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.

 

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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

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE CITADEL (1938)

Have you ever had a movie just suck you in?  You sit down, not intending on watching a movie, and all of a sudden two hours have gone by and you are left wondering what happened.  That happened to me yesterday, while TCM was airing a Robert Donat birthday tribute and I sat down to take a short break after lunch.  I watched the end of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (a fantastic movie by the way) and fully intended to get up and do something else when THE CITADEL came on.

Andrew Mason (Robert Donat) is a Scottish born idealistic new physician, who has recently come to work in a Welsh mining town as apprentice to a Dr. Page.  Life is not wholly pleasant for Andrew as the town is sorely lacking in updated medical supplies, rife with superstitious townsfolk, and Dr. Page’s wife is a pain.  She forces Andrew to work for almost no money and gives him a tiny room to live in.  The townsfolk are initially standoffish of the new doctor but once Andrew saves an apparently still-born baby, they warm to him and make him into a hero, much to Mrs. Page’s dismay.  It is around this time that Andrew makes friends with Denny (Ralph Richardson), a fellow doctor who likes his drink a little too much, and meets the local school teacher Christine Barlow (Rosalind Russell).  Denny is attracted to Christine but is too shy to approach her romantically.

Andrew soon hears about a nearby town in need of a new doctor and he eagerly applies for the post.  The committee is willing to hire him but they are only offering the position to married men.  Andrew quickly says that he is engaged to be married, once he gets a position of course, and the committee offer him the job.  Andrew accepts and then goes to find Christine.  He tells her about his problem and how he needs to find a wife.  Christine tells him to go and tell the committee that there are no problems with his application and the two are soon married.  Both soon realize that they are in love and being their life together.  In their new home Andrew begins making waves by not being anything like the old town doctor, namely by not giving the patients what they want without a medical reason.  He also realizes that many of the miners are affected by a mysterious lung ailment.  He begins to do research, helped by Christine, and soon comes to the realization that the miners are contracting tuberculosis due to the dust in the mines.  He sets about writing a paper to submit to medical journals and is soon attracting the attention of fellow physicians for his forward thinking and advances.

But the townspeople are becoming suspicious of Andrew for just those reasons and they soon take action.  One morning, Christine comes rushing into Andrew’s office to tell him that all their work has been destroyed by a mob who rushed into their home.  Angered and hurt, Andrew resigns his position and takes Christine to London.  There Andrew sets up a practice and hopes to soon be caring for more appreciative clientele.  Unfortunately this is not to be and Andrew is soon left selling his own possessions in order to make ends meet, and piercing the ears of less than fashionable women.  One day Andrew and Christine go out to lunch at a local Italian restaurant, run by Mrs. Orlando and her daughter Anna.  Mrs. Orlando treats the couple kindly, having been their only friend during their time in London, and Anna shows them her new dance steps.  Lunch is scarcely begun though when Andrew is summoned to a local department store where a young woman appears to be having a seizure.  Andrew clears the room and helps the woman onto the couch.  When she starts screaming and crying again, Andrew slaps her as he has realized that she is simply putting on an act and not having a seizure at all.

The young woman’s name is Toppy Leroy (Penelope Dudley Ward), one of the richest women in London, and she asks Andrew to see her home where she offers him a drink to celebrate.  Andrew declines and heads for the elevator where he runs into Dr. Lawford (Rex Harrison), an old medical school friend.  Lawford invites Andrew to come and see some patients with him at a fashionable nursing home.  Andrew agrees and is soon caught up in the world of high-end private practice.  His days are full of golf outings and consultations which require no great medical effort on his part. Christine is suspicious about the sudden influx of cash for little work, but Andrew dismisses her worries.  In fact, Andrew has become more and more distant lately and has even begun having an affair with Toppy.  Christine is worried about Andrew and so, when he asks where she would like to go to lunch one day, takes him back to Mrs. Orlando’s kitchen.  On their way there the couple runs into Denny and the three go to lunch, where they find Mrs. Orlando but no Anna.  She tells them that Anna is sick with a lung disease but Andrew barely acknowledges this.

