Nearly the same plot as Spaced: two down-and-out strangers apply for a couples-only newspaper ad. But here, another popular 1930’s plot is thrown in: the rich guy pretending to be a commoner. Trouble in Paradise star Herbert Marshall is a futurist auto mogul, God’s own Jean Arthur (same year as The Whole Town’s Talking) can cook very well, and they’re hired as cook-and-butler by some fellas. He’s trying to stay in charge of the company he founded, she is arrested when his secret auto designs are found in her possession, their criminal employer Leo Carrillo proposes to Jean, Herbert doesn’t fool anyone for long and when he returns to his old life, Leo kidnaps him from his society wedding – it’s a lot for a 70-minute movie, and it mostly works thanks to the cast.

Immediately after watching a movie by rule-breaker iPhone-cinematographer Soderbergh, roughly his 30th feature, it was fun to catch up with his third, a period piece with relatively subdued editing and energy. The movies would seem to have nothing in common, except that I’d just read David Ehrlich’s review of High Flying Bird, saying that Soderbergh is “drawn to stories about people who try to steal back a measure of self-worth,” and that connects. So now I’ve seen all of his movies except Side Effects, and I guess Mosaic.

Our boy is Aaron, abandoned by both parents due to work and illness, he and his little brother attempt to live in a hotel room in Depression-era St. Louis with no food or income for as long as possible. He tries breeding canaries, dances with an epileptic neighbor, sees the arrest of Adrien Brody and suicide (!) of Spalding Gray while avoiding cops and death himself, and finally escapes the hotel when his travelling salesman father returns.

Gray and Elizabeth McGovern:

Aaron with Lauryn Hill:

Traveling salesman/con-man Moses (Ryan O’Neal of Barry Lyndon, The Driver) stops by the Missouri funeral of “a friend” and takes charge of the deceased’s daughter (and possibly his own) Addie (Tatum O’Neal, Ryan’s daughter). She proves to be at least as good with the cons as Moses, and she claims he owes her money and threatens to turn him in, so they stick together through Kansas. Moses gets sidetracked shacking up with the pampered Trixie (Madeline Kahn) so Addie schemes with Trixie’s maid Imogene to break them up. The rest of the movie is small-time scams and gradual bonding, all extremely winning.

Tatum O’Neal won an oscar for this. John Hillerman of Chinatown plays a dual role, Moses wrestles Randy Quaid. P-Bog’s fourth-ish feature, between What’s Up, Doc? and Daisy Miller. Screenwriter Alvin Sargent started in the 1950’s and is still around, writing Spider-Man sequels.

Tatum with Imogene (PJ Johnson):

Madeline and Ryan with charming desk clerk Burton Gilliam:

Weirdly, for one of the best romantic comedies of all time, I had much trouble remembering this a couple weeks later and had to look up the TCM synopsis – unlike The Good Fairy and Roman Holiday and High Society and What a Way to Go!, which I recalled as well as I ever do. So I’d better watch this again sometime.

Anyway, heiress Claudette Colbert (between Lubitsch films The Smiling Lieutenant and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife) is on the run from her overdetermined life and meets chivalrous Clark Gable on the bus. He’s a reporter who agrees to help her if he gets an exclusive story – shades of Roman Holiday – but unlike that movie, this is one of the madcap screwball comedies where writing out the plot would take longer than rewatching the movie – the gist being that the two of them fall gradually in love after spending much travel time together, and she finally flees her society wedding to stay with Gable.

Unhappy bride:

Criterion ad copy: “The first film to accomplish the very rare feat of sweeping all five major Oscar categories (best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay), It Happened One Night is among the most gracefully constructed and edited films of the early sound era, packed with clever situations and gags that have entered the Hollywood comedy pantheon and featuring two actors at the top of their game.”

S. Winer:

That first autobus ride is clearly an alien experience for the heiress, who has until this point remained unaware of the greater world around her. At first, she is uncomfortable with her fellow passengers, but eventually she joins them in song and then feels sympathetic pain for the plight of a mother and son who don’t have enough to eat. (Explicitly here, and implicitly throughout the film, Capra is making a brave choice for a romantic comedy by telling us that this is no movie fairyland but very real Depression America — where buses might serve those who could no longer afford cars and hitchhiking those who could afford neither.)

F. Nehme:

In what must be the movie’s most famous scene (although it has a lot of competition), Pete demonstrates, at length and with a fantastic amount of condescension, the proper way to hitchhike: “It’s all in the thumb.” Ellie, splendidly deadpan, watches an entire traffic jam’s worth of cars zip by Pete and his magic thumb, then slinks over and lifts her hem to reveal one of the loveliest legs in movie history. Cut to slamming brakes, then the couple in the rumble seat of a car. But here’s the thing: The man who has stopped (played by Alan Hale) turns out to be a road thief, bent on stealing their remaining suitcase. For all Ellie’s triumph, the creep was looking for a mark, and probably would have stopped in any event.

Endless, rambling bio-pic about a theater producer who always planned bigger shows than he could afford, with enthusiasm that proved contagious to financial backers. Semi-falsely billed as a William Powell/Myrna Loy movie, since she plays his second wife, appearing in the last half hour of the three-hour movie. Good scenes (especially the lavish musical numbers) and acting, but the story is bloated with details from Ziegfeld’s life that just aren’t necessary to the plot or character, starting with an opening scene with his father and a little girl (who returns hours/years later to dance in one of his shows, but so what).

Powell was between The Thin Man and its first sequel. He runs a circus act with strongman Sandow (Nat Pendleton of two Thin Man movies), then marries his star Anna Held (Luise Rainer, winning back-to-back oscars with this and The Good Earth) after moving to Broadway shows. Anna carries her whole show, but Ziegfeld wants to do something bigger (he gives the impression of having a short attention span), so he starts the Follies, a musical comedy variety show that changes every year. Some ups, some downs, he seems washed up then opens four Broadway hits at the same time, then falls broke/sick/dead when the market crashes.

Myrna Loy’s character is Billie Burke, the good witch of The Wizard of Oz, and Frank Morgan (Ziegfeld’s main friend/rival) played The Wizard himself. Surprisingly, Will Rogers was dead and that was a Will Rogers impersonator in his scene.

Written by one of Ziegfeld’s main show writers. Won best picture and actress (Luise Rainer). Frank Capra, The Story of Louis Pasteur and Dodsworth took the rest. Got a semi-sequel in Ziegfeld Girl, also by Robert “Ziegfeld” Leonard with Busby Berkeley (it’s shorter, with Judy Garland = probably a better movie), and the music and comedy revue Ziegfeld Follies, featuring Powell as the dead Ziegfeld.