Wednesday, August 30, 2017

DILLINGER (1945)

Lawrence Tierney as Dillinger

I've enjoyed highlighting the character actors and actresses of the 30's through the 50's on this blog under the title of the imaginary Elisha Cook Jr. supporting performer award. It seems I've now run out of Hollywood movies from this era from the 1001 list, but thought I might like to add one more off the list.

Dillinger (1945) is a fictionalized account of the crime life of Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger. It's low budget Republic Picture release that has elements of film noir and biography and also boasts the early career casting of future Reservoir Dog leader and by all personal accounts out of his mind Lawrence Tierney in the lead role.

And the final Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award from this blog goes to...(of course) Elisha Cook Jr. Elisha plays one of the Dillinger gang that the noted criminal meets in prison and eventually helps him on his later crime spree. About midway through the film, a train robbery goes awry and guess who gets killed of the group? The always expendable Mr. Cook...In very few of his films, did he make it to the closing credits. 

Elisha Cook Jr. prepares to spit at Dillinger before coming
around and joining his gang.

Elisha had a much better survival rate on his television appearances...

Elisha Cook Jr. with William Shatner
in the the 60's Sci-Fi Star Trek

 Elisha Cook Jr. in the 80's Sci-Fi ALF

Elisha Cook Jr. as master criminal Ice Pick 
in Magnum P. I.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)

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

Lew Ayres and a fallen adversary in
All Quiet on the Western Front

There is a lot of criticism of a lot of the early Best Picture Academy Award choices, but the 1930 Best Picture choice of All Quiet on the Western Front is a decision that has stood the test of time. Even prickly alternative Oscar writer Danny Peary thinks the Academy got this one right.

The film is of course based on the anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque and depicts a group of young soldiers excitedly joining the German army during World War I only to find their dreams of heroism brings them mostly horror and death. I don't think that there were any war films like this in the early talkie era and one can only imagine the impact the sounds of warfare had on audiences of the time.

Read the book...see the movie.. then.go do something to make the world a better place.
 
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Tall and lanky Slim Summerville got his start in movies during the silent era as a supporting foil in numerous the comedies of Charlie Chaplin, Sydney Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckile, as well as one of Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops.

Once the talkie era came, Slim continued to have numerous supporting roles in many films and even teamed up with comeddiene Zasu Pitts for a series of low-budget comedies. The interesting caveat to Slim's career seems to be that he occasionally got a good supporting part in dramas, including All Quiet on the Western Front. His scene in this film of trying to woo the local French girls with goodies is a rare light moment in the film.

Slim was actively performing  in films up until his death in 1946 at age 53.  

Slim Summerville in All Quiet in the Western Front

 Zasu Pitts and Slim Summerville in
Miss Polly (1941)

Friday, August 25, 2017

CAVALCADE (1933)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 19 of 20)

Clive Brook and Dana Wynyard
in Cavalcade

On Noel  Coward…
When I was a kid, I’d sometimes hear jokes about some slapstick or low rent comedy skit or movie being criticized as “not exactly Noel Coward.”  I always got the impression from this that a Noel  Coward comedy was probably about a group of rich people in tuxedos sitting in a room sipping martinis, puffing on pipes and making caustic observations about the monarchy or the working class. I’m not sure if this was quite right and realized I haven’t really seen that many Noel  Coward movies or plays over the years to confirm or reject this impression.

Coward’s theater input spans from World War I all the way up to the 1960’s, with Blithe Spirit being the one I’m most familiar with. He also wrote many musical revues beginning in the 1920’s of which I confess to not being familiar with any of the titles.

Many of Coward’s plays have been adapted for film over the years, including David Lean’s Brief Encounter and Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise.  He also contributed screenplays to the works of others including Our Man in Havana and Around the World in 80 Days.

Coward’s only original play that was adapted to a film that won Best Picture was Frank Lloyd’s Cavalcade in 1933. It has to rank as one of the least seen (I’m just guessing with this observation, but I’ll bet I’m right) of all the Best Picture winners over the years. The film’s plot involves the lives of a well-to-do (naturally) London family over the years whose life is dramatized amid the backdrop of important historical events. The film starts during the Boer War in 1899 and proceeds to the sinking of the Titanic, World War II and culminates to modern times (1933 modern times, of course). It is largely a well done film (If not exactly riveting) and the presentation of a multi-generational drama has been done many times since.

