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This Is the Night (1932)
An Enjoyable Pre-Code
Claire (Thelma Todd) and Gerald (Roland Young) are carrying on a rather heated affair, but just as they are about to go away together to Venice, Claire's javelin-throwing husband Stephen (Cary Grant) returns home. In order to dispel his distrust, Gerald hires a woman to pose as his wife. Germaine (Lili Damita) is a hungry young French actress who poses as a more experienced woman named Chou Chou. She vamps Gerald incessantly while Stephen is around, and she is so successful that she makes Claire insanely jealous.
This sing-songy film is a delight to watch. It is fast-paced, comedic, and filled with a stellar cast, but it is not well known today. Film collectors find it interesting because it marks Cary Grant's first screen appearance and because it is one of the few films of Lili Damita, a popular but heavily-accented French star. Her career fizzled quite quickly, but not before she appeared with stars like Gary Cooper and Laurence Olivier.
Fans of the pre-code era will enjoy this one quite a lot, as it is peppered with naughty jokes ("I was living in Cin--, I was Naughty.") and a running gag about Todd losing her clothes.
Henry Aldrich Swings It (1943)
Another Enjoyable B-Series
When Henry Aldrich (Jimmy Lydon) learns he has a new music teacher, he expects the worst, but when he discovers she is a youthful beauty, he takes a new interest in the school band. He and the other kids are thrilled to discover that she has an appreciation for swing music, but the principal doesn't like it, and forbids her from playing it. Trouble ensues. To top things off, a famous violin player comes to the school to play with the students, only to get his Stradivarius mixed up with an ordinary violin.
This is an enjoyable B-film, which is in fact the 6th of the series, the 4th with Lydon. It originally was a Broadway show which got a radio series, and was so popular, that Paramount made it into a films series. It is not remembered today, and the films are difficult to track down, but when they can be seen, they're worth the wait.
This film is lighthearted and fun with an enthusiastic cast, great music (including "Ding Dong, Sing a Song"), and a good sense of humor. Real teenagers play the teens, so the film has an air of authenticity about it. When the gang gets together to play some music, their timidity shows through as being genuine, but they have true talent. You'll find yourself swinging it too!
Charlie McCarthy, Detective (1939)
"I'm Char-lie McCar-thy, detective!"
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy find themselves mixed up in a crime mystery. They perform at a nightclub with Sheila (Constance Moore), a singer whose boyfriend Bill (John Sutton) is hot on the tail of a powerful swindler (Louis Calhern). He is being held in South America for the proof of his accusations, but one-by-one his friends are being killed. It is up to the gang to get Bill back in one piece.
This is really a curiosity piece today; we don't really have anything equivalent in modern society. Candice Bergen said in her book that her father really belonged to the vaudeville stage and was able to extend his career into the radio and TV era. His style of entertainment is an old one, and it is hard for modern audiences to forgive Edgar's lips moving when he does Charlie's voice, or laugh at the corny jokes he tells.
But some people will get it, and they'll love it. Sure Charlie's humor is a bit outdated, but that doesn't make it unfunny, just different. He gets some really great one-liners, especially making fun of his "master," which he was famous for. Mortimer Snerd is my favorite, though, a doofus all over, with a hilarious drowsy face and a voice to match. He pops up randomly throughout the film and provides wonderful breaks from the plot.
Now, this isn't a great movie by anyone's standards. The mystery is dull and the supporting cast members seem like they belong in another movie. Bergen and his pals are the stars, but they just seem to weave in and out of the story without any real reason for being there. But it is enjoyable enough and a great way to SEE Bergen and his famous pals rather than to simply hear them on the radio.
Angels Wash Their Faces (1939)
Dead End Kids Clean Up
Gabe Ryan (Frankie Thomas) gets out of reform school and goes back to the slums. His sister (Ann Sheridan) does her best to keep him out of trouble, but it just seems to follow him. Aside from his associations with the Termite gang, Gabe is followed by real-life gangsters who have a scheme to set fire to random buildings to collect the insurance. They need someone to blame for the arson, and Gabe is it. It is up to the Termites to work the law in their favor and give the gangsters their just desserts.
