The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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knives
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#176 Post by knives » Tue Nov 06, 2018 11:03 am

I'm about halfway through Mandrake the Magician and it's making me genuinely curious if any of these sound serials are any good? Certainly the success of them in the silent era suggests they could be and it is interesting to see the nascent form of television in a theatrical setting more akin to how British television would develop. Nonetheless all the ones I've seen have been fairly hohum like this one where they're okay with expectations in check, but not something to get excited about.

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Rayon Vert
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#177 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Nov 18, 2018 12:51 am

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Le Jour se lève (Carné 1939). I didn’t remember this well but my impression is again that I largely prefer Port of Shadows. There’s something about the framing device story that’s a little too stagey for my tastes. But the sense of hard, lonely working-class lives punctuated by romantic disillusionment still packs an existentialist punch. Great visuals too, whether in Trauner’s designs or the way the camera makes use of the apartment building François is holed up in.


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Bride of Frankenstein (Whale 1935). Fun in bits and pieces, and often gorgeously lit and shot. But the more playful tone means the sense of menace is taken out and some of this is completely silly, especially Pretorius and his miniature creatures.


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L’Atalante (Vigo 1934). Watching this again cements that it’s a film with a lot of charm but that never grabs me enough to make it a true favorite. Maybe it’s the fable aspect that I respond a bit less to, although I recognize it’s the mix of fantasy and realism that’s kind of the essence of the film. I noticed how much this feels like a silent, maybe in part because of much of the sound is obviously not direct, but also because of several “pure cinema” sequences. I really like the Boudu no. 2 character of le père Jules, really an endearing larger-than-life, densely characterized figure.

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knives
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#178 Post by knives » Sun Nov 18, 2018 1:09 am

I'm pretty sure Whale meant for it to be entirely silly. There's some emotion to the film as well, but it strikes me as mostly an urbane comedy to contrast with The Invisible Man's more rural sensibility.

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Shrew
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#179 Post by Shrew » Tue Nov 20, 2018 10:45 pm

Some thoughts on Harold Lloyd's films of the decade, minus Professor Beware.

Feet First (Bruckman, 1930)
It tracks that, or the big comedians, Lloyd would have the easiest time transitioning to sound. His silent intertitles tended to be less perfunctory and more joke-filled than his contemporaries, plus his voice sounds more or less like a Harold Lloyd character (unlike Chaplin and his Tramp). Still, sound does this one few favors; the editing in particular feels off, robbing the film of a decent comedic rhythm. And Lloyd himself is looking a little too old to still be playing a young go-getter. Then there’s the big climbing-a-skyscraper finale, throughout which Lloyd (or his overdubbed voice) screams, gasps, and groans, shifting the tone from comic thrills to mild dread. As a whole, there are some decent gags throughout and nothing’s too bad.

Movie Crazy (Bruckman, 1932)
This is a big improvement. Lloyd is still a little long-in-tooth for this character, but it helps that he’s playing an out-and-out weirdo, a clueless Hollywood pilgrim who has trouble differentiating what’s real and what’s on screen. Constance Cummings excels as the leading lady, and helps propel much of the film’s first half. The ending is another loooong sequence of mayhem, but here it plays out without vocalization, which makes it play a lot better.

Cat’s Paw (Taylor, 1934)
This is maybe the most well-balanced and well-plotted of Lloyd’s talkies. Changing directors from Bruckman to Taylor means there are less gags, and more focus on character. Here Lloyd is a man raised as a missionary in China who returns to the US spouting faux Chinese aphorisms. He’s then tricked into running for mayor by a political machine that expect to control him easily. As I mentioned in the last 1930s thread, the orientalism here hasn’t aged well, even though it was probably meant somewhat as an apology after Lloyd’s treatment of Chinatowns in Welcome Danger sparked protests in China. Like the later Sin of Harold Diddlebock, this film mostly forgoes physical comedy in favor of verbal wit and situational comedy. And honestly, I think it makes both films among his best sound films.

Milky Way (McCarey, 1936)
Terribly disappointing given McCarey’s involvement at the apex of his career. Lloyd’s nebbish milkman accidentally knocks out a drunken boxer, then finds himself propelled into the ring as would-be champion that his manager is setting up as a sap. The dialogue is faster, and as a result Lloyd occupies a smaller share of screen time. Instead, fast-talking veterans like Adolphe Menjou and the two leading ladies pick up the slack. The boxing scenes were… okay? I honestly don’t remember much of them either way, so point Chaplin and City Lights.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#180 Post by bamwc2 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 7:57 pm

Spotlight:

