Sadie McKee’s Story

As opposed to Robert McKee’s Story.

This piece is ALL spoilers.

SADIE MCKEE is MGM and 1934 — right on the join between pre-code and post-code. So Joan Crawford can sleep with a man out of wedlock, marry another man for money, divorce him, and still end up alive at the end, ready to win the man she always wanted (Franchot Tone, art doing its best to imitate life, life not being quite up to the challenge).

Still, MGM’s class-consciousness is apparent. Like Joanie’s early soundies and talkies (OUR BLUSHING BRIDES, OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS), the movie is indecently obsessed with analysing the right and wrong way to marry money. Sadie is the daughter of a cook who ends up a rich lady, and in the end she has her mum come and live with her — as cook. And her best friend, the inestimable Jean Dixon, clearly coded as a prostitute, is now the maid. That’s kind of odd.

That aside, what a terrific film. Clarence Brown was one of MGM’s finest directors, and though somewhat known as a woman’s director (which at MGM meant Joanie and Garbo) works wonders with the leading men. Franchot is always pretty good, of course, though he always looks like some kind of reptile — a gecko or a turtle perhaps. Mellifluous voice. By playing a blue-blood blue-nose stiff-necked moralist who’s wrong on all counts he allows the film to shake loose at least some of its Metro dignity.

Gene Raymond as a louse helps some more — great musical moments, singing “All I Do Is Dream of You.” A love rat who’s convincingly romantic, until Esther Ralston, channelling Mae West, steals him off. He’s even better than Franchot.

I like the first version best, but the second one has the marvelous DRAWER FULL OF CHORINES that slides out from the stage, like something from the morgue at the Copacobana. You didn’t know they had one there, did you? But of course they do — gotta keep the customers on ice until they can figure out Who shot who?

And then Edward Arnold, as the drunken millionaire — one of his best turns, encapsulating in quick succession how nice it would be to be drunk all the time and then how horrible it would be to be drunk all the time. Really surprising how brutal they let him get, after considerable screen time spent on establishing him as a sweet-natured souse. The only part that’s unconvincing is his reformation, but I guess they were saddled with that. He also gets a musical bit, snoozing through a great rendition of “After You’ve Gone” performed by Gene Austin and novelty jazz act Coco & Candy.

This bar is one of my favourite places in the film. The sleek Cedric Gibbons automat is pretty amazing too, like a porcelain spaceship, but the bar has Akim Tamiroff as the very enthusiastic manager. When Arnold orders champagne for everyone, Tamiroff has a giggling fit like he’s been pumped full of helium and nitrous oxide. Elated to the point almost of BURSTING. He’s a happy fellow.

Huge swathes of Joanie’s career are unfamiliar to me — one thing I’ll allow the rather shabby Feud — it’s got us watching Joan. Good as her three menfolk are in this, they’re all there to bask in her light.

10 Responses to “Sadie McKee’s Story”

  1. A clip from “Sadie McKee’ is featured in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” where it’s identified as a “Blanche Hudson” vehicle.

  2. That’s just what made us think of it. We may watch Ex-Lady too, which is the Bette Davis movie they excerpt to illustrate Jane’s unsuccessful adult career.

  3. Yes, David, but I believe the background music is by the underrated Frank DeVol?

  4. La Faustin Says:

    I love Gene Raymond, in everything from FLYING DOWN TO RIO to THE BEST MAN. And Esther Ralston fended off the lecherous advances of both Jack La Rue (TO THE LAST MAN) and Dorothy Arzner (Ralston’s own contention) — top that.

  5. bensondonald Says:

    Where is the DRAWER FULL OF CHORINES? Not in the clip?

  6. Ach, no — there is a third rendition of this number, not included. I was conflating two of them. I’ll try and find an opportunity to post it as it’s quite something.

    Ralston objected to Arzner adding underwear scenes to the script when they worked together — she seems to have abandoned such inhibitions here!

  7. She was afraid Dorothy wanted to get into her underwear

  8. Yes, that’s the implication. Clarence Brown perhaps seemed less likely to do so.

  9. jwarthen Says:

    Please note Andrew Sullivan’s remarks on camp, Crawford and FEUD presently on NEW YORK Magazine website.

  10. Agree with him on the unacceptability of Mommy Dearest. And agree that the tone of Feud is less obnoxious, more sympathetic. That was probably inevitable in today’s climate. I just didn’t find it very well written: everybody gets out of character in order to deliver exposition or to give voice to the audience’s mdoern sensibility.

    Like the dentist who’s HORRIFIED by Joan’s cosmetic extractions. Instead of behaving like any dentist, ever, and maintaining a professional distance and allowing the audience space for its own emotions.

    And the direction? Shot size was on random most of the time. I can’t stand that (though i’ve probably been guilty of it myself.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: