Sunday, September 26, 2021

THE PAINTED BIRD (Vaclav Marhoul, Czech Republic)

A mute testimony to a lost childhood subsumed by the sadism and despair of racism, an internal war much more personal than the raging conflict between nations. Director Vaclav Marhoul’s intentions may have been to eclipse the brutal realism of Klimov’s epic COME AND SEE (Hell, he even uses Aleksei Kravchenko!) or transcend the hardened beauty of Tarkovsky’s IVAN’S CHILDHOOD, yet Marhoul’s film falls rather flat in its presentation lacking the violent poetry of either film. Here, the violence is the message without context as our young protagonist becomes a cipher, a mannequin through which we experience the film from his perspective. Now, this may be the specific point of the film but the violence and cruelty soon become so over-the-top as to veer close to parody. Told in vignettes, the chapters are titled after the person/s the child will next encounter and each scenario descends into abuse and atrocity, some directed towards him but all witnessed by him. But the chapters feel staged and hackneyed, made to shock without suspense which diminishes the horror. My criticism is not of its bleak tone, I embrace Art that looks into the abyss of (in)human nature, but in its execution: Marhoul attempts to replicate the intellectual detachment of Michael Haneke (even choosing to mimic the look of THE WHITE RIBBON) but lacks his vision in comparative ethics and social conflict.

The film is photographed by Vladimir Smutny in a wonderfully contrasted Black and White, utilizing deep shadow and low angle occasionally to a classic Film Noir effect. His compositions don’t stand out yet fit the story with a workmanlike professionalism, which allows the film a historical gravitas and documentary feel, at times. Petr Kotlar is the young boy who remains nameless until the final scene: he gives a restrained performance that makes empathy difficult, speaking only a handful of words and wearing the same expression throughout his abuse. Contrast his performance with Kravchenko in Klimov’s classic and you’ll see quite the difference: Flyora is a child with childlike impulses who agonizingly suffers a fiery baptism into insanity, yet chooses to retain his core humanity in the final reel. Here, Joska is one-dimensional and static as his character arc is from walking from one point to another without change. This isn’t the child actor’s fault; it falls squarely on the Director. We then get a few well-intentioned famous cameos but the actors exceed their parts and break the illusion. Do we really need Barry Pepper to meta-mimic his character from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN? Also, the blocking feels too staged and counterfeit, like people posed for a reenactment of an event rather than natural movement. Of course, the Art of cinematic lies at 24fps is in making the faux seem for-real but here we can often see through the illusion. Marhoul should have studied Bela Tarr, Pasolini or Bresson to create a lived-in reality for our protagonist.

I can still find enough that I admire to recommend this film but there are many similar films that are better handled and more introspective, a few of which I mention in my opening paragraph. I would also mention Haneke’s TIME OF THE WOLF as it’s another apocalypse suffered from a child’s point-of-view with chilling results. The ending of THE PAINTED BIRD is both hopeful and hackneyed, one I wanted to like more than I did and found rather indifferent.

Final Grade: (C)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

KONGO (William Cowen, 1932)


 

Flint is a man whose dark soul is made of quartz, an amoral prehistoric paraplegic that debases and abuses those around him: when struck, his spark ignites a flame that burns hot and bright with sadistic glee. Walter Huston as the tyrant Flint gives it his all, a 100% performance of sweating, sneering and jubilant shouting despicableness that becomes contagious to the supporting cast. This may be the most brutal, savage and emotionally corrupt film of the Pre-Code era that spares no character from abuse. 

Flint is consumed by vengeance against Gregg, the man who stole his wife and crippled him 18 years ago. It’s not the damage to his body or masculinity that imbues him with hate: it’s the sneering image of his nemesis that holds dominion over his senses. So Flint captures Gregg’s infant daughter immediately after the affair, sees that she’s raised in a convent until adulthood then tricks her into tricks by becoming a prostitute until she is dragged to his compound deep within darkest Africa where he lords over the indigenous people. Ann is kept ignorant of her familial history and suffers ignobly, Flint the anti-Christ who turns her blood to brandy. A drug addled doctor stumbles into the story fleeing his own demons and felonies but soon finds salvation in the kind motherly hands of Ann. Together, they must escape the clutches of Flint who controls the native culture with mere magic tricks and simple illusions: he has become Chief of their religion which he weaponizes for his own cruelty.

