Christmas in Connecticut (1945). 102 minutes. Directed by Peter Godfrey. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Elizabeth Lane), Sydney Greenstreet (as Alexander Yardley), Dennis Morgan (as Jefferson Jones), Reginald Gardiner (as John Sloane), S. Z. Sakall (as Felix Bassenak), Robert Shayne (as Dudley Beecham), Una O’Connor (as Nora), and Dick Elliott (as Judge Crothers).
Christmas in Connecticut reflects on a certain widespread fantasy about life in Connecticut, a fantasy that seems particularly to belong to New Yorkers but that many others from outside of the region are similarly fond of. Snowy, sleigh-laden, and full of the sights and smells of elegant home cooking, the Connecticut that lifestyle columnist Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck) creates in this movie is certainly a repository of rural and domestic dreams, both in 1945 and, I think it is fair to say, even today. While the movie may easily be categorized as light holiday fare, it also has something relevant to say about the role of … Read the rest
Gold Diggers in Paris (1938). 97 minutes. Directed by Ray Enright. Starring Rudy Vallee (as Terry Moore), Rosemary Lane (as Kay Morrow), Hugh Herbert (as Maurice Giraud), Allen Jenkins (as Duke Dennis), Gloria Dickson (as Mona), Fritz Feld (as Luis Leoni), Curt Bois (as Padrinsky), Edward Brophy (as Mike Coogan), Melville Cooper (as Pierre Le Brec), and the Schnickelfritz Band (as themselves). Musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley. Music by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Johnny Mercer, and Freddie Fisher.
For a movie whose title so blatantly alludes to financial schemers, Gold Diggers in Paris is surprisingly free of gold-digging characters. In fact, as I was watching, it occurred to me that the primary gold diggers involved in this production were probably the producers, directors, and cast, who must have seen this sixth installment in the series as easy money, given how popular its predecessors were. In addition to lacking actual characters who are gold diggers, Gold Diggers in Paris is … Read the rest
Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). 101 minutes. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Starring Dick Powell (as Rosmer Peck), Joan Blondell (as Norma Perry), Glenda Farrell (as Genevieve Larkin), Victor Moore (as J. J. Hobart), Lee Dixon (as Boop Oglethorpe), Osgood Perkins (as Morty Wethered), and Charles D. Brown (as Tom Hugo). Musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley. Music and lyrics by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Harold Arlen, and E. Y. Harburg.
Generally speaking, it is hard not to like a Gold Diggers movie. Even though this is the fifth iteration of the franchise, stars Dick Powell and Joan Blondell remain cute and perky throughout, and the music, in particular the songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, is first rate. Much like the other Gold Diggers movies, Gold Diggers of 1937 (released in 1936) makes a special appeal to Depression-weary cinema-goers by explicitly referring to the economic circumstances of the times and to the individual characters’ financial predicaments; but its … Read the rest
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). 112 minutes. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Starring Judy Garland (as Esther Smith), Margaret O’Brien (as “Tootie” Smith), Mary Astor (as Anna Smith), Leon Ames (as Alonzo Smith, Sr.), Tom Drake (as John Truett), Marjorie Main (as Katie), Harry Davenport (as Grandpa Smith), Lucille Bremer (as Rose Smith), Henry H. Daniels, Jr. (as Alonzo Smith, Jr.), Joan Carroll (as Agnes Smith), June Lockhart (as Lucille Ballard), and Robert Sully (as Warren Sheffield). Produced by Arthur Freed. Music by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane, and others.
Meet Me in St. Louis is widely regarded as one of the greatest of the Arthur Freed musicals produced at MGM from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. The movie is a portrait of a Missouri family circa 1903 as their hometown of St. Louis prepares to host the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (also known as the World’s Fair). The events unfold over the course of a year, with the result … Read the rest
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). 124 minutes. Directed by Fritz Lang. Starring Otto Wernicke (as Inspector Lohmann), Karl Meixner (as Hofmeister), Oscar Beregi, Sr. (as Professor Baum), Gustav Diessl (as Thomas Kent), and Rudolf Klein-Rogge (as Dr. Mabuse).
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is the last film that Fritz Lang made before leaving Nazi Germany. It begins by introducing the disgraced police detective Hofmeister, who in order to redeem himself in the eyes of his superior, Inspector Lohmann, has doggedly and independently investigated a criminal syndicate. Before he can reveal the name of the head of the syndicate to Lohmann, something happens to Hofmeister to make him go mad, and he is subsequently placed in an asylum. In the same asylum, we find the criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse, who is insane and rapidly writing strange instructions (his “testament”) on how to carry out illegal activity. Dr. Mabuse is supervised by the psychiatrist Professor Baum, who considers the crime boss … Read the rest
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). 129 minutes. Directed by Frank Capra. Starring James Stewart (as Jefferson Smith), Jean Arthur (as Clarissa Saunders), Claude Rains (as Senator Joseph Harrison Paine), Edward Arnold (as Jim Taylor), Guy Kibbee (as Governor Hubert Hopper), Thomas Mitchell (as “Diz” Moore), Eugene Pallette (as Chick McGann), Harry Carey (as President of the Senate), and Beulah Bondi (as Ma Smith).
