Classic movie site with rare images (no web grabs!), original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
grbrpix@aol.com
Search Index Here




Sunday, September 07, 2008











Kay-Rations at TCM









Somebody at Turner must have a big yen for Kay Francis. They’ve shown her a lot over years I’ve watched. This month is another marathon of her Warner (and Monogram!) pics. Last night I watched Raffles off the DVR. This was a Goldwyn/Colman new to me. It’s not as good as The Devil To Pay or The Masquerader, but fun withal and happily precode in letting its crook hero get away at the finish. Colman has this way of keeping at least three quarters of his face before the camera at all times, never mind dialogue directed toward others frequently standing behind him. He’s pleasingly vain and entirely justified in being so. Surely his parents foresaw a future upon Ronnie’s first spoken words --- Now there’s a natural for talkies. Raffles has that measured pace of theatre faithfully transcribed before we realized sound needed fresh tempos. It revels in a Mayfair weekend party milieu familiar to 30’s audiences not yet dismissive or contemptuous of upper class characters with attendant chauffeurs and footmen. There’s even a cricket match played in some detail, a segment I realized was my first sustained exposure to the game in movies. It looks like a weird kind of baseball. I thought of Boris Karloff playing it during hours off around this period. In fact, there’s much cross-pollination between Raffles and classic horrors being made across the valley at Universal. Frederick Kerr (Frankenstein), Frances Dade (Dracula), and Bramwell Fletcher (The Mummy) are all here, their parts a seeming continuum from (or to) those they assumed in the monster pics. Whiney Fletcher might as credibly be working his way out of the Raffles mess he’s in before dashing off to Egypt and a fateful Field Expedition, with straight-jackets to complete his odyssey. We take for granted the wondrous continuity supporting players brought to films then, a thing so lacking today when every show exists like an island divorced from other screen fare (unless it's sequels!). Raffles thievery is a lark practiced by gloved aristocrats who leave teasing notes for working class Yard men we enjoy seeing trumped. Imagine how such a thing would play now! Heists are committed without gunplay or characters getting bashed in the head. As no one's hurt, it’s easier to be good sports at the end and let miscreants make off with jaunty farewells (and sometimes the loot). Obviously Raffles was no vehicle for Kay Francis, as here I am just now getting around to her participation, and there are long sections where she opts out and leaves exposition to Colman. Reliably slinky and butched out hair-wise, Kay’s so flattered by the look as to make me wonder when it might be coming back.



























Jewel Robbery is again a celebration of elegant thieves and how they (should!) prosper fleecing dense diamond merchants and dumb gendarmes. You can’t help speculating upon depression-era viewers, already short of bread at home, so inspired by such rascally goings-on as to hold up boxoffices on their way out (and indeed, theatre robberies, often at gunpoint, were rife during the early thirties). This is precode beyond mere lacking of moral and legal compensation so soon to be (rigorously) enforced. Jewel Robbery frankly applauds crime and artful means of getting away with it. Casting William Powell as said purloiner guarantees rooting interest on our part for whatever he does. This actor could drown puppies and make us like it. The great thing about Powell at Warners is how blithely he walks away from consequences of behavior egregious even to modern sensibilities. Adultery and rogueing are games he manages as adroitly as others play checkers. He must have been some role model for young men on already uncertain ethical footing. What a pity he’d spend future years bound up in Code chains at righteous Metro, that strident dispenser of justice to characters blurring societal edicts (watch sometime how the poor guy suffers in 1942's Crossroads!). Kay Francis would soon enough be wiped out by her own market crash of censorial intervention. Where was fun seeing KF tiptoe about post-Code drawing rooms when patrons remembered ones she’d heated up in Jewel Robbery? Always the fashion goddess, Francis in precode also modeled the latest attitudes with regards marriage (preferably open), fidelity (optional), and that eternal expediency of trading sex for gifts (diamonds preferred). Once you took these away, there was nothing left for her but clothes (assuredly staying on), a burden groaning beneath scripts with all semblance of reality siphoned off. Audiences listened to Kay Francis prior to 1934. After that, they merely watched (how many cared about fashions without red meat stories behind them?). Her struggle with the "R" enunciation gets laughs yet, but then and now it served as endearing equalizer for a woman who'd have seemed too perfect otherwise. When she answers Powell’s flawless diction with talk of "wobbers" making off with gems, we’re reassured these are mortals after all. Such impediment registered strongest, if unconsciously, among fans who stayed loyal even as Kay frankly took money and ran, as here was a woman who served less art than bottom lines, a refreshing variant on actress locomotives forever charging studio battlefields.
























































