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Remember the Night


Remember the Night (1940)

     Although Remember the Night is a fairly heartwarming Xmastime story, it does not necessarily have a happy ending. This first pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, who would make possibly the most famous film noir in history, Double Indemnity, is a story of compassion and romance but with some rather bleak moments along the way.

     Stanwyck plays Lee Leander, a thief with record who just prior to Xmas is on trial with MacMurray’s DA John Sargent against her. John moves for a continuance, however, because he knows the jury will acquit her based on the time of year. Feeling poorly about sending the young woman to an Xmas meal in the clink, John pays her bail, which results in the woman being deposited on his doorstep. He agrees to get her dinner and while they dance the couple discovers they are both from Indiana, which is where John is headed to spend the holiday. He opts to carpool the woman to her home town on the way, but when they arrive a cold reception from Lee’s mother and a glimpse into her poor upbringing leads John to take her to his home instead.

     John’s mother and aunt embrace Lee until the lawyer reveals she is a thief he plans to convict in a couple of days. That’s no problem until the two start to fall in love, and Mrs. Sargent sees Lee as a threat to her son’s honest upbringing and hard work. Ultimately, Lee pleads guilty either to avoid corrupting John or to do the honest thing, and the film ends with her in jail saying John must wait to marry her if he feels the same way once she has paid her debt to society.

     Although MacMurray would be cast against type in Double Indemnity, he plays his usual good guy in Remember the Night. Stanwyck, however, plays a similar bad girl or devious type she would also personify in The Lady Eve, which along with this film was written by Preston Sturges. She also sports the same dark hair color as she does as Eve, which is my favorite of her looks. She worked well as a blonde, but I find her particularly striking with the dark locks.

     Remember the Night is a cute, romantic holiday film with good acting, but it is not particularly memorable. Better to hold out for Double Indemnity.

Source: Robert Osborne


The Bitter Tea of General Yen


The Bitter Tea of
General Yen (1933)

     I have mentioned before how casting westerners to play exotic and foreign roles was prevalent in early movies and fairly disgraceful, and The Bitter Tea of General Yen is another example. At least in this film only the male lead is a false “Chinaman” played by Nils Asther, a silent picture leading man of Denmark origin who played mostly side roles in talking films. He personifies a Chinese warlord who holds an American missionary captive while he tries to win her affection. Barbara Stanwyck plays the woman, who came to China to marry a childhood friend (also American) she had not seen in three years. General Yen rescues her from a mob scene and takes her to his palace.

     As I watched this mediocre flick, I felt as though this plot had been done before (or again, as the case may be), and in fact, it largely reflects Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (and possibly other incarnations, but that is the only version I know). An evil creature forces a woman to live in luxury while he tries to convince her to fall in love with him. She cannot leave and eventually succumbs to amorous feelings. Although Yen is not a beast, he is monstrous in his military tactics — executing lines of prisoners outside the woman’s window one morning.
     (SPOILER [although you shouldn’t care because this movie is lousy]) Unlike the beast in the animated film, Yen cannot magically become a normal human at film’s end. In fact, once Stanwyck’s Megan is offered her freedom (as happens in B&B), she declares in all her Stockholm Syndromed glory that she could never leave him now.  The thought is absurd given this man is a brutal killer and has never really shown himself to be romantically viable. Megan’s feeling seem to be based entirely on a dream she has early in the film where Yen as a Max Schreck-style vampire attacks her only to have another Yen rescue her. Luckily for all involved, Yen opts to permanently free Megan by doing himself in via poisoned tea, hence the title. (End SPOILER)
     The Bitter Tea of General Yen is surprisingly directed by Frank Capra, who gave us such memorable features as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Arsenic and Old Lace. He already had 21 films under his belt, but apparently this picture came early enough in his career that we cannot fault him. He would not make the Best Picture-winning It Happened One Night for another year. I also must make mention of the hilarious movie poster shown above. There is nothing remotely that racy going on at any juncture in The Bitter Tea of General Yen, and I don’t think Stanwyck has ever been that well endowed. Nevertheless, perhaps it convinced audiences to flock to the theater on false pretenses. Surely they were disappointed.
  • The Bitter Tea of General Yen is set for noon ET Dec. 15 on TCM.