Denny begins to tell Andrew his new plans for an affordable care clinic for the people in the small villages and asks Andrew to come and work with him.  Andrew turns him down and asks Denny where he will get his money from, especially if he will care for people for free.  Denny is disenchanted by the changes he sees in Andrew, and though he has managed to stay sober for some time, goes out drinking.  He returns later that day, thoroughly soused, and tells Andrew exactly what he thinks of him before turning and hurrying out into the street.  Christine looks out the window in their apartment and sees an automobile accident occur.  Horrified she realizes that it is Denny who has been struck and Andrew runs to the scene.

This movie was nominated for four Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.  Once again, King Vidor takes a story of ordinary people and makes it into something extraordinary.  I literally could not turn this movie off and had to sit there and watch it all the way through.  The story is so well done, so absorbing, but also so real and affecting.  The story of a medical man struggling to keep his ideals and scientific curiosity in a field where money and social-climbing are becoming more the norm definitely hit home for me, a former nurse.

Rosalind Russell is wonderful in this film, quite different from we are used to seeing her.  So often in her roles, Rosalind Russell is just a little edgier, tougher, louder, brasher, and more energetic than other leading ladies.  But this film really gives her a chance to be a more reserved and gentle character, to portray a woman who loves her husband deeply and quietly and much more realistically than is usually shown.  But the one who really steals this movie is Robert Donat.

I have loved Robert Donat since I first saw him in THE 39 STEPS.  There was a special quality about him that was so different from most other leading men, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  But I think after watching THE CITADEL I might have a better idea.  I think it is because he is kind.  There is an element of kindness and humbleness to him that comes through in so many of his performances, and it does again here.  Andrew is a kind man, who even when he becomes angry and speaks forcefully will still remember to say “Thank you for letting me speak” and “Good day”.  He is idealistic without being naive, his excitement and desire to help and heal people coming through without seeming to be contrived.  And that is what makes his fall into the superficial world of fashionable private practice all the more devastating.  To see a man who had such ideals fall so far away from that which he once held dear, shows so clearly how badly his trust and his heart must have been betrayed by the actions of the fearful townspeople.  As I said before, there is a kindness to Robert Donat and a humbleness that makes him so watchable and so wonderful.  He is an actor that suffered greatly from anxiety and shyness, perhaps so much so that it ended his career and possibly his life far too soon.  This film is a true testament to the great talent of an actor who deserves to be known not only for his career but his spirit and soul, because when Robert Donat acts that is what he gives each and every time.


If you want to learn more about Robert Donat, Meredith over at Vitaphone Dreamer has written a fantastic profile of him!  Also, there is an entire site devoted to Robert Donat so definitely go and check it out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching With Warner: THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944)

Another fantastic offering from the Warner Archive, and another installment in my month-long Warner watch-a-thon!  This time it is THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, a truly wonderful film from the brilliant mind of Preston Sturges.  The miracle of this film just might be that he managed to get it past the censors because this is one of the most pre-code post-code movies I have seen!

Governor McGinty, played by Brian Donlevy, (an inside joke for you Preston Sturges fans) is in his office just before Christmas when he receives a frantic call from the editor of a newspaper in a little town called Morgan’s Creek.  He has a fantastical tale to relate to the governor, and when the governor finds out what the story is about he calls all his advisors and aides to his office immediately to hear the story.  The editor begins his tale…

