The Great Villain Blogathon: THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)

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

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Off the coast of South America a passenger yacht is passing a pleasant evening.  The captain is growing concerned in the navigation room as the channel lights, marking reefs and dangerous rocks, are not corresponding with the known charts.  He goes below to ask for permission to change course which is denied by the wealthy passengers.  The men, including hunter and author Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea), want to make good time and reach their destinations as soon as possible.  This soon becomes impossible as the vessel runs aground on some rocks and all souls on board are lost.  All save one.

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Rainsford surfaces on an island, one that was thought to be uninhabited, and turning back sees the channel lights change position again.  It would appear that someone was intentionally sabotaging nearby ships.  Making his way inland, Rainsford comes across a large mansion which turns out to be the home of Russian Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks).  Zaroff is  sympathetic to Rainsford’s plight as it is apparently a common occurrence.  Currently there are four other shipwreck survivors staying with him, two sailors and a brother and sister.  Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother, and liquor enthusiast, Martin (Robert Armstrong) were rescued along with the two sailors but they haven’t seen their companions in several days.  The men disappeared after being invited to hunt with Count Zaroff, although their host assures them that they are simply busy hunting.

That evening the Count regales Rainsford with stories of his hunting prowess and growing boredom with the lack of challenging prey.  He gloats that he has solved this problem by finding something new to hunt.  He goes on to tell Rainsford that on this island he hunts, “the most dangerous game”.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is based on a short story by Richard Connell and is the only adaptation to use the original characters.  This is not to say that the film doesn’t make a few changes.  For one, the addition of Eve and her brother was a change made for the film. I read the short story when I was in high school and in the original story Rainsford travels with a friend to South America to hunt jaguars and falls overboard after hearing gunshots from the nearby island.  Swimming to the island he is made the guest of Count Zaroff and his mute servant Ivan.  These are the only three people on the island and it definitely adds to the feeling of isolation and desperation that Rainsford goes through as the story progresses.  I will say that the addition of the brother and sister, while it is useful as a plot device in helping Rainsford discover the truth of Zaroff’s dangerous new prey, for me took away from the overall sense of paranoia and doom that the original story had.  And Fay Wray is in full on damsel in distress mode which I will say made me think more than once that maybe, just maybe, Joel McCrea should leave her behind for you know…reasons.

But since this is a villain event let’s talk about Count Zaroff.  This was Leslie Banks’ first important film role and he does quite well with it.  Leslie Banks is notable for having received a facial injury during World War I.  The injury left scarring and paralysis on the left side of his face, a fact that he actually used to his advantage during his acting career.  When playing lighter and more romantic roles he would turn his right side toward the camera and when playing the villain he would turn the left.

The Count Zaroff of the film felt a bit different from the Count Zaroff of the story.  In the short story Zaroff comes across much more, oh what’s the word, insane.  I mean he is scary insane.  The sort of insane that believes itself sane.  The Count Zaroff in the film is nuts to be sure but he seems more interested in inflicting pain and fear than furthering his rhetoric.  There is also a whole storyline involving Eve and the ecstasy of “love” after the hunt, infer at will, which is not part of the original story.  This little wrinkle adds a more predictable layer to Zaroff, making him a bit more like your ordinary villain and less like an unpredictable madman.  For all the differences, Leslie Banks is quite good in this role.  He brings a fun and charisma to Zaroff during the early scenes that make him charming and intriguing, and a dangerous edge to later ones that add to his menace.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is a very short film, only sixty-three minutes, so the actual hunt only makes up about twenty minutes.  But even in that short time we get a sense of evil from Zaroff that begs the question, who is the most dangerous animal?

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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.

 

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: THE CRASH (1932)

This summer has been so chocked full of things to do that I have been remiss about posting about some of the films that I have seen.  I did manage to watch three films from my list (Ten Films for 2015) including MILDRED PIERCE and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, but I haven’t been able to sit down and blog the way I would like to.  So allow me to remedy that by talking about THE CRASH from 1932, a recommendation from Kristina of Speakeasy.

