The Ex-Mrs. Bradford

Gasser

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)

     My favorite women are those beautiful stars who make me laugh. These actresses seemed to be drawn to co-starring with the enduringly funny William Powell just as much as I am drawn to them. Myrna Loy made an endless number of features opposite Powell and Carole Lombard starred with and married the man. The Ex-Mrs. Bradford is my latest find in humorous Powell pairings, this time with the fantastic comedienne Jean Arthur.

 
     Powell falls back into his reluctant detective role for The Ex-Mrs. Bradford in playing doctor/surgeon Lawrence Bradford. Arthur is his ex-wife Paula who is a murder mystery novelist and often got her husband mixed into real-life murders. Despite being divorced, she again ropes him into an adventure to solve the case of a dead jockey.
 
     This jockey died during a race and was thought to have been killed from the throw from his horse, yet he suffered no broken bones suggesting he was dead when he hit the ground. Bradford performs an autopsy and finds only a strange substance that Paula later has identified as gelatin. After discussions with horse trainer Mike North (Frank M. Thomas) and some strange phone calls and a villain in his apartment, Lawrence finds himself in deeper than he intended. Things get worse when a dead Mike North rings his doorbell just before the police arrive.
 
     Bradford goes somewhat on the lam as he tries to track down the necessary clues to solve both murders and absolve himself. What he finds are half a dozen suspects, another corpse and a complex plot involving horse gambling.
 
     The Ex-Mrs. Bradford is one of those mysteries that is nearly impossible to follow because there are far too many names being flung about and too few faces to go with them. Bradford himself does not even know the actual murderer until we do as he uses a typical device of inviting all the suspects to an exclusive party at his home. And like many mysteries, it does not matter so much who the murderer is as we are more interested in how the crime was committed and why.
 
     Like Loy before her, Arthur makes a great companion for a sleuth because she is not frightened by the grizzly details that accompany murder cases. As her husband twice struggles on the ground with a culprit, she lends her support by hurling a vase at the bad guy’s head only to miss and take out her beloved instead. The blonde is full of pep and smarts in addition to being delightful arm candy for the hero. The actual ex-wife aspect of the plot is essentially unnecessary in the grand scheme of things as we see from the start how well suited the duo are for one another and assume they will reunite. Perhaps this device works well as a title for the film and differentiated it from the Thin Man  movies Powell had already popularized, one of which was also released in 1936.
 
     Arthur was only at the start of her rise to grand stardom having appeared in her smash hit Mr. Deeds Goes to Town earlier that year. She had appeared in supporting roles alongside Powell and he was impressed with her, leading to his agreement to be loaned out for this collaboration. The film was highly successful as is no surprise given the great chemistry between the couple.

Shane

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Shane (1953)

     After much prodding from Ryan’s father and at least a year sitting idle on the DVR, Shane finally earned the attention of my “play” button. I have never been a fan of westerns, to the chagrin of some, and I am probably primarily turned away by the dirty, hot settings and the general action theme those films tend to offer. I think anytime I watch one, I find myself wondering why people would choose to live in those remote, lawless towns when civilization lies elsewhere in the country –but that is just my perspective. I have been warming up to the genre lately primarily through exposure to some of the better-acclaimed features, such as Once Upon a Time in the West, which I adored.

     Although it will not be labeled as my favorite western, Shane was definitely worth watching. It follows the troubles of a family and a stranger as they push against a gang of land owners trying to stake claim on properties farmed by homesteaders. Alan Ladd is the mysterious Shane who arrives at the film’s start on the property of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Joe’s son Joey (Brandon de Wilde) is immediately intrigued by the man wandering through their land, and the film includes the ups and downs of that idealization. Joe and his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur) want the man to stay on at the ranch to provide a needed extra hand and Shane agrees.

    
     Trouble starts when Shane goes into the very small town to pick up supplies for Joe and he runs into the Ryker gang, which is trying to run the Starretts and many other families off the land. Opting to take the high road, Shane allows one man to insult and threaten him before walking away. The next encounter is less congenial. When the group of homesteaders and their families hit town, Shane ends up in a fist fight against a whole slew of men that he ultimately wins when Joe joins the brawl. Rufe Ryker (Emile Meyer) calls in a gunslinger from out of town who seems to have a history with Shane. To this point, no bullets have flown among the feuding groups, but the threat is imminent, and one overly brave homesteader is shot down by this new villain, Wilson (Walter Jack Palance), prompting other families to pack their belongings.
 
     What struck me most about Shane was the lack of gunfire for the majority of the film. The old west seems always to be portrayed as a place where duels and gunplay are an everyday activity. The altercation among Shane, Joe and the Rykers is all fists, chairs and other implements, but no guns. This fight goes on for some time and is quite brutal by 1950s standards. It highlights not only what a contender Shane is but how strong Joe is as well.
 
     We are entreated to very little information about Shane. We do not know from where he came, he seemed to not know where he was going, and we do not know why he is aware of Wilson, having never seen the man before. Shane shows us early on how paranoid he is, drawing his gun at the sound of Joey cocking his unloaded child’s rifle. That mystery persists, however, through film’s end.
 
      Shane has no lack of great performances. I have been a growing Jean Arthur fan and was pleasantly surprised by her turn in this flick. The normally stylish, squeaky-voiced flirt was subdued and lovely in the supportive wife role. She was far from glamorous but radiated beneath the dirt as we wonder what sort of feelings she might have for Shane. The young boy is also quite impressive in his first role. De Wilde would go on to play the teenage brother in Hud a few years later before dying in an auto accident at age 30.

