Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about a few them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

The Public Enemy
6 am Saturday on TCM
James Cagney, Jean Harlow

The Saint Strikes Back
noon Saturday on TCM
George Sanders, Wendy Barrie

Dinner at Eight 
8 pm Saturday on TCM
John Barrymore, Marie Dressler

The Thin Man
10 pm Saturday on TCM
William Powell, Myrna Loy

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
2 am Sunday on TCM
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

 San Francisco
8 am Sunday on TCM
Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald

A Day at the Races
10 am Sunday on TCM
The Marx Brothers

Witness for the Prosecution
noon Sunday on TCM
Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power

Night Flight

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Night Flight (1933)

I had never heard of 1933’s Night Flight when I stumbled upon it in a sales pile at Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago. I’ve tried to train myself not to buy movies on a whim without knowing whether they are good, but the cast for this one was enough to secure its purchase. Besides love of my life Robert Montgomery, the cast also features John and Lionel Barrymore, Myrna Loy and Clark Gable, to name a few.

The story starts with a plot element that we will all but forget before the picture is over. A child at a hospital in Rio de Janeiro teeters on the verge of death from a virus, but doctors assure his mother that because of a new night flight schedule, the life-saving serum he needs can be delivered from across the continent by the next morning.

Now move on to the main story: the plight of those pilots tasked with the treacherous duty of flying mail planes across South America. The trip is dangerous enough during the daytime as Auguste (Montgomery) discovers as he flies the serum and other packages from Santiago, Chile ,to Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires is the headquarters of the delivery outfit where company president A. Riviere (John Barrymore) stressfully monitors all pilots’ progress. Auguste hits a nasty storm going over the mountains and at one point gets sucked down close to the rough terrain but thankfully makes it to his destination alive.

The package in question and other mail will not leave immediately for Rio de Janeiro from Buenos Aires because another flight is due just in time to ensure the load will leave by midnight. Flying that plane is Gable’s Jules. We will never see him outside of his vehicle and he has surprisingly little dialogue because he communicates with his radio operator via notepad, sending messages to headquarters. His path takes him from southern Chile to Buenos Aires, but he and his radio man encounter a surprise rain storm en route. They are thrown off course and also must battle a fleeting fuel supply. Jules’ wife, Simone (Helen Hayes), knows her husband’s schedule well and becomes distraught when he is late.

A “Brazilian Pilot” (William Gargan) is aroused from his sleep to take the night flight to Rio de Janeiro, leaving worrying wife (Loy) behind. He thinks the only value of night flight is to allow someone in France to get a post card two days earlier than normal, not realizing he is carrying a life-saving serum.

The bulk of the acting heft in Night Flight comes from the two Barrymores. John is a hard-nosed businessman who defies the company board in insisting on the overnight program. Lionel comes in as an “inspector” of some sort who is there as a counterpoint to Riviere’s tough tactics, trying to draw compassion from the man.

All scenes with John take place in his office, a dark room that is literally only lighted by “moonlight” from outside and a desk lamp. The darkness of most scenes in the picture leaves the audience feeling the weight of the night as much as the pilots do. We yearn for the dawn to bring with it safety in the same way they do. The office scenes are also often shot from waist height across the room or closeup low angles. This leaves the viewer feeling less like he is in the scene with the characters and more as an unwelcome spectator.

As with all movies featuring flight, Night Flight contains impressive footage of aerial maneuvering. Day for night shooting was apparently used for the flick, but unlike most picture that take this approach, the fakeness of night was unnoticeable.

The movie was apparently one of Gable’s lowest-grossing pictures. Interestingly, he is scarcely in it. He utters only a few lines of actual dialogue and is never seen outside his plane. A surprisingly small role for such a big star, but given the magnitude of the remainder of the cast, it might be understandable.

UPDATED: Guess that Poster 2012

It’s that time of year again, time to change the MacGuffin Movies blog banner. As I did last year with my cross section of a classic movie poster, I again challenge you to figure out what movie the ad represents. The image at the top of the web page is actually a horizontally oriented poster or possibly lobby card for this flick. Although the movie was American, this poster is not. That, however, is where the hints end, so guess away!

For more Name that Poster games and other poster-centric posts go HERE.

cropped-hold-your-man-d00ed4e9.jpg

AND THE ANSWER IS… Continue reading

Dancing Lady

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Dancing Lady (1933)

     I saw Dancing Lady for the first time probably more than a year ago. I distinctly remembered this movie as being sort of an odd role for Clark Gable but utterly loving how romantic he was in it. What I did not remember about the movie was its title and that Joan Crawford was the one receiving those romantic attentions. What does that say about her performance?

      Gable plays Patch Gallagher who is a Broadway musical director. He slaves to get shows put into production, making his cast of dancers labor endlessly, while taking orders from the purse-holding producer Bradley (Grant Mitchell).

      Crawford meanwhile plays Janie Barlow, a burlesque dancer who is arrested when her place of employment breaks into a riot. While at night court, she is spotted by bored millionaire playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone). He bails her out and takes her for a meal but cannot seem to convince Janie to date him. He does, however, help to fulfill her dream of having a legitimate dancing job. He uses his monetary influence to get the gal a meeting with Bradley, who instructs Patch to put the girl in the chorus. Upon seeing her audition, however, the director puts Janie in the lead.