What to Watch: Wednesday

I wanted to make a quick note about a great, seductive comedy set to air at 8 p.m. ET tonight, Oct. 27 on TCM. The Lady Eve is a great flick with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda involving a woman scam artist who falls for her mark. Stanwyck’s character goes so far as to reappear in Fonda’s life at a later point in the movie and claim to be an entirely different person.

Check out how Stanwyck so innocently seduces Fonda in this clip. The good stuff starts about 1:30 in.

I had a great time watching this one and recommend it for anyone with time tonight. Can’t catch it? It’s back on at 3:45 Nov. 14 and 1:30 p.m. Dec. 15.

Cinematic Shorts: Mildred Pierce

Ring a Ding Ding

Mildred Pierce (1945)

      Mildred Pierce was the first Joan Crawford movie I ever watched, and it truly turned out to be the perfect introduction to the legend. Crawford won her only Best Actress Oscar for what was her first film with Warner Bros. after leaving a lengthy career with MGM. My first reaction to the woman was, “Golly, she’s gorgeous!” Having spent up until two years ago knowing Crawford only as the Faye Dunaway persona in Mommy Dearest I was a bit off base in my expectations.

     Mildred Pierce is also an excellent example of the type of roles for which Crawford was known as well as a mild reflection of her real life. The story follows a woman who pulls herself out of the lower class through a successful restaurant business, much as Crawford was raised by a lower class single mother and made her own success through acting. Crawford’s title character tosses men aside as the film goes along, also similar to the actress’ wanton relationship with men, all while spoiling a daughter who ultimately competes with her for the opposite sex.

     The film came out on the heels of what I consider to be the textbook example of film noir, Double Indemnity. In fact, DI star Barbara Stanwyck angled for the role of Mildred Pierce but lost it when Crawford impressed director Michael Curtiz with a humbling, voluntary screen test. Mildred Pierce certainly has a noir feel, though I did not identify it as that genre when viewing it. The black-and-white film is full of shadows — and murder, of course — among other aspects that can lead to its classification as such.

     I found Mildred Pierce to be a great starter Joan Crawford films, so for anyone who has not witnessed the cinematic icon, I would recommend it.

"I'm sorry I did that... I'd of rather cut off my hand (than slap you)."

  • Mildred Pierce is set to air at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, 1:30 a.m. Dec. 1, and 12:45 p.m. Jan. 7 on TCM.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

These Wilder Years


These Wilder Years (1956)

This post and the one to follow it will focus on out-of-wedlock pregnancy, which I promise is pure coincidence. I happened to watch two films in a row that dealt with the subject — one that I always find interesting when it comes to older movies.

      Pregnancy in general seemed to be a touchy subject for film studios for many years and I’m not quite sure when Production Code restrictions were loosened to the point of allowing the subject to be explored freely. These Wilder Years is one case that caught me by surprise. It includes a 16-year-old girl (Betty Lou Keim) who is staying at an orphanage until she can have her baby, which would be given away. Now, the topic of pre-marital pregnancy, although a delicate one, has been breached plenty of times before 1956, but what caught me off guard was a scene when we actually see the proverbial “baby bump.”

      Up to this point, all films I have seen from this era conceal a woman’s enlarged abdomen even when the subject is married. Either the character simply is not seen while with child or loose shirts or dresses are worn to give the impression of maternity without actually showing any bulge. In These Wilder Years, however, Keim has one scene — in a courtroom — when she wears a dress tight to her big burden. In all other instances she is depicted in the aforementioned loose shirt.

     These Wilder Years deals with illegitimate pregnancy in additional means outside of Keim’s character. The main plotline follows James Cagney as he seeks to locate a son he fathered out of wedlock and who was given up for adoption at the same orphanage. Barbara Stanwyck, in a surprisingly un-seductive turn, runs the orphanage. Although the relationship between Cagney and Stanwyck stinks of the classic enemy-then-lover vogue, the ending offers no onset of a relationship.     In fact, the close of the picture was considerably unpredictable yet refreshingly realistic. It is both heartwarming and satisfying, even if Stanwyck is left alone. As far as the title goes, you tell me. Although it might make sense as a reference to the years of Cagney’s life when he is busy getting chicks pregnant, I think a better title is needed to embody the story.

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