Most of the time those who serve are over looked and underappreciated. This is true in both life and art. So, I am thrilled that for once characters in service are getting the attention they deserve thanks to Paddy of Caftan Woman and Rich of Wide Screen Worldwho are hosting the Butlers & Maids Blogathon.
It’s not very often that butlers or maids are more than a background character in film. Such is not the case with Imitation of Life which explores topics of race and gender through the prism of relationships. In the friendship between a white businesswoman and her talented black maid as well as the relationships between the two women and their daughters we see how these issues impact each character differently. Continue reading “Butlers & Maids Blogathon – Imitation of Life (1934)”
Les Misérables is Victor Hugo’s fictional masterpiece of commentary on law versus grace and the power of redemption. It has been adapted for the screen several times. The latest adaptation is set to air on PBS very soon.
I was fortunate enough to see the stage play on Broadway and it is one of my favorite musicals. I’ve also seen the 1998 and 2012 feature films, which I thought fell a bit short of in capturing the soul of the story I saw on stage. When the opportunity arose to view the first big screen adaptation made, of course, I had to watch it to see how it compares.
Our tale is set in nineteenth century France. Jean Valjean receives an unjust prison term for a minor offense. It is while in prison he first comes into contact with the merciless Javert who eventually becomes a policeman.
After his release, he encounters a compassionate priest who challenges him to show the same mercy he has given Valjean. This changes the course of his life. Valjean assumes a new identity and leads an exemplary life. His financial success allows him to be generous with others, but from a distance.
Then another life-changing encounter occurs when Fantine, a young woman fired from his factory, dies and leaves her young daughter behind. At the same time the rigid Javert, has been searching for Valjean for a long time over another infraction of the law he loves so much. Valjean is barely able to escape with his new daughter Cosette. They head to Paris where they hide out for many years.
Years later a grown Cosette falls in love with the young revolutionary Marius. Marius’ group is under surveillance by none other than Javert. This brings Valjean and Javert into one last confrontation with a surprising ending.
Hollywood isn’t often noted for its’ successful marriages. However, writer Robert Riskin and actress Fay Wray were one of the exceptions. The two were married for thirteen years until his death parted them.
Their daughter is publishing the book Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Affair. I am participating in The Fay Wray and Robert Riskin Blogathon honoring these two Hollywood stars and the book hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and AnnMarie at Classic Movie Hub.
One of the things I am always bemoaning about our modern films is the lackluster, disappointing dialogue. Classic films were full of snappy one liners, rapid fire conversations full of double entendres and attraction disguised as insults. They were witty and smart, but could also be cutting and sharp. It is rare to run across this verbal brilliance in new releases. Which is why I wanted to focus on Robert Riskin for the sake of this blogathon. Continue reading “Fay Wray and Robert Riskin Blogathon – Platinum Blonde (1931)”
In order to marry his hometown fiancee, gambling dancer John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire) heads to New York to make $25,000. His friend and sidekick Pop (Victor Moore) follows him like a faithful dog. On his first day in the city, Lucky has an unfortunate first meeting with Penny (Ginger Rogers), a dance instructor. Not only do Lucky and Pop almost get Penny arrested, but they also cause Penny and her friend Mabel (Helen Broderick) to lose their jobs. Even though Lucky convinces Penny’s boss (Eric Blore) to re-hire her, she is not so easily won over.
But Lucky is in luck because he and Penny are now dance partners. The more time they spend together, the more they begin to fall for each other. However, both try to resist their mutual attraction. Lucky has not forgotten his purpose for being in New York, even though he never mentions it to Penny. As for Penny, her long time admirer Ricky Romero, continues to propose to her despite multiple rejections. Meanwhile Pop and Mabel connive to see Lucky and Penny end up together.
Cary Grant is the quintessential leading man in both dramas and comedies. But I prefer his comedic films. He had a skill for appearing silly while also still being suave and sophisticated. One of my favorite among his comedy films is Topper. Made just as his star was hitting it’s peak, it is the last film in which he ever played a supporting role.
George and Marion Kerby are a socialite couple with few responsibilities. They live a fast, lively and glamorous life. One of the few drags on their carefree life is the annual board of directors meeting at a bank George owns. Once a year, he is forced to attend by the bank manager Cosmo Topper.
After a night of partying followed by the board meeting the next morning, George and Marion are killed in a car wreck. They are perplexed as to why they remain on earth instead of immediately going to the afterlife. Marion believes it is because they haven’t done anything that would earn them a spot in heaven. So they decide that they must accomplish one good deed. They settle on liberating their bank manager, Mr. Topper from the rigid and regimented life enforced by his wife.
Topper finds his life unwillingly and completely turned upside down by his ghostly friends. But before long, he begins to see the benefit of allowing a little joy and fun into his mundane existence.