Oscar Note: According to the book Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, the voting totals for Best Picture of 1933 was actually announced at the ceremony! Cavalcade won the vote by nearly fifty percent over the runner up A Farewell to Arms.  I think it would be interesting if the Academy would do that today, but doesn’t seem very likely.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to Una O’Connor. The diminutive, high strung Miss O’Connor served as comic relief in at least every movie I’ve seen her in. She may be best known for The Bride of Frankenstein (providing some memorable screaming), but she had many others, including as the maid with the shaky testimony in her last film, Witness for the Prosecution in 1957 .She has some amusing and a couple of poignant moments as the maid (I wonder how may times she played a maid) in Cavalcade.


Una O'Connor makes a point
in Cavalcade

Una O'Connor in a lighter moment from
Bride of Frankenstein

Sunday, August 20, 2017

CIMARRON (1931)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 18 of 20)

Irene Dunne and Richard Dix in Cimarron

This is conjecture on my part: The early talkies gave us a couple of big Western movies The Big Trail (with John Wayne) and Cimarron. The Big Trail was a disappointment financially, but Cimarron was a hit and managed to win Best Picture in 1931. Despite these mixed results, the Western was about to go the way of low budget serials (and take John Wayne with it) through the rest of the decade. Even when the Western genre became more respected under the films of Hawks and Ford in the 40's, no Western picture won Best Picture again until Dances With Wolves almost sixty years after Cimarron.

Cimarron itself doesn't seem to get much respect nowadays. It didn't make the 1001 movie book and I can't remember it playing ever on television, even on channels that show black and white movies! It also probably doesn't compare in most film buffs mind to another film based on an Edna Ferber book telling a multi-generational Western story with more iconic stars (Spoiler: I'm taking about Giant, with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson).

But I actually liked Cimarron. The story of the family struggle is interesting and it really does have an early epic feel to it that is satisfying. I even got used to Richard Dix's rather mannered acting style after awhile. I can see why it was chosen as Best Picture for 1931, though I doubt many would think that was the right choice in retrospect. Alternative Oscar Writer Danny Peary says that Chaplin's City Lights should have won and I won't argue with that. 


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Roscoe Ates. Roscoe provides much of the comic relief in Cimarron as the bumbling and stuttering newspaper editor, Jesse Rickey. He provides a nice contrast to the often overly dramatic Mr. Dix.

Roscoe Ates provides the comic relief in Cimarron

Roscoe had 150 screen credits dating from the start of the talking era up until his death in the early 60's. His most famous role (I don't think it's even a question) is as the long suffering (and stuttering) husband of one of the Siamese twin Hilton sisters in Freaks. "I think she likes you - but he d-d-d-d-don't."

Roscoe also played the role of Soapy Jones in a 40's western serial named after the star Eddie Dean. I had never heard of this one before, but I did find a clip of it on YouTube. Roscoe once again plays the comic relief in these films, but he appears to have lost his stutter over time.

 Roscoe Ates contemplates the possibilities of being married
to a Siamese twin in Freaks 

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...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 13 of 20)

Miriam Hopkins and George Marshall are the 
charming thieves in Trouble in Paradise

Peter Bogdanovich referred to Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise as a "real treasure" and a for years forgotten gem from the Lubitsch film cannon. This film is a succinct, witty and thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy that wasn't shown for many years (according to Bogdanovich) after the Hays code was implemented because it actually showed thieves in a positive light and let the leading man go from woman to woman, etc...Anyway...It is a delightful romp and certainly worth 83 minutes of your time...or 166 if you want to see it twice...#math. Screenplay by Lubitsch regular Samson Rapahelson. Starring George Marshall with Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis as the women in his life. Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles play hapless suitors. C. Aubrey Smith also has an important supporting role as a shady board member of Francis's company.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Charles Ruggles

Horton and Ruggles play the amusing but unsuccessful
suitors of Kay Francis in Trouble in Paradise

Charles Ruggles spent a long career as a supporting player in Hollywood, almost always playing someone articulate and proper, but often befuddled in the long run as in Trouble in Paradise. Other major films for Ruggles include: Ruggles of Red Gap (where he interestingly doesn't play Ruggles) and Bringing Up Baby. One only has to look at the names of his characters to see the type of role he usually played: Viscount Gilbert de Var├Ęze (Love Me Tonight), J. Elliot Dinwiddy and Lowell Eddings Farquar, his character from later appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies.

