery woman takes this as her cue to exit, leaving Jonathan scrambling after her.

After breakfast, and seeing Carol safely out the door, Jonathan begins trying to find out the identity of the mystery women.  He is interrupted by the arrival of his company’s banker who is supposed to be bringing with him Jonathan’s monthly check.  This month is different and Jonathan’s banker informs him that due to his absentee managerial style, the family shipping company has decided to revoke his paychecks and find a new owner.  It is at this point that the phone rings and a man on the other end demands to know where Mr. Ransom’s niece is as she was seen leaving a party with Jonathan.  Using this piece of information Jonathan has flowers sent to Ms. Valentine Ransom, right before he completely freaks out due to the fact that he now has no money.

Valentine meanwhile has arrived back at her hotel room and is preparing to get on a train back to her home in Texas.  She is also receiving an earful about the true nature of Mr. Jonathan Blair from her own banker, along with her guardian.  It is at this moment that the flowers arrive, along with a charmingly worded note, and Valentine’s anger begins to fade.  In fact she has decided that she is going to marry Jonathan and in order to do that she has to start by taking over his company.

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This screwball comedy is a lesser known one but still a film that is charming, witty, and fun.  Clocking in at a brisk sixty-eight minutes, this gender reversed “Taming of the Shrew” is really quite enjoyable.  Barbara Stanwyck’s Valentine, her first role after winning the Oscar for STELLA DALLAS, is not your traditional scheming heiress.  She falls for Jonathan but she wants him to make something of himself, without relying on her or anyone else to do it.  She sets about making him miserable but doing so because she cares for him and she wants him to become the man she believes he can be.  While the troupe of the woman tricking a man into falling in love with her is nothing new, in BREAKFAST FOR TWO it is given a far more intelligent spin allowing Barbara Stanwyck to have good reason to climb into the boxing ring with Herbert Marshall, as well as run circles around him in the office.  This was her first true screwball role and she is magnificent in it.  Showing all the talent and charisma that made her a star, as well as a flair for physical gags and comedic timing that would go on to serve her well in such films as THE LADY EVE and THE MAD MISS MANTON.

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Herbert Marshall is great as the immature playboy.  It is a nice callback to his role in TROUBLE IN PARADISE, except now he is the rich mark being taken for a ride.  He does a great bit with ventriloquism and his reactions to Glenda Farrell’s less than bright Carol are just hysterical.  He also leaps into the comedic fray with complete abandon and seems to be enjoying himself immensely.  Also, his mammoth Great Dane companion steals several scenes often just by lying down.

Let’s also take a moment to appreciate the supporting characters.  Eric Blore is of course fantastic as the put-upon Butch.  As soon as Eric Blore comes on screen you can’t help but smile and know that you are in good hands.  Donald Meek shows up as a long suffering Justice of the Peace who practically has a nervous breakdown before the end of the film.  Glenda Farrell doesn’t have enough scenes in this film, in my opinion, because her ditzy performance as Carol is a highlight.

With a cast that I would happily watch sit around and read the dictionary to each other, BREAKFAST FOR TWO is a fun screwball comedy from RKO that deserves to be better known.  If you get a chance to see it definitely make an effort to!

 

Watching With Warner: CRACK-UP (1946)

What if I told you that I just watched a film noir that turned into a murder mystery?  What if I told you that said noir starred Pat O’Brien, Claire Trevor, and Herbert Marshall?  And what if I told you that this noir/murder mystery centered around the world of art and art forgery?  Impossible, you say!  But no!  It is true!  It can all be seen in CRACK-UP from 1946.

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The Manhattan Museum has been closed up for the night and a policeman is going his rounds when he is confronted by a strange sight.  A man, clearly delirious, has smashed a window and is now attempting to destroy a statue.  The policeman confronts and struggles with the man before subduing him.  Initially believing the man to be drunk the police and the museum board, led by one Dr. Lowell (Ray Collins), bring the man back to Dr. Lowell’s house to recuperate.  The man is George Steele (Pat O’Brien), art expert and lecturer at the museum who has just been released from military service.  Dr. Lowell deduces that George is not drunk but ill, and George furthers this idea by insisting to the police lieutenant that he has just been in a train accident.  Police Lieutenant Cochrane informs George that there have been no train accidents reported and that his mother was never taken to the hospital.  Dr. Lowell believes that George’s experiences in the military might be affecting his memory and so asks him to relate everything that he can remember leading up to that night in the museum.  George begins his tale…

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After giving a rather inflammatory lecture to a group of art lovers in the museum, George is receiving a dressing down by museum director Barton. The director feels that George’s lectures are far too explosive and is also annoyed by George’s promise to use an X-Ray machine to show his lecture goers how art forgeries are detected by using the recently exhibited Dürer’s Adoration of the Kings as an example.  Irritated by his boss’ closed minded behavior George runs into his girlfriend Terry Cordell (Claire Trevor) and her new friend Traybin (Herbert Marshall).  George and Terry head out for a date and drink and just as George begins to relax and enjoy himself, he receives an urgent phone call telling him that he mother has taken ill and has been taken to the hospital.  George hurries off to the train station, promising to call Terry in the morning.  Once there he gets his ticket and rushes to catch the train, almost running into a man half carrying another seemingly very drunk man.  Onboard George settles in and stares out the window.  To his horror he sees a train coming towards them, almost as if by design, and then colliding.

