A portrait of the artist with all the earmarks, principally understood in his handling of the material, a living soprano where his fellows draw pictures.
To be sure, Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times did not quite see the point, nor Variety, nor Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, nor Halliwell’s Film Guide (“Victorian fantasy melodrama”).
The Pygmalion anguish is distantly related to Renoir’s La Chienne. The major analysis is by Kazan in The Last Tycoon.
John Barrymore plays the role, his eyes turn to glowing balls while his mind works on his model.
Night after Night
“A mug tryin’ to be a gentleman.” The house in reduced circumstances, as Richard Neutra would say (Survival through Design), brought down to a gangster’s nightspot, and you can spot it by the paint job. The daughter of the place, lovely, lingering, adored by the mug, he’s taking lessons on the Lausanne Conference and things like that. “Oh, uh, you’re referring to the conference in Switzerland.”
“Er, quite so, ha-ha.”
“Yeah, the pirates of the day are pretty dumb.”
Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times, “one is apt to admit that it does succeed in being virile and interesting. Nevertheless, the pivotal idea is one that would have benefited by a measure of restraint, and so far as one character is concerned, a truer conception of psychology.” Leonard Maltin, “a crashing bore.” TV Guide, “it’s all very sleek and snappy”. Time Out, “muddled”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “a dreary retread”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “dim little drama”.
The Mayor of Hell
The toughest kid in Peakstown State Reformatory, elected under a new regime of self-government replacing the Dickensian corruption and misery of the old.
The new deputy commissioner who institutes these improvements, inspired by the reformatory nurse, is alas a ward heeler out for “velvet” as a reward for services rendered in votes and tribute money, “what is above is like what is below,” the same protection racket practiced by kids “watching cars” for a quarter on New York streets.
A.D.S. of the New York Times didn’t understand the nurse, “too sensitive and feminine”, so the film was for him “an interesting and stimulating drama almost in spite of itself.”
Successive analyses from Seiler (Crime School) to Rosenberg (Brubaker) proved no help to Tom Milne (“cloud nine tosh”, Time Out Film Guide) or Film4 (“preachy and simplistic”).
The deputy commissioner quits the political machine for the nurse, who believes a reformatory ought to teach kids “right things”.
Variety saw b.o. potential in “a junior Big House,” TIME missed the political allegory altogether, “propaganda for nothing... entertaining trash.”
Halliwell correctly points out an inspiration for the Dead End Kids.
The Case of the Lucky Legs
Who killed the beauty contest promoter? Mason’s indicated, on doctor’s orders. The winner has a censorious doctor beau, there’s other stiffed dames, the chairman of the civic betterment board’s her boss and loves her, you see how it goes.
The district attorney loves defense counsel, at least “I’ve got an option on his services myself, if any crooked politician ever tries to impeach me, I’ll be defended in court by Perry Mason,” Manchester’s the name.
“Here, put this in your mouth.”
“It’s a pencil!”
“Thermometer to you.”
F.S.N. of the New York Times praised the writers, could not follow the plot (“nonsensical? Of course!”), wrote “Warren William continues to be a bit too antic”, and blamed The Thin Man.
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “fair”.
Owing to a certain resemblance, this is the strikingly balanced poetry of a Dali painting with no matter what proceedings around a calm bicyclist with a loaf of French bread on his head.
Dr. Prangander of The Wild Goose, that’s Mason, one step ahead of the cops, “too busy with his practice” (Della Street) to cut the pages of his law books, tel. PLYmouth 1665. Many years later, Jewison incorporated the detective’s charge in ...and justice for all., a judge there.
The Petrified Forest
The intellectual dies in the artist, amidst recognizable types such as the old man fond of outlaws (cp. Night after Night), the collegiate gridiron hero, the Black Horse Vigilante trooper, and of course the criminals, with secondary joke material provided by tourists.
Jung and Villon are the literary preceptors.