The Story of the Fox (Irene and Wladyslaw Starewicz, 1937): Initially viewed on a recommendation from Steven H, the Starewicz's stop-motion tale of the trickster Renard was my favorite discovery of 2013's animation list. Clocking in at just over an hour, the level of loving detail and precision crafted by the father-daughter filmmakers required over 18 months of work. That effort is apparent in every shot though, with each of its characters brought to live in a truly remarkable fashion. An adaptation of the French fable of Renard the fox, the film follows the lovable rogue in a series of picaresque adventures in the Kingdom of Animals. The plot is simple enough. The kingdom's lion monarch forbids the eating of animals. Unable to adapt to a vegetarian diet, the sly fox continues to hunt down his fellow countrymen, much to the chagrin of his ruler. Eventually the kingdom sets forth a series of traps to catch the fox, but Renard uses his natural cunning to turn the tables on his pursuers at every attempt. While this may sounds gruesome (make no mistake, this isn't Disney fare), the film is always effervescent, and makes for a hell of a journey along the way.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#181 Post by swo17 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 8:46 pm

Welcome back, bamwc2! I have to inform you that in the time you've been gone, I've changed the spotlight section in the first post to only be for write-ups that are at least 500 words long. But certainly everyone should still seek out this wonderful film (even if I would personally shill more for The Mascot).

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#182 Post by bamwc2 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 11:51 pm

Viewing Log:

La Chienne (Jean Renoir, 1931): As the puppets in the theater say at the beginning of the film, this is the story of a woman and a man, and another man. In this case, the woman is Lulu (Janie Marèse, who sadly died at age 23, in the year of the film's release), a Parisian prostitute who suffers at the hand of her pimp, Dédé (Georges Flamant). One night as a drunken Dédé beats her in the streets, the kindly Maurice (Michel Simon) saves Lulu from her abuser's hand. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Maurice quickly falls head over heels in love with the young ingenue, a fact that Dédé and Lulu are only too happy to exploit to tragic consequences. I'm generally not a fan of early Renoir, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. The three leads (and especially Simon) are excellent in their roles, and the film has a lot to say about the nature or art and artists that feels genuine and smart given Renoir's background.

The Merry Widow (Ernst Lubitsch, 1934): I've long treasured my Eclipse set of Lubitsch musicals, so it’s something of a miracle that I've gone this long without seeing the most famous of the director's pairings of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. Thankfully, the wait was worth it for this gleeful confection. Marshovia is a small country nestled in Eastern Europe. 52% of its taxes are paid by the widow Sonia (MacDonald). When she ends her period of mourning and travels to Paris, King Achmed II (George Barbier) frets that the nation is about to lose their cash cow and sends Prince Danilo (Chevalier), the head of his royal guard, after her in an effort to seduce, marry, and secure Sonia's fortune for the nation. Hijinks ensue, as a series of comic misunderstandings bring the two together and apart. Nobody does the musical romcom quite like Lubitsch, and this boisterous treat is a pure delight.

The Silver Cord (John Cromwell, 1933): "Lady-scientist"(!) Christina (Irene Dunne) and David (Joel McCrea) are newlyweds who travel cross country to meet Joel's mother (Laura Hope Crews). There she lives at home with her other adult son, Robert (Eric Linden) and frequently hosts his fiancée Hester (Frances Dee). Mrs. Phelps initially comes off as a loving mother, but the facade slowly gives way to reveal a woman who emotionally manipulates her sons into doing her bidding. She's an absolute monster of a person, who convinces Robert to leave Hester after she dares to stand up to her. The film's drama stems from the question of whether she can convince David to leave his pregnant bride and move back home with her. The story is short, but works well. Unfortunately, Cromwell's idea of cinematography is to point a camera and let it roll without any movement. Still, enough works here for a tepid recommendation.

Small Town Girl(William A. Wellman, 1936): Janet Gaynor plays Kay, the titular character in this romantic drademy from William Wellman. She lives in…well…a small town outside of Boston, when big city hotshot surgeon Bob (Robert Taylor) comes to town for a wild night fueled by alcohol. Kay plays the role of reluctant guide as Bob drives around the city celebrating Harvard's victory over Yale by getting hammered. When the pair wake up the next morning, he remembers nothing, but the two are married. He comes from a well-to-do New England family and has a fiancée back home. Collectively, they decide that the best thing for them to do is pretend to be happy newlyweds on a vacation, and divorce six months on. Predictably the two fight before falling in love as his fiancée is revealed to be a heel. I enjoyed it (including supporting roles from Andy Devine and Jimmy Stewart), but the film's second act is rolling in blatant Asian racism.

So Big! (William A. Wellman, 1932): The second, and decidedly inferior entry from Wellman on this list finds Barbara Stanwyck playing Selina, whose journey we follow from young adult to the grave (Did she actually die? I don't remember. Maybe I just hoped she did). After graduating, she tutors Pervus (Earle Foxe), a widower with a son named Roelf (Dick Winslow). The two fall in love and have another boy together, Dirk (Dickie Moore). Soon Pervus dies and its up to Selina to manage the family farm. The years pass and Dirk breaks his mama's heart, but...I just couldn't care any less. This film suffers from a bad case of Horatio Algerism, and wastes its talent, including a young Betty Davis.

