A pretty good Cukor movie made in between really great Cukor movies. For some reason I can’t ever get into movies about rich courtesans in ill health who can’t decide between their callous rich suitor or their young and energetic, devout but poor suitor.

Stars Greta Garbo, who I’ve rarely seen in movies and doesn’t make much of a distinctive impression, in one of her final films. We’ll have to watch Queen Christina or Grand Hotel sometime to see what the hubbub is about. Henry Daniell (The Suspect, Witness for the Prosecution) is the boring old baron and Nebraskan Robert Taylor (Ivanhoe, Three Comrades, the 1935 Magnificent Obsession) is young and in love.

Based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, which has been adapted a million times, because apparently audiences love courtesans. The Theda Bara version is presumed lost. Others starred Norma Talmadge, Pola Negri or Rudolph Valentino. Isabelle Huppert and Bruno Ganz appeared together. Ben Kingsley played Colin Firth’s dad. Raymond Bernard made a version. Fortunately, the Antonioni film The Lady Without Camelias is an entirely different story.

A movie with only women in it – a feat unmatched until the upcoming Ghostbusters remake!

Norma Shearer (love interest of He Who Gets Slapped) ends up divorcing her husband after super-gossip Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday) gleefully reveals that he’s having an affair with perfume salesman Joan Crawford (Johnny Guitar)… but Norma gets him back in the end, after Joan doesn’t work out. So essentially he goes on a two-year affair, then all is forgiven (an extra divorce/marriage/divorce thrown in to please the censors).

After leaving her man, Norma teams up with Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Letter from an Unknown Woman), Paulette Goddard (Modern Times) and Mary Boland (Ruggles of Red Gap) in Reno. Crawford steals another man, this time from Countess Mary Boland, who reveals that his fortune’s actually hers, so her man and Crawford can go be broke together.

Features a weird full-color fashion show in the middle of the movie.

Since Albert Brooks’s Modern Romance didn’t work out as a wedding anniversary movie (we turned it off after he’d spent 30 minutes flailing alone after dumping his longtime girlfriend), we tried this movie about society folks brought low by the great depression, full of cheating and suicide. Oh well, we made up for these rom-com failures by sandwiching them between the Soulmates Double-Feature and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.

Many, many quality actors, most of whom make it to dinner at the Jordans’ house by the end (John “Twentieth Century” Barrymore, playing a washed-up actor, stuffs up the cracks and turns on the gas). His secret squeeze the Jordan girl, Madge Evans (Cukor’s David Copperfield) doesn’t take the news too badly. Her mom Billie Burke (a standout with her high-pitched perfect-party obsession) ignores her own husband Lionel “West of Zanzibar” Barrymore, who is slowly dying of heart failure.

More important than the Barrymores, now I’ve seen Jean Harlow (a harsh city-slangin’ beautiful blonde broad), Wallace Beery (not just a Barton Fink reference anymore; big scary guy) and Marie Dressler, whom I’ve never heard of, but she was pretty awesome as a large, loud washed-up actress, broke but not taking it so hard as the Barrymores.

Lionel owns a shipping company, which has some stock-trading drama involving Beery. Harlow spends most of the movie in bed berating her maid, is seeing her doctor for more than medical reasons. Some servants get in a knife fight (tragically off screen – Rules of the Game this ain’t). The long-awaited society couple who are the reason for the dinner never show up, so Burke’s frowny cousin and her dullard husband come instead. After talking about dinner all movie long, they finally head in to eat just as the end title comes up – wonder if Luis Bunuel was taking notes.

The movie’s undying lessons:
1) Always, always lie to your loved ones.
2) If a patient is dying, it’s best not to tell him.

Remade in the 1950’s with Mary Astor and Pat O’Brien then in the 80’s with Lauren Bacall, Charles Durning, Ellen Greene and Julia Sweeney. At least two musical parody two-reelers were made in ’33 to poke fun at the silly rich people with their love affairs and their suicides. Supper at Six was written by song lyricist Ballard MacDonald, and couldn’t have been worse than the one we watched, Come to Dinner (1933, Roy Mack), a contemptuous mini-remake populated by look-alikes who weren’t halfway decent at acting or comedy, but did a good job of quoting and resembling. Roy Mack presumably couldn’t be arsed since he made eighteen other shorts this year, including spoofs of Grand Hotel and I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, and two movies featuring a seven-year-old Sammy Davis Jr.

Not the most lighthearted comedy in the world, beginning with the death of Katharine Hepburn’s mother, following with the death of her drunken crook father. Hepburn (already in her third film with Cukor) lives in France with her father Edmund Gwenn (the so-called bodyguard in Foreign Correspondent who keeps trying to kill Joel McCrea, also Santa in Miracle on 34th Street). They escape to England with her disguised as a boy for cover from dad’s embezzling crimes.

They meet con man Cary Grant (in his 20th film in four years) on the boat, and he teams up with the couple – which was our first complaint with the movie. When we meet Grant, he’s smuggling diamonds inside his shoes, which has got to be more lucrative than running con games in public parks with a busted drunk and his “son.” Grant (with a fun cockney accent) introduces them to an acquaintance named Maudie, a maid at a house where Grant hopes to steal some jewelery. Hepburn (very funny in her hat and suit) foils the heist, her dad ends up marrying Maudie, and the four go on the road as a vaudeville act.

