It Happened One Night (1934)

Directed by Frank Capra
Cinematography Joseph Walker
A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.
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This classic never loses its magic! Romance, warmth & humor!

13 May 2001 | by gmmax (Peoria, Illinois) – See all my reviews

This sweet comedy never loses its appeal. Claudette Colbert is a spoiled young girl who meets a worldly, attractive newspaper reporter (Clark Gable). In the beginning, she treats him like a servant, but he never knuckles under to this behavior. The interaction between these two is very romantic and humorous. It is the classic portrayal of what may be called “sexual tension.” He takes care of her – does not take advantage of her – but makes her realize that her wealthy background cannot carry her through as a human being, she has to earn his respect by treating him with respect. There is a scene in which the two of them are forced to hitchhike, and their “breakfast” is only a handful of carrots plucked from a garden they were lucky to find. As Gable stands at the edge of the road and Colbert is perched atop a wooden fence, his wisecracking posture is said to be the inspiration for the beloved cartoon character Bugs Bunny. This is a must-see for every one who loves old movies, and entertaining for all.

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A fantastic Capra film.

Author: emma502 from iowa city, iowa
7 May 2003

It Happened One Night directed by Frank Capra was made and released in 1934 by Columbia Pictures as a small budget film that was not expected to do well at the box office. Yet, after its release the film gained many accolades and won the Academy Award for best picture in 1934. Due to the original small nature of the film, the leading man role was surprisingly filled by Clark Gable who was on loan from another studio. He stared opposite of Claudette Colbert.

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Capra’s film was a combination of many ideals, emotions and social perceptions of the American society of the thirties but it was also a combination of many new and innovative filming techniques and sound advancements. The film unfolds the story in such a attention-grabbing and remarkable way that most of today’s cinema use his style and ideals when producing and creating films. Capra used the idea of a moving camera, one that was not fixed upon a box, but on a moveable crane instead. This produced more sweeping shots, more angles for filming and fewer distance shots. It allowed for more movement of the actors as well as a more realistic and real life feeling to the movie. The film also incorporates back projection of images.

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This is were a scene is filmed previously and played in the background while the actors perform the scene in front of the projection. Back projection is used for car scenes to give the impression that the actors are driving but in reality they are in a sound stage. Capra also incorporated the use of a wipe in his film. The technique of moving left to right and fading in or out to change a scene or show elapsed time took the place of the traditional place cards in silent films and allowed for a more constant stream for the film. The film was also all talk, the new technology of a sound strip on the side of the film was used. The text cards of silent films were completely discarded. Another camera trick by Capra is to show a change in feelings within Clark Gable’s character for Claudette Colbert’s character by depicting her character in a different light.

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This happens two times within the film at key moments to the development of their relationship. Claudette Colbert is seen in a close up of softer light to emphasize Clark Gable’s character seeing her in a `different light.’ In this romantic comedy Capra not only showed new styles and techniques but also addressed social issues of the time. Through comedy he showed the outlandish nature of the rich (King arriving for his own wedding in a helicopter) and the nature of man being the controller in relationships as well as in society. The fighting and struggles between the two main characters showed the man taking care of the woman, the social norms of how men and woman should act around each other in that era. But the fighting and the banter also show a strong-minded and intelligent woman. The two strong-willed main characters balanced each other out.

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Capra’s techniques for showing the social relationship between the rich and working classes as well as a relationship between man and woman in the 1930s captured film makers and film viewers for over 70 years. Films are now compared to his style of camera movement and his style of capturing the American ideals. When movies of today make a similar statement of achieving what one wants they are referred to as Capra-esc. Capra’s imagination and style is one that changed the outlook of American films and introduced a new genre to film goers everywhere.

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The Hero As Comedian

10/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
24 December 2005

In his autobiography, The Name’s Above the Title, Frank Capra said that until It Happened One Night drama had four stock characters, the hero, the heroine, the comedian, and the villain.

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What Capra did and you might notice he followed that in a whole lot of his films, the characters of hero and comedian are combined. Not completely though because Claudette Colbert gets a few laughs herself, especially with that system all her own. But in doing what he did for Clark Gable’s character, Capra created a whole new type of screen comedy, the classic screwball comedy and It Happened One Night surely set the mold.

Capra’s autobiography told the story of the making of It Happened One Night which in itself could be a movie. Capra worked for Columbia Pictures which at that time was a minor studio, along the lines of Republic or Monogram. As Capra tells it he had a vision about this story that Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote and persuaded Harry Cohn to buy it.

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Capra also had a stroke of good luck. Adolph Zukor at Paramount and Louis B. Mayer at MGM were looking to punish a couple of recalcitrant stars, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. The idea was to show these two what it was like to work in a small budget studio without all the perks of Paramount and MGM. In fact the description of Gable arriving to work at Columbia that first day, drunk as a skunk, is priceless. Capra dressed him down good and said that to his credit Gable came to work afterwards and couldn’t have been more cooperative.

At some point Harry Cohn at Columbia was convinced that maybe Capra had something. He had in fact delivered for Columbia the previous year with Lady for a Day. So the publicity drums were beat.

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The rest as they say is history. It Happened One Night won the first Oscar grand slam, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It won the first Oscars Columbia Pictures ever got and lifted it right into the ranks of the major studios. And it set the standard for screwball comedy.

The film could never have gotten off the ground were it not for the chemistry of Gable and Colbert. They’re together for most of the film so if it doesn’t click between the two of them, you have people walking out in droves. Colbert had already played a wide variety of parts at Paramount, ranging from Poppaea and Cleopatra to comedies with Maurice Chevalier like The Big Pond. Gable had played a whole lot of tough guys on both sides of the law at MGM. It Happened One Night showed he had some real comic talent, a flair MGM exploited in his roles from then on in.

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Gable and Colbert did only one other film together, Boom Town for MGM. You can’t get much more different than those two films. Boom Town had a huge MGM budget, Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr as well, and a lot of special effects involving the oil industry and hazards therein. It’s also a great film, but it’s not a classic like It Happened One Night.

Clean Sweep

9/10
Author: aimless-46 from Kentucky
8 November 2005

Consider this, “It Happened One Night” was made in 1933 which gives it the distinction 70+ years later of being the oldest film still widely viewed by mainstream audiences. And most of the runner-ups for oldest film are 1930’s screwball comedies inspired by the success of this seminal film which made a clean sweep of the 1934 Academy Awards. The genre has held up over the years because these are small human stories with themes that are still relevant.

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The main reason “It Happened One Night” worked then and still works today is the accidental pairing of Colbert and Gable, who provide an amazing chemistry under Frank Capra’s direction. Columbia Pictures was a small player in the early days of talking pictures and studio head Harry Cohn had difficulty rounding up two major stars to play the leads in this modest budget production. Colbert was not interested in doing another Capra film after a negative experience working for him six years earlier in her silent picture debut. Cohn told Capra: “That French broad likes money” and Capra finally got her on board with an offer of $50,000 (double her usual price) and a guarantee that production would only last 28 days. Gable was under contract to MGM but had been making trouble for them so as punishment Louis B. Mayer personally loaned him to Columbia for this film.

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The film had a lot else going for it; a motivated Capra, a great script that would play well with small town America, and a good ensemble of supporting talent. The story concerns a spoiled young heiress (Colbert) trying to escape the control of her father (nicely played by Walter Connelly). Dodging her father’s private detective she takes a Miami to New York bus where she meets a recently fired reporter (Gable) who agrees to help her in exchange for an exclusive story. Cozy quarters and many adventures lead them to change their initial opinions of each other (brainless brat and obnoxious bully) as an undisclosed affection develops. On the eve of their arrival in New York they try to sort out their feelings for each other.

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While the script is not really successful in convincingly illustrating the process of their falling in love (one minute they are just friends and the next they are in love), Capra is able to sell it with a simple connection process between these two characters which is at work throughout the film. As another reviewer has written: “Far from lovey-dovey, the dialogue is witty, sharp and occasionally heartless. We may know the outcome, but the road to get there is paved with arguments, anger and misunderstandings. It’s also clever, funny and a bit risqué (for 1934)” . During their three days and nights together Colbert convincingly gives us a character who matures from a spoiled rich girl to a responsible adult, motivated by a desire to improve her companion’s opinion of her. Gable shows real star presence, playing a confident, charming, and resourceful gentleman. By the end their sudden love is credible because they have demonstrated that they are both exactly what the other is looking for in a partner.

After the Oscar ceremony Capra threw a party where he downed a magnum of champagne and passed out on his front lawn clutching his Best Director Oscar.

Then again, what do I know? I’m only a child.

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The Mad Genius (1931)

Emphasis on the Word Mad

2 July 2016 | by mmallon4 (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I feel like no other decade seems to have as many obscure gems lost to time as the 1930’s; case in point, The Mad Genius. Coming out in the same year as the iconic adaptations of Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde; but in my humble opinion, The Mad Genius is a better and more intriguing film than any of those.

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The opening of The Mad Genius does a superb job at setting a time and place; central Europe in the early 20th century. There is an impeccable level of detail in creating the world of a travelling performer; with the falling of the rain, the wind and the sound of horse and carriage taking full advantage of sound technology to create a world. Equally as impressive is Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov’s (John Barrymore) Berlin theatre and the large scale stage set with hints of German expressionism throughout and the wide spread use of music in the soundtrack, unlike other early talkies.