Both Variety and the New York Times (Frank S. Nugent) remarked upon the faithfulness to the play, Mayo diligently extracts the desert for his exteriors, with some second-unit footage correlating it to light and wind on the sound stage.
Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) could not get beyond “insufferable literary pretensions”, Halliwell’s Film Guide agrees, citing Alistair Cooke and Graham Greene.
It’s Love I’m After
The great Shakespearean actor in the toils of romantic adulation from a female fan is all a lot of tosh that covers all the bases to get at last to the punchline of a joke propounded by Shaw, who could see that Englishmen loved the Bard unduly, for all the wrong reasons, and to death, whereas he is a much more interesting proposition taken on his own terms, inexhaustible and so forth, with that variety he assigns to one of his characters.
Nevertheless, and Sir Henry Irving is mentioned, our player does the noble thing for a pal and plays the cad to put her off, etc., etc., she’s a Pasadena heiress, he’s on tour.
She’s absolutely scrumptious, last year it was Clark Gable ran her ragged in the mind’s eye, the player struts and frets in vain.
Halliwell thought it was good once upon a time, Variety at the time found it “fresh, clever, excellently directed and produced,” Time Out Film Guide again missed the point.
The girl is reconciled to her mate, as Shaw found Miss Achurch’s Cleopatra “reconciling me to the grave,” the actor returns to his Juliet, and a lot of bad productions associating themselves with the playwright are very carefully explained, once and for all.
“What a gigantic reform Mr Poel will make if his Elizabethan Stage should lead to such a novelty as a theatre to which people go to see the play instead of to see the cast!”
The Adventures of Marco Polo
The barbarians of the West are overtaxed by Kublai Khan’s Saracen minister, who sees the emperor’s army lost on a campaign against Japan and seizes the throne. Marco Polo advises the barbarians to attack Peking, the Saracen is defeated, Kublai Khan generous.
A more than magnificent film guided ultimately by the director’s genius for the stylistic difficulties in an immense production, which are handled with seeming lightness and ease.
As often noted, the Venetian merchant leaves China with noodles, firepowder, a stone that burns, the Princess Kukachin and some trade agreements.
Variety was receptive to this, moviegoers reportedly not.
Hugo Friedhofer’s score is continually inspired.
They Shall Have Music
In Noo Yawk, Heifetz’ playing sends a “little crook” back to his violin, only it’s a long way to Carnegie Hall, see? The poor kids at the music school are facing eviction once the instruments are repossessed, it’s a calamity dire and extreme (the wee tykes get up to Verdi and Chopin and Rossini), the crook’s gang swipe Heifetz’ Stradivarius, they don’t even know what a Stradivarius is, the crook returns it, Heifetz cancels a concert to fiddle for the folks and be the new sponsor for the school (he had sent over, gratis, a performance film that delighted the kids), the creditors are more than delighted.
Such are the inspiring powers of a great virtuoso, it all seems very possible and makes perfect sense, why, Halliwell didn’t even realize he was looking at a work of art, it was so well done. Film4 says it’s “sentimental”.
The presiding spirit is Debussy, who as Ken Russell points out lived in poverty a great deal.
“Oxford 1890”. A don crosses the quad of St. Oldes, accompanied by a short and even more elderly colleague, they wear cap and gown and great side whiskers down to the chin, a magnificent walk, one of the great ones.
It sets the tone for all that follows, the sublimity of which can only be gauged by imagining the great Arthur Askey in a London movie palace wishing the razor would slip, in a joshing sort of way, he had played the part for Gainsborough Pictures the year before (“smiling, the boy fell dead”).
The university, girls like clouds floating upon it, “Charley’s nut, from Brazil, where the aunts come from!”
Confirm or Deny
There is an advantage even to newspapermen in drawing the veil over certain facts for a time, though it goes against the grain of every journalistic fiber and the entire thrust of the film.
September, 1940, London, the Blitz, “Warsaw and Rotterdam were pinpricks beside it” (Shirer).
