The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions (Decade Project Vol. 4)

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

#76 Post by movielocke » Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:14 am

I just saw that FilmStruck launched a William wellman package and one of the films is one of my 1930s white whales: Wild Boys of the Road, a film given a huge recommendation to me by a professor fifteen years ago and that I could never find in libraries, on TCM nor Los Angeles (now mostly closed) esoteric video rental outlets.

I used to hunt for this and Make Way for Tomorrow at all the same places, and while I eventually tracked down the super obscure latter film at Eddie Brandt’s Saturday matinee in their off-the-books “loaner list” of never on video obscurities they had taped off tv in the last thirty years, the wellman film always eluded me.

I’m a little scared to watch it, I imagine it will be rather ordinary, but it stupefies me that FilmStruck can just bam make these rarities so damn accessible.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#77 Post by swo17 » Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:16 am

That's actually on the third Forbidden Hollywood set as well

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#78 Post by domino harvey » Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:47 am

Which is really a Wellman box

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#79 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Thu Aug 23, 2018 5:41 am

domino harvey wrote:
Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:47 am
Which is really a Wellman box
With Night Nurse on Vol 2

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#80 Post by movielocke » Thu Aug 23, 2018 10:30 am

swo17 wrote:That's actually on the third Forbidden Hollywood set as well
Hah well I was never able to keep track of every release and kind of forgot about for ten years til yesterday

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#81 Post by domino harvey » Thu Aug 23, 2018 5:37 pm

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Let ‘Em Have It (Sam Wood 1935)
Released the same year as Warners’ superior G Men, this is a look at a trio of recent Justice Department hires as they work the case of a parolee whom they know is up to no good. Of course, they’re right. As always in these kind of films, the best moments are those that share the then-groundbreaking actuality footage of how evidence was gathered. The only other aspect of interest is still something of a missed opportunity: the villainous parolee forces a plastic surgeon at gunpoint to change his appearance. After the doc bandages him up, he of course gets murdered (I’ll say this about the film: it does not pussyfoot around the violent results of the criminals). Once the bandages come off, the parolee discovers the doc has branded his face with the criminal's initials. A good idea, but the actual branding is so minor that he could have borrowed some foundation from one of his molls and been fine!

Men Are Such Fools (Busby Berkeley 1938)

Non-musical romantic comedy from Berkeley about Priscilla Lane’s Madison Ave working gal who finds her career threatening her husband Wayne Morris. Morris’ pre-marital courtship of Lane is psychopathic: first he parks his car on the railroad tracks and won’t move out of the path of a movie train til she says yes, then later he secures a final date for the wedding by drowning Lane in a pool over and over until she’s only able to gasp out “Tuesday” between dunks so he’ll stop. Those are a lot of things, but funny isn't one of them. As a frequent viewer and scholar of studio era Hollywood, I am well-versed in dealing with the often depressing insistence on bolstering acceptable gender roles and norms in these films, but this one was just too much. Morris makes Lane quit her job, one she loves and is good at, to sit at home in the suburbs away from everything and everyone she knows. At first it looks like she won’t capitulate and I was briefly hopeful this was a progressive pic. But no, she does, just on “her” terms (which are identical to his terms— convenient!). The title here is quite a bill of goods, as “such fools” seems to be synonymous with “triumphant and wholly vindicated despite their behaviors.” Whatever bright spots are present here are thanks to Lane’s daffy charm, but that only makes it more disappointing when she willingly settles down into complacency and domesticity at the behest of her husband. [P]

Stingaree (William A Wellman 1934)
Richard Dix and Irene Dunne reteam in this effort that is thankfully better than Cimarron, even if it still isn’t very good! Dix is the titular Australian robber who falls for Dunne’s housekeeper and arranges his villainy in such a way that she is allowed to sing for an influential musician. Dunne finds fame and fortune but feels guilty after Dix is injured and arrested as a result of her performance. One of the big problems here is the same as in Roberta: I think Dunne has a grating singing voice and I was not thrilled at being made to sit through her shrill warbling yet again. The love story is silly and short-sighted, the action not particularly involving, and the performances are standard issue. This movie was all but buried for decades due to the producer’s row with RKO, but it wasn’t worth missing.

