Archive for Jack La Rue

Feet by Thousands, Gowns by Plunkett and Greer

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2018 by dcairns

Kate Hepburn vorkapiches out of control ~ spoilers ahead.

We weren’t really all that taken by CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933), I’m sorry to say. Of course Katherine Hepburn’s costumes are striking and there’s plenty of pre-code content and it’s interesting to see Colin Clive in as close to a straight leading man role as he ever got. And he doesn’t seem nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous — as he usually does (and which usually suits what he’s playing). But, as Fiona protested, “This is a soap opera!” And as it came at the end of a double-feature with THE PETRIFIED FOREST, the whole romantic suicide things was getting old. And almost any Paramount film is likely to seem unendurably languid after almost any Warner film from the period.

Fiona loudly wished that Kate didn’t have to crash her plane. I reasoned that, working backwards as Conan Doyle advises, the sole reason for Hepburn being an aviatrix in the first place is so she can crash her plan at the end.

Other pluses — we get to see a household consisting of Henry Frankenstein from FRANKENSTEIN, Mina Murray from DRACULA, and the Good Witch of the East from THE WIZARD OF OZ (that thing gets everywhere). Plus a gratuitous Jack La Rue in lounge lizard mode, and “Transitions by Slavko Vorkapich.”

But, I asked Fiona, have we ever really loved a Dorothy Arzner film? We’ve WANTED to. Fiona suggested DANCE, GIRL, DANCE. I argued that it’s a pretty poor film with one absolutely incredible scene, with Maureen O’Hara berating the audience (us). Fiona argued that that one scene is SO good it makes the film a masterpiece, and I couldn’t really argue with that. Are there any other films elevated from trash to classic by a single sequence? And are there any prime Arzners we should have seen?

We have seen and enjoyed, but not massively, the following —

GET YOUR MAN, NANA, THE WILD PARTY, MERRILY WE GO TO HELL. CRAIG’S WIFE and THE BRIDE WORE RED (a favourite of Mr. Wingrove) seem the obvious missing links. But what else?

A Glass of Water Illuminates the World

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2015 by dcairns

I’m loving this — no writing to do, just intros. I’ll be back at the weekend and have some good stuff saved up, I like to think. Meanwhile, here’s Phoebe Green on an unlikely economy drive at Warner Bros —

A GLASS OF WATER ILLUMINATES THE WORLD

Dorothy Parker, legend has it, explained a late submission to the New Yorker with “Someone else was using the pencil.” A similarly rigorous economy seems to have reigned on the set of 42nd Street, where a simple but recognizable water glass reappears throughout, to the delight of cognoscenti:

ZZ1

Ruby Keeler has collapsed! But is rehydrated in the arms of George Brent. The Glass makes its début.

ZZ2

The latter, sly dog, takes Ruby back to his bachelor pad. In the kitchen, he sniffs his boutonnière for freshness, decides it will do for another day, and puts it in the refrigerator in The Glass.

ZZ3

Louise Beavers, the hardest-working woman in an apron in show business, gives Bebe Daniels congratulations — and a drink from The Glass.

ZZ4

Now we’re in Philadelphia! Not to worry, The Glass is there at bedside for George Brent in his barebones stock-player’s hotel …

ZZ5

… but also, within a minute of screen time, in the luxurious ambiance of Warner Baxter’s suite. What range, The Glass!

ZZ6

Center screen, between Warner Baxter and Ruby Keeler, The Glass makes its last, iconic appearance.

A friend of mine, alerted to this phenomenon, dubbed it “endearingly Warner Brothers” and hypothesized that the WB props department contained only ONE of each item. A hypothesis substantiated by the penultimate scene of Blessed Event, in which Jack La Rue, under arrest, is not handcuffed, but simply gripped by the sleeve:

ZZ7

Someone else was using the darbies.

© Phoebe Green

Pre-code Love

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2012 by dcairns

My scavenging through the archives to find films for my Forgotten Pre-Code season at The Daily Notebook naturally threw up some interesting entries that didn’t make the final cut — here are some thoughts.

THE GIRL IN 419 (1933)

This medical/crime thriller was one of the best things I saw, but arrived too late to be prominently featured. Thanks to La Faustin for the disc. Dr James Dunn refuses to let patient Gloria Stuart die — “She’s too beautiful!” and falls in love with her while she’s still comatose. You’ve seen her act, there’s really no point waiting. If the central love interest is a trifle anemic, the comedy relief from Vince Barnett and the villainy from William Harrigan and Jack LaRue more than compensate. La Rue gets a spectacular death scene, after shooting everyone in sight. One survivor is David Manners, whose slightly bland demeanor is brilliantly exploited by the script’s final moments. Although this is a Paramount Picture, the social microcosm and throwaway black humour is reminiscent of the best Warners capers. Jules Furthman wrote the story, no doubt laying down the creepy, sick tone — he was Sternberg’s go-to-guy for scriptwork at this point, and the medical gallows humour here parallels the death row skittishness in Sternberg’s THUNDERBOLT.

