Tom Brown of Culver
Release Date: July 12, 1932
July 30, 1932; By A.D.S
The life of the cadets at the Culver Military Academy being celebrated a the Mayfair this week with the aid of authentic backgrounds and detail, some of the screen's best juvenile and rather exhilarating absence of the usual Frank Merriwell motif. The boys act like boys instead of like road company Hamlets, a phenomenon which endows "Tom Brown of Culver" with some fine and touching moments. The film suffer from an overzealous preoccupation with Culver atmosphere, and this has the effect of making a thin story thinner. Then or fifteen minutes would not be missed on a hot day. Such a deletion would give the firm the necessary pace, rescue it from its jingoistic leanings and make it seem a little less like an advertisement for the Culver Military Academy.
The story traces Tom Brown's conversion from a moody, rebellious youngster into a little stalwart who grows misty-eyed in contemplating the noble tradition of Culver and the United States Army. Because Tom's father supposedly was killed in action, the American Legion is sending the lad through school. Then his father appears on the scene with a story of shell-shock and desertion, and Tom meets a crisis in his young. life.
The work of Tom Brown-who had the lead named after himself-and Richard Cromwell, Ben Alexander, Kit Wain and Norman Phillips Jr. Is first-rate. The tyranny of the older students, the distortion of values so common among school boys and the varying reactions of the cadets to problems of discipline and sentiment are ably presented. H.B Warner is properly haggard as the returned war "hero" and Slim Summerville contributes some amusing moments as a veteran with a talent for reminiscing.
It may be noted as an example of the restraint and intelligence that have gone into the production that there are no women in the cast and only the barest suggestion of an adolescent romantic theme.
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Release Date: May 29, 1936
August 29, 1936; By Frank S. Nugent
Officially this has no weight, but we suggest that Congress cancel a substantial part of Frances' war debts in consideration of its gift of Simone Simon to Hollywood. The young French actress, whose name you must pronounce as See-MOAN See-MOAN unless you want to be blamed for a suicide epidemic in Twentieth Century-Fox's advertising department, had an astonishing debut at the Roxy yesterday in "Girl's Dormitory." Virtually unknown here before the picture was screened, she had become a star of the first magnitude at its conclusion. No wonder we have been lurching about ever since amid blathering phrases like "Hand across the sea," "Lafayette, we are here" and "Darryl Zanuck, we who are about to die salute you."
As an introductory package, "Girl's Dormitory" affords her an extremely limited range. This is uncommon. The typical debut picture permits its star to run the well known gamut from z to A, with stop-overs at chi, psi and theta. It is indicative of Miss Simon's unusual personality and unusual quality as an actress that her performance, while eloquent in character, has overtones which convince us she is not merely playing a role for which nature and a prescient casting director intended her. She is not, to put it succinctly, just another Betty Bronson in "Peter Pan."
Here, in her first Hollywood role, she is Marie Claudel, a schoolgirl in love with the Herr Direktor Stephen Dominik, headmaster of a girls' school in Switzerland. A fortunate man, the Herr Direktor, for his is love too, by one of his faculty, Professor Ann Mathe. But, absorbed in his writing of textbooks on ancient history, he is blind alike to the sparkling adoration of the former and to the tender, generous worship of the latter. Then a love letter is found in a wastebasket. Obviously written by one of the girls in the school, unsigned and unadressed, it speaks caressingly of the rapturous moments she spend in her lover's arms. The writing is traced to Marie and, although she confesses it was only a make believe letter she is brought before a faculty examination and ordered to name the man.
She chooses as her confidante the very Professor Mathe who has hoped for years to hear a declaration of love from the schoolmaster's lips. Professor Mathe promises to guard her secret, but other members of the faculty-less generously inclined-insist that the matter be brought to the attention of the girls' invalid mother. She takes flight, is followed by Dr. Dominik-and, we are very much afraid, the Hollywood inevitable occurs, even to the scene of renunciation when Marie discovers Ann's love for the school's director and a decidedly unsatisfactory happy ending.
For this should have been, as it started out to be, a poignant tale of breathless young infatuation and transient despair. It should have preserved the delicate tragedy of that moment when Marie approached the Herr Direktor at the wine garden picnic and asked him to dance and was refused. It should have clung to the idealistic beauty it reflected as the schoolgirl stood before her god and was taxed for her unworthiness. The mood and the tone of "Girls' Dormitory" is that of a sad-sweet day in Spring; the producers would have been wiser not to jeopardize it.
This is Miss Simon's picture, but there must be recognition of the splendid work of her first Hollywood supporting cast: of Ruth Chatterton as Ann Mathe, Constance Collier as the martinet, Professor Wimmer, J. Edward Bromberg as the probing Dr. Spindler of Frank Reicher and George Hassell as sympathetic faculty members. Herbert Marshall has used his dying-cow expression too often.
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September 2, 1936; Chic.
According to theatrical usage the new entrant, Simone Simon, is merely featured in this production but according to the press book and house advertising, she is starred. Also the play gives her practically everything.
Few imported players ever were given a more auspicious buildup than this newcomer. Entire play is tailored to her model, and yet so well done that there is no suggestion she is being overplayed. She does not tire, partly because of the excellent construction, but even more because she has such variety that her work does not become monotonous. She may find herself limited to a narrow choice of characters, but within her range her acting commands attention. She is as sensitive in her response as finely tuned violin and not merely a pretty girl being pushed forward on her looks, thought she lacks nothing in this respect.
Her slight accent may not be approved in certain parts of the hinterland, but it gives a charm to her lines and never becomes so marked as to interfere with the sense of what she is saying. Moreover she gives a fluidity to her speech that falls pleasantly on the ear. No god reason why she should not at once become a drawing attraction. Chances are all in her favor. 20th-Fox's ad campaign has already emphasized the See-mone See-mone pronunciation of the Gallic gal's name.
Film is merely another of those continental favorites, the psychology of the girl adolescent. It is much the same theme as that which made "Girls in Uniform" a success, but from an angle of normal love, even though it is the almost inevitable adoration of the schoolgirl for her instructor. Because the child has more deeply rooted sensibilities she feels more keenly. Play has been developed to give exposition of her many-sided character, ranging from childish abandon to griping tragedy. Apparently, at the last moment, decision was made to change the ending on the original play and even, from on the original play and for the press book it would approved the film also originally gave Maislare to Min Chatterton. As originally written, the headmaster turns to his assistant, who has loved him for years, but on the screen he goes after the child when she walks out of his lie to give the woman who has befriended her a chance. Change will probably have a marked influence at the box office, since all the interest is engaged for the youngster and the average spectator will be better content to watch Ruth Chatterton suffer.
Scenarist has done an excellent job in other ways. Beyond the first flash of the bathing girls he sticks close to the story, advances it smoothly and rapidly and never permits the intrusion of other material to interrupt. It is one of the most even scenario jobs to come out of Hollywood in some time.
Producer keeps step with the scenarist, always keeping the actin in hand, building up the points with skill and getting much from the purely physical which accompanies the dialog. Several times he builds to a point where in a demonstrative house the laughter overlaps some of the dialog. He has timed it for average reception, but the reaction was unusually strong at the Roxy.
Cameraman is right up with the others and the cast is excellent though Herbert Marshall does not always get the most out of his assignment as the headmaster. He is stiff and unresponsive in spots.
On the other hand Ruth Chatterton gets the best assignment she has had recently and infuses her part as the assistant instructor with a tenderness and understanding she has not always been permitted to reveal of late. Constance Collier is just a shade heavy as the vindictive teacher who precipitates the trouble with the help of J. Edward Bromberg but the later could not well be improved upon. There is a bit ver nicely handled by John Qualen as the man of all work and Frank Reicher and George Hassell make much of two minor assignments. Others are competent, but unimportant.
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Ladies in Love
Release Date: October 29, 1936
October 29, 1936; By Frank S. Nugent
It is symptomatic of masculine ego that a film on the order of the Rivoli's "Ladies in Love" is habitually dismissed as a "a woman's picture." It is a condescending, patronizing and faintly derogatory phrase, and we have no doubt there's none more provoking to militant Lucy Stoners and a combative equal-righters.
Yet there it is, a formula but descriptive nutshell criticism, and we toss it to the lady matinee-goers (whose advance guard carried the Rivoli by storm yesterday) for what it is worth.
Love and love alone is the theme of the Ladislaus Bus-Fekete play on which Twentieth Century has based its picture, and love and love again is the dimpled puppet-master controlling the destinies of the film's four leading ladies. That as the laconic Mr. Coolidge might have commented, is a lot of love even thought it is parceled evenly among Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Constance Bennett, Simone Simon and the men in the cast.
The approach to their stories is definitely that of the romantic confessional tales and, if you will pardon the liberty, these would be appropriate chapter headings: "I Love and Lost a Count," by Miss Young; "So I married the doctor," by Miss Gaynor; "I Learned Too Late That You Can't Play at Love, by Miss Bennett and "Never Take No For an Answer" by Miss Simon.
In assembling these four chapters into one volume, the picture has selected Budapest as its locale. Three of the young women (Miss Simon being the outsider), share an apartment. Each, as you may have judged, has a definite attitude toward romance, but two are frustrated, the third (Miss Gaynor) makes good and the fourth, the lively Miss Simon, gains her objective with a directness of purpose which should be a model for leap year procedure. That is all there is to it, unless we mention that Paul Lukas, Tyrone Power Jr. and Don Ameche play the passive lovers with complete resignation, gratefully accepting the few dramatic crumbs the ladies brushed from their make-up tables.
The only non-subordinate male in the cast is Alan Mowbray as Sandor the Magician, who employs Miss Gaynor as his valet and makes love to her in a purely self-reassuring way. "You do love me!" Good! I was afraid I was slipping," Sandor remarks complacently. Mr. Mowbray has been a great help in rescuing the picture from its romantics. Miss Gaynor, too, has played her scenes with charm and humor, and although I dread the thought of dropping an apple of discord into Hollywood's Olympus, she impressed me more favorably that Misses Young, Bennett and Simon. Edward Griffith's direction has been smooth and the entire production has a satiny texture. It's still a woman's picture.
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November 4, 1936; Bige.
Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Constance Bennett and Simone Simon are an attractive name array for the marquee, and that makes "Ladies in Love" box office-proof. But it won't be a smash because the picture holds little for general appeal beyond the names, and that's a pity.
What probably appealed to the studio most in this adaptation from the Hungarian was the rare opportunity it presented for wholesale femme starring. Full advantage of that juicy coincidence was taken by 20th and the picture is a splendid example of casting, but little else. Producer also contributed everything that could be asked in the way of mounting and treatment, yet the story seemingly had everybody handcuffed.
Although there is remarkable balance in this multi-lead script, it was inevitable that one role should stand out about the others. And as luck would have it, that role fell to Janet Gaynor. She hasn't a decided edge, but just enough to set her in front of the other girls.
As an entertainment the story will appeal almost exclusively to the women, and that's going to hurt more than anything else. That it is no literary knockout might have been overcome by the cast, but the fact that it offers little or nothing for the male customer is something that no group of names can conceal.
Miss Gaynor, Young and Bennett have the meaty parts. Miss Simon has little more than a bit, and not a very pleasant or believable one at that, and that cuts the competition down to three girls. The three are Budapest apartment-mates, and their respective love stories are told. All three name their ambitions at the opening of the picture, and at the finish all three have gained their ends. But meanwhile each takes several knockdowns at the hands of Dan Cupid, and the heart breaks are the substance of the story.
Miss Gaynor is the pensive type; she wants a good husband, a modest home and children. Miss Young is innocence personified; she years for her own millinery shop, and no man or men. Miss Bennett is the sophisticated gal who will trade love for a substantial millionaire any time. Before they get what they wanted, Miss Gaynor nearly loses her young doctor, Miss Young takes heartbreak from a count and Miss Bennett finds love without monetary consideration, but loses is and gets a millionaire instead.
A series of boy friends are in and out as sounding boards for the girls' varied emotions. The fact that Miss Gaynor drew the most interesting of the male contingent probably accounts for the fact that she stands out. Her moments with Alan Mowbray are the best things in the picture.
Mowbray does a corking job as a conceited magician and his role is splendidly written. Miss Gaynor's other feeder is Don Ameche, very god as a struggling young physician and the only sincere male character in the picture. Ameche is 20th's new contracter and fast coming along.
Miss Simon, as a smirking schoolgirl, is hard to believe, more because of what she is given to do than how she does it. It was a tough and thankless assignment. Paul Lukas is very good as Miss Bennett's private property, until going implausible at the finish. Tyrone Power, Jr. is on and off pretty fast and doesn't register either way, while Wilfred Lawson in the remaining principal male role, sporting a pointed beard and monocle, lays the naughty roue stuff on a bit too thick.
Dialog is smart and possesses the knock of telling a lot in few words. In every department but story the picture is high grade.
A lot of curiosity has been created lately as to whether there was rivalry to the extent of toe-stepping among the girls. If there was, it isn't apparent in the picture. The three principal girls are together only two or three times, and the dialog plays no favorites on those occasions. Miss Simon has only Miss Bennett to contend with, since the French girl has no scenes with Miss Gaynor or Miss Young.
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Lloyd's of London
Release Date: November 27, 1936
November 26, 1936; By J.T.M.
Twentieth Century-Fox's "Lloyds of London," which opened last night at the Astor Theatre, is a pleasing photoplay, crammed with authentic detail of the Georgian England where its scene is laid, reverent and restrained if occasionally original in its presentation of historical incident, and threaded by a semi-fictional story of romance and business daring. Under the graphic direction of the veteran Henry King, a cast that is capable down to its merest fishmonger and chimney sweep brings alive to the screen the London of the waning years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the next-the years that saw a scattered group of maritime insurance brokers who frequented Lloyds' Coffee House united by disaster in the institution that today will insure anything, even a motion picture.
Against this background the pen of Curtis Kenyon has brought into being Jonathan Blake, a composite of the more venturesome young men in Lloyd's syndicate of the day. Blake is first seen as a child playmate of the boy Horatio Nelson at Norfolk, and later as the young man who chose insurance as a career when Nelson chose the navy.