He also played one of Aunt Bee's suitors in a later episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

Charlie Ruggles romances Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) in
an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

In fact...Aunt Bee was romanced by many other character actors during the course of that show...Will Geer, Denver Pyle, Edgar Buchanan, Woody Chambliss,Wallace Ford, Ian Wolfe...but I digress.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 12 of 20) 

Gary Cooper and Fredrick March admire a saucy dame
in Design for Living

Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living did not make the 1001 movie cut, but is certainly a must see for all you pre-code Hollywood film junkies (a select and admirable group, I must say). Gary Cooper and Frederich March are two Bohemian artist buddies living in Paris who meet up and fall for the attractive Miriam Hopkins. Ms. Hopkins works for the stuffy Edward Everett Horton who could in turn help the boys with their careers if they play their cards right. The clever goings on can be credited to writers Noel Coward and Ben Hecht, as well as Lubitsch and his stars. I also don't know if the way Miriam Hopkins jumps around from man to man in this film would have passed the muster after the Hays code was passed the following year, but it's hard to imagine the film working without it.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Edward Everett Horton
Edward Everett Horton was one of Hollywood's top second bananas for years, mostly in films in the 1930's and 40's.. His wit and articulate speech seem made for a film like Design for Living,  though you know he isn't going to succeed in his ultimate quest for the girl...even if she does marry him! Other movies I've seen Horton in include: Top Hat, Arsenic and Old Lace, Alice in Wonderland (1933, as The Mad Hatter), Lost Horizon (as the paleontologist), Here Comes Mr. Jordan, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise

The marriage of Edward Everett Horton to Miriam Hopkins
in Design for Living is designed to be short

I first became aware of Horton (even if I didn't know his name) as the narrator on the classic cartoon Fractured Fairy Tales. This segment was part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show and Horton's wonderfully dignified voice added much to the rather goofy antics of the cartoon itself.

 Opening credits to Fractured Fairy Tales

 He also played the politically incorrect Chief Roaring Chicken in several episodes of the 60's sitcom F-Troop, which I still have fond memories of watching with my mother.

He parodied his F-Troop as Chief Screaming Chicken in an episode of Batman.
 
Edward Everett Horton and Adam West
in Batman

Saturday, July 15, 2017

THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 11 of 20)

Luise Rainier and William Powell
in The Great Ziegfeld

The 1936 musical autobiography of show biz impresario Flo Ziegfeld won the Best Picture award for 1936. It does have it's share of virtues including: some very elaborate musical numbers, a solid show biz rags to riches story that was common to the era and the always great teaming of William Powell and Myrna Loy.

The problem with the film is that it's just too damn long! I guess there was a need to give the depression era audience their money's worth, but let's trim some of the fat and cut down this over three hours of length next time, shall we boys? Also, it doesn't feel like a Best Picture winner. It also doesn't seem especially better than other autobiographical films of the type released during the era.

The first choice for Best Picture that year I can think of would be another William Powell movie, My Man Godfrey. Also, Luise Rainer isn't bad in her role as Ziegfeld's first wife, but I'd certainly argue her role was neither a lead or in the "best" category. Once again, I'd have given this award to My Man Godfrey and Carole Lombard...but nobody asked me in 1936!

A note on Luise Rainer. Rainer's film career did not have much longevity after Oscar wins for The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth but the longevity of Rainer herself is much to be envied as she died in 2014 just a couple of weeks shy of her 105th birthday!

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Frank Morgan and Ray Bolger
Morgan and Bolger will of course mostly be remembered by movie watchers as the Wizard and the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, but they were in other things, you know!

In The Great Ziegfeld, Morgan plays Ziegfeld's rival Billings, who Ziegfeld always seems to get the better of until the end, when Morgan and Powell have a very poignant moment together. Morgan also played the harried boss in The Shop Around the Corner. He had a very touching role as Margaret Sullavan's father in The Mortal Storm. He received two Academy Award nominations during his long career (The Duke of Cellini, Tortilla Flat) which lasted from 1916 until his death in 1949.

 Frank Morgan and William Powell
share a final moment in The Great Ziegfeld

Ray Bolger also had a long career and The Great Ziegfeld is actually his first movie credit. He has a small role in Ziegfeld as a theater worker who gets a chance to be in a dance number from the great showman.  I tried to think of other Bolger roles other than the obvious one and have to admit that the first thing that came to my head was as Shirley Partridge's father in an episode of The Partridge Family. If I only had a brain, I could come up with a better example. He also made the latter day late 70's rounds by being in an episode of both The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. His most famous non-Scarecrow role is probably in the musical Where's Charley?, where he starred on Broadway and in film. Bolger died in 1987 at the age of 83, making him the last surviving major cast member of The Wizard of Oz.

 William Powell about to give Ray Bolger his big break
in The Great Ziegfeld

 Wizard Frank Morgan about to give
Scarecrow Ray Bolger his diploma in
The Wizard of Oz

And another Wizard of Oz reference...Billie Burke played Glenda in The Wizard of Oz, but in real life was Flo Ziegfeld's wife and is portrayed in The Great Ziegfeld by Myrna Loy.