Consolidated Press of America is bombed out, moves to the Regency Hotel wine cellar, gets the scoop on Hitler’s invasion and doesn’t send it. Why let them know we know?
Every effort has been made to inform “a thousand papers, ninety million readers”, only at the last minute to see the story held voluntarily, however reluctantly, until passed by the Ministry of Information.
Mayo’s skill and genius paint a picture of the time like Murrow on the scene.
A very brilliant, profound comedy for some reason entirely dismissed by critics.
It all takes place in the fishing town of San Pablo on one of the inlets of San Francisco Bay. Gabin is drunk, cadges money in The Red Dot saloon. He talks to a girl, her escort insults them, Gabin knocks him down, goes on a bender. This is a most detailed and meticulous evocation of drunkenness, to which Dali contributed sketches and perhaps the clock with revolving numbers and whiskey-bottle hands, the entire montage is a polished work of art.
Part of Mayo’s telegraphic technique is the jump-cut favored by Capra, which moves the action in closer for inspection then back out. There is another sphere of activity altogether. This is controlled by the set, which is entirely on a sound stage, docks, bay, Morro Castle Hotel and all.
Gabin is offered a job but refuses it. He rescues a girl from suicide by drowning, then bluffs his way through the police report with aplomb. He takes the girl home to his dockside shanty.
Gabin is admirably tough, with a drunken smile now and again. Ida Lupino as the girl is admirably expressive and sensitive. Gabin’s pals are Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) and Nutsy (Claude Rains), the latter a Western character in flat-brimmed Army Stetson, coat and tie with spectacles and mustache. Gabin’s white blackbilled captain’s hat has the name “Pop Kelly” written inside it in block letters. Nutsy looks guardedly askance at that.
A sportboat, the Doris K., pulls alongside Gabin’s dock with engine trouble, The yachtsman (Jerome Cowan) is a local doctor, the pinup girl in the stern is rather bored. Gabin makes repairs.
Mayo’s consciousness of the image is strikingly revealed in a scene of growing intimacy between Gabin and Lupino in the shanty. Suddenly Mayo cuts to a close-up of Tiny filling the screen, then establishes that he is approaching the dock for a visit. The exterior set is strongly characterized by a stone jetty in the background, behind which the scud of a crashing wave is seen from time to time. The point of the set construction may very well be to establish a very exact congruity between the scud and the occasional smoke from Gabin’s pipe. The girl leaves smiling.
At night, Gabin sets out a chair on the dock for her. She sits right, facing him, with moonlight on the water behind her. He is framed left by the open door behind his chair facing her, with lamplight to his rear, left. You can learn a lot from Mayo, not in an academic sense. His setups are informative, his editing is direct and forceful.
Nutsy burns Gabin’s hat on a beach fire. The shanty becomes a scene of domesticity. Mayo’s camerawork is of the best. Gabin bustles into a shot for a brief comment, the camera jostles in at another angle to settle on him as the movement is completed. He takes that job on the fishing boat.
Tiny confronts the girl in the shanty. The scene is composed with the actors jockeying for position in the shot, the jump-cut, and maneuvering by cutting.
The homage to Chaplin continues with complicated rhythms within static two-shots (Mitchell and Rains), etc., on the understanding that cinema is an art of movement.
Everyone gets gussied up for the wedding on the little dock in front of the shanty. The Doris K. shows up for more repairs. The gathered throng is pictured with a long-shot, medium-long, medium-close, two-shot on the couple, long-shot, medium-shot construction. The bored pinup on the boat shakes Cowan’s hand and walks off after the wedding. He and Gabin have a long talk over the engine.
Gabin is away fishing when Tiny accosts the bride in the shanty. There are heated words, he advances upon her, quick fade to black. Gabin returns, takes her to the hospital in Cowan’s boat.
Gabin searches out Tiny, past a giant anchor (silhouette and fog) to the very end of the jetty, and all but casts him into the sea.
Back at the hospital, Nutsy lights Gabin’s cigarette, the smoke billows. Cowan’s boat carries the bride home again, the dock and shanty are transformed into a seaside cottage.