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John Barrymore is (unsurprisingly) mesmerising as Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov (quite a name), one of the most repulsive characters he ever played as he spends the movie spewing pompous and at times mad scientist like dialogue. He has a misogynistic attitude towards women and is even seen ogling up the skirts of his dancers, in one of the film’s very pre-code elements. He is even a drug dealer, although the word drug is never used in the film nor is it indentified what substances appear in the film. In one scene in which he refuses to deal drugs with the stage director played by Luis Alberni, I love his summary on drugs when he throws them into the fire; “If I drop this, you will be free, but you will suffer of course, but in the end, you will be happier than you could ever dream”. Likewise In one of the movie’s comic highlights there is an early use of profanity in film; “It’s unbelievable that there’s any human being living, who should be such a stupid ass”.

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One of the many interesting observations in The Mad Genius is the combination of elements from other movies. The plot itself is derivative of Barrymore’s previous horror outing Svengali, while Tsarakov’s desire to create a great ballet dancer out of a young boy is a variation on Dr Frankenstein (which the movie itself alludes to). When Tsarakov is wearing on overcoat he is bent over like Quasimodo; Barrymore’s facial appearance is very similar to that of Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, likewise his voice is reminiscent of Lugosi’s Dracula. The theatre setting has vibes of The Phantom of the Opera and perhaps most interestingly are the elements of The Red Shoes with the film’s inclusion of ballet and the themes of going to extremes for one’s art. Could Powell and Pressburger have taken inspiration from The Mad Genius?

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THE MAD GENIUS (Michael Curtiz, 1931) ***

7/10
Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
23 January 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Warner Brothers were clearly eager to give the 1931 public what it wanted and also consolidate the success of SVENGALI made earlier that year by instantly reuniting the leads from that film – John Barrymore and Marian Marsh – in a quickly rehashed potboiler on similar lines.

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Barrymore is an embittered puppeteer whose lameness had dashed his dreams of a dancing career but, as fate would have it, is provided with the opportunity of living that glory vicariously through the agile street urchin he saves one day from the clutches of his cruel father (a small role for a pre-fame Boris Karloff). Growing up to be a peerless dancer (played by an uncharismatic Donald Cook) through the ruthless patronage of his foster father, he is ready to give it all up for the love of an innocent girl in the show (Marsh) but, needless to say, Barrymore will not let anything stand in the way of art and his ambitious plans for the prized pupil.

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Amusing sidekick Charles Butterworth helplessly looks on as Barrymore sadistically convinces dope-addicted choreographer (Luis Alberni) to fire Marsh but Cook overhears their heinous scheme and this causes a rift between impresario and protégé. Years pass but more scheming on Barrymore’s part enables the estrangement of the lovers and the rekindling of the working relationship between father and son. Once again, however, fate intervenes with Barrymore eventually getting his just desserts at the hands of the distraught Alberni – on stage during the performance of what was to be Cook’s crowning achievement! Admittedly, the plot is much inferior to that of SVENGALI but an unhinged Barrymore is always worth watching, Marsh is typically lovely while Michael Curtiz’s expressionistic direction (his first of three notable forays in the genre) and Anton Grot’s stylish sets lend the production a touch of class that keeps one watching if not exactly enthralled.

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The Follow – Up To SVENGALI

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
29 January 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When Michael Curtiz directed this odd ballet and horror film he presumably had the recent success of the John Barrymore – Marian Marsh film SVENGALI (from George Du Maurier’s TRILBY) in mind. That story was based on a novel wherein a great singer is actually controlled (by hypnosis) by her impresario. Although Svengali’s character in the novel was quite obnoxious, the film version softened it to make one realize he was in control of Trilby but loved her and could not be certain if she loved him back. In the end it turned out she did.

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The story of THE MAD GENIUS was similar – Donald Cook is a brilliant ballet dancer who was trained by impresario Barrymore, and the latter is determined to get his protégé the career he deserves – by all means necessary. This means derailing anything or anyone who Barrymore concludes will prevent this. Marsh is a female member of the ballet company that Cook is falling for, and Barrymore is willing to push her out of the company, and even turn her into a wealthy nobleman’s mistress to keep Cook in line.

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The film actually works. In the background was a misunderstanding of the relationship between Diaghilev and Nijinski (who many thought was that impresario’s puppet). Here one realizes Barrymore is a man who is so hung up on the success of his adopted son that he does not stop even while he realizes he is doing harm to so many others. To perfect the boy’s dancing (and the company’s) he is willing to be the drug supplier to dance master Luis Alberni (one of the first examples of cocaine use in movies). When not pimping for his wealthy aristocratic backer, he runs a tight ship on all the dancers and his factotum associate Charles Butterworth.

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But he is human. One of the funniest aspects of the film is how Barrymore picks up his own sexual partners from starry eyed young woman coming in to join the ballet company. He always uses the same line with them, and even the same hour the next day to visit his office (three o’clock). Butterworth adds his bit too, as he tries constantly to interest Barrymore or anyone in a really bad ballet he’s written (Barrymore, who is happy and drunk when Butterworth finally corners him, slowly sobers up when hearing this idiotic story line, and ends up saying he never realized what an ass Butterworth really was).

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Finally there is a cameo that I find fascinating. This is the film wherein Boris Karloff (for about one minute) shares screen time with John Barrymore. They never did so again.

tasty ham, attractively served; side dishes not bad

Author: mukava991 from United States
1 February 2015

In “The Mad Genius” John Barrymore delivers one of his most enjoyable screen performances, playing a club-footed, alcoholic, womanizing Russian puppeteer who takes an abused youth under his wing and molds him into a great star with the Ballet Russe, an accomplishment he could never attain himself due to his deformity. Some may consider his performance hammy, but at least it’s Grade A.

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The film opens expressionistically somewhere in “Central Europe” on a rain-drenched night with Barrymore and his dim-witted sidekick (the deadpan Charles Butterworth) rehearsing a traveling puppet show when a barefoot youth (Frankie Darro), fleeing a beating from his insanely sadistic father (Boris Karloff), stumbles into their tent. Barrymore and Butterworth hide him and leave town in a horse-drawn wagon shot at a tilted angle as it creaks along a muddy road.

Zip to Berlin several years later. The youth is now a young man (Donald Cook) who is in love with a fellow dancer (Marian Marsh). Barrymore, still the puppeteer but of humans now, wants no one interfering with his controlling relationship and maneuvers Marsh out of the company while elevating a lesser dancer to her position. Meanwhile, Barrymore’s dance director (Luis Alberni) is slowly going mad from a cocaine addiction enabled by his employer. The two are locked together, feeding on each other’s weaknesses, paralleling the central relationship between teacher-mentor and star-protégé. Barrymore needs Alberni’s skills as a dance master; Alberni can’t function without the drugs Barrymore provides.

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The camera often shoots from low angles, with ceilings visible. Lots of chiaroscuro. Pre-Code subject matter includes extramarital cohabitation, prostitution, drug addiction, and (for the time) grisly violence. Suggestive dialogue abounds.

Barrymore feasts on the role. Luis Alberni plays the frenzied addict to the hilt. Marian Marsh and Donald Cook are sometimes mechanical and artificial but not to the extent that they undermine their roles and both have strong moments. Carmel Myers is excellent in a brief drunken scene with Barrymore.

Donald Cook looks so much like the Warners contract actress Kay Francis that they should have been cast in a movie together as siblings. Just sayin’.

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Svengali (1931)

Cinematography Barney McGill
Directed by Archie Mayo

Svengali is a 1931 American pre-Code supernatural drama/horror film produced and distributed by Warner Bros. The film stars John Barrymore and co-stars Marian Marsh. It was directed by Archie Mayo and the screenplay was written by J. Grubb Alexander. It is based on the gothic horror novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier. The film was originally released on May 22, 1931. Warner Brothers was so pleased by the box office on this film that the studio hurriedly reteamed Barrymore and Marsh for another horror film The Mad Genius, released on November 7, 1931.

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Svengali (1931)

3 April 2005 | by MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

I’ve only watched the film once – by way of Roan’s fine if not outstanding DVD – and this happened fairly recently. SVENGALI follows its source novel (“Trilby” by George Du Maurier) pretty closely, which is rare for horror film-adaptations of the 1930s. Apart from John Barrymore’s appropriately mesmerizing leading performance (here revisiting the genre after a whole decade), I recall one particularly amazing tracking shot demonstrating Svengali’s hypnotic powers over Trilby, and there are even brief flashes of nudity (remember this was a Pre-Code film, but also that our heroine is a model)! Barrymore followed SVENGALI with the thematically-similar THE MAD GENIUS (1931) but, unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch that one…

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Superb Barrymore-Delightful Marsh

10/10
Author: roxyroxy
9 March 2005

This is such a great early sound film from the Warner Brothers studio. The sets by Anton Grot are amazing (there is an eye-popping miniature set of the rooftops of Paris). The sentimental background music used in “Svengali” is Thomas Dunn English’s “Ben Bolt”, which is played effectively throughout the film and is partially sang twice. The great John Barrymore IS the one and only Svengali and is superb in the role. He captures Svengali’s wicked humor and cunningness perfectly.