In the later part of the 1920s, Linda Gault (Ruth Chatterton) uses her feminine charms to help get stock tips for her financier husband, Geoffrey (George Brent).  She carries on affairs with various men of power in the banking world and returns home with insider trading information.  Linda has decided to end her affair with one such banker, John Fair, seeming to grow tired of being used and abused in this way.  However Geoffrey has other plans and begs Linda to charm John once more at a party, hoping for more information about the state of the stock market.  Linda is hurt, feeling betrayed by Geoffrey’s cavalier use of her assets and his lack of concern for her.  Perhaps it is because of this that she is unable to fool John Fair into believing that she is still in love with him.  John refuses to part with any insider secrets but when Geoffrey asks Linda what she has learned she tells him a small lie that will destroy everything.

The market crashes soon after, causing Geoffrey and Linda to loose everything.  Linda has feared this event, having spent her childhood in deep poverty.  Not wishing to live in a manner other than that to which she has become accustomed, Linda convinces Geoffrey to allow her to go to Bermuda with a letter of credit.  She promises to return once Geoffrey regains his former wealth and glory.  This begins to take much longer than either of them expected and Linda becomes bored.  Never one to sit around at home, Linda soon meets Ronnie Sanderson (Paul Cavanagh) an honest-to-God Australian sheep rancher.

Linda and Ronnie begin spending a lot of time together and Ronnie falls in love with Linda.  He often asks her to come away with him but she refuses believing that Australia will be “boring”.  But that all changes when she finds out that Geoffrey has lost everything and her maid has stolen her pearl necklace.  Soon Linda must return to New York and to Geoffrey to not only get her necklace back, but to get a divorce as well.

This was an interesting little film for sure.  Being a pre-code it packs quite a bit into a very short run time and the story definitely moves.  Not too much time is spent building up character background but there is still a good sense of Ruth and Geoffrey’s relationship.  George Brent is quite good as the husband who clearly loves his wife but has no idea how to get the large amounts of money needed to keep her happy, aside from using her to get insider information.  He doesn’t want Ruth to leave him to go to Bermuda, fearing what will become of him once she is gone and not around to help him.  He loves her deeply, and surprisingly even though he has pushed Linda to have affairs in the past he never suspects her of having an affair on her own.

Ruth Chatterton is an interesting combination of fierceness and defeat.  She loves Geoffrey but is tired of using herself to get information.  She feels cheap and worthless being the mistress of so many men with nothing but encouragement from her husband.  The sense I got from her portrayal was that she is so hurt and saddened by Geoffrey’s continued encouragement of her affairs that she decides to lie simply to hurt him and perhaps dissuade him from future encouragement.  She lives her life after that moment in guilt, anger, and fear believing that since she was able to escape poverty once before by using her wiles that she must do so once again to regain what she has lost.

All in all this was an interesting an unique look at the effects of affairs and financial ruin on a marriage.  Thanks to Kristina for the suggestion!

More Classic Crafting and Decoupage

The lovely Karen over at Shadows and Satin is awesome, we know this. So when she said she would be interested in a decoupage notebook, something pre-code or noir, I wanted to make something as awesome as she is! Here is what I came up with:

  
It’s a pre-code and noir decoupage mashup! I am happy with how it came out and I hope Karen will enjoy it! This bad boy will be whisking his way to his new home soon…but if you like what you see let me know and maybe we can create a mashup just for you!

The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon: CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933)

This post is part of The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry!  Check out all the other entries here!

Warning!  This blog entry will discuss various plot points and the ending of the film in question.  There will be advance warning before the ending is revealed but in order to have good discussion of the film I feel that the main points of the plot need to be revealed.  

It is a fine evening out in England and the lovely young socialites and their lovers are having a treasure hunt.  The instigator of this event is Carrie Valentin, aunt to Monica Strong (Helen Chandler).  Monica is having a grand time at the party with her married boyfriend, Harry Rawlinson (Ralph Forbes), and is all set to win the grand prize of a sable scarf when Aunt Carrie announces that there is a problem.  It seems that the scavenger hunt was too easy and there are too many winners so there is a bonus item.  The party guests must find a truly faithful husband and a women over twenty who has never had a love affair.  Monica knows just who to bring and rushes home to get her father, the parliamentary leader Sir Christopher Strong (Colin Clive).  Harry meanwhile steals a motorcycle and rushes off to find the female counterpart to the final item and ends up colliding with her on the motorway.  Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn) is a renowned aviatrix and has also never had a lover or a love affair.

