For Reel


Kansas City Princess (1934)
January 28, 2017, 4:37 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Keighley
3.5 Stars
Kansas City Princess.jpgFeaturing the natural pair of Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell, Kansas City Princess plays like an early incarnation of Some Like It Hot, complete with a variety of disguises and aloof bachelors. The two quick-witted blondes play manicurist swindlers who find themselves on the run from a gangster (Robert Armstrong) who has taken a liking to Blondell. Both actresses were known for the sassy fast-talking repartee, and this film provides some of their most memorable scenes together—the two women go back-and-forth, leaving little breathing room for one another and all but speaking over each other in their urgency to get the next line out. Director William Keighley wisely stages many of these scenes in public places and blocks the women walking down hallways, adding to the sense of energy and chaos—in its best moments, Kansas City Princess makes one recall the frenetic pacing of His Girl Friday, which wouldn’t be released for another six years. Unfortunately, the momentum is all but sapped from the picture in the last fifteen minutes or so (a late appearance by Ivan Lebedeff is the sole weak performance in the cast), perhaps an inevitability when following the remarkably entertaining scenes between Blondell and Farrell and two hilariously obnoxious businessmen played by T. Roy Barnes and Hobart Cavanaugh.

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Dr. Monica (1934)
February 6, 2016, 1:32 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Keighley
2.5 Stars
Dr. MonicaThe plot of Dr. Monica would be just as appropriate on the Lifetime network now as it was on Hollywood screens in 1934. It concerns an obstetrician (Kay Francis) who, in the climax, must deliver her best friend’s (Jean Muir) baby shortly after having been made aware that the child is actually her own husband’s (Warren William). David Sterritt, in his article on the film at TCM.com, discusses how Dr. Monica participates in the “woman’s film” genre, remarking on the very specific audience it meant to attract. Typical of the genre, the picture involves a level of fashion and glamour that positions her as a highly dignified professional and distinguishes Francis as one of the era’s most chic stars. Just as common in this genre is that it is a film about a woman’s suffering, where the best way of being “ladylike” is to quietly cope with one’s problems. While Muir’s character undergoes a series of mood-swings–prompted both by the heartbreak of her ill-advised affair and the incredible guilt she feels for sleeping with her friend’s husband–Francis remains largely resolute and saint-like after she discovers what her husband has been up to. Francis and Muir are both solid, but Verree Teasdale steals the show as a sophisticate who gives Francis sage advice in the third act. William, sans-mustache, is dialed down from his usual cad roles, playing more for sympathy than reveling in the expected smarm. The picture’s one memorable scene involves a farewell on a dock, where William can’t muster a reaction to his obediently waving wife, but instead gestures meaningfully to his mistress.



George Washington Slept Here (1942)
May 13, 2015, 7:59 pm
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Director: William Keighley
3 Stars
George Washington Slept HereThis comedy about the headaches of home renovation stars Jack Benny as the put-upon husband of an antique-crazed wife (Ann Sheridan). After she surprises him with the purchase of a dilapidated farmhouse in the country, he spends most of the picture fuming and falling through the broken floorboards. Benny was often used to his greatest effect in roles that were nonchalant and reactionary–in The Horn Blows at Midnight, he plays an angel tasked with bringing upon the apocalypse and he did so with a carefree disregard. George Washington Slept Here instead casts him as a martyr who irascibly navigates his person hell. The one-liners don’t come as often as one would like, but Benny’s crossness does lead to some hearty chuckles–when informed that he needs to spray the trees on his property to protect them from insects, he points to the trees of a nearby forest and complains, “Who sprays all those trees?” The art direction team led by Max Parker did an admirable job of tearing apart the set of Arsenic and Old Lace to create the memorable ramshackle home.



Mary Jane’s Pa (1935)
March 27, 2015, 10:16 pm
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Director: William Keighley
3.5 Stars
Mary Jane's PaCharacter actors Aline MacMahon and Guy Kibbee would star together in a total of ten films after their memorable pairing in Gold Diggers of 1933. They were often utilized in domestic comedies that showcased the plights that parents went through in the domestic setting, particularly regarding the ungratefulness of children and the increasing lovelessness of a long marriage. Mary Jane’s Pa is very much about bandaging a ravaged nuclear family, but it also has a terrific romantic core. Kibbee plays a newspaperman with a severe case of wanderlust and, in the opening scene, he abandons his wife and children for a life on the road. A decade later, he returns and eventually finds his way back into the house as a cook, desperately trying to win back the good graces of his family. It’s one of Kibbee’s finest performances of the period–he’s not saddled with the usual task of playing a blowhard, rather he gets to play a deeply flawed, but ultimately sympathetic man. The opening sequence, involving MacMahon discovering that her husband has left her, is hugely effective. She plays it as more of an inevitability than a shock, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. The frequency of the train whistle on the soundtrack seems to taunt her, a brutal reminder of her husband’s desertion.



