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Boom Town

Ring a Ding Ding

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.

Ziegfeld Girl

Gasser

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

 
     Lana Turner‘s Sheila is picked by Mr. Ziegfeld when he spots her operating an elevator. She happens to already possess the poise necessary to walk gracefully down a flight of stairs with a book balanced on her head. Hedy Lamarr‘s Sandra is at the theater while her husband Franz (Philip Dorn) auditions as a violinist. He does not get the job but Sandra does land employment. Judy Garland as Susan gets approved for a cast spot after Mr. Ziegfeld follows through on seeing her in a father-daughter vaudeville act. The three women become friends but their involvement in the follies will impact their lives differently.
 
     The plot puts the greatest emphasis on Sheila who gets the most attention from audience members. She is dating Jimmy Stewart as Gilbert, a truck driver working toward the responsibility of hauling a larger load, which would hopefully precipitate the couple’s marriage. Sheila’s newfound attention, however, has her meeting a lot of wealthy men, one of whom she permanently goes around with in exchange for a lavish apartment and loads of shoes and furs. Sandra’s love life is also toppled by the success of the show. Although she loves her husband, he disagrees with the woman supporting him and the two split up, with Sandra moving into a boarding house. The woman takes up with a married singer in the cast thinking it will be a safe platonic relationship; although, the man has other plans. Lastly, Susan struggles with separating from her performer father (Charles Winninger) but manages to impress the casting director with her spectacular singing and gets a bigger place in the show. Her love life is marked by Sheila’s younger brother Jerry (Jackie Cooper), and the two have a standard young-person courtship.

Lana, Hedy and Judy

 
     Ziegfeld Girl is one of those instances when Garland found herself feeling rather inadequate among the stars of MGM. The studio was generally known for having the most glamorous actors on its roster and Garland failed to meet the standard. I previously mentioned Louis B. Mayer’s nicknames for the girl, and her casting alongside the exotic Hedy Lamarr and stunning Lana Turner only emphasized her insecurities. Nevermind that her character is essentially relegated into adolescence –despite Garland being only two years younger than Turner– while the other stars battle with big-time romantic turmoil.  
 
     The Sheila character in Ziegfeld Girl not only screws up her love life but spirals into alcoholism, which eventually impacts her career and threatens her life. The character was originally depicted as dying before the film’s close but initial audiences reacted poorly to that ending. The movie instead shows the woman in a dying state before action switches to the stage and the film closes on a high note, although with Sheila’s fate ambiguous. The picture also seems to have a major flaw in terms of costuming. If the plot is meant to take place in the 20s, the fashions are reflective of the 40s when the movie was made. The follies ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1931.
 
  • Ziegfeld Girl is set for 10:15 a.m. ET Jan. 25 on TCM.
 
Sources: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark, TCM.com

Samson and Delilah

Gasser

Samson and Delilah (1950)

     Biblical tales typically fail to grab my interest, probably primarily because the time period does not interest me. And frankly, I should probably stop using George Sanders as a guidepost for which movies I pursue. Samson and Delilah was alright, and Hedy Lamarr thoroughly sexy, but it was kind of a middle-of-the-road movie for me.

     I really knew nothing of the story beyond Samson’s hair being the source of his overwhelming strength. Turns out Samson, a Danite (the people who worship the traditional Lord and are considered second-class citizens), is in love with a Philistine woman, briefly played by possibly the most lovely Angela Lansbury I’ve seen to date. Samson, played by Victor Mature, selects her as his bride after killing a lion with his bare hands and impressing the Philistine leader, The Saran, personified by George Sanders. The bride-to-be’s sister, Delilah, has already made her affections for Samson known and is bitter over her rejection, but it is the other Philistine men who cannot handle the Danite’s entrance into their society. When Lansbury’s character betrays her husband to the other Philistines on their wedding day, a battle ensues that involves her death by her own people. Samson flees and Delilah begins plotting her revenge.

     After the Danite people have been thoroughly “taxed” and tortured for not giving up the strongman and Samson continues to kill Philistines, he is finally located by Delilah when he stumbles upon her secluded caravan. Delilah has by now taken up with the Saran and has been promised incredible wealth if she can find the source of Samson’s strength and take it from him. Some thorough seduction ensues and once the two are genuinely in love, the Danite reveals that like the mane of a lion, his hair is the symbol of his strength. A bit of jealousy over another woman makes Delilah shake her affection for the man, and she drugs him and shears his hair. She requires he not be killed nor his blood drawn, but the Philistines blind his eyes with heat before tethering him to the millstone where he grinds the city’s grain.

     Delilah has a change of heart when she sees her love in this state. She conspires to set him free only after a certain amount of time passes and his hair has grown long again. He rediscovers his strength and manages to take out the entire Philistine population in one strong push.

     As you can tell from what might be my longest synopsis of a movie, Samson and Delilah is the sort of epic and extravagant tale for which Director Cecil B. DeMille was well known. Paramount Pictures had cut back on lavish dramas of this sort during WWII, but it was 1950 and time for DeMille to bring back his popular style of filmmaking. This was Lamarr’s first color picture and the last big success she would have. The Austrian actress is absolutely stunning in the colorful picture and a great pick for this role. I have not seen many of her films and had not given much thought to her acting ability before now, but she really does a great job as Delilah — a woman torn between love and jealousy. It’s not a picture I would see again, but it is an interesting tale.

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