Family portrait:

Kate falls for an artist (mustachioed Brian Aherne, title characters in Captain Fury and The Great Garrick) who’s being chased by some rich-looking Russian girl named Lily. The artist finds himself falling for Kate as well, much to his own confusion. Dad falls off a cliff while drunkenly searching for his cheating wife, and the same morning Lily tries to drown herself, rescued by Kate. After a brief sidetrack in jail, Kate and the artist escape on a train, running into Cary and Lily. My Katy thought it unfair that Kate didn’t get Cary Grant at the end, but he didn’t deserve her.

The artist and the princess:

The movie flopped so hard that Cukor was fired from RKO Pictures over it. It’s said that audiences thought Hepburn was awful as a boy, that they walked out in droves after Maudie tries to make out with her, but nobody ventures that crowds found the plot stupidly implausible – especially after the vaudeville bit. It’s all in good fun, I know. If Some Like It Hot was daring for messing with gender roles in 1959, I imagine it was completely unheard-of in films 25 years earlier. I thought that aspect and lots of the character and acting were much more successful than the overall story – it’s a good movie strapped onto a mediocre plot.

Grant’s noirish introduction:


The role seemed a natural for [Hepburn]; she had already set tongues wagging as one of the first women in the U.S. to wear trousers in public. Not only did she make a very convincing young man with her hair cut short, but Time Magazine’s reviewer would quip that “Sylvia Scarlett reveals the interesting fact that Katharine Hepburn is better looking as a boy than as a woman.”

The story annoys me in the same way as My Fair Lady (also by Cukor), setting up a woman as horrid and annoying, then having a smart white guy fix her and, inevitably, fall in love with her. While My Fair Lady still succeeds because of wonderful filmmaking and Audrey Hepburn, Born Yesterday succeeds entirely because of Judy Holliday. She’s hilarious, and I couldn’t get enough of her – no wonder she won an oscar. I’d forgotten that I also loved her in Adam’s Rib (also by Cukor, jeez) from the year before.

William Holden, whom I never seem to recognize even though I’ve seen him in Sabrina and Sunset Blvd., is a smartypants do-gooder reporter hired by boisterous, arrogant rich dude Broderick Crawford (good to see him out of the dark, depressing roles of Scandal Sheet and Human Desire). Holliday is Crawford’s dumb broad who gets too smart for her own good.

IMDB says the film was rehearsed like a play, in front of a live audience – wonderful idea. The story builds to a predictable conclusion, the intrepid reporter taking down the corrupt businessman and his in-pocket congressmen, escaping with the previously-ignorant woman who has become an avid reader. Before the plot machine kicks in, it’s a bunch of fun.

Dreamer Johnny (Cary Grant, a year after The Awful Truth) is supposed to marry Julia (Doris Nolan, who wasn’t in the movies for long) but finds that he has more in common with her sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn, a few months after Bringing Up Baby and somewhat less manic). After his upcoming vacation with fiancee and friends E. Everett Horton (Astaire’s straight man in The Gay Divorcee) and Jean Dixon (the heroine’s sister in My Man Godfrey) Johnny plans to quit his job and spend a year rethinking what to do with his life. Turns out this is quite unacceptable to Julia, who has big plans for Johnny’s career in her father’s footsteps. Out of love for the girl, Johnny nearly accepts this boring and restricted new life for himself, but wait, free-spirit Hepburn, similarly imprisoned by class/career expectations, is also in love with him, so he and she go off on holiday together.

Cary, stuck between his witch-hatted old fiancee and flat-hatted new fiancee:

KH impersonating her stuffed giraffe:

Lew Ayres (Dr. Kildare himself) plays the girls’ tragicomic drunk brother. I thought he was E. Everett Horton the whole time because it turns out I don’t know who E.E.H. is. This was a remake of a 1930 version in which E.E.H. plays the same character he does here. Katy and I liked it a whole bunch, but I was looking forward to seeing a holiday, and the movie takes place between two holidays. I thought I’d seen this before, but may have been confusing it with Charade – a color movie starring Grant and a different Hepburn filmed 25 years later, oops.

Tragicomic Lew Ayres:

EEH and Jean Dixon vs. the butler:

Amusing musical – widescreen, color, full of marilyn and better than its reputation. Written by playwright Arthur Miller (married to Marilyn) and one of the Normans from White Christmas (also wrote Lang’s Fury).

Unexciting frenchman Yves Montand (Tout va bien, The War Is Over) is mega-rich, hears of a low-key theater production in the hipster part of town that will be making fun of him, heads down there with employees Wilfrid Hyde-White (Col. Pickering in My Fair Lady) and Tony Randall (Rock Hunter, Down With Love and voice of the brain Gremlin in Gremlins 2). The director notices Yves and casts him as himself, a perfect lookalike. Yves isn’t interested in shutting the place down anymore because he falls for Marilyn during her outrageously sexy intro scene and aims to get her away from her boyfriend, pop star Frankie Vaughan. Yves hires comic Milton Berle, dancer Gene Kelly and singer Bing Crosby, playing themselves, to turn him into a star, but to no avail… so he tries to convince Marilyn that he’s the actual billionaire he’s playing in the play, also to no avail, until he takes her to his office and proves it at the end.

