Reaching for the Moon

On a lark, an aviatrix sets her cap for the wizard of Wall Street, he falls for her on a transatlantic voyage amidst the stock market crash.

His valet’s concoction, Angel’s Breath, a cocktail with an African kick, turns mortals into fire-breathers and is instrumental in the romance.

The bad news comes in the Marconi Room aboard the S.S. L’Amérique with its Art Deco signage, [RADIOGRAMS] TO ALL COUNTRIES.

Douglas Fairbanks, Bebe Daniels, Edward Everett Horton, Claud Allister, with jazz crooning by Bing Crosby.

The décor is by William Cameron Menzies.

A sound comedy with consequences for Astaire & Rogers, Preston Sturges (The Sin of Harold Diddlebock), Hudson & Day (Lover Come Back), Catch-22 in the cornering of the Egyptian cotton market, and Stanley Donen’s Royal Wedding as Fairbanks climbs the walls after a glassful of the elixir.


Grand Hotel

You go to this film nowadays like an archæologist through the layers of successive films that were modeled upon it, Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter, Quine’s Hotel, Asquith’s The VIPs. When you arrive, Goulding takes you in with his lighting, then he gives you the grand treatment with some frightfully complicated long takes. And all this is merely an accoutrement to the performances, above all those of Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery, both complete masterworks in their own right, flawless and fascinating to watch.

Only infinitesimally in the rear of this is Greta Garbo’s spectacular display of cinematic prerogatives, calculated exquisitely to come just under the high water mark, for purposes of the dramatic construction.

The strength of the casting is formidable. John Barrymore and Joan Crawford are distinctly second leads, for the same reason, yet they are required to bear the film’s stress and strain at certain points. The support includes Lewis Stone and Jean Hersholt as main bulwarks.


The Dawn Patrol

Lest the point be lost (Time Out Film Guide says neither this film nor Hawks’ original “is exactly a masterpiece”), Royal Flying Corps operations in World War I are winnowed out to a suicide mission, undermanned in inadequate planes, with a fatal lack of training for replacement pilots.

The point cannot be made too strongly, or better than by Goulding.


Dark Victory

Two or three persistent myths are dispelled by close attention to this film. Humphrey Bogart is deliberately cast for his skill in creating a certain sense of violence and even mayhem (Goulding might well have said, as Welles said of Rosebud, “we tried to take the mickey out of it”). Ronald Reagan as the foppish blond sot Alec is not unable to bear his part, even though this is a Bette Davis picture. And finally, despite the fact that Dark Victory is sometimes sold as a woman’s weeper to this day, the serious import (indicated by the two devices already mentioned, among others) of this film, patently not meant to be taken at face value, will gradually become evident.


The Razor’s Edge

The film cultivates by degrees an awareness and expression of the title, a mystical union of opposites at an identical point.

This spawned some very useful analyses, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Tennessee Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (filmed by Losey as Boom!) have recognizable themes.

One of Goulding’s strains is a Van Gogh line, the last shot of Sophie’s bedchamber resembles the one at Arles and makes the point toward Matisse at the same time.

The style is akin to that of Hitchcock, resembling also Welles, in its quite elaborate camerawork and studious dissolves.

Robert Frost’s poem on this subject, “The Grindstone”, has a quite literal dramatic aspect.

Goulding’s position establishes at length that of Renoir, the painter’s son, that a character can be sublime and ridiculous at the same time.


Nightmare Alley

The first thing you see is the geek because chickens were made to have their heads cut off for Sunday dinner.

After that the roustabout, the mind reader, and then the carny act gone social, the Chicago nightclub mentalist.

The big money is spook rackets, spiritualism for foolish widows among the very rich. For this, the consulting psychiatrist is a great help.

So the carny game of ad men, politicians, frauds of every stripe, raised to the utmost heights like Simon Magus and reduced to their essence.


Mister 880

He can’t spell “Washington”, let alone Novus Ordo Seclorum.

A true story from the files of the Secret Service.

For ten years he drives the Treasury Department mad, a nearly harmless old fraud.

His picture’s on the currency for the opening titles, so you know it’s fiction.

The speaker at the United Nations is expatiating in French on the benefits of a unified Europe.

Goulding’s technique is very formidable, his Government agents bait a suspect in dumb show outside a gallery featuring a variant of Dali’s The enigma of Hitler (telephone, crutch, plate), in a long take.

Critics (Bosley Crowther, Halliwell’s Film Guide, Film4) have found it admirable, “whimsical” is often the word.