Grand Hotel (1932)

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Grand Hotel (1932)

Grand Hotel (1932). 112 minutes. Directed by Edmund Goulding. Starring Greta Garbo (as Grusinskaya), John Barrymore (as Baron Felix von Geigern), Joan Crawford (as Flaemmchen), Wallace Beery (as General Director Preysing), Lionel Barrymore (as Otto Kringelein), Lewis Stone (as Dr. Otternschlag), and Jean Hersholt (as Senf).

Grand Hotel is a 1932 American-made film set a few years earlier in Berlin at a time when Germany was inching towards Nazification. The movie depicts pre-Hitler Berlin as a dazzling center of cosmopolitan sophistication and adventure, sweeping us away with the interpersonal intrigue and romance of continental life. In the near future, the urbanity in which Grand Hotel revels (as well as the vulnerability associated with urban hotel life that it conveys) would become lost in the dysphoria that was sweeping through Europe—and yet in 1932 when the film was made, it was still possible to envision a Germany that was enveloped in the dreams and schemes of strangers passing each other softly … Read the rest

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

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The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

The Story of Temple Drake (1933). 70 minutes. Directed by Stephen Roberts. Starring Miriam Hopkins (as Temple Drake), Jack La Rue (as Trigger), William Gargan (as Stephen Benbow), William Collier, Jr. (as Toddy Gowan), Irving Pichel (as Lee Goodwin), Guy Standing (as Judge Drake), Elizabeth Patterson (as Aunt Jennie), Florence Eldridge (as Ruby Lemarr), James Eagles (as Tommy), and Harlan Knight (as Pap).

The Story of Temple Drake is based on the controversial William Faulkner novel Sanctuary, which created a sensation when it was published in 1931 because of the way it handles the topic of rape. The movie, while more oblique than the novel, nevertheless also shocked the public. Critics lashed out against it, and its scandalous content helped catalyze the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code in 1934. Yet while The Story of Temple Drake is laden with elements from the so-called vice movies of the pre-Code period, many of which will seem racy and distasteful even … Read the rest

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938)

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Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938). 80 minutes. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Starring Claudette Colbert (as Nicole de Loiselle), Gary Cooper (as Michael Brandon), Edward Everett Horton (as the Marquis de Loiselle), David Niven (as Albert De Regnier), Elizabeth Patterson (as Aunt Hedwige), Herman Bing (as Monsieur Pepinard), Warren Hymer (as Kid Mulligan), and Lawrence Grant (as Professor Urganzeff). Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.

When director Ernst Lubitsch was at his best, which was often, his witty romantic comedies had no equals. The great Lubitsch movies—such as Trouble in Paradise (1932), Ninotchka (1939), and To Be or Not to Be (1942)—drip with sparkling repartee, sophistication, and delicious naughtiness (often of a sexual nature) that exemplify Hollywood at its most adult. But the master of subtle innuendo also made some missteps, and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is widely considered to be one of his failures. After watching its trailer, I was prepared for it to be awful, and … Read the rest

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). 113 minutes. Directed by Tay Garnett. Starring Lana Turner (as Cora Smith), John Garfield (as Frank Chambers), Cecil Kellaway (as Nick Smith), Hume Cronyn (as Arthur Keats), Leon Ames (as Kyle Sackett), Audrey Totter (as Madge Gorland), Alan Reed (as Ezra Liam Kennedy), and Jeff York (as Blair).

Based on the James M. Cain novel of the same name, The Postman Always Rings Twice effectively channels the sinister aspects of the film noir mode: the temptation to commit crimes of violence, greed, and cynicism; the femme fatale with murder in her eyes; the morally compromised drifter who falls prey to beautiful women; and the adversarial courtroom scenes. It offers not one but two conspiratorial murder attempts (the second of which is successful), and it features a smoldering, doomed love story, in which the two leads sneak furtive glances and passionate looks while the woman’s husband hovers just out of view. The result is a … Read the rest

Baby Face (1933)

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Baby Face (1933)

Baby Face (1933). 75 minutes. Directed by Alfred E. Green. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Lily Powers), George Brent (as Courtland Trenholm), Donald Cook (as Ned Stevens), Alphonse Ethier (as Adolf Cragg), Henry Kolker (as J. P. Carter), Margaret Lindsay (as Ann Carter), Arthur Hohl (as Ed Sipple), John Wayne (as Jimmy McCoy, Jr.), Robert Barrat (as Nick Powers), and Theresa Harris (as Chico).

