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

Penthouse

Gasser

Penthouse (1933)

Myrna Loy‘s Hollywood title of “the perfect wife” reflects the reality that her most memorable roles were those that domesticated her to family life. The Thin Man movies, The Best Years of Our Lives and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House are such examples. But she was not always so type cast. She played the exotic early in her career and brought a certain sex appeal that was restrained in her later parts. On the fence between those two worlds is Penthouse. It was directed by W.S. Van Dyke a year before he made The Thin Man and the important decision to cast Loy as Nora Charles, a part that to a large degree makes those movies what they are.

In Penthouse, Loy plays a dame who hangs around with seedy underworld types and who ends up taking up residence at the home of a lawyer. Try as she might, Loy’s charming personality surmounts the suggestive dialogue that would paint her as a floozy. But her wit and comedic delivery of lines here would convince Van Dyke of his find and propel her to stardom the next year.

Warner Baxter plays Jackson Durant, a well-to-do attorney who tarnishes his career by successfully defending mobster Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton) from a murder conviction. He also loses the affection of his girl, Sue (Martha Sleeper),  because of the new company he keeps. Sue quickly finds a new love, however, in the arms of pal Tom (Phillips Holmes) and the two get engaged.

Tom must break off his affair with low-life Mimi (Mae Clark) who in turn looks to rekindle a romance with gangster Jim Crelliman (C. Henry Gordon). To satisfy the racketeer, however, Mimi must publicly break things off with Tom. At a nightclub, Mimi takes Tom onto a roof balcony for that conversation but Crelliman and others in the club are surprised by a gunshot. Mimi is dead and Tom is holding the gun.

Jackson comes soon to conclude his friend Tom is innocent when he receives a phone call advising him to stay away from the case. He therefore gets involved. As part of his investigation, Gazotti hooks him up with Loy’s Gertie Waxted. Meeting at a club, Gertie confesses she’d be more comfortable at home cooking “a pot of eggs” but also does not wish to return to her apartment where a photo of friend Mimi will depress her. The solution is Jackson’s flat.

Nothing untoward occurs between the duo and Gertie even says she will get rusty at defending her honor after a month of residence at the home. Jackson wants to keep her safe at his place while he continues the investigation. He’s hoping to get unexpected information from her just by talking about Mimi. In doing so, she reveals several clues, such as that her apartment overlooks the murder scene and that building is owned by Crelliman. The racketeer also knows the pawn broker who IDed Tom as having bought the gun in question.

When Jackson leaves the apartment to investigate Gertie’s home, the woman is unable to stay put as she is fearing for the man’s safety. Later seeing Gertie with Crelliman’s “finger man”, Jackson suspects she has betrayed him. With the help of mobster Gazotti, Jackson unravels the mystery and saves his new girl.

Loy, although one must be patient for her first appearance, steals a decent portion of attention given her relatively small role in Penthouse. The gal is smart, kind and tough and exudes too much class for us to actually believe she was of Mimi’s sort. Gertie is the sort of role you would expect Jean Harlow to play, but by using Loy, we get a much more likeable character and one that seems to be classy enough for the once-revered attorney.

Pendleton is very enjoyable and memorable as Gazotti. The character actor often played gangster sidekicks or detective partners, but this is the first I have seen him in a role of power. He is no less congenial nor any smarter than his other parts, but he makes the criminal who is backing our protagonist easy to like.

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

Riffraff

Gasser

Riffraff (1936)

     I would not necessarily think of Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy as a logical couple. Although he played notable lower-class parts, I generally think of Tracy as a gentleman, something Harlow’s characters do not often find themselves with. In Riffraff, however, Tracy creates a character just low enough for a slightly more conservative Harlow to love.

     Harlow as Hattie lives in a cramped shack of a home with her father, brother, sister, brother-in-law and their kids. She still manages to keep her hair curled and her face fresh despite working in a tuna cannery, where most women in this sea-side town are employed. The same cannot be said of sister, Lil (Una Merkel), who has let her looks go as she endeavors to keep up with her children.

     Tracy as Dutch, meanwhile, is one of many men in the fishermen’s union working under Nick Lewis (Joseph Calleia), who has gotten rich from his tuna business. Dutch starts the film brushing off affections from Hattie, who has been in a love-hate state with the man for some time.

