For Reel

Public Wedding (1937)
March 31, 2016, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Nick Grinde
2.5 Stars
Public WeddingA dysfunctional group of carnival works concocts their latest scheme while a roller coaster looms in the background. In order to draw crowds to their whale exhibit, they have the bright idea to stage a public wedding in the creature’s gaping mouth. So begins the series of absurd events that makes up Public Wedding, a thoroughly ridiculous but occasionally appealing comedy that has the historical value of featuring Jane Wyman in her first starring role. Wyman, along with Dick Purcell and Berton Churchill, play the central trio of carnies who follow each of their schemes with an even more implausible one (at one point, they’ll stage a woman’s suicide (Marie Wilson) in order to bring publicity to an aspiring painter played by William Hopper). Had the script given the cast more venomous material to work with, Public Wedding might have been a show-stopping satire that lampooned both the institution of marriage and the world of publicists. As it is, it coasts on the charms of its cast, including the show-stealing Churchill, who gives a W.C. Fields impersonation as a blowhard con artist. Wilson, married to director Nick Grinde at the time of the film’s release, is another standout, bringing a fierce energy to the familiar “ditzy blonde” role. The only performer who can’t carry his weight is Hopper, but fortunately Wyman’s enthusiasm almost makes his scenes bearable.

This Modern Age (1931)
August 27, 2012, 6:47 am
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Director: Nick Grinde

Joan Crawford was the foremost example of the Jazz Age baby in the 1920s and 30s. In gowns by Adrian and often surrounded by attractive men and women in various states of intoxication, This Modern Age depicts her at her most ravishing. She’s not quite the sophisticated presence that she would be later into the thirties – here, she’s a woman who lives only to have fun, quick-witted and pleasant but not necessarily ambitious. Her carefree lifestyle clashes head-on with the blue blood parents of her husband-to-be, played by Neil Hamilton, who are appalled by her lack of restraint. Like so many pictures of the pre-Code era, This Modern Age finds its pleasures in depicting lives rife with promiscuity and drunkenness, however by the end it ultimately restores the morale order with an anticipated marriage. This example is particularly unique in that Hamilton doesn’t only cleanse Crawford of her sin, but by association her birthmother, who has been living as the mistress of a high society Parisian man. Despite its predictability, however, the picture is a visual delight – cinematographer Charles Rosher indulges in the occasional flourish, as in a tracking shot that follows Crawford and Hamilton as they crawl on their hands and knees up a staircase, in addition to illuminating Crawford with a radiant glow that makes her look as beautiful as she ever did on screen. Crawford and Pauline Frederick, as her mother, are both well-suited to their roles, and it is nice to see such a loving relationship between a mother and daughter, rid of the familiar jealous rages that occur in similar melodramas.

The Bishop Murder Case (1930)
August 27, 2012, 6:44 am
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Director(s): David Burton & Nick Grinde

After Paramount had found back-to-back successes in adapting S.S. Van Dine’s Philo Vance mysteries with William Powell in the leading role, MGM responded by bidding on the screen rights to another Van Dine novel and casting Basil Rathbone as the ever-perceptive Vance. The resulting film, The Bishop Murder Case, was shot in 1929 and released early in 1930, and as such it is little surprise to see how stagebound the picture feels – characters convene in rooms and have conversations with little in the way of camera movement or sophisticated mise en scene. It is the scenes without dialogue that become the real treasures, with each of the murders properly building suspense and evoking a tremendous sense of dread. The best of which occurs near the end of the picture – the killer has already claimed his victim, and director Nick Grinde shoots his shadow building a house of cards near the body as upbeat classical music plays on the radio. A nursery rhyme motif used by the murderer is an involving spin, but otherwise The Bishop Murder Case is largely ordinary – it slowly maneuvers through a series of red herrings before the last minute reveal, and along the way Rathbone impresses all of those around him with his masterful talent for deduction. Rathbone and James Donlan, playing Sgt. Heath, a bumbling ally, have nowhere near the charm of Powell and Eugene Palette in the Paramount pictures, and their dynamic is, consistent with the rest of the film, forgettable. Those seeking a more pleasurable Vance mystery should seek out Michael Curtiz’s The Kennel Murder Case.