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I Live My Life

Gasser

I Live My Life (1935)

     Over the past couple of years I have absorbed A LOT of Joan Crawford movies. I tend to DVR them any chance I get, which has led me through an array of great and mediocre flicks. What I have observed in many of her basic romance plots is that the woman often plays the dame who toys with men’s romantic devotion to her for most of the movie before finally succumbing to the love she never realized was there. That is true of I Live My Life, the title of which tells one nothing of the story.

     Crawford is part of a wealthy American business family as Kay Bentley. She meets Irish archeologist Terry O’Neill (Brian Aherne) while her yacht is docked in Naxos, Greece, and immediately makes a pest of herself. The man is working to dig up an ancient statue he has searched for over two years and the woman feigns an ankle injury to compel him to carry her down a mountain. She begs her boat captain to return them to the island the next day so she may see Terry again under the guise of an apology. The two spend the day together as Kay pretends to be the yacht owner’s secretary because Terry has made clear he has no interest in people who have too much money to be good for them. That night the rugged man declares he loves Kay and will meet up with her again in New York.

     When Terry arrives in American and tracks down this secretary, he finds he’s been misled. He happens to connect with Kay’s father, played by Frank Morgan, however, in presenting his artifact to the museum at which the older man is a trustee. When Terry is invited to his home, he re-meets Kay but both are cold over the lie. Kay’s deception in her identity is not the true conflict of the story, however. Nor is the clear class divide between the woman’s friends and her outdoorsy love interest. Kay is engaged to some other wealthy bloke strictly on business terms that will result in her wealthy grandmother paying out a marriage settlement to the newlyweds. Her father is under his mother-in-law’s thumb and is getting himself into financial trouble through private prospecting. His daughter’s dowry, however, could help him in settling the debt.

     Crawford’s Kay not only allows the male lead to declare his love for her without any reciprocation but waits until the movie is three-quarters complete before shouting her affection. In this vein we see a better performance by Aherne than Crawford because we can read the genuine fluctuation in his emotions as he is scorned and re-adored by this woman. Crawford is content to flit about uttering her lines and projecting the cheerful, fun young woman audiences surely loved but fails to bring any conviction to her part. She does what is required of her, nothing more.

     It is in roles like this one and in The Bride Wore Red with Franchot Tone that we cannot help but fall in love with the genuine affection of the men while loathing Crawford’s parts in their plans for the most financially suitable match. In I Live My Life, Kay could easily have informed Terry of why she would marry her fiancée instead of him, but perhaps that dims the drama.

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The Thin Man

The Thin Man (1934)

Wowza!

     I first noticed The Thin Man movies when I was working at a retail movie store in college. We had a box set of the collection valued at something like $100. The box itself did not make the movies look like much — some old, boring black-and-white flicks, I figured. On one occasion I had a group of middle-aged folk come in and ask if we had any of the films. I offered them the box set as our only copies and thought there was no chance they would drop the full $100 to get the set, but boy was I surprised. After that sale my interest was certainly peaked, but it was not until more than two years ago when I spotted the first one airing on TCM. I rewatched it last night with Ryan in an attempt to entice him to watch the full series, which I now own in box-set form.

     The Thin Man is the first in a series of films with similar titles but the only one I’ve watched so far for which the title actually makes sense. “The thin man” is not the lead character of William Powell‘s Nick Charles, but of a suspect hunted throughout the entire film and to which is referred as a “thin man” only once, I believe. I’m sure the series continued with the name merely to connect all the films back to the first, which, once you see it, you’ll understand must have been a tremendous hit.

     The Thin Man has the advantage of being a murder-mystery, action, drama and comedy, which as I mentioned on Charade is pretty much my favorite combination. Powell’s retired detective character spends about half the movie trying not to be brought in on the case of a missing man/murder … times three. The mystery is very complex and is impossible for the viewer to disseminate on his own, which is why we rely on Powell to lay the whole story down at the end of the movie.

     The crowning jewel to The Thin Man movies is the Charles family. Myrna Loy plays the wife, Nora, and the comedic chemistry between the two actors truly comes to light. The pair did several other movies with each other, but they are probably at their best in The Thin Man. Nora is a woman “with hair on her chest” who can joke just as thoroughly as her husband. In one instance, to save Nora from being shot, Nick socks her in the jaw before tackling the gunman. Upon revival, the woman says:

Did you have to knock me out? I knew you could take him, but I wanted to see you do it.”

Joining the family is their dog, Asta, a character that adds to the comedy and helps solve the mystery, of course.

     The Thin Man is the perfect picture for anyone’s preference in movies. It works as a family film because it’s as clean as most movies from that era, and it has the excitement and humor for any discerning taste. I must warn, however, that once you see the first, you’re likely to look for the next and might end up buying a box set, as was my fate.

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