“This life’s about as glamorous as a gymnasium!”
The artists’ life on tour is no clambake, 29 cities in 30 days, as far as the West Coast, it’s a requirement of the business or no sane man would ever care to, anyway the wives come along and that’s the story.
They have their own morale, they keep it up, a delicate thing like circus animals caged for traveling, a new girl is a prey to every catty bitch and warbler sustaining herself on dreams and fancies, turning the tables on them tears the band to pieces, “the best band in the country.”
All can be made well, however, by a sense of appreciative glad tidings for the level of work involved, and a dream or two made real a little early.
Glenn Miller and His Orchestra lightly disguised with a few ringers (George Montgomery, Cesar Romero, Jackie Gleason) but otherwise intact, Modernaires and all.
The girls are rather from Cukor’s The Women.
“People Like You and Me” adds the note of wartime exigency and still puts the characters in their places, even under extraordinary circumstances of life.
How much if any of this was admired or even perceived by the New York Times reviewer (Bosley Crowther) can be stated in two words, “generally fatuous”, both his.
Halliwell’s Film Guide and Time Out Film Guide rate the matter more highly, though Tom Milne could not follow the plot, “slender” he calls it.
The joke not available to reviewers at the time, because the time was not ripe or they weren’t, is that the young lady is an enemy Q-ship flying Swedish colors, her base is the school for girls where she works, and the submarine Corsair has to find this out, furthermore there are two ways to handle it, one involves not waiting for a promotion, the other goes right into the base.
And so, the smashing work slipped by the New York Times, where Bosley Crowther asked if Hollywood knew there was a war on.
The film is twenty years ahead of its time (Mann’s The Heroes of Telemark) and exactly contemporary (Asquith’s We Dive at Dawn), centering on the exquisite portrait of Anne Baxter as femme of the Forties.
Sweet and Low-Down
Material is visibly reworked from They Shall Have Music and Orchestra Wives to have a poor kid from the neighborhood hired as a trombonist and take Benny Goodman’s band away from him, the new band fails.
The surrealism of the Middleton Military Institute certainly resembles Wilder’s The Major and the Minor, against Lynn Bari once again as a scheming singer, this time with a manager (Allyn Joslyn).
It’s the Dearborn Settlement House, Goodman’s clarinet is swiped to pique his interest.
All “weak and weary romance” to Bosley Crowther, New York Times.
The band goes touring with Goodman, who stops to pick up the trombonist again.
A Night in Casablanca
The furious complications of plot are savvily put in conversational snatches. This has not stopped critics from complaining that the exercise of their profession requires them to think, sometimes.
Nazi loot ditched by a brave French pilot has been secreted at the Hotel Casablanca. A Nazi (Sig Rumann) has installed himself as a guest, his staff are waiters, they’ve killed successive hotel managers to put him in possession.
Ronald Kornblow (Groucho Marx) is summoned from the Desert View Hotel to take charge. Rusty (Harpo) and Corbaccio (Chico) eventually become his bodyguards.
The loot is pictures (Rembrandt), gold, and crown jewels. The Nazi is simply making an extended stop on his way to South America.
Several references to Curtiz’ film indicate a situation rather than a spoof.
Angel On My Shoulder
Mayo’s supreme masterpiece on certain of his themes back to The Petrified Forest and earlier, running all through his films again and again, in various permutations expanding and refining the understanding involved, so it’s especially deplorable that Bosley Crowther of the New York Times should so easily have confused it with Alexander Hall’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, it was all arranged, said Crowther, “in order to suit the convenience of the commercialists of the screen.”
The judge, a candidate for governor who runs a youth foundation wiping out juvenile crime, the devil who opposes him with a lookalike gangster to replace his soul, the secretary and fiancée who exerts an influence, and so on.
Mayo puts the gangster wise to Satan and all his works, which is a decided advantage even in hell.
Halliwell’s remark was “crude but lively fantasy”.