The film is a product of its time (as all Art is, I suppose) and depends upon racist caricatures of the African natives as lesser beings easily deceived by the white man. Even the depiction of natives ingesting white powder (sugar) being the tool of submission is a not-too-subtle metaphor concerning the “whitewashing” or subsumption of their heritage. But the film also depicts the slave-owners, both Gregg and Flint (and their cohorts) as abominable “snowmen”, an unflattering mockery of white entitlement run amok. Flint’s inhuman sidekick is a violent chimp whose tendencies are chained to his master (though he gets the last laugh). There are shocking scenes of human sacrifice where a screaming woman is burned to death, feral sexuality, drunken moral squalor as the doctor writhes in pain and ecstasy amid a native orgy, the Doc submerged in a pool of leeches and Flint grunting his animalistic commands as a god-like wraith. He even undergoes surgery without anesthesia by chomping on a cigar: it’s the doctor who drinks the brandy!

Flint suffers the unkindest twist in the final act, both morally and physically, yet Walter Huston is able to impose a modicum of empathy towards his character. Ann and her good doctor transcend the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel by finding the very end of the tunnel but one wonders what shadows will be cast by secrets known...yet untold.

Final Grade: (B+)

Sunday, September 19, 2021

THE DAWN PATROL (Howard Hawks, 1930)

 

Soldier’s lives as temporary as chalk scrawled on a blackboard and the insanity of commanding young boys to their death. Howard Hawks first talking film is a bit heavy on the speechifying yet still retains a powerful insight into the bonds men form under fire both as compatriots and adversaries.

Richard Barthelmess is Courtney, a veteran pilot who erases men from the world one mission at a time. He demands more experienced pilots and better planes but his concerns depend upon the seemingly impotent command of Major Breck. But soon Courtney will discover what it’s like to be in someone else’s boots. Scott is another veteran Ace of the squadron and he and Courtney watch as boys earn their angel-wings, unprepared for these dangerous missions until Scott’s little brother is assigned to the squadron: Courtney, now a Major, must follow his orders and send him to certain death over Germany. Howard Hawks focuses upon the group dynamic and eschews any romantic subplot: this is about honor, courage (yes there’s an E in courageously) and patriotism. Though the film upholds these standards it does offer a critique of military incompetence as their equipment and training is so inferior to the German’s and nothing is done about it. The answer seems to be this: we’ll win by sheer numbers, sending boy after boy to doom. This differs from THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK (1931) because that film was concerned with one soldier’s dilemma and its crushing despair even though the plots are similar.

Hawks films some daring and nervous dogfights adding verisimilitude to the film: even the rear-projection (which had to be filmed too, of course) is extremely well done. Hawks doesn’t strictly romanticize the danger as the pilots are covered in oil and blood, screaming while they plummet to the ground or waive their finale salute in defeat. The miniature SPFX in the final bombing run are dramatically effectual and well integrated with live action as debris and shrapnel fill the air like daggers cutting down the German soldiers. Courtney saves the life of his friend or at least offers a brief respite from danger. Now Scott has rather large boots to fill.

Final Grade: (B)

Friday, September 17, 2021

MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (Edward F. Cline, 1932)

 


Klutzy Klopstokian Commander needs cash for the coffers or loses controlling interest in capitalist career. Alliteration aside, the President is convinced to enter his country Klopstokia in the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles in order to win enough money to cover his outstanding national debt. This goofy, immature and irreverent comedy makes little sense but isn’t meant to, as word-gags and slapstick often coexist with the same joke! This may have seemed more funny and comedically dangerous upon its initial release and now seems a bit bland (kinda Monty Python-light) yet made me smile through most of its rather short (64 minute) runtime. 