      Janie and Patch on and off butt heads and have their romantic near-misses while Janie is publicly attached to Tod. The boyfriend has arranged for the girl to be compensated during rehearsals and is helping to ensure the financial backing for the show. Janie is stuck on her dream of stardom, however, and agrees with her beau that if the show is a success they will split, but if it is a flop, she will become his wife. Tod therefore takes the steps necessary to close the show.

      In many of the Gable-Jean Harlow (and other) pictures we see the man balancing two women and choosing the one who suits him best. In Dancing Lady, the romantic arrangement is the opposite, with Crawford doing the choosing. Gable also takes a toned down approach to his usual masculine, take-what-I-want attitude and although drawn to Crawford’s lips, always turns away before he can interfere in an established relationship. Perhaps the artistic background for his character in Dancing Lady is what softened his role. Gable really makes the flick worth watching.

      Crawford –and Tone, for that matter– really could have been played by anyone. The two were on the verge of a romantic relationship off-screen, and although Tone is his usual charming self, he proves despicable in his actions. Crawford was ingrained in the flapper/showgirl roles at this point in her career, so she gives her standard fare on screen. This judgement is not to say she put on a poor performance, just one that was not memorable for me, blending into the many others she did at this time.

      I should note that Fred Astaire appears playing himself and dancing opposite Crawford. Also working as stage hands are the Three Stooges, whose presence is amusing in and of itself. To think, Joan Crawford worked with the Three Stooges!

Mogambo

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Mogambo (1953)

     Twenty-one years after Clark Gable made the exotically set romantic triangle drama Red Dust, he made it again. Gable’s rubber plantation owner in Indochina moves to Africa to a job in exotic animal sales for Mogambo. Replace Jean Harlow‘s slutty prostitute with Ava Gardner‘s wealth-chasing show girl, and Mary Astor‘s devoted surveyor’s wife with Grace Kelly‘s devoted anthropologist’s wife, and tada! You’ve got Mogambo.

     The remake of the fantastic 1932 drama is not to be disparaged, however. Gable engages in two entirely separate movies that strongly stand the test of time on their own merits. The women, too, bring their own flavor to each character as Kelly’s unfaithful wife is more sympathetic than Astor’s, and Gardner is more emotional in her feelings for the protagonist where Harlow was more vengeful.

     In Mogambo, Gable is Victor Marswell who runs a big game trapping company in Kenya and sells the animals to zoos. Gardner’s Eloise Kelly shows up on the plant because she was expecting to meet a maharaja, who has in fact stood her up. She hangs on until the next scheduled boat several days later and in the process finds time to get under the skin of and please Vic.

     Kelly sets to leave just as Donald (Donald Sinden) and Linda Nordley (Kelly) arrive to study the behaviors of gorillas. Kelly’s boat gets stuck in the mud down river, however, and she returns to the ranch. Linda is an entirely different sort of woman from Kelly –a refined sort– and she fascinates Vic. When Donald has a bad reaction to a vaccine, the illness affords time for the two to get better acquainted. It also give Linda time to wander the ranch and get cornered by a black leopard, only to be saved by Vic. The two share a moment when it looks as though the man will kiss the married woman, but she flees into her room at the last instance. Kelly, nevertheless witnesses this passage and comes to her own conclusions about the state of her own relationship with Vic.

     Everyone on the ranch opts to safari with the Nordleys as they enter dangerous territory to view the gorillas. Kelly makes a pill of herself with snide comments and innuendos, the true meaning of which only Donald seems to be oblivious. Vic and Linda’s relationship advances with a kiss and possibly more, and the man prepares to tell Donald he intends to steal his wife away.

     Mogambo is full of danger, probably more so than Red Dust. Wild animals –and hostile natives– both pose a threat to the trio of unexperienced travellers and provide amazing footage for the film viewer. It must have been thrilling to work on this movie and be friendly with giraffes, baby elephants, and baby rinos.

     It has been a while since I have watched Red Dust, but for me Mogambo did more to create sympathy for the wife character than the previous version. In the former I found myself rooting for Jean Harlow, whereas here I sided with Grace Kelly, which might be a reflection on my personal feelings for the actresses (I like Gardner less, and to that point must note she had an abortion during filming without telling then-husband Sinatra because she did not want it to get in the way of her career). I felt Mogambo spent more time developing the relationship between Vic and Linda than the earlier version and that Ava Gardner’s character resigned herself to their affair, something Harlow’s characters never seemed to do. Both women give fantastic performances and both were nominated for Oscars. Gable is his usual strong, brooding self, but he glues the plot together.

Source: My Father’s Daughter: A Memoir by Tina Sinatra

Wife vs. Secretary

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Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

     Based on the title, I was expecting a very different movie starring Clark Gable, a man whose characters are not particularly known for fidelity. I also expected a different battle in Wife vs. Secretary between such disparate actresses as Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow.