Blake's love affair with Elizabeth, the wife of Lord Everett Stacy, runs in its fictional course through the tale, which comes to a climax when Blake, after unsuccessful opposition to reduction of Nelson's fleet to provide convoys for shipping, stays the Admiralty order for the convoys by circulating a premature report of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar.
This of course, a bold revision of recorded historical incident, and one that shades Nelson's victory with a new and discrediting meaning. It does seem that the climax might have been reached in a less apocryphal fashion.
Those were the years of Samuel Johnson and Boswell, of the visiting Ben Franklin, of that amiable rake, Queensberry; of Sir Thomas Lawrence and his portraits, of a Wales who bore the cares of State, and of Horatio Nelson, upon whose naval prowess the future of the Empire depended. And here and there all these figures are introduced during the story's unfolding, Johnson and his long-stemmed dudeen, Franklin with his best 1 cent stamp benevolence, Nelson, authentic to his pinned-up right sleeve and his dying words.
As the vital Jonathan Blake, Tyrone Power Jr. plays a much more varied role than any he has had previously for the screen. Where sheer action and character delineation are concerned, he is excellent. That he is required by the frequently lofty script to utter occasional passages which seem addressed to ahearkening posterity, is, of course, beyond his control.
Madeleine Carroll's Lady Elizabeth is a gentle, frustrated girl, married to a posturer who is protrayed in all his venomous patrician rudeness by George Sanders. Sir Guy Standing brings Angerstein to life with remarkable clearness. The brief sequences involving Blake and Nelson as boys at Norfolk together may well start a runaway boy movement among youthful screen enthusiasts. Freddie Bartholomew and Douglas Scott have a few stirring adventures together before a camera dissolve brings them both to manhood.
Henry King has endowed the production with story book clarity, sustaining interest, when the plot threatens to weigh too heavily, with bright interpolation involving the less sternly destined members of the cast.
Don't miss the gay interludes involving C. Aubrey Smith,as Queensberry, and Polly, the Lloyd's barmaid, who is charmingly impersonated by Virginia Field, or the brief and discomfiting clash of the picture's hero with Magistrate E. E. Clove over a matter of peeping. There are high spots.
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Dec. 2, 1936; Kauf
Hollywood, which seems of late to have gone into the serious business of perpetuating British history via the medium of the screen, delves again into that field with "Lloyds of London." But this time what emerges is an over-sentimentalized and highly fictitious historical subterfuge. There is some splendid acting; there is fine feeling and background; there is even finesse and deftness. But there is no real warmth.
ow the picture will fare on a $2 basis isn't, of course, important; when it goes out on its own and has to fight its way at the general wickets against the field it will find frequently difficult going-especially in view of the fact that (although exceptionally well cast) it has no marquee lure.
Nearest thing to a draw by way of names, in the cast is Freddie Bartholomew. He's in the picture for the first five minutes or so only and it is likely that billing him above anyone else in the cast is therefore harmful. It is possible that he will be those who, coming late and muffing the first few minutes of the film's unwinding, will wonder greatly about his absence.
Madeleine Carroll is co-featured and that may help a mite in some sectors. This blonde is coming ahead.
Basically, no matter how much it's romanticized, it's the story of the beginning and rise of an insurance company-and how can average audiences be asked to get excited about that? Granted it's an unusual company and has about it an aura, it's still (or it could be thought to be) an industrial film about a big business firm.
For story purposes, the authors have imagined Jonathan Blake, a fictional character who is more or less the backbone of the company in its first rise and holds it together during its worst period of depression. In order to make this character hold up and weight historically he is linked to Admiral Nelson as a boyhood friend.
Film starts with a heart-warming scene which sets the audiences in a fine mood-a mood which the film later fails to satisfy. Two boys, Freddie Bartholomew and Douglas Scott, are pals and uncover a dirty plot to scuttle a ship. They decide to walk to London, 100 miles away, and tip off. But Douglas is kept back by his family and Freddie has to make the trip alone. They never see each other again, but remain close friends through life. Freddie grows up to be Jonathan Blake, the heart of Lloyd's and Douglas becomes Lord Nelson.
This forerunner is excellently played. It is alive and off the beaten track. Young Bartholomew is fine and young Scott (seen last prominently some years ago as a babe in "Calvacade") matches him all the way. He's a kid to watch for in future films.
When young Freddie comes to London he finds out that Lloyd's is a coffee house where a number of insurance brokers met regularly. Benjamin Franklin comes calling with Sam Johnson and Johnson introduces the American statesman to his friend Boswell. There are a number of cute, though genuine-enough historical touches like this. But they are scattered. And centrally there is Jonathan Blake, a fictional character not only in fact but in conception. Because his story is a toughie to take, especially romantically.
Thus, in this story, Blake falls in love with Madeleine Carroll, rich, beautiful and social. But before he can do anything about it he finds out she's already married to a society snob. This makes him bitter and he becomes a plunger and gambler-"Lucy Black" they call him. He remains steadfast and true to Madeleine and, when he finds out that she didn't try to fool him about her marriage, but couldn't help it, he believes her and goes back to loving her, even to keeping clandestine rendezvous with her.
Now, it's perfectly true her husband's a you-know-what, but that still makes it a bit hard to sell to average audiences. Fact remains that the hero of the story is having a love affair with another man's wife.
Comes Nelson's tough fight with the French. Lots of English ships are being sunk that Lloyd's looks like a facing ruin. The old heads of the group want to government to take half of Nelson's boats away to protect the English merchant marine as convoys. Blake won't allow it. Finally, in desperation he even sends out a false alarm of a Nelson victory to stop the government from doing anything drastic (and, there's a bit of historical rewriting for you!). Nelson wins just in the nick of time (from Lloyd?'and Blake's standpoint) but Admiral Nelson is shot. At the same moment, in London, Blake is shot by Madeleine Carroll's husband.
For a happy finish Blake is permitted to live to see Nelson's funeral, with Miss Carroll's arm around him-and still no explanation of what happened to her husband.
Tyrone Power Jr., is cast as Blake, after Freddie Bartholomew has grown up. He's anew had in films, having played only a couple of bits previously. He's okay. He's going places. He has looks and he has acting ability. The women out to go for him in a big way.
Miss Carroll has a tough assignment, but gets away with it nicely. Close runner-up for femme honors is Virginia Field in the only other strong femme assignment. Top honors are also decidedly due Sir Guy Standing as John Angerstein, Blake's patron at Lloyd's. E. E. Clive in a caricature magistrate and C. Aubrey Smith as a rascally Queensborough, are splendid bits. George Sanders rather overdoes the nasty husband. There is along list of strong bit players.
From a physical standpoint, picture is A-1; camera work is tops and backgrounds intelligently handled. Henry King's direction is fine. If the story could be accepted, his handling of the characters and scenes would be tops. And, with the same reservation, the same goes for the screen treatment by Ernest Pascal and Walter Ferris.
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***1/2 (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
Although this Fox epic, lavishly produced but thin on historical accuracy, starred Power-then fourth billed-the top star was listed as Freddie Bartholomew the studio's wunderkind, who plays Power as a boy. Bartholomew and his pal Scott playing a young Horatio later Lord Nelson, one of England's greatest naval heroes overhead pirates in 1770 planning to scuttle a ship and steal its cargo. Both boys rung off to inform the great insurance brokers, Lloyds of London, but Scott gets sidetracked and only Bartholomew finds his way to the brokerage house. He cannot enter until a kindly Benjamin Franklin (Pogue) escorts him inside. He finds the senior official, Standing, and reports his terrible findings. Standing takes quick action and then reqards Bartholomew with an apprenticeship with the firm. He grows up to be Power, a man who stands high in the company, especially after inventing a message relay system to bring news to England from the continent and because of his lifelong friendship with Nelson, played as a grownup by Burton. Sanders, the haughty nephew of the First Lord of the Admiralty, hates Power for his influential position. When Napoleon Bonaparte comes to power in France, Power goes to the continent to aid some of his friends who are trapped in the Reign of Terror, rescuing a beautiful English girl, Carroll, He smuggles her back to England but she vanishes. Power learns that Carroll is the wife of his nemesis, Sanders, and he tries to put her out of his mind by swamping himself with work. Power has a bit of a sweet revenge when Sanders requests a loan from Lloyds to cover his enormous gambling debts. The strutting Sanders is turned down, becoming a mortal enemy of Power's as well as Lloyds'. The insurance brokerage firm itself falls upon hard times when it refuses to insure ships after England begins to lose its was with Bonaparte. Carroll gives her fortune to help shore up the company at Power's request and Sanders almost goes crazy when he hears of this. Moreover, he believes that Power has lied when bringing news through his relay service that his friend Nelson has won a great naval victory over the French at Trafalgar. He begins to spread the word that Power and Lloyds are complete frauds-which almost ruins the company-but, at the last minute, confirmation of Nelson's victory and tragic death arrives and the day is saved. Sanders finds Carroll in Power's arms and explodes, challenging Power to a duel. Power is wounded but Sanders dies of a fatal wound. Carroll now nurses the man she really loves back to health and happiness.
The production is rich and historically correct in costume and props but the events have been twisted about a bit, a habit of Fox boss Zanuck who took great liberties with the facts in most of the historical epics he made in the 1930's, including THE HOUSE OF ROTHCHILD, CLIVE OF INDIA, and others, causing critics of his studio to dub the studio "16th Century-Fox." This was the first of eleven films director King would make with Power, who was nothing more than a lowly contract player until Zanuck decided to risk a big-budget film on him. LLOYDS OF LONDON made Power an overnight sensation and he became one of Fox's biggest stars. Actually King was the man who urged Zanuck to give Power the break; Power had been a studio stock player and was literally pulled from the ranks, replacing Don Ameche, whom Zanuck originally cast in the lead part. Carroll was also a replacement. Loretta Young had originally signed to play the femme lead against Ameche, but when King began building Power's part-at the expense of her own role, she believed-Young exploded in fury at the upstart youngster's part being padded and left the production. The studio spent $850,000 on the film its biggest budget to date, and soon had a hit.
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Love is News
Release Date: March 3, 1937
March 10, 1937; Kauf.
It's nutty, illogical and impossible, but "Love is News" is grand fun and a cinch b.o. Actually a newspaper yarn with a new twist, yet it isn't the romance that counts; it's the action and interpolated business. There is plenty of both. That means good direction.
Original premise is that Loretta Young, an heiress, is tired of being show-cased and followed around by reporters. So she turns the tables on the chief offender. Throne Power, a reporter, by announcing that they are engaged. It makes him the butt of the scribes and he can't take it. Then comes the stereotyped realization that it's the real thing, and clinch, for the blow-off.
Associate producers Earl Carroll and Harold Wilson, with the aid of a deft script by Harry Tuegend and Jack Yellen, plus a neat job by director Tay Garnett, have evolved a fast moving comedy-sprint being perhaps an even better word. The one flaw is that the film starts slowly, first reel being a distinct disappointment. Also there are the usual branches of city-room procedure. But one the film gets going these errors are easily overlooked.
Besides the two leads there is Don Ameche as the fast talking city editor. It's a good job. Miss Young looks and plays well while Power, in his first major assignment since "Lloyds of London," and in a much lighter spot, impresses again. He is believable as a reporter, even if some of his antics are not.
In support there are a series of carefully chosen and experienced troupers, topped by Slim Summerville, Dudley Digges, Walter Catlett, Stepin Fetchit, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Julius Tannen.
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March 6 1937; By Frank S. Nugent
Our old friends, the heiress and the newspaperman, are back again this time in a furiously unimportant farce called "Love is News," at the Roxy. Having met them so often before, we can calculate almost to the last decibel point how loudly they will scream at each other, how cutely they will fight, how frantically they will discover their love. Harry Tugend and Jack Yellen, combing the tangles from their whiskered script, have tossed in every wild-eyed situation they could remember, and Tay Garnett,
the director, has whipped them into a veritable froth of frenzied absurdity. There has not, in short, been a bigger cream puff on the Roxy's counter in years.
Looking back on it dazedly, we seem to recall that Loretta Young, as heiress, is so annoyed by the publicity she has been getting that she announces her engagement to the fourth estate's chief offender, Reporter Tyrone Power. It is a move calculated to give the hapless gentleman of the press a dose of his own medicine, converting him in a news flash into headline material, a Cinderella man with a $1,000,000 settlement and all the privacy of an exhibitionistic goldfish.
Mr. Power objects to the engagement. After all, his life had been quiet before. He would get up in the morning, be fired by his city editor, dig up a one-paragraph exclusive story which he would dictate (using the first person singular) and be hired back that night with a $50 bonus and a $25 raise in pay. Or, when news was dull, he and his city editor would ride horses down Broadway and into the Astor, or trade punches, or play checkers with beer glasses on a barroom floor. Naturally, no reporter with a job like that could stand having an heiress around.
It's that kind of a picture. If the very notion of it does not form an indigestible lump, then you may be willing to accept it as fun for fun's sake. Miss Young and Mr. Power and Don Ameche, as the never-never land city editor, are agreeable farceurs and there is an amusing country courthouse scene with Slim Summerville as the rural judge.
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Release Date: April 29, 1937
May 5, 1937; Abel.
"Cafe Metropole" is an above average film. It's smart, sophisticated (not too much so), has the proper romantic ingredients, and will please 'em almost anywhere. The marquee is more than adequately taken care of.
The Parisian background is solid stuff for the fans, and there's enough of the high society backgrounding and intrigue to hold. But most important are the technical niceties which weld it together, ranging from Nunnally Johnson's production and Edward H. Griffith's direction to an exceptional scripting job by Jacques Deval. This French playwright has captured the American cinematic idiom in grand manner, so much so it is to wonder at his linguistic agility as regards some of the idiomatic phraseology. There's a terrific tag line which climaxes the proceedings, and it's strictly an Americanism. Which, of course, brings up the throught anent Nunnally Johnson's dialogic contribution.