Three Godfathers (Richard Boleslawski, 1936): A trio of outlaws--slack jawed yokel Gus (Walter Brennan), stoic and wise Doc (Lewis Stone), and young and brash Bob (Chester Morris)--rob the town of New Jerusalem before making their getaway to what they think is a desert water hole. Unfortunately, the water has dried up, and instead they find a dying mother and her baby boy. Doc and Gus vow to care for the baby, but Bob plays the curmudgeon. Predictably Bob is eventually left with the baby and has to learn to overcome his selfishness in order to become a surrogate parent. Having previously seen John Ford's remake I was shocked at how different (and frankly, better) this version was. Great performances from Stone and Brennan (doing his usual shtick) highlight a real winner.

What Price Hollywood (George Cukor, 1932): Constance Bennett stars as Mary, a young ingenue with Hollywood dreams and a job at The Brown Derby that sees her serving the biggest names in show business. One night she serves hotshot director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman). He goes blackout drunk and wakes up to find that she's taken him home. To avoid scandal, he gives her a shot in his picture, which after some initial stumbling, she knocks out of the park. Soon her fame increases, while his alcoholism becomes an albatross tied to his neck. It’s always interesting to see Hollywood tell stories about itself, but this one feels like a very middling entry into that genre.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#183 Post by bamwc2 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 11:53 pm

swo17 wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 8:46 pm
Welcome back, bamwc2! I have to inform you that in the time you've been gone, I've changed the spotlight section in the first post to only be for write-ups that are at least 500 words long. But certainly everyone should still seek out this wonderful film (even if I would personally shill more for The Mascot).
Thanks, Swo. It's good to be back, and I'm gad to see so many friends still here. I'm sorry that I didn't know about this new requirement, but will remember it for the future.

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#184 Post by domino harvey » Thu Nov 29, 2018 11:56 pm

Glad to see you back as well. These List Projects need all the contributors we can get!

bamwc2
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#185 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Nov 30, 2018 12:49 am

domino harvey wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 11:56 pm
Glad to see you back as well. These List Projects need all the contributors we can get!
Thanks, Domino, and thanks for the help while I was on hiatus. As I explained in the off topic forum, I went into seclusion in an attempt to work on my career in academia. I'm still a non-tenure track professor, but I seem to have a regular yearly position at UT-El Paso now. I also had a few years of mental health struggles that kept me out of circulation, but a recent diagnosis as bipolar has led to a wonderful new treatment plan. I hope to be back for good now.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#186 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Nov 30, 2018 1:39 am

In case anyone might find it useful, here are my "to see" lists for the decade:

1930: Abschied (Robert Siodmak), Au bonheur des dames (Julien Duvivier), The Bat Whispers (Roland West), The Big House (George W. Hill), The Devil to Pay! (George Fitzmaurice), Fire in the Opera House (Carl Froelich), Her Man (Tay Garnett), Holiday (Edward H. Griffith), Laughter (Harry d’Arrast), Min and Bill (George W. Hill), Our Blushing Brides (Harry Beaumont), La petite Lise (Jean Grémillon), The Song is Ended (Géza von Bolváry), Three Good Friends (Wilhelm Thiele), Westfront 1918 (G.W. Pabst), What Made Her Do It? (Shigeyoshi Suzuki and Yoneo Ota)

1931: Alone (Grigori Kosintsev and Leonid Trauberg), An American Tragedy (Josef von Sternberg), Ariane (Paul Czinner), Bad Girl (Frank Borzage), Congress Dances (Erik Charell), Dishonored (Josef Von Sternberg), Emil and the Detectives (Gerhard Lamprecht), Enthusiasm (Dziga Vertov), From Saturday to Sunday (Gustav Machaty), Girls About Town (George Cukor), Hippolyt, the Lackey (Steve Sekely), Jirokichi the Rat (Daisuke Itô), Kameradschaft (G.W. Pabst), Der Kongreß tanzt (Erik Charell), The Last Flight (William Dieterle), Laugh and Get Rich (Gregory La Cava), Law and Order (Edward L. Cahn), Limite (Mario Peixoto), Love and Duty (Wancang Bu), The Man I Killed (Ernst Lubitsch), The Miracle Woman (Frank Capra), Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff (Erich Engels and Fyodor Otsep), The Neighbor’s Wife and Mine (Heinosuke Gosho), Night at the Crossroads (Jean Renoir), The Peach Girl (Wancang Bu), Spring Shower (Paul Fejös), Stolen Heaven (George Abbott), This Modern Age (Nick Grinde), The Upright Sinner (Fritz Kortner)

1932: To see: Afraid to Talk (Edward L. Cahn), The Bartered Bride (Max Ophüls), A Blonde’s Dream (Paul Martin), Däinah la métisse (Jean Grémillon), The Girl from Chicago (Oscar Micheaux), I By Day, You By Night (Ludwig Berger), Ivan (Aleksandr Dovzhenko), Jewel Robbery (William Dieterle), Kuhle Wampe (Slatan Dudow), Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh), Million Dollar Legs (Edward F. Cline), Ray of Sunshine (Paul Fejös), Red Dust (Victor Fleming), The Red Head (Julien Duvivier), Shanghai Express (Josef Von Sternberg), Ten Minutes to Live (Oscar Micheaux), This Is the Night (Frank Tuttle), Der träumende Mund (Paul Czinner and Lee Garmes), What Scoundrels Men Are! (Mario Caserini)