DOWN TO THEIR LAST YACHT (1934)

~ is even weirder than it sounds. It starts out with a family of millionaires, busted by the Crash, reluctantly agreeing to sail a bunch of horrid nouveau riche types around on the titular last yacht. Shipwrecked on an uncharted island, they fall under the thrall, if “thrall” is the word I want, of Mary Boland, an insane dowager who’s declared herself Queen of the native population. The plot disintegrates before our eyes, nobody seems to know who or what the film is about, but every so often there’ll be a sideways snarl from Ned Sparks or a bit of fey haplessness from Sterling Holloway. A fever dream.

THE WITCHING HOUR (1934)

This is the earliest Henry Hathaway job I’ve seen. It’s a slightly stagey mystery/drama/thingy with telepathy, hypnosis and a ghost thrown in. Best thing in it is Sir Guy Standing, who previously I’ve mocked because I find his name funny, but he’s wonderfully natural for a theatrical knight. (ERROR — I am confusing Standing with John Halliday, who looks a touch similar and gives the best perf in this) I guess he never made a canonically recognized great film, although LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER was rumoured to be Hitler’s fave.

Sir Guy John Halliday plays the owner of a gambling house who can always anticipate raids due to his mysterious sixth sense. One evening he hypnotizes his prospective son-in-law, as you do, to cure him of a phobia pertaining to cat’s-eye rings. Unfortunately, he unconsciously implants a post-hypnotic suggestion to kill Halliday’s enemy, which the obliging youngster does. Much of the plot turns on the quest to find a lawyer eccentric enough to take on this case — while one can appreciate the difficulty of such a chore, it’s just about the least interesting tack the drama could have taken. Hathaway directs with somewhat bloodless efficiency, but with some nice low angles.

THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN (1930)

Vaudevillians Gus Van and Joe Schenk lack screen chemistry, but Bessie Love plays her ukulele nicely, and you know how I love a good uke. Interesting to trace Love’s progress from Hollywood starlet to character actress in Britain (THE RITZ, REDS, THE HUNGER). And no, that wasn’t her real name (it was Juanita Horton).

THE HOUSE ON 56TH STREET (1933)

Oddly structured but affecting, with Kay Francis suffering and Ricardo Cortez dependably oleaginous. Robert Florey merits more love: he made a slew of great pre-codes, some decent 40s films, and some excellent TV episodes (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits). Pair him up with John Brahm as a pro with expressionist chops. It all dates back to THE LOVE OF ZERO in 1927, with cardboard designs by William Cameron Menzies. Nothing as baroque here, but Florey was in synch with the pre-code era, for sure.

UP THE RIVER (1930)

Early John Ford, but really it’s primo Maurine Dallas Watkins, the snappy women-in-prison stuff being the highlight. This is also Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart’s only movie together (it’s a co-ed prison), but Bogart isn’t really Bogart yet — the rather preppie young fellow can act a bit, but doesn’t compel attention. Tracy is in his loutish, disorderly, proletarian Irishman mode, much better value than his stolid paterfamilias trudging later on. The surviving print is incomplete, with some missing scenes and some scenes spliced into blipverts by absent frames. This adds a not-unpleasant, but quite unintended William Burroughs feel to the jaunty hi-jinks.

BIG CITY BLUES (1932)

Mervyn LeRoy, in his most insanely prolific phase, presides over this little beauty. Eric Linden is the naive goof trying to make his way in New York, Walter Catlett is his rip-off artist distant relative taking him for a ride. The mood darkens when an uncredited Lyle Talbot and Bogie crash the party. Bogie gives us a news bulletin —

I enjoyed this so much I forgot to even notice the solution to the whodunnit part. Most of the film is Linden and la Blondell, typically soulful. Grant Mitchell bookends it with a nice turn as station agent, commenting on our hero’s prospects, or lack thereof, in the big smoke.

MIDNIGHT CLUB (1933)

When Billy Wilder pitched DOUBLE INDEMNITY to George Raft, what the actor wanted to know was “When do I flip my lapel and show her the badge?” He assumed his character, outwardly a stinker, must turn out to be an undercover cop. Well, MIDNIGHT CLUB is the origin of that misconception, with Raft flipping his lapel for fire-and-ice Helen Vinson. This diverts the film from its weird starting point, in which heist team Vinson, Clive Brook and Alan Mowbray operate under the noses of the law by hiring lookalikes to impersonate them at the titular club, providing a foolproof alibi. These unruly doppelgangers threaten to develop into some kind of storyline, but never do. Hall & Somnes, who helmed this, also made the more successful GIRL IN 419 (see top). Alexander Hall went on to a long-ish career, Somnes packed it in.

CHILD OF MANHATTAN (1933)

Lugubrious rewrite of a Preston Sturges Broadway hit, with only a few moments of real wit —

“While my carriage was detained, I looked around.”

“Naturally, Miss Sophie.”

“Naturally or not, I looked around.”

Nancy Carroll seems like she could have handed out the required pep if they’d given her the authentic Sturges script, but John Boles would have dragged it down no matter what. Watchable, in a thin way. Luis Alberni would get some proper Sturges dialogue in EASY LIVING — I can’t work out why Sturges didn’t pick him up for his rep company of gnarled bit-players. Still, we’ll always have Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis.

This scene strikingly anticipates the big shopping trip in THE PALM BEACH STORY. You can certainly see how such sequences would have resonated with depression-era dreams.