W.C. Fields is the previously mentioned President who retains power by sheer physical strength: to usurp the presidency one must conquer him in a spontaneous wrestling match! Hugh Herbert is the Secretary of the Treasury who isn’t quite up to the challenge yet he should be commended for his consistency. Jack Okie is Mig Tweeny (??) the Fuller Brush salesman who is the focus of the story as he falls in love with the President’s daughter Angela (Susan Fleming). To win the hand of this specific Angela (since every woman in Klopstokia is named Angela) Mig must win the heart and respect of her father which he does by coming up with the idea of Olympic participation. Mig discovers that the simple folk of the country are actually excellent swimmers, runners and jumpers and through some vaudeville shenanigans elicits a few laughs. Then there’s the spy hired by the president’s cabinet to sabotage the “athletes” so they lose the games: Mata Machree (a volatile and sexually empowered Lyda Roberti). Her wiggly dance and fluttering eyelashes drive every man crazy as no man can resist her! Mig Tweeny is caught between her and Angela but is somehow able to resist her erotica. The final weight-lifting contest is a ton of laughs and W.C Fields wins the day…with a little help from his temper. 

Final Grade: (C+)

Saturday, September 11, 2021

INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (A. Edward Sutherland, 1933)

 

Dr. Wong invites an International cast of businessman to observe his Radioscope, a new invention that projects live-action in real-time: it’s a television without the need for a camera! Director A. Edward Sutherland and his legendary (once again!) DP Ernest Haller aren’t flashy or esoteric and just let the drunken and madcap follies unravel before their camera. The plot is minimal but the gags are maximized full-tilt, from Burns and Allen’s wonderfully sublime wordplay, Peggy Hopkins Joyce self-deprecating performance to W.C. Fields drunken soliloquies. Fuck the censors, this film satirizes and full-out “Pre-Codes” one of the great Pre-Codes in GRAND HOTEL.

Risque and often erotic, as we get to see Ms. Joyce in her stocking and garters, and even get a gag of body squeaks from a pussy, which she sits on accidentally, of course. Dr. Wong’s Radioscope depicts an erotic display of see-through costumes and full derrieres in a Busby Berkeley-like dance sequence with a bevy of beauties...and Sterling Holloway. Who doesn’t love Sterling Holloway?? We also get Cab Calloway and his band jiving to a frolicking number The Reefer Man (his bass player fucking rocks!) and we wonder how much grass was grazed by the musicians and cast! W.C. Fields also smoke a cigar from a hash-pipe and drinks a quadruple-shot of whiskey with just a hint of water. He also collects liquor like it’s going out of style but it is during Prohibition: I suppose it’s OK since the story is set in China, Ha! George Burns is the hotel doctor and Gracie Allen is his medical assistant and he often tag-teams conversations to save his own sanity or just to share the pain. And none other than Bela Lugosi shines as a comic villain who was once married to Ms. Hopkins and through subterfuge wants to gain the Radioscope and his prior paramour and murder any who stand in his way. He doesn’t count on the tiny automobile that races throughout the premises in the final act, as his ex escapes with her gyrocopting millionaire paramour and their litter of careless felines.

Repeating the plot and jokes doesn’t do the film justice as it needs to be experienced as a whole. Though W.C Fields doesn’t crash the party until the halfway point he’s like a tsunami of alcohol drowning all who get in his wake. And the straight couple who remain at the periphery of the story finally stand a chance of marriage...if their pilot can get up.

Final Grade: (B)

PS: And holy shit, Baby Rose Marie who sports the Louise Brook’s bob and sings jazz like a pro is the Rose Marie we know from the Dick Van Dyke show in the 60s! 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

THE FINGER POINTS (John Francis Dillon, 1931)

Breck gets his break in the Big Time, a small town reporter reaping his own harvest in the Big Apple. This may be the first film whose protagonist is induced into a life of crime by the failure of Universal Healthcare! Breckenridge “Breck” Lee (Richard Barthelmess) is an inexperienced yet exuberant reporter whose first job for the prestigious Press is to report on the local bootleggers and crime bosses. He does a bang-up job on his first assignment which leads him to get banged-up! With a seemingly insurmountable hospital bill which the newspaper refuses to pay because the assault happened after hours, he begins to take payoffs from a local mobster to keep the Syndicate out of the Press’ headlines. As Breck starts to secret the money away in a safety deposit box, his adorable and forthright coworker Marcia (Fay Wray) suspects he is earning money on the side. Their jovial and lackadaisical cohort Breezy (Regis Toomey) who makes no secret of his love for Marcia vows to impress her by working hard on his own byline. When Breezy’s headline bashes the local Kingpin it’s the gutter, as in the bottom of a drainage canal, for Breck.

