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Sadie McKee

Ring a Ding Ding

She goes from rags to riches, but not in the way you'd expect.

Sadie McKee (1934)

     When you have watched enough movies from the ’30s and/or ’40s, you start to notice a lot of trends, especially in the romantic genre, and the plots start to blur together. You could also say the same of some Joan Crawford movies as she went through phases of characters: the flapper, the rags to riches, the bitch, etc. In watching Sadie McKee, however, I had the second of my recent experiences of thinking I had a plot pegged only to be wildly surprised (The other was Something to Sing About).

     We are introduced to Crawford’s titular character as she strolls toward a mansion. Some gents in a car comment that one can tell she has class, while another notes she is the daughter of his cook. It has been some time since servant Sadie has seen the son of her masters, Michael, with whom she grew up. Played by Franchot Tone, Michael Alderson is thrilled to see Sadie has grown up so beautifully, so it is easy to assume the two will soon wind up together.

     Sadie has a boyfriend, however, who has been fired for stealing from the company run by the Aldersons. Sadie believes he is innocent and so throws a fit as she is serving the family dinner and overhears how they wish to make an example of him, with Michael leading the attack. She holds a grudge against Michael as she hops a train from upstate New York to the big city with this boyfriend Tommy (Gene Raymond).

     After an awkward unmarried, yet consummated night at a boarding house, Sadie and Tommy make plans to meet at city hall after going to separate job interviews. The man never shows, however, because he has met the sexy performer across the hall (Esther Ralston), has joined her act as a singer and left town. Sadie soon takes a job as a dancer at a club and attracts the attention of millionaire Jack Brennan, played by Edward Arnold. His attorney who has joined him at the club happens to be Michael. The old friends have a tense reunion as Sadie is still angry with him and as revenge spends the entire night in the drunken arms of Brennan while at the club.

     Brennan, who is a perpetually drunk alcoholic, proposes to Sadie that night and the two are indeed married despite Michael’s objections surrounding Sadie’s gold-digger intentions. The feud continues up through a negative diagnosis that Brennan will die unless he quits drinking. Sadie makes it her mission to keep the man sober and succeeds, and in so doing restores a friendship with Michael.

     The marriage hits a breaking point, however, when Sadie learns Tommy is unemployed and possibly sick. She still loves him and explains to Brennan why she needs a divorce.

     My prediction within the first five minutes of Sadie McKee was that the protagonist and Michael would end up together. Crawford and Tone became off-screen lovers on this picture and eventually married, although the size of her fame would eventually squash their relationship. As they interact on screen at the movie’s start, the two get along so swimmingly, and Tone gazes at her so lovingly, that their courtship seems easy to predict. When Sadie goes to NYC, however, my prediction changed to her bumping into Michael and an instant relationship starting from there. Again wrong.

     The plot element that has Sadie unendingly in love with Tommy, despite his having done her wrong, seems to create a hurdle for the story to get over. By the time we reach the point that Sadie can leave Brennan, the picture has gone on for so long that it has little time to wrap everything up and presumably throw the woman in Michael’s arms. SPOILER Even in killing Tommy, the story cannot erase Sadie’s feelings for the man, and so the picture closes on she, her friend, her mother and Michael enjoying the man’s birthday at the woman’s apartment. Although we can guess what his candle-blowing wish is about, the screen goes dark and we are left with no final kiss to seal the deal. (Time to put on The Bride Wore Red). END SPOILER

      Both Crawford and Tone give splendid performances. Tone especially will grab you with his powerful emotional displays as he fights tooth and nail against Sadie’s desire to make herself into an unsavory sort. Crawford matches him well in her fighting scenes, and the couple have always been delightful to watch on screen together. Backing Crawford up is Jean Dixon, playing Opal, the hardened night club performer who finds Sadie a job and then revels in her wealth. She acts as a bit of comic relief while encouraging the woman to take Brennan for all he is worth, although her intentions are not sinister.

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

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Meet John Doe

Ring a Ding Ding

Meet John Doe (1941)

     Gary Cooper was a wonderfully diverse actor. He could just as easily play the confident and tough lawman, lover or soldier as he could let Director Frank Capra break him down into an apologetic everyman. That is how we find him in Meet John Doe, a movie that also presented me with the least sexual Barbara Stanwyck I have ever seen.

 
     Like the small-towner in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Cooper plays a nobody who becomes more than a somebody, which essentially makes this picture a combination of the aforementioned film with A Face in the Crowd. Like the former, our leading man is manipulated/discovered by a female reporter and like the latter the protagonist becomes a national symbol with masses of followers.
 
    When the wealthy B.D. Norton (Edward Arnold) purchases The Bulletin, Stanwyck’s Ann Mitchell finds herself fired like many others at the newspaper. She’s required to write one last column before she heads out, however, so she fabricates a letter from a reader who says he will jump off town hall on Christmas Eve because he is fed up with the ills of society. The item becomes a sensation and Ann and her editor Connell (James Gleason) are forced to find someone to act as this John Doe or be humiliated by a rival paper.
 
     In interviewing a host of down-and-out men who come forward claiming to be the letter’s author, Ann and Connell agree John Willoughby (Cooper), a former small-time baseball player, is the perfect fit. They put him up in a hotel and hide him from the world while Ann gets to work writing more of “his” letters about his outrage against society to run in the paper. John is eventually put on the radio, reading a speech Ann wrote using inspiration from her deceased father’s diary. The man is a sensation and John Doe Clubs start popping up around the nation.
 
     John is upset that the whole persona is a lie but he cannot deny the good it is doing through these clubs that involve neighbors accepting each other and working together for the common good. Publisher Norton is even sponsoring these clubs around the country, although it is easy to see he must have something sinister in mind.
 
     That something is a run for president, and Norton plans to have John endorse him at a big rally for the clubs. Ann writes the speech but is stuck in moral turmoil as her involvement in the ruse has brought her a significant increase in salary. John plan to reveal the whole scheme to the rally crowd, but Norton puts out papers revealing the fraud before he can speak, thus making him the object of the mass’ rage. Although he had never intended to jump from town hall as the fictional John Doe said he would, the real one sees it as a way to reunite his followers.
 
     Meet John Doe is not without its romance. Although Stanwyck’s character is solely career focused, John cannot help but be fascinated by the woman. She resists him until the end, all the while be showered with gifts from Norton’s nephew. Nevertheless it was strange to see Stanwyck in a role that was neither sweetly romantic nor severely seductive. This brunette version of the star does a fantastic job of pulling off a massive ruse all while convincing us she is a pure and admirable person.
 
     It goes without saying that Cooper is great. He had by this point in his career such a rugged face that he could be perfectly believable as the ragged, dirty bum we first meet and as handsome, romantic personality he becomes. UnlikeA Face in the Crowd, his character never becomes power crazed but instead fights the urge to run away from his new life, much like his Mr. Deeds character.
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