The Morgan’s Creek newspapers are full of warnings about the dangers of young women and soldiers having a good time.  Beware the horror of the wartime marriage!  After reading this the town policeman, Officer Kockenlocker (William Demarest), decides that there is no way that his daughter is going out to the farewell dance for the soldiers that night!  His eldest daughter, Trudy (Betty Hutton), is devastated by his refusal but soon comes up with a plan.  She believes that it is her patriotic duty to go out and support the boys, so she enlists the help of her childhood friend Norville (Eddie Bracken).  Poor homely, stuttering, Norville is in love with Trudy but is unable to impress her by enlisting because of his blood pressure.  Trudy had already turned Norville down for a date earlier that morning, so he is beyond thrilled when she calls up and tells him that she changed her mind.  He is still thrilled when he picks her up and says good-bye to her father and younger sister, Emmy (Diana Lynn), and drives to the local movie theater.  He becomes decidedly less thrilled when Trudy reveals her true intentions and asks Norville to wait for her in the theater while she goes to the dance alone.  He finally agrees and even lets Trudy take his car, intending to stay at the theater until 1AM when the last picture is finished.  Trudy happily drives off and is soon having the time of her life at the dance.  However, just one farewell dance is not enough and Trudy goes to not one, not two, but three parties with the soldiers.  Dancing and drinking lemonade everything is going wonderfully until Trudy accidentally jitterbugs into a chandelier.  The next thing she knows it is 8AM and she has just arrived at the theater to get Norville, who keeps implying that she is drunk even though she never had a drink before in her life!  She cannot remember anything about the night before or where she has been, and poor Norville is forced to take the brunt of her father’s anger upon their late return.

It’s just lemonade! Isn’t it?

Later, while taking off her party clothes, Trudy is chatting with Emmy when all of a sudden she has a flash and remembers someone mentioning something about getting married.  The two sisters laugh off the thought until they look down at Trudy’s ring finger.  Desperate to remember who it was she married, Trudy tries to come up with a name but all she can get was that it had a Z in it…sort of like “Ratzkiwatzki”.  When Emmy suggests that they simply go and look up the license Trudy remembers that everyone used a fake name, making it impossible to find out the truth!  Things go from bad to worse when, sometime later, Trudy comes out of the doctor’s office with the news that she is pregnant.  Emmy and Trudy try to come up with a plan of what to do, even going to the local attorney to try to get the marriage deemed illegal.  Unfortunately, even though neither party used their real names and Trudy has no idea who her husband is the marriage is indeed legal.  Emmy now comes up with a new plan and it again involves Norville.  Even though up until now Trudy has resisted Norville’s advances, Emmy now tells her to encourage them as Norville is the perfect candidate to marry Trudy.  Initially resistant to the idea, after all it is bigamy isn’t it, Trudy finally agrees and invites Norville over for dinner.

After a lovely meal with the family, Emmy and her father go off to clear the dishes while Trudy and Norville go out on the front porch to talk.  Trudy hints to Norville that she is open to the idea of marrying him at last and Norville, devoted to Trudy since childhood, is stunned.  He eventually takes the hint and proposes, and then promptly falls off the front porch.  Touched by Norville’s kindness and goodness of heart, Trudy refuses to deceive him any further and tells him everything.  Shocked at first, Norville reiterates his desire to marry Trudy but she refuses.  Now Trudy has begun to see the real Norville and has fallen in love with him for real.  Because of her love, she will not marry him and make him a party to bigamy.  By this time, however, rumors have begun to swirl throughout the small town and these rumors soon make their way back to Trudy’s father.  Unaware of Trudy’s true situation, Officer Kockenlocker uses all of his fatherly talents (and his service revolver) to help convince Norville to propose.

Having recovered from his “talk” with his future father-in-law, Norville now has a flash of brilliance!  Marriage by proxy!  Or at least something like that.  In order for Trudy to get a divorce from Ratzkiwatzki she needs a marriage license with the right names on it.  Norville goes about gathering the needed supplies, ring, money, and military uniform (which appears to be from the time of the rough riders), and returns that evening to retrieve Trudy.  Under the guise of a normal date, the two make their way to the Honeymoon Hotel just about twenty-five miles outside of Morgan’s Creek.  Once there the two begin the ceremony of getting married but when the time comes to sign the license there is a problem.  Trudy has signed her rightful name and Norville has signed his, but has told the proprietor that his name is Ratzkiwatzki.  The man now believes that Norville has kidnapped Trudy and is marrying her against her will, and promptly draws a gun.  Calling to his wife to phone the police, Trudy and Norville are warned not to move.  Imagine the surprise of Emmy and her father when Norville and Trudy return from their date in the back of a squad car, escorted by a bevy of police.