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Marian Marsh is ideally cast and simply delightful as the artists model Trilby. She even looks like Trilby as drawn in George Du Maurier’s novel. She displays an infectious smile and high-spirited jolliness that other actresses who have played Trilby have failed to deliver (Clara Kimball Young was okay in the 1915 silent version (“Trilby”), but Hildagarde Neff and Jodie Foster weren’t at all appealing in the later sound remakes). Mostly everyone else in 1931’s “Svengali” give good performances (the exception being Carmel Myers, whose acting dates badly). This 1931 version of “Svengali” will always be a film worth seeing for Barrymore’s humorous villain, Marsh’s adorable heroine and those glorious expressionistic sets by Anton Grot on the early Warner Brothers sound stages.

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A Real Treat!

10/10
Author: MarcoAntonio1
5 August 2005

I just love this version of the classic tale “Trilby”. John Barrymore is excellent as Svengali and pretty Marian Marsh is utterly charming as Trilby. The film has a very bohemian look and feel to it which is one of the reasons why you should enjoy it. The expressionistic sets were by Anton Grot and there is the famous striking miniature set of the rooftops of Paris that the camera tracks over in the classic scene where Svengali wills Trilby from her apartment to his one stormy midnight. Warner Brothers paired Barrymore and Marsh once again in “The Mad Genius” which is a rather adult, pre-code story with Barrymore just as menacing as he is in “Svengali”, but not the demoniac that he is in this film. Note: The Roan Group (Roan Group.com) has the best DVD edition of “Svengali” available on the market.

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Fantastic design and Barrymore in his prime.

Author: Bobs-9 from Chicago, Illinois, USA
19 April 2004

The remark of an earlier commentator below caught my eye when he stated that the change in perspective from comedy to serious drama in this film didn’t work for him. I’ve found this to be a most striking feature of the film as well, but I always thought it very effective in giving the film, and the characters, more scope than the average uniform, by-the-book comedy, thriller, horror film, drama, etc. A bit like real life, no?

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Anyway, I’ve always been a fan of this film, and I don’t think the acting is at all hokey for its era or genre. The stylized acting of the time, which appears artificial by today’s standards, seems to me to go well with the weird expressionist set design in evoking a fantastic world where fantastic things can occur. Also, the chance to see Barrymore ham it up in grand style as Svengali is, in my view, a rare treat, like experiencing a bit of show biz history. I bristled a bit at the review of this film by Scott Weinberg of the Apollo Movie Guide (see “external reviews” link).

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He states that in 1931 you could entertain people by showing 75 minutes of an airport runway, and that his being born in the 70s may explain why this film put him to sleep. Maybe so. I myself was born in the 50s and also did not grow up with this style of filmmaking, though I probably saw more of it on TV than he did. That doesn’t preclude my appreciation of it, any more than it precludes my appreciation for films of the 70s, the 80s, or the 20s for that matter. Good film is good film, and having no appreciation for the first 3 decades of cinema and some of its greatest innovators seems a severe handicap for anyone who writes about film, but at least he was honest about it.

I’m not saying that this film is on a par with the work of Murnau or Eisenstein, but I do think it’s a fascinating and stylish look into a bygone era of cinema, and can be appreciated as such.

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“Himmell!! That Throat!!!”

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
9 October 2006

Historic note of interest: In the early 19th Century, there was a scandal involving the British General-in-Chief of the Armies (then fighting Napoleon) where his mistress was found to have been selling commissions to wealthy, but undeserving men, for high private fees. The General-in-Chief resigned in 1809 as a result of this scandal. He was Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, second oldest (and favorite) son of King George III. The mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, faced some legal problems, but triumphed over most of them (she actually had public opinion on her side).

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Ms Clarke would marry and have a family. Her grandson was George Du Maurier (more of later); Her great-grandson was Gerald Du Maurier, the leading stage actor of the first half of the 20th Century; Her great-great-granddaughter was Daphne Du Maurier, novelist (REBECCA, JAMAICA INN, FRENCHMAN’S CREEK, MY COUSIN RACHEL, THE SCAPEGOAT), and great-great-grandma’s sympathetic biographer (MARY ANNE). By the way, while Ms Clarke had quite a noteworthy progeny, the Duke of York never had any legitimate children, or illegitimate ones of note.

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But SVENGALI is not Daphne’s book. It is the chief novel of her grandfather George. By the way, the title of the novel is not SVENGALI, but TRILBY. Trilby O’Farrell is the heroine of the story, and Svengali is the villain (“Little Billee” is the hero). But in Svengali George Du Maurier created one of the most memorable villain figures in the 1880 and 1890s, with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula and Conan Doyle’s Professor James Moriarty, Anthony Hope’s Rupert of Hentzau and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Henry Jeckyll/Edward Hyde.

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Unfortunately there is an element in Svengali that is played down somewhat (but his appearance – based on the novel’s illustrations by Du Maurier (who was a successful cartoonist) emphasize without subtlety). Svengali is Jewish – and a real villain in the story. He is first seen as a hanger-on, and one who sneers at the attempts by Little Billee, Taffy, and the Laird to be artists. That is because he has his own powers, but he is looking for the right person to use them on. He finds that person in Trilby, a beautiful young girl, quite innocent, who works as a model. One day he examines Trilby’s throat somewhat bemusedly and discovers that it is perfectly formed for singing (hence the comment I put in the “Summary Box”).

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Up to that time she is falling for Billee, but soon Svengali is giving her all kinds of singing lessons. Billee and his friends note this with apprehension (they barely can tolerate Svengali). Then she becomes increasingly distant and cold to them, especially Billee. Soon she leaves with Svengali. Billee suffers a collapse as a result.

Billee recovers and in a few years learns that Trilby is the leading concert singer in Europe. But wherever she goes it is always with her impresario/husband Svengali. He “keeps an eye” on her and her activities. Billee can’t stand this, especially after an accidental meeting with her leads to a feeling she doesn’t even know who he is. He starts pursuing them, and finally drives to the fatal conclusion (which is quite different in the novel, but similar).

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I doubt if hypnotism really could do what Du Maurier suggested Svengali could do to Trilby. But this film certainly suggests it can. John Barrymore’s Svengali was the closest role (in his sound films; he had played Dr. Jeckyll in a silent film) to a horror part, but he manages to make the impresario/hypnotist/musician a sad and compelling figure: the tragedy for Barrymore’s Svengali is his success – he knows he controls Trilby (Marian Marsh), but that knowledge also brings doubt that she could ever love him or give herself to him on her own free will. It is a damning situation, and he does not know the answer until the last moment of the film. Svengali would be a hallmark role for Barrymore – he is a reference point in the role of Oscar Jaffe in the comedy TWENTIETH CENTURY, and a slightly watered down version is his unhappy impresario/husband to Jeanette MacDonald in MAYTIME.

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Platinum Blonde (1931)

Director:

Frank Capra (as Frank R. Capra)

Cinematography by

Joseph Walker

Platinum Blonde is a 1931 American pre-Code romantic comedy motion picture starring Jean Harlow, Robert Williams, and Loretta Young. The film was written by Jo Swerling and directed by Frank Capra. Platinum Blonde was Robert Williams’ last screen appearance; he died of peritonitis three days after the film’s October 31 release.

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Despite the film’s measure of positive reviews and star power, it wasn’t much of a hit at the box office, with returns around the country reported as “just fair” and “a bit disappointing”.

Primitive, pleasant Capra

10 July 2000 | by marcslopeSee all my reviews

Robert Williams plays the kind of role Spencer Tracy did time and again at Fox and MGM–the brash, likeable working man–and, in fact, the picture suggests a dry run of Tracy’s “Libeled Lady.”

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There’s a breach-of-promise suit, a roomful of reporters cracking wise, a rich-rich Long Island clan existing to be mocked, and the kind of farcical complications that made the newspaper comedy one of the ’30s’ most endearing genres. Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t as snappy as it thinks it is, and Jean Harlow is as miscast as a society dame as Loretta Young is as a world-weary reporter — the whole thing might have made more sense if they switched roles. The compensations, though, are many: Capra giving his actors brilliant bits of business (the “puttering” scene is an unsung classic), a roster of swell character actors, and some pre-Production Code naughtiness, including two very sexy love scenes between Williams and Harlow. Capra’s pace is slower than usual, and his later works had cleverer plot twists. His handling of actors, though, is as beautiful to behold as ever. And in Williams’ irresistible performance, we have a glimpse of a star that might have been.

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A Genius – Robert Williams – the great loss

8/10
Author: ytbufflo from mountainair nm
8 September 2004

Platinum Blonde launched so many careers – the most infamous being Frank Capra and Jean Harlow. It is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. The sound is bad, Harlow is terribly miscast, and poor Loretta Young struggles valiantly to bring depth to a part that is the filmic equivalent of wallpaper. As many have said before me, she and Harlow would have done well to reverse roles.

