Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Friday, October 26, 2007

Greenbriar Weekend Marquee

Dark Journey is a Spy vs. Spy romance of World War One coming on the eve of the Second World War. It was produced by Alexander Korda in 1937. US exhibitors resisted British features because of dialogue laden with accents. Many complained their audiences couldn’t understand what was being said. United Artists released Dark Journey, but domestic rentals stalled at $76,000. Somehow Raymond Rohauer ended up with the negative, and it’s available out of England on Region 2. Even if they stood still and read phone books, it would be enough having Conrad Veidt and Vivien Leigh teamed, though you wish they’d done so under Alfred Hitchcock’s direction rather than workmanlike Victor Saville. Still, these are enjoyable intrigues as played out amidst glistening nightclub sets, U-boats, and secret decoding rooms. British filmmakers, including Hitchcock, relied upon models and miniatures for many of their exteriors. Must have been the uncertain weather over there. It’s fun spotting toy trains chugging along just ahead of cutaways to club car interiors. State secrets and battle plans are here sewn into gowns sold in Vivien Leigh’s chic dress shop, and translated by way of draping them over lamp shades decorated with coded maps. Operatives are designated as X-4, D-12, whatever --- seldom have numerals been so exotically utilized. It took me the whole of ninety minutes to figure out which side who was on. Vivien Leigh appears loyal to the Kaiser, then at halfway point reveals her double-agentry, much in the way seeming Hollywood traitors would emerge true blue in espionage thrillers like Across The Pacific, Northern Pursuit, and even out west in Springfield Rifle. Spy business of Dark Journey is conducted in tuxedos and evening gowns on moonlit balconies. There’s nothing by way of political discourse. People are for or against France and Germany for reasons they keep to themselves. Without a real war going on in the background, thrillers like Dark Journey could focus on  romance of espionage, never the ideologies behind it. With Veidt and Leigh to look at and listen to, we would not be concerned with politics in any case. How could anyone watching Leigh in 1938 imagine she would not be spirited off by Yank studio interests? Both Allied and German spies play scrupulously fair in Dark Journey, as this is a gentleman's war they’re fighting. Surely playdates down the UK circuit saw uncomfortable reaction to ultra-civilized Conrad Veidt as newly aggressive Germany pressed further upon English shores. Veidt has no peer among offbeat and vaguely sinister leading men. The shadings he brought these parts made all his thirties output watchable, though some of that would be lost with conventional Nazi villain work he had to settle for upon taking up Hollywood residence.

James Cagney's inclination to protest in the face of vehicle monotony makes sense when you examine his early Warner output laid in a row (or, as he'd put it, rut). JC led with a punch for men and slaps (or worse) for women. Jimmy The Gent was late in this game and Cagney revolted by shaving his head Prussian-style and decorating the exposed scalp with bottle scars, going all out hoodlum as if to parody roles being forced upon him per Warners’ contract. How could his popularity sustain repetition like this? So many stars got wrung out in five years or less. WB was especially callous at bleeding dry, then discarding, talent wearisome upon an excess of curtain calls. Ruth Chatterton and Kay Francis went that way. Dick Powell sung himself hoarse. Cagney fought back and was careerwise the better for it. By Jimmy The Gent, he had worked so many onscreen cons as to be confused with musketeers of the pavement he played. Most income from Cagney was got from urban venues. He spoke their language as surely as "B" cowboys represented southeast and western sensibilities. Low volume settings will best serve those venturing to Jimmy The Gent. Everyone bellows, windows get smashed, and doors are all but slammed off hinges. It’s a pace pre-code fans are used to, but the uninitiated might wonder what depression dwellers were putting in their drinks. Everybody’s on the make. Cynical double-dealing is business as usual among characters impliedly just this side of the law, with starvation, not prosperity, right around the corner. Unforgiving depression settings make their behavior understandable, if not admirable. Jimmy The Gent had a negative cost of just $151,000 and ended with profits of $99,000. The next Cagney, He Was Her Man, would be his first to lose money ($12,000), though redirection into service pictures would bring greater profits than ever for the star. I realize Cagney knocked ‘em dead at the Strand (WB’s NYC flagship), but how did rurals take him? Contrasts between Jimmy The Gent and a typical Will Rogers vehicle suggest product worlds apart in origin and attitude. Could tastes for one extend to pleasure in seeing the other? Never before or since did movies traffic in such moral and philosophical opposites. Those who would brand thirties’ output formulaic just haven’t seen enough of it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just look at that set design in that photo of Cagney, wouldn't you just give anything to have the chair that Cagney's coat has been casually thrown over.

Who is that tall fellow by the way? He reminds me of Edward Everett Horton.

7:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's Arthur Hohl. I checked him at imdb and he has a long list of appearances, many of them uncredited. He's a familiar face in several of the Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

8:23 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

I love those early Cagney movies. Those who know him just from "Public Enemy" don't know the half of him. Neither he nor Bogart have peers in Hollywood today.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Conrad Veidt, how few American audiences knew him until his role as Major Strasser in CASABLANCA. Many of his roles were in silents and talkies abroad and his star didn't really shine until his portrayal of that menacing Nazi officer Bogart eventually shot. Too bad Veidt really did die soon after CASABLANCA was released.

And Cagney--his pre-1938 pictures always are a treat--especially the urban comedy/drama/melodramas--we all wish we could have that kind of reckless, in your face personality!

EC, Toledo

7:57 PM  
Blogger Oscar Grillo said...

In the UK we see often on TV "The Spy in Black" and "Contraband" by Michael Powell with Veidt and Valerie Hobson, and they are two films to kill for. Emeric Pressburger's script for "Contraband" ("Blackout" in the US) could have filled Hitchcock with envy and jeaulousie.

2:10 AM  
Anonymous ERIK said...

re: "US exhibitors resisted British features because of perceived troubles over accents."

That's interesting considering there was so many British actors in Hollywood!

There was a TCM "mini_bio" of Veidt recently; apparently he willed his estate to the British government.

4:07 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Erik --- Didn't know that about Veidt's estate. Those British accents did gnaw at exhibitors, particularly in the small towns. Trade mgazines often carried comments deriding impenetrable dialogue.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Inigo Jones said...

Speaking of impenetrable dialogue, my mother barely understands anything that Harrison Ford says in his movies. 'It's all 'mumble, mumble, mumble' with him,' she moans....

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just got a chance to see "The Spy In Black" Agree it is a great film! Veidt has a bit more humanity than usual in it....of course the fact it is a Powell/Pressburger picture doesn't hurt....

1:39 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019