For Reel


A Thousand and One Nights (1945)
August 17, 2015, 4:00 pm
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Director: Alfred E. Green
3.5 Stars
A Thousand and One NightsMedieval swashbucklers had been plentiful in the 1930s and would arguably find their greatest success in the early 1940s, but the release of The Thief of Bagdad in 1940 did have a significant effect in turning Hollywood’s eye towards Middle Eastern mythology once again. A Thousand and One Nights not only capitalizes on the genre with an A-budget (including lavish sets and an impressive array of colorful costumes) and a focus on the fantastical, but serves as a direct parody of The Thief of Bagdad–a fact made quite clear when Rex Harrison shows up as the same Giant he played from the previous film. As with the Bob Hope-starring The Princess and the Pirate from the previous year, the film is a visual marvel and nicely straddles its genres. Although some viewers will be irritated by the antics of Phil Silvers (who plays an anachronistic character “born 2,000 years early”), Cornel Wilde plays Aladdin straight and finds some success in his agreeable blandness. The real star of the picture, however, is Evelyn Keyes as the genie who falls hopelessly in love with Aladdin. Her jealousy causes much of the dramatic conflict in the latter half of the picture, but her facetious treatment of the character always favors well-meaning snark over what could have been an indignant, misogynistic creation.



The Merry Frinks (1934)
March 27, 2015, 10:13 pm
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Director: Alfred E. Green
3.5 Stars
The Merry FrinksAline MacMahon has a rare starring role in The Merry Frinks as the matriarch of the world’s most ungrateful family. Her husband (Hugh Herbert) is an oft-fired drunk, her sons (Allen Jenkins and Frankie Darro) are a tempered communist and an aspiring prizefighter respectively, her daughter (Joan Wheeler) is carrying out an affair with a married man (Harold Huber), and her elderly mother (Helen Lowell) does little but complain. The house’s walls are a hellish prison for MacMahon, forcing her to the edge of a complete nervous breakdown. With such thoroughly ugly characterizations, the film just about makes every audience member wonder if they’ve done their own mother wrong. That the not-so-merry Frinks come together in the end and support MacMahon plays like a fantastical bit of wish fulfillment, but it comes from a good place. The cast is a who’s-who of the great Warner Brothers character actors of the early 1930s, with Jenkins being the standout in what might be his most abrasive performance (which is saying a lot!).



Parachute Jumper (1933)
September 9, 2014, 3:44 pm
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Director: Alfred E. Green
3 Stars
Parachute JumperIn a scene from 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) uses clips from some of her early 1930s pictures to demonstrate why her career plummeted. One of said clips is from a Warner Brothers programmer which Davis would long suggest was her worst film. Davis’ lack of enthusiasm is evident in a performance that is rather terrible–she’s saddled with a southern accent that she half-commits to–but despite the failure of the casting, the film has a few things going for it. It’s a provocative slice of Depression life, even if the tone it takes is too light-hearted to really sell the direness of it all. At one point, Davis and the titular jumper Douglas Fairbanks Jr. literally steal a fish from a starving cat and laugh about it. It also is fairly radical, even for the lax period that it was released in–the plot involves narcotics smuggling; a character flicks off a passing car; some of the dialogue verges into Mae West territory of innuendo. While none of this amounts to a cohesive product (the title is a head-scratcher in that there is only one scene involving parachute jumping), it’s a relatively enjoyable mess of pre-Code entertainment.



Union Depot (1932)
August 22, 2012, 5:06 am
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Director: Alfred E. Green

The opening sequence of Alfred E. Green’s Union Depot is among the most remarkable to come out of Hollywood in the early 1930s. Sol Polito’s camera drifts through a train station, weaving through civilians while their conversations fade in and out of the soundtrack (one can’t help but be reminded of Wim Wender’s much later classic, Wings of Desire). It is almost seven minutes into the picture before star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is introduced, miscast as a homeless man who has just been released from prison and intends to live large for a day. He chances upon Joan Blondell, a jobless chorus girl who is fleeing from a pervert, and promises to help her pay her train fare to Salt Lake City where a job temporarily awaits her. No other major studio in the early years of sound produced more risky pictures than Warner Brothers, and Union Depot is a remarkable example of their authorship – championing a common thief as the hero, as well as a woman who has resorted to prostitution, it is a film that could not have been made in Hollywood only two years later. Fairbanks’ casting was ill-conceived – he is too handsome, young, and well-spoken to be playing a cynical bum – but Blondell was always reliable as a fallen woman with a heart of gold. Polito’s camera is the true star of the picture, using elaborate crane shots that include the aforementioned opening long take in which he tracks from the exterior of the station through its entrance and beyond.



I Loved a Woman (1933)
April 20, 2012, 1:36 am
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Director: Alfred E. Green

A third of the way into I Loved a Woman, Kay Francis looks into Edward G. Robinson’s eyes as she bids him farewell. Their love has been requited at last, however she has encouraged him to continue his business venture over pursuing their romance. “There’s nothing in it but you and your dream! That’s the way I see it! That’s the way I’ll travel to the top! […] Promise me to be ruthless! Ruthless as our love!” Ayn Rand would blush. A disaster of an attempt at a prestige picture, neither Robinson nor Francis were at all enthusiastic to be attached to the project, and Francis would later dismiss it as a complete dud. The bulk of the blame should rest on the shoulders of screenwriter Charles Kenyon, who adapted a novel by David Karsner. In every line, the characters speak their thoughts directly and often with hilarious bluntness – “I’m going to corner the Argentine grain market! […] Just to see if it can’t be done!”, says Robinson unsolicited. One gets the sense that the project was massacred in the editing room, as the eventual reunion between Robinson and Francis happens without any suggestion of its imminence. Concerning a 40+ year period, Alfred E. Green fails to establish a pace or create any sort of momentum, and as he filters through wartime stock footage and newspaper clippings, one begs for a reprieve. That it finally comes with the least graceful of final lines – “I’m sleepy.” – is quite fitting. The production values are there, and Genevieve Tobin fares well in her performance as Robinson’s bitter wife, but considering the talent attached to the picture it is astounding that they produced such a flop.