Back at the party Christopher and Cynthia share their respective stories and help Harry and Monica claim their prizes.  Cynthia agrees to dine with Monica and Christopher later in the week, and then takes her leave to head to the airfield for an early morning flight.  Cynthia soon becomes a great friend to Monica and begins spending a great deal of time at the home of Christopher and his wife Elaine (Billie Burke).  Elaine begins to have some misgivings at the growing closeness of Cynthia and Christopher but she remains silent, convincing herself that her husband loves her and that will be enough.  Christopher meanwhile finds himself more and more drawn to Cynthia, who is the complete opposite of Elaine.  Her single-mindedness and determination draw Christopher to her in spite of his love for his wife.  Cynthia has also begun to develop feelings of her own and begun to fall in love with Christopher.

Monica meanwhile is running wild with Harry, who is still married.  Elaine finally steps in and forbids her daughter from seeing him any longer.  Harry agrees to take time apart from Monica, much to her chagrin, and leaves the house to return to his wife.  Monica is devastated and hurries off to her room where she remains for some time.  The family takes their annual trip to Cannes, with Elaine going ahead to get the house ready.  She cannot wait for the arrival of her husband, delighted at the prospect of finally having him all to herself again.  But to her dismay she receives a telegram informing her that not only are Christopher and Monica coming to join her but they are bringing a surprise guest in the form of Cynthia.

One night the entire family go to yet another party hosted by Aunt Carrie.  At the party Elaine watches with increasing unease as Christopher and Cynthia glide around the dance floor.  She complains of a headache and takes her leave of the party.  Monica has found a swarthy young man to occupy her time and she manages to leave with him, with her father’s blessing surprisingly.  But Christopher is blind to all dangers to his daughter’s honor in is now single-minded desire to be alone with Cynthia.  Christopher and Cynthia take a moonlit boat ride and it is here that they finally confess their love for each other.  Upon their return they decide that they must not pursue their relationship any further and part with a kiss.  Unfortunately, Elaine cannot hear what is being said and can only watch in despair as her husband kisses another woman.

Cynthia keeps her word and stays away from the Strong family, that is until Monica appears on her doorstep.  She is determined to kill herself because Harry, who is now divorced from his wife, refuses to marry her after finding out about her dalliance in France.  Cynthia convinces her to reconsider her suicide plan, which Monica finally agrees to, before hurrying off to attempt an around the world flight from England to New York.  After a grueling and deadly competition, Cynthia is declared the winner and she returns to New York exhausted.  While in her hotel she receives a call from Christopher who is desperate to see her.  That night she hosts him in her hotel room and they consummate their affair.  The couple now begins seeing each other in earnest, much to Elaine’s increasing despair, and Cynthia agrees to give up her high-flying and dangerous life style.

Warning to anyone who doesn’t want to know the ending of the film!  This would be the time to stop reading!

Things are happy for a time, but nothing lasts forever.  Monica and Harry are now married and expecting their first child.  Going out to lunch at one of their old haunts they spot Christopher and Cynthia having an intimate moment in the back corner.  That night at a party celebrating their upcoming blessed event, Monica denounces the affair to Cynthia and warns her that she will confront Christopher later that evening so as not to hurt her mother.  She ends her friendship with Cynthia and Cynthia takes this as her cue to leave.  On her way out, Cynthia is stopped by Elaine who wishes to thank Cynthia for what she did to save Monica from her suicide which has led to their present happiness.  Later that night Cynthia is waiting for Christopher to come to her apartment for dinner when she receives a note instead.  Christopher is remaining home with his family to toast the health of his new grandchild but promises that he will join her the following evening.  Cynthia goes to her desk and writes a note to Christopher  in which reveals that she too is pregnant.  She does not send the note and the next evening she and Christopher are sitting in front of the fire.  Cynthia asks Christopher if he would marry her, at the expense of his family and his happiness, if she was pregnant.  Christopher says that of course he would, but they don’t have to worry about that do they?

