Lash La Rue

Theory: when you start reading Ulysses, synchronicities pile up around you like herring. Case in point — I just watched HOT SATURDAY, and this is the titular weekend as it appears in a desk calendar in the film —

It turned Saturday, July 23 2011 as we were halfway through the movie…

HOT SATURDAY (more on it another time) got watched because we’d just enjoyed its star Nancy Carroll in THE WOMAN ACCUSED, about which I’d written the following, which also begins with an odd coincidence —

William “Stage” Boyd in bondage, trades kisses for apples with Leatrice Joy…

By chance, I’d just seen my first (I think) film directed by Paul Sloane, a Leatrice Joy “comedy” called EVE’S LEAVES, a silent set in China with place names like “Mookow”. Not a CLEVER film. But his THE WOMAN ACCUSED is pretty interesting, and regular Shadowplayer La Faustin reminded me I’d been meaning to see it…

A decidedly odd piece. Some of it is surely down to the ten writers doing an episode each, or whatever it was. They each get a title card and portrait in the opening credits, and are boosted as the top authors of the day, but I’d barely heard of most of them. Western writer Zane Grey is probably the best known, but I’d encountered Rupert Hughes via the daft melo SOULS FOR SALE — he’s the kind of novelettish buffoon who christens a heroine “Remember Steddon.” Vina Delmar is a classier scribe, having contributed to MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE — I most recently encountered her via PICK-UP. J.P. McEvoy was a semi-regular contributor to W.C. Fields’ films, which is of little help here.

The plot reads like what it is, a patchwork, with each successive author supremely bored by his predecessors’ contributions, so trying as hard as possible to escape the plot set up by them and set out for pastures new. Perky Nancy Carroll is engaged to perky Cary Grant (during his early, not-quite-inept but not-quite-ept-either phase) but her oily ex, Louis Calhern (hereafter to be known as Ambassador Trentino) won’t let her go. Sneaking away from her party she manages to brain the mobbed-up scumbag with a figurine, and flees. The coroner remarks that the lifeless Trentino has the thinnest skull he’s ever seen, which chimes with my own impression of the actor. He was basically one, vast, walking fontanelle.

DA Irving Pichel (effective in a rare non-halfwit role) is suspicious, but the slain man’s gaunt buddy, John Halliday, is determined to pin the blame on Nancy. Of course, we’re completely sympathetic to her, despite her guilt, and this being a pre-code all bets are off as to where this will lead. Meanwhile, she’s taken off with Cary on a three-day cruise, eager to forget her recent homicidal adventure.

Here’s where the film, hitherto merely disjointed and inconsistent, takes off into a stratosphere of absurdity — Halliday boards the cruise ship by police launch, and begins his own investigations. I learned a lot about the American legal system in this movie: I didn’t know previously that testimony given during a mock-trial at a pool party is legally binding, nor that beating a witness insensible with a length of rawhide is acceptable practice for lawyers. This occurs in the scene sometimes called the most shocking in all pre-code cinema —

Looking at this (and shooting glances over at Fiona, who was staring open-mouthed beside me), I was struck all over again by Jack LaRue’s versatility in slimeball roles. He didn’t just play one stock gangster, he had a whole range of them, twitching smack-heads, spectacular neurotics or gloating wolves, and depending on the slant he takes, his face seems to change. Here it’s all about the teeth, grinning with them, talking through them, sometimes just retracting his limbs and torso to hide behind them…

Lona laffs it up.

I liked Nancy Carroll a lot, and Lona Andre was fetching in her bit role, I suspect written solely so some exec could bed her. There was no reason for her to be there, or to speak. But she had won Paramount’s “Panther Woman Competition” (?) and they were trying her on the public. She later declined to exploiters like SLAVES IN BONDAGE and set a world’s golfing record for women before retiring from movies and becoming a successful businesswoman.

Cary Grant seemed to be doing something weird with his face all the time.

Cary’s legal advice to Nancy, “Just say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’ no matter what they ask,” was much in my mind as I watched the Murdochs, père et fils, testifying last week, not to mention their associates in the press, the police, and the government.

21 Responses to “Lash La Rue”

  1. La Faustin Says:

    Huzzah!

