Hold Your Man (1933)- Sam Wood

★★★★

 

All six films that Jean Harlow and Clark Gable made together are unique, and even memorable is some way. Their first, “The Secret Six” (1931) is a Wallace Beery picture, with smaller roles for up-and-comers like Gable, Harlow and even Ralph Bellamy. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933)Their final film just six short years later, “Saratoga” (1937) is somewhat depressing, since Harlow’s untimely death during filming gives the production a meloncholy feeling. In between these bookends, this sizzling pair made four films filled with romance, sex, humor, lust, and love. Each one showcases this dynamic pair’s natural chemistry, and makes for a lasting impression upon their adoring audience- even if the Hays Code tries to get in the way and mess things up. In “Red Dust” (1932) they are perfectly suited lovers, jonting around the wilds of Africa, while allowing Mary Astor to create a high-class distraction for Gable, albeit one that we never believe since Gable and Harlow seem so perfect together. “China Seas” (1935) is a rehashing of the same, only not as good, and with plenty of Production Code “values” interfearing. In “Wife Vs. Secretary” (1936) their normal roles are thrown out the window, and things get shaken up, as Gable’s character is married to Myrna Loy, with Harlow as his head-over-heels in love secretary, vying for his affections. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933)I love Myrna Loy, but this film (rightfully) seems awkward, because there is no way that Gable wouldn’t instantly be running off with Harlow. C’mon, you can see it in his eyes.

Right in the middle of their films together comes this film, “Hold Your Man” (1933)- a comedic drama, that with some outside influence, shows Production Code values, mixed with a fairly believable, real-life plot. Eddie Hall (Gable) is a handsome streetwise hustler, just trying to earn a buck. While on the run (quite literally) from the cops, he barges into the apartment of Ruby Adams (Harlow) right in the middle of her bath. (How rude, and yet 1930’s audience satisfying at the same time). On nothing but a first glance and a moment’s hesitation, Ruby hides Eddie and throws a regular tirade, convincing the police to get out of her place.Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933) Things escalate from there, both professionally and personally for the couple of big-smiled, money-hungry romantics, but before long, choices between love and freedom on the outside bring their time together to a hault.

“Hold Your Man” was adapted for the screen by Anita Loos and Howard Emmett. The screenplay in turn, is based on the novel by Loos, who was charged with the difficult task of keeping the juicy, real-life excitement of her story, and adding in enough “justice” to keep the howling wolves of the empending Production Code at bay. I am sure there are many who would, do, and will argue that in doing this adaptation, the story becomes conflicting. It does swing from one end of the spectrum to the other, with parts feeling like an intelligent comedy, and other moments playing like an intense melodrama. There is however, something genuine about a love that doesn’t instantly work out, and people that get put in the position to make life’s tough choices. I can see how under different circumstances this film could have fallen apart, but Harlow and Gable are so incredible that they do more than hold things together, they elevate them.Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933) Both actors are at the top of their game- Gable with his handsome appearance and crooked smile, and Harlow with her sex appeal and sassy, “don’t give me any lip” attitude. Lesser actors would have made a lesser film. With Harlow and Gable however, we are in good hands, and the result is one worth remembering.

 

 

 

The Woman in the Window (1944)- Fritz Lang

 ★★★★

 

Apparently there really is no limit to the greatness of Fritz Lang. It’s true. Every time you watch or re-watch (even if it’s for the tenth time) one of his films, it is still amazing how beautifully they are filmed, and how impressive Lang is as a director. “The Woman in the Window” (1944) is a special little film noir, filled with everything that fans of the genre hove come to treasure, and it is yet another in a long line of examples that exemplify Lang’s brilliance.The Woman in the Window Based on the novel “Once Off Guard” by J.H. Wallis, this film tells the story of Professor Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) who happens to be an expert in criminology. He is also a dignified man- a pillar of the community, and a testament to the “honest men” of the world. After sending his wife and two small children out of town, Wanley heads to his club to have dinner and drinks with a couple of friends including district attorney Lalor (Raymond Massey). Just before entering the club, a picture of a young attractive woman hanging in the window next door catches his eye, his attention, and his imagination. This prompts a conversation over dinner and drinks about the duality of man, and his desires for adventure, especially when involving a young, beautiful woman.

After leaving the club Wanley happens to meet Alice (Joan Bennett), who is the woman from the picture in the window. Against his better judgment, he goes to spend the evening with her talking about life and art.The Woman in the Window While drinking together back at her apartment, another older man (Arthur Loft) comes barging in, and attempts to kill Wanley in a jealous rage. Alice hands Wanley a pair of sciccors and he stabs the much larger man to death. Instead of calling the police, Alice and Wanley choose to hide their crime in order to protect themselves, and to hopefully avoid prison. Being a criminologist, one would think that Wanley would know how to hide a murder, but as it turns out, it is much easier to talk about a crime than to cover one up. Things really get complicated as Wanley’s as his old pal Lalor quickly becomes hot on his trail, constantly giving updates as to all the mistakes that Wanley and Alice made. Simutaneously, Alice is being hounded by a con-man (Dan Duryea) who knows about (or at least suspects) the crime, and has decided to blackmail Alice.