++++++++

RE: A Bill of Divorcement, just read this and had a good chuckle
Inside Oscar wrote:When the last scene was completed, Hepburn said to Barrymore, "Thank goodness I don't have to act with you anymore." The Great Profile retorted, "I didn't know you ever had, darling."

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#82 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 25, 2018 2:14 am

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My Dear Miss Aldrich (George B Seitz 1937)
Maureen O’Sullivan inherits a New York newspaper, but the paper’s editor Walter Pidgeon doesn’t cotton to women reporters, much less owners. O’Sullivan is persistent and eventually proves her worth to Pidgeon. Edna May Oliver toplines (!) this romantic comedy programmer as O’Sullivan’s puzzle-obsessed aunt. If this sounds like a forgettable and rote b-picture, I don’t blame you. It should be one. There’s no reason for a film with a set-up like this to be anything but creaky. And yet… watching this movie play out was a process of gradually getting my hopes up higher and higher that the film was actually doing what I thought it was doing. It was.

Far from your garden variety battle of the sexes studio era product in which a free-spirited woman pays a little lip service to the evils of men, has an adventure or two, and then domesticates herself out of the workforce and into marital bliss, what we have instead is a wholly feminist protagonist who maintains her individuality and self-drive throughout the picture. The film opens with a series of interactions in which characters, namely men, ignore and disregard O’Sullivan-- on the basis of being some naif corn-fed foundling from Nebraska, sure, but primarily because she’s a woman trying to do a man’s job. Pidgeon is so casually insulting towards her that it doesn’t even register to him. But it does to O’Sullivan, who calmly acknowledges every micro-agression without engaging them via her judicious responses.

O’Sullivan’s kid glove indulgence in Pidgeon’s piggishness reaches a head in the film’s best scene. Pidgeon strong-arms O’Sullivan into having lunch with him. He may not agree with her women’s lib opinions, but that hasn’t stopped him from falling in love. Pidgeon begins the same scene we’ve seen hundreds of times in these movies, where the successful man who could support them both delivers the best a woman could expect to get in a Hollywood movie: He loves her, and doesn’t that matter more than anything? Not to O’Sullivan, who proceeds to interrupt his profession of love multiple times to use the telephone-- not for business purposes, but to interrupt and stop his outpouring of unwanted emotion. She thus disrupts the norm over and over as she enforces her will the only way she can: Not outwardly, not directly, but slyly and effectively. It’s an incredible scene for a film from this era— I’ve never seen anything even comparable to it in terms of the function it serves for both the narrative and the character.

Later, O’Sullivan is fired as a reporter, and Oliver gives her what sounds like trite and gender-norm-affirming advice: go clothes shopping! But this safe and acceptable outlet (as dictated by male-led society) for women inadvertently provides O’Sullivan with her opportunity: the wife of a union leader is at the shop, and O’Sullivan is able to con her way into the woman’s apartment in order to break the story about an impending strike… for like ten seconds. O’Sullivan does a good job, but the wife isn’t an idiot and figures out that she’s a reporter almost immediately. O’Sullivan tries to appeal to her on the grounds of womanly solidarity and the wife… throws her the fuck out. Yes, the film sets up the conventional beats, the notes we expect from every other movie we’ve seen from this era (women are legion, so O'Sullivan will get her story by appealing to her as a fellow female), and then undermines them. The cleverness of the film is owed chiefly to the screenplay, which was written by Herman J Mankiewicz, the future screenwriter of Citizen Kane among others. I gather this work isn’t thought of too highly by anyone who’s ever written about him. If that’s so, then it means either it was assumed to be awful so no one bothered to see it, or they did see it and they’re an idiot.

O’Sullivan is resourceful. Her and her pixie cap and white dress gloves go on to successfully stalk the union leader’s wife, breaking the story through a series of inventive and suitably silly complications and at all times advocating for and prioritizing herself. It is remarkable how Mankiewicz’ script toys with the needs of all studio comedies like this to have a romance. For those who see this, and it should be all of you, watch closely at how O’Sullivan appears to confirm the conventional romantic elements of Pidgeon’s advances. However, all of her responses are posed in such a way as to be non-committal. I was so stunned with how the film managed to end with a non-acceptance acceptance of matrimony that I immediately rewound the film after “The End” came up because I wanted to make sure the film really pulled this off even here. It did. Watch closely: O’Sullivan is victorious, both narratively and over and apart from the stifling conventions of gender-mandated complacency and self-sacrifice in the face of domesticity. This movie and especially this character deserves to be remembered and celebrated as a pillar of early feminist iconography. O’Sullivan’s character blows away the so-called strong women of Pre Code cinema and screwball comedies by being 100% consistent, determined, and most impressively subtle in her cleverness, therefore never posing a threat to a potentially receptive audience (or a hostile one). The film plays to two audiences simultaneously, like those optical illusions where a picture is either a pipe or a duck, and I can unfortunately understand why the film has been marginalized then and now as fluff that doesn’t merit a closer look. If this were a message picture, it wouldn’t work. But, of course, it is a message picture after all, isn’t it? Warners hasn’t even bothered to release it to the Archives yet, but My Dear Miss Aldrich is a film worth seeking out and thinking about beyond the surface appearances. A guarantee for my list.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#83 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Aug 25, 2018 4:14 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Wed Aug 22, 2018 1:06 pm
A Bill of Divorcement (George Cukor 1932)
John Barrymore escapes the asylum where he’s lived ever since coming back shellshocked from the war. Once home, he discovers daughter Katharine Hepburn and his wife Billie Burke, who unbeknownst to Barrymore has divorced him and is preparing to remarry. This was Hepburn’s first film, so I will give her a little rope, but everyone else gets none: this is a collection of stilted, stage-level broad performances, with Hepburn and Barrymore vacillating between extremes to show their alleged emotional turpitude in a fashion that is quite embarrassing to behold. The film has overwritten dialogue that sounds every bit like a bad play no one had the good sense to rewrite, and the editing of all things is shockingly poor (if you love mismatchd shots, you’re in for a real treat). This is a lousy film all around, which is too bad, because there are moments when Barrymore lowers himself into a groveling mass of patheticism that hint at a better movie we don’t get here.
Thanks for this write-up, you've spared me getting this as a blind-buy since I hadn't seen it.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#84 Post by movielocke » Sat Aug 25, 2018 5:40 pm

My dear miss Aldrich sounds amazing, what’s the availability?

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#85 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 25, 2018 6:12 pm

There's a good quality TCM rip on back channels, but no commercial release. Someone is selling a DVD-R on eBay, presumably sourced from the same but don't know for sure

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#86 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 26, 2018 4:46 pm

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Big Town Girl (Alfred J Werker 1937)
Chanteuse Claire Trevor escapes her hood husband Alan Baxter (who will always be Little Boy from the Set-Up to me) by sneaking out of town, eventually finding fame singing on the radio as the “Masked Countess”— somehow the unnecessary need to obscure her face when she’s on the air never gets acknowledged. It’s all for nothing anyways because Baxter recognizes her immediately in the papers due to her ring. The film has some dreadful music numbers, none of which are helped by Trevor— she may be reliable in more hardboiled roles, but an ingenue she was not. Add to that an obnoxious romantic lead who violates every professional code of reporting ethics you can think of and some typically short-sighted racial humor and this is a dog that will likely stay buried in the Fox vaults.

Black Fury (Michael Curtiz 1935)
Paul Muni’s genial Slovak coal miner is used and discarded by a nefarious group of union agitators in this intense social problem picture. The film’s warring factions of unions are well-represented, as even the “good” union has its problems and there’s no clear side to choose at first. It is impossible to watch this movie without thinking about how the established union versus the upstart union that only wants to exploit you is clearly inspired by the drama going on in Hollywood with the Academy versus the Screen Actors Guild— at the time, you could not be a member of SAG without first resigning from the Academy, which at the height of the conflict resulted in less than a hundred actors in the Academy. Tempers were eventually quelled by, among other things, the introduction of the Best Supporting acting categories.

Muni’s appearance in Oscar records for this film is unique: he was not nominated, but due to a combination of the controversy over Bette Davis not being nominated the previous year for Of Human Bondage and Warners exerting pressure because they wanted to reward Michael Curtiz (for another film, Captain Blood), the Academy again allowed write-in votes for the 1935 awards, which had the unintended result of netting Muni a surprise second place finish for Best Actor. Muni’s performance is broad in a way that you either meet on its level or be steamrolled regardless. I enjoyed his blustery energy, but it is not hard to imagine what detractors would say (one notable voice of dissent was WC Fields of all people, who vocally griped about Muni’s excesses in the film, which is I guess not surprising coming from a performer dependent on subdued notes, but a funny footnote all the same). For the first two acts I thought Black Fury was a great film that had passed me by, but the film loses itself in the last act as Muni occupies the mine and starts blowing it up shaft by shaft until the original union is reinstated. This could be an effective instrument of Muni’s self-destruction, but sadly it only results in a happy ending that this film never needed. For such a vicious film, the finish, unlike in say I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, is toothless.

If I Were King (Frank Lloyd 1938)
Hollywood tackles the tale of François Villon again, this time with a script by Preston Sturges. Those hoping for witticisms will be left shorthanded, as this is a film where the only thing keeping it afloat are the lead performances, here by Ronald Colman as the poet and Basil Rathbone, justly nommed for an Oscar, as Louis XI. Rathbone plays the king as an old crone, cackling away like the Cryptkeeper and putting Villon on for his own amusement. Colman is dashing and charming, as he often was in this period, and both sell this material better than it merits. I’m not sure what alchemy occurred when Sturges started directing his own scripts, but I haven’t been bowled over by anything he’s written but not filmed himself.

Over the Moon (Thornton Freeland 1939)
Orphaned servant girl Merle Oberon learns she’s inherited eighteen million pounds and proceeds to live the kind of life she’s only read about. At first her fiance Rex Harrison goes along with it, but eventually it becomes too much for the small town doctor and the two split. The rest you can work out for yourself, no doubt. Despite not being a Hollywood film, apart from a character whose homosexuality is less coded than it would otherwise be there’s little else here much different than your average American studio programmer. I was disappointed by the film’s insistence that Oberon had to settle down with Harrison and give up her spendy ways when the film gives her a much better suitor in the person of a wealthy playboy who gets discarded without much thought late in the pic— who could possibly watch this movie and want Harrison to win? The technicolor photography is nice in moments that call for it, as in the fashion show or the trip to Italy, but seemed unduly expensive for such an inconsequential movie. [P]

Swing You Sinners! (Dave Fleischer 1930)
Betty Boop’s pal Bimbo tries to steal a chicken and the entire world (and underworld) contorts itself to serve as punishment in this fascinating animated short. I am drawn to these kind of movies in which injustice is punished by non-corporeal entities who manipulate all known natural laws to enact vengeance (the Girl in a Swing, Triangle), and the pleasure beyond the aesthetics of the fun and fluid animation is in the disproportionate response of the dead and undead to a relatively common and here unsuccessful “sin.” And it makes sense: If we remove judgment from a trusted entity and put it in the hands of the world, why do we assume the world would be just or fair?

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#87 Post by knives » Sun Aug 26, 2018 5:05 pm

Swing You Sinners is an absolute favorite and just one of the most amazing expressions of what animation can be. The real director, in the auteurist sense, of the short is Willard Bowsky, who would die in WWII. He was easily Fleischer's best talent making many of the best films for Popeye and Betty Boop, given your love of supernatural entities wrecking havoc you should also check out Wotta Nitemare which is largely the same film image wise on a bigger scale. His Popeye two reeler is probably going on my list as well.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#88 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 26, 2018 5:50 pm

I'll check that one out. I didn't write it up because I have nothing to say about it, but I also watched Bimbo's Initiation after seeing it named alongside Sinners in the previous 30s thread and didn't like all the nonsensical free-association and found it suffered from being untethered from meaning compared to Sinners, so I'm 1-1 for these

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#89 Post by sinemadelisikiz » Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:36 pm

Swing You Sinners! is a national treasure as far as I'm concerned. I was probably a booster for it in the last 30s round. I agree that Bimbo's Initiation is less successful, but none of these Fleischer shorts overstay their welcome so I kind of love them all. There's a whole minigenre of 30s surreal mishmash cartoon shorts from this time period (like Porky in Wonderland or the Calloway shorts for instance), but Sinners is my favorite. If you're planning on submitting a list, see it...it's only 8 mins!

I haven't really delved into all those Popeye shorts. Knives, do you have suggestions for the best of?

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#90 Post by knives » Sun Aug 26, 2018 10:45 pm

Like I said any of the Bowsky shorts are good. The Tendlar ones are excellent as well though he really got his footing with the Superman shorts which better fit his more solid style (think of what Tashlin did for Looney Toons). As for particular titles I'd say Goonland is a bizarre bit of weirdness which is probably the closest to the comics/ Altman's version. Beware of Barnacle Bill is a censor friendly version of a Betty Boop cartoon that brings a real musicality to Popeye's violence that works to change things up (admittedly a lot of these can be very samey). There's another one who's title passes me by right now that might not even be eligible until the next list that I love. It involves Popeye getting a very annoying friend. Also all of the two reelers (though Sinbad and Ali Baba in particular) are plain amazing bring animation into a realm it has never since been.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#91 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 27, 2018 10:44 am

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the Big Pond (Hobart Henley 1930)
Claudette Colbert falls for Maurice Chevalier’s lowly French tour guide, but her wealthy father objects to their union. However, in order to ween her off the lad, he and Colbert’s former fiance develop a diabolical plan: they’ll pay for him to come back to America with them and give him a job and a chance to make good, under the belief that he’ll quickly fold and Colbert will grow tired of him. Well, only half of that plan turns out for the schemers, as Chevalier rises to every obstacle and works hard (the impressed foreman tells Colbert’s dad, “There’s no lace on his BVDs”) and quickly rises through the company. Only Colbert doesn’t want a businessman husband, she wants a charmant French dude! As you can tell, this movie makes a fatal error all the way down on a conception level: I do not ever want to see Maurice Chevalier in a movie in which he is a hard-working and faithful straight arrow model citizen. Good lord, what could be a worse idea? Rather than being impressed by Chevalier taking everything with stride and succeeding, I was marveling at how Paramount could not realize this blunder. The film is entertaining and occasionally gross— Chevalier works in a chewing gum factory and is assigned a job kneading the raw gum by hand, which he does without gloves. Later we see he worked so hard that his hands have blistered, so I guess the Blood of Maurice Chevalier was the Spearmint of the day. If the film does anything right, it’s in playing “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me” over and over in multiple ways, including via hurdy-gurdy. I fear it may never leave my consciousness. No wonder that Paul Newman / Joanne Woodward movie with Chevalier made three and a half decades later was named A New Kind of Love— everyone who made that film no doubt still had it in their head from this!

the Bishop Misbehaves (EA Dupont 1935)
For about thirty minutes this programmer goes on none too promisingly: Brit Maureen O’Sullivan “hires” Norman Foster’s visiting American to help her stick up a man who wronged her father. Various underworld crooks are employed and the outlook for the rest of the pic appears pretty dreadful. Then Edmund Gwenn’s titular Bishop shows up right in the middle of the action. An ardent fan of pulp literature, he hilariously inserts himself into the crime and starts manipulating everyone for his own amusement. Gwenn is terrific here, so jolly and clever, and the movie becomes an enjoyable lark the moment he shows up. Now, this idea is hardly fresh and the film isn’t particularly clever despite being based on a popular Broadway play, but I enjoyed this on the strength of Gwenn and was glad to have seen it, even though I can’t quite recommend it. [P]

La Cucaracha (Lloyd Corrigan 1934)
Made by RKO to test out the feasibility of using Technicolor for Becky Sharp, this lively musical short finds Steffi Duna trying to sabotage her man’s big chance at fame by insulting his theatrical booker and later interrupting his performance. I had a good laugh when this supposed connoisseur of food and entertainment goes off on how much he loves using Tabasco, though! The film has all the requisite shiny bright costumes you’d expect, but it also exhibits one unexpected clever use of dynamic color: Duna insults the booker’s tastes and gets him so worked up that the camera zooms in and a red light is then applied to show him erupt in anger like in a comic strip:

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I love how this moment hints at a more outlandish direction color cinema could have gone, rather than being relegated (or elevated, depending on who you ask) to staid historical costume epics! The music and performances are fun and at twenty minutes, it hits the spot. Recommended.

