We Who Are Young

Dullsville

We Who Are Young (1940)

     There is nothing more depressing than watching a young married –and pregnant– couple fall slowly into poverty. Unfortunately, that is essentially all you get with We Who Are Young. Besides being a downer, the story fails to grasp the audience as a true tragedy as we are given a sort-of happy ending with no promise of what is to come.

     Lana Turner as Margie and John Shelton as William Brooks are married in the opening sequence of the picture and the following day return to their jobs in the same office of what might be an accounting firm. The company rules do not allow married women to be employed because of the masses of men out of work, so the protagonists keep their secret as long as they can. When the boss Mr. Beamis (Gene Lockhart) finds out, he fires Margie and lectures the couple on living within their means.

     Unfortunately, earlier that day the Brooks purchased a mass of furniture for their apartment on the installment plan. With one income, Margie and Bill must scrimp. The husband is confident, however, that when Mr. Beamis reads his efficiency plan for the company he will be promoted and given a raise. This plan is nearly unacknowledged but the salary increase does eventually come around just ahead of Margie’s announcement she is pregnant. The couple are ecstatic and worried, but Bill insists his wife have her own maternity doctor rather than go to a clinic. To cover the expense, he has his company give him a loan and the money deducted from his paycheck.

     As the debt piles up, the furniture company repossesses their purchase and, learning of the paycheck deductions, Mr. Beamis fires Bill for violating company policy forbidding such things. All hope is not lost, however, as Bill studies and passes his CPA exam and expects work to be easy to find. It is not. Finally giving in to going on relief, Bill mutters along for three months jobless. He goes so far as to pick up a shovel at a construction site and dig for free until the police haul him away.

     Luckily, the owner of the company (Jonathan Hale)  is impressed by his circumstances and not only bails the man out but offers him a job at a very meager salary. The excited Bill returns to Mr. Beamis to collect his efficiency plan and to tell the man off about being heartless, a message that makes an impact. Margie is ready to have her baby by the time Bill arrives home, and in a panic he steals a car to get her to the hospital.

     Shelton’s character in We Who Are Young seems to convey a lesson near the film’s end when he speaks about how there is always someone to help a person out, yet instead of asking the man to borrow his car, Bill steals it. The man later says he would have loaned it to him under the circumstances, proving Bill’s theory but illustrating him as a moron for not believing his own message about mankind.

     Shelton also bursts into occasional bouts of rage whenever something new goes wrong, which does not add anything to his character nor does the overall story wish to paint him as a violent sort. Turner, meanwhile, sits quietly by, speaking in soft tones and offering us her gentle features as all hope crumbles before her family. Her weak performance positions her as a supporting character to Shelton’s meltdown process and yet it is hard not to love her. We Who Are Young seems more than anything to condemn the notion of buying on credit and living with debt, which is a lesson that clearly was never learned. The picture is a pretty dull one and too depressing for me to watch again.

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

Salome (1953)

Gasser

Salome (1953)

     I am not typically a fan of bible-era movies, so Salome had me nearly disinterested from the start, but thanks to a strong performance by Rita Hayworth and a decent romantic plot, I ultimately enjoyed this viewing. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai and Gilda in which she plays a great conniving seductress, several musical or otherwise light-subjected movies had me sort of jaded about the beautiful star’s talent. Salome stood to be another opportunity for the redhead to gallivant across the screen as merely a beautiful face, but the now-matured star showed her mettle here instead.

     Hayworth was 35 when Salome was released and although her face shows nearly no signs of aging, her voice and her manner belie a world-wise woman. She no longer comes to the screen with the gay light of the young and free, but instead gives us an embittered young woman who hates her surroundings.