The the scene that introduces the Dead End Kids is really quite good. The boys wander on over to the new resident's furniture on the street, and proceed to make it their own. They talk to each other in phoney posh accents and talk about drinking tea together; Bernard Punsley takes a nap in a chair. The boys then proceed to start a fight with the new boy, but after he proves himself a good fighter, they ask him to join their club.
The initiation scene is rather good too, filled with mischief that seems dangerous at first, but is really rather clever and innocent.
Later, when Billy Halop studies to become the boy mayor, he has a dream about schoolwork. This is wonderfully staged, with tiny holograms of the kids walking on his face and firing questions at him.
Angels Wash Their Faces is a great title because it plays off of the success of Angels With Dirty Faces, and really tells what the kids are doing. Notorious for bad behavior on and off the set, these boys make nice in this film. But rather than seem disingenuous, it makes for some great laughs. This is a preview of what many of the boys would become in The Bowery Boys series. We even get a few garbled words from Leo Gorcey.
Sh! The Octopus (1937)
Sh! The Octopus was recommended to me by a friend who bought a few lobby cards from the film. I wondered why he had such an interest in a movie that I had never heard of. He told me he was afraid to tell me too much because it might spoil the fun, but that I should definitely see if I had the chance.
My time arrived.
The story begins with a sea-faring man selling the deed to a lighthouse to a polished-looking gentleman in a suit. In comes Captain Hook (that's right- Captain Hook!), a crazy sailor who goes insane at the sound of a ticking clock. Cut to two cops, Kelly (Hugh Herbert) and Dempsey (Allen Jenkins), who are racing to the hospital on a rainy night because Kelly's wife is having a baby. But they get a flat tire, and in the midst of their struggle to fix it, a woman comes tearing through the woods at them, begging for help. She has just seen her step-father's dead body in the lighthouse! The plot is laughable, and thankfully the actors and the director seem to be in on how ridiculous the story is, because it is presented as a comedy. Therefore, we're allowed to laugh at how silly it is that the villain is a murderous octopus with tentacles that creep in through doorways. And it is okay to laugh at the exaggerated plights of the characters and their overzealous performances. And we're expected to giggle at the constant twists and turns that often make no sense.
So why do I rate this movie so highly? Simply for the amount of fun I had watching it! It is packed with hilarious bits, by two comics who are generally relegated to being the 2nd or 3rd banana. Now, they're the leads, and they pull it off quite nicely. Jenkins is a great blend of comic and straight-man. He's too stupid to be taken seriously, but he is tame compared to his partner. Herbert, who often rubs people the wrong way with his giddiness, contributes nicely to the show.
Dante's Inferno (1924)
Lackluster Story Aided by Visuals
A selfish businessman has been consumed with the sins that will throw him to hell. He allows his tenants in his ramshackle tenement houses suffer in unsafe living conditions with no remorse. When a demon shows him what hell is like and offers him a chance to save his soul, the businessman is faced with a choice, but old habits die hard.
Although Dante's Inferno has some great visuals, the story lacks, and therefore makes this curiosity quite disappointing. This was one of the most exciting names on the list for Cinevent 41, and I was underwhelmed by it. The red tinting and the writhing bodies are powerful at first sight, but the narration dwells too much on the details of each level of hell. Maybe this is uninteresting to modern audiences who have been saturated with so many different varieties of what hell might be like that we're numb to the older renditions. Whatever the reason, it is not effective.
It is worthwhile to note that the black characters are played by white men in black-face. This choice is more startling today than it must have been when the film was originally released, but it serves as a reminder of the change in the times.
This film intertwines the imagery from Dante's famous story and a modern morality tale that plays off of the depictions of hell. Cecil B. DeMille perfected this combination in The Ten Commandments a year earlier. In comparison, Dante's Inferno falls flat.
Time to Kill (1942)
Fast-Paced and Exciting
Time to Kill is a fast-paced, thrilling Michael Shayne mystery adapted from a Raymond Chandler novel and sped up to fit just inside an hour. Mrs. Murdock hires Shayne to find her daughter-in-law, a chorus girl who stole a precious coin from her home. Murdock's son is an odd sort of fellow who appears now and then to create a sense that Shayne is being watched, not the sort of guy that could be trusted. When Shayne meets the daughter-in-law, aptly named Miss Conquest, he discovers a beautiful girl just as eager to get out of the Murdock family as Mrs. Murdock is to get her out. Something doesn't quite fit.