The story is more than a Grand Hotel of a smart Parisian cafe. Action moves in and out of the smart eatery (suggesting Maxim's), and is interspersed with a flock of sparkling twists and nuances.
Gregory Ratoff authored the original, and while he didn' overwrite himself a fat part it's a pat characterization, which he carries off neatly. When he sheds his menial cloak as a waiter in the Cafe Metropole, and makes Menjou, the Boniface of the joint, kowtow to the waiter-of-today-who-was-a-Russian-nobleman-of-another-day, it' a sterling piece of directorial and histrionic jockeying.
Menjou is consistently the scoundrel but is skullduggery well nigh makes him walked off with the cake.
Loretta Young is cast as the headstrong American heiress; Power is the pseudo-Russian prince, put in that spot through a gambling scrape with Menjou, which that perpetual schemer seeks to capitalize. Miss Young, if at times running a bit berserk on realism, is given more than adequate support by Winninger and Miss Westley, capitally personating her wealthy parents.
Deval, who authored the play "ovarich,"again mixes up Russian royalty with the bourgeoisie stuff, this time interpreted for the screen. It generally counts for heavy returns. The touch where Ratoff, metamorphosed from waiter to royalty, lights his cigarette with a 1,000-frank note-after but a few minutes before being in service, is deft direction. So is the running gag with the leapyearning heiress and the phoney arrest of the American millionaire on the boat-train to Havre.
A lapse in credulity, seemingly a cutting deficiency, is a Latin quarter cafe scene where the romantic leads are shown in a romantic buildup. But in toto it' light and the genial romantic flavor makes it pleasantly seasonal film amusement.
Support, while incidental, is adept throughout. Lucien Andriot' camera is suave, Louis Silvers'musical setting is pleasant, and the general decor big league. So it the picture.
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April 29, 1937; By Frank S. Nugent
Mr. Ratoff, its author, and Jacques Deval (of "Tovarich"), its screen adapter, might have displayed a wee bit more originality in resolving a promising theme. They began it entertainingly enough when Monsieur Victor, the manager of the Cafe Metropole in Paris, goes to the baccarat tables to recoup his 960,000-franc shortage before the auditors examine his books.
Monsieur Victor wins, but, when he tries to collect, discovers that the last man to call his bank was a penniless upstart from Princeton. So, snapping the rubber check over the loser's head, he converts Alexander Brown into Prince Alexis of Russia and passes him on to the wealthy Ridgeways of America-to the gay Laura in particular-with instructions to woo and win.
This is where Magicians Ratoff and Deval, having rolled up their sleeves, disclose that they are hiding nothing-not even their arms. Everything else happens in the predictable way except, possibly, the whirlwind finish, which finds Mr. Brown released from jail, Mr. Ridgeway completely mollified, the real Prince Alexis pacified and Victor-after an unpleasant moment of smugly pocketing a check for a million francs. That was really a trick for the authors; not even they could explain it.
The Tyrone Power-Loretta Young team, formed in "Love is News," and scheduled for still greater things, fulfills its lightly romantic duties pleasantly. Mr. Menjou does his stint when called upon, then retires gracefully from a screen which could have used him to better advantage. Mr. Winninger and Helen Westley are capital as the elder Ridgeways. Mr. Ratoff, doubling as a dialectic waiter, and Christian Rub, as the worried cashier round out an entertaining cast. The Rivoli has given us much worse, and much better.
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*** (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
Made in the depths of the Depression, CAFE METROPOLE was a typical lightweight comedy aimed at raising the emotional level of an audience desperately looking for some humor in their dismal existences. Menjou is a headwaiter at the Cafe and has been siphoning money from the till. He learns that the auditors are on their way and tries his fortune at the game of Baccarat and defeats Power, who promptly writes a bad check for almost half a million francs. Menjou is livid and orders Power, a young, handsome and penniless Princetonian from a good family, to follow orders and court Loretta Young, a wealthy heiress from the U.s. To do this, Power must pose as Russian royalty. Problems arise when Power really falls for Young (they made three films within a year, and it happened every time). Then the real Russian prince (played by Ratoff, who wrote the story), now a waiter at the restaurant, resents the use of his name and asks that Power cease and desist. Menjou pays Ratoff off. Now Menjou concocts a twisted scheme. He tells Young's father, Winninger, that Power is a fraud and has taken one million francs from Menjou. Winninger pays Menjou for the information and orders Young to stay away from Power. Spunky as ever, she refuses and marries Power. In the end, Menjou keeps the check to cover the bad one Power wrote in reel one. Young and Power will presumably spend the remainder of their lives spending the money that Winninger has earned in the auto parts industry. It's a pleasant film, with some excellent moments.
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Release Date: August 29, 1937
September 4, 1937; By Bosley Crowther
Surprisingly enough, since it was made to order for a prima donna, "Thin Ice," the new Sonja Henie vehicle, at the Roxy, is one of the brightest comedies of the year-as swift as a bobsled, as full of frost and glitter as an ice carnival. Admirers of Miss Henie for herself alone (and there seems to be a little personal claque in every audience) need no longer feel apologetic about the machinery of plot and motivation. Vastly superior to "One in a Million," "Thin Ice" is so far divorced from alpine reality, so giddy with the altitudes of pure fantasy, that even persons who don't like Miss Henie-if there are such monsters-will respond to its oxygenated humors.
As skating instructress in a Swiss hotel, the dimensions of which, apparently, re about those of Rockefeller Center and Madison square Garden combined, Miss Henie is not appreciated by the management until her peasant admirer, whose cousins is the chauffeur of His Royal Highness, Prince Tyrone Power Jr., squires her home one snowy evening in the Prince's motor. The ensuing wave of gossip breaks at her modest door in a surf of flowers from the management, a contract for the starring role in an ice ballet, a cordial invitation to occupy the suite adjoining that of His Highness. In the midst of this unbounded prosperity, only Uncle Raymond Walburn, hitherto restricted by waning finances to a diet of Grade B cheese, manages to keep cool and make hay while the sun of royal favor shines.
"These Winter resort romances are all very fine, my dear," he admonishes his bewildered niece, "but Spring is coming."
With superb avuncular diligence he hands beautiful if embarrassing quotes to the press and peddles the alleged influence of his niece to both sides of a bitter political and diplomatic rivalry. Meanwhile Sonja has started a shy friendship with a charming young man who shares with her a taste for early morning skiing on lonely mountainsides and who she thinks is a struggling newspaper correspondent instead of Prince Rudolph. She does not know that al Europe is watching this budding romance with discreet, confirmatory winks and smiles, she wouldn't even accept all the flowers and things, if Uncle Raymond were not so insistent.
Of course, nobody takes these situations seriously; everything that happens is strictly in the realm of high-as-a-kite fantasy; where anything goes and Arthur Treacher, full of a world-wide contempt for his betters, presides as major domo. Through it all, naturally, Miss Henie dips and soars looking in the long shots, like some Scandinavian goddess of wind and snow, and in the close-ups as cute as any ingenue you can think of. Incidentally, our favorite song of the year is that Gordon-Revel item, ?I?m Olga from the Volga? as done by Joan Davis, who sings with her knees, elbows and knuckles.
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August 25, 1937; Flin.
For 12 years in the course of which she won three Olympic championships for her fancy antics on the ice, Sonja Henie was regarded as one of the athletic marvels of the time. Then they put her in front of a camera, surrounded her with some first class comedians and an amusing made-to-order story, which exploited her skating prowess, and the public paid generously to see her in "One in a Million". Her new film, "This Ice," is a test of her drawing power, in which she is to prove whether she was a one-picture flash or a picture draw. She's both the latter and a flash, all right; a flash of winter lightning, a great combination of muscle and music, a Pavlowa on ice.
"Thin Ice" as an attraction probably will be everything at the box-office which its predecessor was (which was plenty), and a little bit more. It is well produced by Raymond Griffith, directed with pace and a light tough by Sidney Lanfield and mussel scoring and entertaining songs. It carries a first run marquee cast, in which Tyrone Power is co-starred with Miss Henie.
Story is reminiscent of a musical comedy book of the Harry B. Smith era. Not that it matters too much. Because the screenplay is streamlined vehicle for Miss Henie and Power. Former is the skating and skiing instructress at an Alpine hotel, meeting place of a group of European diplomats concerned about the political status quo. Power is a young prince, sent on by his Prime Minister to play dumb. While affairs of nations are being discussed he slips out with his skills, and his dark snow glasses. Sliding down a glacier at 40 miles an hour he meets Sonja traveling in the same direction. There's a lot of plot about mistaken identities, threatened international complications and old fashioned romance.
Power does some duet skiing but stays off the ice. Just as well that he does. On ice Miss Henie is a virtuoso. The only thing which can keep up with her is the music, and when she turns on her particular brand of pirouettes even the accompaniment comes in second. Film calls for some romantic subtleties which the pair handle neatly. Outdoor scenes were taken at Mt. Ranier and are lovely landscapes.
Production wallop is the staging of three elaborate ice ballets, engaging a skating corps of 100 men and women. Troupe is beautifully costumed and photographed from angles, which bring out grace, speed and skill. Sonja Henie is breathtaking in their specialties. She's something to see. Last of the ballets, and the best, is tacked on at the end of the film in a bad anti-climactic spot for effect.
In support are some good specialties and characterizations. Joan Davis scores heavily with "My Swiss Hill Billy," by Pollack with Mitchell and "I'm Olga from the Volga," a Gordon-revel lyric and tune. Leah Ray sings two other numbers by the former team. "My Secret Love Affair" and "Over Night." All the melody is up to the standard of the film which is double A.
Raymond Walburn is in the top comedy spot and gets his laughs. Arthur Treacher drolls a valet role; Alan Hale and Maurice Cass are belligerent diplomats; Melville Cooper delivers something more than his lines as the hotel manager and Sig Rumann is in for a short bit as prime minister. George Givot is lost in a snowdrift in a minor character part.
"Thin Ice" is a smart, slick show. It is compact and runs slightly more than on hour. That means box office turnover.
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The Family Circle, October 1, 1937, Vol. 11. No. 14
"....If you have read the foregoing outline [synopsis], you are probably saying to yourself, "Why, that's about as sappy a situation as I've ever heard of. I thought they gave that ......was just put into a cataleptic state until another occasion arose to drag it out, limber it up, and use it again. And, upon my word of honor, it's a delightful picture. Sonja has improved so much in every way that it's a decided pleasure to watch her work. Her accent is negligible, and she seems to have grown more piquant. And, as in "One in a Million," her skating is fascinating. I predict that "Thin Ice" will establish Miss Henie as a top-ranking star.
Tyrone Power will stimulate flutters among feminine hearts, as is his wont. He is romantic-looking enough to make his princely role believable, and even though his is a much better actor than this part permits him to be, he is given an opportunity to display a certain amount of levity which relieves the romantic stickiness inherent in the characterization. Tyrone is definitely of the new school of romancers, differing tremendously from those of another day-the heavy-breathing, wild-eyed variety. Director Sidney Landfield deserves credit for keeping the story on the light side.
Joan Davis, as the orchestra leader in the hotel, is funnier than usual. And that is a lot for me to say, because I am highly partial to the leggy Miss Davis. Her two song numbers, "My Swiss Hilly Billy" and "I'm Olga from the Volga," wowed the preview audience, this time made up exclusively of the press and of motion picture people, who (particularly the latter) are the movies? severest critics. They see many, many pictures, and a film just has to be good or boredom sits obviously on their shoulders. Which makes it all the more significant that Miss Davis drew a large round of applause from them.
Among the others who stand out in the cast, Raymond Walburn, as Miss Henie's shiftless uncle, is especially good.
OPINION-A particularly enjoyable picture.
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Release Date: November 11, 1937
November 13, 1937; By Frank S. Nugent
Whatever, as Aunt Tillie used to say with her fine disregard of prepositional niceties, is the world coming to? Hollywood used to take marriage seriously; now the wicked place is refusing to take even divorce seriously. This ribald trend gave us 'the Awful Truth? last week,
with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant comically making up just before their interlocutory decree became final. It gave us "Second honeymoon" at the Roxy yesterday, with Loretta Young stamping a lovely foot at her second husband and skipping away with her first mate, Tyrone Power. If this sort of thing continues, people are apt to stop believing that divorce is a sacred institution, like the Constitution."Second Honeymoon" is not as clever about it, thought, as that Leo McCarey film. It is slushily romantic in spots and a wee bit prejudicial to second husbands. The marshmallow between the two millstones is Lyle Tabot as the conservative tycoon Miss Young married after she had divorced Mr. Power on grounds, we presume, of irresponsibility. Mr. Power's Roaul McLeish was a charming idler, with yachts and chartered planes and a beeyootiful wardrobe at this command, but Mrs. McLeish decided she had had enough of not knowing where her next hangover was coming from.
She hadn't, of course. And when her killjoy of a husband objected to being pushed overboard with his clothes on and being towed to sea by a harpooned sting-ray, and left her alone to rush off and settle a strike in his factory, and objected nastily to gossip about her and her ex-husband, Mrs. McLeish-Benton knew that she had endured all she could. And there was handsome Mr. McLeish waiting, with his yachts and chartered planes and wardrobe. What would you have done, girls?
It is just that simple and just that arch. The players, naturally, are not responsible for the script and have done their duty as Twentieth Century-Fox has seen it. One among them, Marjorie Weaver, is a new presence, and a most attractive one, as the pure and simple little miss whose uncomplicated emotional life makes the McLeish set gape. She only gets a valet though-Stuart Erwin-while the emotionally tangled Miss Yong get Tyrone Power. Virtue, one suspects, still is its own reward, but the extra dividends are paid elsewhere.
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November 10, 1937; Hobe.
Some first rate acting and directing save this gossamer yarn. With Tyrone Power and Loretta Young again co-starred there is drawing magic in the marquee display, and some word-of-mouth exploitation from a very clever and amusing performance by a new actress, Marjorie Weaver. Darryl Zanuck has added Miss Weaver to the list of personalities whose bright future he forecasts in a trailer which is attached to the feature.
