Tuesday, August 15, 2017

SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 17 of 20)

Marlene Dietrich looks for a way out
in Shanghai Express

Most of the passengers aboard the Shanghai Express (led by the exotic Shanghai Lil played by Marlene Dietrich) are just trying to get to their destination when their journey is interrupted by Chinese Guerrillas and the brutal General Chang. A hostage situation ensues. The film packs a lot of intrigue and romance, featuring Shanghai Lil and Clive Brook as a doctor from her past, into it's eighty minute running time manned by perhaps the greatest pioneer of early talkie cinema, Josef von Sternberg. The film would definitely make a good early thirties political intrigue double feature with Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

Another exotic woman of the world aboard the train is  Hui Fei. To the film's credit she is played by Chinese-American star Anna May Wong...but there seemed to be more of a trend of casting Caucasians in many of the Asian roles, which leads us to...



And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Warner Oland. It's interesting to see Oland as the Asian heavy General Chang in Shanghai Express, since he is best known as playing the Asian heroic detective Charlie Chan in sixteen films up until his death in 1938.

White actor Warner Oland as Charlie Chan...

...replaced by white actor Sidney Toler
as Charlie Chan...

...who was replaced by white actor 
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan...


...or maybe you prefer the 70's TV Charlie Chan
played by white actor Ross Martin or...

 
...how about the silly Curse of the Dragon Queen
with Englishman Peter Ustinov as
Charlie Chan?

Oland also played Fu Manchu (below) in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu. There is also a long list of non-Asian actors that played Fu Manchu, including Boris Karloff, Peter Sellers and Christopher Lee..but so it goes (or at least use to go) in Hollywood.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 16 of 20) 


 Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold
discuss politics, romance and right and wrong
in You Can't Take It With You

You Can't Take it With You is a film (based on the successful Kaufman and Hart play) that is about a man from a financial well-to-do family (Jimmy Stewart) who falls for a girl (Jean Arthur) who is from a family of eccentrics (led by the grandfather, Lionel Barrymore). There are lots of fun goings on and it isn't too hard to not picture this film as being adapted from the stage. In the end, The lovable Vanderhof family (led by Barrymore) get the best of the business minded Kirby family (led by Edward Arnold)...but no surprise there. 

This film won the 1938 Best Picture Oscar...but didn't make the 1001 movie book cut.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...(tie) Dub Taylor and Charles Lane. There are so many supporting players I could give this award to....Banker Edward Arnold, eccentric Mischa Auer, flighty Spring Byington, the meek Donald Meek, dancer Ann Miller, the put upon H. B. Warner and future Jack Benny regular Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. But I'm giving the award to two character actors that had exceptionally long Hollywood careers.

First is Dub Taylor. You Can't Take It With You is Dub's first screen credit. He racked up over 250 more movie and television credits during his career, culminating with Maverick in 1994. I always picture Dub as a grizzled prospector, but he played a variety of roles, many times as a heavy, and almost always in just a scene or two. Dub's memorable roles includes the guy that sets up Bonnie and Clyde in Bonnie and Clyde, the Reverend giving a sermon in The Wild Bunch and one of the three saloon old-timers (with Harry Carey Jr. and Pat Buttram) in Back to the Future III.

Taylor died in 1994 at the age of 87.

I'm guessing his role in You Can't Take It With You as the former Alabama football star who plays the xylophone is his only role where he gets to show off his xylophone skills, but I haven't researched it too thoroughly.

 Dancer Ann Miller and 
Xylophonist Dub Taylor in 
You Can't Take it With You

Dub Taylor before the bullets fly 
in Bonnie and Clyde

Charles Lane had an even longer career than Taylor. In You Can't Take It With You, he plays a stern, humorless IRS agent. He also plays Potter's associate in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. It seemed like a stern and humorless suit without a heart is about the only part he ever played. He may be remembered best for the recurring role of Homer Bedlow on the sitcom Petticoat Junction, where he plays a stern, humorless suit (as always) who just wants to shutdown the train because...why does he always want to shut that train down again? Lane's sixy-five year career included 365 movie credits. About the only sympathetic part I can ever remember seeing him in was an episode of L. A. Law where he played an elderly bank robber. Lane died in 2007 at the ripe old age of 102.

No respect for the character actor: On the DVD extra for You Can't Take It With You, Frank Capra Jr. says something to the effect of "my dad always liked this actor, he used him often" during Lane's scene. You get that? Lane didn't even get his name mentioned in the commentary by the director's son even while praising his work!...Ah, the life of the character actor.

