For Reel


Are You Listening? (1932)
March 7, 2014, 2:45 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Harry Beaumont
3 Stars
Are You Listening?William Haines was one of MGM’s most bankable stars in the early days of sound, however his career would be cut short when studio head Louis B. Mayer terminated his contract due to his openly gay lifestyle. In the early sequences of Are You Listening?, Haines’ last picture for MGM, he plays his typical wisecracker, however the film eventually calls on him to put his dramatic talents to work. The resulting film is as entertaining as it is thematically incomprehensible–it has too many fingers in the pot, packing in a number of subplots that deal with (among other things): infidelity, the seduction of city life, the radio’s commanding influence on the public, advertising, morally bankrupt newspapermen, and the effects of the Depression. All that can be made of what transpires is a lot of anger directed in nearly every direction. The title morphs from a cutesy reference to a radio broadcast to a sort of plea for goodness in a culture of dishonesty and treachery. Haines is affable, but he is outshined by a remarkable female cast that includes Madge Evans, Anita Page, and a delightful Joan Marsh, whose career may be one worth further study.

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When Ladies Meet (1933)
August 16, 2012, 7:58 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Harry Beaumont

The first of two adaptations of Rachel Crothers’ play (the latter released in 1941 and starring Joan Crawford), Harry Beaumont’s When Ladies Meet is a sophisticated pre-Code drama that affords its female characters a refreshing amount of dignity. Myrna Loy, only a year before finding major stardom at MGM with The Thin Man series, plays a successful novelist who is carrying out an affair with her publisher, The Wizard of Oz‘s Frank Morgan. Robert Montgomery, who is enamored with Loy, orchestrates a situation to bring her face-to-face with Morgan’s wife, played by the marvelous but sadly forgotten Ann Harding. Although the plot reads like a classic soap, it is unusually devoid of sensationalism – these people are intelligent, reasonable, and intend to work their situation out not through heated arguments, but through thoughtful conversation. The script may prove too talky for some and, indeed, Beaumont finds himself at the mercy of the word, restricting himself to a fairly routine staging comparable to many lackluster adaptations of the time, but the performers exceed so thoroughly in their roles and the joy of seeing articulate women resolve their quarrels can’t be overstated in this period of Hollywood. In a comedic role, Alice Brady shines as an eccentric society woman, lightening up the oft-times suffocating austerity of the drama. An early conversation between Loy and Brady is a telling piece of feminism – Loy, having moral reservations about her affair despite loving Morgan wholeheartedly, is told by Brady that women of today are too-often “discontentedly decent” and that she should follow her heart.



Faithless (1932)
June 30, 2012, 7:55 pm
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Director: Harry Beaumont

The opening moments of Faithless show a series of newspaper headlines ranging from 1929 until 1932 that claim that the depression is over. Each false prediction is accompanied on the soundtrack by a buzzer and a horn, bringing a light-hearted spirit to the dour times – the typical gloss of an MGM picture. This cues the audience in to the carefree heiress at the center of it all, played by Tallulah Bankhead, for whom a downed economy has not yet ravaged. The man that she intends to marry, played by Robert Montgomery, is insecure about the relationship due to her fortunes, and demands that should they be together, she must accept living on his meager $20,000 yearly salary. Not before long, Bankhead finds herself bankrupt and Montgomery out of work, and in the end she must resort to prostitution to care for her now husband. Bankhead had little interest in Hollywood in the early thirties. After a series of unsuccessful films for Paramount, she was loaned out to MGM for Faithless in what would be her last screen appearance for over a decade. In addition to her salary demands, she was infamously outspoken – it was in 1932 that Motion Picture Magazine ran an interview with her in which bluntly publicized her desire for “an affair”. She would eventually return to Hollywood in the early 1940s, most notably for Alfred Hitchcock in Lifeboat. The success of Faithless rests on her shoulders, and although she doesn’t quite fit the second half of the narrative in which she is impoverished, she is ravishing in the art deco sets in the early scenes, gleefully spouting hilariously insensitive absurdities like, “I don’t believe in delinquent girls. Silly weaklings!”



Laughing Sinners (1931)
March 18, 2012, 9:08 am
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Director: Harry Beaumont

In their second of eight collaborations, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable are paired as members of the Salvation Army in Laughing Sinners. Though neither actor seems particularly fit for their role as preacher, it is precisely their miscasting that brings tremendous interest to the material. Crawford plays a cafe entertainer who attempts to commit suicide after being dumped by her salesman boyfriend, played with foul, oversexed aggression by Neil Hamilton. Her rescue comes in the form of Gable, a Salvation Army officer who encourages her to join the cause. Gable was just starting to get noticed at MGM, and it is clear that casting him as a man of the cloth was misguided – he was simply too sexy, too libidinous for so saccharine a role. His chemistry with Crawford, then, transforms the role of the well-meaning, noble spiritual advisor to someone who is no less sexually opportunistic than Hamilton. Consider, for example, a scene in which Gable and Crawford are shown in the same room in what appears to be the early morning. A bed is framed prominently in the background behind them. Although he is afforded more virtue than Lionel Barrymore in Sadie Thompson, for instance, it is clear that Gable’s relationship with Crawford is more than platonic. For that reason and more, it would be a mistake to dismiss the film as being too moralizing – it is a fully identifiable example of the pre-Code era, rife with all of the innuendo and debauchery that the those years entailed. Watch for one terrifying sequence in which Hamilton rents the hotel room next to Crawford’s, harasses her, and finally rapes her. As the broken woman, Crawford is at the top of her game.