A Foreign Affair

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Foreign Affair (1948)

I find it difficult to resist films featuring Marlene Dietrich or Jean Arthur but for entirely separate reasons. Whereas Dietrich is fascinatingly powerful and seductive in her typical roles, Arthur is adorable, innocent and hilarious. For the two of them to appear in a film together was a rather unexpected find, but quite rewarding.

A Foreign Affair involves the two rather opposite women fighting over the same man, but that is not the plot of the story. Arthur plays a congresswoman who is visiting Germany to analyze the morale of soldiers in the post-war occupation effort. Dietrich is a German singer who performs in a club meant to be off-limits to soldiers, and she might also have been close to a major Nazi influence during the war. While there, Arthur as Phoebe discovers that one of the soldiers has shielded this singer, Erika, from scrutiny because he is carrying on an affair with her. That soldier is John Pringle (John Lund), who has also agreed to help Phoebe search out the scoundrel and in the process starts to fall for her. Torn between two women, his passion and his duty, and kept busy by attempts to cover up his involvement, John is careening toward a world of hurt if he is found out. The real trouble, of course, is in explaining himself to Phoebe and convincing her that he does care for her.

Arthur began the film behaving utterly unlike the characters I am used to seeing her embody. She wears glasses, has a somewhat goofily conservative hairdo, and is too busy taking notes on every passing moment to enjoy the view from the airplane. As she begins to loosen up through her contact with John, she enjoys life’s experiences rather than jotting them down and even buys a dress on the black market to be appropriately clad for that off-limits club.

Dietrich began the film also in a persona unlike what I typically see. We first meet her in a small flat ravaged by the war, wearing the simplest of clothing and fawning over a pair of nylons John brings her. I would not have called her helpless at this stage, but she certainly failed to exude the power customary of her roles. That changes, however, when we see the glittery and glamorous Erika perform at the club. As the film goes on, her confidence and cleverness shines through, especially when standing off with Phoebe.

A Foreign Affair is also a visually attractive film, despite being set in the ruins of Berlin. Director Billy Wilder oft uses reflections to complete his shots. Two specific devices –a mirror in Erika’s home and a window in the club– are used as a means to show two people in one shot with only one of them directly in front of the camera –one of my favorite cinematographic devices.

I would highly recommend A foreign Affair. It is a great combination of humor, drama and serious emotional situations, and I do not think any other actresses could better have filled the roles.

What to Watch: Saturday

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Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Although I had seen a number of Gary Cooper movies from his older-gentleman days (Love in the Afternoon and High Noon, for instance), I do not think I was ever so thrilled by him as in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. When I caught this Frank Capra classic a few months ago, it was the first I had seen of young Cooper, who happens to be extremely handsome.

The story of young, small-town poet and tuba player Longfellow Deeds and his unexpected inheritance of millions has Cooper giving a performance unlike any other role in which I have seen him. His overly innocent character is a hoot to watch as he battles with New York society and the ravenous press, including the always adorable Jean Arthur as a reporter who goes undercover to get close to Deeds, only to fall in love with him.

 
Jean Arthur has really grabbed my attention recently. Thanks to an intro by my loyal reader and movie aficionado, Nick, to Too Many Husbands, I have since been watching as many of her flicks as I can come across (my favorite probably being Talk of the Town). Although she typically plays the same cute, almost ditsy, and usually flustered gal, she is a great comedienne and always enjoyable to watch. Although Cooper’s character in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town certainly makes the movie memorable, her portrayal of the female half of the story makes for a powerful balance of male and female energies.
 
Capra would go on to make Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was originally meant as a sequel to this one, but with Cooper either unavailable or unwilling to take up the role again, the torch was passed to Jimmy Stewart. This film would also be remade more recently as the tragic Adam Sandler-Winona Ryder movie Mr. Deeds. The two actors in the reboot really could never hold the candle to the original duo, so I find the contemporary attempt rather embarrassing.
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is set for 10:15 p.m. ET Dec. 18 and 1 p.m. ET Feb. 5 on TCM.

Feature: Election Movies

As I remain at my office desk past 1 a.m. hoping to soon receive a reprieve from my duties as reporter this election night, I find myself contemplating movies that hinge on the subject. In my bleary state, I am having trouble coming up with many classic ones, so I might need help in adding to this list of great election/political movies:

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington I believe to be the film that changed my mind about James Stewart. Although I had become quite tired of the man from too many forced viewings of It’s a Wonderful Life (Have I mentioned this before? I’m looking at YOU, Mom), it was this other Frank Capra-directed flick that turned it around. Accompanied by the always awesome Jean Arthur,  Stewart plays a replacement in the Senate who is supposed act as pushover but ultimately tackles attempted corruption.
  • All the King’s Men, the recent remake of which was lousy, perhaps makes one hate politicians. This story is actually on the campaign trail as a redneck politician wins the support of the people only to screw them over when he becomes corrupted after he takes office. Seems like that might be fairly commonplace outside the theater also.
  • The Manchurian Candidate, the recent remake of which also does not hold a candle to the original, takes a different approach to elections.  A superb Frank Sinatra works to stop a Korean veteran from fulfilling the assassination of a presidential nominee he’s been programmed to execute. Fantastic thriller.
  • Suddenly has Sinatra again involved in an assassination plot, this time with the actual president. I watched this movie years ago and thought it amounted to very little, and so it sits on my shelf untouched, but TCM has rated this one 4/5 stars, so what’s the deal? I should make a list of movies I’ve decided against and revisit them.

Help me out and drop some other favorite election/political movies in the comments. It’s all over now, so it’s okay to have fun.

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