1933: Anna and Elizabeth (Frank Wisbar), Bed of Roses (Gregory La Cava), The Bowery (Raoul Walsh), Dragnet Girl (Yasujiro Ozu), The Eagle and the Hawk (Stuart Walker), Employees’ Entrance (Roy del Ruth), Ever in My Heart (Archie Mayo), Ganga Bruta (Humberto Mauro), The Great Consoler (Lev Kuleshov), Hard to Handle (Mervyn LeRoy), Hello, Sister (Eric Von Stroheim), International House (A. Edward Sutherland), Liebelei (Max Ophüls), Life Begins Tomorrow (Werner Hochbaum), A Man’s Neck (Julien Duvivier), The Mystery of the Wax Museum (Michael Curtiz), Okraïna (Boris Barnet), Only Yesterday (John Stahl), Our Betters (George Cukor), Secrets (Frank Borzage), Sons of the Desert (William A. Seiter), Spring Silkworms (Cheng Bugao), The Story of Temple Drake (Stephen Roberts), The Stranger's Return (King Vidor), Topaze (Harry d’Arrast), The Water Magician (Kenji Mizoguchi)

1934: 6 Day Bike Rider (Lloyd Bacon), Angéle (Marcel Pagnol), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Sidney Franklin), Chanson d’Amour (Jean Epstein), The Count of Monte Cristo (Rowland V. Lee), End of an Affair (Karl Hartl), Fog Over Frisco (William Dieterle), Godfather Mendoza (Juan Bustillo Oro and Fernando de Fuentes), Hips Hips Hooray! (Mark Sandrich), Liliom (Fritz Lang), Little Man, What Now? (Frank Borzage), Maskerade (Willi Forst), Mills of the Gods (Roy William Neill), No Greater Glory (Frank Borzage), One More River (James Whale), Our Neighbor, Miss Yae (Yasijiro Shimazu), Plunder of Peach and Plum (Ying Yunwei), Rapt (Dimitri Kirsanoff), Six of a Kind (Leo McCarey), The Woman of the Port (Arcady Boytler and Raphael J. Sevilla)

1935: Ah, Wilderness! (Clarence Brown), Amphitryon (Reinhold Schünzel), La Bandera (Julien Duvivier), Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian), Broadway Melody of 1936 (Roy Del Ruth), By the Bluest of Seas (Boris Barnet and S. Mardanin), Four Hours to Kill! (Mitchell Leisen), Frontier (Aleksandr Dovzhenko), The Girl in the Rumor (Mikio Naruse), The Highway (Sun Yu), An Inn in Tokyo (Yasujiro Ozu), The New Gulliver (Aleksander Ptushko), No More Ladies (Edward H. Griffith and George Cukor), Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (Sadao Yamanaka), Scenes from City Life (Yuan Muzhi), The Story of Louis Pasteur (William Dieterle), The Student of Prague (Arthur Robison), The Whole Town's Talking (John Ford), Wife, Be Like a Rose (Mikio Naruse)

1936: Craig's Wife (Dorothy Arzner), Desire (Frank Borzage), Fährmann Maria (Frank Wisbar), Final Accord (Douglas Sirk), Love Before Breakfast (Walter Lang), Morning’s Tree-Lined Street (Mikio Naruse), Partie de campagne (Jean Renoir), The Road to Glory (Howard Hawks), The Robber Symphony (Friedrich Feher), Sant Tukaram (Vishnupant Govind Damle and Sheikh Fattelal), A Severe Young Man (Abram Room), They Were Five (Julien Duvivier), The Walking Dead (Michael Curtiz)

1937: Angel (Ernst Lubitsch), Bizarre, Bizarre (Marcel Carné), The Bride Wore Red (Dorothy Arzner), Children in the Wind (Hiroshi Shimizu), Confession (Joe May), The Dance Program (Julien Duvivier), Dick Tracy (Alan James and Ray Taylor), Drôle de drame (Marcel Carné), Forget Love Now (Hiroshi Shimizu), The Good Earth (Sidney Franklin), Gueule D’ Amour (Jean Grémillon), Harvest (Marcel Pagnol), The Hurricane (John Ford), The Last of Mrs. Cheney (Richard Boleslawski), Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey), Mannequin (Frank Borzage), The Straits of Love and Hate (Kenji Mizoguchi), Street Angel (Yuan Muzhiote), They Won't Forget (Mervyn LeRoy), To New Shores (Douglas Sirk)

1938: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Norman Taurog), Baker's Wife (Marcel Pagnol), Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (Ernst Lubitsch), Boys' School (Christian-Jaque), Four Daughters (Michael Curtiz), God's Step Children (Oscar Micheaux), King of Alcatraz (Robert Florey), The Mad Miss Manton (Leigh Jason), Merlusse (Marcel Pagnol), Merrily We Live (Norman Z. McLeod), Le Schpountz (Marcel Pagnol), The Shining Hour (Frank Borzage), The Shopworn Angel (H.C. Potter), Stolen Death (Nyrki Tapiovaara), Three Comrades (Frank Borzage), You and Me (Fritz Lang)