     Dutch’s affections warm toward Hattie when she starts going around with and accepting furs from Nick. Dutch and Hattie, therefore, get married, and the groom buys a house full of fine furnishings purchased on the installment plan. Dutch soon becomes the union president and calls for a strike, which is eventually resolved to the union’s detriment and Dutch is replaced at the helm. Penniless, debt collectors come calling and take all of the couple’s furniture. Ashamed, the man leaves for another city and says he will send for Hattie when he has made his fortune.

     Months later, Hattie discovers her husband is living in a homeless camp and steals money from Nick to help him. The crime lands her in jail, however, and to make matters worse, she’s pregnant. The baby is taken away from her in prison and no one in the family tells Dutch as Lil looks after him. The disgraced fisherman returns to town and discovers the union will not take him back, but he manages to land a security job on the docks. In that role he saves the whole town from being blown up and is thrown a hero’s party.

     Hattie has meanwhile escaped for prison and is waiting for Dutch to rescue her and take her to Mexico. The couple, celebrating the revelation of Dutch’s child, opt not to run.

     There is not much to be said about Riffraff. It is a moderately amusing movie with a plot that seems to make things continually worse as the story goes on. There are few moments of happiness between the couple –when they move into their house and the ending– but their passion for one another is evident. The fact that they stand on the precipice of again being separated at the film’s conclusion and yet are their most happy is what embodies their relationship. Unfortunately, the love and passion between the two lovers is not portrayed in such a way that we ache for their reunion. This is no Wuthering Heights or Splendor in the Grass in terms of gut-wrenching performances. Nevertheless it’s an enjoyable picture. I should mention a young Mickey Rooney also adds some humor as Hattie’s brother. His performance is fun, but one wouldn’t watch Riffraff just for him.

Mogambo

Ring a Ding Ding

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

Ring a Ding Ding

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.

Lady by Choice

Gasser

Lady by Choice (1934)

     I find it hard to think of Carole Lombard as anything but sweet. She was gorgeous and at times sexy, but never convincingly conveyed the scandalously provocative women she is meant to embody in Lady by Choice. Even the poster for this movie makes Lombard look more like Jean Harlow than herself.

     Lombard is fan dancer Alabam Lee who at the film’s start is tickled pink by the sass an old woman gives Judge Daly (Walter Connolly) when asked about her drunk and disorderly charges. Alabam is in the courtroom waiting for her own sentence for the illegal dancing she does. Not long after, looking to boost her image, Alabam’s manager arranges for the woman to adopt a mother on mother’s day. When visiting a rest home, who should Alabam find, but that old woman, Patsy (May Robson). Once permanently settled in this young woman’s life, Patsy starts to look out for Alabam’s interests and that includes not only lying about some large gambling profits she will share (calling it an inheritance) but she reveals that the dancer’s manager  Front O’Malley (Raymond Walburn) has been cheating her out of the appropriate share of her dancer salary. Booting him to the curb, Patsy takes over as Alabam’s manager and tries to turn her into a legitimate singer/dancer.

     Along the way, Alabam gets friendly with Johnny Mills (Roger Pryor), who has always looked out for Patsy because his deceased father was in love with her. Finding she is about to be broke, Alabam thinks marrying this wealthy man might be a good plan, but her emotions get the best of her and money no longer sounds like the future she wants.

     It is hard to know to whom the title Lady by Choice refers. Both Patsy and Alabam are tramps of a sort at the film’s start and are transformed either by money or by affection. May Robson is almost unbelievable in her part only because she makes such a stark transition from a down-and-out drunkard looking out for her own best interests to a motherly figure who wants only to protect Alabam. Watching her, I always have the sneaking suspicion she has some ulterior motive or will abscond with Alabam’s jewelry or other valuable possession. The romance played by Lombard and Pryor is much easier to swallow. The sweet Lombard we all know comes shining through as she makes her beau promise to be penniless if they are to marry. Pryor also makes a nice romantic object for the Alabam character because he is not the most attractive man in Hollywood, which makes more genuine his girlfriend’s feelings.

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