Director John Dillon seems too constrained by the cumbersome sound design to allow his actors to speak naturally and move within the set while speaking. Every conversation is told face to face, enunciating clearly with momentary pauses between every line and response: it seems even too “stagey” for the stage! Barthelmess wanders through the film with slumped shoulders and monotone voice with little variation as his character grows more confident and backstabbing, though I suppose he dresses in better suits. Clark Gable appears in this early performance as a smirking gangster who splits the dough (rather unevenly, mind you) with Breck until our reporter begins to control his own racket and cut-off the middleman. Gable adds life and a greasy-slick realism to his character which, when contrasted against the staid performances from our three protagonists, is very protuberant. Legendary DP Ernest Haller often moves his camera throughout the environment to add some pizzazz but the film becomes static and too talky: the people often tell us what happened instead of showing us what’s happening.

Breck takes his final walk after spending a night with the lovely Marcia (premarital sex, crazy right?). His death was earned much like his career at the business end of chattering steel: only this time it wasn’t the staccato notes of a typewriter but a Tommy Gun.

Final Grade: C

Thursday, September 2, 2021

FASHIONS OF 1934 (William Dieterle, 1934)

 

Nash is a likable and dashing Hood, a moral exile from Sherwood whose get-rich-quick schemes of forgery and blackmail may lead him to bankruptcy and prison...but never despair. The classy William Powell plays, well, a classy scoundrel named Sherwood Nash who counterfeits Paris fashions and makes a temporary fortune as both designer and exclusive seller. Powell plays Nash as a dashing and restlessly creative rogue who may be dishonest but never cruel: he makes the bad guys seem like the good guys. Of course those victimized by him, the other businessmen and Baroque, the world-renowned designer, are depicted as buffoons. A platinum wigged Bette Davis is Nash’s on-again/off-again artistic and gifted girlfriend Lynn who would rather him go mainstream than up the river, so to speak. Yet for all of the shenanigans of the absurd plot (it’s fun, but absurd) neither thinks of the bright idea of just going into business for themselves with their own designs. I mean, Lynn is shown to be quite creatively competent and her original designs fool the best critics in the world with a simple rubber stamp signature. Why not utilize her talent and go straight? Even the denouement fails to realize this as Lynn and Nash reconcile after another crazy idea is discarded overboard in a box full of worms.

Busy Berkeley directs two extravagant musical numbers set within the narrative. The first is the fashion review promoting and glamorizing Ostrich feathers (another scam) where the scantily-clad models prance about in feathery undergarments and platinum wigs. There is no fear in this graceful symmetry of long legs and buxom blondes who move like a fluid poem, or the women transformed into Harps (Harpies?) whose delicate chords are plucked and fingered. Berkeley depicts his signature visual style by shooting from extreme angles and in perfect synchronization and it’s beautiful. The audience within the film seems to watch this on a tiny stage but the impossibility of this epic musical being performed within these confines and the extreme point-of-view that is required by the film audience (us) makes it even more enjoyable. Another excellently designed number involves large portraits of historical figures painted on an opaque canvas that, when back-lighted, reveals a beautiful woman dressed in the period garb. The portrait is raised and the woman steps off the platform, as if ancient history were transformed into contemporary 1934 fashion. Very cool.

William Dieterle’s film is a fun romp even though Bette Davis is miscast (her role is to portray exasperation, not volatile independence which is her strength) and Nash’s pal Snap (Frank McHugh) is a feminists’ worst nightmare, a man who is much more creepy than funny.