1939: Four Seasons of Children (Hiroshi Shimizu), Goodbye Mr. Chips (Sam Woods), Jesse James (Henry King), The Man They Could Not Hang (Nick Grinde), Of Mice and Men (Lewis Milestone), The Old Maid (Edmund Goulding), Son of Frankenstein (Rowland V. Lee)

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Shrew
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#187 Post by Shrew » Fri Nov 30, 2018 4:13 pm

I just defended So Big! in the pre-Code list thread, thought I get why it’s not for everyone. It’s dumb material, but Wellman works hard to come up with inventive and impressive cinematic ways of handling it. On the other hand, I found Small Town Girl to be a long bore—kind of a dry run for A Star is Born with Gaynor’s small town aspirations and the struggle with alcoholism. But Robert Taylor is no Frederic March, and it’s far more conventional looking than Wellman’s earlier works. It also builds to a pretty middling ending, as I never bought the central coupling (Jimmy Stewart is right there girl, even if his name here is Elmer). The scene of Taylor working through his hangover to figure out who Gaynor is is pretty good though.

Speaking of A Star is Born, I’m also pretty mild on What Price, Hollywood?. The first 20 minutes are good, where Bennett is a waitress trying to get Sherman’s attention and fumbling onto a set, and the climax is some impressive montage and overlays. But the middle is awful, devoted to Bennett being pursued by her would-be husband (Neil Hamilton), an incredible jerk and a professional polo player of all things. It’s a bizarre proto-screwball courtship, where he breaks into her room and abducts her to a dinner. Plus, the Sherman character disappears through most of this middle section, which makes the climax feel disconnected. I’ve heard some people prefer this version for eschewing a romance between the two leads and avoiding some of the tricky power dynamics that plague (particularly the 2018 version of) A Star Is Born. But there just isn’t enough time here to develop a deeply felt platonic friendship or paternal relationship, and instead we’re stuck we the most boorish of fancy deadbeat husbands.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#188 Post by bamwc2 » Sun Dec 02, 2018 3:55 pm

Shrew wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 4:13 pm
I just defended So Big! in the pre-Code list thread, thought I get why it’s not for everyone. It’s dumb material, but Wellman works hard to come up with inventive and impressive cinematic ways of handling it. On the other hand, I found Small Town Girl to be a long bore—kind of a dry run for A Star is Born with Gaynor’s small town aspirations and the struggle with alcoholism. But Robert Taylor is no Frederic March, and it’s far more conventional looking than Wellman’s earlier works. It also builds to a pretty middling ending, as I never bought the central coupling (Jimmy Stewart is right there girl, even if his name here is Elmer). The scene of Taylor working through his hangover to figure out who Gaynor is is pretty good though.
I have to admit to enjoying the first half of the film the most, but only mildly so. Once it began jumping ahead in time and spouting its "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" message, it completely lost me. Oh well. This is one aspect of discourse where I think that we can disagree and both be right. I have a forthcoming paper arguing that relativist semantics are the only way to make sense of taste predicates like those we use in judging film, art, or cuisine.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#189 Post by bamwc2 » Sun Dec 02, 2018 9:52 pm

Viewing Log:
*All six films viewed through Kanopy*

By the Bluest of Seas (Boris Barnet and S. Mardanin, 1935): The first of two films by Boris Barnet, finds Yussuf (Lev Sverdlin) and Aliosha (Nikolay Kryuchkov), a pair of bumbling sailors marooned in the Caspian Sea when they're rescued by members of a farmers commune called the Beacons of Communism. They take jobs working for the commune, but trouble ensues with both men fall for the gorgeous worker Misha (Yelena Kuzmina). I see that there's a bit of a disagreement in this thread about this title. I come down firmly in the love category. Barnet's works are usually anarchic comic masterpieces and this one is no different.

The Count of Monte Cristo (Rowland V. Lee, 1934): Robert Donat stars as Edmond Dantes, a man falsely accused by a group of conspirators, and sentenced without trial to life imprisonment in the island asylum of Chateau D'If, in this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic revenge tale. As the years go by, Dantes breaks down, but he is soon renewed by his encounter with fellow prisoner, Abbe Foria (O.P. Heggie). The film more or less hits the same notes as other adaptations, and does it in a perfectly acceptable manner: from Dantes' escape to his reinvention as the Count of Monte Cristo to the attempts at revenge. It's not a terribly memorable film, but it is minimally competent.

Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass (Dziga Vertov, 1931): Dziga Vertov takes his movie camera to the Don region of the Ukraine in an attempt to document a coal plant's attempt to fulfill their goals in one of the Five Year Plans. This was my third film by Vertov (Kino-Eye and Man with the Movie Camera were the other two), and like those other works, it’s a symphonic rendition of Soviet themes of industrialization, with a lengthy opener on the destruction of a church. I have to say that I enjoyed this one less than the other two. The film is only an hour long, and has already worn out its welcome by the time it was over. It’s still an interesting portrait of a long dead time, and one that, given its focus on extreme propaganda and coal, seems like it would be loved by our own Dear Leader. Mild recommendation.