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If YOU were Cary Grant and had to play the part of a young man in the habit of following other young men home, inquiring as to how many scars they had, blandly producing a blacksnake from beneath his waistcoat, and whipping them until they writhed — well, I think you’d do something weird with your face too. Especially if you had just moved in with Randolph Scott. “They would never ask Gary Cooper to do this sort of thing,” you can see Grant thinking. “Stop grinning at me, Jack, you prancing freak.”

    Now what I like about Jack La Rue is the way he combines sliminess with puppyish alacrity. “You want unspeakable depravity?” he seems to say. “Okey-dokey!”

  2. Yes! There are actors who seek to distance themselves from loathsome characters by assuming a mask of performance, those who don’t see the need (Mitchum as Max Cady) and are worryingly themselves, and then there’s La Rue, protean enthusiast, ready to assume any form of wickedness and make it his own, like spilled ink occupying an empty space in a jigsaw puzzle.

  3. LaRue is is especially interesting in this regard in No Orchids For Miss Blandish.

  4. Wow. LaRue’s reaction to his whipping is about as lively as it gets, he played the hell out of this scene. Took me totally by surprise.

  5. In TO THE LAST MAN, LaRue gleefully shoots the head off little Shirley Temple’s doll!

  6. That’s going TOO far!

    No Orchids, like the book it’s based on, is a retread of Sanctuary, first filmed as The Story of Temple Drake, with JLR playing the equivalent role. If you want a sexually transgressive outlaw, he was your man!

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    Jack also played a priest with calm certitude in Borzage’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS the same year. So he was typical of so many supporting players in being able to do whatever he was given. I really dig him in THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (33), even though he’s not, physically, Faulkner’s original conception of Popeye.

    Miss Nancy was among THE top 2 or 3 female stars at Paramount in the early 30s, hitherto almost totally forgotten, but apparently she was so temperamental and unprofessional, they gave her the air and she then descended down the studio hierarchy before quitting.

  8. The character they gave him in Temple Drake is absolutely not Faulkner’s impotent brute, but a much more standard sexually confident gangster.

    NC was out of movies altogether by ’37, an unusual situation considering she never stopped acting. She’s particularly fine in Hot Saturday (which today is certainly living up to, even in Scotland).

  9. It interested me that both her and Janet Gaynor left movies at about the same time.

  10. Janet and Nancy: the pre-code era provided plenty of wickedness for their innocent looks to contrast against, so maybe they were unusually hampered by censorship, even though they’re the opposite of a Mae West.

  11. Christopher Says:

    LOL= Lash LaRue
    Seeing Trentino-Louis Calhern again in the immensely likable,Annie Get Your Gun recently,reminded me of how versatile he could be.

  12. Yes, he excelled at oily, which is why they cast him that way so often, but like Jack La Rue, there was way more to him than just one role.

  13. It’s funny how some of these pre-Coders look as if they could have been made in the late ’60s. Felt the same way about LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT.

  14. I guess the late sixties is when the Code started to weaken, so approximately the same amount of license became available to filmmaker. That didn’t last!

  15. It’s the texture, as well – the climax of that clip, the cutting, would be right at home in some shoestring-budgeted crime film from a few decades later.

  16. As soon as I finished watching that clip I found myself covered with welts. It had that much of an impact on me. Cringeworthy. Right up there with Cloris Leachman’s squirming legs early on in KISS ME DEADLY, screaming as Dekker tortures her to death.

  17. The physical effects of movies are underrated!

  18. Apropos Janet and Nancy, I have a pet theory that Borzage was the director most harmed by the Code.

    Please do not mock my pet theory. It means well.

  19. Well, it certainly damaged one of his most interesting qualities, the co-existence of religion and sexuality in a positive light. But he did continue to do great work… It’s certainly an intriguing case study though, since who knows what he could have done without censorship?

  20. […] that’s TODAY! I haven’t had a coincidence like this since HOT SATURDAY (which was also the mystic […]

  21. […] and what there was is a few years old. Danny seemed equally unimpressed at Pre-Code.com, while shadowplay found more to like about it. I was tempted to nail it with a 5/10 rating, but added an extra […]

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