     I am sure you can guess who plays wife to Gable’s Van Stanhope: Myrna Loy as Linda. Van is a bigshot magazine executive who is super devoted and in love with his wife but has an awfully handy and attractive secretary in “Whitey” (Harlow). The latter relationship appears to be plutonic, although Whitey is certainly more devoted to her boss than her weasly boyfriend, played by Jimmy Stewart

     Linda does not think anything of her husband’s working relationship until she is warned by Van’s mother (May Robson) and a business visit by the secretary during a party sparks whispers among the guests. Now everything her husband does seems suspicious, especially a convention trip to Havana at which Whitey arrives the next day and answers Van’s phone at 2 a.m. 

     As toward as this might seem, everything between Van and Whitey is on the level. He had summoned her south to help write up a contract for a last-minute deal to buy a competing magazine. The two stayed up all one night finalizing the papers and partied the next after the sale. Both worse for the wear, we see a moment when the dull-faced boss and subordinate sit on the bed and potentially contemplate something more, but Whitey declares their drunkenness is reason enough for her to leave. Before she can exit, however, the phone rings. Being a secretary, White answers it and all parties soon know what Linda must think.

     Linda pursues a divorce and Whitey tells the woman she has every intention of landing Van once it is finalized. Her motives are not terribly sinister, however, as she essentially encourages a reconciliation.

     Gable was fantastic in Wife vs. Secretary. He displays such passion with Loy, scooping her into his arms and smootching her to death on numerous occasions. That was something I was not expecting from this movie, as the title seemed to suggest a cold wife and a more appealing secretary who perhaps truly battle for the man. Gable’s relationship with Harlow can be described as nothing but cute. He treats her with the respect of a man but does not deny her femininity.

     Harlow is also quite different in this picture compared to the others she made with Gable. Her hair is a duller blonde, which serves to tame her sex appeal/vixen tendencies. She plays the role as a totally fun-loving gal, leaving us no reason to hate her. Loy also is charming and only becomes unsavory after she leaves Van on incorrect presumptions.  Wife vs. Secretary was loads of fun, full of humor and good intentions.

Boom Town

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Boom Town (1940)

     One could potentially maintain a blog focused solely on movies employing the hackneyed plot element that ties financial success with romantic promiscuity. Thankfully this approach is usually a minor aspect of a greater story as is the case of the two very different movies I’ve reviewed so far this week: Monday’s No Other Woman and now Boom Town.

     Where No Other Woman was dull, however, Boom Town was highly entertaining. This two-hour movie crams in a massive storyline that takes its characters around the country and through phases of love and hate. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy are John McMasters and John Sand, respectively, who meet on the muddy streets of a Texas town ravaged by oil prospectors. The two become fast friends and steal/borrow some equipment from Luther Aldrich (Frank Morgan) to get their first well started. That one is a dud but after working in other oil fields, the duo return to drill another section of the land they own. The same day this prospect starts shooting oil, Betsy Bartlett (Claudette Colbert) comes to town looking for Sand, who is keen on marrying the gal. McMasters gets to her first, however, and the two are married that first night before Betsy has a chance to tell her new spouse that she knows his partner.

     Sand can get over losing Betsy, who he knew never really loved him, but he cannot abide McMasters hitting the town and having a drunken dance with another woman. This is how Betsy and Sand find the man as they bring news that the oil field is on fire. After putting out the flames, the two Johns flip a coin for ownership of the land and McMasters and Betsy give up their mansion and hit the road. McMasters travels around the country working at various oil fields and ends up at a secondary plot Sand operates. He refuses to take a job from the ex-friend.

     Sand’s luck will run out at that field and McMasters will make it big again. This time he takes his riches to New York where he gets into the refinery business. There he meets Hedy Lamarr‘s Karen Vanmeer who will work for him as a sort of eavesdropper, picking up tips about what others in the business are up to. She also keeps the businessman away from his home, wife and son. Sand will end up in New York and use his money and influence to try to destroy McMasters company only to save Betsy from the unhappy marriage.

     Stories that introduce the vixen character seem to always end with the man being unable to deny his everlasting feelings for his original love, at least in Hollywood. These plots usually paint us a dutiful wife who either refuses to give up/leave her spouse because of her undying love or releases him only because she wants the man to be happy. Adding a child to the equation works to push the audience toward the wife over the lover even if we might think the protagonist would be happier in those arms. What perhaps is kept off screen in these set-ups is that the man theoretically wants to leave the wife only because the mistress demands marriage or will cut him off sexually. This underlying motivation usually comes across as the man truly not being sure which woman he loves more, even if that might be obvious to us.

     Boom Town was a very entertaining movie. What starts out as a buddy story of struggling to find success becomes a rivalry tale, an adventure for a young married couple, and finally a bitter battle marked by threats and a suicide attempt. One would not have expected the story he is viewing at the start of the picture would progress to the conflict the characters face at the end. The picture is also crafted in a way that keeps us entertained without making it seem as though we are watching a very long movie. It crams a lot of action and drama into a short time span.

  • Boom Town is set for 4:30 a.m. ET Feb. 9 on TCM.
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