Don't blink your eyes or you'll miss something; you have to be able to keep up with this one to truly enjoy it. Maybe some practice with other Lloyd Nolan movies will do the trick.
Nolan gets some great lines and utilizes them well. His tough guy might not be as memorable as Edward G. Robinson's, Humphrey Bogart's, or Dick Powell's, but he gets the job done. He is flanked by a b-movie cast, including the lovely Heather Angel, but don't see b-movie and think you'll be losing out on quality. You don't want your murder mysteries to be polished anyway; the dirtier, the better.
The Devil Is Driving (1932)
Dickie Moore is Adorable
"Beef" Evans (James Gleason) works in a crooked garage. He takes in hot cars because he wants his wife and son to have the best things in life, but his wife worries about the consequences of his actions. Rightfully so. His new hire, "Gabby" Denton (Edmund Lowe) has his own concerns, and starts investigating the details of the racket.
I saw this movie screened at Cinevent 41, and for most of the movie, the sound was out of sync. If I were too bored, I would have left, but I couldn't miss out on seeing Dickie Moore in a rare film. Even when his voice didn't match his expressions, I found myself awwing for his innocence in spite of his predictable role in the story.
This is a standard programmer with strong ties to the crime drama genre. If you're a fan of cars and pre-codes, find a copy.
7th Heaven (1927)
The Beginning of a Timeless Romance
Diane (Janet Gaynor) leads a horrible life; her sister beats her constantly for no reason and life in the slums leaves no room for escape. One day when the two are visited by their parents, a chance comes to break free from their seedy existence, but Diane is too honest to deceive them. She belies the fact that they have been far from moral. Her sister retaliates by attacking her in the street, but a good Samaritan steps in. Chico (Charles Farrell) works in the sewers and dreams of better things. He cannot stand to see a defenseless, albeit fearful, girl be abused. Unfortunately, when he stands up for Diane, he risks his forthcoming job as a street cleaner. He lies and tells the police that he and Diane are married, so she moves in with him to carry on the charade for his sake. The relationship blossoms into love, but the war comes and the two are pulled apart.
This is the first time that Gaynor and Farrell were paired on the screen, and the chemistry between the two is electric. It only improved as time went on, but it is exciting to see the start of it all. Gaynor is beautiful and so petite next to the masculine presence of Farrell. He takes care of her just as much as she does him; the two represent the ideal couple, two halves that make a whole.
Frank Borzage directs, and his signature touch permeates the film. The lush, soft lighting make the dirty locations seem lovely and appealing. The sparse apartment that the lovers call heaven really has a glow about it. This style lends itself perfectly to the love story and makes the more melodramatic parts forgivable in context.
Down in New Orleans
George Latimer (Adolphe Menjou) and his daughter Kit (Bonita Granville) live in New Orleans, the city of jazz. Unfortunately, the family business is not doing well and has to relocate to Chicago. Kit is heartbroken, but she agrees to the move with the promise that they will return someday. As she gets older, she never loses her love of jazz and plays it whenever she gets a chance. One night, she goes for a walk and comes across Johnny Schumacher (Jackie Cooper), a down and out musician. He takes her to a party where they play a new variation on New Orleans jazz and she brings down the house with her piano-playing. Her confidence gives Johnny a new outlook on his love for music, although money is always a temptation.
Syncopation could have been much better, but it constantly strays from the fact that jazz music came from the black community. It begins with black people, one of the rare opportunities in classic films for black actors to shine, but that quickly disappears in favor of the white stars. Noteworthy players are Todd Duncan as trumpet-player Rex Tearbone and Jessica Grayson as his mother. The movie becomes a bit of a cliché with the actors struggling against all odds only to inspire the greats like Benny Goodman and Harry James. Unfortunately black musicians like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington are left out of the grand finale.
