Musical in which Jessie Matthews (in one of Hitchcock’s least-known movies the same year) plays a stage star who disappears to have a secret daughter, and years later plays the secret daughter, who gets a job onstage impersonating her mother. Intro music hall scene reminds of the beginning of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, not in a good way, but the movie picks up. Jessie’s love interest Barry MacKay played Fred Scrooge in A Christmas Carol a few years later, and I could tell you more about the movie if I hadn’t let 45 quarantine days pass before trying to write about it.
Ford directed at least 25 movies in the 1930’s – this one was made soon after Judge Priest. We watched this for Jean Arthur (a couple years before Easy Living), and a bonus was the really impressive dual acting by Edward G. Robinson and all manner of effects used to make him into two people: a bland office worker, and a bank robber nicknamed Killer. Robinson is turned into the cops by busybody Donald Meek (Stagecoach, etc), so the cops give him a signed letter saying he’s not the killer but a lookalike – of course this gets into the newspapers, since everything back then got into the newspapers, so Killer comes looking for his lookalike, steals the letter and forces the bland Robinson to cover for him. But Bland Robinson’s secret is that he’s a creepy stalker for his lovely coworker Jean Arthur, so when she’s endangered by all this activity, our man steps up and saves the day. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought crime comedies to be in John Ford’s wheelhouse, but dude’s wheelhouse was extremely large.
We watch classic musicals sometimes. I never thought a 1930’s backstage drama starring James Cagney as an obsessed showman, costarring with the entire Gold Diggers of 1933 cast, would turn out to be the elusive Perfect Film, but there ya go.
Never seen this, and I’d steeled myself for a first half of boring scientist buildup, but nope, he arrives at an inn, already invisible and in a terrible mood. This was a good pick, excellent and humorous, as I should’ve expected, coming between The Old Dark House and Bride of Frankenstein.
While the voice of Claude Rains is off being invisible and trying to complete his studies if only the other residents would leave him alone, his mustachey coworker Kemp (William Harrigan of Flying Leathernecks) takes the opportunity to mack on Claude’s girl Gloria Stuart.
The innkeepers curse their luck:
At the inn, the highlight is Una O’Connor, who has a terrific scream. Claude’s only special powers are to beat people up while invisible, and fuck with their heads – the news reports the so-called invisible man as a group delusion, a bumpkin madness, but things escalate when he kills a cop halfway through the movie.
Clarence and Gloria hear the bad news:
Kemp and Gloria arrive along with her scientist dad Clarence, who says the chemicals in Claude’s invisibility formula can cause madness. Proving his point, Claude kills 100+ innocents by wrecking a train and tearing through his own search party, then murders Kemp, sending his car off a cliff. Since neither science nor the love of Gloria Stuart can tame him, the townsfolk hunt the guy down.
Played at the second Venice Film Festival, with Little Women, Twentieth Century, It Happened One Night, and
Golden Lion Mussolini Cup winner Man of Aran. One of the five classic Universal monster movies, all of which got multiple sequels. Joe May would direct Invisible Vincent Price in 1940, and the same year Virginia Bruce would play The Invisible Woman, though of course she doesn’t get to be a scientist, she just answered a newspaper ad placed by Dr. John Barrymore. Jon Hall fought nazis as The Invisible Agent, returned for his Revenge two years later, then Arthur Franz got invisible with Abbott and Costello. There have been plenty more invisible (and Hollow) men and women, and it looks like the guy who made Upgrade is rebooting the original next year with Elisabeth Moss.
Katy and I settled in for a month of pre-code Stanwycks on Criterion and… we only made it through this one. The new doc featuring Catherine Russell and Imogen Sara Smith was certainly more engaging than the film. It’s short though, full of nurses undressing and Stanwyck solving the mystery of why her employer’s chauffeur (Clark Gable, a couple years before It Happened One Night) is slowly killing the children of the house, punching lots of people, and somehow staying employed. Stanwyck gets romanced by a bootlegger (Hell’s Angels star Ben Lyon), saves the children, and I think Gable gets murdered offscreen. Costarring Joan Blondell, who appeared in the other 1931 William Wellman movie I’ve seen.
Honestly, even just a month after watching 78/52, Vivian Leigh did not look familiar here. I have a Vivan Leigh facial recognition problem. We both enjoyed seeing the young, fiery, sexy version of Rex Harrison, who plays an extremely principled reporter who falls for the daughter of the mayor he’s attacking in print. The mayor is the sort of cartoonishly blinkered rich asshole who finally gets in trouble for ordering the death of a poor woman’s dog. Codirector Dalrymple was better known for his writing, for which he got two oscar nominations the following year.
Poor dogless Sara Allgood, in montage-dissolve against a raging storm:
Rex and Viv:
Mayor Cecil Parker gives his big speech… have I mentioned this is set in Scotland?
