For Reel


Smart Woman (1931)
April 3, 2014, 7:35 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Gregory La Cava
3.5 Stars
Smart WomanGregory La Cava directed a number of fine women’s pictures throughout his undervalued career. Stage Door is perhaps the most beloved example, though a word could be said for two other quality Ginger Rogers pictures: Primrose Path and Fifth Avenue Girl. The aptly titled Smart Woman similarly appeals to the female audience by concerning itself with a tenacious woman (Mary Astor) who seeks revenge on her husband (Robert Ames) when she discovers that he has been having an affair while she’s been gone caring for her ailing mother. That she ever forgives him is questionable (he gets off pretty easy, all things considered), but she does get to have her fun torturing him by pretending to be in love with an impressive foreign suitor (John Halliday) and showing little concern about his decision to get a divorce. Astor is delightful and the film’s best moments are those in which the audience is let into the cracks behind her smiling, “modern” (as she puts it) facade–she acts as though Ames hasn’t hurt her, but a handful of telling glances convey the depth of her despair. Although many films made this early in the sound era (especially those based on this type of single-setting play) were overly stagy, La Cava and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca favor an abundance of character developing close-ups and a frequently moving camera. Additionally, the film involves an interesting early sound experiment in which the roar of an approaching car engine is exaggerated in order to convey Astor’s sense of dread.

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Bed of Roses (1933)
June 30, 2012, 7:24 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Gregory La Cava

A prime example of the pre-Code era at its most sexually brazen, Bed of Roses pairs Constance Bennett and Pert Kelton as a couple of prostitutes who are on the hunt for new saps to seduce and rob. In order to evade capture after stealing from a businessman, Bennett finds herself in the care of the handsome, easy-going captain of a cotton boat, played by Joel McCrea. For those who have seen their share of pre-Codes, what happens next is no surprise – Bennett’s quest for redemption is sparked by her relationship with an honest man. Bennett and McCrea had been cast together three times previous, and in this fourth and final collaboration they have a sizzling chemistry following their rather typical meet-cute. Despite the top-billed heavyweights, however, it is Kelton – a character actress who worked frequently in Hollywood throughout the 1930s – who runs away with the picture. With a distinctive deep, nasal voice, she spits out wisecracks like “I was just trying to drown out your domestic happiness!” after interrupting a couple’s quarrel. In 1955, Kelton was cast as the original Alice in the popular television series “The Honeymooners”, however following her blacklist during the McCarthy hearings she was replaced by Audrey Meadows.



Stage Door (1937)
June 2, 2012, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Gregory La Cava

RKO paired its biggest money-earner with one of its most lauded dramatic stars in Stage Door, a bitter precursor to All About Eve which follows the camaraderie of aspiring actresses in a boarding house and the occasional tragedy that befalls them. It is the hesitant friendship that is forged between Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn – the former with her career nearing its peak, the latter in a slump of lackluster box office receipts – that is the core of the film, with an impressive assortment of supporting players including Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, and Jack Carson rounding out the cast. Gregory La Cava, one of the most critically underestimated directors of the golden age of Hollywood, often has the women inhabit each plane of his crowded images, making the boarding house teem with life and providing the soundtrack with an ever-present chatter. A pivotal moment comes when the most tragic of the girls, played by the Oscar nominated Andrea Leeds, commits suicide, ultimately influencing the stiff stage performance of the struggling Hepburn. In the end, a new arrival to the boarding house echoes Hepburn’s tumultuous welcoming, but one can’t be sure whether she’ll assimilate just as well as the woman who came before her, or if she’ll meet a tragic end just as Leeds did.