As it stands, Syncopation is an entertaining movie with lots of great music, but it is simply average overall. It never sticks to a time period, but what it lacks in accuracy, it makes up for with catchy tunes and praise-worthy leading actors. Granville is dazzlingly beautiful throughout the movie and she and real-life boyfriend Cooper work well together on-screen.
Let Us Be Gay (1930)
Dated But Interesting
Frumpy housewife Katherine Brown (Norma Shearer) adores her husband Bob (Rod La Rocque). Her every action is dedicated to his comfort. Unfortunately, his roving eyes find other women and in heartbreak, Katherine divorces him. Years later, the two meet again, this time under very different circumstances. Katherine has become a beautiful and charming woman of the world. She is invited to a small party by an eccentric friend (Marie Dressler) to lure Bob away from his latest conquest, the engaged young Diane (Sally Eilers). En route to seducing Bob, Katherine also catches the eyes of all of the men at the party.
Also appearing are Hedda Hopper as the beautiful Madge Livingston and Dickie Moore as Katherine's young son.
This film suffers a bit from early talkie syndrome. The editing is not as slick as it could be, with moments of complete silence and shots with no people in the frame. Sometimes the scenes are confined to one room with very little editing between people. The story is also quite old fashioned, especially the abrupt ending which does not comply with the rest of the film. However, it is worth watching especially for Shearer fans. It is fascinating to see such a startling transformation from an overweight housewife to a gorgeous and elegant woman.
Experiment Perilous (1944)
Similar to Gaslight
Dr. Huntington Bailey is on a train trip when he meets Cissie Bederaux (Olive Blakeney), a nervous woman who reaches out to him. At first he thinks she might be mentally unstable, but he soon learns the truth. She explains that she is the sister of the famous Nick Bederaux (Paul Lukas) about whom she is writing a book. She asks Bailey if he would help her arrange her hotel stay when they reach their destination. He agrees.
It is not to be, however. Cissie dies of a heart condition and her belongings are sent to her brother, all except her writing materials. Bailey meets the Bederauxs, Nick and his unusual wife Allida (Hedy Lamarr). She has many admirers and a lovely home, but she seems sad somehow. Nick quickly engages Bailey to study his wife, secretly of course, but what he finds is not what he originally suspects.
There are some interesting moments in this film, especially toward the end, but the story goes along predictably. It is very similar to Gaslight, a film with Ingrid Bergman which is considerably better remembered. George Brent is not an impressive leading man. He is adequate in his part, but he is not overly charming or attractive to make him very memorable.
One Way Passage (1932)
Romance in Soft Focus
Two passengers aboard a ship sailing from Hong Kong to San Francisco are doomed. Joan (Kay Francis) is in delicate health and probably does not have long to live. Dan (William Powell) has been arrested for murder and is being brought to the states to be hanged. They meet in a casual way, unaware of the others problems, and fall in love. Leaving a trail of crossed stems and broken glass, they spend their passage enjoying their last moments on the earth.
To be honest, I was more impressed with the secondary actors in their roles than Francis and Powell. Aline MacMahone is so regal and beautiful as the fake countess. She really knows how to put over a comedy line and she never seems overly tough. Frank McHugh has some great comic moments and provides an extra dimension to the film. Even Warren Hymer as the cop is rather good.
This is a sweet romance with great photography and snappy direction, a wonderful example of early 1930s film making.
True to Life (1943)
A Solid Comedy
Radio writers Fletcher Marvin (Franchot Tone) and Link Ferris (Dick Powell) are out of ideas, and in order to keep up their lavish lifestyle, they must get some, and quick. Link takes a walk one night looking for inspiration and he stumbles upon a pretty waitress working in a diner. Bonnie Porter (Mary Martin) is kind to Link, assuming he is penniless and in need of a good meal, and he quickly realizes she could inspire a great story. Bonnie takes Link home and the real story begins.
Bonnie's family is the perfect specimen for a radio show. Her father (Victor Moore) is a hair-brained inventor whose inventions never work. Her mother (Mabel Paige) has a penchant for being particular about everything, and she dislikes Link instantly. Uncle Jake (William Demarest) is a loafer who refuses to speak to Pop. Twips (Beverly Hudson) is a lovesick teenage girl and Clem (Raymond Roe) is an aspiring doctor with a thirst for other people's blood. Link quickly realizes that by keeping the Porter family away from their radio, he can copy their lives verbatim into a program format, and the show becomes highly successful. Problems arise when Link begins to fall for Bonnie, and then Fletcher steps in.
