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.

 

 

 

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!

 

The Great Dictator (1940)- Charles Chaplin

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

If there is anyone who can successfully make anything to do with either WWII or Adolph Hitler a joke, it would be Charles Chaplin- even if it came with his later regrets. The Great Dictator (1940)When the famous comedian decided to (almost single-handedly) create a satirical comedy-drama, poking fun at Hitler himself, as well as many others closely involved with Hitler, Chaplin knew he could do it successfully because he found humor where others did not. Years later, after the atrocities of the Nazi’s and their actions were known to the world, Chaplin admitted that he would never have made a film like “The Great Dictator” (1940) if he would have understood the truth behind what was happening in Europe. Whereas this attitude is understandable, the powerful message that this enormously important (and somewhat underrated) film has to offer, combined with Chaplin’s fearless performance, create a cinematic experience that is both hilarious at times, and heart-wrenching at others.

“The Great Dictator” opens during the great war, as an unnamed Jewish soldier (Chaplin in one of two roles) is fighting for his fictional country of Tomainia. The Great Dictator (1940)After a series of amusingly comedic blunders, he finds himself helping Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) into an airplane and flying secret documents to their commanding officer. They crash, just as the war comes to an end, but the Jewish man suffers from memory loss, and the next twenty years go by without him remembering anything.

Jumping forward to that time, it turns out that the Jewish man is in fact a barber, who runs a shop in the ghetto. (He looks similar to Chaplin’s famous Little Tramp, but also has many differences.) He returns to his work, next door to Hannah (Paulette Goddard), a laundress, who bond over a physical dispute with local stormtroopers. He is unaware that being Jewish is no longer acceptable, now that the notoriously brutal dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) has begun his master plan of world domination.

The remainder of the movie is cut into two sections. One between scenes of the dictator, or “The Phooey” as he is called, as he stumbles about trying to take over the world with his cohorts, Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Herring (Billy Gilbert). The Great Dictator (1940)The other involves the Jewish barber and Hannah reeking havoc on Hynkel’s stormtroopers. Needless to say, there is a ton of laughs awaiting in both stories, and, as Hynkel and the barber look alike, everything is culminating toward an inevitable big finish.

Charlie Chaplin is a genius, in every aspect of the word. In addition to starring as both leading characters in the movie, Chaplin also wrote, produced, and directed. He even wrote the musical score along with Meredith Wilson (who later would give Chaplin the “creative” credit). “The Great Dictator” is completely his vision, and even though many stepped up and tried to take credit for contributing ideas, Chaplin is the one man smart enough and brave enough to pull it all together- and not just into a decent film, but into a true masterpiece.

The Great Dictator (1940)

The comedic value here (like all of Chaplin’s films) in undeniable. You can’t help but laugh and smile throughout as he, in his first full-talking film, delivers with dialogue, facial expressions, set pieces, and, of course, physical stunts. The surprise of this picture isn’t in the comedy, but in the drama. Chaplin had a message to deliver, and “The Great Dictator” gave him the outlet he needed. Making a film such as this, at such a crucial time in the world’s history, could have ended in absolute failure. Chaplin, however, doesn’t seem to know how to fail, and ended up creating an important, memorable film that even today gives viewers a chance to see how influential and important one man could be. The Great Dictator (1940)There is a story that Chaplin had seen the German film “Olympia” (1938), and used it to aid him designing “The Great Dictator”. I wasn’t around in 1940 to see how this movie played as a piece of propaganda, but it is both moving and inspiring today.

Besides Chaplin, who gives not one, but two brilliant performances, Paulette Goddard also contributes with her usual perfect blend of hilarious, almost slapstick comedy, and touching drama. She constantly has to continue jumping back and forth between the serious scenes and the comedic ones, which is not all that easy to do. Also getting in on the fun is Jack Oakie, who plays a neighboring dictator named Benzino Napaloni. (Man I love Chaplin’s character names!) The Great Dictator (1940)Oakie is so entertaining in this film that he even earned himself an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

When it was all said and done, “The Great Dictator” became Chaplin’s highest grossing movie. Also, after the fiasco centered on the Academy’s removal of 1928’s “The Circus” (and don’t get me started on the stupidity of that!), “The Great Dictator” ended up being the only one of his films to be a Best Picture nominee, and his only Best Actor nomination. (Both of which were thoroughly deserved.) Today “The Great Dictator” is not the first of his films that will come to a movie fan’s mind, but with classic comedies like “The Gold Rush” (1925), “City Lights” (1931), and “Modern Times” (1936), it is easy to see how “The Great Dictator” has been lost in the shuffle. Trust me, however, when I tell you that missing out on seeing this amazing film would only be an injustice to both Chaplin and to yourself.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)- Federico Fellini