the Mask of Fu Manchu (Charles Brabin 1932)
Boris Karloff is the nefarious Fu Manchu, out to obtain the infamous (?) Gold Mask and Scimitar of Genghis Khan, which he will use to eradicate the white race. Aided by his daughter Myrna Loy, who at one point goes into orgasm watching two black men whip a bound white guy, Karloff implements torture and his victims say things like, “Do you think Fu Manchu knows we have a beautiful white woman here?” It’s not a surprise that the film has a long history of protestations against its existence, but it seemed pretty strongly aligned with the villains (as is often the case in movies where the antagonist is interesting and everyone else is boring as hell) until the finale, which is so distasteful I was legit shocked as the so-called protagonists
SpoilerShow
execute a room full of hundreds of non-violent followers of Fu Manchu, going out of their way to make sure they electrocute every last one as they writhe in pain. This isn't like Raiders of the Lost Ark where everyone is a literal Nazi, these are, as far as we can tell, just religious followers of a charismatic leader. Remind me again why I shouldn’t want Fu Manchu to win?

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#92 Post by domino harvey » Tue Aug 28, 2018 12:05 pm

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the Adventures of Marco Polo (Archie Mayo 1938)
Longhaired Gary Cooper is the titular explorer, who is sent by Kublai Khan to spy on Alan Hale in unconvincing yellowface, among other “adventures.” This is dreadful big budget empty Hollywood nonsense, with some dubious the Life of Emile Zola-level details like Cooper being served spaghetti or discovering coal, and even worse is the cringe-y romance Cooper carries on with Khan’s daughter, who is so sheltered that their courtship is like watching Cooper woo a book of carpet samples. It gives me some restored faith in humanity to learn that this movie bombed hard on first release.

China Seas (Tay Garnett 1935)

Clark Gable captains a steamship in the Orient while playing host to a gaggle of MGM stars and contract players running the gamut from Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery to a slim-looking Akim Tamiroff and a young Rosalind Russell playing the ingenue (!). The story, or what there is of it, concerns villainous pirates infiltrating the ship and wreaking havoc, though they get beat to the punch by a runaway steamroller that comes loose during a storm, paving over plenty of coolies as they shriek in pain and terror for several minutes on end. To be fair, the pirates do their best to compete by smashing the feet of an old man with the butt of a rifle and crippling Gable for life with a “Malaysian boot.” The film is surprisingly violent for a movie coming out right at the outset of the Hays Code being enforced, and the movie is really too lightweight to justify so many grotesque sidebars. Irving Thalberg spent half a decade preparing this for production, and I guess it’s good he finally got it where he wanted since he’d die the next year, but, uh, it wasn’t ready yet. I found this complete bullshit claim on the Wikipedia article more amusing than the film itself:
"China Seas" was the first Hollywood formula adventure-movie which was repeated again and again, and that formula is used to this day -- invented by Thalberg.
Uh, [citation needed] needed. [P]

If You Could Only Cook (William A Seiter 1935)

Millionaire car company prez Herbert Marshall meets cute Jean Arthur’s struggling out of work transient and she talks him into applying to a coupled want ad for a butler and a cook. He goes along with it out of amusement and soon the two are employed by a wacky ex-gangster, who entertains hoods in his mansion. There are so many elements of this silly narrative that could result in inspired comic complications, but none are explored here. This is a consistently unfunny movie, with jokes rarely even attempted much less pulled off, and is yet another movie where all conflicts could have been avoided by two characters having a thirty second conversation. I thought it was interesting that in all the selfless praise for Marshall securing a job for Arthur, no one in the film points out that he’s stealing a job from someone who actually needs it, and that as a millionaire he could very easily have employed Arthur himself. Why watch this when you could watch My Man Godfrey or the Good Fairy instead?

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#93 Post by swo17 » Tue Aug 28, 2018 12:24 pm

I was thinking of mentioning The Good Fairy the other day when you said you hadn't been bowled over by anything Sturges had solely written, but my constitution can't take anything less than effusive praise being said about that movie

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#94 Post by domino harvey » Tue Aug 28, 2018 12:26 pm

I admit I forgot he wrote that one til typing the above-- I misremembered it as a Wilder script. Def the best non-Sturges-directed Sturges movie

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#95 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 29, 2018 1:50 am

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A Girl’s Best Years (Reginald Le Borg 1936)
A lothario finds himself in and out of court over breach of contract suits after the objects of his affection expect him to deliver on his promises of marriage in this wonderfully inventive musical short from MGM. The film opens with the greatest purely cinematic joke I’ve seen in some time. You should really see this, so I’m putting it in spoiler tags, which won’t stop some of you…
SpoilerShow
The seducer and his lover share a song about how wonderful life is now that they’ve found love in each other in a completely standard-issue musical moment. The film then unexpectedly bridges to the rest of the duet now being played over a dictaphone record in the courthouse, with the wronged woman crying on the stand while the song finishes playing out wholly via diagetic means. Absolutely inspired!
The film has a couple more clever uses of this technique, but it never tops the first. Oh, and that kid! Highly recommended.

