Archive for Three on a Match

Pre-code Unknown

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by dcairns

In which I continue my slow spread across the internet. Picture one of those burning maps you’d get in the opening titles of Hollywood war or western pic: that’s me and the internet.

At The Daily Notebook, I contribute to the ongoing process of capsule-reviewing highlights of New York’s Film Forum pre-code series, along with Gina Telaroli, Ben Sachs, Craig Keller, Glenn Kenny, Zach Campbell and Jaime N. Christley. I’ve tackled THE PUBLIC ENEMY, THREE ON A MATCH (above), RED-HEADED WOMAN and CALL HER SAVAGE.

And at Electric Sheep, I chip in to the round-up of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, with pieces on TROLLHUNTER and TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN.

Been viewing a lot of pre-codes lately, because Fiona’s been unwell and pre-codes are perfect when you’re doped up on painkillers. Here are capsules of a few more we ran –

TWO ALONE

This is a really beautiful pre-code pastoral (was that even a thing?) in which unloved foster-child Jean Parker falls from juvie home runaway Tom Brown. Memorable nastiness from the foster family, but the movie isn’t overall about making you want the bad guys to suffer horrendous fates, although some of the time you do. In the end, this tender film satisfies you by rewarding the good characters instead.

Notable for Parker’s nude scene and the sympathetic view of pre-marital sex and extra-marital pregnancy, and taking the side of the despised outlaws over the nominal pillars of the community. Elliot Nugent directs, and it’s interesting to see small-town values being repeatedly trashed in these movies.

THE MATCH KING

We had David Wingrove to dinner with the plan to watch the ne plus ultra of Bad Cinema, Baz Luhrman’s emetic epic AUSTRALIA, but even he, who owns a copy of BOXING HELENA and watched WILD ORCHID four times, couldn’t make it through the antipodean hellscape (it’s like being injected into the mind of a ten-year-old with ADHD), and so a nice 80-minute pre-code seemed the ideal antidote.

Warren William — the starving lion — magnificent scoundrel — king of the pre-codes — the other Great Profile — is a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi schemer who tries to dominate the world, starting with a humble match factory. He saves the family firm with money borrowed on holdings that don’t exist, which means he’ll always owe more money than he can pay back, “until I own everything in the world, and then I’ll only owe money to myself.” On the way to his inevitable fall, Glenda Farrell, Claire Dodd and Lily Damita become notches on his bedpost. Every now and then the screenwriters have WW do something truly rotten on a personal level, in case we find his massive-scale financial chicanery too endearing. “This is like a primer in capitalism,” our dinner guest remarked, awestruck.

HOT SATURDAY

Our new favourite Nancy Carroll is torn between rich playboy Cary Grant and homespun geologist Randolph Scott. Quite a choice. But meanwhile smalltown gossip threatens her future. Chief slanderer and hottie Lilian Bond makes malice seem almost sexy, and this is a useful rebuttal to Leo McCarey’s claim that he taught Cary Grant everything. Grant is stiff in his Mae West and Sternberg movies, but effective for Leisen and Walsh and, in this case, the less celebrated William A. Seiter.

BIG BROWN EYES

Grant again, paired with blonde Joan Bennett, who’s notably abrasive and snappy under Raoul Walsh’s rambunctious purview. She’s a manicurist-turned-crime-reporter (!), he’s a police detective, and they’re hot on the trail of a ring of burglars, fences and baby-killers. Walter Pidgeon makes an assured snake-in-the-grass, and the accidental assassination of a sleeping tot shows how pre-codes could turn reckless tonal inconsistency into some kind of demented virtue. Isn’t this supposed to be a comedy?

ME AND MY GAL

The best and pre-codiest pre-codes overall may be the Warners films, but the Fox films are the rarest, thanks to that library’s largely unexploited status (apart from the legendary Murnau & Borzage at Fox box set). This is Walsh again, and Bennett again (with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t beauty spot) and Spencer Tracy, during that part of his career where he played ostensibly lovable louts rather than patrician paterfamilias types. Here he rises through the police force and into Joan’s arms in a sweet, sassy romance that folds in a crime story and some alcoholic Irish shenanigans. Twice, Bennett’s father turns to the camera and invites us all to have a drink. Another character is paralyzed and communicates by blinking, allowing for some THERESE RAQUIN inspired plot twists, and the weirdest scene is cued by Tracy talking about a movie he just saw, “STRANGE INNERTUBE or something,” which leads to a series of internal monologues by himself and Bennett as they cuddle up on their date. Crazy stuff.

Walsh made a quasi-sequel, SAILOR’S LUCK, which has been getting a lot of attention in New York screenings and on the blogosphere, and which we’ll certainly be watching next.

Work in Progress

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2009 by dcairns

keaton___sherlock_jr.

OK, here’s a provisional list — tear it apart or question it or whatever. Be great to have your thoughts. Apologies to all those whose ideas I didn’t use, but please believe that you inspired or clarified my own thoughts.

1) Monday 29th September.

Silent comedies: Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK JNR plus a few shorts.

2) Monday 6th October.

Silent drama: Victor Sjostrom’s HE WHO GETS SLAPPED.

3) Monday 13th October.

Early talking pre-code cinema: Gregory LaCava’s BED OF ROSES and Mervyn LeRoy’s THREE ON A MATCH

4) Monday 20th October

The Classical era: Powell and Pressburger’s A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

5) Tuesday 3rd November

Studio experimentation: Charles Laughton’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER

6) Tuesday 10th November

Post-war “realism”: Stanley Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY

7) Tuesday 17th November

Sixties experimentation: Luis Bunuel’s SIMON OF THE DESERT and Lindsay Anderson’s THE WHITE BUS

8) Tuesday 24th November

Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST

9) Tuesday 1st December

New Hollywood: Peter Bogdanovich’s PAPER MOON

10) Tuesday 8th December

The world: Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE

11) Tuesday 15th December

Seasonal treat: Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT

I’m going to watch a bunch of the films you all suggested which I haven’t seen, probably starting with Johnny To’s THE MISSION and carrying on with Makhmalbaf’s ONCE UPON A TIME…CINEMA.

And, yeah, I’m definitely going to have second thoughts in the morning, so let me know what you think I should change.

Quote of the Day: Fishhead

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2008 by dcairns

“They’re like alleycats on a fish head!” complains Allen Jenkins of the heavy police presence in THREE ON A MATCH (1932), but one feels he’s really looking forward to his future as the voice of Officer Dribble, I mean Dibble, on TV’s Top Cat cartoon show.

This movie’s climax seems to be a nexus-point for cinematic influences. A grand suspense/shock sequence in its own right, it uses a plot idea replicated decades later in DIE HARD — a body thrown from a window with writing on it, delivering a forceful message to the outside world from an imprisoned character.

Furthermore, the climax involves what the IMDb would call the following keywords: mother and son jeopardy; trapped in room; mirror; lipstick. So the spectre of THE SHINING isn’t far off, although all those elements are used quite differently in Kubrick’s horrorshow.

Earlier in the movie the little boy plays with his toy yacht at a municipal pond. This reminds me of Polanski’s THE TENANT, which includes a basically irrelevant but very entertaining scene of the same action, and the connection seems to me to be clinched by the fact that both films climax with a figure in women’s clothing falling from a window and crashing through a glass awning, if an awning can be glass.

So this little-known, highly entertaining Warners pre-code melodrama seems to have somehow extended tendrils out in all directions, colonising films far removed from it in time and space…

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