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

There are some people who want to be loved so badly, they’ll tell themselves anything just to keep going. Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is one of those people. Nights of Cabiria (1957)In the opening moments of Federico Fellini’s moving, and at times, heartbreaking masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), we witness from afar, as Cabiria laughs and runs with her boyfriend, Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi). Frolicking together, they wind up standing, side by side, next to a fast-moving river, staring into its beauty and mystery. It is during this moment of peacefulness that Giorgio grabs Cabiria’s purse and pushes her into the water, knowing full well that she can’t swim, and leaving her to die, all for a handful of cash. After being saved by some children nearby, Cabiria returns to her home and argues with her friend (Franca Marzi), that somehow it was just a mistake- she fell, and being scared, he fled with her purse, but surely he will return to her soon. Nights of Cabiria (1957)Her desperation, and the desire to be loved by someone- anyone, is almost too much to endure.

If this opening five minutes seems a bit painful, brace yourself. It’s going to get worse. You see, Cabiria is a prostitute, and not a high-class one at that. She earns her living by having sex with people, any of which she would stay with forever, if only they’d show her any real affection (or for that matter, even some fake affection would suffice). Unfortunately for Cabiria, each one of her encounters is as meaningless as the last, fulfilling their needs, while leaving her empty. She is, quite possibly, the saddest character ever to grace the screen. Seriously, somebody just hug the poor girl! What is surprising is that despite her past, she continues to hope that love is waiting just around the corner.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

“Nights of Cabiria” is one of the best films of all time for many reasons. It’s crafted perfectly by one of the world’s greatest directors, shot on location around one of the greatest cities in the world, and has a story that manages to touch its viewers in a way that is both comforting, and oddly unsettling at the same time.Nights of Cabiria (1957) The greatest thing about this picture, however, has nothing to do with any of that. “Nights of Cabiria” is great because of Giulietta Masina and her intense, no holds bar, tour de force performance. Everything lives and dies with her, and how she manages herself on-screen. And it’s not just her character’s sadness that makes this performance incredible. It actually has more to do with her ability as an actress to move, in a very real way, between emotions. Sadness, anger, frustration, passion, and joy. She jumps between them all, keeping the audience enthralled, crying with her as she prays for a better life, and then laughing as she walks directly into a glass door. It is a performance that includes a bit of everything, and is one of the greatest Nights of Cabiria (1957)of all time. It embodies a similarity in its heartbreaking effect to Kenji Mizoguchi’s “The Life of Oharu” (1952), but Cabiria’s upbeat outlook leave this film with an optimistic feeling that is a stark opposite to Mizoguchi’s harrowing tale.

I believe that “Nights of Cabiria”, even with all of it’s popularity, gets overlooked because Fellini made so many monumental films in his career. It’s stuck in between “La Strada” (1954) and “La Dolce Vita” (1960), with “8 1/2” (1963) coming just a few years later. When any artist creates that many “masterpieces” in such a short span of time, it’s easy for one (or some) of them to become overlooked (even if just slightly). “Nights of Cabiria” isn’t as flashy and obvious as these other classics, yet somehow it is my favorite. Perhaps it’s because it’s the most relatable. Or maybe it’s Masina’s performance. More than likely, however, it’s the simple fact that there are few things as touching and poignant as a lost soul looking for love, and having the upbeat attitude to believe that she will one day find it…somewhere.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)- D.W. Griffith

 ★★★★★

 

Everything has a beginning, and film is no different. Yes, it is true that film was “invented” by many, over a course of a few years, but the invention of filmmaking (at least in the sense of the word today) can be attributed to D.W. Orphans of the Storm (1921)Griffith and his innovative, pioneering ways. Any opportunity to see one of Griffith’s 500 plus full length or short films is probably time well spent, but there are five films; five masterful works of art that should be sought out and seen, quite simply because they are (possibly) five of the best 10 or 15  films of the silent era. These films are “Birth of a Nation” (1915), “Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages” (1916), “Broken Blossoms” (1919), “Way Down East” (1921), and his final masterpiece, “Orphans of the Storm” (1921).

