Elstree Calling (1930)

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Ellstree Calling (1930)

Elstree Calling (1930). 86 minutes. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, André Charlot, Jack Hulbert, and Paul Murray. Starring Tommy Handley (as host), Gordon Harker (as man with faulty television), Will Fyffe, Lily Morris, Teddy Brown, The Three Eddies, Anna May Wong, Bobbie Comber, Hannah Jones, Cicely Courtneidge, Helen Burnell, and Donald Calthrop.

Elstree Calling is a 1930 musical variety film, designed by British International Pictures to show off Elstree Studios’ nascent sound technology and to compete with the opulent musical revues coming out of the United States at the time. (You can think of its title, Elstree Calling, as a version of the well-known “London Calling” that had been BBC radio’s signature call sign in London since 1922.) It is notable for being a an early British sound extravaganza, for the many musical artists who appear in it, for its use of the early tinting technique Pathécolor in select scenes, and for the involvement of Alfred Hitchcock as one of … Read the rest

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). 83 minutes. Directed by David Hand (supervising director). Starring Adriana Caselotti (as Snow White), Lucille La Verne (as Evil Queen Grimhilde), Harry Stockwell (as the Prince), Roy Atwell (as Doc), Pinto Colvig (as Grumpy and Sleepy), Otis Harlan (as Happy), Scotty Mattraw (as Bashful), Billy Gilbert (as Sneezy), Moroni Olsen (as the Magic Mirror), and Stuart Buchanan (as Humbert the Huntsman). Songs by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey. Produced by Walt Disney.

The story of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is probably familiar to most: the young and beautiful princess Snow White lives in a castle and is governed by her evil stepmother the Queen, who forces her to wear ragged peasants’ clothes and perform menial tasks. Snow White encounters a prince one day while cleaning and is smitten. Meanwhile, the Queen asks her magic mirror who the most beautiful woman in the land is. When the mirror tells her … Read the rest

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

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Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

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)

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Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)

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)

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Gold Diggers of 1937

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)

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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)

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"The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" (1933)

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)

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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)

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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)

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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