A fun movie from start to finish with moments of real genius, the only thing disappointing about True to Life is that it is so hard to find. The fine cast brings each character to life in such a way that they are believable but never boring. Powell is seamless as the protagonist and Tone is equally impressive as the antagonist. Martin makes an extremely enjoyable leading lady and it is too bad she didn't have a longer film career.
There are three songs sung in this film, and all of them are rather well done. Martin sings the spirited "Mister Pollyanna" near the beginning of the movie and Powell adds "Old Music Master" and "There She Was" later on.
Riding High (1943)
Too Many Songs
A train arrives in the west and deposits a showgirl (Dorothy Lamour), an eligible bachelor (Dick Powell), and a swindler (Victor Moore). The bachelor is in search of investors for his mine but can't seem to get anyone interested enough. The swindler makes his own thousand dollar bills and convinces the bachelor to flash them around; money attracts money. The scheme works, but the swindler's reputation catches up to him and soon the law is after those fake thousands.
There is a reason why this title is so hard to find. It isn't that great. Although the story is fun enough and it boasts a decent cast, Riding High is utterly forgettable. It is one of those wartime movies that is packed with music to entertain the troops "over there," but none of the tunes are memorable and the music takes over the story. Lamour handles her songs well enough, after all, she was a radio star, but Powell has too few songs himself.
You Never Can Tell (1951)
Unusual and Enjoyable
This very enjoyable and somewhat bizarre movie is one of the best kept secrets of the 1950s. The movie begins with Ellen Hathaway (Peggy Dow) and the German Shepherd named King. King has inherited his owners fortune and the estate is to be looked after by his secretary, Miss Hathaway. King is a happy dog, but someone his unhappy about his inheritance and poisons him. Off he goes to Beastatory where he awaits judgment. Although he has been a good dog, he requests to return to Earth so he can reveal his killer. He returns as a private eye named Rex Shepherd (Dick Powell) under the watchful eye of a reincarnated horse Goldie (Joyce Holden) and stirs up all kinds of trouble.
A great movie for kids and adults alike, You Never Can Tell combines just the right amount of fantasy and reality to create a believable and fun film. It is not cheesy, but there are plenty of silly jokes like Rex munching on dog kibble and Goldie outrunning buses.
Hopefully this title will be formally released, but until then we will have to settle for ebay prints and TV broadcasts.
The Spider (1931)
Lots of B-Movie Stars
The Spider begins with a magician's show. The great Chartrand (Edmund Lowe) can make people disappear and his assistant dazzles the crowd with his psychic abilities. A woman and her uncle come to the show looking for their long lost relative; in fact, the assistant is the woman's brother, but his amnesia has kept him from finding her. Suddenly during the performance, the lights go out and a shot is fired. The woman's uncle has been murdered, and it is up to Chartrand to find the killer among the audience.
El Brendel and Kendall McComas (of Our Gang fame) provide a few laughs as mischievous members of the audience. The story is predominantly serious and features some interesting ghoulish effects. Overall, though, the story is pretty standard and the film is mediocre, but enjoyable.
Shipmates Forever (1935)
Flirtation Walk Revamped
The Warner Brothers gang is back again, and this time they're out to sea. Richard Melville III (Dick Powell) comes from a long time of Navy men. His father (Lewis Stone) is commander of the fleet and expects that his son will follow in his footsteps. Dick doesn't want to; in fact, he has become quite successful as a crooner on the radio. And besides, his girl (Ruby Keeler) doesn't want her husband to turn out dead like her Navy brother and father. Now before you start having flashes of The Jazz Singer, read on. Dick decides to give his father's way a try, but he is stubborn enough to isolate himself during his training. It is too bad too, because his father knows how he could benefit from the company of guys like Sparks (Ross Alexander), Cowboy (Eddie Acuff), and Coxswain (John Arledge).