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Back in the present day George concludes his story by saying that after the train crash he suddenly found himself back at the museum.  Traybin, who has accompanied Terry to Dr. Lowell’s, excuses himself and asks Cochrane to follow him into the hall.  Once there Traybin, who is an English art expert, requests that Cochrane lets George go but have him tailed.  Cochrane agrees and George is released, but not before being fired by Barton.  Upon returning to his apartment, George, Terry, and Traybin find that it has been ransacked.  George confides to Terry that he worries that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress and she urges him to forget the events of that night.  But George can’t do that and he resolves to piece together just what happened to him.

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The next evening he boards the commuter train and finds that no one on board remembers seeing him.  Discouraged, he gets off at a station and asks the clerk there if he saw anything strange.  The clerk recalls seeing three men, two men helping one man who appeared to be very drunk, and George realizes that the third man must have been him.  He hurries back to the museum to inform his friend, and museum employee, Stevenson.  Stevenson has even more news as he has heard that Barton just got word that a Thomas Gainsborough recently lost at sea was in fact a fake.  George realizes that there must be another forgery currently in the museum and gets Stevenson to agree to help him get into the museum vaults later that night.  But when George returns to the museum to meet Stevenson he finds his friend dead and himself the prime suspect.

I bought CRACK-UP during the Black Friday sale at Warner Archive sole due to the cast and the fact that the plot started off with, “I’ve been in a train crash!” “There was no train crash!”.  Very THE LADY VANISHES.  I found that this was a really fun and intriguing mystery, a wholly unique take on the film noir.  As I said, there were moments that reminded me of THE LADY VANISHES and other elements of Hitchcock which gave the story an interesting and imaginative flair.  The story begins with George trying to figure out what happened on the train but quickly evolves into a murder mystery and caper movie.  This is not to say that it disregards its noir roots, on the contrary.  George is not only the everyman fighting against corruption but CRACK-UP addresses upfront the affects that post-traumatic stress had on the minds of the men suffering from it.

Pat O’Brien is quite good in this.  He is usually a loud tough guy but here he is much quieter and reserved, giving hints at the wounded and injured man below.  He even speaks in a softer register making George someone that you have to pay attention to.  This was a completely different role than what I was used to seeing him in and I have to say that he did a really great job.  He is well supported by Claire Trevor, who portrays Terry as a woman who loves her man and will do whatever he needs in order to help him.  And Herbert Marshall…well, he just needs to show up doesn’t he?

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CRACK-UP is a noir that is different and one that takes creative chances in its attempt to tell a story.  It is not quite like any other noir I have seen but it is definitely one that I will watch again, and one that deserves more recognition and appreciation!

Watching With Warner: NO TIME FOR COMEDY (1940)

Rosalind Russell and James Stewart might not be the first names that come to mind when you think couple in romantic comedy, but surprisingly in NO TIME FOR COMEDY from Warner Archive, they create a dynamic couple with wit and earnest emotion.

In the great theater scene of New York City a new playwright is creating quite a stir.  Hailing from Redfield, Minnesota (which boasts a population of 786, including the livestock), Gaylord Easterbrook (James Stewart) has written a new play full of high society comedy.  Unfortunately for him no one believes that he is the man who came up with drawing room escapades about chocolate mousse, especially since he has never been to New York City before.  His play is being staged but there are issues and re-writes are needed which brings Gaylord to the bright lights of the New York City theater section by way of the Grand Canyon.  Once there he makes the acquaintance of the leading lady in the play, Linda Paige (Rosalind Russell).  Initially mistaking him for an usher, Linda soon takes pity on the less than street savvy Esterbrook and shows him around the city.

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Later that evening Linda, Esterbrook, director Morgan Carrel (Allyn Joslyn), and producer Richard Benson gather for dinner at Benson’s apartment.  While the group eats and discusses the play, Benson’s butler is spending his time reading the script in the kitchen.  Carrel is in a sour mood and takes this opportunity to make fun of Esterbrook, his upbringing, and his play.  Esterbrook doesn’t take this lying down and once Carrel apologizes, sort of, he heads out to the terrace to get some air. Linda follows him as the butler enters the room.  While Linda and Esterbrook are getting to know each other, Benson’s butler gives his boss the sad news that he just doesn’t think that the play will be a hit.  With this new information, Benson decides to stop producing the play all together.  Linda is shocked at this turn of events and devises a way to keep the play going, despite the lack of pay and a producer, and give Esterbrook the opening he has worked so hard for.

The play is a great success and Linda and Esterbrook stay up all night in Central Park waiting for the morning papers.  The reviews are glowing and soon Linda and Esterbrook are sharing some loving words themselves.  Four years pass and Linda and Esterbrook are married.  Esterbrook has written four hit plays in the past four years, each one starring Linda.  Things seem to be going well for the couple until the evening after the opening of his most recent play.  At a party celebrating his latest success, Esterbrook meets Mr. Philo Swift (Charles Ruggles), a successful financier, and his wife Amanda (Genevieve Tobin).  Esterbrook is not in the best of moods, being smack in the middle of a case of writer’s block, and is initially uninterested in the Swifts but Amanda doesn’t take that lying down.