Arsène Lupin -The Gentleman Thief of French Literature
The gentleman thief is a much beloved character in both literature and film. Arsène Lupin is one such character, first birthed by the pen of French writer Maurice Leblanc in the early 1900’s. Over the course of the next two decades Leblanc published many novellas, novels and even plays featuring his popular creation. These stories were contemporary with another, perhaps more famous, thief and master of disguise, that of the English gentleman Raffles. Without the underrated gift of classic film, I might never have heard of or been introduced to either.
The Arsène Lupin character also made appearances in television, stage and over twenty films. It is the pre-code 1932 version starring the Barrymore brothers, Lionel and John that I fell in love with. According to an introduction given by Dave Karger for this film on TCM, the Barrymore brothers were highly regarded by the two most important men at MGM during the early Thirties. Louis B Mayer believed Lionel to be one of the best actors of his time, while Irving Thalberg felt the same about John. When John’s contract with Warner Bros. expired, MGM snapped him up. He was cast with Lionel in Arsène Lupin, the first of five films in which the brothers would appear together in the years 1932-1933. Of those five only one would also star their equally famous sister Ethel. Sadly, after 1933 there would be no more films co-starring Lionel and John. Continue reading “Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon -Arsène Lupin (1932)”
Bringing Up Baby was my first introduction to the world of classic film. It was also my first experience with the screwball comedy genre as well as Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. With such an auspicious initiation, is it any wonder that I not only adore classic films, but that both Grant and Hepburn along with the screwball comedy genre remain my very favorites. No matter how many (countless) times I watch this picture, it never fails to entertain and to lift my spirits.SUMMARY
David Huxley is a paleontologist who is THIS close to completing the skeleton of a Brontosaurus. He just lacks installation of the final bone (the intercostal clavicle) and funding in the form of a million dollar donation by the wealthy Mrs. Carlton Random. He is also one day away from a marriage of convenience to the dull and practical Alice Swallow.
David’s meeting with Mrs. Random’s attorney, Mr. Peabody, is unfortunately disrupted by Susan Vance. After a meet cute filled with confusion, theft and mishaps, David is forced to reschedule his meeting for that same evening. However, David’s bad luck continues as he once again runs into Susan who once again ruins his meeting.
Susan, however is besotted and decides David is the man for her. Believing him to be a zoologist, Susan tracks him down to request his help. Her brother has sent a tame pet leopard as a gift for their aunt. Despite David’s refusal to help Susan deliver ‘Baby’, Susan coerces him by promising to speak to Mr. Peabody on his behalf. Unknown to David, Mrs. Random just happens to be Susan’s aunt.
David and Susan head off to the family’s Connecticut farm to deliver Baby. But Susan being Susan, everything that can go wrong does. Add in the family dog George who buries the intercostal clavicle, an escaped killer leopard, a visit from a family friend who is a big-game hunter and Susan’s introduction of David as a man recovering from a nervous breakdown and you’ve got the recipe for one of the funniest movies ever.
Not too many years ago, I happened across a Ginger Rogers film I had never seen or even heard of before. Romance in Manhattan turned out to be not only a lovely little movie, but also became one of my favorites. As much as I love the pairing of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce others to this lesser known charmer which co-stars Ginger with Francis Lederer.
Karel Novak (Lederer) has worked hard to achieve his dream of immigrating to America. A native of Czechoslovakia, he meets all the legal requirements for entry. However, upon his arrival he learns that one of those requirements has changed and he is to be deported back to his home country.
Karel can’t bear the thought that he must return home. Leaving his belongings and money behind, he escapes into New York City, where he is certain he will find work. However, the only luck Karel has is meeting the kind and compassionate show girl Sylvia Dennis (Rogers). Sylvia is the sole caretaker for her younger brother Frank (Jimmy Butler) and is barely making ends meet herself. But she offers Karel food, a place to sleep and help in finding a job.
As weeks and months pass, Karel becomes a welcome addition to the lives of Sylvia and her brother Frank. Karel finds a job as a taxi driver and helps contribute to the household. He also manages to befriend police officer Murphy (J. Farrell McDonald), despite living in fear of discovery and deportation.
Sylvia and Karel begin to fall for each other, but Sylvia prefers to marry a millionaire. She is sick of poverty and seeks security for herself and Frank. This desire becomes even more important when both she and Karel find themselves out of work just as social services threaten to take Frank away from her. Karel however, is convinced that love will find a way and proposes to Sylvia. But their problems are far from over. A shady lawyer reports Karel’s immigrant status and Frank is taken from Sylvia. But with a little help from Officer Murphy, Karel and Sylvia may just have a chance.
In today’s climate, it would be easy to politicize a film like Romance in Manhattan. Especially as it features the story of an immigrant whose dream of America motivates him to break the law when one subjective requirement threatens to obliterate his hope and sacrifice. But in my opinion, this would be a mistake, because you might miss the sweetness of this story and it’s characters.
This film came at a time of transition in Ginger Rogers’ career and is one of five films she made in 1935. Ginger already had numerous credits to her name, but mostly as a supporting or character actress. However, prior to the release of Romance in Manhattan, she was paired with Fred Astaire in two of the nine films in which they would appear together. Her star was just starting to rise. Within the following several years she appeared in six more films with Astaire and also branched out into serious dramatic roles, one of which (Kitty Foyle) won her an Oscar.