A really great film, Shipmates Forever is undeniably similar to Flirtation Walk not only for the cast or the story but the director Frank Borzage too. However, the similarities are no hindrance and this second chance has actually improved upon the original. It features a great many more comic moments which liven it tremendously. Alexander is always good for a laugh, and it is too bad he took his own life only a few years later. Perhaps the funniest and most shocking moment is during a "I'd Rather Listen To Your Eyes." Powell's crooning draws all of the women, and a series of Busby Berkeley-esquire close-ups on their eyes illustrates the melody. That is, until a pair of men's eyes pop up! Other songs include the Warren and Dubin standards "Don't Give Up The Ship" and "I'd Love To Take Orders From You." It is a wonder why this one has never been released.
Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)
"No, you don't steal--you just find a lot of things that haven't been lost, that's all!"
Wheeler and Woolsey find themselves in the era of kings and castles, but that won't stop them. Wheeler can't help but steal everything he sees from jewelry to horses to carriages. It's a disease, after all, and the trance-like state that carries him away causes giggles among viewers. The two men impersonate two noble men including a doctor and go to the Baron (Noah Beery) to diagnose him. The Baron is gone for the time being, but the beautiful Lady Genevieve (Thelma Todd) is home. Marital bliss-- hooey! You'd find yourself calling "Yoo-hoo" too.
The beginning of the film is perhaps the funniest, which can feel a bit disappointing by the end, but really, there are great moments throughout. The music provides a great many laughs, and even though the transition into song is a bit awkward, the use of musical numbers illustrates the absurdity of the film. It is pure fun and nothing else. Fans of early comedy will delight. Now why aren't Wheeler and Woolsey better known?
Fly Away Baby (1937)
The World of Glenda Farrell
A man is murdered in his apartment and thousands of dollars worth of diamonds are stolen. There is little evidence to trace the killer with, although Torchy Blane (Glenda Farrell) does manage to find the murder weapon. She is convinced that Lucien Croy (Gordon Oliver) had something to do with it, although Lt. McBride (Barton MacLane) is not so sure. Croy seems to have an airtight alibi. On top of the investigation, Croy is going on a trip round the world as a publicity stunt for his newspaper. Torchy decides that tagging along is the perfect way to track him in spite of McBride's wishes.
A fun movie throughout, this second of the Torchy Blane films is entertaining but unimportant. There is a formula to these movies. Man is murdered, Torchy and McBride team up to solve it, it is solved, they announce their impending marriage. It isn't the story that makes these films rewatchable; it is the vibrant personality of Farrell. A beauty with brains, she is incredibly under-appreciated.
Bare Knees (1928)
A Solid Flapper Movie
Bare Knees is the epitome of the Jazz Age, but because of its obscure cast, it will most likely remain a rarity forever. The story revolves around Billie (Virginia Lee Corbin) who comes to a small town to visit her sister (Jane Winton). She stirs things up with her short skirts, bobbed hair, and flapper mannerisms. She catches the eye of Larry Cook (Donald Keith) who gives her his pin to wear. She is a flirt who likes to have a good time, but the townspeople cannot see past that to realize she is really a moral person.
This film is purely entertainment. Corbin is beautiful and plays her role to a T. Also notable is the bow-legged maid (Maude Fulton) who does her best to adapt to Billie's flapper lifestyle. Bare Knees has several memorable scenes like the baseball game and the fire on the pier, but you should really see it for yourself.
The Grapevine release has a better-than-normal print which was struck from the original 35 mm nitrate film. There are only a few scenes where the faces look washed out and the ending is a bit dark due to the purple tinting, but otherwise, it is in great shape. The musical score suits the action well too.
The Meanest Gal in Town (1934)
You Either Love Him or You Hate Him
Chris Peterson (El Brendel) is an unsuccessful barber in a small town. His fiancée of ten years is Tillie Prescott (Zasu Pitts), a hardworking woman who just can't wait to get married. Chris wants to prove he is successful by obtaining a second chair in his barber shop before tying the knot, but Tillie is impatient. She is constantly taken advantage of by Chris and she feels she is the real brain behind the couple. This proves to be false when she falls prey to a business scam. Meanwhile Chris's business starts booming when an actress (Pert Kelton) takes up shop as a manicurist to make some extra money. Her wiggling hips make the shop a hot spot for the local men.
A fun movie with a cast of unknowns, The Meanest Gal in Town is not likely to show up outside of film conventions and collector's homes, but it is an enjoyable film. Brendel makes use of his simpleton Swedish character and provides much of the comedy. Some people hate him; I love him. He is sweet and rather funny, illustrated by scenes like the opener where he strums a ukulele and sings with the accompaniment of a howling dog. Pitts is more likable here than in some of her other movies. In spite of Brendel's sweetness, it is difficult not to root for Pitts too, especially when Chris treats Tillie badly.
The Sign on the Door (1921)
Out and Out Melodrama
If you like melodrama, you will like this movie. If not, it will be a complete waste of time and will give you a bad impression of silent movies.
Ann Hunniwell (Norma Talmadge) is a secretary who dreams of a wealthy lifestyle. She yearns to go to the opera to see Madam Butterfly, and when Frank Devereaux (Lew Cody) asks her to go with him, she hesitantly but enthusiastically accepts. His intentions are hardly pure, and the two end up together in a questionable nightclub. Years later, Ann is married to Lafe Regan (Charles Richman) and has a stepdaughter (Helen Weir) to take care of. Suddenly, she meets Devereaux again when he visits her husbands. It seems he has been romancing Lafe's best friend and also his daughter. Ann does her best to protect Helen's good name, but finds it difficult to do so because of her own past with Devereaux.
A memorable performance from Talmadge and a silly but suspenseful plot make for enjoyable movie-going, but it is understandable that The Sign on the Door has not been formally released. The Library of Congress print is in good condition, however, and serves as yet another example of an intact Talmadge film that is widely unavailable for viewing. Why? Despite her popularity during the silent era, Talmadge and her films come off as dated today. She is beautiful and adequately subtle, but she is definitely a product of her time.
Lessons in Love (1921)
Shucks and Double Shucks!
Wealthy Leila Calthorpe (Constance Talmadge) is losing her fortune fast. The house she lives in takes up a lot of the money and her carefree lifestyle doesn't aid matters. She doesn't much care about finances, but her grandfather and uncle do. They try to persuade her to marry into money and even provide the man (Kenneth Harlan) and the fortune. She refuses to marry anyone without her own desire. Her grandfather makes it easy for her by staging his own death to bring his nephew into town, thus giving the two a chance to meet and fall in love. Leila is smart though and decides to test her suitor by pretending to be the maid and by telling him that her old aunt (Flora Finch) is actually Miss Calthorpe. He is less than excited, but he quickly falls for the "maid."
A truly inconsequential movie, Lessons in Love is a fun little movie that can bring a few smiles to your face. It is worth seeing for Talmadge alone whose vivaciousness lights up the screen. The script is well executed, although it could use some polishing here or there to make things run a little more smoothly, especially in the beginning. The scenery is great; the film was shot in Florida at the Deering Estate which still stands today. This digital print from the Library of Congress looks beautiful excepting a few scenes with some major decomposition.
Outward Bound (1930)
A Stunning Film
We watch as several different passengers board and wander about the decks of a ship. The exterior is covered in fog and the characters are confused about how they got on board or where they are going. The whole place is shrouded in mystery, but we slowly learn that all of them are dead and are sailing to their judgment. Henry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and Ann (Helen Chandler) are a married couple determined to stay together. Tom Prior (Leslie Howard) is a bit of a drunk, but an astute and generous man. Mrs. Midget (Beryl Mercer) is an elderly woman from the slums who is snubbed by many of the passengers. Most of the wealthy people are selfish and snobby (Montagu Love, Alison Skipworth).
The dialogue is almost as enchanting as the setting and the actors really bring their characters to life. Most notable is Howard who appears here in his first feature film. He seems well suited to film although his lyricism certainly stems from his experience on the stage. Chandler and Fairbanks are a bit less natural but their story is interesting and heartbreaking. What is great about this movie is that although we know a big twist from the start, the fact that the passengers are dead, it is not without surprises. The ending throws several unexpected wrenches that further liven the story. Do not miss this one.