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Amanda is a bit of a pill it seems, something her husband is all too aware of.  Her favorite hobby is creating geniuses and she has decided that Esterbrook is the one most deserving of her time and attention.  While Linda remains loyal and loving towards her husband, Amanda is more fawning when it comes to her attentions.  She tells Esterbrook that he has been wasting his time when it comes to comedy and that he is destined to make his mark in drama.  This is welcome news as the playwright has been feeling a desire to make an impact on the theater going public.  He begins spending more and more time with his muse, and less and less time with the actual Mrs. Esterbrook.  Weeks go by and cracks begin to appear in their relationship.

NO TIME FOR COMEDY began life in 1939 as a play written by S.N. Behrman.  Starring Lawrence Olivier as Gaylord Esterbrook and Katharine Cornell as Linda Paige, the play ran for 179 performances during which time Lawrence Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh, was filming GONE WITH THE WIND.  While this film is mainly a romantic comedy, I did enjoy the final message of needing to support the people out there who have the courage, and sometimes stupidity, to stick their necks out and put it all out there.  To get behind the people who risk their hearts and emotions all in the name of an idea is a positive message that isn’t often mentioned in films, let alone romantic comedies from the 1940s.

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This film was full of pleasant surprises for me.  The supporting cast is terrific.  For a start, Charles Ruggles.  I mean.  Seriously.  Also, the character of Clementine played by Louise Beavers is an interesting dichotomy.  The character starts life as an actress in the first play before taking a job as the Esterbrook’s housekeeper/maid.  And while her dialogue does have a few of the stereotypical racial accents that are an unfortunate by-product of older films there are also plenty of intelligent, witty, and non-stereotyped lines of dialogue that she delivers.  She also has a delightful way of never taking Esterbrook, his moods, or his comments seriously at all.  It is an interesting thing to see because the character of Clementine is employed as a housekeeper but is not treated as subservient.

I really enjoyed the character of Morgan Carrell and some of the best lines were his.  In fact this was another pleasant surprise of NO TIME FOR COMEDY.  It is really funny and quite witty!  For example;

“Philo Swift: ‘Gaylord Esterbrook’… seems to me I’ve heard or read that name someplace. What do you do?
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: I write plays.
Philo Swift: Er, yes, I have a hobby, too. What I meant was, what do you do for a living?
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Write plays. Anything wrong?
Philo Swift: No, no; nothing, nothing. You’ll pardon me, but it does seem a little trivial for a grown man.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Well, perhaps I’ll grow out of it. What do *you* do?
Philo Swift: I’m on Wall Street.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Where’s that?
Philo Swift: I don’t know, but my chauffeur finds it every morning.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: After you get there, what do you do?
Philo Swift: Buy and sell stocks and bonds.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Surely not for a living?
Philo Swift: And not a bad one. When stocks go up, I make a little money. When they go down, I make even more.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: That all you do?
Philo Swift: Well, yes!
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Well, who knows; maybe you’ll grow out of it, too.
[raises glass]
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Here’s hoping!”

“Clementine, Actress in Show: I saw your last picture, Mr. Carrell.
Morgan Carrell, the Director: Yes?
Clementine, Actress in Show: Oh, yeah.
Morgan Carrell, the Director: What’d ya think?
Clementine, Actress in Show: [sighs] yeah.”

“Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: [after spending the night after the play on a park bench] Hey, you don’t look bad for a girl who’s just getting up in the morning!
Linda Paige Esterbrook: For a man who’s been up all night you look great!
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Don’t get the idea that I’m an authority on girls getting up in the morning.
Linda Paige Esterbrook: Well, I’m not the last word on men staying up all night either.”

This was a film that not only entertained me from beginning to end, but also gave me quite a few laugh out loud moments.

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Man, I love Rosalind Russell.  I first saw her in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGLES and ever since then I have just thought she is terrific.  As I have said before, she has a quality of being up for anything that seems authentic to her which she imbues into her characters.  It is a quality that is unique to her and something that makes her so terrific to watch.  While I agree that she and Jimmy Stewart don’t have the sizzling chemistry of Bogie and Bacall or Powell and Loy, they do have qualities that make them likable and charming.  Russell plays the part of Linda Paige with self assured calm and wit.  She loves her husband but never has a moment where she feels the need to yell or scream at him even when she knows he is spending too much time with another woman.  Rather she maintains an air of love and support, hoping that her continued presence will bring him back.  She is smart and independent without going into headstrong territory.  It is the internal spark that is Rosalind Russell that gives Linda Paige that certain special something that it just a little unique and different than most other romantic comedy actresses.  For his part, Jimmy Stewart seems to be doing Mr. Smith (from MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) with shades of Mike Connor (from THE PHILADELPHIA STORY).  This is not to say that he is not good in this film however.  He brings his small town charm to the opening scenes as Esterbrook adjusts to big city life.  In the later parts of the film he has the indignation of the everyman intellectual railing against the plight of the world.

NO TIME FOR COMEDY was a pleasant surprise for me.  This was a film I went into blind, having no expectations, and found myself spending a very enjoyable ninety minutes with Rosalind Russell and James Stewart, thanks to the Warner Archive.  If you want to see a romantic comedy with something a little different then you might just want to give this one a watch.