Cute movie, and title song and “my heart belongs to daddy” are hot tunes.

IMDB trivia: “Milton Berle placed ads in Hollywood trade papers seeking a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for playing himself.”

From the opening scene (David’s birth during a windy storm) onward, this is funny and fantastic. Great acting + production from the artist Cukor and the mighty David O. Selznick. The quality of light is especially mesmerizing, and the sets held my attention as much as the performances.

That’s no slight on the performances. Professional child actor Freddie Bartholomew (Anna Karenina) plays David for the first half (passable Frank Lawton for the second half) and does very well. Occasionally he falls into that annoying overly-cute-and-naive groove that child actors rode for the first fifty years of Hollywood, but when asked to convey feeling he does a better job than most of the grown-ups.

Other stand-outs:
Edna May Oliver (the red queen in ’33 “alice in wonderland”) as DC’s aunt, who opens the picture, disappears, then returns in the second half.
W.C. Fields as DC’s broke landlord turned assistant at the law offices.
Lennox Pawle (died the following year) as idiot savant Mr. Dick.
Maureen O’Sullivan (“the tall t”, famous for playing tarzan’s jane) as DC’s sickly child bride.
Madge Evans (romantic lead in “hallelujah i’m a bum” and bing crosby’s “pennies from heaven”) as Agnes, the girl DC is supposed to end up with.
Basil Rathbone (pointy-faced sherlock holmes) as evil stepdad Mr. Murdstone
Jessie Ralph (40+ films in the 30’s incl. “les miserables”) as Nurse Peggotty

Three of these actors would star together in Tod Browning’s “Devil Doll” the next year.

I missed “The Informer” actress Una O’Connor and “It’s a Wonderful Life” co-star Lionel Barrymore. Either too many actors to keep straight, or their scenes were during the ice cream break.

The giant novel is obviously very compressed to fit a two-hour movie. Katy says whole characters and eras and episodes are missing. It worked just fine for me, knowing I was watching a condensed version (if it’d been a standalone movie with no giant novel behind it, I might think it underdeveloped). Each character gets enough of a defining introduction scene so we remember him when he pops up later in the story… and it helps that the actors all look as distinctive as they do. I thought the movie was great. Katy half-watched and helped me connect story threads.

The only other features I’ve seen from 1935 are “The 39 Steps” and “Bride of Frankenstein”, both wonderful. “Mutiny on the Bounty” beat this out for best picture.

Katy might have misinterpreted my comment that I hate the characters and don’t like the story but thought the movie was pretty good. Well, I’m not here to expain, only to repeat.

Big wide colorful movie with long motion camera shots, some catchy musical numbers, definitely preferable to the non-musical version of the Pygmalion story.

Audrey Hepburn is the best part as Eliza Doolittle, cute and expressive. She nails the early scenes where she’s gotta howl hideously. Got no problem with actors Rex Harrison (lead actor in Unfaithfully Yours) as the thoroughly unlikeable Henry Higgins or Wilfrid Hyde-White (of The Browning Version, The Third Man, Let’s Make Love) as Henry’s more pleasant colleague, though their non-singing scenes were a little wearisome since I don’t like either one of ’em and I know how it’s all going to end up. More enjoyable (but with less screen time) were Stanley Holloway (of Brief Encounter) as Eliza’s singing, drunken father and Gladys Cooper (of The Pirate and Rebecca) as Henry’s posh mother.

I guess George Bernard Shaw is mostly known for this story, though I wouldn’t know why. Alan Jay Lerner, who made the musical version, also did Camelot, Gigi, Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon and An American In Paris. Director Cukor did a lotta things, incl. musicals A Star Is Born, Let’s Make Love and Les Girls, and almost directed Gone With The Wind. He won his only Oscar for this movie. Pretty much everyone involved in this was at least nominated, except for Audrey (Julie Andrews, who played Eliza on Broadway but wasn’t offered the movie part, won for Mary Poppins).

Good songs: “why can’t the english learn to speak english”… “i could have danced all night”… “with a little bit of luck”… some lesser ones: “you did it” and “get me to the church on time”.

Funny, at the end Eliza has been “bettered”, become classier, can’t go back to the street where she lived, the flower shops, and (until the final scene) she is miserable for it. And her formerly poor, happy-go-lucky drunken father has come into money unexpectedly and is miserable for it. Second musical I’ve seen in a row (after Hallelujah I’m a Bum) where people get rich and wish they hadn’t.

I get Henry’s character and his lame “i’ve grown accustomed to her face” late realization song, but I don’t get what Eliza’s still doing with him at the end of the film. Not a very romantic romance movie. When it comes to movies about obsessively re-shaping young women, I prefer Vertigo.