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.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 8 of 20) 


The Life of Emile Zola won the Best Picture Academy Award and gave Paul Muni one of his signature biographical roles as Zola. The movie depicts his humble beginnings and shows his success as a writer in later years. One of the major plot points involves Zola's later decision to risk his comfortable life and work on the case of Alfred Dreyfus, falsely accused of being a traitor. Zola's speech in court on behalf of Dreyfus is one of the films many highlights.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Joseph Schildkraut
The distinguished Austrian had different stages to his long acting career. He made a name for himself in silents as a leading man in D. W. Griffith's Orphans of the Storm and later as Judas in Cecil B. Demille's  King of Kings.

He made a smooth transition to talkies, including a role as a conniving clerk in Ernest Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner. His pivotal role as Alfred Dreyfus in Zola won him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor of 1937.

In later years, he played Otto Frank in the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959. I think I know him best as a ghostly concentration camp victim in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Joseph Schildkraut as Dreyfus in
The Life of Emile Zola

Joseph Schildkraut (with Oscar Beregi)
 as a concentration camp
victim in Death's Head Revisited of
The Twilight Zone