One Way Passage may rank among better precodes just for being well remembered by people who saw it new (said positive vibes passed down as received wisdom to generations since). Much as we like raw energy of shows from the early-30’s, there’s realization of sameness creeping in with ongoing exposure to them. It’s like a hard time you have recalling individual flavors after eating a roll of LifeSavers. Seen it all scenarists out of city room universities preferred fast and cynical, which explains why love seldom found Lee Tracy. So many precodes were about putting over sock openers, then peppering rest with verbal gagging. How much genuine emotion was managed in running times of seventy minutes or less? I watched my trio of Kay Francis pics in under three and three quarters an hour. Among these One Way Passage puts over romance and tragic dénouement in less time than Ken Maynard took quelling rustlers and runs a straight line contrary to so many Warner precodes where it writers routinely failed sobriety tests in coherent narrative. WB figured serious romance was indulgence better left to novelists and richer studios. Expanded length allowed Paramount to faithfully engage A Farewell To Arms and Universal drew tears over Mae Clarke’s fate in Waterloo Bridge. Both these and One Way Passage were talked about years after most titles of like vintage were deep-sixed. A part of us hates seeing Bill Powell gallows bound on a bum rap, and indeed, any other vehicle from that period would have spared him the rope, but unlike post-code morality lectures, One Way Passage isn’t about necessity of justice being served. The point, and an accurately observed one, is how easily chance and rotten luck can make us pay up for actions justified or at least understandable. Powell forfeits opportunity to escape out of love and/or decent impulses we never feel are imposed upon him (and us). One Way Passage won't patronize viewers in that way post-codes would. It surely traumatized 1932 viewers (jaded ones most of all) to see Bill so close to freedom, only to sacrifice all in a selfless act atypical of precode heroes (he plays it beautifully). No wonder Robert Osborne called One Way Passage the best of many pics Powell and Francis made together (and just because I like Bill and Raffles co-star Ronald Colman so much, here’s a rare shot of the two (who were best friends) relaxing during time off).

7 Comments:

Anonymous "r.j." said...

John,
A delicious post! I suspect that you'll be receiving a good many comments, for here is red-blooded "Greenbriar" meat if ever I smelled it! So glad to know you share my admiration for "The Masquerader", in fact you're virtually the first person I've ever heard discuss it at all! Another great Goldwyn/Colman/Francis is "Cynara", from the same period, beautifully directed by King Vidor. Like yourself, I have never seen the '30 version of "Raffles". I don't think it was part of the Goldwyn package that was released to local television at the time I was first exposed to these films. Goldwyn had remade it in '40 with David Niven, and it was that version that was shown.

Finally, totally in agreement with you on "One Way Passage". I first saw it when I was in college, with no prior conception of what I was about to see,and I still remember the closing scene as one of the most moving, unsettling things I've ever seen. "One Way Passage" is truly that "Exhibit A" for the defense, when they say, "They don't make 'em like that anymore." It's not that they don't -- they can't!

Best, R.J.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

It seems like whatever made Francis popular in those early talkie films is working for her all over again in the 21st century.

Another fine, thoughtful posting at Greenbriar!

10:12 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

One good thing would be that somebody puts back on the market the two silent versions of RAFFLES.

Both of them, the 1917 Paramount version (with John Barrymore) and 1925 Universal's, are available although their visual quality left everything to be desired.

It would be nice to compare the three versions although I like the way the Argentine uncredited director did his job for the Goldwyn sound remake.

1:03 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

"One Way Passage" is an extraordinarily romatic movie that, unlike contemporary turkeys, never goes overboard with gooey dialogue or music to cue your feelings.

Ditto "Jewel Robbery," although in a comedic, near hilarious, vein. And don't forget how Powell makes his escape by making his victims smoke marijuana!

Powell is one of my favorite actors of that time, while Kay Francis has a strange hold on me --she's either dangerous or hot -- or both.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the photos of Kay Francis. My favorite films are Mandalay , Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage. Maybe now with her being Star Of The Month and having three books out on her. Maybe we can get some of her films on DVD now.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

The Kay Francis / Lubitsch "Trouble in Paradise" is a Criterion DVD from 2003

4:59 PM  
Blogger Vanwall said...

This is one of TCM's better moments - Kay Francis is so much fun onscreen. When I first heard her speak, I caught the Fudd-like w-for-r, and my first thought was how hard she must've worked to keep in films, beauty or not. She also has the most unusual eyebrows, next to Louise Brooks, and sometimes I see faces like her's with those particular big, limpid eyes and I grin a little - she was something else.

1:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

grbrpix@aol.com
  • 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