Based on the 1874 French play “Les Deux Orphalines” by Adolphe d’Ennery and Eugene Cormon, “Orphans of the Storm” is a melodrama surrounding two adopted sisters, just before and during the French Revolution. In the opening minutes we see a duchess who is forced to give up her baby daughter (Louise), and the child is left in the snow-covered steps of Notre Dame with a handful of money and a note begging for someone to take care of her. Orphans of the Storm (1921)Moments later, a man without enough money to feed himself or his wife, brings his own infant daughter (Henriette) to the same steps, in hopes of finding someone else to feed and care for her. At the sight of Louise, the man is overcome by the severity of his actions and he takes both children home with him.

Jumping forward, Louise (Dorothy Gish) and Henriette (Lillian Gish) have grown up to be loving sisters, who want nothing more than to be together. Both parents are dead, and Louise has been left blind by an illness. Together they travel to Paris to see if they can have her eyesight restored, but as soon as they arrive, Henriette is kidnapped by a lustful aristocrat, leaving Louise to wander the streets aimlessly.

The remainder of this epic is split into two stories of the sisters trying to find each other, once again all in the midst of the impending French Revolution. Orphans of the Storm (1921)Henriette gets involved romantically with a good-natured aristocrat (Joseph Schildkraut), and Louise finds herself imprisoned by a street beggar (the great, frightening, and sadly forgotten Lucille La Verne), who uses her blindness as a way to gain sympathy from rich aristocrats passing by.

There are times during the first half of this epic that things seem to be moving slowly. That’s a mistake, however, it just seems that way. It’s all setting the stage for the second half that almost has too much drama to be contained on the screen. Griffith’s great films are so elaborate- so large that one can’t help but be wowed by how much he was able to do. He knew how he wanted everything to look, and impossible was not a word in his vision. Orphans of the Storm (1921)“Orphans of the Storm”, although not as large as “Intolerance”, is an enormous undertaking, with extensive sets and costumes at every turn.

Both Dorothy and Lillian Gish give amazingly poetic and intense performances. There is enough drama and pain in their eyes to fill two movies. They pour everything into their characters, making acting the highlight in a picture full of highlights. Any time you see either Lillian or Dorothy in a Griffith film, you can be sure to be effected in a way you won’t soon forget. There is a reason that their performances are still applauded almost one hundred years later, and if you don’t understand the reason, just give “Orphans of the Storm” a chance to prove it to you.

Fourteen Hours (1951)- Henry Hathaway

 ★★★★★

 

The idea of a film centered around one desperate man standing on the ledge of a New York building is a difficult one because there are so many unanswered questions that arise. How do you keep the audience entertained when, in all actuality, very little is happening? How do you deal with a main character that just stands there, and in fact, doesn’t even really want to talk to anyone? And finally, what happens at the end of the film?  Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)All of these questions had to have played heavily on director Henry Hathaway’s mind when filming his noir, suspense drama, “Fourteen Hours” (1951), but fortunately his talent for great storytelling and an extensive cast of sensational actors help turn this possibly entertaining film into a memorable movie, with an exorbitant amount of humanity under the surface.

In a New York City hotel, an emotionally tormented young man named Robert (Richard Basehart) steps out his window onto the ledge. The moment of desperation is seen from the street below by a traffic cop, Charlie (Paul Douglas). Charlie rushes up to the room where he sits on the ledge as well, trying patiently to get Robert to come back inside.

The event turns into a circus, with people filling the streets below, engrossed by the human drama that has presented itself to them. Taxi drivers place bets on what time he will jump, people walking to work stop, frozen, waiting to see what will happen. Even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is cancelled. Richard Basehart and Barbara Bel Geddes in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)Obviously with a title like “Fourteen Hours”, you can guess that things aren’t resolved quickly, as every step towards a resolution just seems to make things worse.

The acting in this movie is the kind of stuff that directors dream about. Richard Basehart gives a towering performance as the sad, mentally unstable young man at his own personal crossroad. It amazes me how intense he is without being able to move more than a couple of inches the entire picture. He acts through his expressions. He eyes speak for him (his fear, his anger, and regret) present themselves with little dialogue and almost no physicality. It’s Paul Douglas who does most of the talking. The majority of his dialogue goes unanswered…but he keeps talking anyway. He is the driving force of the script, but being an amazing actor, he knows that he can’t take the focus off of Basehart, Richard Basehart in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)so Douglas keeps his perfect performance controlled.