      Salome, the step daughter of King Herod of Galilee, has spent most of her life in Rome where Tiberius Caesar banishes the woman from his city. Caesar’s cousin wishes to marry her, but being a “savage” non-Roman, the union is forbidden and Salome cast out. Her voyage back to Galilee is on a vessel occupied by newly appointed Governor Pontius Pilate (Basil Sydney) and his right-hand man Commander Claudius, played by Stewart Granger. Claudius immediately puts the moves on the sexy lady despite her wishes to have no contact with Romans. Once home in Galilee, Salome is graciously greeted by her mother Queen Herodias, played by an aged Judith Anderson, and is immediately spotted by King Herod as (Charles Laughton) as a desirable conquest.

     In the midst of this story is another plot involving John the Baptist, whom the king thinks is the messiah, who preaches about a new religion and speaks against the throne because the queen is an adulteress having left her husband to marry his brother, the king. Herod will do nothing to silence the man despite his wife’s wishes because a prophecy declares any member of the Herod family who kills the messiah is doomed to die an agonizing death. Salome dislikes the Baptist because he denounces her mother, but Claudius is good friends with the prophet.

     Salome and Claudius draw nearer to each other as the plot unfolds and the woman begins to realize the evil of her mother. When John the Baptist is arrested, Claudius uses the palace guards to fight him free while Salome dances for the king in the hopes of convincing him to release the prisoner. This dance, which will make Salome the king’s possession, is something to be seen. Hayworth, dressed in layers of colorful, gauzy garment, spins and postures as she removes each successive layer of dress until she is down to a nude-colored, nearly sheer ensemble embellished with beads. This striptease is performed in front of a crowd and is brutally interrupted when a certain character’s head arrives on a platter.

     I’ve already noted how strong I found Hayworth’s performance to be. It seems at this point in her career she finally found her footing among strong, sexy roles, much as Lana Turner moved from light-hearted flicks to more compelling ones. Salome came out around the same time as the other two I mentioned liking, so it seems we can track down a good point after which her films become palatable.

     The Technicolor extravaganza of Salome was not the best backdrop for Anderson, however, whose age is apparent outside the black-and-white era in which she flourished. That is not to say she did not give her typically evil/strong performance. Laughton of course was splendid in yet another villanous role. He is entirely creepy as he makes eyes at Salome while she dances for him. With Granger I found myself going through the same motions I usually do with him. On first appearance I find myself disappointed that he is the male romantic lead, but as the picture progresses, he wins me over. He does a fine job with such performances and I cannot help but find my heart thawing a bit toward him by the close of each of his similarly romantic films.

The Dancing Co-Ed

Gasser

Dancing Co-Ed (1939)

     I am often amazed to find the range of some actors’ careers in terms of the types of characters they play. Lana Turner, who would come to be known as a ruthless blonde bombshell, started like many actresses of those days in light-hearted stage-themed movies. The Dancing Co-Ed is a harebrained picture that includes a young stage performer getting her break in movies, a plot to dupe the public and the boss into thinking she’s a nobody, and some college romance to boot. The story is pretty original in its absurdity, but it makes for a fun ride and some enjoyable dance moves by Ms. Turner.

     When the husband-wife dancing duo set to star in “The Dancing Co-Ed” announce (via gossip radio show) that the woman is pregnant, the head of Monarch Pictures is stuck with finding a new leading lady to star opposite the male lead. Publicist Joe Drews (Roscoe Karns) immediately turns to Turner’s Patty Marlow, who has been a dancer on the stage. The trouble is, Monarch head H.W. Workman (Thurston Hall) is more likely to accept Patty if he thinks she is an actual co-ed who happens to be a great dancer. Patty, Drews, and Monarch secretary Eve (Ann Rutherford) engage a plot to enroll Patty in college, have Eve take her admissions exam and class tests (because Patty is not smart enough) and have Workman select Patty as the winner of a dancing contest held at one of the colleges nationwide to find that leading lady.

     While enrolled at Midwestern College, Patty opts to help the school’s ambitious reporter, Pug Braddock (Richard Carlson), search out the planted dancer that is in fact Patty, hoping to throw him off her scent. The two fall in love along the way and drama and chaos ensue. One can predict the ending as the close draws near, but it’s a fair one that comes with Turner wrapped as a burrito in a waterproof tabelcloth. No worries, Pug cut an air hole.