Miss Weaver is a cute brunet, quite young, with sparkling dark eyes and a very winning way about her. She is the most interesting player in the film and has a secondary role, a shopgirl who is pressed into emergency service at a society dinner where she proceeds to take charge of the conversation. Thereafter, she has some comedy stretches with Stuart Erwin. Net result is that she gains whatever laurels are handed out at the end of an extremely lightweight entertainment.
Power and Miss Young, previously married and divorced, meet again in Florida where latter is vacationing with her second husband, Lyle Talbot. Power is an irresponsible youth from whose harem-scarem existence Miss Young was glad to escape. Her second choice is stolid, methodical and reliable, but short on romance. First love affair is rekindled and in the end the two are off to Havana with prospects of early remarriage.
That's all there is to the plot, but Walter Lang uses some adroit and pleasing methods in his direction which keeps the comedy alive. Whenever the romantic angles flatten, he falls back on Erwin and Miss Weaver and these two handle their assignments with skill. Miss Trevor is given very little to do as a Miami hostess.
Film contains exceptionally good photography by Ernest Palmer. Settings are smart and attractive.
Not an outstanding attraction, but stars? names and Miss Weaver will get it by.
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**1/2 (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
Usually dour author Phillip Wylie (the Disappearance, Opus 21, etc.) turned in a lightweight, giddy Redbook story that?'s given appropriate treatment by the screenwriters, director, and actors. These were the days when the rich were treated with disdain and satire by writers. Heiresses were always wealthy but unhappy, scions were forever seeking a real meaning in life, etc. Power and Young were making their fourth film together in less than a year and this wisp about infidelity is typical of the material they were given.... some lovely moments, snappy dialog, terrific costumes and lots of money lavished on production values. Great things were predicted for Weaver after scoring in this, her fifth movie and by far her largest role. It never came to pass and she spent most of her career in low-budget Fox films.
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In Old Chicago
Release Date: January 4, 1938
Academy Award Winner 1938: Best Supporting Actress, Alice Brady
Academy Award Winner 1938: Robert Webb, Assistant Director
January 5, 1938
In Old Chicago should register heavily at the box office, although its spectacularly is for the eye primarily. An elaborate and liberally climax is the Chicago fire of 1871. This portion envisaging mob panic, desperate efforts to stop the fire by dynamiting, etc., is highly effective.
Roster of players includes Tyrone Power and Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Alice Brady, Andy Devine and Brian Donlevy. Picture is big and it is showy, but it is historically cockeyed in the placement of its main characters, and its story is mere rehash of corrupt political mismanagement of a growing American city. But as the film entertainment it is socko.
Mrs. O'Leary's cow that kicked over the kerosene lamp which started the blaze is a conspicuous figure in the film. Lamar Trotty and Sonya Lavien, who fashioned the screenplay from a story by Nevin Busch, have developed the O?Leary tradition beyond the limits of the barn. The entire family plays the most important part in the story, even to the point where one of the sons is projected as mayor of the city at the time of the fire and another is pictured as a dishonest political boss, saloonkeeper and villain. This lively bit of imagery may be shocking to the members of the sedate and dignified Chicago historical society acknowledgment of whose splendid co-operation in factual research is made the text of a special introductory title.
There is no reason why liberal dramatic license should not be taken by writers, if so disposed and audiences are not likely to be captious about the veracity of characters or events. The result of such plot invention, however, is that no one will judge the film in any sense as an historical document, or as a serious attempt to capture the deeper spiritual aspects of the destruction within two days of the a thriving and scething city which in 34 years had grown from a frontier fortress to the commercial capital of the middle west.
It was not alone in property loss, great as the figures show, which made the destruction of Chicago a dramatic episode. In the resolute and resourceful dedication of its bewildered, homeless and bankrupt people to the job of rebuilding their city lies the deeper emotional theme. Of this there is but slight intimation in the screenscript.
Film is in two parts and edited to provide an intermission. First portion runs 80 minutes and carries the characters to the eve of the great fire. Scores of elaborate scenes establish the primitive type of architecture of the frame built rambling town with its unpaved, muddy streets and its bewhiskered male population. Most of the action is laid in gawdy saloons and beer halls and small attention is given to picturizing any of the city's industries or presenting any of its nationally known commercial leaders. Chicago is pictured as a dirty and corrupt city a Sodom on the brink, ready for the torch of annihilation.
Second part contains views of the holocaust and devastating series of actual and processed shots. These passages by far are the best and are punctuated by bits of finely-staged incidents.
With the material handed to them the players do their utmost to make interesting entertainment out of a trite story. Alice Brady and Alice Faye give the outstanding performances. Miss Brady appears as Mrs. O?Leary whom she characterizes as an honest hardworking laundress with a pleasing Irish brogue. Her earlier scenes depicting the struggles of the young widow are compelling and sincere.
Casting of Tyrone as the film's heavy is contrary to what most of his following may expect. He is good in his romantic scenes with Miss Faye, who appears as a musical hall singer. Latter is especially effective when singing several musical numbers, tuned by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, of which "In Old Chicago" is the best. Don Ameche is a vehement political reformer and Brian Donlevey plays a dive keeper and crooked politician.
Special effects by camera and microphone are excellent and certain parts of the musical scoring are stirring.
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Jan. 7, 1938; By B. R. Crister
Troy was a bonfire, Rome a false alarm, compared with Mr. Darryl Zanuck's "In Old Chicago," a four-alarm picture which brought all available apparatus last night to the screen of the Astor Theatre. By some productional miracle, the film achieves the lusty, amoral quality of the original city, the city of prodigious growing pains, the infant Gargantua of the prairies, in spite of the Hays office-which is probably Art. Vulgar, ostentatious, squalid, exuberant, bawdy and delightful (to contemplate, at least). Mr. Zanuck's Chicago makes Carl Sandburg's metropolis of bohunks seem as literary and enemic as the Hamptons.
Patrick O'Leary (J. Anthony Hughes)driving West with his Celtic brood, talks and dreams of a great city in the plains. But impulsively racing with a Currier and Ives locomotive, Patrick is dragged out of his covered wagon to death-a senseless death, an accidental overflow of a peoples' vast energies. In a brutally powerful yet hauntingly effective sequence, Henry King uses the sound of the victorious train whistle, distantly receding, to accentuate the horror and despair of the O'Learys, and the desolate crying of the youngest O'Leary for a father who lies dead in the wilderness.
From Patrick's grave to the sprawling city of mud, gambling dens, gay ladies, is a mere camera dissolve. The Widow O'Leary, solidly portrayed by Alice Brady, industriously plies the trade of a washerwoman; the boys grow up, clash on certain ethical matters, but are still O'Leary's-and Niven Busch by the way, has not only accepted the O'Leary theory of the fire's origin, but has made the O'Leary tribe the sociological and political backbone of Chicago. Disapproving of Tyrone Power, who owns the town's most prosperous saloon, Mama O'Leary continues to occupy her miserable frame hose in the district known as "The Patch," and it is established early in the picture that her cow is a kicker. (keep your eye on that cow.)
Pricelessly in the period is Power's wooing of Miss Faye who, as a commercially minded lady called Belle Fawcett, thereafter moves her baroque wardrobe and her repertoire of songs from Brian Donlevy's establishment, to Tyrone's place, which promptly becomes the rage. By knifing the now impotent Donlevy at the polls (after coolly accepting his bribes) Tyrone elects his brother to the office of Mayor, the latter holds out for reform, and just when Tyrone is on the verge of fratricide, or something, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicks over the legendary lantern.
At the first cry of "Fire" the screen suddenly flowers into beauty, violence and terror. The ineffectual bucket brigades, the tangle of confused apparatus, the headlong plunging of fire horses around congested corners, the confusions of a fleeing populace, are expounded with enormous gust and relish, like facts worth recounting for their own sake (and properly so).
The script by Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien is to be commended, as something better than merely an excuse for an excellent piece of antiquarian cinema; Mr. King's direction, occasionally, is inspired, and the photography has unusual style and dramatic impact. Incidentally, the film is a paradise for bit players and extras, and for secondary people like Andy Devine, Mr. Donlevy, Phyllis Brooks, Tom Brown, Sidney Blackmer and June Storey, who acquit themselves admirably.
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Foremost Films of 1938
Darryl Zanuck's capacity for the spectacular and the exciting in pictorial entertainment was never better illustrated than in this screen saga of the great Chicago fire of 1871. The reproduction of the holocaust which destroyed $200,000 worth of property in the growing city was accounted by many critics the high point in the series of nature catastrophes which have roared across the screen of late.
It hammered home the disaster with its scenes of dashing fire engines, panicky people, stampeding cattle, exploding oil, flaring building, crashing walls and fighting mobs. The film was so vivid that reviewers heaped on it such adjectives as 'stunning,' 'memorable,' 'scorching,' 'tingling.' It was the fulcrum which lifted the box-office returns of the picture so high that after a few months it was estimated the year's gross form it would reach $2,500,000.
The burning of the elaborate replica of early Chicago was only one of several lavish and diversified elements in the picture. Many critics were of the opinion, with a few qualifications by the fastidious, that it captured the spirit and atmosphere of the young town without antiquarian dullness, showing again Zanuck's flair for mingling the lively with the historical. Particularly striking was the projection of the lusty, irresponsible nature of the times, shown with life-likeness but without offense.
Striking also was the introduction of a trio of stars in Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche. They made their bow here as a new combination to general applause, and went on to further triumph in "Alexander's Ragtime Band." As the mother of the two boys Alice Brady was specially singled out for praise. She was recommended for the part by the associate producer, Kenneth Macgowan, and his discrimination was rewarded by her high-hearted and humorous quality of her performance.....
"In Old Chicago" would hardly have come to production on the screen a few years ago. The nature catastrophe, which forms the core of this picture, was a favorite climax in silent days. Blizzards, hurricanes, avalanches, floods and fires were the mainstay of such hit pictures 'the Storm,' 'the Johnstown Flood' and kindred films. But with talk, such disasters appeared to decline. The screen turned very much to dialogue. Cataclysms were considered to savor too much of the violent physical action of the old pantomimic days-to belong only with westerns or outdoor pictures.
Then 'san Francisco' raised the status of these screen convulsions. It proved that sound added a terrifying element that enhanced such pictures. It gave them a convincing realism, no matter how frenzied to action. 'Hurricane' helped increase the prestige and drawing power of such effects. "In Old Chicago" was inevitable.
It is a curious fact that ever since the Chicago World's Fair a few years ago called attention to the history of that city, producers have been considering a photoplay centering in the great fire. They boggled at it, because no one presented a ready-made story for them to shoot. Darryl Zanuck seized on the idea while others talked about it, had a story fashioned to suit his needs-and lo, another stirring culmination thudded its way into the public consciousness.
Audiences don't seem to expect the hero to do anything to cope with such nature catastrophes. In the heyday of the stage the formula called for the hero to dash through the great forest fire with a railroad train and rescue a doomed village, as in 'the Ninety and nine.' Or he stayed at the throttle of the burning steamer, holding her nose against the greater realism of the screen vivified with sound such a dramatic recipe smacks too much of hokum. Audiences are content to see the hero, like any person in such circumstances, struggle to survive the fury of the elements, and grope about the find his own people. Hence Dion, after striving to save his brother from the dynamited building, is not expected by the spectators to pull his sweetheart from a fiery dwelling by the hair. At such moments man wins sympathy by his very helplessness amid nature's bedlam.
The scenes of the holocaust here make an impact not merely because of the searching sounds contributed by shrieking fire engines, stampeding steers and exploding houses. They are impressive because the swirl of events has exactly that air of unreality which strikes most beholders amid such furore. When the skies seem falling and the earth erupting, the average man cannot believe that his eyes are witnessing such a frantic debacle. This effect, whether intentionally contrived or not, is further conveyed by the weird infernal glare of the flaming town-a light that never was on sea or land. The climax is natural in its very unreality.
The conflagration is not represented as a retribution on the gaudy town for its sins, as in 'san Francisco.? Everyone indulges in high-jinks without any implication of drawing down a visitation of wrath from on high. The fire does soften the Widow O'Leary. That's because Belle rescues her form the roughshod mob. Sober thought might not deem it likely that a mother would spurn her son's sweetheart as a woman of no account amid the trample of feet. Yet the rush of the situation charges right over such a quibble. Dion himself is reunited with his brother and re-emerges as a man because of the fire. But there is no sense of punishment for Chicago as a whole.
The traditional start of the fire, the kicking of the lamp by the Widow O'Leary's cow, is foreshadowed skillfully enough in the early scene when the bovine's restlessness is injected to point up the youngest O'Leary's courting of the milkmaid. Serving another purpose at the start, it does not appear too heavily planted for the finish. Another scene, the trial of the repeater, illustrates the same principle of construction, that of planting a twist of the story for later use but apparently to serve another end at the moment. In the trial the principle that a wife cannot testify against her husband is used to win sympathy for the crusading brother by disrupting his honest attack on illegal voting with a technicality. Later that same technicality bobs up with an extra jolt that is not foreseen when Dion uses it to outwit his wife and his brother.
This turn in the plot was a daring risk-that of having the hero appear as a cad throughout a large part of the story, before coming to himself in the end. It is only exceptional cases like this that such a venture succeeds. Her it gets by because of the debonair charm of the star himself, and because of the final outstanding heroism when he tries to save his brother. It is noteworthy that in the early part of the picture, when Dion is only nominally a scapegrace, Gil Warren is a tangible menace. When Dion takes on some of the qualities of a menace himself, Warren fades out. When Dion is ready for regeneration, Warren reappears as a sinister force. In other words, the producer juggles his reprehensible qualities between the hero and the villain, and for once puts it over, with the help of a fire.
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**** (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
It's wild and woolly and wonderful, even though it has little to do with the facts. Long a pet project of Fox mogul Zanuck, IN OLD CHICAGO was one of the most expensive productions of its day, its costs zooming beyond $1,800,000. Zanuck had eyed with envy the huge success MGM's SAN FRANCISCO in 1936 and intended to outdo everyone in the disaster category by presenting once again to the world the great Chicago fire of 1871, a 20-minute sequence that left viewers aghast. Fox thrust its biggest stars at the time, Power, Ameche, and Faye, into this wonderfully set period film which begins where the city of Chicago was spawned, on the open plains of the Midwest as the O'Leary family travels to that toddling town in an open wagon, seeking its fortune........King's direction is fast and furious like the story and he captures the flavor of the old city from its honky tonk image to its immigrant home life, masterfully engineering vast crowds of extras. King's specialty was spectacle and he makes the most of it here. The film ranks with the great disaster epics of the 1930's, SAN FRANCISCO (1936), THE HURRICANE (1937), and THE RAINS CAME (1939), the latter another Fox entry. The studio had originally planned to have Jean Harlow loaned to them by MGM for the role that was later claimed by Faye. They were not disappointed with the buxom blond Faye; she gave a fine performance as the alluring Belle Fawcett, appearing in one song-and-dance number wearing a scantly costume and a pair of jeweled stockings (worth $1,500) which she had word in a brief scene in ON THE AVENUE but she had gone unnoticed. She was noticed here as she sand 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginny' (James A. Bland), displaying her shapely legs to enthusiastic male viewers who didn't seem to mind the at she was slightly knock-kneed (but nowhere near as much as Miriam Hopkins, who appears so knock-kneed in her dancehall number in VIRGINIA CITY that one might expect her to fall over herself at any moment). Faye also sand in a pleasing alto voice that following numbers: "In Old Chicago" (Mack Gordon, harry Revel), "I've Taken A Fancy to You," "Take a Dip in the Sea," and "I'll Never let You Cry" (Sidney Clare, Lew Pollack). Power is his usual attractive and charming self, and Ameche, though a bit histrionic, provides a more practical balance to his errant brother. Brady, as the struggling and dynamic mother, however, steals the film and is nothing less than superb n her every scene. The 45-year-old actress won an Oscar for her role (in the 1937 awards; some rule bending took place in that the film was actually finished that year but not released until 1938). IN OLD CHICAGO earned five other Oscar nomination but, aside from Brady, the only other winner was Robert Webb, as director of the fabulous disaster sequence beefed up with another 25 minutes of reconstructed story directed by Albert S. Rogell and featuring Kevin McCarthy, Jeff Morrow, Roland Winters, Jack Albertson, Luren Tuttle, and Anne Jeffreys. This film was Faye's big break and it made her a Hollywood superstar. She had been a Fox contract player until Zanuck spotted her and told her to stop imitating Jean Harlow. He ordered her to redo her hairstyle and adopt a plainer and less exotic look so that American women could more easily relate to her. She complied and he cast her in KING OF BURLESQUE, 1936. She was so well received and so agreeable conformed to Zanuck's image of what she should be that the mogul put her into IN OLD CHICAGO, but only after Jean Harlow, the girl he didn't want Faye to emulate, was no longer available for the role.
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Alexander's Ragtime Band
Release Date: May 28, 1938
Academy Award Winner 1938: Alfred Newman, Best Musical Score
June 1, 1938; Flin.
Iriving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" is a grand filmusical which stirs and thrills, finding response in the American heart which is moved by memories of the exciting, sentimental and patriotic moments of the past quarter of a century. It is the cavalcade of our times, not only because of the mental panorama envisioned by the audience. Withheld from general release until late in the summer, its inevitable career is sock box-office, profitable exploitation engagements, extended runs, and repeat showings. Superlative in conception, execution and showmanship, it provides a rare theatrical and emotional experience.
Consolidated into a single entertainment, the Berlin repertoire taken from various musical shows, films and form the shelves of pop sheet stores, comprise a symphony as familiar to the average man and woman as the faces of close fiends. As the medley of more than 30 pieces, selected from some 600 which Berlin has composed, mounts in volume and melody, there is realized some appreciated of his contribution to contemporary life, manner and thought. Only one other living showman, George M. Cohan, had touched so wide a simpatico of popular appeal.
Bamosh the idea that "Alexander's Ragtime Band" is dated in background. It's as timely as tonight's reserved seat stub. Although the story opens back in 1911, the narrative moves swiftly throughout the years to the present. Fact that none of the characters ages a single grey hair in 25 years is flattering to listeners who are young again under the Ponce de Leon spell of remembered rhythms.
Intermingled with the fictional visual episodes are the reprises of "Alexander's" the haunting beat of "Everybody's Doing It Now," the plaintive "Ragtime Violin," "That International Rag" and others reminiscent of the pre-war period. It was the era of Hammerstein's Victoria; of the Ziegfeld follies atop the New York theatre; of the Frohman, Belasco and Erlanger regime on Broadway. Only men drank in bars then. King Cole approved all customers at the Knickerbocker bar; the Metropole, Shanley's and Bustanoby's were places to go. The Putnum building sheltered the UBO and Elsie Janis and Montgomery and Stone played for Dillingham at the Globe. Cohan and Harris were partners in the Fitzgerald building and William A. Brady was building the Playhouse in West 48th Street. Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle danced at the San souci. Out-of-towners strolled Broadway and whistled "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam". Al Woods had "Within the Law" at the Eltinge and no one was concerned about European sabre rattling.
Came the big explosion. Soldiers marched to the beat of "Your Country and My Country." "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," and "In the YMCA." Fifth Avenue was a parade ground. They stepped to "Alexander," the imported 'tipperary' and Cohan's "Over There," history was written in popular song.
In the '20s there is a vast change. The Rialto film theatre stands where the Victoria ruled for a generation. The theatrical center shifts to West 45th Street. The Palace is packed on Monday mats. Hit tunes are 'A Pretty Girls is Like a Melody,' 'Say It with Music,' 'Some Sunny Day' and 'What'll I do?' Speakeasies everywhere. Good people and bad liquor. 'All Alone' whining from an automatic piano. 'Remember' on a million phonographs. The market is going up and up. Coolidge in the newsreels. Messenger boys whistle 'Blue Skies' and office managers hum the refrain while adding a column of figures. Rudy Vallee starts broadcasting; in the afternoons. 'Big Parade' runs a year at the Astor. Jack Dempsey is heavyweight champion. Babe Ruth knocks home runs.
None of this is on the screen but it's in the picture
Order in which honorable mentions are to be handed out for a film which in every respect reflects cooperative, expert craftsmanship might start with any of a dozen artists an writers. Richard Sherman conceived the story idea with a central figure, a San Francisco bandmaster who adopts the name of Alexander. It is strictly fiction with only slight similarity to the Berlin bio, in itself a stimulating story of talented achievement. Kathryn Scola and Lamar Trotti authored the screenplay, a fine piece of work in its subtle and logical inclusions of the Berlin ballads. Henry King has directed with humor and sentiment, letting loose with an occasional broadside of mass movement. Sequences where the Yaphank drafters march to the transports is stirring and swell hoke. Harry Joe Brown, as the associate producer, infused enthusiasm into the ensemble, and Zanuck's production cunning is evident thoughought.
Berlin supervised the musical angles and, in addition, tossed off three new numbers, 'Now It Can be Told,' 'My Walking Stick? and 'Marching Along with Time.' These and some of the older tunes are presented solo and as production numbers. Alfred Newman has given the musical direction and recording spirited attention.
In the foreground are Tyrone Power, as Alexander; Alice Faye who keeps right on climbing, and Don Ameche, who carries most of the story with an occasional song number of his own. Cast is heavy with features names. Although Ethel Merman is a late entry into the proceedings, she sings and acts excellently. Jack Haley shows advantageously in comedy, and character parts are well played by Jean Hersholt, Helen Westley, John Carradine and Paul Hurst.
The piece abounds with smart specialties. Wally Vernon sings and dances; Dixie Dunbar does a cute number; Jane Jones, Otto Fires and Mel Kalish harmonize, and Donald Douglas obliges.
"Alexander's Ragtime Band" is out in front of the new season's parade.
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Aug. 6, 1938; By Frank S. Nugent
"Alexander's Ragtime Band" was played at the Roxy yesterday and at its finish the score stood: Irving Berlin, 26; Opposition, 0. Few sentimental gestures have been more expansive, few more lavishly produced than this motion picture tribute to Tin Pan Alley's most famous lodger. With those twenty-six Berlin tunes at its disposal and with such assured song-pluggers as Alice Faye and Ethel Merman to put them over, the picture simply rides
roughshod over minor critical objection an demands recognition as the best musical show of the year.
Twentieth Century-Fox calls it an American cavalcade. Cavalcade of American jazz would be more like it. Story and score move off from the same starting line, the year 1911 when Alexander's Ragtime Band was the 'the bes? band in the land." In no time at all Everybody's Doin' It-(Doing what? The Turkey Trot!). There's an affectionate reprise of 'When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam',' of the plaintive wartime song, 'Oh how I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,' and so on, and on, right down to 1938 when a swing band is apt to be giving a concert in Carnegie Hall.
Call it jazz or ragtime or swing, it hasn't changed so much through the years. Mr. Berlin has been in the groove fairly consistently. His early tunes seemed more melodic, easier to whistle or hum than the two sub-Berliners he turned out for the current show. The title number still is the hit song of the film. The point is that his music is remarkable age-resistant. The first few bars of 'say It With Music,' 'Some Sunny Day,' 'Blue Skies,' 'What'll I Do?' and 'Remember' are enough to set an audience humming or holding hands; the picture all comes back.
Possibly it is that age-resistant quality which has permitted Miss Faye and Tyrone Power to go through the film's twenty-seven years (1911-38) without getting a gray hair or a wrinkle. Mr. Zanuck's script writers set them in motion on the Barbary Coast, with Mr. Power as an ambitious band leader, Miss Faye as the hobble-skirted, button-shoed cabaret singer. They get together on "Alexander's Ragtime Band," ride the bandwagon to success undergo the usual musical comedy partings and reconciliations. Don Ameche stands by as the songwriter and self-sacrificial best friend. Miss Merman rallies round to keep the score going when Miss Faye drops in her soundtracks.
Twenty-six musical numbers are a lot to crowd into a two-hour show and still leave space for anything else-plot, characterization or humor. But a compensating factor is the happy circumstance that many of Mr. Berlin's songs have narrative or comic value, a circumstance which the script writers and Director Henry King have capitalized cleverly. Among them, to mention a few, are the turkey trot number with Wally Vernon and Dixie Dunbar leading a cotilllion of elbow wavers, and the stirring "We're on Our way to France" chorus , which is the most thrilling moment of the show.
So you have it, a long elaborate, handsomely produced musical review, a pictorial trip down Memory Lane with one of this generation's most competent ballad-makers. If we wanted to be tough about it, we could say it was overlong, a shade too elaborate, generally nonsensical in its plot. But those would be merely the routine observations about almost any musical show, and this one is not so bluntly to be dismissed. Mr. Berlin's twenty-six are worth hearing again, even though you may wonder how on earth Alice Faye manages to sing them with her lips wandering about the way they do.
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***1/2 (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
Energetic and handsomely mounted musical has Power and Ameche battling over the affections of Faye in a chronological span that stretches from 1915 to 1938, with 28 Irving Berlin compositions filling the production. Fox's three most popular stars had just finished making IN OLD CHICAGO when they were rushed into this film which had been long in preparation..........Hokey, corny, and predictable as this film is, it's still one of the most enjoyable movies ever made and for the very reasons that caused many a critic to sneer: its prosaic style, down-to-earth portrayals, petty jealousies and hates make for great Americana. There were two years in preparations and cost Fox more than $2 million. Its period sets were unique and fashioned to the times perfectly. One featured a half dozen 1500 pound cut glass chandeliers imported from Czechoslovakia, such were the perfectionist demands of producer Zanuck. There were no lags in King's snappy direction. There simply was not time for boredom since a new production fills almost every scene, 26 old and never-to-be-forgotten Berlin numbers and two new ditties-'My Walking Stick' and 'Now It Can Be Told.' Berlin himself said, "I'd rather have Alice Faye introduce my songs than any other singer I know" when asked to comment on the film that served as the greatest showcase for his memorable music.
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Release Date: July 13, 1938
July 13, 1938; Flin.
Produced on a scale of incomparable splendor and extravagance, "Marie Antoinette" approaches real greatens as cinematic historical literature. Is popular success on this account alone seems assured. As an attraction, however, it is strengthened by the appearances of Norma Shearer in the title part, a role demanding and getting superlative interpretation, and Tyrone Power, co-starred, as the romantic Count Ferson [sic]. In their support are carefully chosen players whose acting infuses life and realism into an engrossing story.
Film begins its commercial career as a road show. Its length (running time is two hours and 40 minutes) precludes continuous performances in its present form. With the heavy advertising which will accrue during its two-a-day showings, the film will be an established standout by the time it reaches regular release. Raised admission prices and extended engagements are its unquestioned box office expectation.
Finest production resources of the Metro studio make the picture a monument of co-operative effort. Hunt Stromberg is the producer, W. S. Van Dyke, the director, and Claudine West; Donald Ogden Stewart and Ernest Vajda are authors of the screenplay. Herbert Stouthart's musical score is a dominant contribution to the ensemble.
What is related on the screen is a brilliant, historic tragedy-the crushing of the French monarchy by revolution and terror. It is an impressive and emotional record of an era marked by the passing of the divine right of might and the birth on the European continent of political power in the hands of the masses. The travail is cataclysmic in its intensity, the passions of zealots usher in a period of bloodshed and violence, although the collapse of the reign of Louis 16th is but an episode in an upheaval that has left its impress on the world today. The French Revolution was the explosion which catapulted Napoleon into military and administrative power. It was the overture of the amazing 19th century.
Thrilling and exciting events centering in Versailles and Paris in 1770, when an Austrian princes was married to the Dauphin of France as a guarantee for the preservation of peace in Europe, and ending 23 years, later when she and her consort Louis 16th, were put to death and the continent was an armed camp, have challenged the historian, dramatist and novelist. Keener appreciation of the causes of the revolution, its devastation and significance is more likely to be derived from the film, "Marie Antoinette," than may be obtained from any other medium.
The reason for this is because the story, as unreeled on the screen, is interpreted visually in terms of human beings. It is they who are shown shaping the course of events, which in turn entangled, enmeshed and finally destroyed the leaders of opposing factions. And in all the long list of persons whose names are synonymous with the revolution-Louis Duc du Orleans, Voltaire, Mirabeau, de Rohan, Mme du Barry, Robespierre and the crazed Hebert-none played so grand as part nor so tragic a role as the unfortunate queen, who reigned for a brief magnificent time and who died under the guillotine.
Stefan Zweig's biography of Marie Antoinette is the source form which the screen writers have drawn most of their material. It is an inmaginative tale, quite at variance with some authorities, but none the less effective and absorbing. Zweig portrays the queen as an ordinary woman, capricious, extravagant, selfish and incapable of grasping the importance eof the thought trend of her time. But in the hour of trial and tribulation, deserted by friends and held captive by enemies, she rises to real heights and is magnificent in her dire humiliation. There is historical basis for the romantic part which count Fersen played in the royal tragedy. The screenplay centers interest throughout in the queen and the panorama is unfolded with her as a the main foreground character.
First part is concerned with the vicious intrigues of the Versailles court and the power exerted by Mme du Barry and the traitorous Orleans. The settings, designed by Cedric Gibbons, are magnificent, and the ensembles, arranged by Albertina Rasch, suggest beautiful paintings. Second portion opens with the expose of the fraudulent sale of the diamond necklace, which precipitated the arrest and trial of de Rohan and the subsequent enmity of the nobility. With an aroused nation and the queen as the point of attack, the action moves swiftly to the pillage of the castle, the royal arrest, the unsuccessful escape to the border, the trials and execution of the rulers.
Miss Shearer returns to the screen for her first part since she played Juliet two years ago. Her performance is lifted by skillful portrayal of physical and mental transition through the period of a score of years. Gayety and frivolity are followed by impressive fortitude towards the end of the film, when she stands with her back to the wall fighting for the lives of her children. Her moments of ardor with Ferson [sic] (Power) are tender and believable. Despite handicaps of the artificialities of costumes, she maintains character. In every respect Miss Shearer shows progress as an artist and reveals certain capabilities heretofore kept from view.
Power plays a role which demands sincerity and a certain forthright loyalty to his royal mistress. He is excellent, properly audacious in the perilous moments, and a convincing lover.
Outstanding in the acting , however, is the Robert Morley, who plays the vacillating King Louis 16th. Newcomer to the Hollywood scene, having been imported from London for the production, he immediately steps into front ranks as a supporting player, creating sympathy and understanding for the kingly character, a dullard and human misfit.
John Barrymore as the aged Louis 15th has done few finer things in films, and although he passes from the action during the first part he leaves a deep impress. Joseph Schildkraut is the conniving Duc du Orleans and scores as a fastidious and scheming menace. Gladys George makes much from a few opportunities as Mme du Barry.
Equally effective are Jemru Stephenson, as de Mercy, the Austrian ambassador; Reginald Gardiner and Albert van Dekker, as the King's brothers, and Anita Louise as the Princess de Lamballe. A splendid bit is furnished by Joseph Calleia as Drouet, the captor of the royal family.
when illness prevented Sidney Franklin from assuming the direction of the film after arduous preparation, [Woody] Van Dyke was assigned the task. That he is able to concentrate interest throughout in a small group of characters, despite the numerous large ensembles which the action demands, is a directorial achievement. In all the recurrent mob scenes and military groupings, Van Dyke preserves his story. Pace is maintained by occasional montage, lapses are bridged with surprising clarity. He has done a fine job.
To the showman "Marie Antoinette," notwithstanding its excellence in production, acting and skilled perfection of workmanship, presents an audience problem. It is a tragic, stark story at the end of which its heroine is beheaded. Some final message epitomizing that the sacrifice was the prelude to a major awakening of human thought and liberty might lessen the depressing thud of the guillotine.
The exit is on the emotional downbeat.
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Capsule by Don Druker
From the Chicago Reader
Originally, MGM's (and Irving Thalberg's) pet director Sidney Franklin was set to direct this opulent 1937 costumer; but Thalberg died and Franklin was replaced by the breezy, insubstantial W.S. Van Dyke. Neither director would have made it anything other than what Otis Ferguson called "one of those historical-colossals." Good performances from Norma Shearer and John Barrymore, and a terrific one from youngish Robert Morley as Louis XVI. See if you can recognize Tyrone Power. 150 min.
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August 17, 1938
The splendors of the French monarchy in its dying days have not simply been equaled, they have been surpassed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's film biography, "Marie Antoinette," which is now in imperial, two-a-day residence at the Astor Theatre. And as far as Metro has surpassed her surroundings (the ballroom set has already been advertised as considerably bigger than the one at Versailles) Norma Shearer has surpassed the queen herself, whose tragic and ineffectual figure was probably not nearly so much the dramatic center of all stages, especially with old Louis XV and the du Barry still extant, as Miss Shearer invariably contrives to be.
To Say that the Hapsurg minx as Miss Shearer plays her is spotlighted would be to express it feebly; she casts so deep a shadow, not only over France and Europe but on the rest of the cast, that at times it is necessary to look again n order to verify their familiar visages. Even John Barrymore, skulking in the general penumbra of self-effacement, is hard to recognize as the brilliant and domineering old tyrant whose reign was a practical endorsement of his great-grandfather's much plagiarized epigram: "I am the State!" Only Tyrone Power as the romantically rather far-fetched Count Axel de Fersen is permitted to approach the luminous bounds of that divinity which hedges the Shearer throne, and he does so timidly, with due deference, and with the tender consciousness not so much of love as of second-billing in his eyes.
But after all, it's the Queen's story (by Claudine West, Donald Ogden Stewart, Ernest Vajda and Stafa Zweig) and miss Shearer seems to have been struck with as much as anybody. Her sincere efforts to breathe life into a weak script and to discount a marked unsubtlety of direction by personal histrionics are everywhere apparent, and it would not be fair to assume that any other screen actress could have made this particular Antoinette more real than she had done. She laughs, minces, coquettes, sheds tears and at last ages with such courageous thoroughness that after the rapid execution sequence it was only by process of deductive reasoning that we managed to determine the startling fact that it must have been she. What more could any actress do?
It was morally necessary to review Miss Shearer first; now, because it is frankly second importance, let us consider the picture. Primarily, of course, it must be duly noted as a state occasion, with all the length and much of the solemnity of such affair is, and automatically listed as among the year's more impressive offerings. Expensiveness in itself is impressive, and besides being the product of much expense, study and sincere effort to re-animate a dead world, "Marie Antoinette" has one sequence, that of the flight to Varennes-the foredoomed effort of the royal family to escape across county, disguised as travelers from Russia-which crackles with suspense, pity and terror. And the final sentimental scenes in prison, except for one or two jarring notes like the Midwestern accent of the young Dauphin, are almost touching.
As a whole, though, the script must be blamed for what, with the history of an era to draw from, is a surprising ineptitude of characterization. By whose authority do the authors treat a Barrymore (not to mention a Bourbon) like a nonentity? Dare to show us du Barry the most amusing woman in France, a middle-aged bore? Paint Louis XVI even blacker than history does as a neurotic imbecile, and force the conniving Duke of Orleans to appear as a rouged caricature of Joseph Schildkraut? As for Tyrone Power, frankly, we have a special crow to pick with Metro about him. We accept the Swedish Count Axel de Fersen; we don't even contest his authenticity as the only romantic interest in the queen's life, but for Mr. Power, we want to see documents.
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Release Date: October 17, 1938
Oct. 19, 1938
"Suez" suggests size-a "big" film. It's tat, in it's attempt, but misses out on its epic aims. However, it's a type film that is certain to do good to above-average trade, and is a cinch for both the Anglo and the American market. Not forgetting the French fans, considering the cast prominence of Ferdinand de Lesseps (Tyrone Power), the Parisian who dreamt his dream of a big ditch from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea.
Films shortcomings are chiefly psychological, although a lethargic pace in the forepart almost counts too heavily against it. The youthful Power, in a world of Disraelis, Gladstones, Louis Bonapartes, Victor Hugos, Franz Liszts, Empress Eugenies and kindred names out of world history, is something which the captious may emphasize unduly. They had their say, similarly, when Power personated the Alexander of Irving Berlin's "Ragtime Band," and while 20th-Fox this time has seen to it that an occasional sprinkling of gray punctuates its male lead's raven crop, the youthful contrast is, of course, not to be wholly overlooked.
The fictional liberties taken with history comes under acceptable Hollywood license. There's considerable theatrical abracadabra with the manner in which the young de Lesseps wins over the Egyptian viceroy's heir-parlor magic, boxing and fencing lessons, horsemanship, etc.-and there's also the inconclusive relationship with the beauteous Loretta Young (Countess Eugenie), who forgets Power for Louis Bonaparte of France.
Some of the dialog seems to have deep-rooted significances, as regards 1938's history in the making-"peace without honor"; England's lifeline through the Suez Canal to its far-flung Empire; Prussia vs. France, and the need of Britain's friendship to swing the tide, etc.-but it's incidental to the saga of de Lesseps. He's the Frenchman whom the sons of the Sahara aided to make Britain surer of its Indian Empire and other colonies beyond the seas.
Annabell, co-starred with Power and Miss young, is a child of the desert, enamored of the young Frenchman, a quondam hoyden in her Moroccan fez and general masculine attire, and at the same time some sort of a symbolic inspiration. Hers is a tragic ending in the cinematic sandstorm.
The sepia tinting and the general photography is splendid as are the arresting montage effects when called into play, notable, of course that simoon that almost completely wrecks the well nigh bankrupted de Lesseps. The desert storm is an unquestionable sock as are such other production punctuations as the sabotage by the Turks, for example.
Production is big league and casting excellent right down the line. Maurice Moscovich and J. Edward Bromberg as the royal Egyptian father and son; Schildkraut in a brittle bit, Nigel Bruch as the British ambassador to Cairo, Miles Mander as Disraeli, George Zuco as Gladstone (only identified s the Prime Minister here, for tactiacal reasons), Sig Rumann and Leon Ames are the most prominent. Of the women, only Miss Young and the French girl leave their impress.
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Oct. 15, 1938; By Frank S. Nugent
Twentieth Century-Fox's "Suez" at the Roxy is a handsomely sepia-tinted and ponderously implausible description of how the Suez Canal came to be built by a dark-haired juvenile through the inspiration of a regimental sergeant's granddaughter and his unrequited love for the empress Eugenie. Tyrone Power is playing Ferdinand de Lesseps with fully the seriousness he accorded the bandleader role in ?Alexander's Ragtime Band.? Loretta Young, as lovely a patrician as any Louis Napoleon might have taken for mistress, is perfectly costumed, up to and including the Eugenie hat. Anabella is a veritable Cigarette as the gamin granddaughter.
About the, Producer Darryl Zanuck has placed some of his very best sets: courts and council chambers, Parliaments and Provincial Assemblies, a Viceroy's banquet hall; a French presidential ball, taverns and an assortment of period drawing rooms. Among the exteriors, he has fond a well-duned stretch of desert which remains flat and sandy during the storm sequence and conveniently changes to mountain terrain when the Turkish plotters blow the landscape up with blasting powder. And, it impress us all, he has introduced, with a transparent attempt at nonchalance, such atmospheric gentlemen as Franz Liszt, victor Hugo and Disraeli.
Mr. Zanuck, in short, has endowed his historical excursion with everything but credibility. If the building of the Suez Canal is to have any significance other than as a framework for the reassembling of a romantic trio one must be compelled to respect its builder de Lesseps; to agonize with him over political checkmating, to feel with him as he plans and organizes, fights heart-breakingly against seemingly insuperable nature and ultimately wins through. It is not precisely the role for Mr. Power who has the screen manner one associates with the young men from Ted Peck's Escort Bureau.
When the leading women hold council about him, speak of him as a dreamer born for empire and the great things of empire, it is all one can do to stifle a bubbling whoop and a holler. The incongruity is not lessened, either, by this de Lessep's seeming imperviousness to time-either the canal was built in a year or its builder had tapped the Fountain of Youth-or by the strong supporting players around him. Among them we might mention J. Edward Bromberg's Said Pasha, Maurice Moscovitch's Mohammed Ali, Nigel Bruce's Sir Malcolm Cameron, Henry Stephenson's Count Mathieu de Lesseps and Miles Mander's Disraeli. Mr. Power is such a young man in their presence and he has so much to say!
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Release Date: January 13, 1939
Jan. 11, 1939; Scho.
Vigorous and intensely dramatic in its unfolding, "Jesse James" is boxoffice smacko that will wind up in the top list of biggest grossers for the first half of 1939. Its a cinch extended run attraction with plenty of exploitation angles to attract.
Production has been turned out with all the flair, sweep and pretentiousness characterizing 20th's previous "Chicago" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band." It's an outdoor epic containing all elements for top audience interest.
Jesse James, notorious train and bank bandit of the late 19th century, and an important figure in the history of the midwest frontier, gets a drastic bleaching for screen presentation. As a sympathetic hero, he's highly acceptable as gauged for film entertainment, although some circles may not like youngsters to get such an impression of an historical bad man. Script by Nunnally Johnson (who also has done a solid production job) is an excellent chore, nicely mixing human interest dramatic suspense, romance and fine characterizations for swell entertainment. Henry King's direction is superb, while the Technicolor photography greatly enhances the picture's values.
With Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Nancy Kelly, Randolph Scott and Henry Hull heading a powerhouse cast of competent artists, the picture studded with numerous sparkling performances. Power capable carries the title spot, but is pressed by Henry Fonda as his brother. Nancy Kelly is sympathetically sincere as the love interest for Power, demonstrating an ability to carry her far n film popularity . Scott is extremely proficient and likable as the Unites States marshal, and Henry Hull's brilliant performance as the country editor is a standout. Ernest Whitman also impresses as the colored hostler companion of Power in numerous hideouts.
Story follows historical fact close enough with allowance for dramatic license, hitting sidelights of James in his brushes with the law. Initial train holdup is vividly presented, with all other robberies left to imagination through dialog until his disastrous attempt on a bank of Northfield, Minn. Detours of too many vivid holdups likely dictated to avoid censor difficulties, but regardless, two are enough to get over the idea of how the James gang operated.
Picture starts with foreword on the ruthless manner in which railroads acquired farms for right-of-way through Midwest. The James boys first turn to railroad holdups to avenge killing of their mother by a railroad agent. Jesse organizes a band for successful raids, but after a time his sweetheart, Nancy Kelly, persuade him to surrender and take a moderate sentence. Pair are married, but James finds a double-cross prior to his trial and escapes through the aid of Fonda and gang members. Hunted through years of banditry which soon includes banks, culmination is reached in an attempt to rob the Northfield bank when James is wounded. Finally reaching home, determined to make a new start with his wife and young son in California, Jesse James is shot down by one of his own men for the reward.
Picture shows plenty went into the negative cost, but basically its; the cops and robbers theme, and the customers will go for it big. Filmized, Jesse James is introduced as something of an heroic Robin Hood, and as such will be tossing substantial profits into theatre boxoffices.
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Jan. 14, 1939; By C. R. Crister
It certainly isn't Jesse James, as even Jo Frances James, a granddaughter of the great outlaw and a technical advisor on his film biography, ruefully admitted this week in an associated Press interview, but "Jesse James," at the Roxy, is still the best screen entertainment of the year (as of Friday, Jan 13). Handsomely produced by the Messrs. Darryl Zanuck and Nunnally Johnson, stirringly directed by Henry King, beautifully acted by its cast-notable Henry Hull, Henry Fonda, and its stars, Tyrone Power-and buoyed by a brilliantly and slyly humorous screen play by the versatile Mr. Johnson, it becomes and authentic American panorama, enriched by dialogue, characterization, and incidents imported directly from the Missouri hills.
In order to make Jesse, the train robber and bank bandit, romantically presentable at Seventh Avenue and Fiftieth Street (and the job undoubtedly was a tough one) the ingenious Johnson script presents him as a handsome Quixote, hopelessly jousting with a public utility -a career with which any stanch American who has ever launched an individual campaign against the gas, telephone, or electric light companies, can sympathize. In Jesse's case the enemy was the 'st. Louis Midland Railroad?-an industrial octopus which stole his farm and caused the death of his aged mother while he himself was a fugitive in the hills for resisting the trend of the times. (and a beautiful scene it is, thanks to Mr. King's direction, in which the James brothers rout the strong-arm squad of the railroad barons).
Henry Fonda, as the tobacco chewing Frank James, is a beautiful characterization, but our favorite is Henry Hull, as the small-town editor and friend of the James clan, whose dictated editorials are priceless gems of frontier humor. "Shoot 'em down like dogs" is his favorite phrase, and his enemies include lawyers, railroad presidents (in the revengeful person of Donald Meek), dentists, and anybody who tends to upset the order of uncivilized existence. "It's lawyers that are ruining everything" declaims Mr. Hull, while his assistant furiously sets the type. His office meanwhile, is the spot in which Mr. Power meets Nancy Kelly, while posses vainly scour, the hills.
The principal beauty of "Jesse James" (aside from Technicolor) is its Nunnally Johnson dialogue, and its individual scenes: the route of the railroad gorillas, the train and bank hold-ups-especially the politeness of the railroad bandits-the marriage scene, in which the James boys interrupt Sabbath service in a country church-house and discover a sociological friend in the pastor: ("I had given up preaching and was making an hones living off the land till the railroad stole my farm"), and the acting, including that of Tyrone Power, who makes out an excellent melodramatic case against himself as Jesse, although, as far as we are concerned, the verdict is still "Not Guilty."
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Capsule by Dave Kehr
From the Chicago Reader
Jesse James as a gallant populist hero, fighting the railroads on behalf of the oppressed--which was pretty strong stuff for a staunchly Republican studio like 20th Century-Fox (1939). Henry King directed, in the rustic Technicolor style that was his strong suit, though the action is perhaps too sluggish to satisfy genre fans. With Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Randolph Scott, and Nancy Kelly.
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PICTURE SHOW, Vol 41, No 1060
August 19, 1939
Photographed entirely in Technicolour, which enhances the loveliness of the outdoor surrounding in which much of the action takes place, this melodrama deals with the career of one of America's most notorious bandits, which ends as tragically and violently as it had begun and continued. Tyrone Power is excellent in the leading role, but he is run close for acting honours by Henry Fonda as his loyal brother who is at length stung into rebellion by the callous brutality he develops. Grim, exciting, with moments of charming romance it enthrals from start to finish.
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***** (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
For sheer gusto, excitement, and action; it's hard to beat this classic western which unfolds the legendary saga of the notorious James boys, notable Jesse Woodson James (1847-1882). Johnson's script absorbs all the saga and colorful tales attributed to the bad man from Missouri and does not include facts that get in the way of the story line. Director King infused his special brand of zest to produce this blockbuster, one that still best captures the image and era of that infamous outlaw, if not the reality of his character. Power is a sympathetic, dashing, and utterly charming Jesse who lives on his mother's farm with his brother Frank-slow, deliberate, dependable Fonda......"
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Rose of Washington Square
Release Date: May 8, 1939
May 10, 1939; Abel.
Of the three co-stars this is Jolson's picture. But it's not much of a filmusical, at least not toe the extent that Darryl Zanuck intended it. Primed for the same nostalgic appeal as was 20th-Fox's last season's smash, "Alexander's Ragtime Band"-and with Tyrone Power and Alice Faye romantically paired again, to further cement the idea-the film misses fire. It's primarily a story deficiency. Nunnally Johnson did both the screenplay and handled the production, although the basic original by John Larkin and Jerry Horwin is as much to blame.
A major, solo title (as distinguished from the usually casual, lower-case legend) emphasizes that the plot structure is fictional, bears no resemblance to persons living or dead, that nay similarity is purely coincidental, etc. But the fans, if only through the critics, are bound to put the title song, the "My Man" excerpt and a couple of other things together for their own conclusions. However, the Fannie-Brice-Nicky Arnstein saga is an incidental to a show business romance where Al Jolson (billed as Ted cotter, but he might just as well have been called Jolson in the first place) is the altruistic patron of the beauteous and talented Alice Faye. She is turn is stuck on the personable, but wrong-guy character played by Power.
Which constitutes the primary plot deficiency Power is so palpably a wrong-gee that the audience sympathies are lacking, and that goes, in a measure, also for Miss Faye's misplaced romantic devotion. Jolson save for his dynamic song salesmanship, which is the quality that awards the film's individual laurels to him, is likewise a neutral audience quantity.
The yesteryear pop song cavalcade includes such familiars at 'Toot Toot, Tootsie Goodbye,' 'the Vamp,' 'Ja-Da,' 'Always Chasing Rainbows,' 'Rockabuy Your Baby with Dixie Melody,' 'California Here I Come,' 'April Showers,' 'Wild About Harry,' 'Everybody Loves a Baby,' 'My Mammy,' 'Avalon,' 'I'm Sorry I Made You Cry' 'Curse of an Aching Hart,' and the title song. Gordon and Revel's lone original contribution is 'I Never Knew Heaven Could Speak,' a pretty fair ballad done by Miss Faye in a stage sequence. Most of the tunes are Jolson's bofos at the 'New' Winter Garden as he's fast climbing to solo stage success, following an inopportune split with Miss Faye, his erstwhile stage partner.
There's no denying the memory-lane appeal of this song cavalcade, because it's a pretty good catalog in anybody's hit parade. Jolson's real life association with the cream of the crop lends it extra values. Besides which, he's the singin' fool of the Winter Garden days of old, and so acknowledged by a pretty wise first night audience at the Roxy with intermittent applause. But remembered or not, the singer's blackface specialties are consistently socko.
The rest is also-ran, however, Miss Faye is still plenty on the S.A. side, expecting for a few unfortunate camera angles that don't flatter her chin-line. Power's vacillating characterization is a missout and, while 20th-Fox might take a cue from Metro's 'toughening? process with Robert Taylor, here he's too much of a larcenous sappolo. The Sing Sing exit scene where she tearfully promises "I'll be waiting," after his five year sentence is unconvincing.
Of the feature players, Hobart Cavanaugh as the box stooge, Bill Frawley as the agent and Joyce are most prominent. Louis Prima is himself as a bandleader, in a blind pic of the early Volsteadian vintage; Ben Welden is a kind of silly plug-ugly; and Horrace MacMahon, who usually dominates such tough-guy scenes, acts as if he deliberately wanted to remain unobtrusive. The rest are bits.
The backstage stuff starts in an Irving Place burlesquery where Jolson is shown as a candy butcher singing and selling 'Everybody Loves a Baby' and Miss Faye is in an amateur competition at a nearby 14th street vaudery, doing 'I'm Sorry I Made You Cry.' The ensuing shift in action is episodic and at times bewildering, but seemingly accelerated to introduce Power in the mountain retreat where he first meets Miss Faye, also there for a rest.
Most of the theatre stuff has Jolson in blackface and clicking progressively to stardom, including his accidental meeting with Cavanaugh as the box stooge. Miss Faye's New Amsterdam theatre click in a Ziegfeld "Follies" introduces her 'Heaven Could Speak' (Gordon and Revel) tune, plus the title song, done with a neo-Apache background in the Latin quarter atmosphere. The 'My Man' tune comes in after much hoopla and to-do in a music publisher's office that she should sing this number to show the world how she feels about her great romance. Seymour Felix's dance staging is cursory and anything approaching a production flash is confined to the "Rose of Washington Square" sequence.
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Jan. 14, 1939; By Frank S. Nugent
Twentieth Century-Fox's latest tour down Melody Lane has come to the Roxy under the blushing title "Rose of Washington Square," the Rose being neither Al Jolson nor Tyrone Power (as we had fared), but Alice Faye who flowers lushly in the cabarets and flounces of the post-war years. Obviously designed as a thematic sequel to "Alexander's Ragtime Band," the pictures makes much the same capital of its sentimentally evocative score, its nostalgic reminders of the speakeasy era, its delicate reminder that the Nineteen Twenties already have become a "costume period."
Bearing the usual prefatory denial of any factual basis, the film tells the story of the loyal Ziegfeld star who married a thief and confidence man, stuck by him through his disgrace and pored all her love and faith into the song 'My Man,' which she sobbed out each night from the Ziegfeld stage. Miss Faye doesn't resemble Fannie Brice; she doesn't sing 'My Man' as well either. If she did, of course, it would have been just too coincidental.
Nunally Johnson, who wrote the script, has not succeeded in giving it appreciable dramatic power. Miss Faye's heartbreak never seems to be much deeper than her make-up. Mr. Power's Bart Clinton, an almost equally superficial study in weak criminality, is not afforded a single scene by which his ultimate romantic regeneration can satisfactorily be explained. Mr. Jolson, playing himself and doing it extremely well, is the only member of the starring trio whose performance has warmth and vitality.
Atmospherically, however, the picture has interest. Mr. Jolson's singing of 'Mammy', 'California, Here I Come' and others is something for the memory book. So is Miss Faye's full-mouthed chanting of 'the Vamp,' 'Rose of Washington Square,' 'I'm Just Wild About Harry' and a few others. Mr. Johnson would have been wiser, we believe, to have built his tale about Mr. Jolson's career. The picture was at its best when the Mammy specialist held the spotlight.
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Release Date: July 3, 1939
July 1, 1939; By Frank S. Nugent
We kept wondering all through the Roxy's "Second Fiddle," how "Girl of the North" was going to turn out. That was the Consolidated Productions' epic delayed for two years by the producer's inability to find the perfect Scarlet-the perfect Violet Jansen, we mean. Finally they selected Sonja Henie, candidate No. 436, who had been teaching school (and with that accent!) in Bergen, Minn. It must have been a nice school to attend at that, with a curriculum limited apparently to ice-skating and Irving Berlin's song of the Metrodome. In Hollywood, they dressed her in a poke bonnet and crinoline, gave her lines like 'Let me go, aye tall you.'
and started the cameras turning. "Girl of the North," Consolidator's epic of the South, didn't look so good from where we sat.
And neither, for that matter, did "Second Fiddle, which has an indifferent Berlin score and a plot that blows up all over the place after its promising satiric beginning. The "Gone With the Wind" spoof had amusing possibilities but, instead of realizing them, the script writers hastened back to the old John Alden theme. They are telling it in reverse this time on a press agent who creates a publicity romance between two of his studio's new stars, writes the love notes and love song himself and discovers, to his dismay, that their eloquence has touched the lady's heart-but for the wrong man.
Had it been keyed entirely in a facetious, lightly comic mood, the picture might have fared batter. As it is, its pretense to sincerity is about as convincing as the notion of Miss Henie teaching school. Her skating still is the most attractive part of her pictures, although the boys are getting wilder and wilder in their attempts to introduce it logically. (Here she even has to daydream up one ice-rink sequence as she sits at the edge of a Hollywood swimming pool.) Tyrone Power as the press agent and Edna May Oliver as Miss Henie's aunt handle a few comedy scenes pleasantly and Rudy Valee and Mary Healy do their best y the Berlin score. The picture rates on better than a faint "fair."
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July 5, 1939; Abel.
"Second Fiddle" will do prime box-office, especially as summer fare and at a time when choice product is at a premium. It's a by not means the best filmusical made by Zanuck nor the best Irving Berlin score, but it blends well and plays glibly. In addition, there's quite a little comedy through the combined medium of scripter Harry Tugend's good lines and Edna May Oliver who dryly handles them. For the marquee, Sonja Henie, Power and Vallee, with Miss Oliver, take care of the tungstens nicely.