New Shoes (Sammy Lee 1936)

Two pairs of singing shoes fall in love at the same time as their owners in this cute MGM musical short. We get the requisite collection of dad joke puns (“Hold your tongue,” &c) and a nice song that gets sung several times, including once over the telephone, with the soundtrack going scratchy and tinny to match. But most importantly, we learn why new shoes always hurt: they do it out of revenge for us treating them so roughly when we’re first trying them out! [P]

the Prisoner of Zenda (John Cromwell 1937)

Ronald Colman subs for a felled king who is his exact double while various villainous factions make the ruse more difficult yet. I expected this to be more action-packed, but it seemed more interested in a romance between the Not King and the Yas Queen Madeleine Carroll that is dead on arrival. The sword-fighting finale is rather ho-hum and too dependent on stunt doubles, so even when the action does come into play, it matters too little. While I otherwise don’t share knives’ enthusiasm earlier in the thread for the movie, I agree Douglas Fairbanks Jr runs circles around everyone else as a real charming piece of shit who turns out to be the actual antagonist late in the film. While I didn’t love it either, Colman’s followup If I Were King the following year is far more successful at this kind of thing.

Wife Versus Secretary (Clarence Brown 1936)
Happily married couple Clark Gable and Myrna Loy find things shook up when Gable starts keeping secrets and spending more time with his secretary Jean Harlow. There are several moments in the film where this tired narrative threatens to work: Loy and Gable’s relationship is fresh and lively and the scenes of Loy gradually losing her trust in Gable are the only moments that fully succeed. I thought how the film pivoted to admitting that Gable, far from being innocent despite being the victim of some sketchy extenuating circumstances, obviously does have feelings for Harlow was impressive, but I’m not sure the film ever earns the moralistic swerve it takes. Perhaps either three years earlier or thirty years later this film could have worked, but not when it was actually made.

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A man stayed-put
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#96 Post by A man stayed-put » Wed Aug 29, 2018 7:02 am

Les Disparus de Saint-Agil (Christian-Jaque 1938)
Children's adventure film based on a novel by Pierre Véry tinged with, and shot like, horror.
The child stars are very good and Michel Simon gives the type of performance you'd expect from him (take that as you will) while Stroheim is, initially, wonderfully sinister as a mysterious English teacher before the role takes a pleasantly nuanced turn. Robert le Vigan also turns up and is by turns quite creepy and quite funny. I’m always conflicted when it comes to Le Vigan, given what a vile shit he proved to be, but he’s a hugely entertaining presence in everything I’ve seen him in.
Although the milieu and shots of the school dorms immediately evoke Zero de Conduite, this probably has more in common with The Goonies and Stand By Me in its tone.
It's enjoyable enough but lightweight, and if we're comparing to other Véry adaptations I prefer Becker's 1943 Goupi Mains Rouge. However I’m aware many hold it in high esteem.

The Mummy (Karl Freund 1932)
On re-watch, this is a bit of a slog for the most part. Although there are wonderful sequences (the opening, the subsequent dig, the Karloff narrated flashback to ancient Egypt). Any effective atmosphere is limited to a few scenes and interspersed with stagey dialogue, delivered by not particularly good actors (Karloff largely excepted). The hastily set up romance between David Manners’ and Zita Johann (because when they unwrapped a several thousand year old corpse he fell in love with it) is unconvincing and not helped by Johann looking distractingly like Peter Lorre. There are several visual flourishes including a really nice crane shot over Karloff’s viewing pool which leads into the aforementioned flashback. However, it doesn’t live up to the best stuff in the films I’ve seen for which Freund worked as DP or anything in his wonderful Mad Love (which will be on my list).
Last edited by A man stayed-put on Wed Aug 29, 2018 2:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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knives
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#97 Post by knives » Wed Aug 29, 2018 8:46 am

The film is pretty bad as an action movie and though I think Carroll acquits herself the romance definitely isn't much. I like it pretty much for all of the supporting performances and the further they get from the main plot the better. The shot for shot remake is pretty interesting as its basically the opposite despite that quality. The small number of action scenes work well due to the lack of doubles and Granger is just charming (though not as much as in Scaramouche). Alternatively, the side characters aren't all that memorable despite being played by some talented actors. I think my favorite version of this story is Lester's Royal Flash which deals with a lot of problems in the source like uneven action.