Final Grade: (B-)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

THE SECRET SIX (George W. Hill, 1931)

 

Louise earns his nickname Slaughterhouse, at first earning his pay by hard knocks (to the head of cattle) and then through hot lead (to his bootlegging cohorts). Seemingly above the law, a masked sextet of vigilantes work with law enforcement to return him to the abattoir where he belongs.

George Hill begins his film on location at the grimy stockyards as cattle are herded to their death at the blunt end of Louise’s sledgehammer. The camera pans up and focuses on two men practicing their deadly swings before their shift ends. Hill bookends the film with Louise waiting in his own stockade, not dissimilar to the terrified cattle, his bug-eyed look acknowledging his fate not at the end of a hammer but in an arc of electricity. In between, we are witness to the volatile rise of a blue-collar worker to bloodstained gangster; He’s a man who achieves his position not by brains but by pure animal instinct, a clawing, thrashing man whose baby-fat countenance is a masquerade for his psychotic impulses. It’s another wonderful performance by Wallace Beery who was born to play this type of role, the man who tries to fit into his $1000 suite but can never rise above the dirt under his fingernails or the “street” in his speech. He’s always one step behind on the insults but his retort is at the end of a revolver or his hammer-like fist. Louise attains his rank by following orders and instincts, as he answers to his boss Newton, the gang’s Defense Attorney. But there is little honor among thieves when self-preservation is at stake as it takes only one time for Newt to turn his back to his subordinate before suffering his brutish fate.

The film is titled after the cabal of masked men who band together to attain Federal and local arrest warrants for the gang but they appear in only two scenes. Even more strange, they don’t even exist until the end of the second act! The group is headed by the Police Chief who was fired by the Mayor after he (the Mayor) was elected by bribes and graft. Two reporters join forces with this sextet to bring down the Slaughterhouse: Carl (Clark Gable, wearing his perpetual boyish grin) and his buddy Hank, who falls in love with gangland moll Anne (Jean Harlow, adorable and precocious). But Anne isn’t all bad and tries to warn her lover Hank moments before he is gunned down on the subway. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: the fact that Organized Crime is so prevalent or that some secret group can bypass Due Process to attain convictions. The end cannot justify the means as that way leads to a Fascist State. This film seems to promote this flawed morality without questioning its own corrupt and illegal tactics because, well, the Law is impotent to convict the “bad guys” when jurors can be bribed. But it’s only a goose-step away from good to worse in that “justice” system.

Final Grade: (B)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

THE DOORWAY TO HELL (Archie Mayo, 1930)

Louie believes war is a racket that can be exploited; a little (er) Napoleon who brings the prohibition gangs together for a brief respite until he walks through the hellish doorway towards his Waterloo sunset. Archie Mayo’s direction is competent but bound by early sound technology as the camera is mostly static and the characters need to deliver their dialogue in clear, distinctive voices without overlap. This is James Cagney’s second film (he’s sixth billed!) yet he steals every scene he’s in; his restless energy keeps him in motion even when he’s standing still! His fast-talking dialogue is almost too much to capture with this early technology. Lew Ayres is Louie the gangland leader and his good-looking innocence makes him difficult to accept as an intimidating mobster…until he tilts his chin downward and gives a vacant thousand-yard stare revealing a soul, dark as pitch. I wonder if Kubrick was influenced by this film in preparing the visual for his bratchny protagonist Alex DeLarge many years later. 

Louie is a gangster who becomes mob-boss, at first by intimidation then by equal asset distribution among the many gangs who waste resources (and lives) as they battle the cops and themselves. The love of his life is his little brother who’s enrolled in a military academy and his fiancé who’s secretly enrolled in James Cagney! Louie wants to earn enough dough to quit the racket and take care of his family without fear of the electric chair as a future destination. But quitting isn’t so easy.  Even the honest cop, who doesn’t take bribes, shows his duplicitous morality by allowing the bootleggers to pass the final judgment that the law couldn’t enforce. 