The Great Consoler (Lev Kuleshov, 1933): Director Lev Kuleshov's morality play about the imprisonment of O. Henry in an Ohio correctional facility is kind of an odd work. The story allows Kuleshov to focus on the issues of exploitation of the imprisoned and the unfair treatment of a black inmate--two themes that Soviets would be eager to showcase against their American counterparts. The film is mostly standard melodrama about the unjust treatment that a genius like O. Henry receives at the hands of the corrupt guards, but it also finds time to segue into a pair of short stories written by the author. Not everything works here, but I find enough does for a very mild recommendation.

Okraïna (Boris Barnet, 1933): Another wild, fun one from Barnett. This time the film is set during WWI, on the western edges of Russia as the town grapples with the ongoing world war, the collapse of the monarchy and birth of the provisional government. These developments are all remote to the backwater villagers until a prisoner of war camp is constructed in their backyard. Its presence leads to a semi-romantic relationship between a Russian youth and a German POW, as well as a strike a local factory. The comedy here doesn't rise to the surreal hijinks of, say, Happiness (my pick for the greatest Soviet film of the decade), but there is more than enough oddities that go on here that make the film's final anti-war message feel earned. I'd say that this was my favorite of the batch.

Ten Minutes to Live (Oscar Micheaux, 1932): This was only my second film by Oscar Micheaux (Body and Soul from the Paul Robeson box was the other), and my assessment of both films are the same: I appreciate the role that Micheaux played in early black cinema more than I enjoyed the finished product itself. Actually, Body and Soul was a masterpiece compared to this mess. The film is itself an amalgam of two short stories: "The Cheat" and "The Killer". The films begins with The Cheat, which finds a movie producer try to use a casting couch as a way to bed a nightclub singer. Then we transition into the second story as a clubgoer gets a note saying that she will be dead in ten minutes. Neither story is ever resolved in a meaningful way. Characters just sit around talking to no payoff. In fact, at least a third of the film (and possibly more) is composed of night club acts. Most of them are dancers, but one of the early ones is a shocking bit of Amos & Andy-esque characters in black face. I honestly didn't expect to see that in a film set in an all-black nightclub, by black filmmakers, made for a black audience. Pass.

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#190 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 02, 2018 9:58 pm

While untenable to most viewers today, blackface had a long tradition in vaudeville and was considered by many to be non-hostile and/or reverential, so I'm not surprised

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#191 Post by knives » Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:04 pm

One of the interesting things about black performers well into the '30s is that they would regularly wear blackface as well. It was just the normal thing. You can see that in Bert Williams movies as well. Marlon Riggs talks about it somewhat if I recall correctly in his seminal work Ethnic Notions.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#192 Post by bamwc2 » Sun Dec 02, 2018 11:17 pm

knives wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:04 pm
One of the interesting things about black performers well into the '30s is that they would regularly wear blackface as well. It was just the normal thing. You can see that in Bert Williams movies as well. Marlon Riggs talks about it somewhat if I recall correctly in his seminal work Ethnic Notions.
I had no idea. Thanks.

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knives
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#193 Post by knives » Thu Dec 06, 2018 1:27 pm

The Gorgeous Hussy (dir. Brown)
This starts off promising to buck the trend of capitulation to the south by Hollywood into one of the most interesting films of the era, but rather quickly kills that for a more expected romance romanticizing the south. The script wisely takes from a real senate argument between Daniel Webster and John Randolph. It's an exciting scene that slips into another exciting one setting the film up to be the battle between north and south as domestic drama. You could almost see it as one of those daring Rossellini films. Alas Crawford comes on the scene promising only a mediocre MGM film that doesn't understand its historical setting. Worse yet is when Lionel Barrymore's cutesy Andrew Jackson comes on and the cycle is complete to make this a film approving of the south and shouting boys whenever it can. The Petticoat scandal which supposedly makes the backbone of the film is interesting, but the movie doesn't really do anything with it instead going down the most generic hole it can. The only enjoyable part f this film which makes it stand out as unique from the others is James Stewart. He gives a great and lively performance that is so above everything else it feels like a waste.

The Gay Bride (dir. Conway)
Based on descriptions I thought this was going to be a prohibition What a Way to Go, but the structure is much too slow to support that description. The romance with the first husband takes up the majority of the movie and perhaps following through on that as a battle of desires between dumb money and smart chemistry would have been better. Even then though the film is only okay and probably has a low ceiling to where it could have been improved.