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But the greatest on screen portrayal of fresh, modern, naturalistic acting (a style that later would be attributed to James Dean) is from the wonderful, refreshingly brilliant young Robert Williams in 1931!!!!! I would never mark this film as a masterpiece, yet I would encourage all struggling male actors to study this man’s work as a prime example of how to dominate a scene without any artifice or aggression. Every time he enters a room, the whole film lights up, and every time he leaves, all the other actors seem to lose their purpose and energy.

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I have never seen such simple perfection, and I am saddened to no end to learn of his untimely death at thirty-four, just as he was starting to get roles worthy of his genius. I could not get enough of this man’s work, and regret having so little of it to view. An absolute must see for Robert Williams alone!

On November 3, 1931, three days after the premiere of Platinum Blonde, Williams died of peritonitis at Hollywood Hospital after undergoing two operations for acute appendicitis the previous week. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

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An early screwball comedy.

Author: newtonsmom6 from Evanston, IL.
20 November 2003

This a a very funny Harlow comedy. Jean Harlow is fantastic in it as the spoiled heiress. More than anything, what impressed me about this film is actor Robert Williams. He is so natural and likable that the film really belongs to him. I was sorry to learn that he died not long after this film was released. I’m sure if he had lived he would have been a huge star. Watch this film, if for no other reason, than to see his excellent performance.

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Poor Boy Marries Rich Girl

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
10 January 2009

In The Films Of Frank Capra Citadel Film Series and in his memoirs, Frank Capra described Platinum Blonde as a film that Columbia did strictly as a moneymaker, no messages of social significance that would be found in his later classic work, just a nice girl-boy-girl comedy. Still and probably because Robert Riskin did some of the dialog I found plenty of things that would be instantly recognizable in Capra’s more well known films.

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The Platinum Blonde is of course Jean Harlow and this film title gave her the title she would have the rest of her short life. She’s a society girl who sweeps reporter Robert Williams off his feet and into marriage much to the chagrin of her formidable dowager mother Louise Closser Hale.

Someone else is chagrined as well, Loretta Young who was only 18 when she made this film. Loretta and her sisters added a few years onto their ages in order to work back then. Loretta plays one of Williams fellow reporters who is known only by her last name of Gallagher. Just like Jean Arthur was known as Saunders in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Lots of similarities between the two though Arthur’s character was far more sophisticated than Young.

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Still Platinum Blonde more closely resembles Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. Williams is like Gary Cooper trapped in that big mansion. Only it was Cooper’s own mansion that he inherited. Robert Williams is in on a pass and on a kind of probation so to speak, to see if he can adjust to life among the idle rich. In 1931 lots of people would have liked to have been given the opportunity.

The only one in the household he strikes up some kind of friendship with is butler Halliwell Hobbes. Note the echo business with them, it would be repeated in Mr. Deeds.

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The week Platinum Blonde was released with reviews acclaiming Williams as a new star, he died of peritonitis. What an incredible loss, he was an actor with a breezy insouciance just like Robert Montgomery or William Haines over at MGM. He probably could also have done parts at Columbia that James Cagney was doing at Warner Brothers. Williams could have been Harry Cohn’s first major star of the sound era. Anyway his comic timing was perfect and he steals the film from those two movie legends who were his leading ladies.

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You’ll also like Reginald Owen’s portrayal as Harlow’s family attorney and general busybody. Williams also deals with him in the way Gary Cooper ultimately dealt with his shyster.

Platinum Blonde is one of Frank Capra’s best early films and watching it will make you sad though when you see Robert Williams and you will agree that he had a brilliant career ahead of him.

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“Night Nurse” (1931)

Director:

William A. Wellman

It Ain’t Young Doctor Kildare

14 January 2007 | by dougdoepke (Claremont,USA) – See all my reviews

Gritty depression era flick, showing why Warner Bros. was the studio of record. It’s tough broads here that get the leads. There’s Stanwyck (before her teeth were fixed) and Blondell (gum-popping her way through the Nurse’s Oath), both trying to survive grabby interns, unscrupulous doctors, murderous families, and no money. No, this isn’t Young Doctor Kildare. Just compare Night Nurse with that sappy 1940’s series for insight into what the Production Code did to social realism.

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Here nurses break the law, doctors violate their oath, and unless you go along, you don’t work. Not exactly the professional AMA image. Sure, it’s contrived melodrama. But there are elements of the real world here that would disappear from the screen for 35 years, courtesy the PC. Also included are gamey one-liners, mild strip scenes, and a really sardonic look at motherhood, along with a very scary Clark Gable. For a brief period from around 1930-34, Hollywood operated with the lid off, pressed by audiences with no work, no money and no prospects. Movies like NN reflect that reality, which was, of course, too unvarnished to survive. So catch up with this neglected period when you can, especially if the movie’s from Warner Bros., like this little gem.

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Tough Stanwyck Drama

10/10
Author: Ron Oliver (revilorest@juno.com) from Forest Ranch, CA
9 February 2004

The young NIGHT NURSE watching two sick little girls finds herself pitted against a gang of heartless criminals.

Barbara Stanwyck is a standout in this taut little film. Independent, resourceful and tough as nails, she pits herself against the bullying authority she encounters in the hospital and the absolute evil she must confront at the bizarre private home where she is sent to work. An intelligent & spirited actress, it was roles such as this which would hasten Stanwyck into becoming one of the biggest film stars of the 1930’s.

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A fine cast gives Stanwyck ample support. Ben Lyon plays the free spirited bootlegger who takes a shine to Barbara. Brassy Joan Blondell portrays her worldly wise roommate. Charles Winninger brightens his few scenes as a cherubic doctor, as does Edward Nugent as a flirtatious intern. Vera Lewis is properly implacable as the stern head nurse and Blanche Frederici adds a note of strangeness as a distraught housekeeper. Not yet a star, Clark Gable is very effective as a menacing chauffeur.

Movie mavens will recognize Willie Fung as a Chinese patient & Marcia Mae Jones as the sick child who needs the milk bath–both uncredited.

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The Pre-Code status of the film is readily apparent. Stanwyck & Blondell are viewed in their lingerie as often as possible and Stanwyck must suffer some mighty rough handling from various villains in the movie. Capping it all off, Barbara exits the film with her new boyfriend, an unrepentant & unpunished crook involved in everything from thievery to murder, a situation certainly not allowed just a few years later.
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why this is the best film ever (especially if you are a pediatric night nurse)

10/10
Author: mucifer
8 November 1998

“Night Nurse” is my favorite film , in a big way sister! This movie contains humor on various levels. Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell are 2 tough broads who can hold their own against the evil Doctor Granger and even “Nick The Chauffeur” played by Clark Gable. It does help to be an actual pediatric night nurse to understand this movie to its full potential. The camp is both intentional and unintentional. The movie has a rebel flair with the nurses mouthing off to authority and even befriending a bootlegger (who is one of the heroes of the film).The movie is pre-code so it’s pretty spicy for the 30’s . You can even see Barbara and Joan in their skivvies.The medical lingo is very amusing. Barbara Stanwyck’s character has “blood type 4h” and they got some very pudgy little kids to play the starving children. I own the video and have passed it along to co-workers who are also pediatric night nurses and it has become a cult favorite amongst my collegues.

 

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Good Night, Nurse!

Author: lugonian from Kissimmee, Florida
3 May 2002

“Night Nurse” (WB, 1931), directed by William A. Wellman, is not your ordinary hospital drama in the league of late 1930s “Dr. Kildare” series at MGM or the program “Nurse Keate” mysteries at Warners. It’s a pre-production code, risqué hospital drama featuring a lone nurse (Barbara Stanwyck) surrounded by those of the medical profession who do more than examine and cure for humanity. But not all doctors and nurses are the villains here. There is even a chauffeur named Nick, who makes James Cagney’s ‘Public Enemy’ character look more like a boy scout in comparison. But at 71 minutes, director Wellman fills this drama with plenty of sound and fury.

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The storyline involves Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck), a young woman who obtains a nurses position at a hospital where she must follow strict rules and regulations, given an hour off to herself a day and only one night off a week. She rooms with Maloney (Joan Blondell), a sassy blonde who believes that rules are meant to be broken. Later, Lora is hired as a private nurse to care for two fatherless little girls who happen to be the heirs to a large fortune. Their mother, Mrs. Ritchey (Charlotte Merriam) prefers to enjoy herself by smoking cigarettes, being drunk and entertaining herself at all night parties surrounded by low-life people. At the same time, Mrs. Ritchey’s chauffeur, Nick (Clark Gable), intends on having those girls starved to death in order to obtain their trust fund after marrying their mother. When Lora learns of this evil plot, she notifies Dr. Ranger (Ralf Harolde) for advise, unaware that he may also part of the plot.

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In the opening segment of the video cassette copy of “Night Nurse,” which is introduced by movie critic Leonard Maltin, he mentions that no one could have played the role better in “Night Nurse” than Barbara Stanwyck. Agreed! She gives her character an injection of toughness and sincerity. In one of its television presentations on Turner Classic Movies, host Robert Osborne mentioned that the role for Nick, the chauffeur, was originally intended for a young James Cagney, who recently scored big time success with the release of “The Public Enemy” (1931), also directed by Wellman. Although Cagney might have pulled it off, Gable is far better suited for this particular role mainly because of his forceful appearance, strong approach and firm voice.