     It seems many actresses got their start in the song-and-dance features that were so prominent during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although it seems today’s actors and actresses might be secret double or triple threats, musical movies are less prevalent, so one has no idea Ewan McGregor or Catherine Zeta Jones can sing until they pop up in a musical (or at least I had no idea). Back in Lana Turner’s day, however, it seems a lot of actors had a variety of talent to offer Hollywood casting directors. Joan Crawford, who would also go on to meatier, vicious roles, started in a number of musicals that had her moving her feet and flexing her vocal chords.

     Turner gets plenty of opportunities to tap about in The Dancing Co-Ed, and she truly is impressive, especially when shown compared to the many other dancers –both good and bad– featured therein. She is also young enough at roughly 17 during filming to pull off the college-student look. She made 10 films in her first three years in Hollywood, this being one of them. It was also in this picture that she worked alongside bandleader Artie Shaw, who quickly pursued the young star. Although he was initially rebuffed by Turner, she later accepted a date (after being dumped by a lawyer who wanted Crawford instead) and she was Mrs. Shaw by night’s end following a Las Vegas elopement. Things did not last, however, and months later the duo split –that same lawyer facilitating the divorce.

Source: TCM.com

Honky Tonk

Gasser

Honky Tonk (1941)

     Why in the world someone would name a love story of sorts Honky Tonk, I will never understand, but with its leading actors, I can surely assume why the title would fail to turn audiences away. The 1941 flick was the first pairing of Clark Gable and Lana Turner, and despite their 20-year age difference (Turner was 20, Gable 40 when making this film) the duo would appear together three additional times. Fresh off her fame from Ziegfeld Girl, Turner was a hot item, but her character in Honky Tonk belies the seductress roles she would come to be known for. Her young face and the conservative attire of 1880s western America highlight her youth, and despite the innocent character she embodies, Turner still manages to let her powerful personality sneak through.

     The story for Honky Tonk, unfortunately, is a bit messy. “Confidence man” (which I assume is the basis for the term “con man”) Candy Johnson decides to settle in Yellow Creek, NV, where the former swindler sets up the Square Deal saloon and gambling establishment, angering the self-appointed sheriff who runs the crooked version in the town. The smooth talking Candy easily has the town eating out of his hand in addition to Turner’s Elizabeth Cotton, newly arrived from Boston. Elizabeth clearly wants a kind man and a permanent sort of relationship and is blind to Candy’s taking a cut of all city action. She gets the on-the-wagon businessman drunk and marries him one night. Although he is not “the marrying kind”, Candy is fine with the arrangement because it means he gets to bed the young woman.

     The story becomes increasingly complicated as Candy amasses ever-increasing mounds of money and a fabulous home, which angers the crooked public officials that essentially work for him. He’s moving up to swindling the governor and a couple senators, and Elizabeth is content to play party hostess and wear diamonds in her hair. Candy eventually decides to do “the right thing” and leave Elizabeth before she becomes further corrupted, but that does not last long, and we have a rather mediocre ending.

     With all the trouble Candy stirs up and all his corruption, the romance between the dark man and the innocent young woman makes little sense. It does not follow that a man of Candy’s sort would be content to be married or that Elizabeth would be either unaware or uncaring about her husband’s means of procuring wealth. The typical moral one would expect would have something to do with money cannot buy happiness, so the woman just wishes to be poor and alone with her man. Coming from New England, I would expect Elizabeth to be unaccustomed to the shoot-em-up ways of the west and appalled when watching Candy shoot a man dead, albeit in self defense. Her only response is that she was glad her husband failed to heed her request not to carry a gun that day.

     Honky Tonk‘s story certainly is a unique one, but it fails to leave me with any sort of warm romantic feeling about the relationship of the couple. Besides looking handsome together, there is not much else to draw me into their partnership.

Source: Robert Osborne

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