So often “The Woman in the Window” and Lang’s next feature “Scarlet Street” (1945) are remembered together for their simalarities. After all, they are both directed by Lang, both films star Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, and Milton R. Krasner provided his impeccable cinematography to both films. Even with all of these similarities however, it’s what sets them apart from each other that makes each special in their individual way.The Woman in the Window While both Robinson and Duryea play similar characters in both films, Joan Bennett is exceedingly different. All three actors are marvelous in each film, but it is Bennett that pulls it all together. In “The Woman in the Window” she is mysterious, humanistic and unpredicatable. In “Scarlet Street” she is a femme fatale, and therefore follows a somewhat predicatable (albeit marvelous) path. “The Woman in the Window” allows her to share an emotional depth from within her character, and her realistic portrayal feels more genuine, or at the very least, more relateable.

There are some negative opinions floating around about the influence of the Hays Code on “The Woman in the Window”. Obviously you can see the big hands of the production code guiding certain parts of this film, but perhaps this is one of those times where a forced change in story helps set the picture apart from all the similar films that had come, and were going to come.The Woman in the Window “The Woman in the Window” is unique and interesting. It frustrates its audience, but keep them involved, sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping, praying these misguided, unsuspecting criminals find some way out of this suspenseful mess that only true masters of the genre (like Fritz Lang) could create for his characters.

 

Angels Over Broadway (1940)- Ben Hecht

 ★★★★

 

In 1940, the brilliant screenwriter Ben Hecht wrote, produced, and directed the close-knit drama film “Angels Over Broadway“. Make no mistake about it, this is a flawed movie. Angels Over Broadway 1940When watching there are several moments when things could have been crafted better, but looking past these small insignificant misteps, and focusing on the heart of the story, (which is great) and the brilliance in the characters (which is significant) will provide a fruitful, worthwhile film from start to finish.

The entire movie, which feels more like a stage play than a film, takes place over the course of one rainy night in New York City. It is essentially a four-man show, that gives each of the main characters a chance to shine. Charles Engle (John Qualen) is a down on his luck businessman, who has embezzled $3000 from his employer in order to support his wife’s extravagant lifestyle, and now, being caught, is contemplating suicide. Bill O’Brien (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) is a low-level con-man, looking for some poor, rich, sucker to bleed dry. Gene Gibbons (Thomas Mitchell) is a past-his-prime play write, dreaming of his glory days, and wishing he could once again write with some imagination and meaning.Angels Over Broadway Last, but clearly not least, we have another low-level con artist, Nina Barona (Rita Hayworth), who is just looking for a way to earn a buck, and is more than willing to use her beauty to achieve this goal. All four of our disillusioned misfits wind up in the same nightclub, and after learning of one another’s troubles, come up with a plan for joint salvation.

As a character study, “Angels Over Broadway” is interesting and enthralling. When you hear the name Ben Hecht, writer comes to mind well before director, so it’s no real surprise that it is the writing that shines in this picture. He was given an Academy Award nomination for this original screenplay, and it is much deserved. On the surface it might not appear to be all that engaging, but once the film starts moving, there is a darkness that sets in, that is unsettling, but extremely intriguing. These are not happy-go-lucky people, living carefree lives. They are very real, and therefore, extremely relatable.

As with any character drama, the actors play a major part in the success of the picture. In “Angels Over Broadway” there is an interesting mix involved, including Hayworth, who looks great in this role, and is able to easily pull off the con-woman looking to change, because, well, she looks like an honest, good-hearted woman, desperate for a little romance. Fairbanks is solid in a role that doesn’t demand too much from him.Angels Over Broadway 1940 It’s not really a leading part, despite his top billing, but he meshes well with the others, and gives an honest (and one of his better) acting performances. In a somewhat unexpected twist it’s Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen who actually steal the picture. Their acting is phenomenal, and considering the substance of their roles, much of the film hangs on their performances. Luckily they deliver… superbly.

Lee Garmes served as cinematographer on “Angels over Broadway”, and is also given screen credit as co-director. Even combining Garmes and Hecht on directing duties still leaves “Angels Over Broadway” with a somewhat amateur quality. Garmes is an accomplished cinematographer and Hecht is one of the better screenwriters out there, but neither are (or should be) remembered for their directing abilities.Angeles Over Broadway 1940 Oddly enough they re-teamed in 1952 to co-direct another film “Actor’s and Sin”, with about the same results.

Even with a few small flaws, “Angels Over Broadway” has much to offer a patient audience, not afraid of commitment. Of course with Qualen, Mitchell, Hayworth, and Fairbanks, it’s hard to go wrong!