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When he introduces himself to Nurse Hart (Stanwyck) in saying, loud and clear, “I’m NICK, the CHAUFFEUR,” it shows how threatening his character can be. Cagney wouldn’t have done this as well. Yet this is the same Gable, minus his famous mustache and likable personality, shortly before his long reign as MGM’s “King of the Movies,”, who not only beats up the weaker sex here, but gets to meet his match in Nurse Hart. Aside from Gable’s slapping and socking his victims, along with making threats, Stanwyck pulls no punches when she socks an individual drunk in order to confront the mother to attend to her two abused daughters. When she finds that this drunken woman doesn’t care, Hart, in anger, looks directly at the drunken floozy on the floor and quips, “YOU MOTHER!”

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Also seen in the supporting cast are Ben Lyon, an actor in silent movies with a very well recorded distinctive voice, playing a bootlegger who identifies himself as Mortie near the film’s end; Charles Winninger as the kind-hearted Doctor Arthur Bell, who also gets the feel of Nick’s fist; Edward Nugent as an immoral intern who quotes this classic line to Stanwyck as she undresses: “Oh, don’t be embarrassed. You can’t show me a thing. I just came from the delivery room!”; Vera Lewis as Miss Dillon, the no-nonsense head nurse (and she means business); Blanche Frederici (another one of Nick’s punching bags); and Marcia Mae Jones and Betty Jane Graham as the Ritchey girls.

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After watching “Night Nurse,” one wonders how many movies of this sort distributed from other film studios are out there, if any. If “Night Nurse” were made today and released as is, it would present few thrills. But because it was made in 1931, “Night Nurse” is full of surprises, then and now, mainly because of how many scenes got passed the censors. Even the topic of child abuse was a screen rarity during that time.

Rarely shown in recent decades, thanks to Ted Turner and his classic movie channel and video distribution through MGM/UA, “Night Nurse” can be seen, and really seen to be believed. Maybe the movie itself does go overboard, but it’s really worth a look mainly because of the cast and tough direction in storytelling. This is vintage Stanwyck at her best, especially when wearing her slightly over-sized nurses uniform. And due to the frankness of director Wellman, he gives the movie the shot in the arm it needs.

And one final word of warning, BEWARE OF NICK THE CHAUFFEUR! (***)

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Possessed (1931)

Marian Martin (Joan Crawford) is a factory girl living with her mother in the working class section of Erie PA. Factory boy Al Manning (Wallace Ford) hopes to marry her, but Marian is determined to find a better life. When a train makes a stop in town, Marian looks through the windows and sees the wealthy passengers. She then makes the acquaintance of one of the train passengers, Wally Stuart (Richard “Skeets” Gallagher), a New Yorker who gives her champagne and writes down his address, telling her to look him up if she ever makes it to New York. Marian, now tipsy from the champagne, happily returns home. Giggling, she tells Al and her mother that she was drinking down by the railroad tracks.

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Al, who was waiting for her and accuses her of being drunk, spots the piece of paper containing Wally’s address in Marian’s hand, grabs it from her, and tears it up. He then tells Marian that her actions are inappropriate and that she’s staying with him. Marian lashes out, telling Al and her mother that no one owns her and that her life belongs to herself. She grabs the torn paper shreds up from the floor and pastes them back together, then leaves for New York City. There, she looks up Wally who gives her some advice on meeting and keeping wealthy men, which Marian uses to begin a relationship with his friend Mark Whitney (Clark Gable), a divorced attorney.

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She eventually becomes Mark’s mistress and he provides her with a complete make-over, educating her in the arts and culture of his social set. Three years pass and the two entertain with brio and style. Marian and Mark fall in love. To cover the fact of Marian being his kept woman, Mark devises a made-up back story of her being “Mrs. Moreland”, a wealthy divorcee living comfortably off her alimony.

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Some time later, Al, now running a prosperous cement business, comes to the city hoping to land a big contract. He sees Marian and asks her to marry him, but she refuses. When Al learns that Marian is friends with Mark, Al hopes he can use Mark to help land that contract. Al has no idea of Marian and Mark’s true relationship. When Mark decides to run for gubernatorial office, however, friends caution him that his relationship with Marian is a serious liability. When she overhears Mark talking with some politicians, she learns that he now plans to marry her, despite the fact that their relationship would cause a scandal. To support his gubernatorial bid, she lies to Mark, telling him that she no longer loves him. She tells him that she is going to marry Al instead.

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Marian decides to tell Al the truth. He rebuffs her, saying that he could never marry such a woman. He changes his mind when he realizes that in shutting her out of his life, he is also burning his bridges with Mark and that highway contract.

A political rival learns of Marian’s true identity and plans to leak that information at one of Mark’s political rallies. At that rally, Mark has the crowd generally on his side. No one is aware that Marian is in the audience. His political rivals then drop shards of paper from the auditorium ceiling, each piece of paper with the text, “Who is Mrs. Moreland?” written on it. Seeing that text on the paper, Mark has a worried look on his face, he not knowing what to do. As the crowd rumbles, Marian steps up from the audience and tells them that she is Mrs. Moreland, and that Mark has always been an honorable man, who once belonged to her, but now belongs to them. The crowd cheers as she, sobbing, leaves. Outside, Mark catches up to her and tells her that from now on they will be together no matter what. Mark legitimizes their relationship by proposing marriage.

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Fast-paced and racy

13 October 2003 | by preppy-3 (United States) – See all my reviews

Poor factory girl (Joan Crawford) goes to New York to find fame and fortune. She quickly becomes a “kept” woman for a rich lawyer (Clark Gable–without his moustache). But she can’t keep her past away forever and things start to go terribly wrong.

Strong (for 1931), short (71 minutes) pre-Code drama. The script is sharp and believable, the direction good and there are some incredibly lavish settings. Also Crawford and Gable are just great in their roles and both of them look incredibly beautiful. There was a brief part at the end that I didn’t buy, but that didn’t destroy the picture at all. Well worth seeing for anybody, but a definite must for Crawford and Gable fans.

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A Woman’s Struggle

7/10
Author: Jem Odewahn from Australia
15 March 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Clarence Brown’s Pre-Code 1931 drama POSSESSED is an engaging film enhanced considerably by the star presence of a young and beautiful Joan Crawford.

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Crawford shines as poor factory worker Marian Martin, a girl from the “wrong side of the tracks”. After another grubby day on the assembly line and an unwanted proposal from a poor suitor (Wallace Ford) Marian glimpses another side of life on a train passing through town. She makes her way to the city and quickly finds that as a woman she must make more than a few sacrifices if she is to enjoy the “good life”. Meeting handsome lawyer Mark Whitney (Clark Gable)makes all her financial dreams come true, yet Marian still longs for the one thing Whitney will not give her-a marriage proposal.

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Brown creates an effective melodrama that interestingly examines some of the social mores and topical concerns of the 1930’s. The position of women in society is the key theme addressed by the competent director, with Crawford’s portrayal being both realistic and touching. Crawford makes great use of the close-up to express inner thoughts and feelings, suggesting a whole range of emotions when she overhears Gable speak of his reluctance towards marriage. Crawford is the film’s best asset and she does some great work here, providing the most memorable scenes in the picture.

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The film’s other triumph is the slick narrative economy employed by Brown. POSSESSED clocks in at around 73 minutes and is a very efficiently-produced film. MGM’s trademark opulent production design suits the penthouse scenes well, with Crawford looking terrific in jewels and well-cut dresses. Cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh provides some inspired visual style in an early scene that sees Marian standing in awe at the luxury and splendor passing by her on the train. The juxtaposition of Marian’s two lifestyles in this short sequence is a nice effect.

The film is let down by Gable’s distinct blandness and an average script. Gable conspicuously lacks presence alongside Crawford in their scenes and his dialogue delivery is very wooden here. I have noticed that in Gable’s early films he really did have trouble trying to emote on camera. Luckily for Gable, Crawford manages to cover for him in their romantic scenes, putting in a top-drawer ‘cover all bases’ performance.

Worth seeing for Crawford, the themes and it’s production design.

7/10.

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Lady for a Day (1933)

Director:

Frank Capra

A gangster tries to make Apple Annie, the Times Square apple seller, a lady for a day.
Apple Annie is an indigent woman who has always written to her daughter in Spain that she is a member of New York’s high society. With her daughter suddenly en route to America with her new fiancé and his father, a member of Spain’s aristocracy, Annie must continue her pretense of wealth or the count will not give his blessing. She gets unexpected help from Dave the Dude, a well-known figure in underground circles who considers Annie his good luck charm, and who obtains for her a luxury apartment to entertain the visitors – but this uncharacteristic act of kindness from a man with a disreputable reputation arouses suspicions, leading to complications which further cause things to not always go quite as planned.
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Great early Capra

28 July 2004 | by dfree30684 (United States) – See all my reviews

this is the film that precedes IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT for the team of Frank Capra (director) and Robert Riskin (screenwriter). Sadly it’s not regarded as one of his beloved classics…it deserves to be. William Warren is the perfect Dave the Dude, who’s heart of gold aids the distressed aged damsel (May Robson…the titled LADY FOR A DAY). Most of it’s innocent charm and humor haven’t faded over the 71 years since it’s release. Speaking of 70’s…at 74 May Robson was the oldest actress to receive a Best Actress nomination.

the scene near the end; where she’s received by the real mayor of New York and his party guests at her phony party (meant to show off her “society” friends to her daughter, and future inlaws) is priceless. Miss Robson’s quiet, teary eyed smile will still bring the viewer to near tears today. Also, Guy Kibbie, and Ned Sparks provide reliable comic support. a must see for all Capra fans.