I guess the title refers to the ultimate horror, that in darkest Haiti, not only the deceased natives are being resurrected as workhorse zombie slaves but… white people, too! Good evocative opening, the clueless foreigners arriving to encounter a burial in the middle of the road (to avoid grave robbing) then asking directions from local zombiemaster Bela Lugosi. Of course the Christian missionary has been here 30 years and insists all this zombie nonsense is primitive superstition, but even he comes around by the end.
How are hipsters not waxing their eyebrows like this?
Since all 1930’s movies are about two white people wanting to be married, we’ve got Neil (John Harron of Satan in Sables, Karloff’s The Invisible Menace): simple, impulsive, a very slow learner… and Madeline (Madge Bellamy, star of Lazybones, who would later become infamous for shooting her millionaire ex-lover)… who is also desired by local fancyman Beaumont (Robert Frazer of The Vampire Bat), who has hired Neil in order to get closer to Mads. Beau fails to woo her from Neil, so he poisons her at the wedding, then has Lugosi resurrect her to marry.
“Surely you don’t think she’s alive in the hands of natives? Oh no, better dead than that!”
Even dense Neil figures out what has happened, teaming up with the pipe-smoking missionary (Joseph Cawthorn, William Powell’s dad in The Great Ziegfeld) to meet Haitian Witch Doctor Pierre (played by a Brit) for advice, learning that houses of the living dead can be identified by nearby vultures (played by hawks or falcons). Meanwhile Beau is bummed that Zombie Mads has no facial expressions or speech or emotions (but can still play piano), gets zombified himself for daring to complain to Lugosi about it. After a couple of attempted murders and a slow-motion shove-fight atop a cliff, Lugosi falls dead and Mads awakens (so her resurrection was permanent, but her stupor-state was maintained by Lugosi’s will?). Mostly the movie seems important for its historical place as the first zombie film, and for its wealth of Bela Lugosi poses and expressions, silently controlling zombies with hand gestures like he’s playing a Wii game.
Beau and Mads:
Nice pose… but not a vulture:
Produced by Victor’s brother Edward, the two Halperins also made a loose sequel set in Cambodia, gangster KKK drama Nation Aflame, and the Carole Lombard ghost thriller Supernatural.
Sometimes after a very long Monday, you ask the laptop, “what’s the shortest, dumbest movie we’ve got,” and the laptop says how about that Marx Brothers movie that you can never remember if you’ve seen or not because it has the same title as a Howard Hawks movie you’ve definitely seen, and you go “sure okay.”
Appropriate title for a movie that’s just a bunch of fooling around. The Four Marx Brothers – even Zeppo, who is properly integrated with the others for once – stowaway on a ship, then anarchy ensues. A couple of warring gangsters are aboard, so the guys split alliances and mess with everyone. There’s plenty of music, and Thelma Todd of Horse Feathers (who would die suspiciously before she was 30), and a gangster’s daughter whom Zeppo likes. There’s a character named Alkie Briggs (Harry Woods, who played the coward Robert Ford in one of the first Jesse James movies) which makes me wish I wrote movies just so I could reuse the name Alkie. And I forget exactly why Harpo had Maurice Chevalier’s passport.
Groucho and Thelma take a break from the action:
Barbara Stanwyck is great as ever, and maybe the movie itself isn’t great, but it’s something we didn’t think ever existed. You hear that the 1930’s pre-codes were edgy, and you see Mae West‘s bawdy humor, but you never expect to see Barbara – pushed by a Nietzsche-quoting crank – to screw her way up the ladder of a bank, finally getting the president to marry her and inspiring two suicides along the way.
Barbara has mixed feelings watching her dad burn up:
Predicting another of her movies, eight years early:
Barbara’s dad Robert Barrat is a crabby bartender, pimping out his daughter until his stillhouse explodes with him inside, so Lily (heh) moves to the city with her buddy Theresa Harris (of Thunderbolt and I Walked With a Zombie) in tow. She doesn’t actually advance her career, because women in banks were secretaries, but she starts as secretary to lowly John Wayne in the filing department and quickly becomes secretary to men higher up the organization. There’s leering Mr. Brody, then the upright guy who tries to get her fired Mr. Stevens (Donald Cook), then his crazy-haired boss Carter aka Fuzzy Wuzzy (Henry Kolker, Katharine Hepburn’s dad in Holiday), and finally the fancy young president (George Brent), who she sideways-seduces by pretending to be reformed and uncorruptable. In the end she either finds her president-husband dead in his office, or she’s so happy he’s still alive that she renounces her riches – your choice.
Barbara ignoring John Wayne:
Cozying up to Brody (Douglass Dumbrille of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town):
With wild scarf, sleeves, and Donald Cook: