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Housewife

Dullsville

Housewife (1934)

Housewife (1934)

In the olden days, women stayed at home, raised the kids, planned parties and didn’t ask what their husbands had been up to when they were “working late.” The subject made a great movie in the form of 1936’s Wife vs. Secretary, but in 1934 it did not make for an enjoyable subject as Housewife.

George Brent‘s Bill Reynolds is in the advertising business. He thinks very highly of himself as the office manager for an advertising agent, but his boss does not think terribly much of him. His wife Nan (Ann Dvorak) has become an expert at running the household on his small salary. When the boss hires a new copywriter in the form of platinum blonde Bette Davis‘ Patricia, things change.

Bill had known Patricia in high school, which is the same time he started dating his wife. Patricia went off to New York and became a big deal advertising writer. So big that she is given her own office at Bill’s firm, whereas he only has a desk outside the boss’ room. His old acquaintance –who had a thing for him back in the day– symbolizes the success Bill lacks.

When Bill gets a bright idea about marketing a client’s beauty cream at double the price by saying it is “double strength”, the boss cares not. Convinced of the brilliance of his idea, Bill takes the plunge and starts his own ad firm, eventually luring away the cosmetic company. Patricia joins the businessman in the new venture and both become very successful. The change is great for Nan as a more fashionable life takes over at home. What Bill is doing during those late nights at work, however, might drive her into the arms of another man. No worries, however, the near ruin of their relationship will mend the Reynolds’ bond and they will spend their lives dreamily gazing into the sunset.

I editorialized a bit on that ending for Housewife to illustrate how pathetic a conclusion we are presented in this flick. Despite the title of the movie, the husband and not the housewife occupies the most screen time and stands out as the story’s protagonist. We see more how his life is changed than how it affects the housewife. And given a choice between exotic and young Davis and home-based Dvorak, I think we’d all be choosing the former.

The story lacks the passion and emotion of Wife vs. Secretary and Brent is probably partly to blame there. Whereas Myrna Loy made us love the housewife for her loyalty and fun-loving personality, we find nothing much to like in Dvorak’s character.

Housewife is one of the 11 movies Brent and Davis made together (See also So Big and The Old Maid). That is more than most on-screen teams did together, yet one does not think of the two in the same vein as Hepburn and Tracy. For starters, at this juncture in their careers, Brent was filling bigger parts while Davis was a supporting player. As time went on and Davis finally got noticed for her talent more than her looks, the woman would become the headliner, such as in Dark Victory. It is a wonder a woman of such great talent spent so much on screen time with a man of such great looks, but nothing more.

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The Road to Singapore

Dullsville

Road to Singapore (1931)

     Before you get ahead of yourself I must warn that this is not a post about the Bing CrosbyBob Hope road movie. This unsavory William Powell romance has nothing to do with the string of movies that all but trademarked the title “Road to …” . This flick came nine years prior to the comedic film of the same name that was the first in the duo’s series. If you find yourself inadvertently watching this movie, you’re sure to be displeased as not only does this Road to Singapore lack laughs, but it might be the least desirable character Powell has played.

     On the boat to British-occupied Khota, a drunken Powell as Hugh Dawltry has been attempting to court Phillipa (Doris Kenyon) not knowing her travels are driven by a pending marriage to a doctor at the tropical locale, George March, played by a young Louis Calhern. Upon departure from the vessel, Dawltry escorts the young woman to what she thinks is her fiancée’s home only to discover she has actually been lured to the man’s own home. She resists his advances at this point and never tells her husband of it.

     As the story goes along, Phillipa and George are married and live with George’s younger sister Rene (Marian Marsh). George hates Dawltry because gossip continues about how he broke up another woman’s marriage and the man is a notorious philanderer. Rene is openly fascinated by the man but Phillipa hides her growing interest. When both George and Rene are scheduled to leave town to deliver a patient, Phillipa accepts an invitation to Dawltry’s home where the two seemingly copulate. The patient, however, dies before the ship leaves, so George returns home to find his wife missing and a note from her lover on the dresser.

     We are meant to feel pity for Phillipa and her unhappy marriage to a man who is far more interested in his career than his wife. The trouble is, Powell does not come off as the dashing answer to the woman’s woes. He is dishonest and offers no indication he will supply the love Phillipa’s life lacks, merely the passion. The ending gets a bit confusing as Dawltry is both confessing and denying his involvement in the notorious case of the other woman’s divorce. We cannot determine from either character’s emotions if they will flee together or if one or the other is not that interested. This therefore makes the ending not terribly satisfying as we think neither person is really that into the relationship.

Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry

Gasser

Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937)

     Some movies are more important for their meaning in cinema history than for their actual stories or performances. I would say Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry falls into that category as it was the first pairing of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, a couple who would do 10 pictures total together. MGM spotted as soon as filming started the great appeal of the two together, and all of their follow-up roles together would be for that studio.

     The Garland-Rooney headliner films include most of the Andy Hardy movies in which, much as in real life, Judy would play the girl next door who cannot seem to draw the romantic attention of Mickey who was the real focus of those movies. Rooney and Garland knew each other before doing Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, however. They attended the same acting school for kids in Hollywood. Garland was 15 in this film, Rooney 17, and she was still in an awkward phase of adolescence that presented problems for Louis B. Mayer who had hired her to an MGM contract. She was stuck in between cute kid and sexy young adult, which resulted in her sitting on the shelf for a while before the studio could figure out how to use her. Mayer also had the MGM commissary on strict rules to only feed her chicken broth because her favor for sweets had her figure anything but curvy, as one can see in this film. Mayer would also put Garland on diet pills, which combined with her mother’s regiment of uppers to make her shine in auditions (started at age 9, I believe) and downers to get her to sleep, could be blamed as the groundwork for her lifelong pill addiction.

     Returning to the movie, Rooney plays jockey Timmy Donovan who can win any race on any horse. Garland is Cricket West, daughter of the owner of the boardinghouse where Donovan and a slew of other jockeys live. Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry does not start out about them, however. We first follow Roger (Ronald Sinclair) and Sir Peter Calverton (C. Aubrey Smith) as they voyage from England with their horse Pookah that they plan to run in a big race in America. Early on they spy Donovan as the jockey they want, but the boy is so arrogant it takes some trickery to get him in the saddle. Donovan becomes pretty loyal to the foreigners and teaches Roger to ride as a jockey.

     When Donovan’s estranged father calls for him claiming to be sick and asking his boy to throw a race riding Pookah so he can win the money for an iron lung, the jockey follows through. The shock of the loss, however, kills Sir Peter with a heart attack leaving Roger and his stable-hand sort of stranded in the U.S. with no money. Roger plans to sell Poohah because he does not have the entrance fee for the big race. Figuring out his father’s scam, Donovan demands some of the winnings to put Pookah in that race, but further interference by the low-down father reveals the jockey’s dishonest loss in the last race and he is barred from riding. Luckily, Roger learned enough about jockeying to make a go of it.

     Garland’s role in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry is pretty negligible. She sings one song, “Got a Pair of New Shoes”, and just acts as a side character to the drama between the boys. Rooney is his usual, great self, but Sinclair, in a role intended for Freddie Bartholomew, is kind of dreadful. I found him very annoying and easily saw how Bartholomew would have been a better fit.

     There are also a couple scenes with Rooney and Sinclair that if taken out of context would suggest a sexual relationship between the characters. I’m sure audiences thought nothing of it at the time, but images of the two of them riding a horse together combined with a follow-up scene when Rooney continually pulls Sinclair’s pants down so he can rub his thighs is suggestive by today’s standards. Just a funny note.

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