Lionel Barrymore gets the best of  I. R.S. worker
Charles Lane in You Can't Take It With You


Homer Bedlow (Charles Lane) schemes to shut down
the Hooterville train in an episode of Petticoat Junction.
I still can't remember why he wants to shut down
that damn train!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1932)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 15 of 20)

Chinese warlord General Yen (Nils Asther)
falls for American missionary Barbara Stanwyck
in The Bitter Tea of General Yen

I don't associate action war movies from director Frank Capra (except from perhaps his World War II documentaries), but The Bitter Tea of General Yen is set in China during a series of civil wars which provide the backdrop of this film about a tough Chinese warlord (played by Norwegian Nils Asther) whose battles are complicated by a pretty and opinionated American missionary named Megan (Barbara Stanwyck). Their relationship becomes pretty complicated amid the chaos and that is the drama that drives the film. There is a lot of good subtext to the film including: missionaries roles in such places, the difficulty in defining who to root for among these factions, Yen's complicated relationship with his concubine (Toshia Mori), and the role of the opportunistic American financial advisor (Walter Connolly, see below).

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Walter Connolly. Connolly was a major character actor during the 30's whose many supporting roles included The Good Earth, Libeled Lady and Twentieth Century. His most famous part was almost certainly as  Claudette Colbert's father in Capra's It Happened One Night. I think his part as General Yen's financial adviser is an even better role for him (just call him Jones). He plays the ugly American all right...keeping the General's eyes on what is important...profit. His callousness even makes Stanwyck sick to her stomach at one meal and I can't say that I blame her. He may elicit some sympathy in the final scene by comforting Stanwyck on the way back to Shanghai..but does he really deserve our compassion at this point? Either way...well, played Mr. Connolly.

Nils Asther and Walter Connolly 
in The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Connolly as the father of reluctant bride Claudette Colbert
in It Happened One Night

Sunday, July 30, 2017

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 14 of 20)

 Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart bicker
in The Shop Around the Corner
as boss Frank Morgan looks on

The Shop Around the Corner may me known more to modern day audiences as one of the inspirations for The Tom Hanks movie We've Got Mail. It's also not in the 1001 book...and it was released in January of 1940 , but by golly I'm making an entry for it in More 1001 Movies from the 30's anyway!

The film is directed by Ernest Lubitsch and the screenplay is by Samuel Raphaelson, who collaborated on the classic Trouble in Paradise. Screenplay credit (at least belatedly) also goes to Ben Hecht who collaborated with Lubitsch on Design for Living.

The plot involves the goings on in a Budapest leather goods store featuring top salesman Kralik (Jimmy Stewart), his demanding boss Matuschek (Frank Morgan), the shady salesman (Joseph Schildkrauf) and family man Pirovitch (Felix Bressart). Their lives get complicated with the hiring of the pretty and opinionated Miss Novak (Margaret Sullavan). The plot involves the intrigue, back stabbing and mistaken identity that goes on at the store...including the budding romance between Kralik and Miss Novak. They don't like each other very much for most of the movie, but I think we know that will change by the end credits.

It's a fun romp with engaging performers and I am definitely a Lubitsch fan...which is why I added this film to my list in the first place. I also really like that little leather goods shop. Next time I'm in Budapest, I'll see if it's still there...

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Margaret Sullivan. I don't think I had ever seen a movie with Margaret Sullivan until I saw her in the war drama The Mortal Storm (Also, released in 1940 and also starring Jimmy Stewart). I thought she was quite good in that and was surprised she didn't get an Academy Award nomination for it (neither did the film). 

Margaret Sullavan hoping that Jimmy Stewart will leave
so she will meet her blind date who she doesn't know is
actually Jimmy Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner

 In The Shop Around the Corner, she gets to show off her comic chops as the girl who Stewart eventually gets around to dating once he discovers he actually likes her and she discovers she likes him and they go through the whole mistaken identity thing before coming together at the end of the film.

Sullivan was one of the top leading ladies of Hollywood from 1933-1943, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Three Comrades in 1938. Yet, she isn't really held in the same regard as other of her contemporaries of the era. This is probably because her she pretty much quit making films after 1943. Her later life was definitely the stuff of drama involving mental illness, physical infirmity, drug addiction, family problems and a premature death in 1960 at the age of 50.

Haywire, a  TV mini-series based on her daughter's book about Sullavan's life was broadcast  in 1980.

I think Haywire by Brooke Hayward and Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford  might make an interesting reading double feature for those so inclined...