 

Watching With Warner: HIGHWAY 301 (1950)

Several months ago I read a great post (well, one of many great posts) by Kristina over at Speakeasy about a gritty gangster film she had just seen called HIGHWAY 301.  Spurred on by her recommendation I picked up at copy from Warner Archive but haven’t gotten around to watching it until now.

The film starts with the real-life governors of Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina extolling the virtues of staying on the right side of the law and reminding audiences that the film they are about to see is based on true events.  The action then quickly moves to a bank robbery being perpetrated by Tri-State Gang.  The gang is made up of George Legenza (Steve Cochran), William B. Phillips (Robert Webber), Robert Mais (Wally Cassell), Herbie Brooks (Richard Egan) and Noyes (Edward Norris).  The men make off with the money but they are spotted by a farmer as they switch cars, allowing police to get a partial license plate from the getaway car.  Up to this point the police have been unable to identify any member of the Tri-State gang but the men are no strangers to the law.  Each has had run ins with the police but have received only light sentences for punishment.

Flush with the success of a bank heist done well, the men head back to their wives and girlfriends.  Phillips has recently married a French Canadian by the name of Lee Fontaine (Gaby Andre) who is blissfully unaware of what her husband does for a living.  Legenza’s girlfriend, Madeline (Aline Towne), is more than happy to tell her especially since she has become so disillusioned with the crooked life.  Madeline is miserable and begs Legenza to let her leave but his puts a stop to those thoughts with the back of his hand.  The men go off to talk and Madeline starts to strongly drop hints to Lee about where her new husband’s money comes from, despite the efforts of Mais’ girlfriend Mary Simms (Virginia Grey) to stop her.  Madeline does shut up when Legenza pops up behind her, having heard the end of her little tirade.  Madeline runs off to the ladies room with Mary close behind while Legenza grills Lee on just what was being said.  Fearing for her life, Madeline gives Lee the slip and hurries back to the apartment she shares with Legenza.  Her soon to be ex-boyfriend follows closely behind.

The next day Lee is listening to the radio report on Madeline’s death.  She is terribly upset and blames herself and Phillips for Madeline’s death.  She begs her husband to escape this life with her, having now fully realized just what she has let herself in for.  Phillips tries to calm his wife and tells her that so long as he is around nothing will happen to her.  He promises her that they will leave behind the life of crime after one last job.  This will be the big one, the job that will set them up for life.  After that Phillips promises that he and Lee will return to Canada to start their life together.

Legenza has been tipped off to the route of a transport van carrying two million dollars.  The next day the gang sets out and robs the van with Legenza killing a guard in the process.  As they make their getaway they open the bags to find that the money has all been cut and is now worthless.  The police set up road blocks but Legenza uses his tipster to avoid every barrier and the gang makes their escape in the back of an egg truck.  Upon the men’s return Lee is quite upset at what has happened and at the senseless murder of the guard.  Legenza begins to suspect that Lee might be a threat to the gan, even if her husband is currently preventing anything from happening to her.  Little does the Tri-State gang suspect but things are about to get much worse for them as the police have gained another partial license plate number and are now in the process of putting names and faces to the members of the Tri-State gang.

If you ever wanted to watch a film and say, “Wow they did that?” then let me suggest this film to you.  This is a taught and brutal gangster story with tension and suspense to spare.  There are so many great sequences that I don’t wish to describe here because it would diminish their impact. Special note goes to the sequence in the apartment building when Legenza pursues Madeline which uses the ding of an elevator to ratchet up more tension than fifty machine guns.  The many escapes and police pursuits, as well as the scenes of Legenza stalking his prey are also truly spectacular.  The action is fast and brutal and doesn’t let up for a second.

Can we take a moment and just comment on Steve Cochran?  He always seems to play a nasty piece of work but Lengenza is just about the nastiest piece of work I have seen in a while.  First of all, he shoots EVERYONE…and I do mean everyone.  Second, he has an almost pathological disdain for women.  It starts with Madeline and moves on to Lee, as well as other female bystanders, with Legenza ripping through women like tissue paper.  His slaps fly as fast as his fists, and he shoots with a cold precision that proves he won’t let anything or any one prevent him from getting what he wants.  He seems to have a loyalty to the other members of his gang but that is about it.  Steve Cochran plays all this with a tightness and a coldness that makes it truly frightening.  Legenza never loses his temper completely, never flips out or acts in a way that seems like anything other than cold and methodical.  Maybe that is what makes Legenza even more frightening, the idea that there is even more rage, an even darker side that is still lurking below just waiting to come out and play.

Watching With Warner: ALL AT SEA (1957)

I am a complete anglophile.  I love all things British and so when I was wanting something a little more light-hearted to take a short break from TCM’s Summer of Darkness, I turned to Sir Alec Guinness, Ealing Studios, and the Warner Archive.