The six Berlin songs impress better as part of the actin than in the abstract, although all are getting a good radio play.
The story combines several exploitive elements. One is the basic premise of a search for the girl to play 'Violet' role in "Girl of the North," best seller of two years ago ('Scarlet' in "Gone with the Wind," get it?), which is an obvious enough rib. With that is coupled some palpable inside stuff on studio builder-uper-ing through phoney romances, which may square the Tyrone Power-Sonja Henie romantic ballyhoo that took place on the 20th-Fox lot some time ago. There's also a good portion of self-ribbing which doesn't put the finger too much on the picture business yet it's audience-arresting background stuff, although phoney studio romances may find repercussions in future.
Vallee is cast as the star who needs the ballyhoo, and who is coupled with Miss Henie when she finally makes the grade for the long hunted Violet role. Mary Healy, as Vallee's original love interest, supplies the slight menace, and Power is excellent as the resourceful studio publicist (constantly harassed by Dinehart, the publicity chief) who is in turn hunted and heckled by a demanding studio boss, never seen, but plenty heard through a barking inter-office Magnavox communication system.
The episode plot, while thin, is skillfully held together by Lanfield's direction and a peppery script which is frequently punctuated by crisp dialog. Action is kaleidoscopic and some scenes are dragged in with but one connecting sentence to hook it up. However, it jells well enough.
Miss Henie's Norsk twang is explained by a Minnesota background where she is discovered. She's a schoolteacher and her pupils are alternatingly put through a 'song of the Metronome' coral routine in the classroom, and later in a juvenile skating sequence at the adjoining skating rink. Seemingly it's a very pleasant institution of elementary learning, combining scholarly curriculum with the outdoor life.
Earl Carroll's new Hollywood nitery gets quite a trailer, as background for the class joint employing Mary Healy, who sulks all through the footage when the studio stages the phoney Vallee-Henie romance. Miss Healy, comely blonde newcomer, handles dialog in so-so fashion, but more impressively on the vocals. She number-leads 'Back to Back,' a switch on the cheek-to-cheek routine, inviting the Carroll nitery 'audience' to come onstage and try it.
A swimming pool party gives Vallee his second vocal opportunity with 'If Winter Comes,' whereupon Miss Henie 'imagines' herself six months in the future, and the pool metamorphoses into an ice-rink for one of her highlight skating specialties-a dandy tango routine with Stewart Reburn.
Valee's first number was "An Old Fashioned Tune always Is New," showing a behind-the-camera sequence being shot. More back-of-the-boom stuff ensues, with the studio party on one of the soundstages, in honor of the completion of the film. Miss Healy does her second number, "Sorry for Myself" in this sequence which, with "I Pored My Heart Into a Song," is one of the two top songs in the score. "Song" is used thematically, and is given a ride by Vallee who handles the vocal burthen well. His role as a fading star (a touch of the 'star is Born? formula there) is incidental to his crooning chores, but he handles it well enough.
When boy-loses-girl and Power chases the new star back to her Minnesota health, just in time to stop a marriage for pique to Lyle Talbot, it gives her a final opportunity for a solo skating specialty, in a wintry woodland lake background that's photographically as effective as her own superlative skill on the runners. There isn't too much skating, but all of it good, and her delineation of the hinterland school teacher who isn't blinded by her sudden Hollywood film fame is believable.
Miss Oliver, as the droll guardian-aunt, is capital both in the surefire stew-stuff comedy, and when the dramatics assert themselves. Power does a tiptop job as the p.a., a pretty faithful takeoff. As with Metro's Robert Taylor technique, 20th-Fox is seemingly de-beautifying Power, and it's a good move. He shows a new flair for light juve trouping that's becoming. The rest are adequate-which means about what that adverb usually means. Dinehart's repetitious "I'm proud of you" phrase is, of course, a carbon-copy of 20th-Fox's studio's Harry Brand's pet chatter.
Dance routines by harry Losee aren't elaborate. It's chiefly the ice stuff, plus the "Back to Back" terp sequence, but pleasing throughout. Lou Silvers musical background is a nice orchestral blend of the Berlin tunes.
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The Rains Came
Release Date: September 11, 1939
Sep. 13, 1939; Abel.
"The Rains Came" is a big box office picture. Its assets comprise a combination of ingredients that range from marquee power to a well-publicized best seller. It also has the advantage of a new locale.
Liberties have been taken with the original novel., resulting in switching some of the original characterizations or intent, but under existing production code restrictions, and toe conform with the mass market of film entertainment, it emerges as a competent job. For the b.o. purpose intended, it's highly effective.
True, Myrna Loy's Lady Esbeth isn't the trollop of the original. True, the romantic Major (Dr.) Rama Safti (Power) was more of a symbol of the new India, in the book, than a triangular link, as in this film. True, also, that the romantic antics by the stellar trio and Brenda Joyce (opposite Brent), and the tropical earthquake that well night wrecks the mythical domain of Ranchipur, India, are more Zanuck than Bromfield. But it is god cinematurgy.
Newcomer Brenda Joyce, cast as the daughter of social-climbing missionaries, rings the bell throughout with a consistent performance as a forthright romantic adolescent, stuck on George Brent. Latter is the wastrel, of good British family, who has been dawdling in Ranchipur for years on an art assignment. His best friend is the enlightened young Dr.-Major Rama Safti, who is blind to any romantic deviations, in his intensive medical duties, until Miss Loy comes on the scene. She is visiting the native maharajah (H. B. Warner) overplayed by Nigel Bruce). Latter's surliness and general deportment ill-fitted the role of Lord Esketh.
Maria Ouspenskaya, as the maharani, makes her chore outstanding, although never quite clinching the part. It calls for all the tragic earnestness with which the Russe character actress endows the assignment, yet she never quite jells, physiologically, with the role. It's this lack of conviction that makes some of the bits, on basic histrionic values, eclipse some of the juicer roles. Mary Nash, Marjorie Rambeau, Jane Darwell and Warner are among those. And Miss Joyce more than sustaining the buildup and opportunity accorded her by the studio, which is grooming its 1-year old Los Angeles high school "find" for possible fast company.
Clarence Brown's directions nicely paces the contrasts of Indian potentate atmosphere in the maharajah's palace with poverty that is basically Mother India's. The thematic rains that come and go are nicely interlarded with the Dunne-Josephson screen transcript of the Bromfield book. The simple heroics following the quake are more effective than the earth-rendering sequences themselves. On montage, Fred Sersen rates a bow for his special effects.
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Sep. 9, 1939; By Frank S. Nugent
Louis Bromfield's novel of India, 'the Rains Came,? appears to have defied translation to the screen. The film version, presented at the Roxy yesterday, is the merest skeleton of the Bromfield work, and that not too well reassembled. It is completely a romance now; not the composite biography-romance-social treaties which became a best -seller.
The earthquake and flood, which Bromfield had employed to regenerate his soul-sick Europeans, to wipe out the unfit and symbolically, to illustrate the awakening of a new spirit in India, serve none of
these uses in the film. They have become the occasion once again in pictures for a visually thrilling spectacle which doubles as a colossal arrow from Cupid's little bow.
In trimming the novel down to romantic-script size, the adapters had no time for the preliminaries, the background work, the social comment that were the distinctive and distinguished features of the book. Mr. Bromfield was not writing exclusively of the bored and sophisticated Lady Elsbeth who came to Ranchipur and found a new meaning in life through her love fore the Indian surgeon, Major Safti; nor was he any more narrowly concerned with the amusingly scandalous, yet touching, romance between Tom Ransome, the handsome wastrel from London, and Fern Simon, the missionary's daughter who unblushingly hoped to be compromised. These were simply details in a broad a pattern of life in an Indian province where the best and the worst in a new civilization and an old were being placed under an author's microscope.
It is quite possible that no adaptation could have covered the ground Mr. Bromfield took in with his slow literary strides, but we still believe that those who abridge a novel own the author and his readers at least a spiritual distillate of the work. The film is scarcely happy in its casting. Tyrone Power's Major Safti suggests none of the intellectual austerity, the strength of character and wisdom of Mr. Bromfield's "copper Apollo.' He is still Mr. Power-young, impetuous and charming, with all the depth of a coat of skin-dye. George Brent's disillusioned Ransome is merely a genial chap on a veranda with a brandy-soda in his hand. Myrna Loy's lady Elsbeth represents the hapless struggle of an actress who can't help being 'sympathetic' with a role that requires her, for a time at least, to be a shameless hussy. Brenda Joyce alone among the principals fits the ingenuous Fern Simon role, probably because she is an ingenue herself.
Beter, by far, are the minor characters: Marjorie Rambeau as Mrs. Simon; Mary Nash as Miss MacDaid; Laura Hope Crews as Lily Hoggett0Egburry; Nigel Bruce as Lord Elsbeth-although none of them has more than a fleeting moment. Maria Ouspenskaya's portrayal of the Maharani is admirable, but the portrait isn't. All that emerges, then is an Indian romance of little significance and meaning, with a magnificent sequence of earthquake and flood that is equal to the best Hollywood-made catastrophes and the embarrassing memory of Miss Loy standing up to Mr. Brent and saying, ?You are asking me to give up the only chance of happiness I have ever known.? You can't tell me Mr. Bromfield wrote that one.
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***1/2 (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
An exotic romantic melodrama based on the popular novel by Louis Bromfield which details the trials and tribulations of the mythical Indian province of Ranchipur......Because screenwriters Dunne and Josephson drained Bromfield's novel of all its social insight and political intrigue, THE RAINS CAME is really nothing more than an epic tear-jerker, but the film succeeds due to its casting and production values. Budgeted at an incredible (for 1939) $2.5 million, the film spared no expense at creating an exotic locale for the soap-opera histrionics to be played out in. Power is surprisingly convincing beneath his dark makeup, and Loy turns in a solid performance as well. Joyce, who was an 18-year-old Los Angeles high school student when discovered by the studio and given the big buildup, essays her role with a certain amount of likable spunk. The true star of the film, though, is the spectacular earthquake and flood footage engineered by special effects technician Fred Sersen...?
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Release Date: November 16, 1939
Nov. 15, 1939
Tyrone Power swings out of the straight dramatic groove in this light farce-comedy. The change is in Power's favor and picture will give studio execs new fields for the star's future assignments. "Day-Time Wife" provides a new twist to the familiar wife-secretary-husband triangle, and in its unfoldment presents numerous sparkling situations and dialogue lines. With Power, Linda Darnell, Warren William and Binnie Barnes for the marquee, picture will turn in a good account of itself in the key runs for profitable biz. Although script and directions tend towards Continental technique or a marital farce, picture is essentially for general audiences.
Linda Darnell, studio's latest buildup, gets c-star billing with e Power. Youngster rates that spot on her performance. She has youthful enthusiasm, good screen presence and a sparkling personality that will catch on with audiences. Power's transposition to a comedy role provides him with the first opportunity to deliver effectively along that line. As the husband n love with his wife, but still exercising the man's prerogative of taking his secretary out for diversion, Power shades his performance in convincing fashion.
Brightness of the story comes in telling from both script and direction. When Linda Darnell suspicions her husband's associations after hours with his secretary, she decides to find out just what secs have that wives lack. Securing a job in Warren William's office, she quickly turns tables on Power when the two men step out one night with their secretaries, and the husband gets a hazing from his wife during the evening. Naturally there's a reunion, Power's sec taking a quick powder.
Provided with an excellent script by Art Arthur and Robert Harari, director Gregory Ratoff injects many scintillating episodes in the husband wife relations. Both script and direction combine to make the piece move at a lively pace.
Although Power and Miss Darnell maintain most of the footage, several excellent supporting performances do much to enhance the entertainment values. William fits neatly as the playboy architect, with Binnie Barnes neatly cast as a grass widow. Joan Davis provides several comedy sequences as a wise secretary while Wendy Barrie is okay as the wife-nabbing stenog.
Production is top notch in all technical departments; photography by Peverell Marley of high standard.
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Nov. 24, 1939; By B. R. Crister
For a consistently light and superficial holiday comedy of the domestic type (as distinguished from the more sophisticated foreign variety) we strongly recommend the irresponsible item called "Daytime Wife," at the Roxy. If you carefully observe all the rules for enjoying comedies of this type, of which Rule I is to throw overboard all intellectual and (if you want to be really cooperative) all moral balast, there is no reason why you should not find it even more amusing than most comedies that try to make sense. Certainly it is polished, well upholstered with splendid sets, equipped with a capable cast, and occasionally even rather witty. But your amusement is likely to be tempered by a number of important mental reservations.
Reservation No. 1 is that such a wife as Linda Darnell purports to be-so young, so beautiful, and at the same time, such a patient, suspicion-free little sit-at-home-could obviously never exist in this world. Reservation No. 2 is the equally obvious fact that a husband of the type exemplified by Tyrone Power belongs nowhere and, moreover, exists nowhere, let us hope, save in such half-polite, half intolerable crude little farces like "Daytime Wife," which has to shock the customers agreeable and still manage to get past the restrictions of the Hays office.
we are asked to believe that Mr. Power cultivates his pretty secretary (Wendy Barie) and comes home reeking of her exotic perfume late at night on his wedding anniversary, after having disappointed his wife and her guests, for purely platonic reasons. (Only, you are supposed to think it isn't platonic, up to a late hour in the plot).
Then we are asked to suppose that this ideal wife, suspecting, nay, knowing all, decides to stick around and regain her man's love by becoming a secretary herself-secretary, by accident, to one of his best friends and closest customers. (Mr. Power is in the roofing business-and in a plot so full of leaks, too!) Persons not too censorious may find all this very worldly and very amusing, in the tolerant holiday season. After all, it is merely a harmless piece of frothy, theatrical fiction, translated more or less deftly into conventional cinema. Mr. Power, Miss Darnell, Warren William, Binnie Barnes and Miss Barrie take it all with consummate good humor.
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