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I may have to change my mind about Capra!

9/10
Author: Ursula 2.7T from my sofa
23 February 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I’m no Capra fan, but here’s a second movie of his (along with “The Miracle Woman”) that I just loved. Maybe his pre-Codes are better than his other movies? I may have to change my mind about Capra, or at least see some more of his pre-Code movies; they’re terrific!

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This movie was sweet and touching, without being sickening sweet or melodramatic. This movie also has lots of humor and some great dialogue. This 72-yr-old movie holds up extremely well. I was utterly charmed by this movie.

The story revolves around an elderly woman, Apple Annie, who is quite poor. She sells apples for a living and sends all her money to her daughter, Louise, who lives in Spain. Annie is ashamed of her lifestyle, and she leads her daughter to believe she’s a high-society lady by writing letters on the stationery of a posh hotel. Annie even has a friend on the inside of the hotel who passes Louise’s letters that are sent to the hotel to Annie.

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One of Apple Annie’s clients is “Dave the Dude”, the head of a local mob. Before he does any business dealings, Dave always buys an apple from Annie for good luck.

Well, not to spoil the movie too much, let me just say that Annie finds out her daughter is coming to town (New York) and she panics. Her panhandler friends talk Dave into setting Annie up in a suite at the posh hotel so that she can continue the pretense for her daughter’s sake. Dave gets most of his mobster and street friends involved in one way or another — the potential is here for great sappiness, but amazingly the story unfolds with just pure sweetness and lots of humor that has held up very well over the past 3/4-century.

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The performances by the lead actors were terrific. May Robson as Annie was wonderful; she gave a tender, subtle performance as the mother who loved her daughter so much, yet was so ashamed of the way she (Annie) lived. Warren William was terrific as Dave the Dude – I think his was probably the toughest role to play as he had to be a “bad guy” mob head as well as a softie who went out of his way to make Annie a lady for a day. Guy Kibbee as Annie’s husband was superb, a common pool hustler who played an upper-crust gentleman. The rest of the cast were pretty good too … I especially enjoyed the actor who played the dry and sardonic “Happy”; he had some of the best lines in the show.

So, in conclusion, snappy dialogue, nice mix of drama and humor, and just the right amount of sweetness make for a wonderful pre-Code movie. If you enjoy old movies, this is a movie that you definitely won’t be sorry you watched. Highly recommended.

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It Made Columbia Pictures With A Second Choice Cast

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
12 February 2008

Back in the days of the studio system only one B picture outfit managed to vault itself into the big time and compete with the majors. That studio was Harry Cohn’s Columbia and the film that did it was Frank Capra’s Lady For A Day.

In his very candid memoirs Capra said unabashedly that his goal was to win one of those statues nicknamed Oscar. The Motion Picture Academy Awards were only five years old, but still the awards were coveted then because it meant prestige and far bigger salaries and in a director’s case, bigger budgets to work with.

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Capra said he tried and failed with a very arty film, The Bitter Tea of General Yen which lost money for Columbia and Cohn. He set out try it a different way with a sentimental story from that most sentimental of writers, Damon Runyon. The original story was entitled Madame LaGimp and it was about a street beggar who the great city of New York takes to its heart for a brief period with the assistance of a gangster with a streak of sentiment.

But this was Columbia, the poverty row studio so Capra couldn’t get the only old lady movie star around in Marie Dressler from MGM. May Robson was his second choice for Apple Annie, the street beggar who has a daughter in a convent school in Spain and engaged to marry into Spanish nobility.

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As for the gangster Capra wanted James Cagney, but Harry Cohn couldn’t pry him loose from Jack Warner. He was offered Warren William instead and certainly the dapper and elegant William played a different kind of gangster than Cagney would have. For William’s moll, Capra’s partner and screenwriter for Lady for a Day Robert Riskin persuaded his then girl friend Glenda Farrell to take the part. She Jack Warner was willing to part with.

With the great skill that Capra had in casting his films, some of the best character actors around like Guy Kibbee, Nat Pendleton, Ned Sparks, and Walter Connolly filled out his roster. A lot of these people would work for Frank Capra again and again.

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Came Oscar time and Lady for a Day had the great distinction of being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay adapted from another source. This was the first film from Columbia Pictures that was ever nominated for anything by the Motion Picture Academy. May Robson made Capra forget he ever wanted Marie Dressler. Unfortunately she lost to a young actress picking up her first of four Oscars, Katharine Hepburn.

Riskin lost to the writers of Little Women and the film itself lost that year to the British story Cavalcade. One of the most embarrassing moments in Frank Capra’s life occurred when Awards host Will Rogers in announcing the Best Director said “come up and get it Frank.”

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Capra rose thinking it was him and the spotlights came down on him. Then there was a frantic buzzing and the spotlight shifted to the opposite side of the hall where Frank Lloyd got up to accept the award that was meant for him for directing Cavalcade. Talk about feeling like a nickel looking for change.

However next year Capra’s next film It Happened One Night swept all the major Oscars including his first. It sounds like something that only could have happened in a Frank Capra movie.

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Lady for a Day Themes and Thoughts

9/10
Author: Shadow10262000 from United States
16 March 2006
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Things aren’t always what they seem. A person may appear to be rich, happy, and enjoying life, when in fact they are poorer than dirt, have not smiled in days, and are just miserable everyday. Apple Annie was a woman who didn’t live in the best of circumstances but she made the best of what she had. She sold apples to earn money to send to her daughter living in Spain. Such a kind old woman who is trying her best to survive, and she makes that best of her poor little life. She has made many friends in her life some poorer than her and other who are well enough off to not even worry about money. An acquaintance that she has, Dave the Dude, is a well off man, although it is not of total honest ways, as he is the leader of a gang, but he is always kind to Apple Annie and believes that she is good luck for him. He believes that an apple a day does more than keep the doctor away, it keeps the cops away as well as gives him luck in his dealings. Not quite the fairy tale that one would expect but maybe it is. Is it possible that bad guys have good qualities? Can a grown man believe in a fairy tale? Can a lie really turn out to be good or must it be covered up by a string of more lies.

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In Lady for a Day we see much of a fairy tale made of lies come to life through the kindness of a mobster. Annie is embarrassed about her standard of living, and sets up the allusion to her daughter that Annie is a lady of the upper class. She writes letters on the stationery of a classy hotel. She has set up a seemingly harmless lie that she is doing better in life than she really is. This is fine until Louise sends a letter saying she is coming home and bringing a suitor and his father Count Romero. Now Annie finds herself in a bind. She must cover up this lie so that her daughter can keep her lover. Annie fears that if she does not live up to the life style, which her daughter thinks she has, everything will fall apart.

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Her penniless friends talk Dave the Dude into setting Annie up in a room at the classy hotel so that she can go on her lie. Dave who is a bad guy in the sight of the law has a touch of good in him. He believes that he can help what he sees as a fairy tale to come to pass. A parallel to Cinderella Dave becomes the fairy godmother that helps dear Annie to live her dream. But this is not a simple answer. Now that Annie has her classy suite in the hotel, there is more of the story that she has to fulfill. The story follows a perfect line of events. We see the objective of Annie and the obstacles that she must over come. The action just starts rising from the moment she gets the letter from the hotel manager. She has to find her second husband, and even throw a party for the Count before they leave.

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The point in the movie where I was on the edge of my seat was when we were waiting for Dave and his gangster friends to arrive at this classy party. Leave it to the police to draw out what seems to be a simple gathering to put a stop to the gangster’s sinister plans. What a way to bring the movie to a climax. The resolution finally comes after a little added suspense of Dave being arrested, almost. The party goes on with a few unexpected guests; the police chief and even the governor play in to this fairy tale to help it have a happy ending. And the story ends on what could be a happy note, an end to a string of lies, but then again it could be just the beginning of a happily ever after marriage.

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Frank Capra’s Cinderella Story

10/10
Author: Ron Oliver (revilorest@juno.com) from Forest Ranch, CA
21 February 2000

An old apple seller on Broadway panics when she learns her daughter is returning to New York City with her European fiancé. What will happen when the girl discovers her mother is not a high society matron, as she supposes her to be? Only a notorious racketeer can help her become a LADY FOR A DAY.

May Robson is superb in this early Frank Capra film. She steals every scene she’s in as Apple Annie, the harridan sidewalk vendor. This was a plum role & Miss Robson knew how to exploit it to the limit. Glenda Farrell & Guy Kibbee are both excellent in supporting roles – she as a nightclub owner and he as an eccentric judge . Walter Connolly is fun as a suspicious Spanish Count. Warren William is good as Dave the Dude, the criminal boss who comes to Annie’s aid because her apples are good luck for him.