Captain William Horatio Ambrose (Alec Guinness) and his crew are being awarded the Lloyd Medal by the British Government, a prestigious award for their heroic actions in saving their ship, the H.M.S. Arabella.  After the ceremony Captain Ambrose is besieged by reporters hoping for a story but they are to be disappointed.  The good captain has already promised his story exclusively to a reporter named Peters.  Peters is waiting for the captain at the pub across the street, where the captain is given a jug of rum with the compliments of the owner all in thanks for his heroic actions.  Captain Ambrose begins to regale Peters with the tale of his life, one which starts soberly enough but as the rum flows becomes more and more, shall we say, blustery.  It seems that Captain Ambrose comes from a long line of sea-faring men all of which met with varying degrees of success, or lack there of, during their naval careers.  Ambrose has a terrible secret of his own and it is that he suffers from terrible and intractable sea sickness.

After the end of the war, the duration of which Ambrose spent in naval labs testing different experimental sea sickness cures, the aging Captain Ambrose reads an advert in a local paper regarding the sale of a vessel docked at Sandcastle called the Arabella.  After spending his entire life savings to buy this vessel, Captain Ambrose finds that he has not bought a ship at all but rather a run-down amusement pier.  The local population is not particularly impressive either.  The pier is currently run by a crew of men who, although wearing naval uniforms, have no military experience save one man named Tom (Percy Herbert).  The head man of the pier is a man named Figg (Victor Madern), a local dredger who promptly resigns as soon as it becomes clear that Captain Ambrose is now in charge and has no interest in continuing to allow the men to slack off.  Tom is quickly promoted to First Officer, and Captain Ambrose sets about trying to make the pier profitable again.

This does not go particularly well however.  The problem is that Captain Ambrose has managed to get on the bad side of two members of the local council.  The first is Mayor Crowley (Maurice Denham), a crooked local politician who sold the pier at a vastly inflated price but who doesn’t like that the captain is not willing to play ball with him in matters of pay offs and the like.  The second, and more troublesome, is Mrs. Barrington (Irene Browne) who runs the local bath houses, has a penchant for moral decency at all costs, and who already thinks that the captain is a peeping tom.  The first sign of trouble comes when Captain Ambrose wakes up to find that the pier’s slot machines have been confiscated by the council because they encourage gambling, according to Mrs. Barrington that is.  Heading down to the police station to make his case, Captain Ambrose manages to convince the local officers that the machines do not constitute gambling at all when Mrs. Barrington walks in.  Supremely confident in her right to take the machines, she is less than pleased to see the captain walking out with them.  This clearly means war.

Captain Ambrose sets about trying new and different ways to improve the pier and create a lucrative tourist attraction.  But at each possible juncture he is foiled Mrs. Barrington and the council.  He makes a dance hall for the local teens (and yes, Alec Guinness dances and it is fabulous) but the police shut him down because he doesn’t have the proper permits.  When Captain Ambrose goes before the council to pay his fines, he is informed that on top of the money he owes he is no forbidden from acquiring a dance hall permit.  He tries to make a bar but he is prevented from getting a liquor license.  The next day the council meets and Mrs. Barrington immediately launches in to a diatribe about how Captain Ambrose is corrupting the morality of the community.  Mayor Crowley dismisses her concerns as he has plans to create a marine drive which will lead to the demolition of the pier.  Mrs. Barrington is on board with this plan until she realizes that it means that her beach huts will be destroyed as well.  In an indignant rage she resigns from the council and storms out.  No one seems to miss her.

Out on the pier Tom and Captain Ambrose spot a figure on the shoreline.  It is Mrs. Barrington and she is crying!  Ever the gentleman, Captain Ambrose goes ashore to speak with her and see if there is anything he can do to help.  Mrs. Barrington brushes him off at first but finally relents and agrees to join the captain for a spot of coffee, with a dash of rum, in his cabin.  After a few cups, Mrs. Barrington and Captain Ambrose are feeling much more sympathetic towards each other.  Captain Ambrose thinks that it is a travesty that the bath houses are to be demolished!  Mrs. Barrington tells him that things are much worse than that, his pier is set to be demolished too!  The two former enemies then set about devising a way to keep both the bath houses and the pier from being torn down.

God Bless Warner Archive.  I love Ealing films, ever since my Dad first showed me KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS.  Some might argue that ALL AT SEA (also released as BARNACLE BILL in England) is a lesser Ealing comedy, but I would say that even a weak Ealing comedy is still aces.  Yes, I am channeling my inner Brit.

Let’s start with the obvious, Alec Guinness is fabulous.  He plays the role of Captain Ambrose totally straight, which makes the situations even funnier.  A character who could be very buffoonish comes across as quite human and sympathetic.  He brings a dignity to Captain Ambrose, but also a humor which is quite endearing.  Also, his voice and diction are wonderful.  He is another person I could sit and listen to read the phone book.

This film is really what I love about the Ealing comedies.  Clever and witty, funny and charming, ALL AT SEA is just a really lovely way to spend an afternoon.  The story is engaging and amusing, and the cast of characters is varied and enjoyable.  Even the “bad” guys are easy to take and no one comes across as really annoying or  just too evil to tolerate.  This is what Ealing did best, a human comedy about people.  While the stories and situations might be slightly inflated or seem just a little out there, there is still a very human heart to each story.  This might be a little story about little people, but it is really great fun and I certainly recommend it.  Thanks to Warner Archive for making ALL AT SEA available and I will be crossing my fingers for more Ealing Studios releases in the future!

