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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Watch List For 12/5/12

THE DIVORCEE (1930) --- A picture rich as The Divorcee can be got at from numerous directions, foremost its place among most daring of precodes. Head-on treatment of marital infidelity makes this a bold one even in modern context. Better analysis was supplied by Mick LaSalle and Mark Vieira in books each wrote on the precode era. As to star Norma Shearer, there's no need spending words to further celebrate her icon status. What Divorcee-struck me this time was lifestyles of the rich and idle that serve as backdrop to marital combat engaged by Shearer and husband Chester Morris. These are perpetual partiers with nary a visible means of support. They're gathered at a first reel's mountain cabin where bootleg drink flows and open limousines await the trip home. Even tragedy during latter slows them down but a jot, though effects are forcefully felt through the rest of the story.

The Divorcee was released in April 1930, months after the Crash, still within a year of it, but ahead of a Great Depression's fullest impact. There likely were scenes to better explain what work, if any, characters engage (as a still above suggests), but final editing maybe took much of it out. What's front/center then, is details of nightlife and attendant leisure. Revelers move in a pack, searching always for fresh excitement. One novelty seeker dons costume of an organ grinder, with pasted mustache and nose appliance, Robert Montgomery crouched to formal-dress monkey stance. It's all most peculiar and utterly unlike anything encountered in life, or maybe such was commonplace among folk untouched by the Crash. Enough precodes depict said way of life to make me suspect The Divorcee and like others at least somewhat represent privileged reality. Montgomery and retinue are never out of evening wear. They visit a delicatessen at 4 AM for turkey legs, Bob on first name basis with the clerk --- were certain delis nightly stopover for swells exiting clubs and shows? If so, that must have been some good life.

Norma Shearer is told her now ex-husband has decamped to Paris and books passage there straightaway. Contestant for her hand Conrad Nagel drifts aboard a yacht for a time indeterminate and nowhere is it suggested that money could be an issue. Even Chester Morris losing his job amounts to nothing serious, a drunken carouse on the continent figured to relieve what ails him. Would audiences maintain sympathy for divorcee Norma and her problems when life among she and pals were so commodious otherwise? Evidently they did, for The Divorcee was a notable success, as were others in Shearer's mad whirl of a precode cycle (which lasted unto the end of that era and March 1934's Riptide). People went to movies so they could observe gracious living, whatever grinding circumstance awaited them at home. The Divorcee sums up how unreal a world picture people, particularly ones at MGM, occupied.

LIVE WIRES (1946) --- Here's where the Bowery Boys morphed to that popular name that would brand the rest of their comedic output from producer/releasing Monogram Pictures. The mould wasn't set as I'd prefer, less lamebrain comedy and more low-level gangsterism at hand for the gang to combat. Sach actually has a job and wears double-breast suits, not a circumstance fans would wish on him, while Gorcey gets at times annoying in born screw-up and fist-flying mode. Still, Live Wires is Bowery Boys at something like physical prime. We can, as of '46, buy fact of their (comparative) youth and accept continuing use of "Boys" to designate them. Good character people are along in what amounts to guest spotting, Mike Mazurki notable as virtual reprise of his Moose Malloy from Murder, My Sweet. BB's are fun for curiosity satisfied, if not laughs delivered. The arc of this long series is useful means by which to chart evolution and eventual demise of "B" filmmaking.

EIGHT IRON MEN (1952) --- Among Stanley Kramer's output for Columbia, most of which lost money, but what diverse entertainments these were. The eight iron men include talent on ascent and at least one try-out that wouldn't catch fire (first-billed Bonar Colleano, a Brit star who'd work mostly there). Lee Marvin is happily the sergeant in command, his perf a preview of what 60's super-stardom would look and sound like. Eight Iron Men is largely a single-set, feature length conversation based on a play by Harry Brown (who also wrote The Sniper), sort of WWII's take on Journey's End. War is indeed hell, but not over-stated as such. Enough combat pics had been along by 1952 to tamp down message and keep focus on mission at hand, to wit the seven's effort to rescue iron man # 8 from mudhole pin-down. Pretty good if you'll forgive leisure pace, and beginner Marvin's a wow. The usual fine Columbia transfer, via TCM.

THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) --- Opportunity knocks for second-tier Warner players not showcased in similarly lush King's Row, both Nymph and Row striking me as high drama labs for most promising contractees. Alexis Smith, Brenda Marshall, Jean Muir, and Joyce Reynolds never had roles so rewarding as here, a stage on which each could demonstrate gifts not utilized in formula Warner work more typically their lot. Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine were outside talent ideally brought to bear on a delicate story WB dressed to fullest "A" elegance. Outdoor settings are replicated inside cavernous stages per wartime necessity. The remove from reality works better than if they'd gone on location. War is never mentioned in the Euro-neverland depicted, or maybe Nymph takes place sooner. Blur as to time and place allowed Warners to hold this for a year while topical and combat stuff played out. What a kick to have such a bright ornament reemerge after all these years, The Constant Nymph having been buried thanks to literary rights expired. It won't disappoint either, given approach in the right spirit. A concert-worthy score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold was all we had of Nymph for several generations, excerpts being part of a 1972 Charles Gerhardt album of Korngold music. The Constant Nymph is happily available from Warner Archive, and shown regularly on TCM.

APRIL FOOL (1924) --- "Jimmy Jump" was the name Hal Roach gave Charley Chase for an initial go at starring shorts that ill-fit everyman quality CC would project, for who'd heard of a chap next door going by Jimmy Jump? It wasn't long before abandonment of that and embrace of "Charley" as all-purpose label, and for sometime talkies ahead, "Mr. Chase." His character was full-formed early in this series, and there'd not be variation for the rest of a career doing shorts. Charley here is the earnest young man who's a chump for April 1 trickery that borders cruel at times, his the only presence we sympathize with. Even the love interest (would-be) deals him dirt. Early Chases oft-survive, if at all, in 16mm prints made for long-ago home markets. April Fool, with a fine score by David Knutson, is part of Milestone's Cut To The Chase DVD collection, which I'll look forward to entire-watching over weeks to come.

TEXANS NEVER CRY (1951) --- I'm for western sidekicks getting into occasional jams, but Pat Buttram sprayed by a skunk twice? That's extreme even by dagnabit standard of lowliest sagebrush comics, but boss Gene "Artery" (as Pat sometimes called him) evidently thought it yoksome enough to use in Texans Never Cry, and who knows?, maybe 1951 crowds agreed. Gene became in ways surlier by time he independent-rode for Columbia release. He horns into other folk's business from an opening scene (series westerners had tendency to do that) and picks fighting with a bystander heavy. Another character refers to Gene as "abrupt," which fits, and suits me fine, Gene being not so goody-goody as age and truculence took hold (and I've read that was off-camera case as well). He'll not shrink from romancing bad girl Mary Castle to get goods on local villainy that seeks to counterfeit Mexican lottery tickets (wonder who dreamed that up). Texans Never Cry is crackerjack Autry --- wall-to-wall action and song with Lone Pine scenic values and production equal to A's being done elsewhere (livelier too than many of them). Seen in HD on Retroplex.


Blogger Background Bennie said...

As I'm sure you're well aware, John, Warner Home Video finally released (after about 5 years of deliberation), Volume 1 of the Bowery Boys on DVD about a week ago. Included in the 1st volume (12 movies on pressed disks, not made-on-demand, as expected),is "Live Wires" which, as you say, is sort of an aberration in the series in that it plays more like a Gorcey solo vehicle than the typical Leo-Huntz team up. I believe this is because "Live Wires" was adapted from an old Monogram story property that had previously done service twice before as vehicles for Eddie Quillan and Ray Walker, both of whom portrayed pugnacious skip tracers (a role easily adapted to Gorcey), with the rest of the gang sort of unceremoniously lumped into the proceedings. As a callow youth who thought that the (later) manic histrionics of Huntz Hall in this series was just about the epitome of hilarity, I still could appreciate this entry as a chance for Gorcey to do something resembling a solo star turn -- like a poor man's James Cagney (even if it meant that Hall was reduced to a poor man's version of Allen Jenkins). Still, it is a curious maiden entry for a series purportedly about the Bowery Boys; almost as if Leo was trying to totally usurp his co-stars (maybe that new over-the-title billing really went to his head?).

10:57 AM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

I remember a prize line from "The Divorcee", something like "From now on, you are the only man to whom my door is closed!" The message is pretty racy, but the wording just seems less than intense.

Amused that most films about erring husbands end with the wife getting him back . . . and this is presented as a victory and blessing for the wife.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

I'd never heard of EIGHT IRON MEN before, but would it be correct to say that the woman on the poster has, at best, a very minimal connection to the main plot of the film?

8:40 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The Bowery Boys' LIVE WIRES is indeed an aberration because Monogram needed to make it super-quick and thus had to use an existing script. Gorcey had just walked out on Sam Katzman and the East Side Kids, and Monogram still owed exhibitors one picture on the 1945 contract. So LIVE WIRES went on the 1945 books, and Monogram then settled on its usual four Bowery Boys titles a year.

Same thing happened in 1956, when Gorcey left the series abruptly: only one picture had been delivered on the 1956 contract. That's why Gorcey's successor Stanley Clements made three pictures to finish the obligation, and he was well enough received for the series to be renewed for another year.

12:27 PM  

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