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Halliwell Hobbes is all proper British decorum as Annie’s borrowed butler. Acerbic Ned Sparks & dense Nat Pendleton are both enjoyable as the Dude’s henchmen. That’s an uncredited Ward Bond as the mounted policeman at the very beginning of the film.

This film is bursting with charm.

” May Robson Is Splendid As Apple Annie “

10/10
Author: PamelaShort from Canada
15 December 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you enjoy the film Pocketful Of Miracles, which was the remake of this film, I highly recommend watching Lady for a Day the original. I found a copy of a 1933 review for this charming film and it states ‘ a picture which evoked laughter and tears from an audience at the first showing,’ and it still hits the mark perfectly today as it did in 1933. May Robson was a superb choice to play Apple Annie and her performance is extremely splendid, she completely embodies the character of Annie, thus making her real and believable. Probably May Robson’s best performance ever. No one could have done a better job of playing the lovable old Judge Blake than the wonderful Guy Kibbee. Warren William adequately handles the role of Dave the Dude along with Glenda Farrell as Missouri Martin. A host of excellent supporting actors all give sufficient performances to make this amusing sentimental tale of the grey-haired Cinderella a very pleasurable and entertaining film. There are many fine synopsis written for this film, however Lady for a Day must be seen to be fully appreciated. This is also a terrific example of Frank Capra’s best work and one of the finest films from the 1930s.

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Counsellor at Law (1933)

Directed by William Wyler

Counsellor at Law is a 1933 American Pre-Code drama film directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Elmer Rice is based on his 1931 Broadway play of the same title.

The story focuses on several days in a critical juncture in the life of George Simon, who rose from his humble roots in a poor Jewish ghetto on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to become a shrewd, highly successful attorney.

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Earlier in his career, he allowed a guilty client to perjure himself on the witness stand because he believed the man could be rehabilitated if freed. Rival lawyer Francis Clark Baird has learned about the incident and is threatening to expose George, which will lead to his disbarment. The possibility of a public scandal horrifies his socialite wife Cora, who plans to flee to Europe with Roy Darwin. Devastated by his wife’s infidelity, George is about to leap from the window of his office in the Empire State Building when his secretary Regina, who is in love with him, comes to his rescue.

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After directing a series of films he considered inconsequential, William Wyler was happy to be assigned to a prestigious project based on a play that had enjoyed successful runs on Broadway and in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Producer Carl Laemmle Jr. paid $150,000 for the screen rights, an unusually high price tag during the Great Depression, and to ensure the film’s success he hired Elmer Rice to adapt his own play.

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In early August 1933, Wyler met Rice in Mexico City, where he was vacationing with his family, for preliminary discussions about the script. Rice was loath to mix business with pleasure and assured the director he would begin working as soon as his holiday ended. On August 22, he shipped a first draft from his New York office to Universal Pictures. Wyler approved of the screenplay, and principal photography was slated to begin on September 8.

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Laemmle wanted to cast Paul Muni as George Simon, the role he had created on stage, but the actor declined because he feared being typecast as Jewish. Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Schildkraut, and William Powell were considered before Laemmle decide to cast against type and offer the role to John Barrymore in order to capitalize on his box office appeal. Both Wyler and Rice wanted to cast

Soon after filming began, Wyler realized much of the material Rice had excised from his play was necessary to build scenes, and he began incorporating it back into the screenplay. Eventually he worked with both the screenplay and play script at hand, a procedure he would follow when making The Little Foxes in later years.

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Barrymore had signed for $25,000 per week, and Wyler was ordered to film all his scenes as quickly as possible. What should have taken two weeks ultimately took three-and-a-half because the actor could not remember his lines. After taking twenty-seven takes to complete one brief scene, Wyler decided to resort to cue cards strategically placed around the set. Also adding to delays was Barrymore’s heavy drinking, which frequently gave his face a puffy appearance that required the makeup crew to tape his jowls. Between dealing with Barrymore and trying to comply with Laemmle’s demands to complete the film on schedule and within the allotted budget, Wyler was tense and irritable and tended to take out his frustrations on the supporting cast

Three months after filming began, the film opened to critical and commercial success at Radio City Music Hall on December 11, 1933.

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performers from the various stage productions, and although several screen tests were made, most of the roles were filled by studio contract players. Vincent Sherman, who had been in the Chicago production, was signed to reprise his small role of Harry Becker, a young radical with Communist leanings; he later became a prolific film and television director. Another cast member, Richard Quine, then 13, similarly went on to a career as a director, writer and producer.

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It’s criminal that this superb melodrama, from a well-made play of the day, isn’t better known. Barrymore, all cylinders firing yet giving a perfectly natural, restrained performance, is a hotshot New York lawyer facing personal and professional ruin; he may never have been better in the movies, and some of the magnetism that made him a stage legend shines through. Wyler makes no attempt to “open up” the stage material; he basically confines it to one (very beautiful) set, and his camera unobtrusively follows the legal-office denizens around, seemingly overhearing conversations, Altman-style. There’s a lot of social history tucked away — with commentary about Jews and gentiles, rich and poor, capitalist and communist — and a whole stageful of compelling characters, who often define themselves in a walk, a smirk, a laugh. And yes, there are contrivances and coincidences, but that’s the stuff the well-made melodramas of the time were made of, and they were seldom constructed as neatly as this. I saw it at a revival house, with a smart New York audience, and nobody laughed in the wrong place or grew cynical about the old social conventions that no longer apply. In fact, at the end they applauded good and hard — after 70 years, this one’s still a corker.

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Mind-blowing

9/10
Author: Michael Bo (michael.bo@pol.dk) from Copenhagen, Denmark
6 January 2005

‘Counsellor at Law’ is guaranteed to take your breath away, even if you’re a child of the so-called MTV revolution of ultra-fast editing and relentless energy. It is more than 70 years old now, and it feels so new and invigorating.

John Barrymore, in the role of a lifetime, plays the brisk and matter-of-fact lawyer who came to his prestige, fortune and society-wife the hard way, cutting corners along the way, meddling in gray areas and doing a bit of shady business on the side. “I’m no golf player”, he says, and right he is. In the course of a work-day, the same day that his wife and his two overbearing step-children are on their way to Europe, he is accused of corruption and his whole world collapses around him, as he tries to evade his destiny.

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No synopsis of ‘Counsellor at Law’ can do the film justice. It is a manic, mind-blowing depiction of a breakdown, stressful and paranoiac. Barrymore’s character is completely alienated from his own family, because he originates from the working-class, the son a Jewish-German baker. During this one morning at work, before things start crashing down, Barrymore has a visit from a woman who wants him to defend her son who was arrested in Union Square in the middle of an inflammatory Communist speech. And it is not even lunch-time yet.

Rent this movie, even better: Buy it. You will want to watch it more than once. It is a bona fide masterpiece, filmed in William Wyler’s usual brilliantly organic style.

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Great Acting by John Barrymore

10/10
Author: whpratt1 from United States
3 January 2005

Always admired John Barrymore and his great acting skills and in this picture he plays a Jewish Lawyer, (George Simon),”Midnight”,’39, who is very successful and climbs to the top of his profession, not only helping the very rich but also his old time neighbors and especially is mother. William Wyler directed this great film classic and was able to help John Barrymore give an outstanding performance despite his drinking problem. It was in this picture that John Barrymore started to forget his lines and need cue cards, however, he gave an outstanding performance. The entire film was at a very fast pace with all the actors running through their dialog which was the practice during the early 1930’s. Melvyn Douglas,(Roy Darwin),”The Old Dark House”,’32, played a very brief role and managed to steal George Simon’s wife away from him on a cruise. This is a great film classic and worth the time to view.

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Hell Divers (1932)

Hell Divers is a 1932 American film starring Wallace Beery and Clark Gable as a pair of competing chief petty officers in early naval aviation. The film, made with the cooperation of the United States Navy, features considerable footage of flight operations on board the Navy’s second aircraft carrier, the USS Saratoga, including dramatic shots of takeoffs and landings filmed from the Curtiss F8C-4 Helldiver dive bombers after which the movie was named.

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Hell Divers was officially Gable’s first “starring” role and filmed before he grew his trademark mustache. Gable had appeared in a minor supporting role in another Beery film, The Secret Six, earlier the same year.. For Gable, Hell Divers was not a pleasant experience since he was again billed beneath Beery, an actor he personally disliked.Three years later, Gable would be billed over Beery in the lavish epic China Seas, one of only four films during the sound era in which Beery did not receive top billing. Other actors appearing include Conrad Nagel, Dorothy Jordan, Marjorie Rambeau and Marie Prevost. An uncredited Robert Young appears near the end of the film in a speaking role as Graham, a pilot.

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completely formulaic and STILL worth seeing!

18 March 2006 | by planktonrules (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

Okay, I know that most Wallace Beery films are pretty formulaic and superficial. However, this doesn’t mean they were bad. Very few of his films were bad, though many fall in the average category. However, occasionally, his films rose above the mundane, such as DINNER AT EIGHT, GRAND HOTEL, MIN AND BILL and this film. While I will admit this movie isn’t up to the standards of the three films I listed, it does approach them in quality and is a decent effort for him and new-comer Clark Gable. In particular, if you are a Gable or airplane buff, like me, you will love this film. It features a lot of great flying sequences you just won’t see in many films of the era. Our aircraft carriers and dirigibles just weren’t seen as being very important and weren’t shown in many films during the Depression era. So, from a purely historic point of view, this is an important film. When you add good acting and dialog and an exciting script, you have an excellent film well worth your time.