If you want to hear more about All At Sea/Barnacle Bill and some other lesser known Ealing comedies check out the Attaboy Clarence Podcast

Watching With Warner: THE SEARCH (1948)

Out of the stuff of one of the saddest and most arresting human dramas of our times—that is the fate of the children of Europe whose homes were wrecked and whose lives were damaged by the war—Lazar Wechsler, a Swiss film producer, has made a picture which may prudently be said to be as fine, as moving, and as challenging as any the contemporary screen provides. The Search is its American title, and it opened at the Victoria last night. Our earnest wish is that it might be seen by every adult in the United States.

When I first watched THE SEARCH I was stunned.  I was stunned that I had never heard of this movie before.  Stunned that not more people talked about this film, stunned that it wasn’t mentioned more when post WWII cinema is discussed.  I was stunned at how good this movie was, how moving it was, how meaningful it was.  The above quote is from the original New York Times review from 1948 when the film was released.  The reviewer goes on to say;

For The Search is not only an absorbing and gratifying emotional drama of the highest sort, being a vivid and convincing representation of how one of the “lost children” of Europe is found, but it gives a graphic, overwhelming comprehension of the frightful cruelty to innocent children that has been done abroad. Within the framework of a basic human story—the tireless search of a displaced Czech mother for her little boy and the parallel efforts of others to help the nameless youngster and give him security after the war—it clearly lays out for us a problem facing western civilization today: what’s to be done with this vast backwash of shattered children who will be grown-ups tomorrow?

THE SEARCH opens with trains carrying children.  These are orphans, children separated from their parents and families, children who have seen unspeakable things in concentration camps, who have lived on the streets, who have hidden in fear from the Nazis.  This time the trains are taking them to an American camp, specifically set up for the processing and care of these lost souls.  In charge of this camp is Mrs. Murray (Aline MacMahon), a older matronly woman with the hardened efficiency of the military officer she is, and the kindly concern of a mother that she might be.  The children are frightened and unsure what is about to happen with them.  None speak English and for many the last train they rode on took them to a place of nightmares.  Through gestures and some French, Russian, Polish, German, Czech, Hungarian, and Hebrew, most of the children are able to give their names and tell their terrible tales.  One girl was forced to clear away the clothes of the people who had been gassed, finding among them the blouse of her mother.  Another young boy saw his parents killed before his very eyes.  The adults are shocked and saddened by what they hear, but they do their best to try and make the children understand that they are safe at last.

Among the children there is one little boy who remains silent refusing to speak except for “Ich weiß nicht”, I don’t know.  The only one who knows him is a little French boy who has been hiding with him, but even his French companion does not know this boy’s true name or where he comes from.  The only clue is a number tattooed on his arm and a woolen cap on his head, obviously made with love.  The mute little boy is named Karel Malik (Ivan Jandi) from Czechoslovakia and he was the son of a mother and a father, and little brother to a sister.  What Karel cannot remember is what happened to him, what happened to make him forget and be silent.  He and his mother were separated from his father and sister and sent to a concentration camp.  While in the camp Mother and son were separated and it was this trauma that sent Karl into his mute state.

The children are to be moved to a larger facility, one equipped to handle them.  They are loaded into ambulances but many children panic because ambulances were used to transport those on their way to the gas chamber.  After some coaxing the children board the vehicles and start on their way.  But during the journey some children smell exhaust fumes and mistakenly believe they are on their way to be gassed.  Several children break out of the vans and begin running away, including Karel and his companion.  While most of the children are rounded up and brought back, Karel and his friend attempt to ford a river to get away.  In the crossing Karel’s friend drowns and he himself is assumed drowned when only his woolen cap can be found.

Karel wanders into the ruins of a town, tired, hungry, and suffering from a cut foot.  He comes across an American GI eating a sandwich in his jeep.  Ralph “Steve”  Stevenson (Montgomery Clift) shares his sandwich with Karel and decides that he cannot leave the young boy on his own.  It takes some strong arms and determination, but Steve manages to get Karel back to his house.  Once he shows Karel that he and his friend, Jerry Fisher (Wendell Corey), can be trusted things calm down.  Steve even begins teaching Karel, whom he nicknames “Jim” as he has no idea of Karel’s true identity, to speak English and is trying to use government channels to find out any background information on Karel using the number tattooed on his arm.  When the answer comes back that there is no child registered with that number and that no one has come looking for a child matching Karel’s description, the official suggestion is to take Karel to a government camp especially as Steve is awaiting his transfer orders back to the United States.  Steve isn’t too happy with this course of action however, as he and “Jim” have started to bond, and begins trying to find a way to bring the boy back to America with him.  But what Karel and Steve don’t know is that Karel’s mother, Hanna (Jarmila Novotna), has survived the concentration camp and is now searching for her lost son.

I have to be honest, I never was completely blown away from Montgomery Clift.  I often found his characters rather similar in their portrayal, tortured and angst ridden, and I attribute that to his real life struggles with anxiety and later drug and alcohol addiction.  I know that his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, though it was his greatest and most enduring, took a toll on him emotionally which possibly contributed to the angst we see on screen.  But THE SEARCH introduced me to a completely new Montgomery Clift.  This is his first starring role and there is a genuineness and eagerness to him.  You can almost feel his energy, his earnestness, and there is a true star quality on display.  We are seeing Montgomery Clift at the beginning, before life took it’s toll, and it is dazzling.