Too Hot to Handle (dir. Conway)
This is probably the weirdest film of Gable's career. It's a fairly incoherent mish mash of various movies that don't work together at all. At first it seems like a manly parody of the news and how the goings on in Europe and Asia are being covered with Gable as a sort of George Seldes by way of PT Barnum character. It then flips into a generic romance with Myrna Loy before for reasons that barely make a sense becoming a jungle movie that plays out like something Bela Lugosi would feature in a couple of decades. The bizarre storytelling and also some risque plot points make this feel like a throwback to the worst of the pre-code days. The main distinction being the late '30s sheen of an MGM picture. This is a surprisingly dirty picture at that. There's a subplot about Gable's boss suffering divorce proceedings because he hooked up with multiple prostitutes, no one gets punished for their misdeeds, and there's a small talk on heroin addictions. Yet in the face of this strangeness the film is weirdly dull.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#194 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Dec 09, 2018 11:17 pm

knives wrote:
Sat Aug 04, 2018 10:40 pm
Outskirts (dir. Boris Barnet)This is honestly one of the best films I've ever seen and it is widely available thanks to an R2 Mr. Bongo DVD, a Facets if you are willing to risk that, and an official upload to youtube that is in decent condition as far as that goes. There' no excuse not to watch this masterpiece of 1933.
On your recommendation, I'm going to get this. The info I'm seeing is that the Mr. Bongo is actually all-region.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#195 Post by bamwc2 » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:57 pm

Viewing Log:

Bad Girl (Frank Borzage, 1931): A middling entry in Borzage's cannon finds career girl Dorothy (Sally Eilers) falling for the misogynistic skinflint Eddie (James Dunn doing a scenery chewing New York stereotype). After staying out till 4:00 AM, Eddie agrees to marry Dorothy in order to prevent her brother from beating her(!). The pair embark on the uneasy path of unfamiliar newlyweds. Eddie has money saved up to open his own radio shop, but an unplanned pregnancy quickly derails their plans and puts their nascent relationship to the test. This is the sort of romantic melodrama that Borzage could have hit out of the park in the silent era, but the technological limitations of the early sound era wreaked havoc with the visuals. For curiosity seekers only.

Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935): This early color staging of Thackeray's Vanity Fair stars Miriam Hopkins as the titular 19th century heroine. Becky is a low class girl who ages out of a haughty boarding school. Without a penny to her name, the ragamuffin is adopted by her fiend Amelia's (Frances Dee) family. There she finds and loses love as the battle of Warerloo takes place in the background. The film starts strong by focusing on comedic themes dealing with class and manners. While the film returns to this trajectory a few times throughout its runtime, it's frequently too serious for its own good.

Broadway Melody of 1936 (Roy Del Ruth, 1935): This sequel in name only to 1929's best picture winner stars a cavalcade of the era's top comedic and dance talent. Bob Gordon (Robert Taylor) wants to stage a Broadway musical. He's got everything he needs except for a leading lady to star in it. Lilian Brent (June Knight) fronts the money for the show and wants to make herself the star, while Bob's old flame Irene (Eleanor Powell) is the talented underdog that was born to tap her way into NYC's heart. Gossip columnists Bert (Jack Benny) and Snoop (Sid Silvers) provide welcome comic relief as they invent a French ingenue to mess with the production, but inadvertently provide Irene with the in she needs to get the role. The film is a trifle, but a delightful one.

Broadway Melody of 1938 (Roy Del Ruth, 1937): Taylor and Powell return (along with Buddy Ebsen) as different characters in this sequel, but this time they're joined by Judy Garland in the plucky heroine role that Powell played in the previous iteration. The plot is more or less the same: a Broadway producer wants to stage a surefire hit, but lacks the means. This time the producer has the star, but lacks the funding. The key lies in the horse that his star raised as a little girl, who can win any race when serenaded by opera arias. Is it silly? Oh yes? Does it work as well as the previous two entries in the series? Not really, but its good enough. On a side note, I've long known that Ebsen started his career as a song and dance man, but it's still jarring as hell to see a young Jed Clampett hoofing it up in a Mickey Mouse sweater.

The Girl from Chicago (Oscar Micheaux, 1932): Well, I'm now up to three for Micheaux features. This one tells the story of Alonzo White (Carl Mahon), a federal agent investigating a case in Mississippi , where he meets the film's titular heroine, Norma (Star Calliway). Local crime boss Jeff Balinger (John Everett) shoots her, and a smitten White must save her life and take him down. When the dust settles down south, the par head north to Harlem where new troubles await. This was an improvement over Ten Minutes to Live insofar as it has a plot. It does, however suffer from many of the same tropes as that film: clunky non-professional actors and sidelining the plot for song and dance acts. The version up on Amazon Prime is borderline unwatchable beyond the sort of wear and tear you'd expect from a film that's close to 90 years old. The frame is cropped such that it frequently cuts off the tops of the heads of the actors (down to the nose in some cases!) and it has VHS dubbing artifacts at the bottom of the screen throughout.

The Man They Could Not Hang (Nick Grinde, 1939): Dr. Henryk Savaard (Boris Karloff) has invented a method of resuscitating the dead hours after their last breath. He sees it as a miracle of modern medicine, but when he tests out the procedure on a young medical student, he's arrested before the man can be revived. Savaard is tried and convicted of murder, and soon hanged for the crime. Of course his colleague uses the procedure to secretly revive him, but Savaard returns with a twisted thirst for vengeance that will soon see him murdering those who have wronged him. Karloff does his creepy best here, but clocking in at a mere 64 minutes, the film's editing feels jarring, with scenes ending abruptly.