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is considered one of the great movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. As a celebration of the role of goodness in American politics, the movie optimistically maintains that average, decent people can make meaningful contributions to democratic government, yet it also provides an unflinching depiction of the unprincipled nature of Washington culture. At the same time, while it tells the morally tinged story of one man’s struggle to triumph virtuously over his political adversaries, it represents the American democratic process with a decent amount of precision and accuracy, despite the fact that … Read the rest
I Married a Witch (1942). 77 minutes. Directed by René Clair. Starring Fredric March (as Wallace Wooley), Veronica Lake (as Jennifer), Cecil Kellaway (as Daniel), Susan Hayward (as Estelle Masterson), and Robert Warwick (as J. B. Masterson).
As a supernatural comedy that also has a political subplot, I Married a Witch is both a good Halloween movie and a good election-year movie. Possibly it is familiar to you as one of the inspirations for the television series Bewitched. The movie tells the story of the witches Daniel and Jennifer, a father and daughter pair who were found guilty of sorcery and burned in seventeenth-century New England at the instigation of Puritan Jonathan Wooley. Just before her execution, Jennifer curses the Wooley men, condemning them all to unsatisfying love lives until the end of time. Daniel and Jennifer’s ashes are buried under an old tree, where their spirits remain until 1942, at which point, thanks to some stray lightning, their … Read the rest
Saratoga (1937). 92 minutes. Directed by Jack Conway. Starring Jean Harlow (as Carol Clayton), Clark Gable (as Duke Bradley), Walter Pidgeon (as Hartley Madison), Lionel Barrymore (as Grandpa Clayton), Una Merkel (as Fritzi), Frank Morgan (as Jesse Kiffmeyer), and Hattie McDaniel (as Rosetta).
Saratoga is Jean Harlow’s final film. She collapsed on the set on May 20, 1937 with 90% of shooting completed, and after a drawn-out series of medical consultations was eventually diagnosed with kidney failure. Her illness was likely brought on by a childhood bout of scarlet fever and was complicated by her reaction to oral surgery and a recent sun poisoning incident. Unfortunately, even if Harlow’s kidney failure had been diagnosed immediately, her chances of survival were very low: modern dialysis treatment was not a possibility at the time. Harlow slipped into a coma on June 6 and died the following day.
The movie itself is a fairly pedestrian yarn about horses—lots of horses. Carol Clayton (Jean … Read the rest
The Blue Angel (1930). 99 minutes. Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Starring Emil Jannings (as Professor Immanuel Rath), Marlene Dietrich (as Lola Lola), Kurt Gerron (as Kiepert, the magician), Hans Albers (as Mazeppa, the strongman), and Reinhold Bernt (as the clown). Songs by Friedrich Holländer and Robert Liebmann.
Roger Ebert concludes his review of The Blue Angel by placing its characters in historical context: “You can glimpse the sadomasochism of the Nazi pose in the strange relationship of Professor Rath and Lola Lola.” Although there are no explicit allusions to Hitler’s political movement in the 1930 film, Ebert’s suggestion that a creepy Nazi power dynamic is evident in the Jannings-Dietrich portrayal is provocative and probably accurate. The Blue Angel was originally released in the years just before Germany’s official transformation into a Nazi state, and it surely picks up on those larger cultural currents. But the film is also a weird sort of backstage musical that leaves a bad taste … Read the rest
Ball of Fire (1941). 111 minutes. Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Katherine “Pussyfoot” O’Shea), Gary Cooper (as Professor Bertram Potts), S. Z. Sakall (as Professor Magenbruch), Richard Haydn (as Professor Oddley), and Dana Andrews (as Joe Lilac). Screenplay by Billy Wilder.
If you have ever seen Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, you will immediately notice the similarities between it and Ball of Fire, whose screenplay Wilder also wrote. Both involve characters going on the lam in conjunction with mob activity, a sexy nightclub singer with a ridiculous name (Sugar Cane in Some Like It Hot, Pussyfoot O’Shea in Ball of Fire), and men who have to transform themselves temporarily into their opposites in order to secure a woman’s affections. In Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon don female attire, with dirt-poor Curtis additionally and intermittently posing as a playboy millionaire in order to woo singer Marilyn … Read the rest