Rumor has it that Ivan Jandi spoke no English and learned all his lines phonetically.  If this is true it is all the more impressive, as even with no command of the English language Ivan Jandi turns in a performance that is so affecting that it will stay with you long after the film is over.  The relationship between his character and Montgomery Clift’s Steve feels honest and true, with no hint of American propaganda or overly sweet sentimentalism.  This relationship is the heart and soul of this film, and it works beautifully.  Steve moves through the initial shock of realizing that this little boy has been through the horrors of a concentration camp, and all the terrible things that entails, and comes to a feeling of responsibility and love for his young charge.  This is not a case of a swell American taking in a stray refugee and showing him how terrific America is, rather this is simply a man who has seen terrible things that have shaken him to the core who finds a young boy who has suffered those terrible things and wants to do the best thing for him.

THE SEARCH is a film that I feel is important.  Usually noted for being shot among the actual ruins of Ingolstadt, Nuremberg, and Würzburg, there is so much more to this film.  THE SEARCH is a beautiful film that pulls no punches when it comes to telling the horrors of war and the terrible things done to the children at the hands of the Nazis.  It pulls no punches at the emotional toll the war has taken on the soldiers, the civilians, and the children.  It is honest, heartbreaking, and amazingly well done.  I truly hope that you will take the time to seek out this film and see it for yourselves.

The Search, in our estimation, is a major revelation in our times.

-New York Times Film Review by Bosley Crowther, 1948


If you want to hear more about Montgomery Clift you can find a terrific podcast by Karina Longworth called You Must Remember This here.  Also, here is the link to the original movie review quoted in this post.  Finally, if you would like to own a copy of THE SEARCH you can buy it here!

Watching With Warner: THE SEA HAWK (1924)

Thanks to my recent participation in the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently fame, I have been bitten by the silent film bug.  Before this my experience with silent films was more towards Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, but thanks to suggestions from Fritzi herself (yes, she is real!) I have been taking a look at some more serious offerings.  And so when I saw a post about THE SEA HAWK, I knew that this was a movie that I needed to check out.

Chances are that if you have seen THE SEA HAWK you most likely saw the 1940 version with Errol Flynn.  This offering from director Frank Lloyd, who would go one to direct MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, too often is relegated to an afterthought or a bit of historical background.  That is a shame because this film not only adheres more closely to the original story of THE SEA HAWK, but also is just as exciting and full of buckles to be swashed as the later version.  Not only that but there are some spectacular full-sized ships used in thrilling ship to ship battles, the footage of which was re-used at Warner Brothers for years to come.

In the quiet Cornwall countryside, Sir Oliver Tressilian (Milton Sills) is enjoying his retirement thanks to a commendation from Queen Elizabeth I.  As one of her majesty’s privateers, Oliver was part of the fight that finally defeated the Spanish Armada and is now planning on marrying his sweetheart.  His intended is Rosamond Godolphin (Enid Bennett), the sister of Peter Godolphin (Wallace Mac Donald) and under the guardianship of Sir John Killigrew (Mark MacDermott).  Unfortunately for Olivier, John Killigrew is none too pleased with the notion of the fair Rosamond marrying, as he words it, a pirate!  He has sent Peter over to tell Oliver just that but Oliver, taking offense at being called a pirate, storms off to speak with John himself.  However, Oliver’s idea of talking is to challenge John to a duel and promptly slice him to ribbons.  He considers this letting John off with a warning and is about to leave when Rosamond appears.  When Oliver tries to explain that he was defending his besmirched honor, as if thrashing a man with a sword disproves the point of him being a ruthless pirate, Rosamond pleads with him to come to her the next time he wishes to use his sword in anger.  Not wanting to hurt Rosamond, Oliver agrees and the couple embrace.

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Oliver and Rosamond are happy for a time, until their respective brothers begin to make trouble.  It seems like Oliver’s half-brother Lionel (Lloyd Hughes) and Rosamond’s brother Peter are both enamored of the same woman.  She is a matron whose, as the intertitles describe, “conscience is elastic and husband is – old” so naturally she has no problem stringing both men along.  This is fine for a little while but then a half drunk Peter discovers Lionel embracing his lady-love and storms off in a huff.  Lionel is also angry at having been played for a fool and breaks things off with the matron, who is left alone and wondering what happened to all her pretty young men?  Peter rides into town and begins horse whipping Oliver, demanding that he send Lionel to him.  Oliver is quite understandably less than pleased with this and rides off after Peter, intent on giving him a thrashing of his own.  But partway out-of-town Oliver remembers Rosamond’s words and turns his horse’s head back to the way he came.  Some time later Peter finds Lionel and provokes him into a fight, which in turn leads to Lionel killing Peter in self-defense.  Horrified at what he has done and bleeding from his wounds, Peter gathers his things and hurries back to Oliver’s house where his brother is wondering what has become of him.  Lionel confesses what has happened but worries because no one saw the fight that he will be convicted of murder.  Oliver promises to help his brother and to protect him.