Daughters!

This was a movie that I had heard mentioned several times but had never seen.  And yes, I will admit, I am late to the party but this is a fantastic film!  Watching this I was constantly amazed at the cleverness of the script and the acting in its ability to slip things by the censors.  No one ever mentions drinking alcohol, they talk about drinking lemonade.  The first time that Trudy actually says that she is going to have a baby isn’t until about three-quarters of the way into the film, prior to take it is all done with implications and knowing glances.  One of the extra features on the disc from Warner Archive is a short film about Preston Sturges and his circumventing of the Hayes Office when making this film.  Sturges never provided the censors with a completed script, giving them only a few pages at a time which prevented them from seeing some of the racier content in context.  He also played a good game of following the rules to the exact letter and no more.  For example when the censors suggested that a line be changed from “…people aren’t as dirty-minded as when you were a soldier…”, Sturges changed the line to “people aren’t as evil-minded as when you were a solider”.  See?  All fixed!  I think that is part of what makes this film so much fun, because it is an exercise by Sturges in thumbing his nose at the censors and having them thank him in return.  The fact that a film that talks about bigamy, drunken marriage, one night stands, pregnancy, divorce, abortion, and suicide can not only get by the Hayes office but be fun and funny as well speaks to the genius of its creator.  The genius of Preston Sturges is also the subject of a short film which is another bonus feature on the disc.  Speaking of the disc, the film itself looks gorgeous and is just as crisp and clean as you could hope for.  The Warner Archive has done a great job in remastering this film and putting out the disc!

Betty Hutton is hysterical and remarkably self-assured for being only twenty-two at the time this movie was made.  Rumor has it that she and Eddie Bracken were constantly trying to outdo one another when it came to the physical comedy in the film, which lead to some great moments.  In fact, Norville walking through the screen door was a complete ad-lib by Eddie Bracken.  Eddie Bracken was not an actor I was overly familiar with, but his portrayal of Norville certainly won me over.  He is really funny as the stuttering “boy-next-door” but he is more than just a fall guy.  I think that this film works so well because of the terrific cast.  Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, and Diana Lynn (who really steals the show as Emmy) are so great together that you can’t help but loving them and rooting for them.

This was also a film that poked fun at things that you weren’t allowed to make fun of in the movies like the army, the police force, and family life, I think it allowed audiences to see themselves in the story and even laugh at some parts of their own lives.  When this film first came out it was so popular that it was literally standing room only in theaters and no wonder.  They don’t make movies like this any more, but I really wish they did.

Watching with Warner: IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER (1937)

Digges!  Pack the bags!

We are starting my month-long Warner Archive watch-a-thon (OK, I made that word up) with a film that I had never heard of before, but one that once I knew the cast I had to see!  What could be bad about a screwball comedy starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Olivia de Havilland?  Answer; not a thing.

Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) is a famed stage actor who is currently starring in ROMEO AND JUILET with his love, Joyce Arden (Bette Davis).  Unfortunately, this Romeo and Juliet would rather whisper insults and threats to each other rather than sweet nothings.  Up in the balcony, unaware of the sniping below, Marcia West(Olivia de Havilland) is swooning over Basil much to the dismay of her fiancé, Henry Grant (Patric Knowles).  Once Romeo dies the show is over for Marcia, who quickly leaves the private box to wait outside.  Joyce and Basil continue to spit fire at each other until the very end, and continue to argue during the curtain calls.  Back in their respective dressing rooms, each complains to their assistants about the others.  Basil’s long-suffering valet, Digges (Eric Blore), has heard it all before and is not surprised when the talk of hate soon turns again to love.  In spite of everything, Joyce and Basil truly do love each other.  Basil is interrupted by the arrival of a guest to his dressing room.  Marcia has snuck back in order to tell him how ardently she admires him and that he is her ideal man.  Having delivered her message, she promptly leaves again.  Basil is flattered and is now in a better mood and he begins to consider himself as a person.  What has he done of note, what has he given back?  Digges reminds him that most of his so-called charitable works were more self-serving than he would care to admit.  Basil dismisses this line of thought and returns to Joyce.  Joyce, for her part, has decided that she is through with Basil but after he climbs through her window to ultimately wish her a Happy New Year the two reconcile.  In fact they decide, for about the twelfth time, to be married that very evening.  Their happy plans are again interrupted by the arrival of a visitor to Basil’s dressing room.  This time it is Marcia’s fiance Henry, who has come to inform Basil that Marcia is in love with him and he should leave her be.  Basil recalls a play that he once did in which he acted a cad to make a woman fall out of love with him and Henry strikes upon an idea.  Perhaps Basil could re-enact that play with Marcia and cause her to fall in love with Henry again!  Though reluctant at first, Basil sees a chance to do a selfless act and soon agrees.  The only problem is that they would have to leave for Marcia’s house at once, and that will mean postponing the wedding to Joyce yet again.

Joyce is less than pleased with Basil’s sudden change of plans, and since he won’t reveal his true reasons for doing so, believes that he no longer wants to marry her.  Well, two can play that game!  She declares that she would never marry Basil now and storms off, leaving Basil and Digges to drive to Marcia’s estate for a house party.  Upon their arrival, Digges and Basil set about making themselves at home as the two most disagreeable and annoying house guests ever.  The other party members roused from their beds are bleary eyed and confused, but Marcia’s father is seeing red.  He angrily orders that the two leave the house and demands to know who invited them there!  Basil claims that Marcia did, assuming that she will deny the inference and send them on their way, but Marcia is only too happy to oblige in keeping up the ruse.  She is beyond thrilled to have Basil in her home and Digges is instructed to unpack the bags, as this plan is going to take longer than anticipated.  The next morning over breakfast, Basil is introduced to the other guests and sets about making a bore of himself.  He demands kippers when there are none, insults the guests, recites Shakespeare, and finally storms out of the dining room.  Marcia’s family are shocked and demand that this rude man is sent away, but Marcia steps up and reprimands them.  What are manners, she asks, but little rules for little people!  Of course Basil is rude, he is a great star and is too big for such constraints as manners!

Basil continues his reign of terror over the household, even going so far as to insult Marcia’s beauty marks or “moles” which he suggests she removes.  There are two problems with Basil’s plan to make Marcia hate him however.  First, Marcia does not hate him and seems to fall more and more in love with him the more awful he is to her.  And second, Basil is starting to enjoy her attentions much to the concern of Digges who by this time has packed and unpacked the bags so many times he knows the contents by heart.  He takes it upon himself to call the only person who can help Basil at a time like this, his true love Joyce.  That afternoon Basil and Marcia are taking a stroll in the garden when things become much more cozy.  Basil resists for a time but then finally gives in to his desires, and it is at this moment that Joyce appears.  Both Basil and Marcia are shocked, though Basil is secretly thrilled that Joyce has come to help him, but they are further surprised when Joyce introduces herself as Basil’s wife!

This is such a fun screwball comedy, I am surprised it is not more well-known!  Leslie Howard is terrific and it is fun seeing him play a more caddish role, I am so used to seeing him as a quiet gentleman.  He and Bette Davis, reunited from THE PETRIFIED FOREST, are terrific together and their scenes as Romeo and Juliet are a highlight!  Olivia de Havilland is still a year away from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD but you can already see what a terrific actress she is.  She is also great at the comedy, playing the eager fangirl with a gleeful attitude.  Two years in the future she and Leslie Howard would be reunited in GONE WITH THE WIND, and this would be the first of four films that she and Bette Davis would star in together.  In watching this you can see the chemistry of all three leads working together to make this a really standout film.  But for me, the one who really steals the show is Eric Blore.  His character of Digges is the comedic glue holding the whole thing together.  The scenes between him and Basil are some of the best in the entire film.  In fact, I almost wish that there was an entire series of movies about the mis-adventures of Basil and Digges.  There is something of Jeeves and Wooster in them and I loved every moment they were onscreen.