This is a violent Pre-Code flick and it wears its bloody heart on its sleeve from the opening scene: Louise takes his violin case and plays some heavy metal music (so to speak) by gunning down a rat on the steps of his apartment. This hit gives him the cachet to call together all of the gangland leaders for a meeting which is overseen by Mr. Browning,…machine gun, that is! Soon, the streets are peaceful as the gangs revel in their boosted profit margins and equitable treatment by the self-titled Bonaparte Boss. But Louise takes his money and “retires” to write his life story, from tenement rags to gin-running riches, with his lovely wife at his side and his brother safely embedded in military school. Turns out, he has one final chapter to write after all. When his compatriot Mileaway (Cagney) can’t convince him to return to the gang-life to restore order, a rival group attempts to kidnap his brother and blackmail him. But the little brother is killed in the attempt and forces Louise’s resurrection: not as leader but avenging angel. Damn, we get a brutal extreme low-angle shot of the child being dragged from beneath the axles of the truck that crushed him! 

The final act is one of personal salvation and sacrifice as Louise brutally murders those responsible. Even the honest Detective knows he can’t hold a conviction on him (though he holds the clandestine affair over Mileaway), he allows the rival gangs to bust him out of stir so they can give him a taste of his own lead. As Louise is holed-up in a grungy apartment starring at a portrait of Napoleon In Exile, he knows his hours are numbered and options limited. He is never privileged to know that his pal Mileaway and wife are in love so he walks to his death, through the apartment doorway to hell, knowing he’s meeting it on his own fucking terms.  

Final Grade: (B+)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

FIVE STAR FINAL (Mervyn Leroy, 1931)

 

Yellow journalism written with the blood of innocent victims, the Fourth Estate reduced to intestate. Mervyn Leroy’s scathing indictment of tabloid news takes no prisoners and makes no excuses, headlined by a wonderfully nuanced performance by Edward G. Robinson as the Editor who struggles with a guilty conscience, whose moral ledger is balanced with circulation not compassion.

Joseph Randall is the managing editor of a newspaper whose subscriptions are falling every week because he actually prints important news and not exploitative stories. The owners decide to reopen a murder case from twenty years prior, a human disinterest story about a pregnant woman acquitted by jury of murdering her fiancée. The woman has moved on with her life and raised a fine daughter who knows nothing of this sordid tale. The daughter is betrothed to a wealthy scion and this public prattle would ruin the courtship. This of course leads to a tragedy which the tabloid tries to exploit for profit. Randall has reservations but the blood in his veins is as black as ink, so his morality is drowned in bourbon and soap: he obsessively washes his hands. Aline MacMahon is his secretary who sees the good soul buried in newsprint hoping he will do the right thing. Boris Karloff is at his creepiest as Isopod (though he’s given a full name in the script, the opening credits only refer to him by this single moniker) a man whose chameleon-like persona is perfect for an investigative reporter.

There are some moments that stand out. One such scene involves a triple-split screen as two conversations overlap as the daughter is calling the paper demanding Justice. She condemns the men she is speaking with and the split screen effect is perfect so we can see their performance without the need to cut. The actors get to act in rather long takes and we experience the conversation in real-time. It would not have been as emotionally effective if it were cut into small parts and strung together. Another great scene involves the husband discovering his wife’s body in the bathroom but faking his elation at his daughter’s marriage. He tells his daughter and her beau that she has “gone out” and he will be joining her soon. We know what this means but the young couple doesn’t. The performance is pitch-perfect. The ending as the daughter holds her retort by gunpoint asking for the truth: why did Randall and his Boss kill her parents. He simply says, “For circulation”. It’s chilling. When he quits his job he chucks his phone through the glass door. The film is fast, talky, and smart, wasting little energy on any point that doesn’t propel the plot.

Randall may have increased the papers circulation temporarily but he ended a flesh and blood person’s circulation permanently. One wonders if he will ever scrub his hands clean. Or his soul.

Final Grade: (A)

Thursday, August 12, 2021

THE NAUGHTY FLIRT (Edward Cline, 1930)

 

An attorney tries to lay down the law to the capricious daughter of his boss but her corpus keeps getting habeas-ed. This early talky is all fluff and feathers but is held together by the delicious Alice White, the wickedly severe Myrna Loy and the sternly handsome Paul Page: these three main ingredients make for a bubbly and nose-tickling concoction.