Good to hear about If I Were King though which was already on my radar, but I wasn't exactly excited over.

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swo17
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#98 Post by swo17 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 10:26 am

For those wondering where to find the shorts domino has been recommending, this database is usually helpful

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knives
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#99 Post by knives » Wed Aug 29, 2018 2:09 pm

The Great Man Votes (Dir. Kanin)
Or John Barrymore's Career is Dead. This is a perfectly adequate film, but it becomes shocking for how degraded Barrymore is playing off his boozed image as second fiddle to a couple of kids. Admittedly it features some of the best acting from kids in the era with no one coming across as more annoying than intended and the central pair being charming and real. Their plot is dealt with some mature storytelling and good humour. It basically turns the star into a bummer as the film asks him to play to the bleachers and he abides by overshooting. He should have been replaced with WC Fields for a simple upgrade though the whole plot, done better with Kevin Costner, feels an unnecessary appendage.

I am curious where this is set though as the school seems more integrated than a lot I've worked in.

The Easiest Way (dir. Conway)
Constance Bennett was such a delight in Topper I had to see another of hers films. With this I chose wrong. It's only 73 minutes long with 70 of them feeling too long. Like too many pre-code films Bennett plays the generic blonde looking for money who gets it through means that the film pretends to frown at (here through a sugar daddy played by Adolphe Menjou) as the film pretends to teach her a lesson. That said the lesson comes with more honesty than most films of this type. Rather than being harangue into being good by the self righteous brother-in-law or sensitive mother it's true love that does it for Bennett. That love comes at a price too suggesting that being bad is the easy way with the question of the cost of being good as worth it. The popping screwball talent she exhibited in Topper is lost here in favor of generic glamour and drama. While never actively bad the basic pieces here are available in an uncountable amount of better movies leaving this with a greater sense of mediocrity. The movie also has Clark Gable sans mustache as well which I guess is noteworthy.

Boule de suif (dir. Romm)
I suppose the thing that must be said about this late silent film is how it's Maupassant story was latter liberally used by John Ford for Stagecoach. It might be easy to dismiss them as different while pointing out how Ford almost certainly could not have seen this, but it is quite interesting where they do compare. Most of this overlap I gather is from the mutual source, but the way that prostitution, for example, in Ford connects to an overall concept of economic insecurity while Romm focuses on the religious aspect is quite surprising and informs certain elements of daring on both directors parts. Romm's socialism isn't one that encases everything in an economic model with economic divisions more being a sign of human callousness than the other way around. This, surprisingly, suggests that socialism isn't a cure to a larger human condition though Romm opens the possibility that it is at least an effective fence. Romm is also able to get more explicit with sex as this film's John Carradine equivalent is treated as an ignoble, self righteous rapist contrasted with the prostitutes concept of self care. Again in this respect the Soviet film seems more individualistic than Ford's metaphorical conception since Romm forms this as the collective against the individual.

A small word on the aesthetic. Being such a late silent film it feels like a completion of the era where the intertitles are almost commentary rather than an organic part of this dark mix. Much of the editing and the cinematography actually reminds me of the French New Wave. I wonder given the importance of Maupassant to the New Wavers if this is not a case where apart from each other using the same source they came to a mutual concept of how the visual medium functions. By the way I don't just mean the rustic films like early Chabrol or Astruc, but even Truffaut and Godard seem to overlap with this film's idea of mis-en-scene and editing while the lighting wouldn't be out of place with Coutard.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#100 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Aug 29, 2018 4:55 pm

If you get a chance, you might also want to take a look at Mizoguchi's "Boule de suif" adaptation Maria no oyuki / Oyuki the Virgin (1935).

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