Three Comrades (Frank Borzage, 1938): My third Taylor film finds him starring along with Franchot Tone and Robert Young as a trio of of German WWI soldiers who open an auto repair shop together after surviving the war. Their lives together, however, are no easier than they were on the front line as they find themselves embroiled in all the trappings that F. Scott Fitzgerald could dream up. It's a step up for Borzage from Bad Girl (it's certainly more visually interesting!), but it doesn't measure up to his best work.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#196 Post by domino harvey » Tue Dec 18, 2018 1:11 pm

bamwc2 wrote:
Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:57 pm
Bad Girl (Frank Borzage, 1931): A middling entry in Borzage's cannon
Image

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#197 Post by knives » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:09 pm

The Story of Louis Pasteur (dir. Dieterle)
This is a truly tremendous film. It's fun with a witty performance by Muni, perhaps his best, and a simple yet effective style. Yet it is the subject itself that makes this a great film. It's kind of crazy the insanity of Europeans, the middle east and Asia had been washing hands and boiling utensils for millennia by that point, of the time in their reaction to Pasteur's harmless suggestions (I can't imagine washing your hands would cost much money so why not do it). It shows a certain sort of intellectual laziness that is shocking and disturbing. It's easy to laugh things off as no one would seriously be indifferent to germs nowadays, well almost no one, but it is easy to see that sort of ignorance abounding in other areas as well (the recent scare in psychology over replication is a great example of this). In that sense this isn't merely a fun piece of well made cinema, but also a frightening warning to all people too confident in their knowledge so as to lack self reflection and an insistence on asking why instead becoming small minded and even petty.

Stolen Holiday (dir. Curtiz)
Damn, why did it take me so long to find Kay Francis was such a great actor? The plot here is nothing to write home about and the technique is about average for Curtiz, but Francis once again takes a character and turns her into something no one else could deliver.

If I Were King (dir. Lloyd)
Villon this ain't. Lloyd gives a dry, right wing interpretation of the people's poet that only offers a bit of humour when Colman gets to make off colour jokes (including a surprisingly risque one involving beds). Unfortunately even that feels merely a xeroxed Barrymore making me desire the far superior The Beloved Rogue. Also Basil Rathbone gives one of the worst performances I've ever heard with a voice something like a child imitating a stupid chicken.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#198 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:14 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Tue Dec 18, 2018 1:11 pm
bamwc2 wrote:
Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:57 pm
Bad Girl (Frank Borzage, 1931): A middling entry in Borzage's cannon
Image
It didn't make the cut for my list, but I have to agree, it's probably one of his better films.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#199 Post by swo17 » Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:45 pm

Oh, you've sent a list already--I guess it is about that time. Reminder that the deadline for this project is in about a month and a half. People can be sending me their lists at any time.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#200 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Dec 21, 2018 5:12 pm

I think I may have seen every single entry on my list projected in 35mm within the past decade, which is pretty amazing because I didn't really go to repertory theaters regularly until 2009. It must say something about the NYC repertory scene and what they program most. (I think MoMA and Film Forum may have taken up the lion's share.)

During that time, my appreciation for Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir (who had a complete retrospective at BAM back in 2010) has grown enormously, and I'll be including the two Renoir films (La Chienne and La Bête humaine) that were based on material Lang would later adapt into films as well. They're all excellent in their own way, but I may appreciate Renoir's more - something about the way his humanism co-existing with such dark material makes it resonate a bit more, at least for me.

James Whale's The Great Garrick will make it on my list too. Like The Bride of Frankenstein, we have another film (or performed work) playing out self-consciously. Again it works wonderfully, but it's more organic here, with less camp and still for laughs.

I'm including Leo McCarey's Love Affair which is even better than An Affair to Remember. I think they're both great films - the latter is a bit more flawed, but the leads in the latter are perhaps better, especially for Grant alone.

Man's Castle and Hallelujah, I'm a Bum will be in as well - I'm not sure I'd call either a fetishization of the poor, they're too dark and kooky to feel that way. Man's Castle may very well be my favorite Borzage film, and it's certainly one of the great Spencer Tracy vehicles of this era. (Fury almost made my list.)

Also George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett which has aged remarkably well given this past decade - it really is way ahead of its time.
swo17 wrote:
Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:45 pm
Oh, you've sent a list already--I guess it is about that time. Reminder that the deadline for this project is in about a month and a half. People can be sending me their lists at any time.
Truth be told, I have a Word document somewhere where I add favorite films after I've seen them, so when it's time to submit something, it doesn't take long to refer back to this Word document and to reorganize a list out of it. The document's pretty old - at least ten years now - and I keep the list because it doubles as a shopping list and a handy reference if I ever want to revisit a film.

I wish I could write about each and every one of them but it's very fatiguing and time consuming, especially when it's not fresh on my mind from seeing it the night or day before.

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