The real life Mrs. Flo Ziegfeld with Judy Garland and Toto
in The Wizard of Oz

Monday, July 10, 2017

GRAND HOTEL (1932)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 10 of 20)

Icon to Icon: John Barrymore and Greta Garbo
in Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel is the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture for 1932 and I do find it a bit curious that it didn't make the 1001 book. It certainly is important historically in that it may have been the first feature film to plop so many stars into an all-star extravaganza and features an elaborately recreated hotel and able direction from Edmund Goulding. The all-star cast may be the main reason to see this today. It features three iconic Hollywood Stars (Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford), two recent Academy Award Winners (Lionel Barrymore-A Free Soul 1931, Wallace Beery-The Champ, 1932), and two supporting stalwarts (Lewis Stone and Jean Hersholt). And who fares the worst in this all-star cast? I would have to say Greta Garbo. I can see the Garbo mystique in other pictures, but her ballerina is just too over the top here. She does get to utter her famous "I want to be alone" line. Joan Crawford comes off much better as the vivacious stenographer. But who comes off the best is...
 
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Lionel Barrymore. Not sure you would even consider this a supporting role since Barrymore's Mr. Kringeleine is really the heart of the film. Kringeleine is a working stiff who finds out he doesn't have long to live and wants to spend some time living a little before his time is up. Barrymore is funny, but often poignant in his portrayal as well. The scene where he tells off his arrogant boss Wallace Beery is one of the highlights of the film.It's interesting that Barrymore often played sympathetic characters like this. Key Largo and You Can't Take It With You are other examples.  Of course, many modern day viewers only remember him as his role as the very definition of evil as Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life.

Lionel Barrymore cuts a rug with Joan Crawford
in Grand Hotel

Lionel Barrymore cuts down everything in his path
in It's a Wonderful Life

And the Jean Hersholt Humanitarain award goes to...Jean Hersholt
Hersholt plays the guy who runs the desk at the Grand Hotel and it made me think that they give out an Oscar every year in his name and I thought I'd look up why...and  the answer is that Jean helped form the Motion Picture Relief fund in the late 30's to assist with medical care for those in the industry. The award was first given in 1956 after his death. I like that the award is still given out in his name even though most have probably forgotten who he was.

Jean Hersholt reminds you to sign
the Grand Hotel register and 
to do good works in your life.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

OF MICE AND MEN (1939)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 9 of 20) 

Lon Chaney Jr. and Burgess Meredith
in Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck's classic novel about two migrant workers looking to better themselves financially while staying out of trouble was first brought to the screen by Hal Roach productions in 1939, and starred Burgess Meredith as George. I think it's a successful adaptation of the novel...though some may prefer the 1992 version with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. At the very least read the book. It's a fine character study and and Steinbeck puts you right in the middle of the depression (as good books tend to do).

Totally unnecessary fact to share: I wanted to name our two dogs George and Lennie...but I was outvoted.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Lon Chaney Jr. 
Cinefiles love Lon Chaney, Sr...the man of a thousand faces, who created so many great characterizations during the silent era and died before his career in talkies could take off.

Lon Chaney Jr. carried on the family tradition of make-up heavy roles, but he is not held in reverence by the movie public like his dad. Part of that may be because of being in so many B-movies, especially later in his career in films like Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Alligator People and The Man With the Atomic Brain. His best know role is as The Wolfman, which he brought to life in Universal's 1941 adaptation.

However, it's his performance as Lenny, the feeble minded traveling companion of George in Of Mice and Men that may be his best. You feel sympathy for this gentle giant who can't stay out of trouble no matter how hard he tries. His journey ends in tragedy, of course. And anyone who's seen the movie or read the book is sure to remember George and Lenny's final dialogue:

George: [talking about their dream] We're gonna get a little place.  
Lennie: Okay, yeah, we're gonna get a little place and we're gonna...  
George: We're gonna...
Lennie:...have...   
George: [Lennie mouths what he says] We're gonna have a cow, and some pigs, and we're gonna have, maybe, maybe, a chicken. Down in the flat, we'll have a little field of... Lennie: Field of alfalfa for the rabbits. George: ...for the rabbits. 
Lennie:And I get to tend the rabbits?
(And we probably know what happens next.)


Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie 
in Of Mice and Men

 
Lon as the werewolf
in The Wolfman

Lon still loving cute little creatures in
the so bad it's good
Dracula vs. Frankenstein.