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Beery hams it up in sentimental Navy film

7/10
Author: BoYutz (steveduff@earthlink.net) from Seattle, WA
19 November 1999

Wallace Beery hams it up mercilessly as a ‘loveable slob’ of a Navy Chief Petty Officer on the USS Saratoga. His lofty position is soon challenged by a hard-nosed and far more competent young chief played by Clark Gable. Beery, rather than bring his own standard up, seeks to sabotage Gable, leading to several confrontations where Beery is ultimately outclassed. The film concludes with a sentimental but well-played ending.

The movie has many charms to offset its drawbacks. There is a lot of footage of the USS Saratoga, the Navy’s first big carrier, built on the hull of a cancelled battlecruiser. The Saratoga footage alone, along with that of other circa-1932 warships, makes this a must-see for naval buffs.

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This is also an early starring role for Gable, who plays his part well and looks every inch the young, dashing, competent CPO. Beery himself exudes charm despite overplaying his part. Look also for the ex-Mack Sennett bathing beauty Marie Prevost as the worldly Lulu.

Despite its uneven mix of comedy and drama, not to mention a boatload of Navy cliches, this movie is well worth watching, especially for Navy buffs.

Dated But Valuable Time Capsule Of early 1930’s US Navy

9/10
Author: verbusen from Fahaheel, Kuwait
8 October 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I guess I was more in joy watching this movie to see the hardware involved in this movie than the actual acting. I am a huge Gable fan, I don’t think there is a movie with him that I have not liked. However, this one was very early in his career and he does have a bad monologue moment that really surprised me that it made it into the script. Now I’m the first to defend a movie like Mask of Fu Manchu that seems to have been labeled as racist (by reviewers here) because of the portrayal of evil Asian characters out to get the White race, because that is a plausible storyline (because history has shown constant clashes of cultures, IE Imperial Japan). In this movie however, Clark Gable actually says in an argument with Berry’s CPO character that if he were to take over being the Leading Chief to the squadron that he first would “fumegate so a White Man could move in”

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. Now this movie has the US Navy’s hands all over this, the script had the leads as senior enlisted (which I love because I am Navy Enlisted and tired of all the Officer portrayal’s), they did that so the leads could get by with the off color happenings off of the ship, but a remark like that should never have gotten into any movie that the Navy approved. I looked up Gables filmography and it shows he made 12(!) movies in 1931 alone about 1/5 of his total talkies made! That said, and I’m sorry to point that out, the rest of the film is very entertaining. One reviewer here said Gable landed a plane while holding a bomb on a wing. If the reviewer was paying much attention, Gable did not land the plane he was the Rear Gunner/Radio Operator, doh! Berry is a real louse in this one, I really hate his guts cause he’s such a dirt-bag but I guess you gotta do what the script says (totally plausible character, I just hated it) I love most of Berry’s roles as a lovable dunce, but when he plays a heavy I’m not as entertained. Other characters of interest for me was a Jack Pennick sighting (getting socked by Berry for smoking while fueling a plane), the very familiar face in all the John Ford (and thus many John Wayne) westerns, I remember him most from being the old CPO in the Phillipino bar at the beginning of “They Were Expendable”, just reading his bio here at IMDb.com it says he was a WW1 AND WW2 vet and got a silver star at the age of 50, now thats a man’s man (thanks IMDb for such great info)!

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The planes used are I believe Vought O2U biplanes and these things when they are landing are going just barely over the speed of the carrier (USS Saratoga), and they have such a light weight and large wing surface area that they are like floating kites when they land (compared to the modern heavy jets that land with a THUD!). The carrier flight operations look extremely dangerous as these planes are ALL OVER THE PLACE! It was extremely exciting and interesting to watch. Other great footage that really entertained me was some great broadside shots of a row of battleships blasting off their 16″ guns, some very impressive shots with great audio! Highly recommended movie mainly for the archival evidence of US carrier operations in the infancy of the US Navy’s air wing. It would have been even cooler had the Saratoga steamed to Haiti or Nicuragua or a similar place where our Marine forces were conducting actual military battles, but in all likelihood this was not meant to show a really serious side of the Navy. Still, my kind of way to get entertained, good stuff!

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Lots To Recommend

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
16 December 2011

For years and years Hell Divers was not available and the only bit we saw from this film occurs in Wings Of Eagles where a clip from this is shown as some of the characters there remarked about that new young actor with the big ears who was proving to be a sensation. Ironic as all get out since Clark Gable had been let go three years earlier from MGM after being the franchise star that studio was built around. I certainly did want to see all of Hell Divers and I have to say I was not disappointed.

Wings Of Eagles was about Frank Wead who wrote the original story for Hell Divers and MGM spared no expense on the budget in bringing this one to the big screen. Some nice navy footage is integrated well into Wead’s story about two navy CPOS who are constantly at war with each other on and off duty. This was Clark Gable’s best role to date and he had to keep on his toes lest Wallace Beery steal the film. Which Beery certainly tries.

It’s really bad between the two of them as Beery hires Marie Prevost to come on to Gable in front of Dorothy Jordan who Gable wants to marry. Gable doesn’t take that lying down, but he doesn’t really have to do too much because Beery fouls up all on his own quite nicely. He even loses a grade in rank. In the end though Gable, Beery, and pilot Conrad Nagel are all in a tight spot and the navy comradeship comes through in the end.

Look also for a very nice and understated performance by Marjorie Rambeau who is Beery’s long suffering gal pal. She tries to smooth out some of the rough edges in Beery without success.

Naval aviation buffs will get a real treat looking at Uncle Sam’s Navy in 1930 and the Saratoga one of our earliest aircraft carriers. Lots to recommend with Hell Divers.

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Sky Devils (1932)

Directed by

Sky Devils (aka Ground Hogs) is a 1932 American Pre-Code aviation comedy film, starring Spencer Tracy as a draft dodger who blunders into a war zone.

Sky Devils was partly written by humorist Robert Benchley and the picture’s director A. Edward Sutherland from a story by Sutherland. The film features Ann Dvorak in a supporting role

In 1917, lifeguards Wilkie (Spencer Tracy) and Mitchell (George Cooper) who can not even swim, are trying to keep out of the war. When a man is drowning, U.S. Army Air Corps Sergeant Hogan (William Boyd) rescues the drowning man but they are quick to claim credit.

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When the pair go to a Red Cross benefit boxing match, they again encounter the sergeant, billed as “One Punch” Hogan but Wilkie surprisingly knocks him out, before sneaking out with Mitchell, as a crowd gathers. The two friends swear they will never join the Army but relent and later, wind up in uniform, shovelling manure. Determined to find a way out, Wilkie and Mitchell desert and head off to South America, hopping in a manure truck leaving the base.

After stowing away on a ship, they find out they are on a troop ship with Army Air Corps pilots going to France. Wilkie and Mitchell pretend they want to fly and are sent to train at an American aviation field. Doing their best to not become pilots, while on guard duty, Wilkie competes with Sgt. Hogan for the attentions of Fifi (Yola d’Avril), a French performer. After a dustup at a nightclub, the two rivals make a quick exit, hiding in a car driven by Mary Way (Ann Dvorak). Startled by the men, she crashes, but all are unharmed. Wilkie and Hogan escort her to an inn for the evening. In the morning, Wilkie has breakfast with Mary and cons Hogan into fixing her car.

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Military police looking for the two and come and arrest them, as well as Mary thought to be a spy. Wilkie, Hogan and Mary escape in an aircraft, but land in enemy territory and are captured. Accidentally releasing two bombs, they bomb a German munitions depot. The Air Corps colonel (Billy Bevan) sends a squadron to rescue the trio, with Mitchell scaring the Germans by his inept maneuvers.

After their rescue, the three heroes fly home but Wilkie again accidentally pulls the lever for the bomb release, this time bombing his own base.

Reception

Reviewer Mordaunt Hall at The New York Times, described the film as “… a boisterous affair, in which even the familiar mud-hole in the water is employed to arouse laughter. Yet, Mr. Boyd as Sergeant Hogan and Mr. Tracy as Private Wilkie attack their rôles with undeniable vigor. Many punches are exchanged and when that sort of thing gets tame a few bottles and glasses are broken, which is followed by automobile smash-ups and airplane crashes. Added to this there is the quasi-romantic side of the adventure, with Yola d’Avril and Ann Dvorak contributing their feminine wiles.

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Aviation film historians Hardwick and Schnepf, however, noted that Sky Devils was an example where “Howard Hughes figured he had made such a score with ‘Hell’s Angels/, he’d try it again with much of the same aerial footage and new stars. It bombed.

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This film is one of over 200 titles in the list of independent feature films made available for television presentation by Advance Television Pictures announced in Motion Picture Herald 4 April 1942. At this time, television broadcasting was in its infancy, almost totally curtailed by the advent of World War II, and would not continue to develop until 1945-1946.

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