Baby Face tells the story of a young woman who is sexually exploited for all of her young adulthood and who in a life-changing reversal determines that she will exploit men instead for her own personal gain. The film, which charts her quest to use sex to move up the corporate ladder, is frequently cited as a catalyst for the 1934 enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, the set of industry censorship policies that regulated motion picture content. I have to admit that even as a fan of pre-Code movies, I was surprised by how brazen … Read the rest

Hollywood Canteen (1944)

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Hollywood Canteen (1944)

Hollywood Canteen (1944). 124 minutes. Directed by Delmer Daves. Starring Robert Hutton (as Slim Green) and Dane Clark (as Sergeant Nolan). Also starring as themselves: The Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Kitty Carlisle, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Jimmy Dorsey, John Garfield, Sydney Greenstreet, Paul Henreid, Joan Leslie, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Joan McCracken, Roy Rogers and Trigger, S. Z. Sakall, Barbara Stanwyck, and Jane Wyman.

Hollywood Canteen is a World War Two-era propaganda film that takes place in the real Hollywood Canteen, a wartime nightclub for G.I.s that operated from 1942 to 1945 and was staffed by Hollywood superstars. Inside the canteen, the most glamorous names in the film industry performed menial labor by preparing food, waiting tables, and cleaning up after guests, and provided entertainment on a main stage. The movie Hollywood Canteen offers us a glimpse of what a canteen guest’s experience might have been like while also promoting the war effort and the … Read the rest

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

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The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

The Other Side of the Wind (2018). 122 minutes. Directed by Orson Welles. Starring John Huston (as J. J. “Jake” Hannaford), Peter Bogdanovich (as Brooks Otterlake), Susan Strasberg (as Juliette Rich), Norman Foster (as Billy Boyle), Oja Kodar (as the Actress), Bob Random (as John Dale), Joseph McBride (as Marvin Pister), Lilli Palmer (as Zarah Valeska), Edmond O’Brien (as Pat Mullins), Mercedes McCambridge (as Maggie Noonan), Cameron Mitchell (as Matt “Zimmie” Zimmer), Dan Tobin (as Dr. Bradley Pease Burroughs), Cathy Lucas (as Mavis Henscher), and Tonio Selwart (as the Baron). Featuring Henry Jaglom, Paul Mazursky, Claude Chabrol, Curtis Harrington, and Dennis Hopper as themselves. Cinematography by Gary Graver. Edited by Bob Murawski and Orson Welles. Produced by Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza.

This November, 48 years after its first day of shooting, Orson Welles’s film The Other Side of the Wind was finally released to the general public on Netflix. The film was not Welles’s last (he left … Read the rest

The Other Side of the Wind (2018): First Day of Shooting (Audio)

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Orson Welles

This 31-minute audio recording was made by film critic, screenwriter, and actor Joseph McBride on August 23, 1970—the first day of shooting on The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles’s film about the last day in the life of fictional director J. J. “Jake” Hannaford (played by John Huston). The recording features McBride (as Marvin Pister) rehearsing a scene with Peter Bogdanovich (as Charles Higgam) at Welles’s house in Beverly Hills, with Welles directing. Bogdanovich would later be recast as Brooks Otterlake.

Many thanks to McBride for making the recording available to Kozak’s Classic Cinema.… Read the rest

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). 98 minutes. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Starring Fredric March (as Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde), Miriam Hopkins (as Ivy Pierson), Rose Hobart (as Muriel Carew), Holmes Herbert (as Dr. Hastie Lanyon), Halliwell Hobbes (as Brigadier General Sir Danvers Carew), Edgar Norton (as Poole), and Tempe Pigott (as Mrs. Hawkins).

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a terrifically creepy movie about a man who splits himself through chemical means into two distinct personalities with horrific results. Actor Frederic March plays both the tepid scientist Dr. Jekyll and his demonic alter ego, Mr. Hyde, who leers, threatens, assaults, and murders his way through the back alleys and palatial drawing rooms of nineteenth-century London. March’s Jekyll transforms into the malicious Hyde through elaborate makeup and camera techniques, but the film offers a great deal more than special effects-related thrills. As a pre-Code film, its content is daring, particularly its dark sexual undertones, which are largely absent from … Read the rest

The Mummy (1932)

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The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy (1932). 73 minutes. Directed by Karl Freund. Starring Boris Karloff (as Ardath Bey/Imhotep), Zita Johann (as Helen Grosvenor/Princess Ankh-es-an-Amon), David Manners (as Frank Whemple), Arthur Byron (as Sir Joseph Whemple), Edward Van Sloan (as Dr. Muller), Bramwell Fletcher (as Ralph Norton), Noble Johnson (as the Nubian), and Leonard Mundie (as Professor Pearson).

The Mummy is one of the classic Universal monster movies, which also include Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Invisible Man (1933). Directed by Karl Freund, who worked as a cinematographer for such silent landmarks as The Last Laugh (1924) and Metropolis (1927), as well as for the Universal Dracula, The Mummy is atmospheric and visually pleasing, even though it is staged using only a limited number of sets. Part of the reason for its success is no doubt owed to actor Boris Karloff, who manages to infuse the titular character with both creepiness and, perhaps unexpectedly, a fair amount of rebel chic. Although Karloff’s … Read the rest