The setup was probably mundane even for 1930: Kay is a spoiled rich girl (never intentionally cruel, mind you. She says so herself) who falls for Alan, an attorney who coincidentally works for her father’s Law Firm. Her current beau Jack is scheming to marry her for her fortune with the help of his loyal and demanding sister Linda. Will Kay be tricked into unholy matrimony with Jack or will she give up her mischievous ways and discover true love with Alan?

The opening shot is of wailing sirens and a racing POV shot of a police car but we quickly discover this is no car chase: it a paddy wagon full of our drunken protagonists! Arrested for dancing provocatively, Kay and her allies are taken to Night Court to face a sentence of ten dollars or ten days. It’s there that she meets Alan and their relationship begins to blossom like a Venus Flytrap...and Alan is the fly! Her flirtatious car ride with Alan back to her father’s house is fucking hilarious and adorable as he can’t keep his eyes off of her no matter how hard he tries. The film also has no Establishing Shots and uses cue cards like a Silent Feature to delineate time and place. Their relationship is defined by a grudging respect and admiration yet it seems there’s nothing a good spanking won’t cure! Yes, in one scene Alan actually wrestles Kay over his knee and spanks her; this is the event that causes her to attempt change and go to work for her father...as Alan’s office clerk, of course. It’s degrading by contemporary standards and probably by 1930 social mores too. Though Alan shows no other signs of cruelty (he’s actually a good guy) it does show the patriarchal standard that defines the time. Trickery and subterfuge ensue but Kay finally objects to her vows at the alter in order to embrace that man she really loves.

Final Grade: (C+)

Thursday, August 5, 2021

LOOSE ANKLES (Ted Wilde, 1930)

 

A quartet of loose ankles (or octad) tired of dancing the night away with horse-faced partners answer an unscrupulous personal add hoping to knock some ankles loose. Ted Wilde’s comedy weighs very little and dissolves like cotton candy, a sweet confection of Loretta Young wasted in such an insubstantial and immemorable film.

The setup is absurd: Ann is willed a $70,000/year stipend (not counting property!) but must marry to receive her inheritance and her two spinster aunts and portly uncle have 2/3 vote for any applying beau! One caveat: if there is ever a scandal then no one, neither Ann nor her relatives receive a penny from the Estate: it all goes to the local Dog & Cat hospital. So Ann sets out to make the furry friends stinking rich by purchasing a personal add in search of an unscrupulous suitor. Moderate hilarity ensues.

The film begins with a close-up of a deliciously slender leg being caressed by a man, his hand slowly descends past her golden anklet to gently massage her bare foot. Quentin Tarantino would fucking love this film! This is how we’re introduced to our heroines Ann (Loretta Young) as she receives a pedicure and her comic-relief cohort Betty as she belts-out the film’s titular foot-tapping tune on a piano. Lovely. But the film descends into juvenile high-jinks and drunken shenanigans which tend to be drawn out too long. Yet there are some laugh-out-loud moments. For instance, when the naïve Gil (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is convinced by his gigolo roommates to answer the add, he is dumbfounded by Ann’s request to be unscrupulous (which is pronounced differently by everyone in the film, it seems. I don’t know if this was intentional or not but it made me laugh). So her maid, armed with a giant pair of scissors, begins sneakily cutting his suspenders and pants when his back is turned! Gil’s reactions are hilarious. When he jumps from the second story window and through the greenhouse roof it’s a hoot. There is also a drunken revelry in the final act involving bootleg alcohol, Ann’s spinsterish aunts and Gil’s loosely ankled buddies. To see the husky and uptight god-fearing aunt get tight, wrestling on the floor with her escort in a speakeasy called the Circus Café while police bust in to potentially scandalous headlines is beautifully wonky.

Overall, a fun film that is forgotten soon after watching except for the adorable Loretta Young, whose participation is often pushed aside for vaudeville vicissitudes, but doesn’t overstay its welcome at 69 minutes.

Final Grade: (C+)