As the early light creeps in, Cynthia sneaks out of the house to take part in a dangerous aeronautical test.  In an attempt to climb to 3500 feet, she climbs into her plane and readies her oxygen mask.  On the table in her home is the note to Christopher with a new postscript in which she says that courage conquers love and that she hopes he will understand when she doesn’t come back.  Taking off from the airfield Cynthia begins to climb higher and higher into the sky.  As she climbs, Cynthia sees the faces of the people that she has loved and hurt, and remembers the moments spent with Christopher.  Tears stream down her face and in her emotional turmoil she rips off her oxygen mask.  Too late does she attempt to recover from her mistake and she blacks out.  The plane plummets to the earth and erupts into a fiery wreck, killing her.  Sometime later a statue is erected in Cynthia’s honor with a plaque that reads HER LIFE AND COURAGE INSPIRED US ALL.

This is such an interesting film with so many fascinating aspects to possibly discuss.  This is the first leading role for Katharine Hepburn and the only time she ever played “the other woman”.  This is also the film that gets the most credit for the development of the “Katharine Hepburn persona”, the independent, slightly masculine, non-conformist attitude that would become a staple of Katharine Hepburn’s career.  It was directed by a woman, Dorothy Arzner, as well as written by one, Zoe Akins.  And there is also the sad tale of Helen Chandler and her descent into alcoholism.  Lest we forget this is also a pre-code film so there are two extramarital affairs, one out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and a fiery death scene all in seventy-seven minutes.  So when it came time to write this blog post I decided it was best to narrow things down and focus on two topics.  One being the possible parallels between this film and Katharine Hepburn’s own love life, and the other being the ending.

The ending of this film deserves a moment or two of discussion.  My main issue was did Cynthia go up in order to commit suicide?  I am not so sure.  I know that in her note she tells Christopher that she isn’t coming back, but I wonder if she was simply planning on leaving and raising their child on her own.  After spending time to convince Monica that she shouldn’t kill herself, to then go and do the exact opposite seems a little odd.  And Cynthia never seemed to be the sort to just want to end it all.  I think that she realized that Christopher was never going to leave his family, that she would always be the mistress.  She knows that Monica hates her now and that Elaine will soon know everything.  She knows that Christopher would marry her if she told him she was pregnant but that it would ruin their love for each other because he would only do it out of duty and not because he wanted to.  And then there is the matter of giving up her aviatrix career.  Before they are discovered by Monica, Cynthia was telling Christopher that she was feeling that she wanted to go back to flying and doing what she loved.  She missed having that purpose and independence, and she hated the idea of becoming a woman just waiting all day for her man to come home.  Having thought of all this, the idea that this strong, single-minded, independent, fiery woman would go out and commit suicide to spare her lover having to marry her doesn’t quite make sense to me.  I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t planning to go out and attempt the altitude climb to start her career again before going out into the world to live her life with her child.  She is looking back on what has transpired and realizes that she has lost friends, hurt people, and will never see the man she loves ever again.  Her emotions take hold and she can’t breathe so she rips the mask off.  We can see the shock and panic when she realizes her mistake and tries desperately to get the mask back on but it is too late.  Why bother to try to get the mask back on if your intention was to take it off?  In my mind the character of Cynthia is complex and vibrant, and perhaps this is why I can’t quite wrap my head around the apparent suicide.

I tend to think that Katharine Hepburn put a lot of herself and her own personal experiences into this role.  In fact, the scene where Christopher calls her hotel room after her world flight closely mirrored when Howard Hughes returned from his global flight and called his girlfriend, Katharine Hepburn.  The character of Cynthia is uninterested in men for the most part, preferring instead to keep her mind focused on other matters such as her flying career.  She tells Christopher that they are both different from most people and that is why they are attracted to each other.  I can only imagine that this might have been close to something Katharine Hepburn would have felt in her life.  She was a truly unique and independent person and not prone to flights of fancy.  Looking at two of her great loves, Spencer Tracy and yes Howard Hughes, we can see that this men are also unique and independent.  The sense of resigned loneliness that is in Cynthia when we first meet her, a feeling that yes she is lonely and wishes to experience love but that she has decided to put that behind her to pursue her goals, seems to be an honest emotion coming from Katharine Hepburn herself.  I wonder if that is why she seemed to take on the persona of Cynthia Harrington over the rest of her career, because maybe she felt that this woman was not only close to who she was but also someone who she wanted to be.


