For Reel


Bedside (1934)
February 6, 2016, 1:24 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Florey
3.5 Stars
BedsideWarren William’s series of cads are among the great pleasures of early-1930s Hollywood. A wolfish opportunist, William excelled at playing characters who were both corrupt and undoubtedly irresistible. In a period when his home studio, Warner Brothers, was known for gritty, almost nihilistic pictures about people sinking to extreme lows just to scrape by in a cutthroat world, William was the stalwart example of a leading man. Bedside takes an enormous risk by casting him as a corrupt would-be doctor who gambles away the money he meant to use for finishing medical school and instead buys a diploma from a disgraced, morphine-addicted physician (David Landau). If William’s cons are amusing in a film like The Mind Reader where the stakes are low, Bedside literally involves him taking lives into his sleazy, money-grubbing hands. Yet somehow it works, both for the the way it fearlessly revels in the muck, and in Robert Florey’s rapidly-paced and visually dynamic filmmaking. The title itself serves as a double entendre, suggesting both his profession and his penchant for affairs, and in a few scenes Florey perches the doctor on the same bed as his female patients as if stalking his prey. Nowhere is the link between sexuality and his career better demonstrated than in the opening scene, which begins with a close-up shot of a woman’s legs before pulling back to reveal that she is receiving a check-up. While William’s characters always paid the price for their misdeeds, Bedside is particularly well-imagined in this aspect in that his nonchalance and carelessness results in him facing potentially dire consequences, backing him into a corner and forcing a change-of-heart. If the situation is contrived and more than a little ridiculous, the confession sequence has a certain honesty to it that William excels at portraying.

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The Cocoanuts (1929)
July 21, 2015, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Director(s): Robert Florey & Joseph Santley
3 Stars
The CocoanutsThe first feature film to star the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts is a stagy, ponderous effort that is a few swings below the team’s usual par. Of directors Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, Groucho famously remarked, “One of them didn’t understand English, the other didn’t understand comedy.” It is clear that some things were lost from stage to screen–in a few clumsy long shots, characters walk on and off the screen and break the comedic flow of the material, and in other instances actors are awkwardly cut off by the frame. In a particularly egregious sequence, Florey frames Harpo’s leg routine with Kay Francis above the waist, meaning that audiences barely get a sense of what the great physical comedian is doing with the entirety of his body. Regardless, one doesn’t always come to a Marx Brothers film for inspired direction or an engaging narrative, and The Cocoanuts does contain a handful pleasures amongst its assemblage of vignettes. Harpo, in particular, is a stand out in that he is even more chaotic than in his later films. While he would eventually gain a tinge of sweetness in later productions, here he plays a devilish frustration that uses anything and anyone as a prop. Santley’s dance numbers are of some interest in that they predict Busby Berkeley’s numbers, rife with overhead kaleidoscopic shots and a number of low angles that fetishize the dancer’s legs.



Ex-Lady (1933)
September 14, 2014, 11:35 pm
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Director: Robert Florey
3.5 Stars
Ex-LadyAlthough one might imagine that Bette Davis would have a certain sentimentality about the first film in which her name was above the title, Ex-Lady was released during one of the most creatively unfulfilling periods of her career and represented the peak of her frustrations with the roles Warner Brothers had been providing her. The role might not be completely suited to Davis’ talents, but her very noticeable discomfort adds a lot to her character of a strong, independent woman whose lame boyfriend all but guilts her into a marriage before immediately turning to infidelity. There’s a terrific scene in which Davis witnesses him (a lousy Gene Raymond) with another woman, and when he arrives home in the middle of the night she plays aloof to see if he confesses. When he doesn’t, she announces her intention to leave in the morning with a cocksure confidence. This sense of projected emotional detachment is coming from her desire to defend her pride, but the film is also keen on displaying her vulnerabilities–on more than one occasion, Davis weeps as soon as she is alone in a space. The greatness in the performance is this running theme of the contrast between her private moments and her public affectations. As a modern, progressive woman, she is independent and opinionated, but it is grounded with a very feminine emotionality (in the generic Hollywood convention). Her power comes not only from her confrontational attitude and the sparring matches she has with her husband, but from her embrace of what it is that makes her woman.



Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
July 7, 2012, 6:48 am
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Director: Robert Florey

Universal had planned to follow up the great success of Dracula with an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, attaching director Robert Florey and the newly bankable Bela Lugosi to the project. Those plans, of course, fell through once James Whale came on board and Lugosi, disinterested in playing the monster, was replaced by Boris Karloff. As a result, Florey and Lugosi would instead be paired in the third of Universal’s cycle of horror films in the early 1930s, an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. Shot by Karl Freund – he of The Last Laugh, Metropolis, and Dracula – the picture has a moody atmosphere going for it and little else. When the sinister Doctor Mirakle emerges from the fog to lay claim over a lady of the night, one recalls the more effectively chilling horror staples of the time. A man in an ape costume quickly ruins that idealism. The action scenes are performed by a man in a relatively convincing costume, but for the reaction shots, Florey cuts to an image of a real ape looking sometimes despondent, other times mildly annoyed. Sidney Fox is not quite magnetic enough to sell the fear – consider, by comparison, how effective Miriam Hopkins was in a similar role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – and, as the hero, Leon Ames is a dud. While there may be some interest in discussing the film’s ideology (horror by way of the creationist point-of-view), it barely sustains itself as a mild curiosity.



Girl Missing (1933)
April 20, 2012, 1:38 am
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Director: Robert Florey

A pair of gold-diggers are on a murder case in Robert Florey’s Girl Missing. Glenda Farrell, one of the great wise-crackers of the early thirties, is paired well with Mary Brian, who is the dimmer one of the two but also the better man-eater. On screen, they have a satisfying, fast-talking chemistry – one wishes that they starred in a number of similar mystery thrillers, as opposed to the hard-boiled male detective type that was too-often recycled. In a memorable opening scene, a pathetic sugar daddy played by Guy Kibbee has suspected Brian of being after his money, and he requests that she accompany him to bed to prove her loyalty. In the morning, having refused to accompany him, Brian finds that he has left her with the $700 hotel bill for making a fool out of him. Once one of their old friends from the chorus goes missing and a substantial reward is offered for her discovery, they pursue the culprits of a convoluted scheme that places the victim’s husband as the sucker. Ben Lyon, the husband, is dull as a leading man, but Brian and Farrell, especially, inject every scene with impeccable comic timing and wit. Screenwriters Carl Erickson, Don Mullaly, and Ben Markson balance the comedic elements with the mystery plot with impressive ease, contributing to Warner Brothers’ pre-Code reputation of producing quickly-paced, highly entertaining yarns packed with plenty of attitude.