This is a great film from the Warner Archive and I highly recommend it!  It has moments that are reminiscent of TWENTIETH CENTURY, and others that seem to have influenced TO BE OR NOT TO BE.  While this is not a new story, especially for a screwball comedy, it is done with such wit and skill that it never feels stale or overdone.  If you get a chance to see this film don’t miss it!  Just remember to get Digges to unpack the bags first!

The Awesomeness of the Warner Archive Podcast

Being a classic film lover in these modern times often means that we are finding new and technologically advanced ways to express, share, and cultivate our collections and enjoyment of classic films.  In days past there were fan clubs, magazines, records, VHS tapes, running home to set your VCR for the movie playing that night, and radio shows.  Today we have blogs, DVDs, Blu Rays, DVRs, Twitter accounts, Facebook, and of course the podcast.  I am always on the look out for enjoyable and informative podcasts, especially those that relate to my love of classic films and television.  A few months ago I discovered the Warner Archive podcast but have only recently begun to fully appreciate the awesomeness of the thing.  For those who haven’t had the chance to experience it for themselves allow me to inform you just what makes this podcast so great.

The Films

This sort of goes without saying, but let’s say it any way.  I have been a fan of the Warner Archive for a long time, pretty much since it’s inception.  As a young twenty-something, while my friends were spending money on shoes, clothes, or dinners out…I was buying the 1929 version of THE LETTER and a copy of RIPTIDE.  I remember spending hours sitting in front of my computer with my copy of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie guide browsing the latest additions to the Archive.  I was always able to find something that piqued my interest or captured my attention, and this still remains true when listening to the podcast.  Inevitably, at least once during the episode I will hear some movie mentioned that I have never seen before but one that just sounds too good to miss out on!  And now with the ability to watch these films on my iPad…well let’s just say that my spare time could be taken up very easily.

The Fan Interaction

Not only can you post a question on Facebook or Twitter and get an ANSWER, but it will be from a real person!  And it will be in a reasonable amount of time!  But wait, there’s more!  Fans are invited to send letters in to the podcast to ask questions, request titles, or just talk about what movies are in their DVD collection, and they will all be read on the podcast!  Not only that, but if people send a self addressed stamped envelope along with their letter, I have heard tell that they will receive a gift from the podcast in return.  This might not seem like a big deal but I have found the fan interaction a real joy and a big component of the enjoyment I get from the podcast.  Part of being a fan of anything is being able to not only share your enjoyment with other fans, but also those “powers-that-be” for lack of a better word.  It really makes the entire experience more like a one-on-one conversation with a fellow enthusiast versus lip service from a corporation.  And at the end of the day, the classic film fan community is more like a family and this easily accessible communication definitely has friendly feeling.

The Hosts

George, DW, and Matt are really the linchpin of the whole podcast experience.  If the hosts aren’t good then usually the podcast won’t work as well as it could.  Luckily, this trio is fantastic!  They each have their own areas of expertise, but they all have a great deal of knowledge about the films and television shows that they talk about.  Listening to them discuss various movies or shows, you feel like you are sitting around listening to three friends chat, argue, and share their thoughts and opinions.  But for me, the thing that really makes this podcast special is the palpable enthusiasm coming from these three.  It is a situation where you don’t always have to like the subject or movie being talked about, just the passion and glee that George, DW, and Matt have when talking about them will suck you in.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you want in a podcast?

Every week I look forward to listening to a new episode of the podcast, and luckily there are plenty of old episodes backed up to get me through during the interim.  It’s is definitely a podcast that all classic movie fans would enjoy and I definitely recommend it highly!  So, thanks George, DW, and Matt!  I’m a big fan!

I’m always on the look out for new classic film podcasts to enjoy so tell me, what podcasts do you listen to?  Let me know in a comment below what podcasts you think are great and what ones you think I should give a listen to!