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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Davis and Bogart Take The Field

Crowded Bills For Jubilee Week at These RKO Theatres. Which Show Would You Choose?

Bad Sister (1931) Gives Glimpse Of Later Legends

This was the infamous one during which production a neophyte Bette Davis heard Carl Laemmle, Jr. remark that she had as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville, BD demoralized for months after. Maybe Junior had a point though, what with Davis' severe dress, thick and dark brows, not to mention a mousey, underdeveloped part (not her fault, obviously). The character ends up looking like dry run for pre-transformation Charlotte Vale in eleven years later Now, Voyager. Bad Sister is one we'd call "rare." I don't know where there's been legit run on TV, certainly none in my memory. The boot I acquired was plenty passable, Bad Sister worth many years' wait to watch. Did I mention that it also features Humphrey Bogart in a very early appearance?


Bogie and BD are admittedly best reasons to watch, but there's also Sidney Fox, plus comic stylings of ZaSu Pitts and Slim Summerville, these definite evidence that it's a Universal pic we're seeing. Aforementioned Carl, Jr. was sweet for Sidney, affianced with her at one point they say, so was free with plum parts whatever her qualification (or lack) to play them. I might have done the same, as Fox was just that, cute as a button and no doubt irresistible to a boy exec not necessarily suited to the job (then explain how he guided so many classic horror films for U). Sidney is more petulant than "bad" as title character, though she does wreak considerable family havoc. Bad Sister's story came from a Booth Tarkington novel, The Flirt, written in 1913. It had been done silent a couple of times, so the situation, if not specifics, were known to viewership. Small town travails could weigh hard on Tarkington folk --- he knew how easily roofs could cave on families barely treading water, the device working even better now that there was Depression afoot. Fictional setting was "Crescent City, Ohio," which doesn't exist, although there is a Crescent, Ohio, and a Crescent City, Florida. Was it safer for movies to weave their small town settings out of whole cloth?


Comedy on tap was Pitts/Summerville. They'd become Universal's notion of Gable and Crawford for hick trade, and were probably better loved than G&C among that constituency. Easy to forget after eighty years how meaningful ZaSu/Slim's names were to ones who liked laughing, theirs faces a common clay many could identify with. Conrad Nagel is the straight arrow both sisters want. He observed, talked about later, Universal's curt discharging of Davis and Bogart, saying neither had prospects and might as well go back east, such judgment under heading of colossal boner(s). We can in a way sympathize. Neither show particular aptitude for legend status both would attain. Crystal balls weren't issued in any more quantity then than now. Bogart bios tend to skip or glaze over Bad Sister, which makes me suspect authors never saw it. Actually, he's very good in it, not so restless with hands, and relaxed as a "live wire" who turns out to be a confidence heel, scoring an illicit night with Sidney Fox from which she flees into marital embrace with Bert Roach(!). Any Bogart is worth a trackdown, it arguable that Bad Sister was the best, or at least high up, among beginning parts he had.

4 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

"Brother Herbert" sends along the following about "Crescent City":


There's a Crescent City, California too, not far from where I am in fact. It is certainly a small, isolated town that, with no real industry to speak of nowadays, makes you wonder how its inhabitants survive.

2:10 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Bogie had a minor role in another Sidney Fox film, "Midnight" (not to be confused with the Colbert/Ameche film of the same name) - and after he hit it big, some indie distributor re-released "Midnight" as "Call It Murder" and gave Bogie top billing. (The practice has continued to this day with DVD releases.)

3:14 PM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

This is on YouTube with French subtitles, which leads me to believe that it came from a French DVD.

The Davis role is really underwritten but Bogart comes off quite well. It's not the kind of role we associate with him, but does seem more relaxed than most of the other performers.

3:14 PM  
Blogger aldi said...

Yes, the only copy I'd watched until recently had the annoying French subtitles. I've finally found one that doesn't have them and now can enjoy the movie much more. I like the film and I think Bogart plays his role well, as do all the actors. It's clear Davis would have preferred Fox's role but she did get a chance to play the bad sister years later in In This Our Life and knocked it out of the park.

Funniest scene: Davis hanging up her granny bloomers next to her sister's fancy silk ones and being questioned by her brat kid brother as to why the difference.

4:38 AM  

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