The aspect that helps “Fourteen Hours” to shine is the inclusion of sub-plots that transpire during the 14 hours, and the performances given by the enormous cast of supporting players. Both of Robert’s parents (Agnes Moorehead & Robert Keith) show up to “help”, but end up bringing back years of family dysfunction and drama. His former fiance (Barbara Bel Geddes) also arrives, with Bel Geddes giving a brief, but touchingly memorable performance. And then there are all the individuals involved indirectly, whether down on the street or hiding in the hotel, trying to come up with new ideas; Howard Da Silva as the police chief, Martin Gabel as a psychiatrist, Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget as two strangers who meet on the street, even Grace Kelly shows up in her screen debut as a woman in the midst of a divorce, who reconsiders after witnessing Robert’s plight. Everyone who appears on the screen adds to the film’s intensity by acting a human as possible.

It’s been said that “Fourteen Hours” is, possibly, Henry Hathaway’s best film. As a fan of westerns and film noir (both of which he made in abundance), it would be hard to pick which one of his classic pieces of cinema is “best”. He spent an entire career making great movies that all continue to be enthralling because of Richard Basehart and Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)his underrated skill as a director, and his uncanny ability to entertain an audience. “Fourteen Hours” is a unique film for him, and it is obvious that he was excited at the challenges that filming this type of story would offer. Although it has faded in popularity over the years, it is a film that deserves to be revisited and appreciated by a new audience.

Although “Fourteen Hours” goes out of its way to tell the audience that it wasn’t based on real events, the screenplay (masterfully penned by John Paxton) was based on an article in The New Yorker by Joel Sayre, who was in fact writing about the suicide of John William Warde in 1938. The details are quite different, but it did (unfortunately) serve as inspiration.

He Ran All the Way (1951)- John Berry

 ★★★★

 

My, what a difference a decade can make. Ten years after the release of Anatole Litvak’s “Out of the Fog” (1941), John Garfield teamed with director John Berry to make a very similar film noir, “He Ran All the Way” (1951).John Garfield and Shelley Winters in "He Ran All the Way" (1951) Garfield again plays a small time hood named Nick, who at the urging of his friend (Norman Lloyd), robs a businessman of $10,000. In a frantic moment while on the run and dodging bullets, Nick’s partner is shot, and Nick shoots a police officer.

While scrambling to gain control, Nick hides out at a pool where he meets a young bakery worker named Peg (Shelley Winters). He uses her as a cover, and offers to take her home, where he is introduced to her parents (Wallace Ford & Selena Royle) and her younger brother (Bobby Hyatt). Nick, in a state of paranoia, keeps the family hostage, while trying to figure out a plan. Peg, meanwhile, remains attracted to him, even once she understands his true nature.

The reason that I have compared “He Ran All the Way” to “Out of the Fog” (other than the fact that I just watched them both) is because when you examine them, they are actually veryJohn Garfield and Shelley Winters in "He Ran All the Way" (1951) similar.

  1. Both films are about a low-level hood (John Garfield both times)
  2. Both films have a sympathetic father character, being terrorized
  3. In each movie the daughter character continues to be attracted to the criminal, despite the fact that he is physically hurting her father
  4. Also, both movies happen to have the same magnificent cinematographer (James Wong Howe), which does give each of them a similar overall feel

So what makes “He Ran All the Way” such a better film? Well, the direction here, under the helm of John Berry, is far superior. He manages to capture the feel of a rotten criminal living in despair and anger with a reality that is hard to match. The locations and the claustrophobic feel of the city give off the feeling of a criminal trapped by the world around him. Also, the screenplay is believable, without being frustrating. (Written by Hugo Butler and Dalton Trumbo.) It’s easy to point to mistakes that characters make, but they are realistic mistakes made by people who are scared and worried.He Ran All the Way (1951) The Shelley Winters character, in particular, is a great role, filled with personal flaws that can be easy to question. Her motivations are kept quiet. She is obviously attracted in a sexual way to Nick, and is quick to come to home dolled up, ready to throw herself at him, even with her family members being held hostage in the next room. Her reasons for doing this, however, at not as clear. Is she trying to save the others, or is she ready to move on from her mundane existence and start a new life with Nick? Winters gives a remarkable performance in this movie, and although it isn’t as flashy or intense as Garfield’s, it has an element that will linger in your mind.

John Garfield, in what turned out to be his final film, gives a marvelous performance that shows how far he had come as an actor, and gives us a glimpse of how far he could have gone.John Garfield and Shelley Winters in "He Ran All the Way" (1951) There is an intensity and passion in his performance that is chilling and invigorating. He is a no-good, two-bit criminal, but somehow, we still feel sympathetic toward him. What we know about his past, including his awful relationship with his mother (Gladys George), enables us to have hope that, somehow, things will work out. This is one of the hardest types of characters to play, and yet, Garfield makes it look easy. It’s not necessarily his best, but it is definitely toward the top of the list.