If you want to read more about this terrific movie, Danny at Pre-Code.com has a great post as does The Great Katharine Hepburn!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching With Warner: FROM HEADQUARTERS (1930)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s your problem right there…

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

Time to talk Lou Ann…

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

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

Miriam Hopkins Blogathon: TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932)

When I signed up to take part in the Miriam Hopkins blogathon I wanted to pick a film that I had never seen before.  Luckily, I had just picked up a copy of the Criterion Edition of Ernst Lubitsch’s TROUBLE IN PARADISE.  I actually watched this film twice this week, once to get an idea for my blog post and again to show it to my husband because it is just so good!  This is a precode romantic comedy, starring Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis, and of course Miriam Hopkins.  It also has a great supporting cast of various character actors including, Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton.

In the city of Venice a man has been robbed.  Francois Fileba (Edward Everett Horton) has had his wallet lightened of 20,000 francs by a very charming doctor who asked to inspect his tonsils.  Meanwhile, in another room the Baron awaits his countess. When she arrives, the countess is worried about the scandal that might break out should the marquis tell the marquis that she was there.  Luckily for all of Venice’s royalty, the Baron and the Countess are liars.  They are in fact, both thieves named Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Once they each discover the other’s true identity they also realize that while their royals ties were fake, their love for each other is real.  They fall into each other’s arms and put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.

Almost one year later Gaston and Lily are still in Paris and still in love.  Speaking of love, Madame Colet (Kay Francis) has a problem.  She has two men in love with her, but she doesn’t care for them at all.  Day after day she is pursued by the Major (Charles Ruggles) and Monsieur Fileba, much to her annoyance.  The two men hate each other and bicker all the time.  In fact, they are bickering the night that Madam Colet goes to the opera with her new handbag.  The handbag is covered in diamonds and cost 125,000 francs, so naturally it attracts the attention of Gaston.  During the course of the opera, Gaston manages to steal the bag and escape into the night.  The next day Lily finds a notice about the missing handbag and the 20,000 franc reward.  As the reward is more than what they would get selling the bag, Gaston goes to Madam Colet’s home to return the stolen property.  He presents himself as a “nouveau poor” named Gaston LuValle and sets about charming Madam Colet.  She is quite taken with this gentleman and as she has no head for business herself, decides to take him on as her secretary.  Once Gaston realizes that Madam Colet has 100,000 francs in her personal safe he sets about planning to embezzle as much money as possible.

Now positioned as personal secretary to Madam Colet, Gaston begins to influence every aspect of her life.  From lipstick color, to no potatoes for breakfast, to exercise routines, he controls it all.  He also has an effect on her finances and increases her insurance against burglary to 850,000 francs, just in case.  Meanwhile, Lily has taken a job as Gaston’s secretary with the name of Votier.  One day, while typing a letter to the bank requesting that 850,000 francs be delivered to the house at the end of the month, Lily is summoned to speak to Madam Colet.  Sitting beside Madam Colet’s bed, and sitting on her hands, Lily eyes the box of jewelry and listens as Madam Colet expresses her desire for Gaston to work less.  She asks Lily to help with the work load in order to free up Gaston’s time, but she makes sure that Lily will still be leaving promptly at 5PM everyday.  And just to make sure she increases Lily’s salary by fifty francs.  Back in her room Lily is furious and when Gaston asks what Madam Colet wanted, she replies “You!”

Lily warns Gaston that she loves him as a crook, that he can do anything, rob, cheat, swindle, but whatever he does don’t “become one of those good for nothing gigolos!”.  So warned, Gaston allows Madam Colet to invite him out to dinner and dancing.  She begins to fall in love with him, and it appears he begins to develop feelings as well.  Over the next few weeks, Madam Colet introduces him to her social set which includes Francois Fileba.  While Fileba attempts to remember where he met Gaston before, Gaston runs upstairs to warn Lily.  The two decide that they must flee Paris that night and make plans to meet at midnight after Lily has cleaned their apartment and Gaston has dealt with Madam Colet.  Lily hurries off and Gaston is confronted by Fileba who asks if he has ever been to Venice,  Gaston denies it and counters by asking if Fileba has ever been to Constantinople.  Confused, Fileba is distracted by Gaston’s charm and tales of harems and leaves mollified.

That night, while Lily packs, Gaston hears a knock on his door and finds Madam Colet outside.  She looks lovely, dressed to attend a dinner party that night, and proceeds to flirt with Gaston which he does not resist.  The two kiss and soon close the door to the office, leaving the car to wait outside.  Some time later, Madam Colet prepares to leave for her engagement while Gaston asks her not to go.  She smiles, saying she wants to make it tough for him, but promises to return at 11PM for a rendezvous.  Lily is anxiously awaiting Gaston’s call to come to the station to meet him but is shocked when he calls instead to tell her that they must postpone their departure until the next day.  Smelling a rat, and suspecting a secret love affair, Lily heads off to Madam Colet’s residence.  Meanwhile, Madam Colet has just been informed that Fileba has remembered where he met Gaston before and who her charming secretary really is.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE is my definition of a perfect movie.  The writing is sublime, funny and intelligent as only an Ernst Lubitsch film can be.  Written by Samson Raphaelson and directed by Ernst Lubitsch this film is what every romantic comedy today should strive to be.  People often speak about “The Lubitsch Touch”, the ability of these movies to show the viewer just enough to get the point across and then trust the audience to figure the rest out.  In other words, Lubitsch treats the audience like adults which is something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days.

Herbert Marshall is fabulous and I would be quite content if he would come and read me the phone book all day.  His character of Gaston is sublimely charming and suave, and you truly get the sense of how much he loves Lily as well as being tempted by the lovely Madam Colet.  Speaking of Madam Colet, Kay Francis lives up to her name as the “best dressed woman in Hollywood”.  She looks stunning and plays the role of the rich widow with grace and elegance, as well as childlike innocence and womanly desire.  I have not had the privilege of seeing many of her other films but I will make a point to now.  But let us now get to the main attraction of this film, and indeed this blog post, and talk about the fabulous Miriam Hopkins.

This was Miriam Hopkins’ second film with Ernst Lubitsch, the first being THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, but this would be her breakout role.  And no wonder!  Her portrayal of Lily is a supreme example of wit, charm, and intelligence.  From what I have read, in real life Miriam Hopkins was extremely well read, intelligent, and charming so I like to think that the character of Lily is close to her true personality, minus the burglary.  Lily is totally in love with Gaston, but she doesn’t allow that to make her into a side kick or second banana.  Instead she acts like, and expects to be treated like, his equal just as clever, slick, and charming as he is.  This scene in which they discover their true identities is great, not only for the brilliant acting and writing but because it clearly demonstrates who each of the characters are.  Lily is amused by Gaston’s antics but is just as tricky as he is, and when it comes to her garter she is surprised but amused as well which I think speaks to her maturity and security in herself as a woman. (Note that the sound doesn’t come in until about fourteen seconds in)

Lily is a woman in every sense of the word.  She is clever, self-possessed, and knows what she wants.  I also loved how Miriam Hopkins shows Lily’s jealousy in a very mature way.  Lily is quite obviously jealous of the attention that Madam Colet shows Gaston but she doesn’t let it out in the typical Hollywood way.  There are no elaborate schemes, no bouts of crying and stomping feet, no passive aggressive comments.  Instead, Lily is very upfront with Gaston telling him that she knows what he is and she loves him as that but if he goes after Madam Colet she will wring his neck and she isn’t wiling to stick around with someone who doesn’t love her.  She knows what is what, she knows that Madam Colet wants Gaston and she probably even knows that Gaston is attracted to Madam Colet.  She also knows that she is a thief and that Gaston is a thief, and she makes no apologies for that.  This is what is so different about the character of Lily as compared to the romantic comedies today, and even some of the past.  Lily is written as a woman, a grown up, and Miriam Hopkins portrays her as such.

Miriam Hopkins is an actress that I am growing in appreciation for after first seeing her in DESIGN FOR LIVING and THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE.  She is an actress that I always enjoy watching because she has such a wonderful onscreen presence.  She always brings a quality to her roles that makes it seem as if you could meet these characters in the real world, and that you would like to.  She is what I would call a charming actress, in that she brings a quality to her roles that makes them irresistable and unforgettable.  Her smile seems to tell of several stories she could tell, not all of them suitable for mixed company. She has a sparkle in her eye and she brings that to her acting.  I truly enjoyed this masterful film and the actress who inspired this blogathon!