For Reel


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
July 7, 2012, 6:44 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Among the best of the early-thirties horror films was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a genuinely disturbing adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic in which Fredric March gives a remarkable dual performance (winning him his first of two Oscars). Having been made in the pre-Code era, director Rouben Mamoulian had fewer restrictions in exploring the darkest elements of the source material, and as such the relationship between Hyde and a bar singer played by Miriam Hopkins remains shocking today. His harassment of her culminates in a murder and rape, dealt with relatively explicitly and rendered all the more horrific due to Hopkins’ brilliant, enormously sympathetic performance as the helpless woman. Mamoulian was a significant innovator in the early days of sound, credited with being among the first to use a “blimp”, which enclosed the camera in a noiseless box and allowed better movement, and, in 1929’s Applause, using two-channel recording that helped create a sense of three-dimensional space. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shows no less visual ambition with his clever tricks involving lighting and production design, such as Hyde’s transformation sequences or a long point-of-view tracking shot wherein March looks directly into the mirror. Few directors in the early days of sound produced works as visually and aurally dynamic as Mamoulian, making his pictures age better than all but the very best of his contemporaries.



Love Me Tonight (1932)
March 21, 2011, 6:47 am
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Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Maurice Chevalier, the ever-persistent French lover, and Jeanette MacDonald, whose operatic voice allured the audiences of her time, were among the most affable of romantic couples in the early days of sound. Working with Ernst Lubitsch on pictures like The Merry Widow and One Hour With You, the duo developed a repartee familiar of the best pairs in 1930s comedy (Astaire & Rogers, Powell & Loy). This picture, directed by successful broadway director and technical innovator Rouben Mamoulian, has an enchanting opening sequence familiar of later classics like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. As Paris awakens, the natural sounds of day-laborers and housewives literally fills the streets with music. What most differentiates Mamoulian’s take on the genre from Lubitsch’s is his highly flamboyant visual aesthetic. There are many point-of-view close-ups in which the characters speak or sing directly into the camera, and quite often Mamoulian will light a performer so that their shadow projects as high as twenty feet tall on the backdrop. The film also features Myrna Loy in a small role as an oversexed countess, who prior to reaching enormous success with Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man two years later earns many of this film’s biggest laughs.



City Streets (1931)
March 21, 2011, 6:30 am
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Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Although not particularly well known today, Rouben Mamoulian’s City Streets was a significant contributor in Hollywood’s exploration with the possibilities of sound in the early 1930s. Not only did Mamoulian revolutionize (and some sources say first innovate) the “blimp” – a device used to isolate the noise a camera made without restricting movement – City Streets is recognized as a pioneering work in voice over with it’s use of an auditory flashback, a technique used commonly today. At the time, however, those within the industry had assumed that audiences wouldn’t have been able to understand where the sound was coming from had it not been the byproduct of what was happening directly on screen. Starring Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sidney, City Streets is an entertaining pre-Code gangster picture that also possesses the anthropological curiosities of a 1931 carnival and even a woman’s prison. While the story of a common man corrupted by evil is rather routine, what elevates the material is Mamoulian’s inventive visual style – he uses fast cutting close-ups to elevate suspense, and even predicts Hitchcock with the reoccurring motif of predatory birds. A landmark in sound with uniquely stylized visuals, City Streets is well worth the watch if only to study the steps taken by the filmmakers of the early 1930s in reinventing the language of cinema after the production of silents had ceased.