Ginger’s portrayal of Sylvia Dennis is one of my favorite’s. Sylvia is practical and realistic, but she has not allowed the challenges of life to harden her or make her cynical. She has retained her innocence but is also wise to the ways of the world. Though Sylvia has little, she doesn’t think twice about sharing it with someone who has even less. And even though she espouses a desire to marry wealth, Sylvia doesn’t really fit the definition of a gold-digger. She is playful yet sincere in her wish, but when it comes down to it, she realizes that love is more valuable. Rogers never overplays her performance as Sylvia, keeping it genuine with an underlying sense of humor. In her capable hands, Sylvia is a believable depiction of an average, quietly heroic, every day American.
As much as I love Ginger Roger’s portrayal of Sylvia though, this is really Francis Lederer’s film. From his first appearance onscreen he draws you in to the heart of Karel Novak. You feel his excitement, disappointment, determination and every emotion in between in his pursuit to become an American. His earnestness, innocence and optimism help you to experience the poignancy of his plight. Here is a man who truly wants to follow the laws of his adopted country, but who also refuses to allow his inability to meet one subjective requirement make all his sacrifice for naught. Even though he begins with nothing and needs every spare penny, Karel willingly contributes to the Dennis household. He also risks the threat of deportation in order to keep Sylvia and Frank together, willing to give up his dream for their sake. I particularly appreciate how his immigrant perspective helps Sylvia to see her native country through new, appreciative eyes.
Romance in Manhattan also benefits from the performances of Jimmy Butler and J Farrell McDonald as Frank and Officer Murphy. I’m not familiar with Butler’s other work, but his portrayal of Sylvia’s brother is quietly convincing. Unlike some child actors, his personality doesn’t overpower the part, but he doesn’t disappear into it either. Butler really makes Frank his own. It is a shame that he died young in combat in WWII. It would have been interesting to see what he might have done as an adult actor.
McDonald was a familiar face to me as he should be. In his career he amassed over 300 credits in small parts (some uncredited). Here he has the chance to shine as a soft-hearted Irish cop who doesn’t let the law crush an otherwise good man. And of course, what 1930’s film would be complete without the presence of Donald Meek? Sadly, he doesn’t appear until the end of the picture. But it’s still a pleasure to see him play a small role as a minister.
Romance in Manhattan celebrates self-sacrifice, compassion, human kindness, understanding and love. It’s focus on these attributes reminds us not only of the best qualities of America but also of mankind.
Unfortunately, this film rarely airs on TCM. But it is available to rent through Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. Or you could always buy the DVD like I did.
Ruggles is a staid valet employed by the Earl of Burnstead. Ruggles comes from a long line of men who have served the Burnstead family for generations. So, when the Earl informs Ruggles that he lost him in a poker game to a wealthy American couple, Ruggles tries to hide his surprise. It becomes harder to disguise this surprise when he meets the Floud’s, his new employers. They have only recently come into wealth and it shows.
Egbert Floud is the epitome of a loud, tasteless American tourist. While his wife Effie tries very hard to disguise their humble beginnings with expensive clothes and poorly spoken French. Ruggles is privately appalled by the Flouds, particularly as Egbert insists on treating him as an equal and continually ignoring their difference in class. Effie on the other hand is a woman Ruggles understands, despite her patronizing snobbery. Effie’s desire for an English valet for her husband coincide perfectly with Ruggles understanding of his place in life.
But Egbert just can’t seem to treat Ruggles as an inferior. When the Flouds return to their western Washington home town, Ruggles learns his preconceptions of a wild untamed land have been exaggerated. He has difficulty adjusting to the little town of Red Gap, but as Egbert and his friends continually insist on treating Ruggles as an equal, he begins to see the benefits of America. Continue reading “Classic Film Review -Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)”
Norma Shearer wasn’t known as the Queen of MGM without reason. Before she married the studio’s head of production, Irving Thalberg, she had proven herself as a talented actress in her own right. Undeterred by criticism and rejection, she clawed her way into a successful career through sheer determination, persistence and discipline. Before Madonna, Shearer was a pioneer in reinventing her image. She was a woman who didn’t take no for an answer and who refused to let anyone else shape her public image. Sadly, she is not as well known today as other classic Hollywood film stars, which is a real shame. Because she is a powerful female role model even now, despite the misconception that she rode her husband’s coat tails to success.
Robert Montgomery has always been one of my favorite actors. His early years of comfort followed by loss gave him the strength and emotional tools needed to make a good actor. Montgomery has never been listed among the acting greats. I believe part of the reason he is excluded from that club is the lack of great parts that really allow him to shine. We see glimpses of it in his films The Big House, The Night Must Fall, They Were Expendable among others. But no one can deny that he was a solid, dependable, capable actor who played opposite some of the greatest leading ladies of the day. Continue reading “Dynamic Duos Blogathon -Norma Shearer & Robert Montgomery.”