Morning dawns and with it comes the discovery of Peter’s body.  Worse yet, the ugly rumor is circulating that Oliver is the one that killed him and that rumor has reached Rosamond.  It seems that a trail of blood lead from the corpse back to Oliver’s front door and Rosamond is convinced that the man she loves has killed her brother.  Oliver is hurt that Rosamond could believe such a thing of him, especially since she asked him to promise to come to her before acting in haste.  However, he has a plan to prove his innocence and asks the local justice to come and inspect his body for fresh wounds.  When none are found the justice makes out an affidavit which will prove Oliver’s innocence in the crime.  But as Oliver seems calmer and calmer in the face of these accusations, Lionel seems more and more panicked.  He is afraid that by proving his innocence Oliver will end up casting blame on him.  But if Oliver were to disappear…

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Lionel makes his way to a local pub and meets with Captain Jasper Leigh (Wallace Beery) of the Sparrow, and offers him a great deal of money (and a jeweled ring) to shanghai his dear brother.  Jasper does just that and when they are far enough out to sea he sends for Oliver.  Taking off his chains Jasper presents Oliver with a proposition.  Pay him a lot of money and he will deposit him safely back on English shores.  Oliver demands to know who betrayed him and is horrified to learn that it is his own brother who has done the deed.  Promising to pay Jasper double, Oliver is ready to storm out onto the deck when a call comes out that a Spanish ship is bearing down on them.  Outmatched and outgunned, the tiny Sparrow and her crew have no choice but to surrender.  Now a prisoner of Spain, Oliver finds himself chained to an oar and lashed daily.  Six months pass and Oliver has become hardened of both mind and body, disillusioned by the un-Christian attitudes of the Spanish.

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Oliver’s oar-mate is Yusuf (Albert Prisco), an Algerian of some prominence and nephew of Asad-ed-Din, the Basha of Algiers (Frank Currier) a famed corsair.  It just so happens that Yusuf’s uncle is right around the bend and the Spanish ship is soon under attack.  The Algerians defeat the Spanish, but Yusuf is killed in the action.  Disgusted by the cruel treatment of the Spanish, Oliver joins Asad-ed-Din’s forces and soon becomes one of the most feared pirates, called The Sea Hawk.  After many years of sailing and defeating Spanish ships, The Sea Hawk and his crew happen upon The Sparrow and take her and her crew prisoner.  Down in the hold they discover Jasper, a prisoner of Spain all this time.  Oliver takes this chance to get a message back to England using Jasper as courier.

After first retrieving the affidavit from its hiding place in Oliver’s estate, Jasper goes to see Rosamond.  He attempts to present the documents to her but Rosamond, ever forgiving and level-headed, throws them into the fire unread.  Jasper accuses Lionel of being the one who killed Peter but is thrown out on his ear for his trouble.  Jasper returns Oliver and delivers the bad news with one addition.  Rosamond and Lionel will be married within the month.  Jasper decides that with crew, his ship, and his new set of skills, it is time to return to England and settle old scores.  First stop will be the wedding of Lionel and Rosamond because who doesn’t love a wedding crasher?

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I really enjoyed this film and found myself caught up in the action.  The sea battles are worthy of anything made today, and are actually all the more impressive for the lack of CGI and the use of real full-sized ships.  The story itself is exciting and thrilling with only a few moments that tend to lag a bit.  For me, the love story was a little bit like an afterthought in some places and there was a moment or two where I wondered how much Rosamond could care for Oliver if she was so willing to believe the worst of him?  What ever happened to stand by your man?  Still, Enid Bennett is quite lovely and give a good performance as the lady love though perhaps she could have used a few more scenes to flesh out her character?  She and Milton Stills have a good chemistry which makes her inner turmoil of whether or not to completely hate Oliver more believable.

There is also a nice examination of culture and character, the pious Spanish and English often coming off as judgmental and cruel, while the Algerians are shown with little stereotyping and as throughly devout.  It is a good backdrop in which to question the truth of men’s characters and ambitions.  Being made in 1924 you can almost feel the excitement of the filmmakers in the chance to portray such exotic and foreign places, as well as historical times.  The costumes and scenery are lush and beautifully done, looking far more authentic than many films made today.

This is my first time seeing Milton Sills and I am now a full-fledged fan, happily inducted into the club thanks to Fritzi.  He plays the part of Oliver as a man of conflicts but also with heart and passion.  He flip-flops between loyalties and cultures without coming off as wishy-washy or indecisive.  The character of Sir Oliver Tressilian is one of a man of differences that are each fighting to find their place in his character.  Is he a pirate or a gentleman?  A warrior or a lord?  A lover or a man bent on revenge?  With everything that happens to him you can’t help but sympathize with his constantly shifting perspectives and loyalties, after all how can he be expected to settle on one thing or another when everything he holds dear and trusts in is taken away when he needs it most?  Milton Sills is not a name that is terribly well-known today which is a shame because he is such a terrific actor.  His pure energy comes out of the screen and carries us along, veering expertly between a hero and a villain.  Yes, there are some moments of overly emotional acting but those are few and far between, and for the most part Sills puts on a performance that made me want to see more of his films.  Unfortunately, Sills died at the early age of forty-eight of a heart attack, and very few of his films have survived and made the transition to home video.  The Warner Archive has done a great job in restoring THE SEA HAWK and added a terrific score to go along with it, making it a perfect introduction to an actor who deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.

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!