Easy to Love (1934)
March 24, 2014, 1:38 am
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Director: William Keighley
4.5 Stars
Easy to LoveThe trailer for 1934’s Easy to Love suggested that it was meant to be perceived as a step forward in the battle of the sexes–this would be a film that challenged the double standard in which men are all but expected to carry on affairs whereas for a woman to do so would be unthinkable. A title card reads: “See how they’ve [women] revised the moral code and put their boyfriends on the defense!” It is not at all accurate to suggest that this was breaking new ground in Hollywood–the pre-Code era features an especially high number of films that involve women challenging the standards that are imposed on them–but it does lay the groundwork for a film that takes tremendous glee in leveling the playing field between the sexes. The film follows Carol (Genevieve Tobin), a married woman whose husband John (Adolphe Menjou) has ceased being physical with her as he carries out an affair with Charlotte (Mary Astor). As revenge, Carol makes John believe that she is sleeping with his best friend, a wealthy but thoroughly hapless schlub named Eric (Edward Everett Horton). The innuendo-laced dialogue gets especially risqué–Menjou discusses his exhaustion after polo matches, an excuse clear to the audience and to his wife that he’s been having a lot of extramarital sex. It is the adult banter of this sort (delivered with the manic energy that Warner Brothers did best) that makes the picture so memorable, establishing it as one of the last great relics of pre-Code comedy. Beyond the tremendous dialogue, the cast is uniformly terrific, with the always hilarious Horton being the scene-stealer. Guy Kibbee appears late in the picture to oversee a would-be wedding set in the raunchiest of locations.



The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
January 1, 2014, 9:51 pm
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Director(s): Michael Curtiz & William Keighley
5 Stars
The Adventures of Robin HoodA relic from an era when action adventures could still be colorful and unabashedly fun, The Adventures of Robin Hood has maintained its reputation as Hollywood’s most beloved swashbuckler and for good reason. Perhaps the most indispensable reason is Errol Flynn in his most iconic role. Flynn himself admitted that he wasn’t an actor of much range, however few actors could look so charmed by the very act of performing–his Robin is surely among the most joyous of screen characters, which is quite the surprise given a troubled production process. His charisma and winning smile removes him from the dour cynicism of later adaptations of the material (including Ridley Scott’s dreary retelling from 2010). He is well met by the ever-spectacular Claude Rains as Prince John, who plays the traitor with self-amusement and a defined effeminacy. On the page, the picture is a scrambled mess that pulls from various sources without much to hold it together, however what is remarkable is the way that directors Michael Curtiz and William Keighley (who was fired halfway through the production) efficiently breeze through one episode to the other, keeping each as exciting as the last. The climactic duel between Flynn and the treacherous Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) is an oft-cited masterpiece of swordplay, with the towering shadows of the combatants creating a dread-inspiring atmosphere for their deadly confrontation.



Big Hearted Herbert (1934)
April 19, 2012, 8:03 pm
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Director: William Keighley

A dull but well-intentioned domestic revenge fantasy, Big Hearted Herbert concerns the plight of a loving family who must put their tyrannical patriarch in his place. Based on a play by writers Sophie Kerr and Anna Steese Richardson, the narrative holds a number of truths today – in fact, the title character’s dismissal of college educated adults is not dissimilar from certain contemporary politicians. Guy Kibbee plays the insufferable father, who is so proud of being a self-made, blue-collar man that he refuses to let his son go to a university. The early moments are enormously depressing – Aline McMahon, as his wife, has to play chipper even in the aftermath of Herbert’s constant berating, which is all too familiar of the characterizations of the common housewife in classic Hollywood cinema. When she and her children play their prank on Herbert to set him straight, however, its a nice, empowering moment, one in which the women and the children quite literally seize control of their domestic rights. Kibbee fares well and intelligently does very little to humanize the character, however the supporting roles are forgettable and perhaps don’t convey enough bitterness to make plausible the sequence in which the table is turned. Director William Keighley’s efforts are workmanlike and little more. If not a remarkably interesting movie in its aesthetics or performances, the domestic revolution at its center is quite progressive for Code-era Hollywood.